Hugo Ball

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Hugo Ball
Born (1886-02-22)22 February 1886
Pirmasens, German Empire
Died 14 September 1927(1927-09-14) (aged 41)
Sant'Abbondio, Switzerland
Nationality German
Known for Poetry
Movement Dada
Hugo Ball's 1916 poem, "Karawane"

Hugo Ball (German: [bal]; 22 February 1886 – 14 September 1927) was a German author, poet and one of the leading Dada artists.


Hugo Ball was born in Pirmasens, German Empire, and was raised in a middle-class Catholic family.[1] He studied sociology and philosophy at the universities of Munich and Heidelberg (1906–1907). In 1910, he moved to Berlin in order to become an actor and collaborated with Max Reinhardt. At the beginning of the First World War he tried joining the army as a volunteer, but was denied enlistment for medical issues. After witnessing the invasion of Belgium, he was disillusioned saying: "The war is founded on a glaring mistake, men have been confused with machines". Considered a traitor in his country, he crossed the frontier with the cabaret performer and poet Emmy Hennings, whom he would marry in 1920, and settled in Zürich. Here, Ball continued his interest in anarchism, and in Mikhail Bakunin in particular; he also worked on the book of Bakunin translations, which never got published. Although interested in anarchist philosophy, he nonetheless rejected it for its militant aspects, and viewed it as only a means to his personal goal of enlightenment.[2]

In 1916, Hugo Ball created the Dada Manifesto, making a political statement about his views on the terrible state of society and acknowledging his dislike for philosophies in the past claiming to possess the ultimate Truth. The same year as the Manifesto, in 1916, Ball wrote his poem "Karawane," which is a poem consisting of nonsensical words. The meaning however resides in its meaninglessness, reflecting the chief principle behind Dadaism. Some of his other best known works include the poem collection 7 schizophrene Sonette, the drama Die Nase des Michelangelo, a memoir of the Zürich period Flight Out of Time: A Dada Diary, and a biography of Hermann Hesse, entitled Hermann Hesse. Sein Leben und sein Werk (1927).

As co-founder of the Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich, he led the Dada movement in Zürich, and is one of the people credited with naming the movement "Dada", by allegedly choosing the word at random from a dictionary. His companion and future wife, Emmy Hennings, was also a member of Dada.

His involvement with the Dada movement lasted approximately two years. He then worked for a short period as a journalist, for Freie Zeitung in Bern. After returning to Catholicism in July 1920, Ball retired to the canton of Ticino where he lived a religious and relatively poor life. He contributed to the journal "Hochland" during this time.[3] He died in Sant'Abbondio, Switzerland of stomach cancer on September 14, 1927.[4]

His poem "Gadji beri bimba" was later adapted to the song "I Zimbra" on the 1979 Talking Heads album Fear of Music; he received a writing credit for the song on the track listing. A voice-cut-up collage of his poem "Karawane" by German artist Kommissar Hjuler, member of Boris Lurie's NO!Art Movement, was released as LP at Greek label Shamanic Trance in 2010.


  • Die Nase des Michelangelo. Tragikomödie in vier Auftritten, 1911
  • Der Henker von Brescia. Drei Akte der Not und Ekstase, 1914
  • Flametti oder Vom Dandysmus der Armen. Roman. Reiss, Berlin 1918
  • Zur Kritik der deutschen Intelligenz. Der Freie Verlag, Bern 1919
    • redeveloped as: Die Folgen der Reformation. Duncker & Humblot, München 1924
  • Byzantinisches Christentum. Drei Heiligenleben (zu Joannes Klimax, Dionysius Areopagita und Symeon dem Styliten). Duncker & Humblot, München 1923
  • Hermann Hesse. Sein Leben und sein Werk. S. Fischer, Berlin 1927
  • Die Flucht aus der Zeit (Diary). Duncker & Humblot, München 1927
  • Gesammelte Gedichte mit Photos und Faksimiles, hg. v. Annemarie Schütt-Hennings. Arche, Zürich 1963
  • Tenderenda der Phantast. Roman. Arche, Zürich 1967
Bibliography in English
  • Ball, Hugo (1974). Flight Out of Time: A Dada Diary. trans. Ann Raimes. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 0-670-31841-8. 
  • Ball, Hugo (1993). Critique of the German Intelligentsia. trans. Brian Harris. Columbia University Press. 
  • Blago Bung, Blago Bung, Hugo Ball's Tenderenda the Fantast, Richard Huelsenbeck's Fantastic Prayers, & Walter Serner's Last Loosening - three key texts of Zurich ur-Dada. Translated and introduced by Malcolm Green. Atlas Press, ISBN 0-947757-86-4
  • Flametti, or The Danydism of the Poor, trans. Catherine Schelbert, Wakefield Press, MA, 2014 (ISBN 978-1-939663-03-0)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ball, Hugo (1974). Flight Out of Time: A Dada Diary by Hugo Ball. trans. Ann Raimes. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 0-670-31841-8. ISBN 0-670-31841-8, ISBN 0-670-31841-8, ISBN 0-670-31841-8, ISBN 0-670-31841-8.
  2. ^ "I have examined myself carefully. I could never bid chaos welcome, blow up bridges, and do away with ideas. I am not an anarchist." Flight out of Time, Introduction. University of California Press (1996)
  3. ^ Mehring, Reinhard (2014). Carl Schmitt: A Biography. Polity. pp. 151–153. ISBN 0745652247. 
  4. ^ Ball, Hugo (1974). Flight Out of Time: A Dada Diary by Hugo Ball. trans. Ann Raimes. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 0-670-31841-8. ISBN 0-670-31841-8. ISBN 0-670-31841-8. ISBN 0-670-31841-8. ISBN 0-670-31841-8.

External links[edit]