The Greatest Cabaret in the History of the World
It is criminal that Emmy Hennings’s books have not been translated from German to English after more than 100 years. She was arguably the founder of Dadaism in 1916, the most important art movement of the 20th century. To the press, she was unquestionably Dada’s tentpole performer. Dada — anarchic, nihilistic, and self-consciously weird — continues to inspire. All Hennings’s male contemporaries have translated books available, so what is the holdup? I’ll buy a German-English dictionary and do it myself if I have to. Her books run hundreds of pages so it will take me the rest of my life. But it’s not fair that German readers hog her work to themselves, especially with modern interest in the female Dadaists. The delay is perhaps explained by continual critical confusion over her true role.
Hennings was a political radical and anti-war activist. She faced prison, morphine addiction, mental health issues, and homelessness. Before Dada, “grinding poverty” drove her into sex work to feed herself. Among the literally starving artists in Europe circa World War I, Dada’s mama had to eat. Then, as artillery shells fell in the distance, she started the greatest cabaret in the history of the world.