Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Rice/Tree/Burial with Time Capsule: The work of Agnes Denes

The following is copied from the portfolio site of Agnes Denes. Photos of the work can also be viewed at that location.

Rice/Tree/Burial was first realized in 1968 in Sullivan County, New York, in a private ritual. It was a symbolic "event" and announced my commitment to environmental issues and human concerns. It was also the first exercise in Eco-Logic—an act in eco-philosophy. I coined the words to be used this way emphasizing the importance of eco-logical thinking. This work is considered the first ecological realization in public art.

I planted rice to represent life (initiation and growth), chained trees to indicate interference with life and natural processes (evolutionary mutation, variation, decay, death), and buried my Haiku poetry to symbolize the idea or concept (the abstract, the absolute, human intellectual powers, and creation itself). These three acts constituted the first transitional triangulation* (thesis, antithesis, synthesis) and formed the Event. According to evolutionary theories, Event is the only reality, while the reality we perceive is forever changing and transforming in an expanding evolutionary universe in which time, space, mass, and energy are all interconnected and interdependent.

Rice represented a universal substance referring to sustenance and the life-giving element, while the seed itself denoted the nucleus, first principle or cause—the beginning. The act of sowing implied the source of growth, the introduction of a thing into another environment in order to initiate a process, the setting of something into motion (fertilization, conceiving, induction).

The chaining of trees signified linkage, connective units and associations, flexibility and restraint. It implied bondage, defeat, interference with growth—decay. The act of chaining brought attention to the mysterious life-force of an organism and its partial triumph over boundaries and restraints—its uneven, limited transcendence. Chaining trees also expressed choice, the selection and defining necessary in the creative process.

The texture of the forest, having been interrupted by the reordering of its elements, yielded unique structures of isolated or combined sculptural forms. The chains became additional limbs and blended into their surroundings to become visible only in certain lights, angles, and perspectives, conveying the conflicting and interdependent aspects of art and existence, illusion and reality, imagination and fact. The chained trees stood as monuments to human thought versus nature.

The burial of my haiku formed the essence of thinking processes (consciousness, deductive reasoning, and the logic of emotions). It represented the concept as essence of invention, which connects and defines life and death and acts as modifier and rationale for both.

I kept no copies of my poetry, thereby relinquishing, "giving up to the soil," something personal and precious—an act that also symbolized the self-denial and discipline required by this new analytical art form.

The act of burial, or placing into the ground and receiving from it, a cause-and-effect process, marks our intimate relationship with the earth. On the one hand, it indicates passing, returning to the soil, disintegration, and transformation; on the other, generation and life-giving, placing in the ground for the purpose of planting. It is also a metaphor for human intelligence and transcendence through the communication of ideas - in this case, to future descendants.

All three imply change from one form to another, cyclic phenomena, transformation—as from chaos to order and back. Consequently, all three idea representatives or metaphors—the rice, the tree, the burial—become analogous, interactive and interdependent, creating the tension of opposing forces acting on each other and the momentum necessary to pass from one state to another and into further propositions. Their interaction creates a counterbalance as they pass into each other's realm or meaning to become successively interchangeable through their inherent polarity.

The ritual marked the beginning of my involvement with the creation of a "visual philosophy," a complex process which explores essences as forms of communication. It finds methods to put analytical propositions into visual form, defines elusive processes and creates analogies among divergent fields and thought processes. It challenges the status quo and tests its own validity.

In the summer of 1977, the ritual was re-enacted and realized on a full scale at Artpark (Lewiston, New York), completing the first cycle in the evolutionary process of my work and marking an important phase in its development. This periodical summation is a natural evolutionary phenomenon. Organisms probe their environment to find best possible ways to survive by developing memory and the ability to compare. In our limited existence this long view of reaching back and re-examining provides answers as to where we have been and where we are going.

I planted a half-acre rice field 150 feet above the Niagara gorge. The site marked the birthplace of Niagara Falls between Canada and the U.S., twelve thousand years ago. The rice grew up mutant, an unforeseen consequence of Artpark having been a dump-site near Love Canal.

I chained the trees in a sacred forest that was once an Indian burial ground, long since looted and desecrated, working under the watchful eyes of the Indians who seemed to hover over us in the trees and cover our bodies in the form of eerie spiders.

I then climbed out to the edge of Niagara Falls and filmed it for seven days, adding the forces of nature, as a fourth element, to this cycle of dialectics. With this act I also affirmed that my art functioned on the edge of the unknown in a delicate balance of the universals and the self, of the moment and of eternity—and was not afraid to assume the risks such art must take.

The shaky ledge from which I filmed had been dynamited to control the retreat of the falls. Soon after my filming, it fell into the white foam below.

The time capsule was buried at Artpark at 47° 10' longitude and 79° 2' 32" latitude. It contained no objects other than the microfilmed responses to a questionnaire that had traveled around the world, and a long letter I wrote addressed "Dear Homo Futurus."

The questionnaire was composed of existential questions concerning human values, the quality of life, and the future of humanity. The responses were primarily from university students in various countries where I spoke or had exhibitions of my work. Within the context of the time capsule the questionnaire functioned as an open system of communication, allowing our descendants to evaluate us not so much by the objects we created—as is customary in time capsules—but by the questions we asked and how we responded to them.

The microfilm was desiccated and placed in a steel capsule inside a heavy lead box in nine feet of concrete. A plaque marks the spot: at the edge of the Indian forest, surrounded by blackberry bushes. The time capsule is to be opened in 2979, in the 30th century, a thousand years from the time of the burial.

There are, still within the framework of this project, several time capsules planned on earth and in space, aimed at various time frames in the future.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Gleiches Recht für alle! Nicht nur die Töne wollte John Cage befreien. Der Komponist war politischer, als viele seiner Hörer bis heute glauben. – Eine Betrachtung zu seinem 15. Todestag. Von Jannika Bock 27. Juli 2007, 14:00 Uhr Quelle: ZEIT online 6 Kommentare John Cage, Komponist, Pilzsammler und Philosoph, starb am 12. August vor 15 Jahren. An einem Schlaganfall, der so überraschend kam wie die Perkussion in seinen Kompositionen. Für die Musikwelt war sein Tod ein Paukenschlag, der alles Gewesene mit einem mächtigen Rumms in sich verschlang. Und da war sie wieder: die Stille. Zeitweise kehrten jene Konzepte zurück, die Cage ein Leben lang auflösen wollte: das Nichts, die Stille, die Frage nach dem Sinn. „ Think of my art as nonsense “, hatte er geschrieben. Man solle seine Kunst als sinnlos verstehen. Sie habe kein Ziel, keine Botschaft und ihr läge nichts zugrunde außer dem Zufall. Mehr noch als die starren Kompositionskonventionen seiner Zeit lehnte er Musik ab, die sich in einen Dienst stellte, zumal in den der Politik. Konsequent hielt er sich aus dem Tagesgeschehen heraus. Selten nahm er öffentlich Stellung, schon gar nicht schwarz auf weiß. Seit den sechziger Jahren ging er nicht mehr wählen. Er verließ New York City und zog in eine kleine Künstlerkommune auf dem Land. Er entzog sich der Gesellschaft und der Politik, und seinen Werken den Sinn und die Absicht. Aber enthalten seine Stücke, in ihrer Inhaltslosigkeit und Nicht-Intentionalität, keine klare gesellschaftspolitische Vision? Seit seinem Tod hat die Cage-Forschung eine Renaissance erlebt. Literatur-, Musik- und Theaterwissenschaftler widmen sich seinen Werken mit wachsendem Interesse. Marjorie Perloff, die wohl prominenteste Cage-Forscherin, arbeitet derzeit an einem neuen Buch, ebenso der einflussreiche Musikologe David Wayne Patterson. Stets im Mittelpunkt steht 4’33'' , jenes Stück, das der Pianist David Tudor vor 55 Jahren im ländlichen Woodstock uraufführte – nicht weit von jener Wiese der Rebellion, die 17 Jahre später weltberühmt werden sollte. Cage wandte sich mit seinen 4 Minuten und 33 Sekunden gegen die herrschende Musik. Kein einziger intendierter Ton ertönte in dem stillen Stück. Es gab bloß Nebengeräusche. Alles sollte gehört werden: das Husten des Nebenmanns, der Lärm von der Straße, das nervöse Hin- und Herrücken Gelangweilter auf den harten Konzertsaalstühlen. Cage wollte keinen Unterschied zwischen guten und schlechten Tönen mehr machen und auch nicht zwischen Klang und Stille. Eine musikalische Revolution, die natürlich nicht aus dem Nichts kam, aber dennoch das Publikum gehörig überraschte. Cage, der Rebell, das enfant terrible der klassischen Musik, das sein Publikum immer wieder verschreckte, es in den Wahnsinn trieb, wie ein Kritiker der New York Times einst feststellte. Er sei ein grenzenloser Optimist gewesen, sagen Weggefährten, ein Träumer, der durchaus eine gesellschaftspolitische Vision hatte. Über einen Zeitraum von fast 20 Jahren schrieb Cage sein Kettengedicht Diary: How to Improve the World , also ein Tagebuch zur Rettung der Welt. Er fügte ihm listig den Untertitel zu: „Du wirst alles nur schlimmer machen“, aber geschrieben hat er es dennoch. Ja, Cage wollte seinem Spaceship Earth helfen, sicher durch Zeit und Raum zu gleiten. In seinen Büchern finden sich etliche Hinweise, dass Cage viel politischer war, als viele seiner Hörer glaubten – und möglicherweise er selber auch. In seinen gesammelten Reden und Aufsätzen hat er auf den Amerikaner Henry David Thoreau verwiesen, vor allem auf das Werk Über die Pflicht des Ungehorsams gegenüber dem Staat . In der legendären Streitschrift aus dem Jahre 1849 fordert Thoreau, man müsse sich gegen die Regierung auflehnen, wenn sie gegen die eigenen Prinzipien handele. Er forderte ein herrschaftsfreies Miteinander. Cage sah das genauso. Er wollte die Hierarchien überwinden. In der Anarchie sah er die Chance zur Gleichstellung aller Menschen, ohne Machtzentren und Regeln, die aus Subjekten Objekte machen: „ I’m an anarchist, same as you are when you’re telephoning, turning on/off the lights, drinking water .“ Der Einzelne als autonome Einheit, als selbstbestimmtes Subjekt in allen Lebenslagen, auch in der Musik. Im Jahre 1974 schreibt Cage in seinem programmatischen Aufsatz The Future of Music : “Musicians can do without government.“ In Anlehnung an Thoreau stellt er fest, dass Musiker keine Regierung brauchen. Sie seien bereit, auf der Bühne Anarchie zu (er-)leben. Ein Jahr später komponiert Cage Renga with Apartment House 1776 , sein Auftragswerk zur 200-Jahr-Feier der Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika. Er will damit ein „musikalisches Beispiel für die Machbarkeit und Vorzüge von Anarchie“ liefern. Also doch: eine gesellschaftspolitische Vision! Eine Botschaft! Ein Ziel! Cage schafft ein „aesthetic analogue“, ein künstlerisches Analogon: ein musikalisches Beispiel, das auf die Welt außerhalb der Kunst übertragen werden soll. In seiner musikalischen Vision sind alle Beteiligten gleichgestellt. Der Dirigent führt nicht mehr; die Musiker beschließen selbst, was sie wie spielen. Renga with Apartment House 1776 hat keinen konventionellen Notentext. Die Partitur besteht ausschließlich aus Zeichnungen aus den Tagebüchern Thoreaus. Die aufführenden Musiker entscheiden eigenständig, wie sie Bilder interpretieren wollen. Sie können sich aussuchen, welches Instrument sie spielen möchten. Sogar die Länge des Stücks liegt bei ihnen. Das Resultat: akustische Anarchie. Cage entmachtet den Dirigenten, den Notentext und auch sich, den Komponisten. Bei den Aufführungen des Stücks gibt es kein visuelles Zentrum. Der Dirigent steht nicht in der Mitte, nicht erhöht. Um ihn ordnen sich nicht die Musiker in einem strengen Halbrund an. Nein. Jeder sitzt, wo er möchte. Die erste Geige hinter dem Paukenspieler, der Solist am Bühnenrand, der Dirigent irgendwo. Ein Blickfang, eine Mitte existiert nicht. Es entsteht eine kakophone Freiheit. Copied from:

