Arp, Jean (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)
Jean Arp 1887-1966
(Full name Jean Hans Arp) Alsatian-born French poet, essayist, diarist, painter, and sculptor.
As a founder of the Dadaist movement and a participant in literary and visual surrealism, Arp was one of the most prominent artists of the twentieth century. Arp wrote surrealist poetry as well as essays discussing avant garde art and his own artistic vision.
Arp was born in Strasbourg, Alsace, a region of Europe that has frequently been passed between German and French leadership. His father, Pierre Guillaume Arp, was German and his mother, Josephine Koeberle Arp, Alsatian. As a child Arp learned to read and speak German, French, and the Alsatian dialect of his hometown. Arp spent most of his time in school writing poems and drawing pictures, and by the age of fifteen he was one of a circle of Alsatian poets and artists led by the expressionist writer René Schickele and the painter Georg Ritleng. Arp had convinced his parents to let him drop out of high school and enroll in the Strasbourg Academy of Art to study painting, but he was dissatisfied with the instruction he received there and instead studied privately with local artists. In 1903 Arp published some of his writings in periodicals assembled by the group. He traveled for the first time to Paris and Berlin in 1904. When he returned home he asked his father to allow him to enroll in the Académie Julien in Paris. Instead, his father sent him to Weimar to study at the Academy of Fine Arts. In 1907 Arp publicly showed his art for the first time, in an exhibit in Paris along with works by Henri Matisse and others. The next year Arp entered the Académie Julien. However, he was again frustrated by formal instruction and dropped out to move to Lucerne, Switzerland. There he founded a group called Der Moderner Bund to promote modern art in Switzerland. Shortly afterwards he moved to Munich and joined another group of expressionist artists called the Blaue Reiter, which included the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky. At the outbreak of World War I, Arp found that his mixed French-German background made him a suspicious character to both countries; therefore, he moved back to neutral Switzerland. When German authorities tried to draft him as a soldier in 1915, Arp convinced the German Consulate in Zurich that he was mentally defective to avoid service. While in Switzerland, Arp met other important artists in the abstract movement. He also met his future wife, the artist and dancer Sophie Taueber, and became involved in the famous Cabaret Voltaire, which brought together Dadaist artists for experimental theater and dance performances. In 1925 Arp was denied Swiss citizenship because officials believed his poetry proved he was mentally deranged. The following year he was granted French citizenship. In the 1930s Arp began to work in sculpture and collage, partly as a reaction to the death of his mother in 1929. During the late 1930s many artists were threatened by the rise of fascism in Europe. Consequently, a great number of them, including Arp and his wife, went into temporary or permanent exile outside of the major centers of tension. The couple stayed in Grasse, in the south of France, from 1940 to 1942, along with a number of other Dadaists. Afterwards they attempted to emigrate to the United States. In 1943 Sophie Taueber was killed in an accident; Arp began to compose poetry in honor of his late wife, and most of his work through the rest of the 1940s speaks to his immense loss. By 1955 Arp had achieved financial independence as a world-renowned artist, and he traveled extensively, frequently exhibiting his work in some of the most important museums in the world. In 1959 Arp married Marguerite Hagenbach. Arp was beset by health problems, suffering a series of heart attacks in the early 1960s. He died of heart failure in Locarno, Switzerland, in 1966.
