Generating Ideas the Dada Way

On a rather normal day in 1925, in an old house at 54 Rue Du Chateau, a group of anti-war Dada philosophers sat down at a rickety table to discuss the day’s events. This group, including artist Andre Breton, Writer Marcel Duhamel, poet Benjamin Peret, Jacques Prevert and Yves Tanguy, decided to add a new twist to an old parlor game of community story telling. Instead of playing by telling the story aloud, they decided to do it on paper. To ensure the mysterious workings of the game, they also decided to conceal their writing from each other.

They followed a now common place method:

  1. The first writer wrote a noun and then folded the paper so the next writer could not see what was written.
  2. The second writer added an adjective and concealed his contribution as well.
  3. The third writer added a verb
  4. The fourth writer added a predicate noun
  5. The fifth writer added a modifying adjective or adverb.

In this first session, the line “Le cadavre / exquis / boira / le vin / nouveau” (The exquisite corpse will drink the young wine) was created and served as the basis for the name of the game. Keep in mind, this was just a parlor game meant for fun. It wasn’t meant as a serious piece of art. And that’s why it was a great way to generate ideas. It created some interesting juxtapositions in language by putting words together in absurd, and often intriguing, combinations.

The real genius was learning how an individual writer could harness this power of language generation without collaborating. For those of us with access to an article spinning program, it is as simple as setting up a template with the phrases in the same order as the 54 Rue Du Chateau group and randomly spinning your phrases. Yes, I am suggesting a legitimate use for those horrible spinning programs out there. A free one will do just fine. Here’s a good free spinner to try it with: the article queen online spinning program.

For those of us who are a bit more old school there is a manual method that works just as well, albeit a bit more slowly. Collect five small bowls, several small pieces of paper and a pencil. Write down as many nouns as you can think of on small strips of paper and deposit them in the first bowl. Do the same for adjectives, verbs, predicate nouns and adjective and adverbs. Deposit these in each of the other four bowls. When you have finished, simply draw out one word from each bowl to create your phrase.

Once you’ve created a phrase that you really like, use it as a starting point for your next piece of writing. Remember, you don’t need to use the line in the finished product. This is just a way to get your juices flowing and crack through that horrible writer’s block. Of course, with a bit of luck, you could always become the next huge thing in surrealist poetry too!