Friday, February 24, 2017

L’ÉQUIVOQUE DE LA CULTURE, texte de Georges Bataille Extrait de la revue « Comprendre » n° 16, Société Européenne de culture, Venise 1956 Je m’excuse de situer la question dès l’abord en dehors de ses perspectives habituelles. La forme première de la culture n’est pas à mes yeux celle que nous envisageons le plus souvent. Nous envisageons d’habitude la culture individuelle, mais les peuples primitifs - ou archaïques - ont leur culture. En réponse à la question des devoirs de l’« homme de culture », il est peut-être déplacé de remonter si loin ; autant qu’il semble, hors du domaine où la question se pose pour nous. Il me semble néanmoins que c’est dans le cadre d’une telle culture, à laquelle je donne ici le nom d’archaïque, que les relations - et l’opposition - de la culture et du pouvoir sont données le plus clairement. Le pouvoir qui s’oppose à l’autonomie de la culture peut le faire en premier lieu, s’il donne le pas à des préoccupations militaires ; en second lieu, s’il préfère au développement de la culture celui des forces productives. L’exemple de l’Egypte me permet de m’exprimer. Sa culture a l’avantage de se définir, nécessairement, en contraste avec la culture individuelle des Grecs. Mais surtout les représentations que j’en tirerai me permettront d’être aisément compris. Je n’essayerai pas d’analyser des composantes qui ressortent suffisamment. Je partirai de l’image familière des Pyramides. Personne n’en doute, les Pyramides comptent au nombre des merveilles de la culture. Je n’entre pas dans le détail de leur interprétation religieuse. Je me borne à rappeler qu’elles ont eu et qu’elles ont gardé le sens d’un triomphe de la pensée sur la mort. Cette manière de voir est sans doute une simplification, mais il n’en est pas de plus légitime. Nous pourrions en même temps, dans une réflexion superficielle, lier les Pyramides au poids de la pierre et aux souffrances de milliers d’esclaves, mais c’est justement d’avoir triomphé de la pesanteur et de la souffrance que ces édifices sont merveilleux. En eux, l’humanité est belle en son entier. La douleur est laide, elle est impuissante et ne répond que par le non-sens à la question que l’angoisse pose en nous. Dans la sérénité des Pyramides, l’humanité est belle d’avoir dépassé le malheur de ceux qui les ont élevées ; elle est belle de cette apparence inchangée, maintenue comme un effet d’une souffrance laide et innombrable, qui s’est tue. L’humanité ne cesse pas individuellement de mourir, de souffrir et de trembler, mais au delà de la mort, de la souffrance et du tremblement, elle peut se contempler dans le rêve que fut la victoire de la pensée sur la misère de notre condition. Notre culture, il est vrai, ne s’en tient pas toujours à ce mouvement d’indifférence du vainqueur. Ce mouvement nous laisse après tout désarmés, mais si la culture, effectivement, nous ouvre un peu plus loin un horizon hideux, son premier pas n’en est pas moins lié à la possibilité d’un triomphe aussi parfait. Dût-elle à cette fin nous mentir, elle dût en premier lieu figurer pour nous ce monde à notre mesure. Ce triomphe, essentiellement, fut celui du travail que la culture a commandé, mais qui diffère de la culture en ce que, dans tout son mouvement, il est l’effet d’un calcul des causes rapportées à leur effet pratique. Je ne crois pas que nous puissions jamais parler de culture sans l’opposer dans son essence au travail, que la culture seule peut détourner d’une application immédiate à la satisfaction des besoins. L’exemple des Pyramides est remarquable en ce qu’il montre un immense travail au service d’une fin inutile, propre à la culture, d’une fin propre à la culture, non à la raison d’être fondamentale du travail, que furent les proies à dépecer, les huttes à élever pour ne pas mourir. Le travail d’édification des Pyramides est en son essence la négation du travail ; elles furent édifiées comme si le travail était négligeable et pouvait être en quelque sorte enseveli. Du point de vue pratique, qui est celui du travail, les Pyramides sont aussi vaines que serait aujourd’hui la construction d’un gratte-ciel suivie de son incendie voulu sans raison. Ce défi à la mort n’évita la mort à personne, il dût au contraire entraîner de nombreuses morts accidentelles. Mais sa folle négation eut un sens : celui de la richesse, du travail enfouis, qui, du fait d’échapper à leur emploi utile, prenaient valeur de fin souveraine. Cette richesse, ce travail enfouis consacraient en effet souverainement le pharaon mort, faisant de lui ce qu’il ne fut pas de son vivant, l’image de l’éternité divine. C’est d’être soustraites à leur emploi servile que les choses abandonnent leur sens et ne sont plus des choses, mais des reflets divins, des apparences souveraines, des choses sacrées. C’est pour situer devant eux et contempler ces apparences que les hommes les voulurent incarner en la personne de l’un d’entre eux, qui dès lors, pouvait devenir la fin de tous les autres, marquant le lieu où la servitude se dissolvait : dans l’ombre des Pyramides, la réalité se détachait même de la vie, sans fin la mort la transfigurait. Les Pyramides manifestent une va leur de culture indépendante de la composition de force à partir de laquelle exista la puissance de l’Egypte : la puissance, c’est-à-dire un Etat réalisé dans une armée. Mais cette indépendance de principe ne pouvait être assurée solidement. Bien que la dignité de pharaon n’ait tenu sa valeur que dune pensée extérieure au pouvoir militaire, nous savons que la désignation du souverain put dépendre de luttes armées. Ce sont des guerres qui placèrent dans les mains d’un seul le patrimoine religieux de plusieurs pays : et la richesse propre à telle souveraineté locale put être acquise militairement. La richesse spirituelle, en quelque sorte mystique, différait essentiellement des mouvements des chars et des corps de troupe. De même, encore qu’avec plus de netteté, la dignité d’un pape ne cessa jamais d’être distincte du commandement des mercenaires pontificaux. Il s’agit d’un côté d’une création de la culture, de l’autre, d’une force matérielle. Il n’existe guère de force matérielle qui ne soit liée à quelque prestige. Mais réciproquement, sur le plan où nous sommes à l’instant placés, il n’est guère de richesse spirituelle qui puisse être souveraine autrement que dans la mesure où elle dispose d’une force armée. Théoriquement, je puis imaginer un pouvoir spirituel pur, tel que le prestige lié à une dignité suffise à déplacer cette force. Mais dans la pratique, la force obéit mieux à ceux qui possèdent les qualités proprement militaires (physiques ou techniques). C’est pourquoi il n’est pas de pouvoir spirituel qui ne puisse être vicié par l’intervention des valeurs militaires, c’est-à-dire de la force matérielle. Au sommet, toutefois, c’est d’un effet de la culture qu’il s’agit, lié au pouvoir qu’un être a de magnifier les valeurs souveraines, et de les placer au dessus du calcul de l’intérêt. D’une manière fondamentale, est souverain, sur le plan spirituel, celui qui donne sans calculer, sans compter, qui veut le rayonnement de la splendeur (les valeurs spirituelles plus récentes, qui font la part de la morale, ne jouent qu’en second lieu ; au temps des pharaons, elles sont encore insignifiantes). L’opposition des valeurs souveraines aux valeurs utiles a la plus grande simplicité. Elle est toujours facile à faire et cet aperçu l’accusera. Elle est la base de l’opposition des biens de culture aux valeurs pratiques. Sur ce point, la confusion est de règle. Souvent les biens de culture sont appréciés à partir de leur valeur pratique : il me semble qu’un avilissement de la vie humaine en découle, et c’est la raison pour laquelle j’écris ces pages. L’origine de la confusion est d’ailleurs claire : elle tient au glissement dont je parle, qui, dans la mesure où elles se lient au pouvoir politique, laisse les valeurs spirituelles à la merci de la force armée. Ce glissement est d’autant plus lourd qu’il y a une affinité possible entre deux réalités essentiellement opposées, militaire et sacrée. Cette affinité est superficielle, mais elle n’en a pas moins de conséquence. Du fait que la guerre