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    Marcel Duchamp: aesthetics

    Subject matter

    Marcel Duchamp’s paintings from the period 1909 to 1912, before he conceived of the Large Glass and the associated readymades, differed in significant respects from those of his contemporaries, the Cubists and Futurists.
          In works such as Dulcinea, Coffee Mill and Nude Descending a Staircase he experimented with serially fragmented movement. Whereas the Cubists and the Futurists literally fragmented the space of an object or its movement in time, Duchamp, with some irony, tracked the cinematic passage of his subjects through pictorial space.
          Even more significantly, Duchamp’s early works had a distinctive approach to subject matter. Most used the human figure and many explored ideas based on family relationships. Unlike some of his peers Duchamp’s increasingly schematic representation of the human figure was not motivated by a desire to create a formally abstract art. On the contrary, as apparent from the Large Glass to Etant donnes, the human form, or the potential to interact kinesthetically and conceptually with a representation of the human form, is a constant throughout his work.
          In his conversations with James Johnson Sweeney and Pierre Cabanne he unequivocally rejected the abstract option. To Sweeney he defended the reduction of a head in movement to a ‘bare line’. He reasoned that when a form passed through space it would generate lines rather than anatomy. Because he was looking for ways to express the ‘inward’ rather than ‘externals’, the depiction of the human ‘skeleton’ seemed unnecessary.

    Reduce, reduce, reduce, was my thought; – but at the same time my aim was turning inward, rather than towards externals. And later, following this view, I came to feel an artist might use anything – a dot, a line, the most conventional or unconventional symbol – to say what he wanted to say. The Nude, in this way, was a direct step to the large glass, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even. And in the King and Queen painted shortly after the Nude there are no human forms or indications of anatomy. But in it one can see where the forms are placed; and for all this reduction I would never call it an ‘abstract’ painting. (4)
          Asked by Cabanne if he was ever an abstractionist he responded, Not in the real sense of the word. A canvas like The Bride is abstract, since there isn’t any figuration. But it isn’t abstract in the narrow sense of the word. It’s visceral, so to speak. (5)
          If the recognition of the visceral presence of the human body is taken in conjunction with Duchamp’s statements that eroticism is a pre-condition for all of his works then any reading of his oeuvre must be able to account for the presence and the persistence of the human dynamic as subject matter throughout his artistic career.
          Robert Lebel recounts the importance human-based subject matter had for Duchamp. Having noted Duchamp’s use of his family as subject matter he commented that,

    he was frankly advocating an art which, over and beyond aesthetic formulae, was concerned with everyone’s fundamental preoccupations (family relationships). There was nothing more elementary, more generalised, more popular if you will, than the complex problems he had set himself to solve. By stubbornly concentrating his efforts on these affective relationships, he had in mind nothing less than a return to the great themes of legend and he strove for the collective dimensions of mythology. (6)
          Duchamp’s achievement of a mythic level of artistic expression derived from an understanding of the relation of the ‘family’ dynamic to the logic of mythology precisely mirrors Shakespeare’s development of a mythic philosophy in his Sonnets and plays.

    Form and content

    By the time Duchamp conceived of the Large Glass and the readymades he had not only demonstrated a mastery of the formal conditions necessary for making a work of ‘art’ he had also developed a mastery of artistic subject matter, or content. The ultimate demonstration of his mastery of content is evident in the Large Glass. And true to his intentions of leaving at least a trace of the visceral in his work, the same subject matter, though ‘reduced’, is present in all the readymades. This is apparent both in his choice of object and in the caption usually applied to a readymade.
          When asked by Richard Hamilton if anyone ‘can’ make a readymade by signing it, Duchamp agreed, but warned that the readymades operate under very demanding conditions of choice and taste.

    One can. It should be completely impersonal, because if you introduce the choice, it means that you introduce taste, you go back to the old ideals of taste and bad and good taste and uninteresting taste. And taste is the great enemy of art:A-R-T. (7)
          To achieve the required degree of sensitivity it is necessary to understand the logical conditions for artistic content even in seemingly trivial works like the readymades. Duchamp warned that though the readymades looked trivial, they contain a ‘much higher degree of intellectuality’.
          The purely formal statement ‘This is Art’, which Pictorial Nominalism suggests transfixes art as a proper name, cannot begin to capture the subtle variety of ways in which the content of the Large Glass is present as an ‘infrathin’ meaning in all of the readymades. The statement ‘This is Art’ also fails to emulate Duchamp’s intent because, while Duchamp was superbly conscious of the role of the spectator in art, in his own works the status of ‘art’ is perpetually in question.
          George Heard Hamilton asked Duchamp if there was any way in which a readymade can be thought of as a work of art. Duchamp reckoned the difficulty lay in the attempt to define art. Because every century has a new definition of art, it seemed ‘legitimate’ not to try defining art.

    So if we accept the idea that not trying to define art is a legitimate conception, then the readymade can be seen as a sort of irony, or an attempt at showing the futility of trying to define art, because here it is, a thing that I call art. I didn’t even make it by myself; … I take it readymade, even though it was made in a factory. But it is not made by hand, so it is a form of the possibility of denying the possibility of defining art. (8)
          The statement from A l’Infinitif (the White Box) that asks ‘Can one make works which are not works of art?’ is consistent with Duchamp’s aesthetic programme of avoiding the formal claim for any particular object that it could be said of it, ‘This is Art’. It is logically impossible to make a wholly conscious judgment that something qualifies as a work of art.
          Pictorial Nominalism recounts the conversation Duchamp had with James Johnson Sweeney where Duchamp talked of his attitude to painting in 1913. The passage in Pictorial Nominalism correctly reports that in ceasing to paint for ‘the public’ Duchamp still wants to paint for himself but then it ignores that proviso. Instead it focuses on the moment he says, ‘Marcel, no more painting’ as if he intentionally abandoned painting altogether.
          Duchamp’s decision, though, to ‘paint for himself ’was not a rejection of painting but rather a rejection of the professional sense of pleasing the public, of capitulating to habit or taste. Only through misrepresenting his intentions could Thierry de Duve’s claim that Duchamp substituted the statement ‘This is Art’ for the act of painting be sustained. When Sweeney enquired about Duchamp’s break from painting about the time he made the Chocolate Grinder , he said it was the moment at which he made the ‘big decision’.

    The hardest was when I told myself ‘Marcel no more painting, go get a job.’ I looked for a job in order to get enough time to paint for myself. I got a job as a librarian in Paris in the Bibliotheque St Genevieve. It was a wonderful job because I had so many hours to myself. (9)
          Sweeney then asked if he meant painting for himself rather than to please other people.

    Exactly…There are two kinds of artist: the artist that deals with society, is integrated into society; and the other artist, the completely freelance artist, who has no obligations…I didn’t want to depend upon my painting for a living. (10)
          When questioned about the ‘ideal’ public he would paint for, he responded that he was positioning himself for that ideal public. He did not want to please the ‘immediate public’ because of the dangers of success. The only public that interested him was the ‘true public’ in fifty to a hundred years. Duchamp insisted that he stopped painting for the public to avoid leading himself into a form of taste.

    Repeat the same thing long enough and it becomes taste. If you interrupt your work, I mean after you have done it, then it becomes, it stays a thing in itself; but if it is repeated a number of times it becomes taste. (11)
          And in a conversation with Jerry Tallmer, Duchamp agreed that the idea he gave up painting is a ‘myth’.

    People get the wrong idea about my not painting. It’s true and it’s not true at the same time. But I did not take a vow. That’s all nonsense…Yes a myth. I’m ready to paint if I have an idea. But it’s the idea that counts. (12)
          To a question from Cabanne about a decision to stop painting he responded that he ‘never made it, it came by itself ’. (13) When Denis de Rougemont asked Duchamp if he decided to give up painting forever, he insisted he had not decided anything and was just waiting for ideas. And to Lou Spence of Time magazine he said,

    I myself haven’t given up painting, I’m just not painting now, but if I have an idea tomorrow I will do it. (14)
          It is difficult to avoid the suggestion that de Duve’s preference for hearing Duchamp say he had given up art altogether is driven by the demands of the formalist avant-garde position to which Pictorial Nominalism seeks to give a rationale. How is it possible, though, to appreciate the accomplishment of Duchamp by focusing on other artists, their works and associated art movements, when they have responded in such a limited way to an aspect of Duchamp’s oeuvre over the last 70 years and particularly in the last 30 years? Worse than that, how is it possible to appreciate Duchamp’s accomplishment through the eyes of the spectator whose function is reduced in Pictorial Nominalism to the act of naming, of saying ‘This is Art’, when it is patent from Duchamp’s work and his statements that this was not the way he operated?
          The formal statement ‘This is Art’ certainly does not begin to account for the persistent and consistent content in Duchamp’s work. In the interview with Tallmer it is obvious there are other criteria besides simple ‘naming’ that enable something to become the work of art. When Duchamp says, ‘Even a grocer can be – can be – an artist’, the critical word is ‘can’. (15)
          The possibility that a person ‘can’make a work of art from anything is conditional on them ‘having an idea’. It is evident from the content of the Large Glass, as the basis for the ‘operation’ that determines the ‘ideas’ for the ready- mades, what type of ideas Duchamp considers necessary for some thing to be a work of art.
          What does it matter if the formalist posturing of a Clement Greenberg or the word games of a Joseph Kosuth are relegated to their deserved art historical cul de sacs? What if it can be shown instead that the ‘position’ Duchamp wished to develop in his ‘painting’, in isolation from the insidious effects of taste, influence and success, equates precisely with the content evident in his later work.

    Beyond taste

    The formalist position argued for in Pictorial Nominalism and Kant after Duchamp makes the role of the art viewer central to the art process. Thierry de Duve claims the viewer is someone who can imitate Duchamp by saying ‘This is Art’. So it is essential to be clear about what role the art viewer has in determining an object’s art status.
          The role of the art public in the artist’s process of conception and fabrication varies from extremely marginal to non-existent. This was certainly the case for the twenty years of complete secrecy that surrounded Duchamp’s conception and fabrication of Etant donnes, and the revelation of its existence only after his death.
          Worse, the formalist position does not heed the fact that Duchamp was looking to create an object that neither was nor was not a work of art. In his Notes he asks, ‘Can one make works that are not works of art’. The viewer does not even, after Duchamp’s supposed offering of it for nomination, say of an object ‘This is Art’ as if that was the sole function of the potentiality that is art.
          Even Pictorial Nominalism and Kant after Duchamp acknowledge, as have others, that the readymades do nothing if they have not, over the last 80 or so years, maintained their enigmatic status as items that hover between the potentiality of being defined as art or not art. Duchamp is explicit when he says he did not call the Bicycle Wheel a work of art.

