THE SONNET PHILOSOPHY + SONNET COMMENTARIES + PLAY COMMENTARIES + SHAKESPEARE & MATURE LOVE
DARWIN, WITTGENSTEIN & DUCHAMP + JAQUES + INQUEST + QUIETUS + GLOSSARY + CONTACT
JAQUES is the cover-all title of a journal which incorporates essays about proto-quaternary thinkers (JAQUES), essays that investigate the historic misrepresentation of Shakespearean thought (INQUEST), and essays that examine social and political issues(QUIETUS). The essays will provide another level of evidence and argument for the presence of a consistent philosophy in Shakespeare's works, and for the claim that it is a philosophy unparalleled in the literatures of the world.
For nearly a century avant-garde artists have looked to the work of Marcel
Duchamp for inspiration and direction. Scores of art movements have attributed
whole or part of their motivation to his readymades and other ephemeral
works. Yet, ironically, while the deeper meaning of Duchamp's works has
resisted exegesis and remains shrouded in mystery, the movements derivative
of his work have already been categorised and shelved by art historians.
The Large Glass and the readymadesThe pivotal recognition must be that Duchamp did not intend his readymades and other ephemeral works to be understood apart from his major works, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, or Large Glass, (1913-26) and Etant donnes (1946-68). He went to great lengths to emphasise the unity of his life-long vision. He ensured his most significant works were collected together in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and spent considerable energy constructing a comprehensive portable museum of miniaturised replicas. If Duchamp is to be believed and his intentions are to be understood, it is necessary to see the Large Glass as central to all he did and that none of the other works should be considered apart from it.
In a recent talk in the Duchamp room at Tate Modern the young woman presenter, despite having Richard Hamilton's copy of the Large Glass sited in the middle of the room, focused on the small collection of recently acquired readymade multiples and a couple of paintings by Picabia. It took a question at the end of her talk from a member of the audience to elicit a comment on the Large Glass. Her embarrassed reaction and inability to say anything coherent typifies the failure of scholarship to penetrate the meaning of Duchamp's complete oeuvre.
The content of the major works has not been given expression in the movements that attribute their inspiration to the influence of Duchamp. Occasional attempts to use the imagery of the Large Glass by artists such as Echaurren Matta or Merce Cunningham, have resulted in the trivialisation of the work's content. At best it can be said that the Large Glass and Etant donnes have provided an umbrella for intuitive responses to Duchamp's other works.
Aspects of the Large Glass have been discussed when the work was replicated by Ulf Linde or Richard Hamilton, or when it was analysed by Arturo Schwarz, John Golding, and others. So far, though, there has not been a movement based on their suggestions that respects the female/male dynamic of the whole Glass. Even Octavio Paz, the writer credited with the most insightful comments on the Large Glass and Etant donnes, was only able to suggest a general relation between the works and traditional mythologies (as does Calvin Tomkins in a final note of exasperation in a recent biography1).
The Large Glass and mythTo overcome the hiatus it is necessary to remember Duchamp's frequently declared intention that he wished to recover the basis of artistic expression from the Renaissance and earlier periods of art. When Duchamp looked back to the Renaissance and earlier, he saw works of art that derived their content from the overarching mythology of the biblical and Greek mythologies. A closer examination of the mythic content of the Large Glass, then, should reveal both why it has been held in such high regard and why it has been so misunderstood.
Duchamp's statements that the Large Glass provides the basis for the meaning of the readymades is given greater point if the Large Glass critiques and corrects the inherent logic of traditional mythologies, and if the readymades are specific instances of its expression. So, to understand the Large Glass, it helps to visualise it as an overarching umbrella embodying a consistent mythic appreciation within which Duchamp's other works operate (and hence the works of all who have been influenced by him). If this were the case, the enduring influence of the readymades would be explained, as would their unfingerable quiddity.
So what in the Large Glass is similar to traditional mythologies and what is different? What has Duchamp done that no other artist of the twentieth century has done, including Picasso, Matisse, Miro, Beuys, Warhol, and others? What makes it possible for Octavio Paz to evaluate the contributions of Picasso and Duchamp and assign Picasso to the past/present and Duchamp to the present/future?
The mythology central to Western thought and art over the last 2000 years is Judeo/Christian. In it a male God creates the world or nature ex nihilo, forms man and then woman, puts a negative value on sex, and institutes an understanding of good and evil (ethics) that sustains his priority. The mythological status of Genesis and the Gospels is a consequence of talented prophets and evangelists who wrote a cosmology or story of origins in which Adam and Eve and Christ are created by non-sexual means as a metaphor for the limitations of human understanding.