met la mort en jeu, et qu’en elle, du moins dans les conditions de la civilisation archaïque, la violence est souvent plus forte que le calcul de l’intérêt, il semble qu’elle s’accorde avec des sentiments très populaires et très profonds. Cet accord est menteur et profondément malheureux, il est à l’origine en premier lieu de l’avilissement que je veux dénoncer. Sans doute, peu d’esprits sont aujourd’hui prêts à cette confusion. Mais dans le sens contraire une erreur plus grave en découle. La morale qui s’oppose au jeu des valeurs militaires fait à son tour intervenir le calcul : elle condamne ces valeurs au nom de l’intérêt pratique et de la raison, qui est avant tout la raison pratique. Je ne conteste pas la condamnation de la morale, mais je vois que les valeurs souveraines étant la plupart du temps confondues avec les valeurs militaires, étant compromises avec elles, une condamnation générale confuse en est résultée. Pas assez logique, pas assez rigoureuse sans doute pour qu’une beauté aussi étrange, aussi loin de l’ordre réel que les Pyramides, en puisse être touchée. Mais ce qui, de nos jours, se détacha dans sa pureté se lia jadis à des circonstances politiques complexes, mettant en jeu des intérêts, des forces et des calculs. Je dois faire ressortir ici le sens de cette décantation, opérée par le temps. Mais immédiatement, le développement de la culture reposa sur la conscience d’une contradiction : ce qui peut nous apparaître aujourd’hui sacré sur le plan spirituel dût aussi revêtir un aspect sordide. Le premier mouvement de la culture fut la création des valeurs, mais dans un mouvement secondaire la culture devait critiquer ce qu’elle avait elle-même créé. En principe, il était nécessaire de contester l’usage intéressé de ce qui, dans son essence, était la négation de l’intérêt (du calcul). Cela ne put se faire, en premier lieu, que sous une forme limitée : la tricherie au profit de privilégiés fut dénoncée au nom de l’intérêt individuel lésé. Si bien que la culture se développa sur le plan individuel dans le sens d’une opposition des valeurs utiles aux valeurs sacrées. La culture repose sur la négation de l’utile, du moins de sa domination, sur l’affirmation des valeurs et des biens qui font de nous des hommes et non des animaux. Mais elle put en second lieu, et même elle dût nier ces valeurs et ces biens parce qu’ils deviennent, pour un petit nombre, le principe de leur égoïsme et de leurs calculs. La culture devint le pavé de l’ours de la culture : parce qu’elle devait contester l’utilisation des valeurs sacrées, des biens de culture, elle servit le primat des valeurs utiles. Cet aspect de la culture et ses extraordinaires conséquences doivent être soulignés. La critique de la comédie sur laquelle reposaient les valeurs archaïques était inévitable. Pour l’ensemble des hommes, il était impossible d’être longtemps satisfaits des biens que leur apportait le premier mouvement de la culture, tel que le manifeste les Pyramides. Ces biens étaient des biens, dans la pensée, dans la réflexion, comme l’est un spectacle insaisissable, mais ils formaient le patrimoine réel du pharaon. Pour les autres, il s’agissait d’une image et d’une fable. Le pharaon était le seul bénéficiaire réel : il entrait seul dans l’éternité. A la longue, les autres furent déçus par un triomphe qui les concernait dans la mesure où ils jouissaient humblement d’une gloire et d’un salut qui n’étaient pas les leurs. Dans les limites de l’histoire égyptienne, une évolution se produisit dans le sens d’un individualisme croissant. Il semble même qu’une période de troubles en résulta, une sorte de révolution où l’ordre social chavira. Mais seul le développement de la civilisation hellénique fit passer de la collectivité à l’individu les créations de la, culture. Les biens de culture ne peuvent en réalité être l’objet d’aucune appropriation particulière. Mais non seulement une telle appropriation en annule le sens. (Ainsi, du fait que la Pyramide assurait la survie du pharaon elle lui était utile, tandis qu’elle était utile, pour les autres un bien de culture). L’appropriation devient le point de départ d’une confusion entre la valeur et la négation de l’appropriation. La morale est dans son mouvement essentiel une lutte contre l’appropriation violente, ou sournoise, dont les biens de toute nature sont l’objet. Il est remarquable que ces biens se trouvent valorisés par voie de conséquence sur le plan de la morale. Ils ne sont plus alors désirés immédiatement, mais ils prennent une valeur morale en tant que la morale, qui exige leur juste répartition, fait de leur utilité l’exigence du bien (dans la négation de l’appropriation, c’est l’utilité que la Pyramide eut pour le pharaon qui ressort). Dans la culture individuelle des Grecs, ces préoccupations, que l’Egypte ancienne ne mit jamais au premier plan, prirent le dessus. Dans le mesure où il se charge de l’intérêt des individus généralement, l’individu tend à s’opposer aux valeurs souveraines du passé, parce que, dans la lutte d’un petit nombre pour le pouvoir, elles sont devenues pour lui des objets d’appropriation particulière, et parce qu’elles servent au développement d’un pouvoir central contre les individus. Ce glissement discret de la culture au profit de l’utilité matérielle se fit en même temps que s’ordonna l’ensemble de réflexions qui aboutit à la science, qui d’abord opposa aux valeurs souveraines et sacrées du passé le prestige de la raison. Le mouvement essentiel de la culture grecque posa le prestige de la raison de telle manière qu’il parut extérieur à l’utilité. La philosophie, la logique et la science se développèrent parallèlement au travail et à la technique, qui sont essentiellement des activités raisonnables. Mais dès l’abord, au même titre que la morale, elles se voulurent désintéressées. Elles étaient des biens de culture et, comme telles, elles devaient s’affirmer souveraines. Leur vérité ne devait en aucune mesure être servile. Elle devait avoir une valeur en soi, non pour les services matériels qu’elle pouvait rendre. Personne évidemment ne discute un caractère essentiel de la culture. L’« homme de culture » se distingue de celui qui met son intelligence au travail en vue d’un résultat pratique. Là-dessus le doute ne pourrait s’introduire sans donner le sentiment d’un danger fondamental. La culture est souveraine ou n’est pas. Il y va de la dignité humaine. L’esclavage fait de l’homme un animal. La culture servile a le même sens, elle retire à l’homme ce qui l’élève et le distingue de l’animal. Encore ne nous ramène t-elle pas à l’animal sauvage, mais à l’animal domestique, au niveau de la ferme et de la basse-cour. Mon affirmation appelle, il est vrai, une contrepartie. Le travail et la technique ne fondent pas moins la particularité humaine que la culture. C’est même apparemment par le travail que l’homme se dégagea de l’animalité. La culture, en un sens l’opposé du travail utile, est le fait d’un être qui travaillait. Nous devons même dire des biens culturels qu’ils sont dans leur essence un antidote du travail. Le travail fait du travailleur un moyen, mais une préoccupation poursuivit l’homme dès l’origine, qui jamais ne cessa de la dominer : l’homme avant tout voulut se donner à lui-même comme une fin. Sans doute dut-il faire en ce sens un effort d’autant plus grand que le travail tendait à le réduire à l’état d’instrument. Ce n’est d’ailleurs pas l’aspect le plus généralement reconnu de la religion qui répondit à cette préoccupation : la religion fut aussi royale, l’institution de la souveraineté personnelle fut l’une de ses formes majeures et c’est en elle que l’homme s’est sans cesse et sous diverses formes affirmé comme une fin, comme une fin d’ordre religieux. Mais j’ai représenté l’échec, le glissement, qui fit assez vite de la souveraineté une vérité bâtarde, une équivoque. Dans la mesure où il fut un chef d’armée pris dans les marchandages et dans les rapines de la politique militaire, le souverain, généralement, se réduisit lui-même à un moyen d’appropriation des richesses! Mais la morale, la philosophie et la science, qui tentèrent d’opposer aux valeurs sacrées du passé des biens culturels fondés, comme