    The wheel serves no purpose, unless it’s to rid myself of the conventional appearance of a work of art. It was a fantasy. I didn’t call it a work of art. Actually I didn’t call it anything. I wanted to finish with the idea with creating works of art. (16)
          Because Duchamp was fully committed to an aesthetic expression free of rational constraints, then being an artist or not being an artist was of little moment to him. Similarly, to call a work art or not to call it art was of no interest to him. So if the viewers, at some point after Duchamp has created a readymade, decide to incorporate it in the category ‘Art’, supposedly to do what Duchamp determinedly decided not to do, then they do something outside the immediate influence of Duchamp.
          The viewers, if they are acting in the guise of Duchamp, cannot be merely completing what he left in abeyance. If they simply designate a work by Duchamp ‘This is Art’ then they are not accounting for the whole panoply of meaning fully explored in the Large Glass and imbued in the readymades.
          Why, for instance, is the Large Glass not subject to a similar nomination process in Pictorial Nominalism’s assessment of the public role in determining whether something is a work of art? To suggest the principle function of the readymades was to allow for such a public nomination process merely perpetuates a common art historical practice of reinterpreting an oeuvre according to extraneous criteria. It seems evident that Pictorial Nominalism and Kant after Duchamp do not begin to consider the range, the depth and the logical consistency of the content in his oeuvre.
          Thierry de Duve’s fascination with the phrase ‘a sort of pictorial nominalism’ leads to a distortion of the significance of the elements in Duchamp’s oeuvre, and has led to a reduction of its multifaceted mythic dynamic to a singular formalist art historical moment in the process of naming. Only for the purpose of art historical categorisation might it make sense to admit the readymades into the category of ‘Art’. This, however, does not alter one jot the importance of their authorial dependency nor their self-contradictory status.
          It seems perverse to claim that the readymades are works wrung dry of any possible meaning when a nominalist-based theory can identify only two or three of the readymades as candidates. The desire to persist with such claims despite the evidence seems born of a need to demonstrate to theorists like Clement Greenberg that his formalist aesthetic programme cannot escape a Duchampian underpinning. When the significance of the Passage of the Virgin to the Bride is displaced, when the significance of the readymades is reduced, and when de Duve offers his own challenge to Greenberg’s abstract aesthetic with the idea of a ‘Blank Canvas’ he forces on those works a reading that bears only marginally on Duchamp’s whole oeuvre.
          De Duve’s persistence in referring to the Fountain as the ‘Urinal’ compounds the confusion by not explicitly recognising the authorial interventions that make it ridiculous to consider that a naive viewer has an postor even co-authorial option to say of a ‘urinal’, ‘This is Art’. In the case of the Fountain the viewers do not choose the object, and do not invert it to alter its orientation in space about the ‘Hinge Point’ of the groin. They do not designate it Fountain, nor sign it ‘R. Mutt’, nor propose it for exhibition, nor resign from the Society of Independent Artists because of its refusal for exhibition by the jurors of the Society.
          Neither do the viewers write, or cause to be written, an article in The Blind Man defending the Fountain’s status as an exhibitable object under the rules of the Society. Nor do they have it photographed, or included in the catalogue of works, or make statements to insist the readymades take their meaning from their contextualisation within the aesthetic dynamic of the Large Glass.
          If the viewers had done all of the above then they would identify themselves as a ‘anartist’ with a disinterest in matters of art or anti-art, religion and anti-religion. In short, they would not be interested in deciding to say ‘This is Art’.
          Instead, Duchamp was more than interested in moving beyond the exigencies of public ‘taste’ or judgment. Considering the changes in public response to his work and the likelihood of the vacillations continuing beyond his death, and considering his determination to preserve his works in miniature in the Box in a Valise, and in a permanent collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the likelihood of the arrangement not extending far beyond his death, Duchamp was more acutely conscious than most of the role played by the public in the artistic process.
          He does acknowledge that he has no control over the viewers’ taste. In an interview with Georges Charbonnier he suggested the artist is not fully conscious of the artistic process.

    I believe that the artist doesn’t know what he does. He knows what he does physically and even his gray matter thinks normally, but he is incapable of assessing the aesthetic result. … I sincerely believe that the picture is made as much by the onlooker as by the artist. Therefore the spectator is as important as the artist in the art phenomenon. (17)
          Charbonnier asked if the artist comes to an understanding over time.

    No, because the onlooker, by his interpretation, adds what the artist never even thought of doing. He …decides what is put into the Louvre. (18)
          Duchamp explained further in his talk, The Creative Act.

    If we give the attributes of a medium to the artist, we must then deny him the state of consciousness on the aesthetic plane about what he is doing and why he is doing it. All his decisions in the artistic execution of the work rest with pure intuition and cannot be translated into a selfanalysis, spoken or written, or even thought out. (19)
          The historical distinction between the artist who makes the work of art and the viewers who determines its fortunes is quite clear. But there is no suggestion that the viewers are involved in creating the work before it is open to transference. Nor has the creation of the work involved the artist simply saying ‘This is Art’.
          If the viewers determine the taste of a period, through their judgment as to whether something is a work of art, then they are acting against what Duchamp considers basic to art. If taste forms the basis of art then art is a ‘substantial’ mirage.
          When Otto Hahn asked what difference there is between art and crazes, Duchamp responded that taste is a temporary fashion that changes over the years and throughout the history of art. He thinks the public ‘is the victim of a really staggering plot’. When the critics speak of ‘the truth of art’ they make it seem like the ‘truth of religion’ but for Duchamp such truth does not exist. Instead he ‘believes in nothing because to believe gives rise to a mirage’. Hahn asked Duchamp if he would rid the world of the mirage.

    No. I only said that art was a mirage. A mirage very pretty to live with, but a mirage all the same. I find that it doesn’t exist, but I did not say it was bad. (20)
          In response to a question from Charbonnier, Duchamp said art does have meaning when it is free from the dictates of taste.

    Art as I understand it is a much more general thing and much less dependant on each period. The blending of taste with the word ‘art’ is, for me, a mistake. Art is something much more profound than the taste of the period. (21)
          Duchamp’s dismissal of period taste is not a complete dismissal of artistic practice nor is his acknowledgement of the influence of the viewer a fatalistic acceptance of the artist’s powerlessness. The final comment shows he was aware of a level of artistic practice free of such limitations. The nature of that level of operation inherently critiques a limited nominalistic approach.

    The limitation of formalism for reading Duchamp

    I do not question the legitimacy of an interest in the more formal aspects of Duchamp’s accomplishment. Pictorial Nominalism and Kant after Duchamp have brought to light neglected areas of Duchamp’s approach. And Duchamp’s work requires the philosophical attention at the level of a Kant at least.
          What I do take issue with are the extrapolations from those philosophical cues to statements about the significance or relevance of his oeuvre as a whole or the position of the Large Glass within it. It comes as no surprise that, on the basis of an art historical formalism, Thierry de Duve claims that The Passage from the Virgin to the Bride is the crucial work for an appreciation of the accomplishment of the readymades and that it is a mistake to think the Large Glass is central to all Duchamp did. These claims, though, are completely contrary to Duchamp’s own statements, and the acceptance by many others, that the Large Glass is the crucial and central work.
          Duchamp confirmed to Arturo Schwarz that in his life he had done only one work, the Large Glass. (22) He said further that ‘the Large Glass is the single most important work I ever made’. (23)
          In the interview with Jerry Tallmer, in response to the question as to what in his own work did he think had been most worthwhile, Duchamp responded, ‘the Glass’, and affirmed that ‘the Large Glass for me is the only thing that I think shows no direct influence’. (24) When Rosalind Constable asked Duchamp how he felt about the Large Glass, he said ‘I like it very much. In my career, if I may call it that, it has been a key painting for me, decidedly’. (25)
          Because Thierry de Duve fails to relate the readymades to the Large Glass in the way Duchamp does, the readymades appear as singular instances in his theory of naming. He even attributes a sense of alienation to the ‘urinal’ that he claims can be read as ‘evidence of decadence’ or as holding the promise of a ‘renewal’ through the ‘emancipation’ of art from its past.

    In conclusion, Duchamp’s urinal wields the disquieting proof of art’s alienation, an alienation that seems definitive to those who read it as evidence of decadence, provisional to those who see it as the premise of renewal, and necessary for those for whom the faculty of negating is what, in the end, promises emancipation. (26)
          Neither does it surprise that by the end of Kant after Duchamp, after attempting a formalist critique of Kant out of Duchamp’s readymades, no progress has been made toward understanding what makes Duchamp a ‘great artist’. I will be arguing that it is principally through an appreciation of what it means to say Duchamp established a mastery of the possibility of any content that there is a potential for such an insight.
          It is inevitable that Kant after Duchamp, which falls within the scholarly tradition in its preference for form over content, should wilt so dramatically at the end. An appreciation of Duchamp’s achievement capable of connecting the Large Glass and the readymades in a logically consistent and thematically comprehensive way is required to avoid the privations of formalism and the abysm of spurious speculation over psychological ‘content’ in the mode of Schwarz and Golding.

    Content from the past

    Because the formalist programme of modern art has been the basis for Thierry de Duve’s interpretation of Duchamp’s work, he makes no attempt to account for the content of the Large Glass and other works. Pictorial Nominalism and Kant after Duchamp consistently reduce the content of Duchamp’s oeuvre to formalist devices. The significance of The Passage from the Virgin to the Bride is reduced to a bare exemplar of the passage from the pictorial to the nominal, which in turn limits the readymades to the fact of naming or being named. Then de Duve forges a connection from the readymades to Greenbergian abstraction by way of a postulated ‘Blank Canvas’. The most that can be said of such an approach is that there is consistency in saying nothing about Duchamp’s expressed interest in revisiting the content of traditional art works.
          In his conversation with Alain Jouffroy, Duchamp recounted his intention to derive his content from traditional artworks.

    There is a great difference between a painting which goes beyond the retinal impression – a painting which uses the tubes of colour as a springboard to go further. This was the case with the religious painters of the Renaissance. The tubes of colour didn’t interest them. What they were interested in was to express their idea of divinity, in one form or another. With a different intention and for other ends, I took the same concept: pure painting doesn’t interest me either in itself or as a goal to pursue. My goal is different, is a combination or, at any rate, an expression which only gray matter can produce…I was interested in ideas – not merely in visual products. I wanted to put painting once again at the service of the mind. (27)
          He repeated the claim when talking to James Johnson Sweeney.

    In fact until the last hundred years all painting had been literary or religious: it had all been at the service of the mind. This characteristic was lost little by little during the last century. The more sensual appeal a painting provided – the more animal it became – the more highly it was regarded. (28)
          And he reiterated his interest in ‘other functions’ in his dialogue with Pierre Cabanne.

    Since Courbet, it’s been believed that painting is addressed to the retina. That was everyone’s error. The retinal shudder! Before, painting had other functions: it could be religious, philosophical, moral. If I had the chance to take an anti-retinal attitude, it unfortunately hasn’t changed much; our whole century is completely retinal, except for the Surrealists who tried to go outside it somewhat. And still, they didn’t go so far! (29)
          When Philippe Collin enquired if the readymade is against the ‘seduction of the retina’, Duchamp affirmed his commitment to traditional ‘anecdote’.

    There is no more anecdote, no more religion; there is nothing else… It’s not the visual question of the readymades that counts… (30)
          This suggests there was more, much more, for Duchamp in the challenge he issued in the readymades than a single formal condition for the possibility of an artwork. The comments suggest he was interested in incorporating into his aesthetic dynamic the logical conditions for the full range of content available to the art of ideas in its protean variety throughout the history of art. Arthur Miller noted in 1936 that Duchamp ‘hinted he is working out a system to measure the imaginative power in works of art’. (31)
          And in a talk given to college students Duchamp is even more explicit about the relevance of the ‘para-religious mission’ of the artist.