Ironically, however, Judeo/Christian believers claim their mythology provides a true representation of the origins of the world. In their mythology God has priority over the world or nature. God and his apologists participate in an inversion of the natural dynamic by giving the 'word' of God priority over the 'flesh' of mankind.
The mythic logic of the Large GlassCompare then the relationships in the Large Glass. The whole of the Glass is female and represents nature, which is prior to the formation of the human female (in the top half of the work), and the formation of the male from the female, who do not consummate their relationship. Because Duchamp's primary concern is the logic of myth, he leaves the sexual outside the Large Glass, in what he calls the 4th dimension and, as an aesthete, he refrains from expressing an understanding of good and evil.
So Duchamp's world is not logically male but female, it is not created by a male God but is self-subsistent, and the female is given priority over the male who exhibits his complete dependency on the female. Duchamp's artistic expression is mythic because in the world of the Large Glass there is no sexual consummation between female and male. The artist (Duchamp) creates the artwork out of his mind (as did the prophets and the evangelists), and he acknowledges its conceptual genesis by having its entities act nonbiologically.
What Paz and others have not fully recognised is that the Large Glass gives a profoundly logical critique of traditional mythologies, whose priorities are contrary to the logical conditions prevailing in nature. Judeo/Christian belief inverts natural logic and makes life dependant on art. Duchamp reverses the traditional mythologies by re-establishing the logical priority of life over art. The gradual but terminal collapse of the biblical paradigm over the last 500 years, because of its internal inconsistency and its external injustices, is the inevitable consequence of believing that biblical myth expresses much more than the logical limitations of human understanding.
Once it is appreciated that Duchamp's Large Glass captures the mythic logic behind all mythologies, (Paz: 'the criticism of myth and the myth of criticism'2), and recovers the logical order of evolutionary priority of nature, female, male, and the role of the artist who is capable of expressing the understanding, then it can be seen that he articulates the logical conditions for any mythic expression consistent with the dynamic of life.
Understanding DuchampThe insuperable difficulty artists and commentators have had acknowledging Duchamp's achievement has been due to the residuum of the biblical and similar paradigms in the culture. It is as if the culture is not yet ready to accept a logically workable expression of the mythic conditions for an unprejudiced understanding of life.
So, once it is appreciated why Duchamp based the readymades on the Large Glass, it is possible to see how the readymades have become stranded between traditional expectations and the logic of a global awareness in which the contingencies of human life are dependent on a fruitful relationship with nature. Duchamp's relevance has not waned because the content of his complete oeuvre is, as Calvin Tomkins suggested in the 1970s, 'ahead of the game'.3 Again, ironically, the 'mystery' in Duchamp's work possesses a surprising clarity and precision that exposes the traditional mindset as irredeemably mystified.
The twenty-first century has not caught up with the implications of Duchamp's work. The current confusion and scepticism in the avant-garde is symptomatic of its inability to cross from a discredited and inappropriate paradigm to one logically consistent with nature and with humankind in nature.
The extreme irony of the separation of the readymades from the Large Glass by the avant-garde (an irony Duchamp anticipated) becomes even more extreme when Duchamp is compared to the only other thinker to have articulated systematically the logical conditions for all mythology, and hence the logical conditions for life on earth.
Duchamp and ShakespeareIn the Sonnets, Shakespeare anticipates Duchamp by 300 years with a more comprehensive appreciation of the logic of myth. (Shakespeare experienced the inconsistencies of biblical thought in the religious atrocities of his day.) The Sonnets express the logic of life not just for artistic expression (aesthetics), but also for any form of language (ethics).
Like Duchamp, Shakespeare's understanding is based on the priority of nature, the priority of the female over the male, the logic of increase, the priority of the sexual over the erotic, and the consequent logic of beauty and truth or aesthetics and ethics. And like Duchamp with the Large Glass and its accompanying Notes, Shakespeare articulated his philosophy in his Sonnets to provide the mythic logic on which all his other works were based. Because they both recover natural logic, the logical structure of the Large Glass is the same as that of the Sonnets.
For those ready to graduate beyond the failure by twentieth century thinkers to penetrate Duchamp's works (epitomised by the post-modern malaise), and the even greater failure of 400 years of academicism to understand the works of Shakespeare, these volumes explore the mythic logic of Duchamp and Shakespeare (and other thinkers who worked to recover the natural logic of life such as Darwin, Wittgenstein and Mallarmé). The logical precision and comprehensiveness evident in Duchamp and Shakespeare, and apparent in Darwin and Wittgenstein, create an opportunity to institute a systematic understanding beyond the level currently available in tertiary institutions world-wide.