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William Shakespeare: the complete template
ReviewIn the previous chapters I considered the mythic dynamic in Duchamp’s work, the use of biological metaphors by Wittgenstein, and the natural logic of Darwin’s approach to his evidence for evolution.
An appreciation of the mythic logic behind Duchamp’s understanding of aesthetics is essential for an appreciation of both his major works and the readymades. When evaluating the significance of his achievement it is necessary to take seriously his intent to revisit the level of artistic content that was a priority for artists before the formalist preoccupations of early twentieth century art. As this was his frequently stated intention, and as the analysis in Pictorial Nominalism and Kant after Duchamp merely furthers the formalist intrigues he wished to negate it is not surprising that Thierry de Duve was unable to fathom what makes Duchamp ‘great’.
I have shown how Duchamp single-mindedly explored aesthetics to the exclusion of the other side of the human sensibility, ethics. Duchamp was presciently aware that the aesthetic involved the full range of sensations from the simple sensation of ‘fear’ to the sensation associated with the profound experience of a work of art. He called the aesthetic experience of a work of art the ‘aesthetic echo’. His ambition to return art to the non-retinal impression of ideas was associated with the ‘aesthetic echo’. He wanted to evoke the conceptual sensation of an idea rather than the ‘retinal’ sensation of a sensation. He considered that art, under the Realists, the Impressionists, the Cubists, the Expressionists and the Abstractionists had deteriorated to the lower end of the aesthetic spectrum of unthinking sensory excitation.
I have also noted that the pervasive eroticism in Duchamp’s work is founded on the sexual dynamic. The sexual ‘dimension’, from the evidence of Duchamp’s Notes and comments, is the unexpressed pre-condition for the Large Glass. The sexual dynamic, characterised as the 4th dimension, is prior to the erotic as the 3rd dimension. Duchamp was ‘always serious’ about eroticism because of its logical relation to the sexual as the a priori basis for human persistence. The sexual is the biological as physical consummation, and the erotic is the conceptual or the un-consummate product of the mind. Any form of human activity not directly biological is erotic, making artistic activity logically erotic. Hence Duchamp’s characterisation of all his artistic activity as invariably ‘erotic’.
In both his attitude towards the aesthetic and the erotic Duchamp was influenced by Mallarmé. Mallarmé wrote of evoking the effect produced by a ‘thing’ in the mind rather than describing the external aspects of the thing itself. And his deeply symbolic poetry shows he was fully aware of the sexual/erotic dynamic.
The work of Wittgenstein was used to introduce the role of language to complement the understanding of art or aesthetics developed by Duchamp. Language as a mode of understanding was ignored or even denigrated by Duchamp, and for his part Wittgenstein was never clear about the nature of aesthetics. Just as all sensation is logically the dynamic of aesthetics, propositional rational language is logically the domain of ethics. As a consequence of Wittgenstein’s failure to find a logical system that provides the correct multiplicity between the ‘world’ and ‘language’ in terms of atoms and molecules, he moved toward a philosophy that used biological metaphors. Ironically, this was despite his lifelong prejudice against Darwin’s evolutionary ideas.
Darwin investigated the logical role of sexuality in human evolution and understanding. He argued that ‘mental powers’ and the ‘moral sense’ could be derived through the evolutionary process. On the basis of the evidence he showed there is a logical relationship between the sexual and human understanding, between the body and the mind.
It is now possible to align these contributions with the comprehensive philosophy articulated in Shake-speares Sonnets of 1609. The Sonnets present the natural logic of the human mind in relation to the world about. The logic of the Sonnet dynamic can be evaluated by its self-consistency and by its success in accounting for the consistencies and inconsistencies in the works and statements of Duchamp, Wittgenstein, and Darwin.
Eighteen years ago, well before I encountered the Sonnets of Shakespeare, I derived from my investigations of the above thinkers a rudimentary form of the philosophic understanding basic to an appreciation of the Sonnets. The rudimentary understanding has provided a critical reference point around which the logical connections between the philosophic insights of Duchamp, Wittgenstein, Darwin and Shakespeare have become clearer over the last few years.
The SonnetsThe material presented here has been derived over the last ten years from a study of Shake-speares Sonnets of 1609. I will be focusing on the Sonnets because Shakespeare specifically presented and gave mythic expression to his comprehensive philosophic understanding in the set of 154 sonnets. As Shakespeare uses it, the sonnet form is the most effective way to express a profound philosophy that incorporates the logic of myth. Shakespeare’s philosophy rejects the psychologically based philosophy of the last few millennia that seeks to rationalise biblical beliefs. (See the essay on Stephen Booth and Helen Vendler.)
The philosophy of the Sonnets articulates the philosophic basis for all Shakespeare’s plays and other poems. Because the plays have a specialised role as theatrical narrative, the philosophy is the given behind the facade of the interface with the audience. The Sonnets by contrast are designed principally for contemplation. As anyone who has read them for the first time will attest, their intricate ideation and patterning can give rise to the simultaneous experience of immense attraction and utter bewilderment.
A reading of the Sonnet literature reveals, virtually without exception, that the apologetic paradigm has been applied inappropriately to the Sonnets of Shakespeare for the last 400 years. The result is that the Sonnets have been considered mysterious, arcane, esoteric, nonsensical, badly edited to the point of requiring emendations, embarrassing, having no philosophy, with an endless litany of other complaints that do no more than conceal that the Sonnet commentators are philosophically at odds with the Sonnet philosophy. The classic comment must be that of William Hazlitt who would have otherwise considered himself an expert on the plays.
(The Sonnets)... I think overcharged and monotonous and as to their ultimate drift... I can make neither head nor tail of it. (108)The Sonnets have been reduced to little more than a biographical battleground regardless that such a reading of a great piece of literature is the lowest possible level of interpretation. A. L. Rowse must be the champion of the diversionary art of solving the biographical mysteries of the Sonnets by the naming of lords and ladies. Only a bare handful of commentators are prepared to question the mindset that has given rise to such beleaguered bewilderment.
The uniqueness of the SonnetsDuchamp is unique in presenting a critical understanding of the aesthetic dimension of myth that corrects the illogicalities of apologetics in art. No other artist, or recognised philosopher, has accomplished such a rigorous pictorial presentation of the mythic dynamic. No other artist has created a tour de force as consistent as Duchamp’s Large Glass and neither has anyone isolated readymade objects from everyday life with such critical mythic depth. No visual artist of the last 2000 years has developed such a consistent understanding of aesthetics as Duchamp. And no one yet has presented a consistent understanding of Duchamp’s achievement.
It is symptomatic of the pervasiveness of the influence of the apologetic syndrome of the last few millennia that the more comprehensive and consistent philosophy of William Shakespeare has not been recognised in 400 years. Shakespeare does not rate a mention in the philosophical dictionaries whereas the apologetic psychology of Augustine, Aquinas, and Dante, and others is represented without question.