    …college education, develops the deeper faculties of the individual, the self-analysis and the knowledge of our spiritual heritage. These are the important qualities which the artist acquires in college, and which will allow him to keep alive the great spiritual traditions with which even religion seems to have lost its contact. I believe that today, more than ever before, the artist has this para-religious mission, to keep lit the flame of an inner vision of which the work of art seems to be the closest translation for the layman. It goes without saying that to feel such a mission the highest education is indispensable. (32)

    The aesthetic dynamic out of mythic content

    In the period 1912 to 1913 Duchamp came to appreciate the logical basis for mythic content, and so the logical conditions for art to be able to convey any content at all. This was the period following the rejection of the Nude descending the Staircase from the Paris Independents. During his subsequent trip to Munich, Duchamp sketched the first ideas for the Large Glass, and formulated the ideas that led to readymades such as the Bicycle Wheel and Pharmacy.
          By the time Duchamp had fully elaborated the project for the Large Glass he was in complete command of the aesthetic dynamic. His application of the aesthetic dynamic was consistent with the philosophic conditions for mythic expression. He demonstrated this command by the quality, consistency and variety of his artistic output over the next five decades.
          Duchamp considered the logical conditions given expression in the Large Glass to be a ‘group of operations’. The title of the Large Glass, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors,Even, was not intended to evoke any particular myth or mythology. Rather, consistent with his ambition, he wanted to articulate the imaginative conditions for any artwork, traditional or contemporary. He explained to Andre Breton, that the Large Glass ‘has no more importance for me than a partial and descriptive title and not that of a title with an intentionally mythical theme’. (33)
          The Large Glass incorporates the logical conditions for consistent aesthetic expression. Any form of art takes these conditions as a given whether it acknowledges them or not. In most art works only a proportion of the logical conditions achieve expression. Most art works presume on the mythology prevailing in the culture to provide the balance. It is as if the relationship of the readymades to the Large Glass in Duchamp’s oeuvre mirrors the relationship of the lesser art works in a particular culture or society to its underpinning mythology.
          But more than that, the Large Glass enunciates the logical conditions for human aesthetic expression. When Duchamp said he based everything he did on the Large Glass, he knew his readymades also carried within them the consciousness of the logical conditions, or operation, for myth in general. They are the conditions that prevail in the culture but which less complete artistic formulations express largely through their absence.
          Duchamp acknowledged the range of possibilities in his talk The Creative Act. He introduced the notion of the ‘art co-efficient’ to take account of the distance between the less and the more complete formulations of content. By his own standards, Duchamp’s successful expression of a mythic level of content achieves a relatively high degree of coincidence between ‘the unexpressed but intended and the unintentionally expressed’. Apollinaire recognised Duchamp’s achievement when he said that Duchamp’s work would reconcile ‘art and the people’.
          (The understanding of the logic of the relationship between art and life is even more comprehensive and complete in the Sonnets, poems and plays of Shakespeare. More than Duchamp he expresses what he intends and, unlike Duchamp, he expresses little that is not intentional.)
          The received history of recent art, as in the formalist preoccupations of Modernism, has focused almost exclusively on the formal achievement and challenge of the readymades. It barely rates by the standard of Duchamp’s art co-efficient. As a consequence, the Large Glass has been seen down the formalist art historical tunnel. Formalism represents the blind spot to rigorous philosophic art criticism. Neither have readings of the Large Glass in psychological or pseudo-scientific (alchemical) terms been any more philosophic. They have been largely speculative.
          Only Octavio Paz has attempted to treat the Large Glass as a critique of content as subject matter. He, though, was too much of a Platonist to see the connection between the readymades and the logical conditions of mythic expression. So the mythic logic presented in the Large Glass has remained an enigma which has refused to submit to analysis out of formalist and idealist concerns.

    Octavio Paz

    Of all the Duchamp’s interpreters, Octavio Paz comes closest to revealing the nature of the content in the Large Glass. Even though Paz’s approach wants dramatically for philosophic rigour, he is at least thematically aware of Duchamp’s accomplishment. This is best expressed in his suggestion that the Large Glass presents both a ‘criticism of myth’ and a ‘myth of criticism’.
          Paz, though, falls back on extant Hindu, Greek, and Christian mythologies because he is unable to determine the logic of the mythic dynamic in the Large Glass. He reveals his lack of insight into the role of the Large Glass in the complete oeuvre when he says the readymades are ‘anonymous objects’that Duchamp, through the ‘gratuitous gesture’of simply ‘choosing’, converts into ‘works of art’.
          Comparing the dynamic in the Large Glass to relationships apparent in Hindu mythologies or even in Christian mythology does not explain how the Large Glass is so critically mythic. Instead of drawing the appropriate philosophic conclusions in terms of the function of myth and criteria for a mythic possibility, Paz offers comparative mythological examples that do little more than suggest there are common elements between them and the Large Glass. Paz, who imagines that the Bride is a ‘mechanical incarnation of Kali’ or an ‘allegory of the Assumption of the Virgin,’writes that,

    Duchamp has said that she is the two-dimensional shadow of a threedimensional object, which in its turn is the projection of an unknown object of four dimensions: the shadow, the copy of a copy of an Idea. Contiguous to this Platonic vision there is another: Lebel thinks that the fourth dimension is the moment of copulation when the lovers fuse all the realities into one – the erotic dimension. (34)
          Paz’ conjunction of the Platonic and the erotic and his conjoining of ‘copulation’ and the ‘erotic dimension’ (‘when the lovers fuse all the realities into one’) ignores the logical distinction between the sexual and the erotic. Duchamp leaves the sexual outside the Large Glass in the fourth dimension precisely because art is logically erotic.
          Despite Paz’s imaginative readings from the various mythologies, the iconography of the Large Glass is not religious. Duchamp was adamant that he was not interested in the religious or the anti-religious, in theism or atheism. He had no time for the psychological and speculative baggage incorporated in the multitude of mythological expressions worldwide.
          Rather he isolated the logical elements for any mythological expression. To his credit, Octavio Paz does recognise that Mallarmé was a major influence on Duchamp. Mallarmé had such a masterly command of the formal and the symbolic dimensions of the aesthetic possibility that his work leads directly to Duchamp’s mastery of the aesthetic dimension of the mythic. To understand the nature of the mythic in the work of Duchamp it is necessary to turn to the example of Mallarmé.

    Stephane Mallarmé

    To appreciate the depth of Mallarmé’s influence on Duchamp in the period in which he was developing the imagery of the Large Glass, it is important to distinguish between the contributions of Mallarmé and that of Raymond Roussel and others. Duchamp did acknowledge that ‘it was fundamentally Roussel who was responsible for my Glass ... (he) helped me greatly on one side of my expression’. (35) The unique form and technological imagery of the Large Glass, its arrangement of hilarious mechanisms, would not have been possible without the influence of Roussel.
          The substantive subject matter or content of the Large Glass, however, derives not from Roussel but from Mallarmé. Mallarmé’s Herodiade, The Afternoon of the Faun, and most of his sonnets, prefigure the erotic dynamic of the Large Glass. Mallarmé had perfected the theme of sexual nonconsummation allied seamlessly to the inception of the poetic tract developed around a simple image.
          Mallarmé’s erotic verse recognises that the traditional association of substantive meaning with the ‘absolute’, or its counterpart ‘despair’, is not prior to the sexual/erotic dynamic. Ironically, of course, in traditional mythologies the erotic always contextualises the absolute. The everlasting male God, the formation of Adam from clay, and the virgin birth of Christ are a few of the erotic elements in Judeo/Christian mythology without which the notion of the absolute is inexpressible.
          The way Mallarmé applied erotic logic to his poetry is the key to understanding Duchamp’s work. The resolution Mallarmé affected in his mature work is the direct precursor to the ‘content’ in Duchamp’s Large Glass and later works. It is of sufficient philosophic depth for the appreciation of the content of the Large Glass. Duchamp acknowledged the significance of Mallarmé both as a crucial influence and as a poet to whose work the trajectory of art should return.

    A great figure. Modern art must return to the direction traced by Mallarmé: It must be an intellectual and not merely an animal expression. (36)
          Though Duchamp was influenced by Lafourge, Jarry, Roussel and others, and even by Seurat, Cezanne, Matisse, and Picasso, only Mallarmé’s work shows a philosophic appreciation of the basis of substantive content. It was not by chance that Mallarmé was a close friend of Edouard Manet whose paintings show a similar awareness of significant content, particularly his Olympia and Luncheon on the Grass.
          Mallarmé’s appreciation of the erotic logic of poetry gives his work a greater depth than that of other Symbolists such as Ghil, Symons, de l’Isle- Adam, Huysmans, Valery, Redon, or Moreau. His pre-eminence as the arch Symbolist, as the only one of the Symbolist group of poets to transcend the vicissitudes of style, is due to the philosophic acuity of his vision, and his awareness of the deep symbolism in the work of others (including Shakespeare).
          More than any other influence, Mallarmé’s profound symbolism leads to an appreciation of Duchamp’s philosophic precision. Duchamp’s attraction to Mallarmé’s deep symbolism was enhanced by Mallarmé’s tendency towards a pure aestheticism. Similarly, Duchamp’s lifelong ambition was to avoid the ethical or propositional language in favour of the aesthetic or singular expressions. The absence of an ethical dynamic in their work leads logically to its esoteric nature. The philosophical limitations of their aestheticism can be compared to the philosophic range of Shakespeare’s Sonnets and plays.
          Partly because of its esotericism, but principally because of the erotic logic of its content, Mallarmé’s work has suffered a similar reception to Duchamp’s. His last major work, Un coup de dés, has been treated principally as a typographic masterpiece in the same way that the Large Glass and the readymades have been treated as formalist moments by the academic avant-garde as it rewrites history.
          To overcome this narrowed perspective and so be better able to understand Duchamp’s accomplishment it is necessary to grasp the significance of Mallarmé’s formative years. In his early twenties Mallarmé confronted the ‘abyss’ that arose from the denial of the absolute, itself an abstraction of the denial of the existence of the Christian God of his youth. Mallarmé forged a philosophic and poetic resolution to the debilitating sensation of the abyss. If the abyss could be characterised as the whiteness of the unmarked page, then the first mark on the page that began the process of expressing his aesthetic insights amounted to a liberation. Because Mallarmé’s resolution was philosophic he avoided both the crisis that led Rimbaud to forgo poetry and the psychological darkness that affected the writing of Baudalaire, Lafourge, Poe, and others.
          As Leo Bersani acknowledges in his book, The Death of Stephane Mallarmé, Mallarmé resolved the quandary in a unique way. Bersani, having rejected a psychoanalytic approach to Mallarmé’s accomplishment, found himself having instead,

    to recognise the identity in Mallarmé between a sexualised mental text and a culturally viable art. What is truly radical about Mallarmé is perhaps this demonstration that the most refined cultural product need not exercise any repressive authority over human desire. Nothing is stranger than the textual difficulty which results from this harmonious relation between civilised discourse and desiring impulses...disappearance in Mallarmé is frequently a procreative act. If his writing makes manifest the negativising moves of consciousness, it also makes negativity itself an object of irony. Non-negativising moves of consciousness can cover, and abolish, the differential – and permanently unreadable – moves of an eroticised mental text. Mallarmé’s work never stops producing a sense which is nowhere, and this means that Mallarmé is at once impossible to read and extremely easy to read. (37)
          Mallarmé succeeded in elevating his concerns beyond the subjective and beyond the psychology of desire by recognising the correlation between the writing process and the sublimation of desire. His poetry acknowledges the primacy of the erotic mind for any expression in language.
          Gordan Millan in his recent biography of Mallarmé makes a similar point about Mallarmé’s identification of the body/mind relationship as the true source for beauty in poetry. Mallarmé went through a metaphysical crisis where he confronted the Abyss. He was not inclined to use traditional idealised representation to allay the sensation. Neither did he turn to a mere abstract formulation. Instead he realised that poetry or the poem itself provided certainty once committed to the page. But that was not all, as he said:

    I have descended deep enough into the void to be able to speak with certainty. Beauty alone exists and it has only one perfect expression, Poetry. Everything else is a lie – except in the case of those who live the life of the body – love and, for that love of the mind, friendship. (38)
          For Mallarmé there is no such thing as a thought so abstract that it is not in some way delicately erotic. This is because the life of the human being, even in its most exquisite poetic moments or in its communion with what it takes to be the absolute, is logically conditioned by its status in the world as a body. So living the life of the body as love and expressing beauty as poetry provide insights compared to which the disembodied absolute is a ‘lie’.

    The erotic in Duchamp's work

    The erotic tension so evident in the longer works of Mallarmé, such as Herodiade and The Afternoon of the Faun, and present as a constant theme in his sonnets and verse is given definitive expression in Duchamp’s Large Glass. There the mutual desire of the Bride and the Bachelors cannot be consummated because that possibility would transgress the boundary that delimits the artistic possibility. In his Notes for the Large Glass Duchamp commented,

    No obstinacy, ad absurdum: of hiding the coition through a glass pane with one or many objects of the shop window the penalty consists in cutting the pane and feeling regret as soon as possession is consummated. Q.E.D. (39)
          Duchamp recognises implicitly that art is made of ‘pictorial’ images logically separate from the contingency and the necessity of the sexual as a feature of the ongoing life of human beings. Art’s reality is an artifice logically dependent on the dynamics of a human mind, which is logically dependent on the body. By recognising the logical divide between the sexual and the erotic Duchamp knowingly creates ‘a sort of pictorial nominalism’.
          In his Notes Duchamp provocatively calls the sexual the 4th dimension precisely because sexual consummation cannot logically be figured into an artwork. Eroticism, as the logical condition of the mind and hence of art, is the 3rd dimension because it is the ‘shadow’ of the 4th dimension. It is but a shadow of the sexual as the biological dynamic. The logical derivation of the erotic from the sexual led Duchamp to say a number of times that eroticism is the one inescapable element in his work. All other elements such as puns, humour, irony, the technical and the mechanical are secondary and hence dispensable.