As a founder and adherent of Dadaism, Arp believed that artistic creation should mirror creation in the natural world. Because of this belief, Arp frequently used collage to symbolize the law of chance. Similarly, he used the collage form in his poetry, bringing together seemingly disparate images to form a whole. Arp's earliest poetry is strongly influenced by nineteenth-century German Romanticism as well as by German folk and fairy tales. In 1912 he had begun experimenting with poetic styles that echoed his interest in abstract visual art. In the poems in both Der vogel selbdritt (1920) and Die wolkenpumpe (1920) Arp was still using Romantic imagery, but his forms and style were becoming more spontaneous and whimsical but simultaneously apocalyptic, reflecting the mood of World War I-era Europe. While Arp was in Zurich, he and the other Dadaists involved in the Cabaret Voltaire participated in poetry experiments known as automatic poetry, in which poems were composed verbally onstage by a variety of people speaking different languages at the same time. These poetry performances further influenced Arp's poetry writing, as he explained in Unsern Täglichen Traum (1955), his account of his years with the Dadaists in Zurich. Arp's poetry in the 1920s reflected the end of the Dada period. Rather than focusing on subjects rooted in nature, Arp began to write about commonplace objects in unexpected and unusual juxtapositions. Arp called these surreal combinations “object language.” The poems in Weisst du schwarzt du (1930) revolve around the opposition of black and white. After the deaths of his mother and wife, Arp produced a number of meditative elegies on dreams, life, and death, turning again to the nature imagery of his earlier writing. For the poems in Poèmes sans prénoms (1941) Arp was influenced by medieval and Renaissance mysticism, particularly the elements of alchemy and geometry. In the 1940s and 1950s Arp published some of his best-known poetry anthologies, including Le siège de l'air (1946) and wortträume und schwarze sterne (1953). In the last decade of his life Arp's poetry became more meditative and probed religious issues, particularly his continuing despair over the loss of Taueber and his hope for an afterlife.
Widely considered one of the most important and influential artists of the twentieth century, Arp also bore a strong hand in shaping the century's poetry. Critics have praised his emphasis on the sense and order of the alogical, and especially his focus on chance in the writing of his poetry. Additionally, many critics have found that Arp's poetry gives equal weight to both sound and sense, producing a sense of organic unity. Raoul Hausmann wrote of Arp's influence: “Arp was incontestably one of the most important innovators in French poetry.”
Der vogel selbdritt (poetry and woodcuts) 1920
Die wolkenpumpe (poetry) 1920
Der Pyramidenrock (poetry) 1924
Konfiguration (poetry) 1930
Weisst du schwartz du (poetry) 1930
Des Taches dans le Vide (poetry) 1937
Sciure de Gamme (poetry) 1938
Muscheln und Schirme (poetry) 1939
Poèmes sans prénoms (poetry) 1941
Rire de Coquille (poetry) 1944
Le blanc aux pieds de nègre (prose poetry) 1945
Le siège de l'air: poèmes, 1915-1945 (poetry) 1946
Monuments à Lécher (nonfiction) 1946
On My Way: Poetry and Essays, 1912-1947 (poetry and essays) 1948
Auch das ist nur eine Wolke: Aus den Jahren, 1920-1950 (prose poetry) 1951
Wegweiser Jalons (poetry) 1951
Dreams and Projects (nonfiction) 1952
wortträume und schwarze sterne (poetry) 1953
Unsern Täglichen Traum (autobiography) 1955
Le voilier dans la forêt (poetry) 1957
Mondsand (poetry) 1960
Vers le blanc infini (poetry) 1960
Sinnende Flammen (poetry) 1961...
(The entire section is 166 words.)
SOURCE: “‘Schneethlehem’: Four ‘Nonsense’ Poems by Hans Arp,” in Etudes Germaniques, Vol. 24, July, 1969, pp. 360-67.
[In the following essay, Last analyzes Arp's “Schneethlehem” series as an example of his habit of rewriting and modifying his work.]
Hans Arp's critics, as Günther Rimbach points out1, fall into two main factions: those who regard his poems as the oracular utterances of an inscrutable mystic; and those—mainly academics—who damn him with faint praise as a Spieler juggling with words and phrases bereft of all meaning. Both sides, then, agree that Arp's poetry is beyond analysis. But to be what Marcel Jean calls one of the best German and French poets of the century2, and yet almost totally meaningless, is a curious distinction indeed.
The issue of meaning in Arp's poetry is a complex one, and is best attacked from one specific angle. The most appropriate is Arp's habit of modifying and re-writing his poems, which, it is argued, indicates that he is arbitrarily substituting one kind of meaninglessness for another. The ‘Schneethlehem’ quartet from the Pyramidenrock illustrates this phenomenon in miniature.
‘Schneethlehem’ consists of four poems of two stanzas each, first published in 1924, and subsequently revised in Wortträume und schwarze Sterne (1953). This is the earlier version of...