Even those indisposed to acknowledge the Sonnets philosophic worth acknowledge that Shake-speares Sonnets are unique. While T. S. Eliot accuses Shakespeare of making, ‘great poetry out of an inferior and muddled philosophy of life’, (109) and that the pattern in his work was, ‘the poorer by a rag-bag philosophy’, (110) he acknowledges that Shakespeare’s pattern was ‘more complex and his problem more difficult than Dante’s’. (111) Because Eliot regarded Dante’s ‘Christian philosophy’ highly, he cannot believe that Shakespeare,
who has no ‘philosophy’ and apparently no design upon our behaviour, sets forth his experience and reading of life, he is forthwith saddled with a ‘philosophy’ of his own and some esoteric hints towards conduct. (112)Both in the popular mind and in academic commentaries, however, the uniqueness of the Sonnets has been persistently associated with their perceived harshness or the judgmental relationship that the author is reckoned to have had with a youth and a woman. For instance, Wordsworth, from his Romantic perspective, remarks,
These sonnets beginning at 127 to his mistress are worse than a puzzlepeg. They are abominably harsh, obscure and worthless. The others are for the most part much better, have many fine lines and passages. They are also in many places warm with passion. Their chief faults – and heavy ones they are – are sameness, tediousness, quaintness, and elaborate obscurity. (113)Eliot and Auden’s introductions reveal such conceitedness as to the superiority of the apologetic/romantic paradigm that history will principally record their inability even to begin to appreciate the comprehensive philosophy Shakespeare embodied in his Sonnets. Ted Hughes, who attempted to understand the mythic depth of Shakespeare’s plays in his Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being, also adhered to the limited apologetic paradigm. His analysis of the mythical dimension in the plays is flawed by his expectation that Shakespeare was committed to a Neo-Platonist or Gnostic perspective. His dismissal of the increase sonnets as ‘persuasions of hired labour’36 and his assertion, based on Christian morality, that sonnets 116 and 129 were the key to understanding of the Sonnets leaves the majority of the sonnets unaccounted for and pivotal sonnets overlooked or denigrated.
Only a few commentators sense a profoundly logical sequence even though they are unable to determine its philosophic rationale. Benedetto Croce wrote that,
Shakespeare does not cease to be Poet, because he is never altogether able to separate himself from himself, everywhere he infuses his own thought and modes of feeling, those harmonies peculiar to himself, those movements of the soul, so delicate and profound. This has endowed the Sonnets with the aspect of biographical mystery, of a poem containing some hidden moral and philosophical sense. (114)Coleridge also had an intimation of a greater purpose and design with his reference to the ‘condensation of thought’ in the Sonnets. Garry O’Connor, in his factional account of the life of Shakespeare, makes some interesting speculations about the genesis and final form of the Sonnets.
We are led, then, inexorably to this conclusion: the original ordering of the Sonnets is highly professional. Only one person was capable of such professionalism: i.e., the author himself. Shakespeare definitely wanted the Sonnets published and he delayed this until 1609 because he, too, was seeking an imaginative unity in the poems through his subtle and careful ordering. .... He wanted the mystery: he orchestrated the obscurity.... (115)Despite this expectation, O’Connor had no answers.
Even so, a final coherence eluded him. And this is not surprising. The Sonnets describe so many disparate aspects of vanity and sexual experience, yet in many of them the very distillation of the thought expressed deprives it of continuity. To try to arrive at the perfect sequence was the final experiment he could conduct with this form: no doubt he found it highly enjoyable. (116)In Thierry de Duve’s reading of Duchamp’s work, he advances no ideas as to how the Large Glass and the readymades are interdependent and advances no ideas regarding the structural dynamics of the Large Glass. Shake-speares Sonnets have suffered from a similarly low level of expectation. Those, such as Paz or Hughes, who do have an apprehension of something more significant, have not produced readings consonant with their expectations.
The logical dynamic of lifeThe understanding outlined here is unique in the Sonnet literature. It was made possible by the study of thinkers who have challenged the traditional paradigm with philosophic precision. Of those, Marcel Duchamp has contributed most to the possibility of understanding the mythic depth of the Sonnets. His is the only work to express the mythic dynamic at the heart of the Sonnets comprehensive philosophy.
It is somewhat ironic that Thierry de Duve’s attempts to isolate and interpret the readymades should be based on a misunderstanding of the nature of the ‘mythological’. While it is true that mythologies become dated, at issue here is the philosophic conditions for the mythic level of expression, the logical conditions for the philosophic possibility of the mythological. Attempts to understand Duchamp’s achievement in mythological terms, such as those of Schwarz and Paz, commit the alternate error of looking hopefully to the Classical, Medieval, Eastern, or Renaissance world of pseudo-science and pseudo-religion in an effort to do justice to Duchamp.
In neither case is the mindset of apologetics circumvented. In none of the cases is the logical dynamic of life appreciated. Duchamp expressed a sense of being at ease with life: ‘To live is to believe; that’s my belief, at any rate’. (117) He was happy with his lot in life and was bemused by the way good fortune aided his work. For most of his life he was a confirmed bachelor but surprised himself by enjoying his marriage in 1954 to Teeny Slater. The inscription on his gravestone leaves no doubt that he felt life needed no apology.
... AND BESIDES / IT’S ONLY THE OTHERS THAT DIEBy all accounts Shakespeare was similarly a man at ease with life. He did not share the expectation of transcendental immortality that was common amongst his contemporaries and has been wrongly attributed to him by many commentators. In the plays, he suggests human beings are like actors on a stage, who should make the most of their ‘brief ’ lives. He had a sound philosophy based in Nature that led to a consistent understanding of the persistence of human life through ‘increase’, the process without which there would be no human beings and hence no human understanding.
The relation of the Large Glass to the SonnetsThe next few sections will examine the direct correspondence between the mythic content of Duchamp’s Large Glass and the aesthetic component of the complete mythic dynamic of Shake-speares Sonnets. It will become apparent why Duchamp was led to conceive the minimal statement of the readymades in conjunction with the Large Glass while Shakespeare was able to maximise, in his 38 plays and other poems, the philosophy expressed in the Sonnets. To appreciate the correspondences between the Large Glass and the Sonnets their principal features will be compared.
It is worth noting in passing that Duchamp’s final work, Etant donnes, and the allegorical poem that occurs after the Sonnets, A Lover’s Complaint, both give a more allegorical expression to the philosophy of their parent works, the Large Glass and the Sonnets. The increase in realism gives the secondary works a tantalising sense of immediacy.
The basic structure and numbering of the Large GlassThe whole of the Large Glass represents the all-encompassing priority of the female in Nature. Duchamp stated that he considered the whole work to be the Bride. Steefel reports that ‘Duchamp stressed the fact that not only the female image (the Bride of the top half) but the Large Glass as a whole was the Bride’. (118)
The whole work is unified under the aegis of the Bride or female dimension. It logically represents the state of being prior to the division in Nature of the male from the female. The masculine element, the ‘Bachelor Machine’, derives its energy, its life, from the ‘Desire Motor’ of the Bride. The whole work as a major unity can be represented as 1.