    Seriousness is a very dangerous thing. To avoid it, one must call for the intervention of humour. The only serious thing which I might consider is Eroticism – because that is serious! – And I have tried to use it as a platform – in the Bride for instance. (40)
          Duchamp is clear about the logical connection between eroticism and life. Not only does the logic of the erotic forge a link to the ‘animal’ or sexual, it also exposes the underlying ‘fantasy’ behind mythologies like the Christian.

    Eroticism is a subject very dear to me, and I certainly applied this liking, this love, to my Glass. In fact I thought the only excuse for doing anything is to introduce eroticism into life. Eroticism is close to life, closer than philosophy or anything like it, it’s an animal thing that has many facets as is pleasing to use, as you would use a tube of paint, to inject into your production so to speak. It’s there stripped bare. It’s a form of fantasy. It has a little to do also… the stripped bare probably had even a naughty connotation with Christ. You know that Christ was stripped bare and it was a naughty form of introducing eroticism and religion…’ (41)
          In his interview with Pierre Cabanne, Duchamp emphasises that eroticism is the basis of ‘everything’ despite the attempt by religions such as the Catholic to hide the erotic by dogmatically proscribing the eroticism within its mythology. After Shakespeare, Duchamp presents the most penetrating critique of the unwillingness of traditional philosophy to investigate the implications of the erotic status of mythologies. When Cabanne asked what place eroticism has his work, Duchamp replied that it was ‘enormous’, both ‘visible and conspicuous’ and ‘underlying’. Cabanne asked if the eroticism is evident in ‘The Bride’.

    It’s there too, but it was a closed-in eroticism, if you like, an eroticism that wasn’t overt. It wasn’t implied either. It’s a sort of erotic climate. Everything can be based on an erotic climate without too much trouble. I believe in eroticism a lot, because it’s truly a rather widespread thing throughout the world, a thing that everyone understands. It replaces, if you wish, what other literary schools call Symbolism, Romanticism. It could be another ‘ism’ so to speak. You are going to tell me there can be eroticism in Romanticism, also. But if eroticism is used as the principal basis, a principal end, then it takes the form of an ‘ism’ in the form of a school. (42)
          When asked what personal definition of eroticism he would give, Duchamp said,

    I don’t give a personal definition, but basically it’s really a way to bring out in the daylight things that are constantly hidden – and that aren’t necessarily erotic – because of the Catholic religion, because of social rules. To be able to reveal them, and to place them at everyone’s disposal – I think this is important because it’s the basis of everything, and no one talks about it. Eroticism was a theme, even an ‘ism’which was the basis of everything I was doing at the time of the Large Glass. It kept me from being obligated to return to existing theories, aesthetic or otherwise. (43)
          Cabanne seemed unprepared for the idea that eroticism has been an abiding element in Duchamp’s work. He wondered if the eroticism ‘has remained disguised for a rather long time’. Duchamp responded by saying ‘disguised, more or less, but not disguised out of shame’.
          In the Dialogues with Cabanne, Duchamp is explicit in identifying the erotic as central, not only to his practice but also to the multitude of mythologies that have provided the underlying ethos for cultures since the invention of language. Duchamp’s repeated mention of eroticism and its pervasive presence throughout his works far outweighs his interest in ‘nominalism’, which rises little above being a ‘sort of ’way to appreciate his procedures.

    The priority of the sexual over the erotic

    In the various literatures that mention the sexual or the erotic, the terms are frequently confused. Arturo Schwarz and even Robert Lebel make no clear or consistent distinction between the sexual and the erotic. Schwarz talks of ‘sexual intercourse’ being displaced to the ‘mental level, as if to compensate for this loss of erotic tension’. (44) Lebel thinks he sees in the Large Glass evidence that ‘love’ is a pessimistic ‘mechanism’ neither ‘spiritual’ or ‘physical’.

    Should Duchamp have revealed the basic pessimism of his scheme so publicly? He would seem to see in love only a simultaneous mechanism which in no way implies a spiritual or even physical union, man and woman acting on each other from a distance and on separate planes, she, the victim of her illusions, always keeping herself above the point of contact, while he, the prisoner of his instincts, is resigned never to reach it. (45)
          Schwarz does not clearly distinguish the ‘physical’ aspect of sexual intercourse from the mental dynamic of eroticism. And Lebel does not distinguish the erotics of the Large Glass from the sexual elements in physical union. Their confusion is telling because the common dictionary definitions of ‘sexual’ and ‘erotic’ provide the required clarity.
          Paz seems to have a clearer appreciation of the relation of the sexual to the biological and the erotic to the conceptual.

    Eroticism lives on the frontiers between the sacred and the blasphemous. The body is erotic because it is sacred. The two categories are inseparable: if the body is mere sex and animal impulse, eroticism is transformed into a monotonous process of reproduction; if religion is separated from eroticism, it tends to become a system of arid moral precepts… The body is immortal because it is mortal; this is the secret of its permanent fascination – the secret of sexuality as much as of eroticism. (46)
          Missing from their conceptualisations of the sexual and the erotic is an appreciation that the sexual is the prior condition for the erotic. The combination of insight and confusion in the use of words like ‘pessimism’, ‘prisoner’, ‘mere sex’, ‘monotonous process’ and ‘secret’ overlooks Duchamp’s precise demarcation of the sexual from the erotic in the creation of a work of art.
          Duchamp’s work does not deny the significance of sex nor is it pessimistic toward sex. It carries an affirmation, an ironic affirmation, in as much as art is logically erotic and sex is the reproductive process that is the logical precondition for art. The sexual dynamic of the body provides the logical precondition for the erotic logic of the mind. And, in turn, the capacity to think about the sexual or bodily functions is guaranteed by the logic of the relationship between the sexual and the erotic.
          Idealistic paradigms, such as the Platonic and the Cartesian, which claim there is a logical disjunction between the mind and body, do not allow of such a possibility. The persistent influence on modern thinking of apologetic idealism, with its justification of the inconsistencies in beliefs based on biblical mythology, is the principal reason Duchamp’s work has proved so difficult to understand.
          Even a sympathetic reader like Octavio Paz is sufficiently confused to read a Platonism into Duchamp’s understanding of the 4th dimension. Like Schwarz’ reliance on the psychology of alchemy, Paz’ attempt to understand the mythic depth in Duchamp’s work is awry because he does not appreciate the distinction between the sexual and the erotic for the mythic possibility. The natural logic common to Mallarmé, Duchamp, Shakespeare, and evident in Darwin’s writings on evolutionary biology, acknowledges the priority of the body over the mind and the sexual over the erotic.
          In Kant after Duchamp, for instance, Thierry de Duve makes no attempt to address the logic of the sexual and the erotic. The focus remains stolidly on the formal issue of ‘naming’ with the consequence that only a few of Duchamp’s works are granted significance. Consequently, de Duve’s speculative assertions bear little resemblance to the facts. There is a persistent failure to take note of Duchamp’s reiterated claims as to the centrality of eroticism in his life’s work.
          And the relevance of sexual generation was never far from Duchamp’s mind. When writing to Michel Carrouges he uses a genealogical metaphor to say that ‘it is likely that my ancestors made me speak, as they did, about what my grandchildren will also say too’, (47) and to Katherine Kuh he identified the sexual precondition for the readymades.

    man can never expect to start from scratch; he must start from ready made things like even his own mother and father. (48)
          Although Duchamp fathered a love-child when young and was briefly married in 1928, he remained a bachelor for most of his life. Consistent with his avowal not to be encumbered with children and housekeeping, he settled into a marriage only when the possibility of having children was past. Yet he sustained a strong sense of family. He portrayed members of his family in many of his early paintings and maintained relations with his brothers and sisters throughout his life. Duchamp acknowledges the significance of both the family connections and the early exploration of the erotic in the formative period that leads up to the Large Glass and the readymades when he included many of his early paintings in his Box in a Valise and ensured they were represented in the permanent collection of his work at Philadelphia.
          Duchamp’s appreciation of the difference between the sexual and the erotic is consistent with his aim to return art to the mythic level of conceptualisation typical of the past. He was repulsed by the retinal fascinations of the early twentieth century. So it should not surprise that Duchamp’s ‘greatness’ allies him with other great artists who sought to give expression to the prevailing mythology of their culture. Unlike them, though, Duchamp went further and expressed the logical conditions for any mythology.
          Any attempt to determine Duchamp’s ‘greatness’ by his contribution to the avant-garde movements of the early to mid-twentieth century, that is by looking back to the readymades down the narrow tunnel of art historical influence based on formalist criteria, is extremely prejudicial to a full understanding of his achievement.

    The sexual and the erotic as the 4th and the 3rd dimensions

    Duchamp’s work demands a fundamental reorientation in traditional expectations. His references to the 4th dimension in the Notes for the Large Glass are not to abstract concepts such as time, or the Platonic ideal. Rather he identifies the 4th dimension as the sexual act.
          As a function of the physical body or the biological, the 4th dimension is the logical source of the 3rd dimension or the possibility of the erotic as the underlying ‘dimension’ for a work of art. An appreciation of the logical relation between the sexual and the erotic is essential for an understanding of Duchamp’s idea of the 4th dimension. As Lebel relates, Duchamp ‘considers the sexual act as the pre-eminent fourth-dimensional situation...’ (49) And Steefel records that for Duchamp,

    The 4th Dimension should, logically, be the dimension behind the painting since 3D forms are the ‘shadows cast by 4D forms’. For Duchamp the 4th D is the plane of consummation, analogous to or exemplified by the sexual act. (50)
          The sexual ‘act’ is clearly identified as the 4th dimension. It is the ‘plane of consummation’ that cannot be represented in an artwork because an artwork can only represent the erotic, or the unconsummated three-dimensional shadow of the 4th dimension.
          In a written response to Serge Stauffer in 1961 Duchamp confirmed the ‘act of love’ as the 4th dimension. Even though he uses the word erotic rather than the word sexual, by specifying the ‘erotic act’ he distinguishes it from the erotic as desire. This is confirmed when he identified the 4th dimension with touch rather than with the other senses such as seeing and hearing, which are more readily associated with the dynamic of desire.

    –l’acte erotique, situation quadridimensionelle par excellence’ – although I use other words, this is an old idea of mine, a hobby-horse explained by the fact that a tactile sensation which envelopes an object on all four sides approximates a tactile sensation of four dimensions. Naturally, none of our senses finds such a quadrimensional capability except maybe that of touch, and therefore the act of love as a tactile sublimation might enable one to visualise, or better, tactualise a physical interpretation of the 4th dimension. (51)
          And again, in response to Michel Carrouges’ Les Machines Celibataires.

    In the Bachelor Machine an erotic desire in action is ‘brought’ to its ‘projection’ of appearance and mechanised character. In the same way the Bride of the pendu femelle is a ‘projection’ comparable to the projection of an ‘imaginary entity’ in 4 dimensions on our world of 3 dimensions (and even in the case of flat glass to a re-projection of these three dimensions on a surface of 2 dimensions). (52)
          This is a substantially different claim from that proposed by other commentators who are confused about the logical status of the sexual and the erotic. Schwarz, in a note to the Complete Works, states his objection to the statements of Lebel and Steefel.