ces valeurs, sur un désintéressement souverain furent à leur tour engagées dans un glissement. Ces biens ne pouvaient se lier à l’indifférence devant la situation laissée par l’équivoque d’un monde soumis à la pire domination, celle de la force armée ; soumis encore à la domination de la misère contre laquelle la science est tenue de lutter par le moyen de la technique. (Ne parlons pas des contributions décisives que la science apporte à l’activité militaire !) De toute façon, les biens que nous tenons de la culture individuelle sont décevants. Nous attendons de la culture qu’elle nous détermine comme des fins, mais la philosophie, la science ou la morale sont équivoques. Nous sommes sûrs de l’espoir qui les suscita, non des valeurs qu’elles ont créées. Ce que nous appelons la culture est le contraire de ce que nous voulons saisir dans la mesure où nos connaissances techniques en découlent. La culture est donc limitée en nous à l’espoir vague et toutefois merveilleux que nous maintenons, dans l’immense confusion des esprits, même à la faveur de cette confusion. Il y a une équivoque de la culture. La culture n’est pas en fait toujours maintenue dans les limites de l’affirmation de l’homme comme fin. C’est si vrai qu’il existe des politiques culturelles, où la culture elle-même est un moyen, dont un pouvoir d’Etat est la fin. Il y a deux aspects de cette équivoque. L’aspect nationaliste est le moins significatif, mais il en est un autre où la culture n’est pas seulement la richesse d’un Etat, seul considéré comme une fin, mais la créatrice des richesses de la civilisation, qui peut être cette fois la civilisation universelle. S’il s’agit des richesses matérielles, il est à la rigueur possible, sinon facile, de résoudre l’équivoque, mais la confusion est plus lourde s’il s’agit des richesses morales. En effet, l’équivoque a sa source dans la morale, où la fin n’est jamais séparée des moyens que formellement. J’arrive à l’essentiel de mon étude : une culture est possible s’identifiant à l’affirmation de l’homme comme une fin, mais l’affirmation ne peut être le fait de la morale. La morale envisage les moyens de rendre l’humanité viable. La culture seule, au delà de la morale, a le loisir d’envisager la fin. Elle peut même dès l’abord, indépendamment des valeurs qu’elle a créées, se donner pour la fin de l’homme, mais c’est aller trop vite. Si elle définit la fin, si elle l’envisage, elle devient en effet cette fin, mais alors seulement. La fin de l’homme est bien une forme de culture : celle dont l’objet est la fin de l’homme. Il est vrai que les premières tentatives, dont le pharaon est l’exemple, ne pouvaient aboutir, parce que le pharaon faisait appel à la sensibilité inintelligente. Il en résultait non seulement une insuffisance, mais le glissement dont j’ai parlé d’abord. L’existence d’un pharaon était bien le produit d’une culture, et elle voulait être une image de la fin de l’homme. Mais seul 1’« homme de culture », qui n’est pas le sujet du pharaon, mais dont, entre autres, l’existence du pharaon est l’objet possible, peut accéder effectivement à cette fin. Le pharaon, bien entendu, n’est pas le thème obligatoire de cette forme de culture, il n’est que l’exemple d’une foule, par l’intermédiaire d’un individu souverain, s’efforçant grossièrement vers la fin humaine. C’est pourtant dans la réflexion sur un tel exemple que 1’« homme de culture », en même temps qu’il évite la pureté de l’abstraction, évite celle de la solitude et fait l’expérience d’un lien qui l’associe, non seulement à l’homme qui peupla communément l’Egypte ancienne, mais à tout homme possible. Nous accédons de cette manière à un humanisme plus entier, se donnant pour objet complémentaire ce qui d’abord rendit l’humanisme, la culture individuelle, impossible, et contre quoi l’humanisme envisagé dans son essor, à partir de la Grèce, dût nécessairement se dresser. L’humanisme, nécessairement, dut être révolutionnaire, mais son accomplissement ne se produit qu’au moment où il aperçoit la valeur de ce qui le révolta, qui le révolte encore, où il aperçoit en même temps le sens de sa révolte. La sorte de culture dont je veux parler n’est donc pas une sorte de culture entre autres, mais la culture faisant le tour de la culture, revenant sur son commencement et, dans ce retour, sortant de l’équivoque, cessant absolument d’être un moyen, devenant une fin, étant réflexion sur la fin, réflexion de la fin, réflexion infinie. Mais elle peut être dans tous les sens réflexion qui s’accomplit. Il est important de faire observer qu’étant en son essence réflexion de la fin, réflexion sur la fin, elle ne peut l’être entièrement qu’en étant dans le même mouvement réflexion sur les moyens. Je me bornerai dans les limites de cet aperçu à donner en conclusion une représentation typique de l’effort auquel elle est condamnée dans le sens de la réflexion sur les moyens. Si la fin de l’homme implique la consécration d’une partie des richesses produites à autre chose qu’au développement de la production (je rappelle que la construction des Pyramides est l’exemple dont je suis parti), nous devons cependant reconnaître, la place considérable (je dirais essentielle si l’essentiel n’était pas donné dans la fin, non dans un moyen) à laquelle a droit le développement de la production. A cet égard, la perspective du temps présent est la plus remarquable. Le système de production dans lequel nous vivons a demandé l’accumulation des richesses : la production moderne exige en premier lieu la consécration des ressources à la production des moyens de production, c’est-à-dire à l’équipement industriel. La période d’accumulation est toujours une période critique. Dans une période d’accumulation, il ne peut y avoir d’essor heureux de la culture désintéressée. La culture au contraire entre dans l’équivoque : elle ne peut compter que dans le mesure où elle est utile -ou du moins semble utile. Encore dans la société où l’avarice bourgeoise à la base assuma l’accumulation, la crise a-t-elle été larvée. Nous savons cependant quelle fut la misère des classes pauvres en Angleterre à l’époque de son plus grand effort industriel. La crise est forcément plus grave dans les sociétés où le mode d’existence féodal s’est perpétué, rendant en premier lieu l’accumulation bourgeoise impossible. La classe ouvrière et les intellectuels de ces pays durent y prendre l’initiative de l’industrialisation. Cela ne pouvait se faire sans accentuer l’équivoque de la culture dans le sens d’un utilitarisme que la bourgeoisie n’ignore pas. Dans la société bourgeoise, qui de nos jours a dépassé la période critique de l’accumulation, cette orientation du communisme fut souvent mal comprise. Je ne parle pas de ceux qui se réjouirent de toutes les difficultés de régimes à leurs yeux menaçants. Mais la mise de la culture au service de la production pouvait être déplorée à bon droit. J’ai parlé de cet aspect dramatique de la période récente, afin d’introduire un point de vue qui me semble fondamental. Loin d’accroître réellement l’équivoque de la culture, les crises russes et chinoises tendent à la résoudre. Ces crises sont des exemples frappants des conditions dans lesquelles la fin de l’homme est accessible. Nous ne devons ni prendre les moyens pour la fin, ni méconnaître la nécessité d’en passer par les moyens. Il est risible de jeter la pierre à ceux que les moyens -ont obsédé, parce qu’ils devaient les vouloir à tout prix. Mais nous devons faire une différence entre ceux qui ont dépassé la période critique de l’accumulation et ceux qui sont à son début. En fait le jdanovisme, qui pourrait aujourd’hui être dépassé par les Russes, peut l’être plus difficilement par les Chinois. Mais autant nous devons nous ouvrir à la considération des nécessités qui peuvent altérer provisoirement la pensée humaine, autant nous devons reconnaître qu’il est temps, pour nous (à tenir compte de notre développement industriel) d’envisager avec quelque âpreté ce qui nous incombe. Nous pouvons, nous, sortir de l’équivoque. La prospérité où nous vivons demande la culture accomplie, qui n’est en aucune mesure un moyen, qui est une fin et qui, se voulant telle, se consacre à la réflexion sur la