(The entire section is 3271 words.)
SOURCE: “In Defence of Meaning: A Study of Hans Arp's ‘kaspar ist tot’,” in German Life and Letters, Vol. 22, No. 4, July, 1969, pp. 333-40.
[In the following essay, Last analyzes whether or not Arp's poem “kaspar ist tot” is a self-contained work.]
weh unser guter kaspar ist tot.
wer verbirgt nun die brennende fahne im wolkenzopf und schlägt täglich ein schwarzes schnippchen.
wer dreht nun die kaffeemühle im urfaβ.
wer lockt nun das idyllische reh aus der versteinerten tüte.
wer schneuzt nun die schiffe parapluies windeuter bienenväter ozonspindeln und entgrätet die pyramiden.
weh weh weh unser guter kaspar ist tot. heiliger bimbam kaspar ist tot.
die heufische klappern herzzerreiβend vor leid in den glockenscheunen wenn man seinen vornamen ausspricht. darum seufze ich weiter seinen familiennamen kaspar kaspar kaspar.
warum hast du uns verlassen. in welche gestalt ist nun deine schöne groβe seele gewandert. bist du ein stern geworden oder eine kette aus wasser an einem heiβen...
(The entire section is 3728 words.)
SOURCE: “Numbers for the Birds: On Hans Arp's Poem ‘er nimmt zwei vögel ab’,” in German Life and Letters, Vol. 22, No. 4, July, 1969, pp. 341-45.
[In the following essay, Watts examines word associations in Arp's poem “er nimmt zwei vögel ab.”]
er nimmt zwei vögel ab er nimmt zwei vögel zu
er paust grimassen auf die luft und unter das wasser
sieht er drei eier so ruft er ei ei und zählt doch richtig ein bei bei zwei zwei bei bei drei
er hebt an der urgrossvaterstadt das rechte bein hoch er hebt an der urgrossmutterstadt das linke bein hoch
er nimmt zwei vögel ab er nimmt zwei vögel zu
er heisst mit vornamen zwölf und mit familiennamen zwölf das macht in summa vierundzwanzig er hat eine vorderseite und eine hinterseite das macht in summa sechsundzwanzig er hat eine rechten männerarm und einen linken frauenarm das macht in summa achtundzwanzig
er huldigt der mode der doppelgängerei mit fahnen aus haaren und segeln aus federn
er ist vorne so lang wie hinten
er nimmt zwei vögel ab er nimmt zwei vögel zu
Hans Arp: Weisst du schwarzt du, No. 6
Der dadaistische Glaube Ohnesinn ist kein Unsinn, kein Ulk. Der dadaistische Glaube Ohnesinn ist ebensowenig Unsinn wie die Pflanze, die Kinderzeichnung, die...
(The entire section is 1799 words.)
SOURCE: “Monograph,” in Hans Arp: The Poet of Dadaism, Oswald Wolff, 1969, pp. 9-65.
[In the following essay, Last provides an overview of Arp's career as a poet.]
The obituary column of The Times for June 8th, 1966, states that M. Jean Arp had ‘long been considered one of the foremost modern sculptors, and one of the pioneers of abstract art’. This is rather like saying that Schiller had been ‘well known as an historian and friend of Goethe’, without adding that he also wrote a few poems and dramas. For Arp was more than a sculptor and painter; he was the author of a considerable body of poetry in both French and German. The first volume had been due for publication in 1905, some time before his discovery of new areas of visual art, but the manuscript mysteriously disappeared; curiously, it was to have borne a title—Ship's log—similar to his last collection—The dream-captain's log—which appeared in the year before his death.
Arp's poetry is in a state of bibliographical and editorial chaos. He frequently modified existing versions of his poems so that often new poems emerge from the old; and in addition many of the published texts are corrupt and inconsistent. The Collected Poems I, which he helped to compile, is by no means definitive, or even, in some places, accurate. In Word-dreams and black stars ‘ss’ and ‘β’...
(The entire section is 14963 words.)
SOURCE: “Jean Arp (1887-1966),” in Surrealist Poetry in France, Syracuse University Press, 1969, pp. 90-101.