    Both Robert Lebel and Lawrence Steefel claim that Duchamp’s fourth dimension can be identified with the erotic. Although this idea may be attractive, it seems to be left unconfirmed by what has just been outlined. Duchamp’s interest in getting away from the metaphysical would hardly have permitted its reintroduction through eroticism. (53)
          It is evident that Schwarz is confusing the ‘erotic’ as the process of desire characteristic of the mind, with the physical ‘act’ of sex. In his text Schwarz has just suggested that Duchamp was involved in ‘cold cerebral speculations in reaction to Romantic sensualism’. To add to the inconsistency Schwarz confuses concepts such as eroticism, metaphysics, cerebral speculations, and Romantic sensualism.
          Schwarz’ note continues with the claim Duchamp confirmed his understanding.

    Duchamp has, in conversation, confirmed my viewpoint in categorical terms: ‘I would not say that sex is the fourth dimension; far from it, I would never say that. Sex is three dimensional as well as fourdimensional. There is however an expression beyond sex which can be transferred into a fourth dimension. But the fourth dimension is not sex as such. Sex is only an attribute, which can be transferred into a fourth dimension, but it is not a definition or the status of the fourth dimension. Sex is sex.’ (54)
          But as Craig Adcock puts it,

    Duchamp’s interest in four-dimensional geometry has been connected with his interest in eroticism... Duchamp partially affirmed and denied this interpretation. (55)
          Schwarz’s memory of the conversation cannot be trusted. He has already transposed ‘erotic’ for ‘sex’ in discussing the written statement of Lebel and Steefel. And neither is his claim that this statement categorically confirms his viewpoint at all evident from the drift of Duchamp’s Notes. It would be interesting to know Schwarz’s precise question and the circumstances that led Duchamp to be so ‘categorical’ in a private conversation with him.
          In Schwarz Duchamp is dealing with an interpreter who has persistently ignored his disclaimers that he was influenced by alchemy. Given Schwarz’s fanciful alchemical interpretation of Duchamp’s work, caution is necessary. Serge Stauffer reports that Duchamp mentioned the ‘inadequacy’ of attempts to ‘do alchemy’.

    While stating that he has never read a single treatise on alchemy, which he believes ‘must be quite inadequate’, Duchamp argues that one cannot ‘do alchemy’ as one can, with an appropriate language, ‘do law or medicine’. ‘But one cannot,’ he declares’ ‘do alchemy throwing words around or in full consciousness superficially.’ (56)
          Duchamp also humorously cold shouldered Schwarz’ Freudian claim that he had had an incestuous relationship with his sister Suzanne. Duchamp’s method of dealing with the ludicrousness of unbridled theory is captured in his response to a talk delivered by Schwarz. John Russell recounts that Duchamp listened for two and a half hours with ‘total composure to Mr. Schwarz’s high-pressure hypothesising’. He says Duchamp ‘gazed into the middle distance’while Schwarz credited him ‘with all manner of vagrant fancies and subterranean implications’ such as ‘was the violin a symbol of onanism rather than a valuable component in family chamber music?’
          Russell, later at supper, heard Duchamp exclaim to Schwarz, ‘Capital! I couldn’t hear a word, but I enjoyed it very much.’ However, he records that ‘Teeny Duchamp and close friends were deeply shocked by Schwarz’s analysis of the Large Glass, which is based on the hypothesis of Duchamp’s incest with his sister Suzanne’. (57)
          It seems that Duchamp would have been sceptical of Schwarz’s ability to move beyond his preconceptions to understand the logic of the Large Glass. In another reference to the ‘sexual’ and the ‘erotic’, Schwarz identifies a number of the logical elements of the Large Glass such as the displacement of the sexual to the mental and the Bachelor’s ‘voyeurism’. But his psychological interpretation misses the logical distinction between ‘sexual intercourse’ and ‘erotic tension’. His confusion is captured in his use of the non-Duchampian word, ‘modesty’.

    Thus, sexual intercourse is again displaced from the physical to the mental level, and, as if to compensate for this loss of erotic tension, the pleasure derived from voyeurism is enhanced by the Bride’s modesty. (58)
          Should we be surprised that Schwarz seems to be regarding the physical as both the sexual and the erotic. If sexual intercourse is ‘displaced from the physical to the mental’ does it become an anodyne quality associated with ‘modesty’?
          In the logic of the Large Glass, the sexual is the physical act of consummation and the erotic is the activity or output of the mind. Duchamp characterised all his artwork as erotic. When he uses the words ‘sex’ or ‘sexual’ in his Notes it is with specific reference to the physical organs or their functions.

    ...elements of the sexual life imagined by her the Bride-desiring.

    ...the love gasoline, as secretion of the Bride’s sexual glands...

    This pulse needle will thus promenade in balance the sex cylinder which spits at the drum the dew which is to nourish the vessels...

    C = artery channeling the nourishment of the filament substance, coming from the sex wasp (?) while passing by the desire regulator...

    Each of the 8 malic forms is cut by an imaginary horizontal plane at a pnt. called the pnt of sex. (59)

          When Duchamp says ‘sex is only an attribute, which can be transferred into a fourth dimension, but is not the definition or the status of the fourth dimension. Sex is sex’, then it is a limited sense of the sex that is being considered. He characterises all his work as erotic and goes as far as to say in response to Cabanne’s question, ‘How do you see the evolution of art?’

    I don’t see it, because I don’t see its value deep down. All of man’s creations aren’t valuable. Art has no biological source. It is addressed to taste...its a little like masturbation. (60)
          Considering Schwarz’ misunderstanding of the relation between Romantic ‘sensual’ painting and the function of the erotic in art, and that his reported conversation with Duchamp is not unequivocal but quite equivocal, it would seem Duchamp intended the sexual and the erotic to characterise the 4th and the 3rd dimensions respectively. Because the artistic dimension is not ‘biological’, he characterises it as the 3rd dimension and the erotic is logically the 3rd dimension.
          Duchamp understands art as having a logically different function from the biological function of human increase. If the biological is not part of art then sex as procreation is not part of art. The sexual, as an inherent characteristic of the body in evolutionary terms can be characterised as the 4th dimension. The 4th dimension for Duchamp is not the artistic dimension.
          The primary insight Duchamp derived from Mallarmé was the distinction between the sexual and the erotic. Effectively, biological processes are sexual and art is erotic. To understand the difference is to understand the generative distinction between life and art. The semiotic, the symbolic, the mythic in any culture is founded on the distinction. Duchamp’s work articulates the logical conditions for mythic expression in any culture because he understands the logic of the erotic.
          The sexual is the biological, the relation between the male and the female, the reproductive process. The erotic as desire is any activity or thought whose immediate objective is not purely sexual. The erotic arises out of the sexual. The sexual is prior to the erotic.
          Again, Shakespeare expresses the relationship precisely. Shakespeare is explicit when he draws the distinction between the sexual and the erotic in the Sonnets, whereas it is more implicit in the work of Mallarmé and Duchamp, being hinted at primarily in their statements and notes.

    The aesthetic

    Throughout his career Duchamp had a singular focus. He was determined to explore the logical status of the aesthetic. His preoccupation is summarised in the phrase ‘aesthetic validity’.

    My intentions as a painter…were directed towards problems of an ‘aesthetic validity’ principally achieved through abandoning visual phenomenon from the point of view of retinal relationships as from the anecdotal point of view. (61)
          Duchamp was aware of the two meanings of the word aesthetic. The older and possibly root meaning derives from the Greek. It refers to ‘sensations and perceptions unmediated by thought’. Baumgarten and others introduced the second meaning in the eighteenth century. As faith in the ideal of divine beauty attributed to a male God diminished, a substitute was found in the sublimity evoked by some natural phenomena. In this second sense it became and is still used as a synonym for good taste. Duchamp sought to ‘discourage’ the ‘aesthetic’ of taste.

    When I discovered the readymades I intended to discourage the aesthetics hullabaloo. But in Neo-Dada they are using the readymades to discover their ‘aesthetic value’! I threw the bottle rack and the urinal in their faces as a challenge and now they admire them as something aesthetically beautiful. (62)
          In an interview with Philippe Collin, Duchamp stated clearly that the aesthetic does not involve taste.

    Instead of choosing something which you like, or something which you dislike, you choose something that has no visual interest for the artist. In other words to arrive at a state of indifference towards this object; at that moment, it becomes a readymade…If it is something you like, its like roots on the beach. Then its aesthetic, it’s pretty, it’s beautiful; you put it in the drawing room. That’s not the intention at all of the readymade(63)
          The confusion between the two meanings of aesthetic leads to the contradiction in making an ‘aesthetic judgment’, a trap Kant falls into and which de Duve perpetuates in Kant after Duchamp. If there was any sense in having a title Kant after Duchamp it would have to consider the fact that Duchamp does not make ‘aesthetic judgments’. He makes this clear in an interview with Alain Jouffroy. When Duchamp talked of abolishing judgment, Jouffroy asked whether he means moral or aesthetic judgment. Jouffroy wanted to know how choice, without judgment, can be made between works of art and men.

    I think the mistake is that one believes to be judging when one is simply following a sub-conscious which is the strongest of all and makes you decide and not judge. Judgment is something on the surface. If you like, it is a superficial expression of the subconscious. It is called judgment because you live in a society where there are judgments, the judged and the judgers. (64)
          When Jouffroy questions the consequence of making a choice without discrimination, Duchamp expresses his understanding that the aesthetic does not involve ‘the true and the false’. With the aesthetic there is no ‘judgment’.

    Because the subconscious attends to the choice… In reality everything has happened before your decision. But this has no more sense than the true and the false. Moreover, from the moment you start to speak you talk nonsense, in this order of ideas – and me too. So to speak of judgment is senseless. (65)
          Duchamp’s appreciation of the logic of aesthetics is exact. Ironically, as an out and out aesthete, he had little interest in the logic of language or ethics, hence his dismissal of speaking as nonsense. Shakespeare shows in the Sonnets how to operate consistently with both aesthetics and ethics.
          Duchamp’s comments reveal the difference between aesthetics as sensation and aesthetics as taste. The first points to a profound philosophic understanding, the second, if applied logically, leads to nonsense. Hence the confusion that abounds in Kant’s discourse on aesthetic judgment and the consequent difficulties Kant after Duchamp has in attempting to make sense of Duchamp’s aesthetic awareness when de Duve resorts to Kantian apologetics. Kant’s predisposition toward aesthetic judgments, driven by his belief in a moral God, is contrary to Duchamp’s eschewal of good and bad taste and his dismissal of religion and anti-religion.
          It is important to remember that Kant philosophised under prejudice. He was a rational Christian committed to the apologetic process of attempting to reconcile the Protestant faith of his youth with the logic of pure reason. In his Critique of Pure Reason he accepts that there is no rational basis for the existence of the Christian God. In the Critique of Practical Reason, though, he thought he had found a way for the re-entry of ‘God’ and ‘Immortality’ along with ‘Freedom’. His concept of ‘aesthetic judgment’ attempted to transcend the limits of reason using reason.
          Duchamp was determined to avoid rational processes. He realised that confounding rational processes provided the basis for any aesthetic effect. For 70 years he adhered to an unqualified understanding of the aesthetic. His understanding of the aesthetic is logically exact (not ‘pure’ in the disingenuous sense employed by Kant), and he adhered to it consistently in his life’s work.
          When Duchamp objects to the tradition of taste he is objecting to the inappropriate use of the word aesthetic as it was redefined by the Romantics or Neo-classicists of the seventeenth century. He wanted to return art to a state where the aesthetic meant simply ‘sensations or perceptions unmediated by thought’. He identifies the aesthetic as that aspect of a work of art that is equivalent to sensory experiences.