fin. J’aimerais, pour finir, donner une image vivante de cette culture accomplie, liée à l’histoire de tous les mouvements qui cherchèrent dans ce monde à consacrer les ressources humaines à une fin dépassant l’utilité. L’histoire des religions et l’histoire de l’art (de la littérature autant que des beaux-arts) en serait la substance, avant la philosophie. C’est qu’elle serait le prolongement de cette manière d’être homme que seuls la religion et les arts ont su traduire. Mais sur le plan philosophique, elle serait d’abord antiphilosophie. Non qu’une philosophie ne puisse s’élever au souci de la fin opposé à celui des moyens, mais la philosophie, généralement, donne le pas au jeu de l’intelligence et, sans une critique de l’intelligence ustensile, la philosophie est elle-même ustensile. Cette critique, me semble-t-il, n’a jamais été poussée assez loin : la philosophie n’a jamais rejoint dans la haine des exigences du discours logique la simplicité, la puissance de la poésie. L’art et l’exercice de la pensée ne peuvent que difficilement se rejoindre dans un silence qui soit d’abord un tremblement. Cette difficulté ne saurait nous faire désespérer de voir la société future laisser une modeste place à cette culture accomplie : elle ne peut elle-même, sans doute obscurément, que souhaiter « d’admettre dans son sein la présence de quelques personnes » qui lui soient « complètement inutiles ». Elles ne sauraient d’ailleurs lui sembler telles. Délivrer, un instant du moins, l’humanité de la poursuite du profit n’a pas seulement pour finir une utilité négative. Il n’est pas seulement utile en premier lieu de délivrer quelques personnes de l’utilité. Si aucun mouvement ne retirait la va-leur suprême à l’action, les hommes seraient condamnés à retrouver leur fin aveuglément dans la convulsion, cette fois sans doute définitive, de la guerre. Il est de l’intérêt de tous de montrer la valeur de fin souveraine que la guerre put avoir jusqu’à nos jours. Nous ne devons pas craindre de faire apercevoir dans la guerre une des formes où l’activité humaine dépassa la re-cherche des moyens pour accéder à sa fin. La culture dont je parle, étant réflexion sur la fin, ferait la part du jaillissement désintéressé qu’est la guerre. Son attitude à l’égard de la guerre serait la même qu’à l’égard de tout le délire souverain du passé. Née d’une révolte contre lui, elle en serait pourtant la justification. Mais de telle sorte que la guerre à tout jamais prît le sens du silence et du tremblement. Dans ces perspectives, il me semble que la culture et la « politique de la culture » se confondent. Ceci revient à dire que l’extrême conscience pourrait en même temps qu’elle en assure l’accomplissement définir le salut de l’humanité. Mais l’extrême conscience, ou l’extrême culture, me semblent possibles à la condition seulement de se détacher de l’action, qui ramène à l’utilité - ou aux agissements belliqueux, que dissimule parfois, et auxquels aboutit, la recherche de l’utilité. Dénoncer l’équivoque de la culture est à mon sens la seule « politique de la culture » qui, sans contradiction, situe efficacement la culture sur le plan de la politique, sur un plan tout à fait opposé au sien. POST-SCRIPTUM Je n’ ai pas cru devoir donner indépendamment de ses fondements le sens de ma position ; la culture ne peut envisager la question du pouvoir (en conséquence celle de la liberté, c’est-à-dire de la résistance au pouvoir), tant qu’à la base elle ne s’en est pas détachée. En particulier dans les circonstances présentes, il me semble que la politique de la culture doit se borner à comprendre de chaque côté les positions adverses. C’est en effet une banalité de dire aujourd’hui que les adversaires, ou se comprendront, ou s’anéantiront dans le même mouvement. Ils ne peuvent renoncer sans feinte à l’anéantissement de l’autre partie qu’en allant jusqu’au bout de la compréhension, celle-ci devant se fonder sur une reconnaissance des fins humaines au delà des moyens de la civilisation industrielle. Cela ne signifie pas la passivité mais la patience devant les forces politiques que les nécessités internes de leur mouvement opposent à la liberté de cette compréhension. Vous me demandez ce que je pense des possibilités des « hommes de culture » en France. De mon point de vue, je dois simplement dire que je les aperçois, sur le plan de la recherche des fins, divisés, comme ils le sont ailleurs. Sans doute la recherche des moyens - qui fondent la richesse matérielle - divise davantage. C’est la répartition des moyens qui décide de l’adversité majeure entre les peuples. Reste à dire seulement que le fait d’être un « homme de culture » signifie une conscience quelconque des fins, des fins qui rapprochent, au delà des moyens, qui divisent. A cet égard la culture en France a deux aspects. L’aspect traditionnel est le même qu’ailleurs. Mais le seul dont je parlerai, l’aspect moderne et singulier qui s’est dégagé, d’une manière voyante, et sans doute ne cesse pas de se dégager, surtout dans les parages du surréalisme. Cet aspect est la subversion. Je crois que, pour sa partie vivante, le développement actuel de la culture est en France dominé par l’esprit de subversion. Sans doute les esprits subversifs, dans l’intolérance d’un état de choses établi purent se trouver d’accord avec la subversion politique, et par là s’éloigner de la recherche des fins. Que le surréalisme, en premier, ait posé comme un principe la nécessité de supprimer d’abord, par la révolution, la division des hommes en classes ne signifie pas néanmoins l’indifférence au problème des fins. Les fins de l’homme, pour le surréalisme, sont données dans la poésie. Il est même possible de dire que cet intérêt fondamental est à l’origine des malentendus et des difficultés essentielles qui opposèrent les surréalistes aux marxistes (le stalinisme n’en est pas la seule explication). Il est vrai que l’exemple du surréalisme montre plutôt la possibilité de multiples désaccords à partir de la sub-version. Je crois ce risque superficiel et je dirai plutôt que la subversion seule est de nature à ouvrir à l’extrémité la solution de ces désaccords. La subversion seule donne à la culture le sens d’un accord de l’homme avec lui-même. L’article que vous avez accepté de publier me semble à cet égard subversif, sinon sensiblement, essentiellement : la fin de l’homme n’étant jamais donnée que par une subversion, par un renversement des valeurs. Il n’est pas mutile de souligner ici ce paradoxe, qu’en dépit d’un caractère conciliant, j’ai moi-même été tenu, en France, pour un esprit subversif, un des plus subversifs de ce temps, m’a-t-on dit quelquefois ! J’insiste enfin sur le fait que, du point de vue de la subversion, le surréalisme n’est pas en France un symptôme isolé ; les écrivains les plus significatifs, qu’ils aient ou non « passé par le surréalisme », ont d’abord été et sans doute sont encore des esprits subversifs. J’ai implicitement allégué Breton. Je nommerai Blanchot, Malraux, Char, Michaux, Leiris, Queneau, Genêt... (je ne citerai pas d’autres noms : pour ne rien embrouiller davantage). Je n’en veux pas tirer de conclusions rapides, mais ce fait, négligé ou méconnu, me semble seul justifier l’intérêt que suscite le développement de la culture en France. Sur le plan de la culture, la France est aujourd’hui le pays de la subversion. Or la compréhension dont je parle, si elle mûrit, suppose un renversement. Je me passe, si je peux, de laisser voir dans mes écrits cet aspect. Mais je crois que sans un mouvement violent, traduit dans la cohérence calme du langage, la culture ne peut être la fin qu’exige la rigueur de l’être, mais un bavardage impuissant, qui jouit de son impuissance. Je sens trop bien ce qu’un tel aperçu a de paradoxal, et d’insatisfaisant. Mais de deux choses l’une, si l’on y tient, il est possible au moins de me suivre en pressentant la nécessité de la question. Si l’on n’y tient pas ? Je n’ai jamais trouvé la possibilité de mettre sur la voie ceux qui veulent éviter le problème des fins. La culture, à mon sens, mène souvent à la méconnaissance de ce qu’elle est mais, plus contraire encore à la culture, le pire n’est-il pas l’impatience ? Copied from:

