Stammering is Dada

I was asked to contribute to a forthcoming publication called ‘Dangerous Words’. The purpose of the book is to uncover the ways in which language works as a form of repression but retains the capacity for critical liberation. I chose to write about the word ‘stammer’. Below is a first draft of my contribution.


‘Words are torture in my mouth. Words are weapons when we shout ‘Ya basta!’ (Ecoversity un-conference, August 2016)[1]

What words will make revolution speak? How can we articulate the poetry of the future? (Marx 2016). Not by over-elaboration where ‘the phrase surpasses the substance’, but speaking so ‘the substance surpasses the phrase’ (Marx, 2016 4).  In other words, ‘Language has nothing to say about the future. The future cannot be said…. Its content is exorbitant to its phrasing’ (Taylor 2012). This is saying more than actions speak louder than words, or that meaning is lost in translation; rather, there is a disarticulation between the revolutionary world we are creating and how that world is spoken, as language and lyrics and poetry and prose. We can describe this disarticulation as social stammering.

Social stammering is enraptured by the word ‘Dada’: a staccato speech sound on the verge of exploding into a meaningful gush of rounded breath. Dada struggles to free itself from the language of anti-art and the slang of kitsch metropolitanism. Dada was made to disarm the rat-tat-rattle of the automatic weapons of the First Machine War (1914-1918) and the killing capitalist labour process out of which they were produced. Dada remade readymade art, against patented forms of capitalist death, as montage and performance, including sound poems made up of verses without words.

Adorno picked up on the relationship between Dada and stammering’s revolutionary vibe, sounding it out it as the basis for substantive thought:  ‘the whole of philosophy is actually nothing else than an infinitely extended and elevated stammer [Stammeln]; it is actually always, just like stammering, Dada, the attempt to say what one actually cannot say’ (Adorno quoted in Foster 2008 55).  Not as an exemplary method of speech therapy but as the phrasing for a negative dialectics.

Holloway knows what we are talking about. He reports that revolution starts with a howl of protest: ‘In the beginning is the scream. We Scream’ (2005 1), but understands the need for learning ‘a new language for a new struggle’ (2010 10). This new way of speaking is formed when we ‘stutter and mumble incoherently’ as a way of participating in the abolition of a cracked capitalism (2010 12).

We might think of capitalist language as ‘order-words’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1996), where ‘Language is not made to be believed but to be obeyed, and to compel obedience’(75). This order of order-words can be challenged by ‘creative stammering’ (Deleuze and Guattari (98), a writerly technique where authors carve out ‘a non-preexistent foreign language within…[their] own language …[making]…the language itself scream, stutter, stammer or murmur’ (Deleuze 1997 109-110). And so, in this way, ‘makes stuttering the poetic or linguistic power par excellence’ (111). Writing becomes something ‘that explodes like a scream’ (112); what might be taken as ‘inarticulate words, blocks of a single breath’ (112), is actually where a ‘deviant syntax…reaches the destination of its own tensions in these breaths or pure intensities that mark a limit of language’ (112).  So writing is poised ‘at the very edge of the seeable and the sayable, situated between sense and non-sense‘ (O’Sullivan and Zepke 2008 9), as a new common-sense.

Ranciere speaks of ‘the speaking being who is without qualification and political capacity’ (22) and, therefore, without a voice ‘doomed to ‘the night of silence or the animal noise of voices expressing pleasure or pain’ (22). This is not a demand to be heard, but what comes before recognition as ‘speaking beings’. Ranciere has many words to define this condition: ‘subjectification’: ‘a series of actions of a body and capacity for enunciation not previously identifiable within a given field of experience, whose identification is thus part of the reconfiguration of the field of experience’ (35); ‘disidentification’ (36): ‘ a multiplicity of fractured speech events’ from people without a voice (37), and the ‘part of the no-part (Ranciere 2001) a surplus population that goes unaccounted for and is unrecognised. Ranciere says it is in this space of not-speaking that politics occurs (26); or, speaking in my tongue, this is the site of social stammering.

Marx wants to bring us down to earth. He asks the question: how would it be if inanimate objects could speak in a world dominated by capitalist commodity production? He does not let his commodities speak but, like a ventriloquist, speaks for them, as if they are responding to his prompt:

Could commodities themselves speak, they would say: Our use value may be a thing that interests men. It is no part of us as objects. What, however, does belong to us as objects, is our value. Our natural intercourse as commodities proves it. In the eyes of each other we are nothing but exchange values’ (Marx 1990 176-177).

