Tristan Tzara

Tristan Tzara (Samuel Rosenstock/Rosenstein, April 4 or April 16, 1896 - December 25, 1963) Romanian avantgarde poet, essayist and performance artist, also active as a journalist, playwright, literary and art critic, composer and film director, known mainly as a founder of Dada - a nihilistic revolutionary movement in the arts.

Tzara was born in Moineşti, Bacău County. His parents were Jewish Romanians who reportedly spoke Yiddish as their first language; owing to the Romanian Kingdom's discrimination laws, the Rosenstocks were not emancipated, and thus Tzara was not a full citizen of the country until after 1918. He moved to Bucharest at the age of eleven, and attended in October 1912, when Tzara was aged sixteen, he joined his friends Vinea and Marcel Janco (Marcel Iancu) in editing Simbolul, a publication of the Symbolist movement.

Tzara's career changed course between 1914 and 1916, during a period when the Romanian Kingdom kept out of World War I. In autumn 1915, as founder and editor of the short-lived journal Chemarea (The Call), Ion Vinea published two poems by his friend, the first printed works to bear the signature Tristan Tzara. At the time, the young poet and many of his friends were adherents of an anti-war and anti-nationalist current, which progressively accommodated anti-establishment messages. Tzara had enrolled at the University of Bucharest in 1914, studying Mathematics and Philosophy, but did not graduate. In autumn 1915, he left Romania for the city of Zürich, in neutral Switzerland, where Janco had settled there a few months before. Tzara, who may have applied for the Faculty of Philosophy at the local university, shared lodging with Marcel Janco, who was a student at the Technische Hochschule. His departure from Romania, like that of the Janco brothers, may have been in part a pacifist political statement. After settling in Switzerland, the young poet almost completely discarded Romanian as his language of expression, writing most of his subsequent works in French. The poems he had written before, which were the result of poetic dialogs between him and his friend, were left in Ion Vinea's care. Most of these pieces were first printed only in the interwar period.

It was in Zürich that the Romanian group met with the German Hugo Ball, an anarchist poet and pianist. In February 1916, Ball had rented the Cabaret Voltaire from its owner, and intended to use the venue for performance art and exhibits. Hugo Ball recorded this period, noting that Tzara and Marcel Janco, like Hans Arp, Arthur Segal, Otto van Rees, Max Oppenheimer, and Marcel Słodki, "readily agreed to take part in the cabaret". In late March, Ball recounted, the group was joined by German writer and drummer Richard Huelsenbeck. He was soon after involved in Tzara's "simultaneist verse" performance, "the first in Zürich and in the world", also including renditions of poems by two promoters of Cubism, Fernand Divoire and Henri Barzun. It was in this milieu that Dada was born, at some point before May 1916, when a publication of the same name first saw print. Tzara wrote the first Dada texts, La Première Aventure céleste de Monsieur Antipyrine (The First Heavenly Adventure of Mr. Antipyrine) (1916), Vingt-cinq poèmes (Twenty-Five Poems) (1918) [1], and the movement's manifestos, Sept manifestes Dada (Seven Dada Manifestos) (1924).

Tzara heft Switzerland for Paris in 1919, where he engaged in tumultuous activities with Dadaists André Breton, Philippe Soupault, and Louis Aragon to shock the public and to disintegrate the structures of language. In late 1929, weary of nihilism and destruction, he joined his friends in the more constructive activities of Surrealism. He devoted much of his time to the reconciliation of Surrealism and Marxism and joined the French Communist Party in 1937, joined the Republican forces in Spain and was active in the French Resistance movement during World War II. He left the Communist Party in 1956, in protest against the Soviet quelling of the Hungarian Revolution.

His political commitments brought him closer to his fellow human beings, and he gradually matured into a lyrical poet. His poems revealed the anguish of his soul, caught between revolt and wonderment at the daily tragedy of the human condition. His mature works started with L'Homme approximatif (The Approximate Man) (1931), and continued with Parler seul (Speaking Alone) (1950), and La Face intérieure (The Inner Face) (1953). In these, the anarchically scrambled words of Dada were replaced with a difficult but humanized language. He died in Paris and was interred there in the Cimetière du Montparnasse.