[In the following essay, Matthews discusses surrealism in Arp's poetry and his relation to the surrealist movement.]
Jean Arp's reputation as an artist has tended to divert attention from his poetry, especially since he received the International Prize for Sculpture at the 1954 Venice Biennale. It comes as a surprise to many to hear that he admitted, “If, to suppose the impossible, I were obliged to choose between plastic work and written poetry, if I had to abandon either sculpture or poems, I would choose to write poems.”1
As for Arp's situation as a poet of surrealism, it is an unusual one. His first poems in German, written as early as 1917 and published in 1919 under the title Die wolkenpumpe, belong to the period when he participated actively in Dada, in Zurich. His first poem in French, “L'Air est une Racine,” appeared much later, in the sixth number of Le Surréalisme au service de la Révolution, in May, 1933. Not until he was nearly fifty did he publish a volume of verse in French, Taches dans le Vide (1937). Throughout his life he wrote constantly about painting, collage, and sculpture, yet published comparatively little on poetry. And even in his comments upon art he seemed well content to dispense with the word...
(The entire section is 4300 words.)
SOURCE: “Arp and Surrealism,” in Symposium, Vol. 24, No. 4, Winter, 1970, pp. 354-64.
[In the following essay, Last examines Arp's place in surrealist poetry.]
Only after Arp's death in 1966 was it established that he was not born in 1887, as everyone had believed, but in the previous year. The lack of accurate information on this simple matter of fact is symptomatic of the profounder confusion surrounding his whole life and work. Arp may be acknowledged as one of the greatest sculptors of the age, yet the full range of his achievement is hardly known outside a narrow circle of professional critics and connoisseurs; equally, his poetry, although highly praised by those familiar with it, has received scant public attention.
This state of affairs is all the more curious because Arp was involved with two avant-garde movements which more than any other are now the object of increasing popular and scholarly interest: Dada and surrealism. His credentials as a surrealist particularly appear excellent in the extreme: he has composed automatic poetry filled with striking images, and fashioned pictures according to the laws of chance; in his bilingual poetry, he draws on the full resources of the French and German languages, from folktale and newspaper articles to the Bible, in order to achieve his bizarre effects; he rejects reason and progress as the twin pillars of a corrupt...
(The entire section is 3769 words.)
SOURCE: “Arpshape,” in New Statesman, Vol. 87, No. 2244, March 22, 1974, pp. 404, 406.
[In the following essay, Melly reviews Jean Arp: Collected French Writings, praising the book for providing a comprehensive view of Arp's major tenets as a writer and artist.]
the egg of fire, the egg of water, the egg of wind in the silk bag, the egg of air
Without cheating I open this book [Jean Arp: Collected French Writings] at random and point my finger at the page. I don't say I wouldn't have cheated if the result had seemed unsatisfactory, but Arp's favourite law, the law of chance, operated well enough.
Throughout a long and productive life as a sculptor, relief-maker, collagist, and maker of torn-paper pictures, Arp remained faithful to this law. In his poetry too he subscribed to its literary equivalent, automatism, and it was this which attracted him towards the Surrealist movement. He always detested ‘reason’, particularly scientific reason and its fruit, the machine. He revered nature and hoped through his work not to imitate her but to add to her repertoire of forms. To make this clear he invented the term ‘concrete art’ with the aim of drawing the distinction between what he did and the work of the abstract painters and sculptors. What they were up to, he maintained, was to provide a pictorial equivalent of one or another aspect of the observable...
(The entire section is 969 words.)
SOURCE: “Language Techniques in Jean Arp's French Poetry,” in Papers on Language and Literature, Vol. 10, No. 2, 1974, pp. 159-74.
[In the following essay, Kotin examines the linguistics unique to Arp's French poetry.]