The whole of the Large Glass = 1The Large Glass is divided into two parts. The top half is the Domain of the Bride and the bottom half is the Domain of the Bachelors. The Bride is positioned above the 9 Bachelors to indicate the priority of the female over the male. It is clear from Duchamp’s notes that the 9 Bachelors, as the male element, are dependent on the Bride for their existence. The Bride in the top half of the Large Glass represents the priority of the human female within Nature.
The top half as a minor unity can also be represented as 1.
The top half of the Large Glass = 1The lower half of the Large Glass is the ‘Bachelor Machine’. The Bachelors’ existence is conditional on the potentiality of the Bride. They are the ‘brick base’ on which she flourishes. Initially there were to be 8 Bachelors but Duchamp revised this number to 9. He explained that 3 is the number for generality and this corresponds to his use of 3 in other works such as the Standard Stoppages.
The bottom half of the Large Glass can be represented as 9 (Diag 1).
The bottom half of the Large Glass = 9Because the Bachelors are wholly dependant on the Bride it is interesting to note that the change from 8 Bachelors to 9 allows the Bachelors to be summed with the 1 of the Bride to reconstitute the major unity of the all- determining female dimension.
9 (Bachelors) + 1 (Bride) = 10 = 1+0 = 1 (Bride)The significance of the numbering will become obvious when the Sonnets are considered.
Despite his acute intuition of the required numerical relationship between the Bride and the Bachelors, Duchamp did not appreciate the logical significance of the numbering and had no idea of its role in the Sonnets. By the standards of his own ‘art co-efficient’ there is much in his work that was unintentionally present. His focus on aesthetics to the exclusion of ethics and the non-inclusion in the Large Glass of the sexual or the role of the artist also indicates there is much in his work that was intentionally absent.
The basic structure and numbering of the SonnetsBefore summarising the principle features of the Sonnets it should be noted that the understanding presented here derives from Shake-speare’s Sonnets exactly as Shakespeare published them in 1609. It accepts that Shakespeare began writing the Sonnets in the 1590s and in the period leading up to their publication in 1609 compiled and revised them in a way consistent with his philosophic understanding. All the reordering, emendations, biographical conjecture, and speculation about their authenticity that has occurred over the last 400 years is symptomatic of the application to the Sonnets of the inappropriate apologetic or other paradigms.
Shakespeare was influenced by his predecessors and contemporaries in a number of ways. The Sonnets have a numerological structure that could have been a response to the numerology employed by Dante in the Divine Comedy and more directly to that of his contemporary Sir Phillip Sidney in Astrophel and Stella and in the sonnet sequences of Samuel Daniel and Michael Drayton. Whereas the numerology of Dante supports a classic work of apology, which divides equally into three parts and has ‘100’ cantos that represent the theological divine, and Sidney’s is a literary pattern based on an aspect of Homer’s Odyssey, Shakespeare’s system has a whole and parts that relate directly to an all-encompassing mythic structure of philosophic precision.
The numerological values are derived through the process of mystic addition. In the case of Dante’s 100 cantos, the divine unity is determined by adding the individual numerals of the 100 together to give 100 = 1+0+0 = 1. Other significant numbers such as 145 (145 = 1+4+5 = 10 = 1+0 = 1) add to a unity. To my knowledge this process has not been applied to Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
There are a total of 154 sonnets. The whole set of 154 sonnets represents Nature or the sovereign mistress. This is made explicit in sonnet 126.
Nature (sovereign mistress over wrack)The 154 sonnets add to a unity giving Nature a value of 1.
154 = 1+5+4 = 10 = 1+0 = 1The Sonnets are divided into two parts of 126 and 28 sonnets. The break at sonnet 126 separates the 126 sonnets to the ‘Master Mistress’ or youth from the 28 sonnets to the ‘Mistress’ (misleadingly called the dark lady in the literature). The 28 sonnets to the Mistress are addressed to a female. The Mistress’ value of 1 indicates the human female’s logical relation to Nature.
28 = 2+8 = 10 = 1+0 = 1The 126 sonnets to the Master Mistress or youth are to a male. Their numbering identifies the youth’s logical relation to the Mistress. His numerological value of 9 acknowledges her priority.
126 = 1+2+6 = 9The principal elements can be represented in a diagram (Diag 2).
sovereign mistress (Nature) 154 = 1Unique to the Sonnets and not appreciated in the Sonnet literature is that the ‘Poet’ of the Sonnets has a crucial structural role in the numerology. The Poet, as the person who appreciates the relation between the Mistress and the Master Mistress, and acknowledges his logical place in Nature, is associated with the number 145. The 145 reflects the Poet’s more elemental human nature compared with the more complex 154 of Nature at large. The Poet appreciates, but does not fully comprehend, Nature.
Poet 145 = 1The only other personality or persona in the Sonnets is the rival poet. He has no structural part to play because he is merely the unaccomplished form of the Poet, a ‘rival’ who focuses on form (‘rhyme’ and ‘style’) rather than content (‘love’). He represents the prospect for the Master Mistress if he does not heed the advice of the Poet. The sequence of 9 rival poet sonnets, from sonnet 78 to 86, links him logically with the number 9 of the Master Mistress.
The Large Glass and the SonnetsThe basic structure of the Large Glass and the structure of the Sonnets can now be compared.
Large Glass SonnetsThe Bride, as the whole Glass, corresponds to Nature, the sovereign mistress. The Bride, the representative of womankind, corresponds to the Mistress. The Bachelors, the male element, correspond to the Master Mistress or youth. In both cases the male dimension is characterised as 1 short of unity. The male requires the 1 from the female dimension to restore him to unity.
9+1 = 10 = 1+0 = 1The logical requirement for the male to return to the female reinforces the inherent unity of the female and accords with the unity derived from the larger unity that is Nature. The male needs to return to the female to restore the unity lost when he differentiated from the female in the biology of evolution. The male cannot be represented by the number 8, for instance, as 8 + 1 = 9 would still leave him 1 short of attaining the required unity.
Duchamp does not incorporate a persona for himself as artist into the Large Glass. As the artist does not feature in the work there is no role comparable to the Poet of the Sonnets. The feminine persona Rrose Selavy that Duchamp created for himself has an aesthetic role more in keeping with the reduced function of the readymades. It does not encapsulate or critique the artist’s role in conceptualising the Large Glass.
The absence of Duchamp as artist from within the Large Glass can be explained by considering his attitude toward the individual. Duchamp’s extreme sense of individuality precluded the possibility of representing the artist’s generic function within of the erotic dynamic of the Large Glass. Duchamp’s singular focus on the aesthetic drew the singularity of the individual into the zone of indifference or non-difference. The imbalance led to his willingness to emphasise the role of the ‘public’ in determining what was ‘art’ for any particular period.
For our purposes it is sufficient to recognise something of the numerological consistency between the Large Glass and the Sonnets. It would seem Duchamp arrived at the basic mythic numbering purely through the acuteness of his intuition. Because both Duchamp and Shakespeare were considering the logical conditions for the expression of the mythic possibility, it is no coincidence that the three logical elements of the Glass and the Sonnets are the same.