Documents: doctrines, archéologie, beaux-arts, ethnographie was a Surrealist art magazine edited by Georges Bataille. Published in Paris between April 1929 and January 1931, it ran for 15 issues, each of which contained a wide range of original writing and photographs. The journal focused upon a host of cultural traditions, spanning the disciplines of poetry, sociology, photography, sculpture, music, archaeology, and painting. It was overseen by the writer-philosopher Georges Bataille, who became more and more its single guiding figure as the issues progressed. Primarily through the pages of this journal, Bataille forcefully challenged the tenets of Surrealism espoused by André Breton in favor of an alternate model, in which humanity could embrace the formless, the sordid, the discarded and disregarded. To this end, he featured articles and images whose subjects ranged from slaughterhouses to nonwestern tribal arts. Every issue also included a set of “dictionary” entries that treated disparate and often mundane objects and concepts with scientific precision. Copied from

Thursday, February 23, 2017

How to Isolate the Infrathin

How to Isolate the Infrathin: Marcel Duchamp, Raymond Roussel and the Infrathin, Caitlin Murray

In his 1957 talk, “The Creative Act,” Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) described art as a gap that represents the difference between intention and realization. “What art is in reality,” he later commented, “is this missing link, not the links which exist. It’s not what you see that is art, art is the gap. I like this idea and even if it’s not true I accept it for the truth.”[1] The gap, the in-between, the liminal, the non-retinal, stretch the limits of articulation. When the definitive properties of known words fail, there is always the possibility of invention. Duchamp provided a key to the door that is both open and closed in the form of a neologism, the infrathin. As demonstrated in his posthumously published notes, the infrathin rejects definition— “one can only give examples of it.” [2] Accepting Duchamp’s challenge of definition, I argue that “sensitivity to difference” is central to the infrathin.[3] The role of the artist, as implied in Duchamp’s notes, is to be attentive to difference. Duchamp’s use of the pun is one of the principle ways that he demonstrates the value of this attention. Of the forty-six entries that comprise the “Infrathin” section of Duchamp’s posthumously published notes, two read: [4] The possible is an infrathin (1) and Isolation of the infra thin! How to isolate — (29) Within a structure such as chess, there are almost an incalculable number of moves. Nevertheless, the amount is finite. If you distend or destabilize the structure, the moves become infinite. An infinite number of moves are possible on an infinitely defined chessboard. Duchamp found humor and pleasure in distending the rules. Possibility checkmates truth. The declaration, “it is possible to” is an infinitive and in the Duchampian sense, the possible suggests the infinite. Given that the possible is an infrathin, one of the moves of this paper will be to isolate the infrathin from an infinite number of possible examples. This is a game that could be played and replayed. Another move is this: declaring that the infrathin is a form of difference, one that simultaneously destabilizes and generates. Although Duchamp invented the infrathin game, I argue that he was not the only one playing. Others, such as the playwright, poet, and novelist Raymond Roussel (1877-1933), made moves in the infrathin game of difference before and after Duchamp. Returning to the notes, Duchamp declared, “the passage from one to the other takes place in the infrathin” (1). I suggest, despite the anachronism, that we think of the passage from Marcel Duchamp to Raymond Roussel as a movement from one player of the infrathin to another. This suggestion privileges ideas over influence, affinity over chronology. Both Duchamp and Roussel played the game of difference using the strategy of the pun, a tool that exemplifies the infrathin. Difference for Duchamp creates a gap that destabilizes language, meaning, and identity. For Roussel, the gap caused by the pun is a widening of imaginative possibilities, his “domain of conception” as described by Roussel scholar Mark Ford.[5] Both players made their own rules to suit their own ends. Yet, these were really never ends at all but playful experiments on infinite chessboards of their own creation. Establishing a particular method with which to assess Marcel Duchamp’s practice, may be, as Francis Naumann has noted, “an entirely futile endeavor.”[6] Yet, if we construct the notion of futility as a process rather than a finality we move closer to an understanding of a method that articulates some of the most salient features of Duchamp’s body of work. In “Marcel Duchamp: A Reconciliation of Opposites,” Naumann asks the reader to consider Duchamp’s oeuvre a demonstration of “collective consciousness” in which Duchamp was “simply echoing a basic human concern: to unify or in other ways reconcile the conflicting dualities of life.”[7] Naumann indicates that he is not attempting to establish another working method for Duchamp, but instead, through a softening of terms, is merely making “a casual observation.”[8] Whereas Naumann provides some engaging evidence, the act of reconciliation contrasts with some of the most important concepts in Duchamp’s practice—namely motion and change. Duchamp’s interest in motion extends from his early paintings, such as Jeune homme triste dans un train (Sad Young Man on a Train) to the rotating disks of the electric motor in his final work, Étant Donnés. “Change and life are synonymous, change is what makes life interesting,” he stated, “We are not dealing with absolutes, are we, in this life—we are dealing only with what is in motion.”[9] The word reconciliation, besides its political and religious connotations, also intimates settlement, stasis and immobility. Instead of a reconciliation of opposites, I propose that Duchamp sought displacements and destabilizations. He pushed the limits of possibility, to seek distinctions, amplifications and differences. Naumman argues that Duchamp’s reconciliation of differences can be “traced to his quiet, unaggressive, and comforting personality.” He forgets that it is humor, “black humor and humor in all its hues,” as Arturo Schwarz argues, that “is of cardinal importance for Duchamp and constitutes the ‘invisible motor” of all his activities.”[10] It is not through a reconciliation of opposites that Duchamp’s works defy and destabilize categorization, but through the creation and exposition of the infrathin. What is futile is reconciliation, what is possible is the infrathin. In a 1945 interview, Duchamp stated that, “One can hardly give examples [of the infrathin]. It’s something that escapes even scientific definition.”[11] Faced with the impossibility of definition, Duchamp generated examples. His forty-six posthumously published notes document this attempt. Here are five additional examples, which are as elusive as they are illuminating: Infrathin (adject.) / not noun — never / use as / a substantive the stare infrathin / phenomenon (5) Transparency of the infra-thin (11) The difference / (dimensional) between / 2 mass produced objects / [from the / same mold] / is an infrathin / when the maximum (?) / precision is / obtained. (18) Infrathin / caresses (28) Reflections — on certain woods / light playing on / surfaces. Infra-thin brought about / by the perspective. (42) They are opaque and transparent. The impossibility of definition causes a gap, which Duchamp scholars have filled with numerous interpretive arguments, such as the passage from three to four dimensions, state shifts, shifts in degree and the absence or presence of the body.[12] In the desire to define the indefinable, scholars generated complementary descriptions of the infrathin as difference: a “plane of separation” (Gould), “the finest perceptual difference” (Roubaud), “a thickness, a separation, a difference, an interval between two things,” (Obalk), and “barely perceptible differences, or forms of separation” (Ades, Cox, Hopkins). Nevertheless, the infrathin retains its complexity and defiance. It is a coined word that does not pay up, or at least is not a logical form of payment. The infrathin is not stationary, nor standardized. The infrathin reflects, transforms, and plays. In the play of difference everything is interrelated, but nothing is centralized. Everything is in motion. “In chess there are some extremely beautiful things in the domain of movement,” described Duchamp, “It’s the imagining of movement or of the gesture that makes the beauty…It’s completely in one’s gray matter.”[13] Language, as with chess, also moves in the gray matter. Some of this movement follows the rules; some of this movement distends the rules. In the realm of humor, puns are often maligned. Their slight variations in homophones are viewed as sleights of hand and petty tricks. In one of its earliest recorded uses, the term wordplay was used to signify, “When…blockheads pretend to wit.”[14] Yet, puns were also the tool of Lucretius, Rebelais, and Shakespeare: “I am but as you would say, a cobbler.”[15] Puns beget further puns: “Truly, sir, all that I live by is with the awl.”[16] Puns beget a kind of laughter that forms in one’s gray matter. Puns cause an explosion of meaning, destabilizing “whatever conventional stability the relation between sign and meaning may be thought to possess.”[17] This is not a logical form of intelligence; it is a comic logic, the logic of the worthy fool. Duchamp, “is not an irrationalist,” wrote Octavio Paz, “he applies rational criticism to reason; his crazy and carefully reasoned humor is the backfired shot of reason.” [18] In “General notes. for a hilarious Picture” from the Green Box of 1934, Duchamp wrote: “Ironism of affirmation: differences from negative ironism dependent solely on laughter.”[19] Instead of negative ironism in which a meaning opposite from a word’s literal meaning cancels out both meanings, Duchamp advanced an alternative. He proposed an affirmative ironism, which allows both meanings to remain linked and significant.[20] Laughter is caused by this incongruity. Incongruity, argued Roussel scholar Michel Leiris, is a reflection of Duchamp’s specific method, in which, “Everything, or almost everything, will play itself out in the margin of uncertainty separating the sign from the signified, joined by a bond that is as precise but as tenuous as possible.”[21] Duchamp found this “margin of uncertainty” humorous and generative, declaring, “Humor and laughter are my pet tools.”