Emerging during the destruction of World War I, Dada sought to undermine the fundamental structures of rational, ordered society. At the heart of reason is language, the conduit through which every rule was constructed and every law communicated, so to destroy words and disrupt syntax was perhaps the ultimate act of subversion. Dada artists had already attacked pictorial conventions by adopting unorthodox methods of chance and fragmentation. If images could be liberated from conveying a coherent message, could the same be done to the elements of language?

To free text and speech from conventional rules of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, Dadaists unleashed an arsenal of puns, wordplay, and experimental poetry and literature—some turning words and letters into abstract forms, stripping them of their legibility. These experiments were meant to expose the arbitrary relationship between words and their meanings. Of these verbal dissections, painter Albert Gleizes remarked, “Never has a group gone to such lengths to reach the public and bring it nothing.”

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