A logical numbering systemThe numerological system within the Large Glass and the Sonnets is philosophic. It does not represent an arcane, esoteric, or alchemical system of symbolism. Duchamp was indifferent to attempts to understand his work using such practices. If alchemical references were apparent in his work, then the associations were fortuitous. Similarly in sonnet 14, a crucial sonnet in the logic of the whole set, Shakespeare dissociates the logic of truth and beauty from astrology, alchemy, heaven, or the whim of Princes.
Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck,The precise numerology common to Duchamp and Shakespeare elegantly configures the logic of life. The relation of the sexual and the erotic in Nature and the relation of ethics and aesthetics (or truth and beauty) are given form through a basic mythic numbering.
The sexual and the erotic in the Large GlassThe sexual, which is the ‘given’ or the logical precondition for the erotic, is not accounted for in the Large Glass. Only by omission does Duchamp distinguish between the sexual as the biological dimension and the erotic as the artistic dimension. The relation of the sexual to the erotic is implicit in the Large Glass’ mythic logic. The elements in the Large Glass are characterised wholly in the erotic.
In his Notes Duchamp calls the sexual and the erotic the 4th and the 3rd dimensions respectively. The 4th dimension as the sexual does not, or logically cannot, appear in the 3-dimensional Large Glass. The Large Glass is orientated toward one mode of understanding, the aesthetic.
The sexual and the erotic in the SonnetsIn the Sonnets, the inclusion of the sexual in the increase sequence enables a representation of both modes of understanding, the aesthetic and the ethical. The Sonnets are organised to delineate the logical relation between the sexual and the erotic.
The sovereign mistress, or Nature, is represented by the whole set of 154 sonnets. The sexual differentiation into female and male is represented by the division of the 154 sonnets into the 28 Mistress (female) and 126 Master Mistress (male) sonnets. The priority of the female over the male is indicated both by the logical characterisation of Nature as ‘sovereign mistress’ and by the respective numbers assigned to the Mistress (1) and Master Mistress (9). The Sonnets, as does the Large Glass, corrects millennia of contradictions generated by the illogical prioritising of the male (God) over the female.
The simple structural arrangement of the Sonnets presents the logical status of human nature as a sexual species derived from Nature (Diag 3).
Thou art thy mother’s glass and she in theeThe contention is not that procreation is a necessary activity for every human being, but rather that logically if all human beings, in imitation of the youth, decided not to increase humankind would cease to exist.
Herein lives wisdom, beauty, and increase,Shakespeare ties the possibility of ‘love’ to this logical realisation.
Is it for fear to wet a widow’s eye,The first 14 youth sonnets specifically argue for the logic of increase because the youth, as a male, is required to return to the female for the continuation of humankind. Each increase sonnet makes a literal case for persistence through sexual means. The Poet exhorts the youth to appreciate the increase argument in a series of propositions that remind him he was born of a mother and a father (sonnets 3 and 13) and that without increase no humans would persist into the next generation. The division formed when the female and male were derived from Nature is sexually resolved in the birth of a child. The dynamic has the same logical form as the primary template out of Nature (Diag 4).
Sonnets 15 to 19Traditionally it has been claimed there are either 17 or 19 increase sonnets. The claim that sonnet 17 is the final one is made because to apologetic ears sonnet 18 is rated the first poetically accomplished sonnet in the set.
Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?Commentators praise sonnet 18’s intense lyricism without realising that the intensity is generated through the combination of poetic effect and seamless logic. In line 12 the double image of ‘lines’ of descent and ‘lines’ of poetry convey the logical relationship that exists between the logic of increase and poetry.
But thy eternal Summer shall not fade,But the combination of tightly structured philosophic themes with exquisite verse is anathema to commentators who prefer their art to provide a singular aesthetic experience. The problem is exacerbated by an apprehension the philosophy Shakespeare presents is contrary to the apologetics of their schooling.
A further claim that sonnet 19 is the last of the increase sonnets is based on the persistence in sonnets 18 and 19 of issues relating to increase. The equivocation as to whether 17 or 19 is the last increase sonnet at least recognises that sonnet 20 makes a significant break in theme.
In keeping with the logical distinction between the sexual and the erotic, sonnets 15 to 19 provide an interlude that takes account of the role of the Poet and process of writing. Sonnet 16 eases the transition from the sexual dynamic to the erotic with a literary pun on the word ‘pen’ as penis.
….(Time’s pencil and my pupil pen)And appropriately sonnet 17, the central sonnet of the poetry and increase group, introduces the word Poet into the set.
Eroticism in sonnets 20 to 154Sonnet 20 is the first sonnet in which sexual allusions take on a decidedly erotic tone with a pun on ‘prick’.
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.From then on, erotic puns and allusions and suggestions abound until sonnets 153 and 154 present an unbridled erotic romp.
I grant (sweet love) thy lovely argument
Love’s not time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Cupid laid by his brand and fell asleep,By characterising the aesthetic, or beauty, as the Rose in both the Master Mistress and Mistress sequences, the Poet avails himself of the anagrammatic form of Eros. He acknowledges that all writing is logically erotic because it is logically non-sexual. All the sonnets are logically erotic, including the increase sonnets. However, the role of the increase sonnets in presenting the increase argument, or the sexual dynamic, is conditional on the Poet acknowledging their non-erotic subject matter in the five poetry and increase sonnets, 15 to 19.
Eroticism, then, in its logical relationship to the sexual, has the same function in the Sonnets as it does in the Large Glass. In the Large Glass this is indicated by the non-consummation of the sexual possibility. In the Sonnets, a sonnet cannot logically be sexual. The inclusion of the sexual dynamic is made under the logical precondition presented in the five poetry and increase sonnets. In both cases the activity of the artist or Poet is characterised as erotic.
The appreciation of the fundamental distinction between the sexual and the erotic enables Duchamp and Shakespeare to create works of art at a mythic level without generating the contradictions of traditional mythologies based on the priority of the male over the female, and the mind over the body. By incorporating the sexual into the set of Sonnets, and by recognising the erotic logic of his poetry, Shakespeare is able to present a philosophy that accounts for both the aesthetic and the ethical.
The pattern of 14sIgnorance of the Sonnet philosophy has led to the confusion over the function of the increase sonnets. The role of sonnet 14 as the last of the purely increase sonnets is not recognised by commentators. John Kerrigan notes that sonnets 15 to 19 have a similar theme of poetry and increase. But he does not draw the obvious conclusion that sonnet 14 is the last of a coherent group that has continued uninterrupted from the first sonnet.
Sonnet 14 is the pivotal sonnet in the whole sequence of 154 sonnets. Once the Poet has presented the division of Nature into the sexual dynamic of female and male, and then, in the first 14 sonnets, the logic of sexual union, he can begin to explore the erotic dynamic and the logical relationship of truth and beauty.
The structure of the Sonnets appears to ‘multiply’ out of sonnet 14. The complete set of Sonnets is a multiple of 14.