Marx is trying to articulate the way in which the intrinsic nature of things is overwhelmed by the domineering logic of capitalist exchange value, so much so that exchange value itself appears to be part of our ‘natural intercourse’. There is nothing natural about the social world; rather, the social world is abstracted from the process of capitalist production to appear in the form of real abstractions, which, in the world of capitalist intercourse, are dominated by money and language. Capitalist language is recognised only to the extent that it validates a society based on the logic of exchange. In capitalist civilisation money really does talk; it is the only language that everybody is forced to understand.

But we may be guilty of over-elaboration. How can we express this condition in a more visceral, animalist voice, as a precondition of our speaking being? Hugo Ball (1997), author of the Dada Manifesto, put it like this, as a sound poem intoned at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in 1916:


jolifanto bambla o falli bambla

großiga m’pfa habla horem
egiga goramen
higo bloiko russula huju
hollaka hollala
anlogo bung
blago bung blago bung
bosso fataka
ü üü ü
schampa wulla wussa olobo
hej tatta gorem
eschige zunbada
wulubu ssubudu uluwu ssubudu
kusa gauma

Stammering is Dada.

Antonin Artaud, dramatist, poet and actor, looks for a response beyond ‘mere stammerings’ (Artaud 1992 218), in The Theatre and Its Double (1931 – 1936) to include not only human voices but the whole mise en scene: ‘everything that occupies the stage’ (231). As Pantomime (233) and Pandemonium. The affect is to overcome the ‘impotences of Speech’ (230), by including ‘everything that defies expression in speech’ 231 and ‘everything that is not contained in dialogue’ (231)   in the form of ‘a new physical language based on signs rather than words’ (215). Artaud’s theatre of sound must have ‘the evocative power of a rhythm… [and]… the musical quality of physical movement’ (216) as ‘a poetry of the senses’ (231) as much as ‘a poetry of language’ (231). For Artaud, there is no poetry of the future, only ‘a revolt against poetry’ (Artaud 1944).  The performance must recover the sense of danger that comes with the idea that ‘the present state of society is unjust and should be destroyed’ (235).

Stripped bare the starting point is not speaking or even screaming, but breathing. Artaud says ‘for every feeling, every movement of the mind, every leap of emotion, there is a breath that is attached to it’ (260). These ‘rhythms of breath’ (260) merge with the plastic and physical theatrical event to create a ‘fluid materiality’ (261). This concept of fluid materiality is a double for Marx’s real abstractions, which Artaud calls ‘metaphysics in action’ (237) or the ‘real metaphysical’ (243).  If the substance of Marx’s real abstraction is capitalist value: as the supreme form of social power, Artaud’s abstractions are filled up by a ‘universal magnetism’ (271) which he calls the soul (261): ‘unleashing an unpredictable flow of searing energy’ (Sontag xxiv 1988). Artaud’s abstractions are  something that must be confronted in order ‘to transgress the ordinary limits of art and speech, in order to realize actively…, in real terms, a total creation in which man[sic] can only resume his place between dream and events’ (245).

That is enough. For now.  We are almost out of breath, struggling for ecstatic transcendence (Holloway 2010 99). The moment of danger, recovered, beyond the danger of words.

Let us take a deep breath. Breathing. Slowly. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out.


Artaud, Antonin (1992) ‘The Theatre and Its Double’. Susan Sontag (ed) (1992) Antonin Artaud; Selected Writings. Introduction. University of California Press. Pp..

Ball, Hugo (1997) Blago Bung Blago Bung Bosso Fataka – First Texts of German Dada, Atlas Press.

Deleuze, Giles and Guattari, Felix (1996) One Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. London: Athlone Press.

Deleuze, Gilles (1997) ‘He Stuttered’. Giles Deleuze: Essays Critical and Clinical. London and New York. Verso. Pp 107-114

Foster, Roger (2008) Adorno – The Recovery of Experience. SUNY

Holloway, John (2005) Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today. London and New York:Pluto Press

Holloway, John (2010) Crack Capitalism. London and New York: Verso.

Marx, Karl (2016) The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Create Space Independent Publishing Platform.

Marx, Karl. (1990) Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume 1. London and New York: Penguin Classics.

O’Sullivan, Simon and Zepke, Stephen (2008) Deleuze and Guattari and the Production of the New. London and New York: Continuum.

Ranciere, Jacques (2004) Disagreements: Politics and Philosophy. University of Minnesota Press.

Ranciere, Jacques (2001) Ten Theses on Politics.

Sontag, Susan (ed.) (1992) Antonin Artaud; Selected Writings. Introduction. University of California Press. Pp xvii- lviii.

Taylor, Chris (2012) Stuttering Towards the Future: words


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