    Art can never be adequately defined because the translation of an aesthetic emotion into a verbal description is as inaccurate as your description of fear when you have actually been scared. (66)
          Duchamp makes a sharp distinction between ‘taste’ and what he terms the ‘aesthetic echo’.

    art cannot be understood through the intellect, but is felt through an emotion presenting some analogy with religious faith or a sexual attraction – an aesthetic echo…Taste gives a sensuous feeling, not an aesthetic emotion. Taste presupposes a domineering onlooker who dictates what he likes and dislikes, and translates it into beautiful and ugly – Quite differently, the ‘victim’ of an aesthetic echo is in a position comparable to that of a man in love or a believer who dismisses automatically his demanding ego and, helpless submits to a pleasurable and mysterious constraint. While exercising his taste, he adopts a commanding attitude;when touched by an aesthetic revelation, the same man in an almost ecstatic mood, becomes receptive and humble. (67)
          In The Creative Act, Duchamp affirmed his understanding of aesthetic as any form of sensation.

    What I have in mind is that art may be bad, good, or indifferent but whatever adjective is used, we must call it art, and bad art is still art in the same way a bad emotion is still an emotion…The creative act…is a series of efforts, pains, satisfactions, refusals decisions which also cannot and must not be fully conscious on the aesthetic plane. (68)
          The above statements suggest Duchamp understood that the ‘aesthetic echo’ of the most refined work of art is of the same family of experiences as the sensation of ‘fear’ or the emotion of ‘love’. It is as if the aesthetic echo, which may derive from the most refined reaches of the mind, and the sensation of fear, which derives from the more primitive aspects of the mind, have a commonality because logically they are appreciated through the agency of the same mental process. Duchamp’s logical understanding of the aesthetic allowed him to operate at will in the zone of unmediated thought.
          Many philosophers have maintained there are two modes of understanding, that of ‘ideas’ and ‘sensations’. Duchamp is consistent in identifying ‘sensations’ with the aesthetic. More by omission, however, he identifies the dynamic of ‘ideas’ with ethics. The basic distinction is crucial for understanding exactly what Duchamp was attempting to do and why he pushed ethics aside in his desire to pursue the aesthetic possibility to its logical conclusion.

    The beauty of indifference

    The one word that best characterises the manner in which Duchamp set about his task is ‘indifference’. ‘Difference’, as the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure demonstrated, is at the heart of the human capacity to differentiate and so logically to distinguish one thing from another. The very possibility of language, of rational, discursive, propositional language is based in differentiation. Duchamp is very clear that this possibility did not interest him. In a letter to Jehan Mayoux he responded to a commentary by Michel Carrouges in his Les Machines Celibataires.

    I am a great enemy of written criticism, because I see these interpretations and these comparisons as an occasion to open a faucet of words. (69)
          He refuses to think about philosophical clichés, and considers himself a ‘simplified form’ of nominalist.

    I do not believe in language, which instead of expressing subconscious phenomena in reality creates thought by and after the word. (I willingly declare myself a ‘nominalist’, at least in that simplified form.) (70)
          He dismisses all forms of ‘twaddle’, while conscious of the irony of using words to do so.

    All this twaddle, the existence of God, atheism, determinism, liberation, societies, death, etc., are pieces of a chess game called language, and they are amusing only if one does not pre-occupy oneself with ‘winning or losing this game of chess’. As a good nominalist, I propose the word ‘patatautology’, which, after frequent repetition, will create the concept of what I am trying to explain in this letter by these execrable means: subject, verb, object, etc.’ (71)
          In an interview in L’Express Otto Hahn suggested Duchamp likes games with language, drawing the inevitable response.

    Language is an error of humanity. Between two beings in love, language is not which is the most profound. The word is a very worn pebble which applies to thirty-six nuances of affectivity… Language is useful to simplify, but it is a method of locomotion that I detest. That’s why I like painting: an affectivity which is addressed to another. The exchange is made with the eyes. (72)
          When pressed by Hahn about his use of language in the pseudonym Rrose Selavy, Duchamp claimed he did so to amuse himself. And in an interview with William Seitz he vehemently reiterated his position on language. He said that words such as ‘truth, art, veracity’, are stupid and that language is a ‘great enemy’. (73)
          In Duchamp’s third interview with George Charbonnier he said that ‘our language no longer provides us with precise enough symbols…we can no longer rely on language’. He continued,

    I don’t believe at all, that language or words can translate in an exact or precise way everything that really happens in the world, that is to say what happens within the individual and not outside the individual. The translation by words of these phenomena is very approximate, more than approximate and often untrue. (74)
          Duchamp’s consistent strategy, then, is to counter the ‘difference’ basic to language. Instead of difference he offers ‘indifference’ or non-difference. So his phrase ‘beauty of indifference’ says no more and no less than that beauty is logically synonymous with the aesthetic, with sensations, with the lack of difference. In Duchamp’s philosophic world there is no place for a psychological interpretation of the sensation of ‘indifference’.
          Throughout his life’s work and throughout his Notes Duchamp uses and lists numerous ways to counter difference and so create the appropriate sensation or aesthetic effect. He uses humour, puns, sequences of meaningless words, chance, technological devices, mass-produced items, visual phenomena, crazy science, etc. In the Notes he muses on what it means,

    to lose the possibility of recognising (identifying)
                      2 similar objects
                      2 colours, 2 laces,
                            2 hats, 2 forms whatsoever,
                            to reach the impossibility of
                                              sufficient (visual) memory
                                                          to transfer
                                                                      from one
                                                                                  like object to another. (75)
          And Duchamp mentions other operations designed to upset ‘difference’.

    The ‘phenomenon of stretching the unit of length’.
    The ‘labyrinth of the 3 directions’.
    The ‘spangles lighter than air’.
    The ‘removal of the sense of guilt’.
    The Dust breeding ‘a reversed image of porosity’. (76)
          He applies the various methods for disorientation in the Bachelor apparatus of the Large Glass to bring the Bachelors to the appropriate state of indifference to be artists within the work that sets out the logical conditions for art. As Schwarz reported,

    This state of dizziness contributes to relieving the Bachelor of any conscious responsibility in this love affair. (77)
          Rather the dizziness is the ‘indifference’ necessary for ‘beauty’. Even Duchamp’s interest in chess is not exempt. His book on endgame moves is aptly titled Opposition and Sister Squares Reconciled.
          Duchamp’s desire to avoid or reject the discursive, the propositional, the rational in favour of the aesthetic was not and could not be logically followed through to a practical conclusion. A significant proportion of his Notes and writings explaining his ideas and the operations of the Large Glass are in the language of normal discourse. Duchamp was determined to reduce the artistic to the aesthetic but, as the article on the Fountain in the broadsheet The Blind Man demonstrates, an item of such reduced visual cues requires a complementary text.
          Duchamp identifies the aesthetic as the hallmark of the artistic but he also has to accept that the artistic is not wholly determined by the aesthetic. The ethical as language has a significant role in artistic production. In his Sonnets Shakespeare shows how to relate the ethical and the aesthetic without prejudice.
          With his aphorism ‘beauty of indifference’ Duchamp expressed a sound appreciation of the logic of aesthetics, and he applied the understanding consistently throughout his works. His phrase ‘ironism of affirmation’ conveys the same philosophic awareness.
          If difference makes propositional language possible, and if difference is founded on an act of distinction that negates the original undistinguished thing by replicating it with a singular sign, then an act that in turn eliminates difference returns it to its previous undifferentiated state. Hence, ironically, the double negation returns ‘difference’ to an aesthetic state. The double negation is logically an affirmation. So Duchamp called the process the ‘ironism of affirmation’.
          Because much of the imagery of the Large Glass derives both from the early paintings, and from the aesthetic devices or readymades Duchamp made at the time, the content of the readymades and the Large Glass are inextricably intertwined. But an understanding of Duchamp’s drive for an unmediated aesthetic expression as distant as possible from ordinary language, and an appreciation of the intelligent and fastidious devotion with which he constructed the artworks, only begins to explain the mythic content of the Large Glass and by implication that of the readymades.

    The mythic logic out of the sexual/erotic dynamic

    In the Castle of Purity Octavio Paz discusses Duchamp’s appreciation of the mythic in terms of criticism. He detects in the Large Glass a criticism of the traditional mythologies and an expression of a modern form of myth that is self-critical. He recognises the Bride and the Bachelors as characters involved in an erotic ballet whose configuration expresses the essence of the mythic. In what sense then does the erotic, and its basis in the sexual, relate to the appreciation of the aesthetic as the mode of sensation, or the ‘beauty of indifference?’
          Duchamp’s awareness of the sexual as the biological dynamic has already been discussed. In general terms the sexual process is one in which difference between male and the female is continually reconciled in the formation of a singular other, a child. The child at the moment of conception is the undifferentiated, the sensate, the unworded. The sexual process then, is the 4th dimension that, in turn, gives rise to the possibility of the 3rd dimension or the erotic.
          The erotic albeit mechanical ballet of the Large Glass, involving male and female elements in a process of mutual and auto excitation, is the ‘reduced’ cultural equivalent of the biological moment of conception. At the moment of mutual erotic epiphany, the Bride and the Bachelors lose, as much as it is possible, their sense of individuality. Both parties contribute to the arousal process and so both lose themselves in the welter of sensation. They experience a sense of non-difference or achieve a state of ironic affirmation.
          In this way they echo, or in fact are, what it means to accomplish the necessary aesthetic status to be a work of art. Art is masturbation not because art is meaningless. It is masturbation because it never can, it logically cannot, replicate the biological process. Art is meaningful because it imitates the biological moment. It artificially mirrors and extends the human potential erotically or non-sexually.
          So the Large Glass not only incorporates a multitude of devices for accomplishing the aesthetic experience, it transfigures the generative process in the form of its shadow, eroticism (in the name of the human condition), as the fundamental aesthetic dynamic for any artistic accomplishment for any human being. In this sense the Large Glass expresses the logical precondition at the heart of the mythic possibility. It goes beyond the achievement of Mallarmé’s symbolist poetry.
          In the Afternoon of the Faun, where Mallarmé most obviously has male and female characters in a mutual interrelationship of erotic abandon, there is not the erotic exactness, the philosophic rigour, the mythic numbering, or the irony of achievement evident in the Large Glass. And, in the context of this critique, the ‘precision’ Duchamp worked toward, and the mythic connection between the 1 Bride and 9 Bachelors, is more evident in the structure of the Sonnets.

    The relation of the readymades to the Large Glass

    When the logic of the mythic possibility dawned on Duchamp in 1913 and he began in a short space of time to formulate the imagery and the mechanics of the Large Glass, he also became conscious of the possibility of encapsulating the same dynamic in an object or project of incredibly reduced facture and seeming insignificance. He remembers that his catch cry of the time was ‘reduce, reduce, reduce’.
          The readymades, then, are a reduced form of the dynamic of the Large Glass. All that was required to create such an object was a hint of the erotic dynamic of the Large Glass. Duchamp the consummate artist could elicit from the viewer the unconscious and kinaesthetic predisposition all human beings have as a biological given. By a process of studied indifference Duchamp was able to reduplicate the level of content laid out on the Large Glass and glossed in the Notes in an extremely reduced device that confounded rational expectations.
          According to Duchamp’s statements and practice an appreciation of the readymades can only be achieved through an understanding of the logical operations of the Large Glass. It seems that the first readymades were made with no artistic intent or at least with an intent not to make an art object. In this they differ completely from the Large Glass. By the time Duchamp gave the growing number of objects the status of readymades it was obvious that even the earlier ones were influenced by the concerns explored in the Large Glass. At the very least they shared the aesthetic focus of the Large Glass’ indifference to taste.
          When Otto Hahn asked if the readymades were the ‘fruit of a lengthy development’ like the Large Glass, Duchamp replied that they had a ‘completely different’ genesis from the Large Glass in that they were made with no intention other than ‘unloading ideas’. (78) If the function of the readymades was to unload ideas, Duchamp also acknowledged the importance of ‘ideas’ for the Large Glass when talking to George Heard Hamilton.

    In other words the ideas in the Large Glass are more important than the actual realisation. (79)
          A note in the Green Box stipulates that The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors,Even, ‘operates’ to create a distinction between the readymades and ‘found objects’.