154 = 14x11The sequence to the youth is a multiple of 14,
126 = 14x9as is that to the Mistress,
28 = 14x2Or, diagrammatically (Diag 5),
As truth and beauty shall together thrive
The aesthetic and ethical dynamic of the Large GlassThe Large Glass deliberately provokes the aesthetic experience of profound intuitions through artistic effects. Duchamp evokes deep realisations about the priority of the female over the male and the logic of the relation between the sexual and the erotic.
Before Duchamp published his Green Box in 1934 and before Andre Breton wrote his synopsis, The Lighthouse of the Bride, in 1936 (translated into English in 1945), the Large Glass was appreciated largely for its visual qualities. The publication of the notes of the Green Box confirmed Duchamp’s intention to focus on the aesthetic, with many of the notes involving puns or poetic devices. But the notes also express the determining conditions for Duchamp’s aesthetic intent and expectations. That they are able to do so gives an insight into the suppressed ethical dimension of the Large Glass. Inevitably many of the notes express the ethical dynamic in Duchamp’s primarily aesthetic project.
The aesthetic and ethical dynamic of the SonnetsWhereas Duchamp’s stated intent was to focus on aesthetics to the exclusion of language, Shakespeare deliberately considers both aesthetics and ethics. In the Sonnets, aesthetics, or the awareness of sensations, is called beauty. It is archetypically the process of ‘seeing’. Ethics, or the relation of ideas in language (whether true or false, good or bad), is called truth. It is archetypically the process of ‘saying’.
As in Duchamp’s Large Glass, the male in the Sonnets is logically dependent on the Mistress for his existence and understanding. It is in the Mistress sequence that the beauty and truth dynamic is given its most coherent formulation. The Poet gains his understanding of beauty and truth from the Mistress. The Mistress sonnets are the natural repository of the possibility of beauty and truth. In keeping with the primacy of the sensory over language, first beauty (sonnets 127 to 137) and then truth (sonnets 137 to 152) are considered.
In the Master Mistress sequence the dynamic of truth and beauty is introduced in sonnet 14 and is then the principal theme for all the sonnets from 15 to 126. To advise the youth of the relation between increase and truth and beauty the Poet recounts what he has learnt from the Mistress of beauty and truth in the Mistress sonnets (127 to 154).
The Mistress sonnets are the source of the beauty and truth dynamic because the female is logically prior to the male. Beauty and truth derive unconditionally from the Mistress but are available only conditionally to the Master Mistress. For the Master Mistress to comprehend the truth and beauty dynamic he must appreciate the logic of the increase argument and the logical relation between increase and truth and beauty. The Mistress is the logical source of the two possibilities.
The word truth is not mentioned in the 14 increase sonnets until the last few lines of sonnet 14. Because the increase sonnets consider the physical processes of the sexual dynamic it is appropriate that only beauty be named until the end of sonnet 14. Because Shakespeare preserves the role of truth for the function of language, or things said, he substitutes the word wisdom for truth in sonnet 11. So line 5 reads ‘wisdom, beauty, and increase’ instead.
The appearance of truth and beauty in lines 11 and 14 of sonnet 14 prepares the way for the presentation of the dynamic in the remaining sonnets.
But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,Sonnet 14 states the logical relationship of increase to truth and beauty. It states that increase (‘store’) is prior to truth and beauty. Knowledge or judgment derives, not from the stars, augury, etc., but directly from interhuman interaction. Such knowledge is derived from the ‘constant stars’ that are the eyes. The couplet gives the consequence for truth and beauty if the logic of the increase argument is not appreciated. If nobody increases, especially those capable and inclined to sexual activity, then there would be no truth and beauty because there would be no human beings.
Significantly, the words ‘truth and beauty’ occur in the last line of sonnet 14, that is, in the last line of the increase sonnets. From the beginning of sonnet 15 onward the remaining sonnets examine aspects of the truth and beauty dynamic, beginning with the preconditions presented in sonnets 15 to 19 for the logical relation of poetry to increase. From sonnet 20 on the youth is presented with the logic of truth and beauty as the basis for love and understanding.
While in most instances the words truth and beauty appear in separate sonnets throughout the youth sequence, truth and beauty periodically appear together to reassert the truth and beauty dynamic as the cornerstone of the Poet’s erotic logic. By structuring his presentation around the dynamic of truth and beauty Shakespeare ensures that his arguments are consistent, and that the relationship of body and mind has the correct multiplicity.
From sonnets 127 to 136 only beauty is mentioned. Sonnet 127 begins the analysis by mentioning beauty six times. The ten sonnets explore beauty as sensation in many of its possibilities. Any sensation is an aspect of beauty as demonstrated in sonnet 130 where the five senses are brought into play. Throughout the beauty sonnets the Mistress does not say anything. She is literally sensed. Sonnet 137 is transitional between beauty and truth. It mentions both beauty and truth using the archetypal meanings of ‘seeing’ for beauty and ‘saying’ for truth.
Sonnets 138 to 152 mention only truth, with the first line of sonnet 138 having the Mistress ‘swear’ or say that she is made of ‘truth’. From this point on what she says is the focus of the sonnets until sonnet 152, which is pervaded by the most deliberate forms of saying, ‘swearing’ and ‘perjury’, and which also mentions truth twice. (Sonnets 153 and 154, as well as sonnets 128 and 135/136, have structural functions within the numerology of the whole set.)
This very brief outline of the truth and beauty dynamic in the Sonnets should be sufficient to demonstrate Shakespeare’s intent to consider both aesthetics and ethics. The priority of the female over the male is explicitly reinforced by the presentation of the logic of the beauty and truth dynamic in the Mistress sequence. The priority of increase over truth and beauty is indicated by the derivation of the increase potential through the Mistress from Nature and positioning of the increase argument at the beginning of the Master Mistress sequence.
The template for beauty and truth derives logically from the Nature and increase templates. In the Mistress sequence beauty or aesthetics, as the dynamic of unmediated sensation or ‘seeing’, is based on non-difference (‘indifference’ as Duchamp calls it) or the undifferentiated sense of what is ‘best or worst’ (sonnet 137). Truth or ethics, as the dynamic of ‘saying’, is based on ‘difference’, or the capacity to determine right and wrong. If aesthetics is unmediated perception and ethics is the relation of the true and the false, then the logical form of the relation between beauty and truth is represented in Diag 6.
Body and mind: the complete templateShakespeare’s Sonnets show how to relate the sexual/erotic dynamic to the aesthetic/ethical dynamic. It should be clear already that the sexual aspects of the dynamic combine the Nature/sexual division and the increase process. The Nature template and the increase template can be combined to form the body template that represents the logic of human nature as sexual beings.
As the Nature/increase dynamic is the logical condition for human continuity then it also determines the correct multiplicity between the body and the mind, between the world and language. The logical dynamic of the increase argument echoes the pattern for the Nature/sexual template. The Nature template gives the logical relation of Nature and the sexual possibility. The basic form of the increase dynamic is the relationship of female, male, and child. The increase template gives the logical relation for human persistence. When combined they form the logical template for the body (Diag 8).