[22] Previous to the rejection of his Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2 (1912) from the Salon des Independants, there was the acceptance of his cartoons in the Salon des Artistes Humoristes. Previous to the glass, the fountain, and the box, there was le rire, laughter, and Le Rire, the French humor magazine that published his caricatures in the early 1900s. Four years before his alliterative play in Jeune homme triste dans un train (Sad Young Man on a Train) (1911), there was his punning cartoon Flirt (Flirtation) from 1907. Humor was not only central; it was germinal. In Flirt, two lovers sit at a piano, exchanging witty banter as the woman prepares to entertain her partner with a song: She: Would you like me to play ‘Over the Waves’? You’ll see how well this piano conveys the impression the title suggests. He (wittily): Nothing odd about that, Mademoiselle, it’s a watery piano. Image Marcel Duchamp, Flirt (Flirtation), 1907. As Ades, Cox, and Hopkins note, the success of Flirt’s pun is the homophonic play of piano à queue (‘grand piano’) and piano aqueux (‘watery piano’). In many of his works to follow, as in Flirt, Duchamp generates humor “by this principle of small difference, cascading to large…unexpected effect.”[23] As Dalia Judovitz argues in Unpacking Duchamp, humor occupies a central position in Duchamp’s work, “not merely because it represents an individual temperament or disposition; instead, humor represents a strategy that generates displacements through decontextualization.”[24] The pun is one of Duchamp’s most prized and successful methods of generating an “ironism of affirmation” – a multiplicity of meanings. The pun is the star of the play of paronomasia, a form of wordplay based on words that sound alike. Literally, paronomasia is “to name beside” or to “provide a near-relative to.” [25] As Walter Redfern notes, “One near-relative to paronomasia…is the rare word paronomesis, which means illegality.”[26] The pun is a maneuver through a seemingly illegal intersection. The pun intermingles with metonymy and metaphor and contrasts with malapropisms, but at its core, the pun exploits multiple meanings through the play of similar sounding words: French and fresh, window and widow. The incongruity caused by the puns jostling of words yields laughter: “The essence of the laughable is the incongruous, the disconnecting of one idea from another…”[27] “The pun is the foundation of letters, in that the exploitation of formal resemblance to establish the connection of meaning seems the basic activity of literature,” writes Jonathan Culler, “Nowhere is the shakiness of the foundation clearer than in the shifty relation between letter and sound.” [28] In this shifty relation, the pivoting from word to meaning(s) is infrathin. Similar to the Chinese ideogram or Egyptian hieroglyph, Duchamp wanted to transform words into signs to create the plastic being of a word. He described this as “a kind of pictorial Nominalism.” As Thierry de Duve argues, Duchamp wanted to make literal the metaphor of the word reaching a “plastic being.”[29] Expounding on nominalism in his posthumously published notes, Duchamp wrote: Nominalism [literal] = No more / generic / specific / numeric \ distinction between words (tables is / not the plural of table, ate has nothing in / common with eat). No more physical / adaptation of concrete words ; no more / conceptual value of abstract words. (185) For Duchamp, de Duve explains, “the plural form ought to ‘forget’ that it derives from the singular; the feminine, from the masculine; the past tense, from the infinitive,” and so on, forcing words “into the realm of non-language.”[30] By creating conceptual experiments with language, Duchamp expressed his futile desire to construct a new language or non-language. In both his Green Box and White Box notes, he attempted to distend the logic of the alphabet, words and the dictionary. In the Green Box he describes a “blossoming” of the linear alphabet in which the letter A no longer follows B and so on, when “the group of alphabetic units should no longer have a strict order from left to right.”[31] Linearity was another rule to be broken, as in 3 Standard Stoppages (1913-14), in which Duchamp experimented with a new type of line. In the White Box, he transformed the dictionary into a theoretical site of play and experimentation: Look through the dictionary and scratch out all the ‘undesirable’ words. Perhaps add a few—Sometimes replace the scratched out words with another.[32] Or: Take a Larousse dict. and copy all the so called “abstract” words, i.e. those which have no concrete reference. Compose a schematic sign designating each of these words. (This sign can be composed with standard stops) These signs must be thought of as the letters of the new alphabet.[33] Yet, Duchamp never succeeded in creating a new alphabet of abstract or “prime words,” (‘divisible’ only by themselves and unity).”[34] His desire for “prime words” remained a search, another recognition of affirmative futility. Duchamp endeavored to liberate words from commonplace association and definition. “The principle is that a word too much in view, like a landscape, loses its savor, wears itself out and becomes commonplace,” explained Duchamp translator, Michel Sanouillet.[35] Like taste, which loses its freshness over time, words can become stale. Like the dictionary, Duchamp wanted to reinvigorate the map or atlas by creating a “geographic landscapism” in which a map could take on different formations and colors, providing alternative kinds of information. Instead of distances or well-known monuments, the map could notate, “the number of houses in each village, or then again the number of Louis XV chairs in each house.”[36] Whereas geographic landscapism was a method for freshening up the map, Duchamp used the pun to freshen up language. Only a partial realization of a much larger, unrealizable goal, puns allowed Duchamp to play with the abstraction of language within given linguistic structures. As Schwarz acknowledges, “in puns, he redeems the commonplace word and shows its beauty by a process of displacement that is more or less abstract…the word is removed from its ordinary logical context and unexpectedly related to something else.”[37] In this process of displacement, Duchamp found an “infinite field of joy”: I like words in a poetic sense. Puns for me are like rhymes…For me, words are not merely a means of communication. You know, puns have always been considered a low form of wit, but I find them a source of stimulation both because of their actual sound and because of the unexpected meanings attached to the interrelationships of disparate words. For me, this is an infinite field of joy – and it’s always right at hand. Sometimes four or five different levels of meaning come through.[38] Although “always right at hand,” words alone did not provide Duchamp with an “infinite field of joy.” It was the play of words that caused unexpected and manifold meanings. Unlike a topographical map that quantifies the contours of land in relief, Duchamp wanted to add stratifications of meaning to the preexisting landscape of words. In his readymades, Duchamp gets closest to reaching “the plastic existence of the word” through puns. As Schwarz argues, Duchamp’s most important puns “can, in a sense, be considered a form of the Readymade…it ought not be forgotten that many of Duchamp’s works are plastic realizations of puns.”[39] While critics have maligned both the pun and the readymade for their triviality, Duchamp argued that, “On the contrary, they represent a much higher degree of intellectuality.”[40] The intellectual success of Duchamp’s readymades results from a process of displacement that is concurrently physical and linguistic. For an object to achieve physical displacement, Duchamp altered the way in which the object is normally perceived and isolated it from its conventional surroundings. What does a snow shovel shovel when hung from the ceiling? To achieve, a linguistic displacement, Duchamp renamed objects with titles that have no conventional association to the object. Molly Nesbit describes Duchamp’s readymade production as an attempt to, “master not only the commodity but also its means of communication, its language.”[41] As Nesbit describes, Duchamp’s claim to copyright, plainly lettered on his 1920 readymade Fresh Widow was a bluff, a joke on both industrial and artistic commodification. Duchamp’s attempted “mastery” of language in Fresh Widow is also a bluff. His mastery is not an exposition of control or a plateau of power, but a desire for possibilities and movements. Like a chess master moving the pieces on a board, Duchamp demonstrates in Fresh Widow that he understands the moves of language. Image Marcel Duchamp, Fresh Widow, detail, 1920. During the summer of 1915, Duchamp lived with his friends and patrons, Walter and Louise Arensberg in their apartment on West 67th Street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Only a few blocks from the Arensberg’s was The Ansonia, a Beaux-Arts style residential hotel completed in 1904. Image Google Map directions of the Arensberg’s West 67th street apartment and the Ansonia Hotel. Image The Ansonia Hotel, New York. At the turn of the century, this was one of the largest hotels in New York. “Every day thousands of visitors passed through the arched entrance-ways of the hotel to gawk at the mahogany-paneled lobbies and watch the live seals barking in the lobby fountain,” described Manhattan real estate historian, Steven Gaines.[42] It is hard to imagine that in the summer of 1915, Duchamp would not have walked by The Ansonia and looked up at the hundreds of French windows leading out to private balconies, each one identical yet distinct. Indeed, the Beaux-Arts influence on turn of the century American architecture was astounding. Duchamp would have been surrounded by an architectural landscape that defined itself as “French.” Known in French as a Porte-fenêtre, the American French window assumes its “Frenchness” from its name. For the American upper class, the French style was aspirational, it provided, “a window onto something else.”[43] Image Marcel Duchamp, Fresh Widow, 1920. With Fresh Widow, Duchamp enacts a readily discernible pun through a simple phonemic alteration, the deletion of “n” from “French” and “Window.” Constructed by a carpenter in New York City, Fresh Widow functions as a model of a French window by representation alone. Its form is similar to a French window, with double casement windows closing against each other without a frame in between them. Yet, Fresh Widow is not typical of the class of “French windows” as visible at The Ansonia Hotel. Freestanding at roughly two-feet tall, with black leather covering the glass panes, Fresh Widow does not serve a utilitarian purpose. It is not a “window onto something else,” but the rejection of a view. It is an opaque representation of a French window. Whereas traditional painting styles aspired to represent objects in the real world, Fresh Widow is an object in the real world. Inscribed with its title, it demonstrates the non-articulable space between both an object and its representation and an object and its name. Also, demonstrated by his other readymades, such as Apolinère Enameled (1916) and L.H.O.O.Q (1919), a punning title supports interpretative variability. Is “Fresh Widow” a reference to World War I widows or to Duchamp’s physical displacement from France, or, as is likely, something else entirely? As Duchamp noted in his 1946 interview with James Johnson Sweeney, “For me the title was very important.”