    The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even –
    to separate the mass produced readymade from the readyfound, ‘object trouve’ – the separation is an operation. (80)
          The Large Glass contextualises the readymades within a mythic level of artistic expression. The mythic dynamic of the Large Glass enables Duchamp to create the readymades as ‘infra-thin’ expressions of mythic logic. When Walter Hopps asked Duchamp about the relationship between the Large Glass and the readymades he responded that they are ‘kind of ready made talk of what goes on in the Glass’. (81)
          In the chapter ‘Art was a Proper Name’, in Kant after Duchamp, de Duve focuses on the unaltered, or the minimally altered readymades, the ones that most resemble ‘found objects’. These at least seem to be the only ones of which a credulous art viewer is able to say, with the sort of conviction that resembles the action of the artist in simply choosing such an object, ‘This is Art’. Such a claim seems primarily based on Duchamp’s suggestion that the art viewer plays a significant part in the art process.
          But if the content of Duchamp’s Large Glass and readymades are logically the same, it is contrary to the logic of the readymades for anyone to suggest they simply express in a formally concise way that ‘Art’was a ‘Proper Name’. Besides the logical difficulty of determining the meaningfulness or lack of meaningfulness of a proper name, the reduction of the art moment or the art possibility to such simplistic terms contradicts Duchamp’s philosophic determination that what constitutes the aesthetic of an art work is the impossibility of saying any such thing.
          The process of naming is not one of ‘indifference’. Rather it is decidedly one of using words to acknowledge difference pure and simple as a logical precursor to their use in language. Hence many of Duchamp’s titles were formulated as puns to reduce the literalness of the name, or as in the case of The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even he added an effectively meaningless adverb.
          Duchamp’s advocacy for the ‘public’ to decide or ‘judge’ which art works should at any particular time be accorded the status of a work of art, acknowledges the art connoisseur’s influence on contemporary taste. But his frequent advocacy for the role of the public, because it does not affect the inherent worth of a particular artwork, could also be a consequence of his life-long attitude that gave little or no value to anything other than the ‘individual’. His views on the contribution of the art public might have been an ‘aesthetic’ compensation for his dismissal of the role of the group in his personal life.
          Duchamp stated categorically that his interest has always been in the individual and not in the group, and his life-long friend Pierre Roche described Duchamp as a perfect individualist who did not care for the collective interest and was happy to pursue his own concerns.
          But Duchamp’s apparent generosity in allowing the viewer a part in the art process compensates, if only in a reflexive way, for his aesthetically determined individualism. It is true that the viewer does contribute to the art process but it is also true that even in the conferring of the status of an artwork on an object the authorial intervention is both prior and substantive. (Shakespeare shows how to develop a comprehensive mythic level of expression without the extreme individualism of a Duchamp.)

    The tube of paint as a readymade

    From the vantage of the mythic dynamic of the Large Glass, the readymades are inextricably entwined in its mythic aesthetic. The statement ‘This is Art’ is of interest only to an art historian who wishes to plot the dictates of taste.
          So, for Thierry de Duve to propose, on the basis of a theory of nomination, that an unaltered tube of paint could be a readymade ignores two facts. One is that Duchamp never did confer the status of a readymade on a ready made item from the artist’s technical kit. The fact that nobody ever has is simply because such a gesture ignores the logic of art practice where the bare conditions for the possibility of painting cannot, by themselves, represent anything.
          In Wittgensteinian terms, the logic of the language, or the conditions for the possibility of a language, can only be shown. Of themselves they do not say anything. So the ready-made or unfactured aspect of any artwork is a constant whether the work is a painting or a readymade.
          When Duchamp mentions a tube of paint in his Notes he was observing that, in the case of painting, a tube of paint is equivalent to the status of the readymade prior to his choosing it and inscribing it with meaning, albeit in a most reduced but still discernible way. Even the minimally altered Bottle Rack, whose original inscription was lost, whose normal function is disrupted with the absence of the bottles (an absence reinforced by the title) and whose interdependence with the erotic suggestiveness of the rest of Duchamp’s oeuvre is patently obvious, can no longer be regarded simply as a drying rack for bottles.
          De Duve’s other suggestion or postulation of a ‘Blank Canvas’ as a readymade to fill the gap between the Duchampian aesthetic dynamic and Greenbergian formalism depends first on an unwarranted reduction in the meaningfulness of the readymades to a mere cipher of formalist intent. Second, it begs the question about the credibility of the formalist train of art historical theorising that led by the 1940s to a form of art of monumental self-contradiction in that its spiritualist claim out of Kandinsky and Malevich came face to face with the resolute objecthood of the canvas.
          Duchamp’s position in relation to these high-flown claims was constant. When asked by Cabanne where his anti-retinal attitude derives from, Duchamp replied,

    From far too great an importance given to the retinal.... If I had the chance to take an anti-retinal attitude, it unfortunately hasn’t changed much;our whole century is completely retinal, except for the Surrealists, who tried to go outside of it somewhat.... (82)
          De Duve’s proposal of a tube of paint and a blank canvas as readymades arises from an attempt to demonstrate a formalist connection between the activities of Duchamp and the abstractionists as an antidote to Greenberg’s excessive formalism and rejection of Duchamp’s work. In the process, though, the significance of the readymades is so undervalued as to render them mute nominal ciphers divorced from all the artistic ‘ideas’ Duchamp claimed to be resurrecting from the content of the art of the past.

    Kant and the beautiful

    In Kant after Duchamp, Thierry de Duve applies his theory that Duchamp reduced art to the possibility of calling an object ‘art’ to Kant’s understanding of the aesthetic. He considers the role of taste in the relationship between Kant’s understanding of the ‘beautiful’ and Duchamp’s rejection of the ‘beautiful’. He proposes that the word ‘beautiful’ can now be replaced with the word ‘art’.
          Kant’s preferred sense of the ‘beautiful’, though, was allied to Baumgarten’s redefinition of the aesthetic to mean the ideal as the goal of art. Instead of appreciating the aesthetic as any form of sensation, Kant related the aesthetic to the absolute as the sublime, and to good taste. Although Kant was aware of the meaning of aesthetics as sensation unmediated by thought, he refused to accept that in the realm of sensations the ‘disgusting’was logically the same as the ‘beautiful’.
          Instead he based his ‘aesthetics’ on the idea of ‘aesthetic judgment’. But because an ‘aesthetic judgment’ is logically a combination of aesthetic and ethical processes it cannot be the unmediated reception of a sensation. Since in Kant’s philosophy the aesthetic includes the possibility of an ‘aesthetic judgment’, then it is not possible to substitute it for a nominalistic moment derived from the Duchampian aesthetic dynamic. Duchamp refused to entertain the ethical logic of taste or judgment as part of his aesthetic dynamic, and so he tacitly rejected Kant’s idealised acceptance of the dynamic of taste.
          In talking of the readymades with Don Morrison of the Minneapolis Star, Duchamp clearly stated his understanding that ‘beauty’must incorporate the ‘ugly’.

    I don’t choose them for their beauty. Beauty is terrible because we accept it and it becomes commonplace and comfortable. Ugly doesn’t mean anything either, because it’s just beauty with a minus sign. (83)
          If Kant said ‘this is beautiful’ and distinguished it from the sense of ‘disgust’ then he is simply making an ethical statement or an ‘aesthetic judgment’. Whether he is evaluating Nature, art, or his dog, he is making a statement of taste, or value. He is deciding consciously what he prefers in a particular circumstance.
          If Kant was caught unawares and exclaimed, ‘this is beautiful’, and on reflection said, ‘I just said that without thinking, but it accords with how I feel’, then he has experienced an aesthetic effect. He may in fact exclaim ‘this is beautiful’ of something he had up to that time considered disgusting or at least not beautiful. Then he would reflect ‘I just said that. I am surprised. It is contrary to what I have thought in the past, but it does accord with my current feelings’. Then that too is an aesthetic effect. A judgment by contrast is made consciously, it is logically an exercise of the will, it is a relation of ideas, and so is ethical.
          The problem arises when the logic of ethics, of rational ideas, of discursive processes, of propositional language, is confused with the logic of sensations and perceptions unmediated by thought. A person may sense the appropriateness or inappropriateness of a possible course of action from a feeling or intuition, and feel inclined along a certain path. That is the aesthetic effect. But by itself, or if it was added without pause to one hundred other aesthetic effects, there would reign a set of countermanding impulses that would not amount to an ethical act.
          The use of the capacity to reason, through the learnt development of a basic trait in conjunction with the aesthetic faculty, is what is required for reasoning and so for human conscience. But accepting human nature as an inalienable part of the logic of human understanding is foreign to the transcendental psychology of Kant, making his beliefs vulnerable to contradiction and nonsense. The logic of Duchamp’s aesthetics and Shakespeare’s aesthetics and ethics provides the antidote that renders the illogical logical.
          If Kant transferred the determination of a judgment to the realm of aesthetics and that judgment is prejudiced in the sense that ‘this is beautiful’ refers to a particular standard of taste determined in advance, then Kant is not isolating aesthetics at all. He is making an ethical claim. The confusion arises because Kant, as do most thinkers, omitted a vital part of the ethic/ aesthetic dynamic, the logics of the sexual/erotic priority that, ironically, is given expression in their traditional Christian mythology. The consequence of ignoring the logical basis of understanding in the sexual/erotic dynamic is the distortion of the aesthetic/ethic dynamic to compensate for the absence of sexual logic.
          So to substitute ‘this is art’ for ‘this is beautiful’ merely perpetuates the illogicality that Kant generates about ethics and aesthetics. This is the unfortunate legacy of both Pictorial Nominalism and in Kant after Duchamp. They not only misrepresent Duchamp’s intentions by claiming he wanted to reduce art to the possibility of saying ‘This is Art’, they also totally disregard his clarity about the logic of aesthetics. While Duchamp avoids the ethical he does so consistently because he accepts as a given the sexual/erotic dynamic in Nature, which ensures the correct philosophic appreciation of aesthetics at a mythic level.