The role of the PoetIn the Large Glass and in Duchamp’s other works there is no representation of the artist. The Occultist Witnesses in the Glass are a function of the Bachelors, and the pseudonymous character Rrose Selavy does not have the complexity to be an alter ego for the artist of the complete works. The case is different for the Sonnets. The Poet is a ubiquitous presence throughout both Mistress and Master Mistress sequences and is in command of the philosophy of the whole set and consequently the philosophy of all the plays and other poems. He is Shakespeare’s intended alter ego.
For reasons consistent with the Sonnet structuring, the Poet is first introduced in sonnet 10 as ‘I’, ‘my’ and ‘me’. He then occurs hundreds of times in the first person in relation to the Master Mistress and the Mistress. Appropriately, the first mention of the Poet as Poet (where ‘Poet’ occurs twice) is in sonnet 17, which is the central sonnet of the poetry and increase group. The word Poet occurs four more times (in sonnets 32, 79, and 83) in relation to the activities of the rival poets.
The Poet expresses the unity that occurs when the Master Mistress acknowledges the Mistress and their logical relation to Nature. From his unified perspective the Poet engages with the Mistress to determine the conditions for beauty and truth and advises the Master Mistress on the logical conditions for a mature understanding. By becoming 1 with the Mistress the Poet regains his connection to Nature but as a male his acquired unity does not give him an understanding of the whole of Nature. This is reflected in the way his numerological value of 145 is the sequential version of the number for Nature, 154.
The Poet both appreciates the natural dynamic and gives expression to its natural logic. The transitional sonnets 15 to 19 acknowledge both his appreciation of the relation of increase to truth and beauty and the relation of the sexual to the erotic. They address the issue of the poetic medium in which the relationship between body and mind is considered. The Poet acknowledges his role as the writer of the verse in this particular form of verse, the sonnet. He articulates the relation between Nature, the sovereign mistress, and the Master Mistress and Mistress required for a mythic level of expression.
The mythic dynamic of the Large GlassThe Large Glass presents the logical conditions for a mythic level of expression in art. The structure of the Large Glass articulates the basic preconditions for any of the worlds mythologies.
The whole of the Glass represents the female dimension as the logical source of the differentiation of the whole into female and male components, the Bride and the Bachelors. This structural division establishes a consistent basis on which to explore the artistic possibility. It prioritises the female over the male as the basis for a consistent mythic expression. The Bachelors are totally dependant on the Bride for their existence.
The Large Glass recognises its own status as a mythic artwork by casting the Bride and the Bachelors in an erotic relationship. During the complex mechanical ballet represented on the Glass the Bride and the Bachelors do not, and logically cannot, consummate their sexual relationship. Their desire for each other remains erotic or an unconsummate state of mind. Artistic expression in any medium either features an erotic relationship between female and male or it relies by default on its expression in the mythology of the culture. When it is not expressed directly in the work it remains an unexpressed or unintended given. Any artwork is logically parenthesised as non-sexual or non-biological.
The Large Glass is the mythic source of all Duchamp’s works including the readymades because it is an inventory for the logic of myth. The female priority and its necessary eroticism provide the mythic ‘platform’ for all his works. For an artwork to be mythic it must not only express the logical relation of the female and the male in Nature, plus the relation of the sexual to the erotic, it must also be a consistent artistic expression of the artist’s appreciation of the complete dynamic.
As a citizen of the twentieth century Duchamp creates his work from the products of the science and technology of his day. The mechanical ballet of the Large Glass is a hilarious mechanism that deliberately heightens sensation and converts to sensations or aesthetic effects aspects of the rational world.
Once the female/male dynamic in art is acknowledged as being logically non-sexual, and the erotic is acknowledged as any form of desire, then, within the context established by the mythic artwork, anything goes. There is logically no restraint on the possible effects other than the tacit recognition of the basic conditions for the mythic. But because Duchamp precluded the ethical, he had to limit his output to ensure everything he did was an undiluted expression of the mythic preconditions for the aesthetic.
By characterising art as logically erotic and as predominately aesthetic Duchamp was able to present the logical conditions for mythic expression and so avoid creating a new mythology. In the Large Glass and related works he demonstrated the way to work at a mythic level without confounding the relation between the body and mind as is the case with idealistic philosophies and their related religions. The humour in his work is the necessary antidote to the claims by religious believers that their mythologies represent the true state of the world, instead of accepting that their mythologies are an irresistible expression of erotic desire. Bernini’s auto-erotic divinely inspired St Teresa in Ecstasy captures the syndrome perfectly.
The mythic dynamic of the SonnetsThe structure of the Sonnets explicitly recognises the logical conditions for human expression at the mythic level. The whole set of Sonnets represents Nature as the sovereign mistress. From the vantage of human understanding Nature is logically female. Even in Shakespeare’s day it would have been apparent that the male derives biologically from the female. Anatomical investigation of external and internal physiology of the human female and male was fairly advanced in the sixteenth century. Such research would add weight to the anecdotal evidence for the priority of the human female over the male. Even the logical inconsistency of biblical mythology would lead to the realisation that Nature was logically female.
When Shakespeare calls Nature the ‘sovereign mistress’ he is not substituting a secular pseudonym for the name of a traditional Goddess. The absence of capitals from the words ‘sovereign mistress’ in sonnet 126 in Q suggests they have a logical function. The sovereign mistress is the logical progenitor of the human female and male. She bears a logical relation to the two sequences into which the Sonnets are divided. The names given to the female and male of the two sequences are consistent with the sexual derivation of the male from the female in Nature. The Mistress derives from the sovereign mistress and the Master Mistress derives from the Mistress.
The names for the female and male are capitalised when they refer to distinct beings rather than the all-pervasive state of Nature. This establishes the human female and male in their correct logical relation to the sovereign mistress. The positioning of the male sequence and the female sequence, their numerological relation, and the significance of their naming is consistent with the priority of the female over the male. The female determines the existence of the male. The male lacks a dimension that can only be recovered through union with the female.
If the 126 sonnets to the Master Mistress were not logically to a male, the equation of the Sonnets would be over determined toward the female. It would similar to having 9 females in the lower half of the Large Glass. So the whole of the historical debate on the nature of the relationship of Shakespeare to a mystery youth is void, and any suggestion that the first 126 sonnets should have been written to a woman is awry.
Ignorance of the Sonnet philosophy has led to claims that Shakespeare and a youth of his acquaintance had a homosexual relationship. But sonnet 20 counters the recurring theory of homosexuality between Shakespeare and the youth. While the homosexuality is not discussed in the Sonnets, the practice of homosexuality is not logically excluded. The argument of the increase sonnets is for logical conditions for the perpetuation of humankind and those conditions do no more than state the consequences if nobody increased.
After establishing the logical possibility for the sexual in Nature, the Sonnets then present the logical relationship between the sexual and the erotic. They consider both the sexual and the erotic systematically to establish the status of mythic art as logically erotic.