The Alsatian artist and poet Jean Arp (1887-1966) produced during his lifetime many volumes of poetry in both French and German. Much has been written about him as an artist—sculptor, graphic artist, dada and surrealist painter—and there is a major study devoted to his German poetry to 1930 by Reinhard Döhl.1 But Arp's French language poetry has never been given more than a brief introduction or a rapid “appreciation,” usually by other artists, in spite of the fact that two major collections of his work appeared during his lifetime. Le Siège de l'air (Paris, 1946) contains all his published French poetry from 1915 to 1945, some with important revisions and additions, and a few translations of his German poetry. The second volume, Marcel Jean's careful and thorough edition of the entire volume of Arp's poetry (with a few exceptions), appeared in December 1966 under the title Jours effeuillés: Poèmes, essais, souvenirs, 1920-1965 (Paris, 1966; further references are cited in my text). Its printing was completed just before Arp's death, and Jean was aided by Arp's second wife, Margaret Hagenbach-Arp. Included in the volume are many previously...
(The entire section is 6080 words.)
SOURCE: “Jean Arp, Poet and Artist,” in Dada Surrealism, Vol. 7, 1977, pp. 109-20.
[In the following essay, Kotin examines the relationship between Arp's poetry and his visual art.]
L'air monte les couleurs le quittent. La terre perd ses bourgeons blancs. La pompe à mots ne marche plus. Les bouquets ont cessé de rêver.
Jours effeuillés, p. 531
Although famous as an artist and sculptor, Jean Arp is not yet considered a major French poet, and this in spite of the excellent collection of his works published by Marcel Jean and titled Jours effeuillés.1 The French poetry has never been the object of complete and in-depth analysis. Nevertheless, its importance as a contribution to the development and evolution of French poetry since the Surrealists is incontestable. Although there is a study of his German poetry,2 not all of the verbal techniques for which the French poetry is most remarkable exist in German, while others characteristic of the German poetry cannot be found in the French. Yet just as there is an important relationship between the German and the French poetry, so Arp's metaphorical “bilingualism”—his visual and verbal binarism—reveals a fundamental unity of artistic creation. Some linguistic techniques used in the French poetry have deep and vital similarities with the plastic techniques. Thus Arp is indeed a...
(The entire section is 5308 words.)
SOURCE: “Arp and Novalis: The Loss of a Sophie,” in Symposium, Vol. 40, No. 3, Fall, 1986, pp. 209-22.
[In the following essay, Isaacs discusses the influence of the mystic Novalis on Arp, particularly as evidenced by their respective works responding to the deaths of their loved ones.]
“Rêvé-je, lorsque j'aperçois Sophie, lumineuse et calme sur le fond de pétales au blanc clair, d'une étoile au blanc clair? Rêvé-je, lorsque j'entends Sophie parler en moi et que nous nous entretenons ainsi? Rêvé-je, lorsque je vois Sophie, vivante, sereinement morte et, morte sereinement vivante, ciselée ainsi dans une gemme que je tiens entre mes mains réelles? Le souvenir et le rêve s'écoulent l'un dans l'autre comme de puissants fleuves. Ce qui se développe en eux existe éternellement.”1 These are not the words of the great German Christian mystic Frederich von Hardenberg, better known by the “nom de plume” Novalis, rueing the death of his fifteen-year-old fiancée, Sophie von Kuhn, who died in 1797; they are, rather, those of Jean Hans Arp, speaking of his wife Sophie Taeuber-Arp, who died in 1943.2 Novalis for his part had expressed his grief in the following terms: “Indem ich glaube dass Söpischen um mich ist und erscheinen kann … so ist sie aus um mich—und erscheint endlich gewiss—gerade da, wo ich nicht vermute.”3
Novalis is one...
(The entire section is 6067 words.)
Fauchereau, Serge. Arp. New York: Rizzoli, 1988, 128 p.
Biography focusing on Arp's career in painting and sculpture.
Read, Herbert. The Art of Jean Arp. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1968, 216 p.
Survey of Arp's work in both the literary and plastic arts; also contains biographical information.
Soby, James Thrall, ed. Arp. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1958, 126 p.
Illustrated collection of essays on Arp's painting and sculpture, including an essay by Arp.
Additional coverage of Arp's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81-84, 25-28R; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 42, 77; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 5; European Writers; and Literature Resource Center.
(The entire section is 113 words.)