    Rectifying Kant

    Duchamp’s work allows a critic to rectify Kant’s confusion of the aesthetic and the ethical. Duchamp’s consistent logic should have pre-empted the decision in Kant after Duchamp to replace Kant’s patent contradiction with a glib formalist device.
          The problem arises because Kant’s rational idealism imparts aesthetic attributes to the ethical. His sense of transcendental ethics was no more than a sophisticated sense of aesthetics, just as his sense of aesthetic judgment was no more than ethics as thought or expression in action. Kant’s confusion of the logic of ethics with the logic of aesthetics, while psychologically useful in compensating for the illogicalities of the male-based mythologies of the last 300 years, contributes nothing to the logical understanding of the dynamic of reason and sensations. Unless the two modes of awareness are kept clear and distinct contradiction and nonsense abound.
          The difficulty arises because in practice the dynamic of ideas and sensations does not admit of discreet and extended moments in time in which one or the other is in operation. They operate continuously and in unison all the time, every moment, across the full range of possibilities from the sublime to the instinctive and from the clichéd to the philosophic. A thought can just as well result in the expression of an idea as result in a sensation, just as a sensation can lead immediately to the realisation of a rational distinction.
          So an analytic process such as Kant’s that decides to isolate one or the other for examination and definition confuses its own contribution to that process. An intense aesthetic response, to a sophisticated art work for instance, conditioned as it must be by rational considerations, can seem to have the characteristics of reason, but is no more than an immediate sensation or perception unmediated by thought. That such a sensation is surrounded, in effect, by thought, by deliberation, by criticism, does not alter the fact that it is a genuine sensation. Similarly the most deliberate of rational thought processes are subject to a ‘eureka’or an ‘uncertainty principle’where sensation or perception assert themselves regardless of conscious control.
          Critically absent from the whole of Kant’s writings is the issue of eroticism as a logical component of body/mind relation. When Kant talked of ‘things in themselves’ he imagined he was referring to a state beyond immediate perception. Darwin rectified Kant’s confusion by demonstrating that ‘things in themselves’ are nothing more than our unthinking bodies and the unlanguaged world. Darwin argued that ‘mental powers’ and ‘moral sense’ are derived through the evolutionary process from more primitive versions of those faculties.
          Other thinkers have developed Darwin’s idea of the mind as a faculty derived logically from the body. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, and Antonio Damasio, for instance, though they do not consider the erotic, present cases for the natural and logical relationships of body to mind. It is only another step to appreciate that the sexual is logically prior to the erotic. (See the essay on Lakoff and Johnson in Part 2.)
          The absence of such considerations from Kant’s philosophy leads to the telescoping of the logical consequences of their omission within the discussion of reason. His Pure Reason and to a greater degree Practical Reason are founded on a misconception as to the source of the reasoning function.
          If for instance, Kant was determined to discover a logic that holds for any reasoning process regardless of the being in whom it is installed, then it is not logic he is investigating. Rather he is indulging in apologetics. Kant’s determination to discover a moral maxim that holds despite all circumstances is equally illogical. Not only did he formulate various versions of his universal maxim to cater for the various applications, in some applications the maxim leads to contrary outcomes.
          Kant’s desire to establish reason as the superior faculty is consistent with his apologetic programme of establishing the priority and moral necessity of the male God. Darwin subsequently argued, on the basis of the evidence for evolution, that the faculty of reason is the outcome of the latest development in a process in which the body, the aesthetic, and the ethical have arisen over time.
          So the order of priority is body, aesthetic, and then ‘reason’. And, importantly, natural priority establishes precedence and not superiority. Darwin’s apt title The Descent of Man has often been given the apologetic form ‘The Ascent of Man’ in popular programmes on evolution. The body can only be understood with Nature as a given, the aesthetic can only be understood with Nature and the body as a given, and the ethical can only be understood with Nature, the body, and the aesthetic as givens. Duchamp is acutely conscious of the correct order of priority. In his final work Etant donnes he acknowledges the erotic as the basis of the aesthetic possibility.
          Duchamp deliberately avoids the ethical and so avoids including the dynamic of reason in his work. He limits his work to the exploration of only one of the two modes of understanding. But the Kantian claim that reason is the most distinguishing human characteristic does not warrant the presumption that a consistent statement about the logic of being can be formulated without reference to the sexual/erotic dynamic of the body.
          So Thierry de Duve’s theory that interpolates mistaken understandings of Duchamp’s philosophic insights into the illogical representations of Kant, and which uses the external form of Kant’s deliberations as chapter headings for art historical musings, doubly misrepresents Duchamp’s accomplishment.

    Summary

    In summary, I suggest that a refusal to account for the sexual in relation to the erotic in Duchamp’s work leads to inevitable illogicalities in Thierry de Duve’s understanding of the aesthetic and the ethical in Pictorial Nominalism and in Kant after Duchamp. And by focusing on a limited aspect of Duchamp’s achievement he creates a distortion in the relationship between the Large Glass and the readymades.
          Instead of recognising in Duchamp’s work an expression of the philosophic conditions for the mythic possibility, de Duve reduces Duchamp’s accomplishment to a formalist moment of simple naming. Not only does that position barely account for the influence of the readymades on the avantgarde of the mid to late twentieth century, it has absolutely no explanatory power for the mythic logic of the Large Glass or for the mythological works of previous centuries.
          Before considering the comprehensive philosophy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, a brief examination of the contributions of Wittgenstein and Darwin is warranted. It should then be possible to appreciate better what the Sonnets offer as a rejoinder to the academic reduction of Duchamp’s achievement to a mere formalist cipher.

    References

    Notes are numbered continuously throughout the webpages on Darwin, Wittgenstein, Mallarmé, Duchamp to Shakespeare

    4 James Johnson Sweeney, The Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art, Vol. XIII, no. 4-5, 1946, pp. 19-20. Back
    5 Pierre Cabanne, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, New York, Da Capo Press, 1979, p. 43. Back
    6 Robert Lebel, Marcel Duchamp, New York, Paragraphic Books, 1959, p. 15. Back
    7 Richard Hamilton, BBC's Monitor Programme, September 27, 1961, in Pontus Hulten, Marcel Duchamp, London, Thames and Hudson, 1993. Back
    8 Interview with George Heard Hamilton, January 19, 1959, in The Art Newspaper, London. Vol. III, no. 15, February 1992, p. 13. Back
    9 James Johnson Sweeney, 'A conservation with Marcel Duchamp', in Michel Sanouillet and Elmer Peterson, Salt Seller, London, Thames and Hudson, 1975, p.133-4. Back
    10 Ibid., p. 133. Back
    11 Ibid., p. 134. Back
    12 Jerry Tallmer, 'A Toothbrush in a Lead Box;Would it be a Masterpiece', Village Voice (N.Y.), vol. IV, no. 24, 8 April 1959. Back
    13 Pierre Cabanne, p. 67. Back
    14 Lou Spence, Time (N.Y.), Vol. 54, no. 18, October 31, 1949, p. 42. Back
    15 Jerry Tallmer. Back
    16 Otto Hahn, 'Passport no. G255300, Interview with Marcel Duchamp', trans. Andrew Rabeneck, Art and Artists, N.Y., Vol. 1, no. 4, July 1966, pp. 6-11. Back
    17 Interview with Georges Charbonnier, January 13, 1961, in Pontus Hulten, Marcel Duchamp, London, Thames and Hudson, 1993. Back
    18 Ibid. Back
    19 Marcel Duchamp, The Creative Act, in Robert Lebel, Marcel Duchamp, New York, Paragraphic Books, 1967, p. 77. Back
    20 Interview with Otto Hahn, L'Express, July 23, 1964, in Pontus Hulten, Marcel Duchamp, London, Thames and Hudson, 1993. Back
    21 Interview with Georges Charbonnier, December 9, 1960, in Pontus Hulten, Marcel Duchamp, London, Thames and Hudson, 1993. Back
    22 Arturo Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, New York, Abrams, 1969, p. 140. Back
    23 Ibid., p. 143. Back
    24 Jerry Tallmer. Back
    25 Rosalind Constable, 'New York's avant-garde and how it got there', NewYork Herald Tribune, N.Y., May 17, 1964, pp. 7-10. Back
    26 Thierry de Duve, Kant after Duchamp, Cambridge Massachusetts, MIT, p. 29. Back
    27 Alain Jouffroy, 'Une revolution du regard', Conversation with Marcel Duchamp, in Octavio Paz, Appearance Stripped Bare, trans. Rachel Phillips and Donald Gardiner, New York, Viking, 1978, pp. 73-4. Back
    28 James Johnson Sweeney. Back
    29 Pierre Cabanne, p. 43. Back
    30 Interview with Philippe Collin, June 21, 1967, in Marcel Duchamp, Basel, Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2002, pp. 37-8. Back
    31 Arthur Miller, Los Angeles Times, August 16, 1936. Back
    32 Marcel Duchamp, Speech delivered at Hofstra College, May 13, 1960, in Pontus Hulten, Marcel Duchamp, London, Thames and Hudson, 1993. Back
    33 Letter to Andre Breton, Oct 4 1954, Affectt/Marcel,The Selected Correspondence of Marcel Duchamp, ed. Francis M Naumann and Hector Obalk, Trans. Jill Taylor, London, Thames and Hudson, 2000, p. 342. Back
    34 Octavio Paz, Marcel Duchamp or The Castle of Purity, Trans. Donald Gardner, London, Cape Goliard, 1970, p. 20. Back
    35 James Johnson Sweeney. Back
    36 Octavio Paz, p. 34. Back
    37 Leo Bersani, The Death of Stephane Mallarmé, Cambridge University Press, 1982, p. ix. Back
    38 Gordan Millan, A Throw of the Dice:The Life of Stephane Mallarmé, New York, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1994, p. 154. Back
    39 Marcel Duchamp, Notes and Projects for the Large Glass, Selected, ordered, and with an introduction by Arturo Schwarz, New York, Abrams, 1969, p. 202. Back
    40 Interview with Alain Jouffroy, 1964, in Arturo Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, New York, Abrams, 1969, p. 197. Back
    41 Interview with Richard Hamilton, in Arturo Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, New York, Abrams, 1969, p. 80. Back
    42 Pierre Cabanne, p. 88. Back
    43 Ibid., p. 88. Back
    44 Arturo Schwarz, p. 115. Back
    45 Robert Lebel, p. 67. Back
    46 Octavio Paz, pp. 28-9. Back
    47 Letter to Michel Carrouges, Feb 6, 1950, in Affectt/Marcel,The Selected Correspondence of Marcel Duchamp, ed. Francis M. Naumann and Hector Obalk, Trans. Jill Taylor, London, Thames and Hudson, 2000, p. 288. Back
    48 Interview with Katherine Kuh, in Rudolf E. Kneuzli, Francis M. Naumann, Marcel Duchamp,Artist of the Century, Cambridge, MIT Press, 1989, p. 93, note 63. Back
    49 Marcel Duchamp, The Creative Act, p. 78. Back
    50 Lawrence Steefel, in Marcel Duchamp in Perspective, ed. Joseph Masheck, New York, Da Capo Press, 1975, p. 101, note 27. Back
    51 Letter to Serge Stauffer, May 26, 1961, Epigraph in Marcel Duchamp, Richard Hamilton and Ecke Bonk, Paris, the typosophic society, 1999. Back
    52 Letter to Andre Breton. Back
    53 Arturo Schwarz, p. 36, n. 4. Back
    54 Ibid. Back
    55 Craig Adcock, Marcel Duchamp's Notes from the Large Glass:An N-Dimensional Analysis, Umi Research Press, 1983, p. 386, n. 65. Back
    56 Letter to Serge Stauffer, August 19, 1959, in Pontus Hulten, Marcel Duchamp, London, Thames and Hudson, 1993. Back
    57 John Russell, "Exile at Large. Interview', Sunday Times, London, June 9, 1968, p. 54. Back
    58 Arturo Schwarz, p. 115. Back
    59 Marcel Duchamp, pp. 26, 30, 112, 114, 146. Back
    60 Pierre Cabanne, p. 100. Back
    61 Letter to Michel Carrouges. Back
    62 Letter to Hans Richter, November 11, 1962, in Marcel Duchamp in Perspective, ed. Joseph Masheck, Werner Hofmann 'Marcel Duchamp and Emblematic Realism', New Jersey, Prentice Hall, 1975, p. 65. Back
    63 Interview with Philippe Collin. Back
    64 Interview with Alain Jouffroy, December 8, 1961, in Pontus Hulten, Marcel Duchamp, London, Thames and Hudson, 1993. Back
    65 Ibid. Back
    66 Western Round Table on Modern Art, 'Modern Art Argument', Look, Vol. 13, no. 23, November 8, 1949. Back
    67 Ibid. Back
    68 Marcel Duchamp, The Creative Act, p. 77. Back
    69 Letter to Jean Mayoux, 8 March 56, in Ecke Bonk, The Portable Museum, p. 252. Back
    70 Ibid. Back
    71 Ibid. Back
    72 Interview with Otto Hahn. Back
    73 William Seitz, 'What's Happened to Art?', An Interview with Marcel Duchamp on Present Consequences of New York's 1913 Armory Show, Vogue, (N.Y.), no. 4, February 15, 1963. Back
    74 Interview with George Charbonnier, December 23, 1960, in Pontus Hulten, Marcel Duchamp, London, Thames and Hudson, 1993. Back
    75 Marcel Duchamp, p 70, n. 31. Back
    76 Ibid. Back
    77 Arturo Schwarz, p. 174. Back
    78 Otto Hahn. Back
    79 Interview with George Heard Hamilton. Back
    80 Arturo Schwarz, p. 88, n. 52. Back
    81 Walter Hopps, foreword, Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, Houston, 1989, p. 98. Back
    82 Pierre Cabanne, p. 43. Back
    83 Interview with Don Morrison, '2 Cents'Worth', The Minneapolis Star, October 19, 1965. Back

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    Roger Peters Copyright © 2005


    Preface
         Introduction: Duchamp to Shakespeare
         Chapter 1 Duchamp     Chapter 2 Wittgenstein
         Chapter 3 Darwin     Chapter 4 Shakespeare & Back


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