The Sonnets do not present an increase argument to the Mistress. Because the Mistress is the primary sexual being the possibility of increase through sex is implicit in her being female. Because the male dimension is a secondary derivation from the female, and so cannot reproduce biologically (compare the residual capacity of the female in some species to reproduce by parthenogenesis), the increase argument is presented in the first 14 Master Mistress sonnets to instruct the youth in sexual logic.
The transition between increase and truth and beauty in sonnet 14 establishes the logical divide between the sexual and the erotic. The literal arguments of the 14 increase sonnets establish the philosophic basis for the erotic symbolism for the following sonnets. Sonnets 15 to 19 acknowledge the function of the increase sonnets in establishing the erotic logic of art. The literary pun on pen/penis in sonnet 16 appropriately prepares the way for the frequent erotic allusions in sonnets 20 to 154.
There is no systematic increase argument presented in Shakespeare’s plays because the increase argument of the Sonnets provides the erotic logic for the plays. Many of the plays and poems, though, mention increase or have a theme based on increase in recognition of its empowering significance.
The inclusion of the sexual argument in the Sonnets not only distinguishes the erotic from the sexual, but also the ethical from the aesthetic. The Sonnets are an intertwined system of poetic expression and deliberate argument. The persistent argument of the 14 increase sonnets uses the ethical function of language that complements the aesthetic effect of poetic imagery. Because the sonnet form lends itself to argumentative verse, Shakespeare can combine the ethics of language with a variety of aesthetic effects.
As the beauty to truth and truth to beauty templates have the same logical structure as the Nature template and the increase template, the logical conditions for a mythic level of expression established by the complete template are inseparable from the ethical dynamic. The mythic expression of the Sonnets, and consequently of all Shakespeare’s plays, incorporates the ethical. Shakespeare was conscious that when he established the logical conditions for mythic expression he automatically established the basis for a consistent aesthetics and ethics. While any mythology expresses of the logical conditions for understanding, a literal belief in a mythology confuses the sexual for the erotic. The inevitable consequence is the creation of inconsistency in the application of the dynamic of ethics and aesthetics.
Shakespeare uses the mythic philosophy in his plays to critique the negative consequences of the Christianity of his day. The consistent mythic logic of the Sonnets reveals the illogicalities in Christian belief and its contradictory moral injunctions. In Christian myth and dogma the male God takes priority over the female, the erotic or non-sexual is present in the Immaculate Conception, the virgin birth, in Christ’s death without issue and his rising from the dead. The erotic effects are heightened by the transcendental conception of the ‘word made flesh’, and the ethical is compromised by moral injunctions predicated on the priority of the male God.
As with any myth, the eroticism in the Christian myth acknowledges its literary status. The eroticism points to both the sexual pre-conditions for myth and its origin from a human hand. Shakespeare acknowledges the erotic logic of his Sonnets and plays by incorporating the role of the Poet in the Sonnets. The Poet as writer not only presents the logical conditions for any mythic possibility, he is self-reflexively aware of his mythic role.
Shakespeare’s Poet demonstrates the logical dynamic required for mythic expression. Comprehension of the mythic possibility is a logical perquisite for writing myth self-reflexively. In the Sonnets he derives the mythic logic from the Mistress and then instructs the recalcitrant Master Mistress in the logical conditions for mythic verse. Understanding the mythic dynamic is the prerogative of any human being, but only a person with the necessary talent, female or male, can write at the mythic level of expression. Shakespeare demonstrates his mythic talent in his plays and poems.
Duchamp’s limit, Shakespeare’s rangeDuchamp’s appreciation of the mythic dynamic is limited by the absence of a representation of the artist in his Large Glass, and by his unwillingness to introduce ethics into his work. When Duchamp’s achievement is represented in diagrammatic form the consequence of his limited explorations is apparent (Diag 12). The reduced dynamic is the logical outcome of the constraints he imposed on the mythic dynamic. Duchamp’s decision to ‘reduce, reduce, reduce’ has an inevitable effect. The minimal nature and limited number of readymades is a logical product of the aesthetic focus of the Large Glass.
SummaryThe brief analysis in this chapter shows how Shakespeare incorporates the sexual, the ethical and the aesthetic into the logic of the Sonnets. By comparison it shows that Duchamp’s Large Glass focuses primarily on the aesthetic. While Shakespeare and Duchamp are united in their identification of the logical conditions for any mythic expression, Duchamp’s largely pictorial works limit his exploration of the full range of expressive possibilities. If anything, the inherent limitations of his preferred medium made him belligerent toward the other possibilities. For Shakespeare, the artistic is not confined to the aesthetic as it is for so many Romantic aesthetes. Duchamp identifies himself as just such an aesthete. Despite his ambition to avoid the ‘retinal’ and explore the conceptual, Duchamp was severely limited by his bias against language or the ethical.
Postscript: from Shakespeare to DuchampWhen I first read Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets in 1995, I had little more than an intuition that they presented a profound philosophy of fundamental explanatory power. It took five years to unveil the structure and themes of the Sonnets and it has taken a further five years to prepare the material for publication. And in some respects the process of understanding the implications continues at present.
With the hindsight of ten years of research and study it is evident that the insights would not have been possible without the previous twenty-five years of research into the work of Darwin, Wittgenstein, Mallarmé, and Duchamp. If Darwin was essential for appreciating the relation between the body and mind, and if Wittgenstein for providing an understanding of the logic of language, it was Duchamp out of Mallarmé who provided the mythic critique essential for appreciating the full structure and organisation of the Sonnets.
In turn, the Sonnet philosophy provides the means to critique the work of Darwin, Wittgenstein, and Duchamp, and by implication most of the literature of the recent period. The comparison of Duchamp’s limit and Shakespeare’s range at the end of Chapter 4 can be applied equally to Darwin and Wittgenstein to better understand their achievements and their limitations.
Darwin’s limit, Shakespeare’s rangeDarwin organised The Origin of Species logically to present the evidence for the evolution of species. He applied what he knew about the artificial selection of domestic animals to the possibilities for natural selection over time. He then organised The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex to present the argument for the logical derivation of the activities of the human mind from the characteristics of animals lower in the order than mankind. He then considered the selection of secondary sexual characteristics or the erotic aspects of behaviour.
After rejecting the Christian beliefs of his youth, Darwin based his understanding in Nature. The consistency with which he conducted his scientific investigations and presented his findings led him to appreciate that the sexual dynamic is logically prior to the possibility of understanding. In The Descent of Man he outlined the implication of natural logic for ‘mental powers’ and the ‘moral sense’.
On the scale of the complete template, Darwin focused primarily on the first half while noting the implications for the second half (Diag 15).
Wittgenstein’s limit, Shakespeare’s rangeWittgenstein’s philosophy changed diametrically over his lifetime. In his early work he created a highly structured philosophy based on a symbolic logic derived from the physics of atoms and molecules. But he soon realised that he had failed to picture the relation between language and the world with the required logical multiplicity.
In his second period, his philosophic investigations of language were loosely organised around a number of organic metaphors such as Nature, family dynamics, and forms of life. The published results of his investigations appear as an album of notes with a series of ideas given alternate emphasis throughout the text.
In both periods Wittgenstein claimed that ethics and aesthetics cannot be represented in language. Although he found it necessary to resort to Nature to account for the logic of language he could not accept the implications for the status of the human mind.
On the scale of the complete template he was still operating with the corrupt version of apologetics. The hints of natural logic in his later work are subsumed by his residual Christian belief in a final judgment, which may have led to his taking the last rights of the Catholic Church. His lifelong focus on the logic of language is a consequence of prioritising the mind dynamic in the God template over the Nature dynamic (Diag 16).
The limitation of Thierry de Duve’s formalismIt should be apparent by now that it is impossible to understand Duchamp’s accomplishment by focusing on the formal implications of the phrase ‘a sort of pictorial Nominalism’ and the statement ‘This is Art’. When Thierry de Duve addresses only a few of the readymades and ignores the Large Glass, and uses as a yardstick the limited theorising of the abstractionist Greenberg and the conceptualist Kosuth, his interpretation fails to do justice to Duchamp’s achievement.
It might be possible to gain an insight into the Abstractionists and the Conceptualists from within the limitations the formalist critique places on Duchamp’s work. After all, Greenberg’s references to Kant and Kosuth’s references to Wittgenstein are just as gratuitous as de Duve’s references to nominalism and Kant.
But when de Duve interprets Duchamp’s readymades from such a limited perspective, he reveals not the objectivity of an art historian but the parochial musings of an academic theorist. His proposal of a ‘tube of paint’ and a ‘blank canvas’ as the missing link between Abstract Expressionism and the readymades is telling in its presumptuousness. De Duve misrepresents an aspect of Duchamp’s work and then uses it as the epitome of Duchamp’s achievement. Although Duchamp also borrowed from the works of others, unlike de Duve he did so to expand the range of his own possibilities rather than severely restrict the interpretation of their work.
Unwarranted claims and inconsistencies abound in de Duve’s explanations of Duchamp’s work. This is despite the comparative ease with which he points out the illogicalities in Greenberg’s theorising. The insurmountable problem is that his theories do not account for Duchamp’s oeuvre and its persistent themes.
By comparison, when Darwin wrote on evolution his theory and the facts were largely in accord so that his theorising was logically predictive. Further scientific research has validated the theory and its broad implications. De Duve’s theorising is both contrary to the majority of the facts and is woefully inadequate when applied to the larger implications of Duchamp’s criticism of myth. This is not surprising when he limits the understanding of Duchamp so that he can validate a very limited tunnel of art historical taste.
The philosophic analysis presented here demonstrates how Duchamp’s oeuvre operates logically and how the readymades operate in a way that is consistent with the whole. And the analysis leads to an appreciation of an even more sophisticated expression of the same dynamic in Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
In the Sonnets the dynamic of ethics and aesthetics, the mythic dynamic, the relation of the sexual and the erotic, and the numerological correspondences and the further implications for the plays of Shakespeare, contain a logic that corresponds to the multiplicity of the logical relationship between the body and the mind. The analysis provides a unique approach to the work of Shakespeare that reveals insights never before considered.
So not only does the understanding lead to an appreciation of Shakespeare’s thought, his philosophic position in turn reveals the limitations and strengths of Duchamp’s work in a way consistent with the applied critique. The opposite is the case with de Duve’s attempt to relate Kant and Duchamp. He takes a limited reading of Duchamp’s readymades to Kant’s aesthetics, and he uses Kant without correcting his apologetically driven shortcomings. Such a reading is light years from Duchamp’s often quoted statement that he wanted to engage with ideas the way a vagina grasps a penis.
Reinstating the complete paradigmNo twentieth century artist has managed to match Duchamp’s philosophic accomplishment, or even replicate it, much less understand it. Rather, the response to Duchamp has been little more than the type of literal pastiche presented in performance by Merce Cunningham’s dance company in the 1950s or in the duplication of his works in the collections of the Tate Gallery and elsewhere.
The tendency toward formalist or purely aesthetic artistic expectations over the last 100 years has ensured that Duchamp’s accomplishment has been misunderstood or largely ignored. Octavio Paz, as an exception, may have benefited by not having been subjected to the formalism of the tertiary academies of Europe and North America.
Duchamp was resolute in wanting no part of such a compromise. His repeated statements about his intent to recover the meaningfulness apparent in pre-modern art led to an expression of the mythic unparalleled in modern times. Duchamp’s fear of the word as discourse makes it even more surprising that his understanding of the aesthetic dynamic was so logically exact. And if Duchamp stands alone in the twentieth century, then Shakespeare stands alone in the last few millennia in having expressed the same basic appreciation of the basis of life even more consistently and comprehensively.
Shakespeare’s Sonnets have been completely misunderstood because even more than Duchamp he moved beyond the apologetic paradigm that has so conditioned expression over the last few thousand years. Shakespeare surfaces as a model for the positive and progressive attitude toward life that the life and work of Duchamp so brilliantly expresses.
Duchamp appreciates, notwithstanding the decline of interest in the mythological, that the mythic nevertheless expresses the highest level of philosophic understanding. An understanding of the philosophic basis of myth is essential for a complete understanding of what it means to be human. He shows, and Shakespeare shows more fully, just how the mythic dimension can be given effective expression in the modern world. Duchamp gives a graphic description of its operation in his Large Glass, and shows how to connect the mythic with objects from everyday life in the readymades. Shakespeare, in his Sonnets, gives an exact expression of its operation and in the plays gives a dramatic expression of its presence in the lives of every person.
Conclusion: the quaternary dynamicDarwin, Mallarmé, and Duchamp point the way to a level of understanding not currently available in tertiary institutions worldwide. Their work presents with philosophic consistency what many other thinkers have been attempting to comprehend for a number of centuries. Thinkers such as Wittgenstein and most of those whose work is discussed in the essays in Part 2 of this volume, and particularly Riane Eisler, have shown the courage to question the traditional paradigm on which tertiary institutions were founded around AD 1100. The essays consider both their achievements and the degree to which the residuum of the traditional paradigm has fatally constrained their desire to see the world aright.
The comparison of Duchamp and Shakespeare over these pages, and the critique of Thierry de Duve’s attempt to understand Duchamp philosophically, suggests that a systematic level of learning above tertiary is now required. The creation of the quaternary level of systematic learning seems a natural consequence of the findings presented here.
The chart illustrates the level of awareness of the logical conditions for mythic expression by six thinkers featured in the preceding pages with Shakespeare as the standard.
Font size and Boldness of lettering indicates the degree awareness of the category.
Truth and Beauty
Truth and Beauty
Truth and Beauty
(Truth) and (Beauty)
|Emmanuel Kant||( )||>||
(Truth) and (Beauty)
(Truth) and Beauty
|Thierry de Duve||( )||(>)||
(Truth) and (Beauty)
Notes are numbered continuously throughout the webpages on Darwin, Wittgenstein, Mallarmé, Duchamp to Shakespeare.
108 William Hazlitt, in Shakespeare, the sonnets: a casebook, ed. Peter Jones, London, Macmillan, 1977. Back
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