[44] It is through the concurrent process of linguistic and physical displacement that the pun, “Fresh Widow,” takes on plastic significance. The displacement demonstrates an illogical-logic. This notion is akin to Duchamp’s desire to represent a new reality in the Large Glass made possible by “slightly distending the laws of physics and chemistry.”[45] This illogical-logic expresses itself in a number of ways that are most clearly described step by step. This is not to say that this process is linear, but is an attempt to describe the key components of the movement towards the “plastic being of a word”: 1. Duchamp has a French window made which is a displacement of the style of the class of French window. 2. Duchamp alters the context of the class of the French window, by placing his French window outside of its utilitarian context. It is decontextualized, displaced from its class. Its objective nature is othered. 3. The title, the act of naming, further fractures the object. The pun enacts a cognitive disconnect, a slippage between our perception of the object and the object itself. The pun amplifies and furthers Duchamp’s destabilization of the object. 4. The readymade becomes a realization of the pun; the language of the pun gains plastic significance. The object moves through language to realize its plasticity. As Duchamp notes: There is a tension between my titles and my pictures. The titles are not the pictures nor vice versa, but they work on each other. The titles add a new dimension; they are like new or added colors, or better yet, they may be compared to varnish through which the picture may be seen and amplified.[46] The destabilization of language begets the further destabilization of both art and meaning. This act, like varnish, is an amplification. Instead of making art or anti-art, meaning or non-meaning, sense or non-sense, Duchamp produced both and neither. By rejecting the fixity of definitions, he proposed an intellectual process that is more elastic. “The word ‘intelligence’ is the most elastic one can invent,” stated Duchamp, “There is something like an explosion in the meaning of certain words: they have a greater value than their meaning in the dictionary.”[47] This elasticity of intelligence, in addition to destabilizing language, art and meaning also destabilizes fixed notions of identity. By becoming Rrose Sélavy, Duchamp displaces his identity. He becomes both male and female and neither male nor female. He becomes an alias, an assumed name, a pun. In the theater, the window is often a liminal space largely occupied by women. “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” declares Romeo upon Juliet’s appearance at the balcony window. Yet, in Duchamp’s Fresh Widow, the leather-covered panes of glass prevent the meeting of male and female. More important than crossing the windows threshold is the threshold itself, the space between inside and outside. It is therefore not surprising that Fresh Widow was the first readymade signed by Rose Sélavy (not yet Rrose with the double “r”), one of Duchamp’s alter-egos who exists at the threshold of the male and female. Man Ray, Rrose Sélavy, 1921. Rrose Sélavy, like Duchamp’s readymades, gained plastic significance through the pun. Her name, a pun for the phrase Eros c’est la vie, acquired an extra “R” during the signing of Francis Picabia’s painting L‘Oeil cacodylate in 1921. Andre Breton described Duchamp’s “shifting of a letter within the word, the exchange of a syllable between two words,” as the “alchemy of words…a veritable chemistry…used to liberate words from the only quality specified in the dictionary of meaning.”[48] Rrose Sélavy demonstrates both the “alchemy of words” and the alchemy of identity through the pun. Alchemy is a gendered scientific-philosophical tradition, in which elements such as Sulfur and Mercury are symbolized as Male and Female. The Dictionnaire Mytho-Hermétique, an 18th-century compilation of alchemical symbols, defines female as the following: FEMALE [Femelle]: The Alchemical Philosophers state that their Mercury is both malish and “female” [mâle et “femelle”], meaning that it is an Androgyne.[49] Mercury is not exclusively female, but is both male and female. The androgynous qualities of Mercury were indispensible for preparing the philosopher’s stone, the central symbol of alchemy. Schwarz argues that the name Rose itself, or mystical rose, was an alternative name for the Philosopher’s Stone. As Breton writes in the Second Manifesto of Surrealism, “The Philosopher’s Stone is nothing more or less than that which was to enable man’s imagination to take a stunning revenge on all things.”[50] Duchamp’s revenge was playful. Through word-play and “playful physics” he transformed words into puns and puns into machines of desire in his Large Glass and he destabilized common objects through humor and puns in his readymades. The personification of the pun, Rrose Sélavy is Duchamp’s transformation from male to female. Yet, he/she is not just male or female. He is both and neither. He remains on the threshold, in a transitional, transformative, transsexual state. As Duchamp noted: Infrathin separation—better / than screen, because it indicates / interval (taken in one sense) and / screen (taken in another sense) —separation / has the 2 senses male and female (9) The infrathin separation has the senses of both the male and the female but is not male or female; the separation is something else, perhaps akin to the androgyn or the hermaphrodite. In Plato’s Symposium, comedic playwright, Aristophanes, whom Duchamp described as having a pre-Dada attitude, argues that the nature of eros (think RRose), the expressly sexual component of love, was caused by the separation of primordial humans into male and female: …the original human nature was not like the present, but different. The sexes were not two as they are now, but originally three in number; there was man, woman, and the union of the two, having a name corresponding to this double nature, which had once a real existence, but is now lost, and the word ‘Androgynous’ is only preserved as a term of reproach.[51] Duchamp’s playful androgyny, articulates this infrathin separation in which men and women, unable to return to their androgynous state, can only become whole through sexual intercourse. The Large Glass exposes this failed intercourse between the bride and the bachelors who are separated into distinct realms, unable to physically consummate their sexual desires. Like Léon Foucault’s pendulum from 1851, which oscillates between it’s own inertia and the earth’s gravitational pull, Duchamp’s puns oscillate between semantic poles, begetting further oscillations between meaning and non-meaning, art and anti-art, male and female. The pendulum is always in motion. As David Antin describes, Duchamp’s body of work is comparable to a “perpetual motion machine,” in which any reading of his work is too stable.[52] What exists is activity, the motion between alternative readings. This infrathin space rejects the notion of the “correct” in favor of indifference, from which one finds a multiplicity of meanings in difference. Duchamp’s endgame is not in synthesis, but in difference. The infrathin exalts oppositions and engages in a freedom derived from uncertainty, inconsistency, motion, change, and humor. “Seriousness is a very dangerous thing,” explained Duchamp, “To avoid it, one must call for the intervention of humor.”[53] Through humor and incongruity, wordplay and destabilization, Duchamp keeps the pendulum of the infrathin in motion, like the Large Glass, in perpetual motion, definitively unfinished, always oscillating. It was Roussel who gave Duchamp the idea that he “could try something [with word-play] in the sense of which we are speaking or rather antisense.”[54] Yet, by “antisense,” Duchamp does not mean “without sense.” When asked whether he considered himself anti-art, Duchamp responded, “No, no the word ‘anti’ annoys me a little, because whether you are anti or for, it’s two sides of the same thing. And I would like to be completely—I don’t know how you say—nonexistent, instead of being for or against.”[55] Instead of making art or anti-art, Duchamp made both and neither. Similarly, as Judovitz clarifies, “Nonsense in this context no longer signifies ‘non-sense,’ but instead a gesture whose contextual character strategically stages and engages all different senses.”[56] In destabilizing language through the pun, both Duchamp and Roussel disturb the conventional meanings of words, creating what some scholars have described as “non-meaning.”[57] Yet, just as non-sense refers to the multiplicity of senses, aural, visual, intellectual, for example, Duchampian non-meaning is a rejection of fixed meaning, an embrace of meanings as opposed to meaning. Duchamp’s use of the pun is a reflection of his humorous approach to difference, Roussel on the other hand, although not without humor, used puns as a tool of his special method of imagination. The narrative catalyst of Raymond Roussel’s 1910 novel Impressions of Africa is a shipwreck.[58] Bound from Europe to Argentina on the Ides of March, the characters’ boat is caught in a mid-Atlantic hurricane, leaving them deserted on the coast of the fictive African realm, Ponukele. Captured by the Emperor Talou, the castaways are held captive until ransom can be paid in full from friends and family back home. To stave off boredom, the unusually talented travelers entertain themselves and the people of Ponukele with fantastical performances of theater and invention. Serialized publication of the novel Impressions d’Afrique in Le Gaulois du Dimanche, 1909. The foundering ship Lynceus is perhaps an appropriate metaphor for Roussel’s later adaptation of Impressions of Africa for the stage. As Mark Ford describes, the adaptation “began Roussel’s ruinous affair with the stage.”[59] “It was more than a fiasco, it was a veritable hue and cry,” Roussel wrote, describing the reception of the performances, “They described me as a madman, ‘barracked’ the actors, pelted the stage with coins and sent protesting letters to the manager.”[60] Yet, it was a 1912 performance of Impressions of Africa at the Théâtre Antoine, attended by Francis Picabia, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Duchamp, which nearly thirty years later Duchamp recounted as “tremendous” and “striking,” stating that, “It was fundamentally Roussel who was responsible for my glass.”[61] Roussel and Duchamp shared interests in extraordinary machines, playful inventions, and contemporary science, but perhaps more central to their methods, was the pun. Image Impressions d’Afrique at the Théâtre Antoine in 1912. Asserting a philosophy of individuality, Duchamp stated, “We are always alone: everybody by himself, like in a shipwreck.”[62] Yet, like the characters in Impressions of Africa shipwrecked on the shore of Ponukele, who walked from the flotsam separate but together, Duchamp did not develop his idea of the generative and destabilizing behavior of the pun in solitude. Roussel’s radical use of language illustrated for Duchamp the “madness of the unexpected.”[63] Roussel developed forms of theater, literature and language well beyond the limits of convention and tradition. Roussel’s How I Wrote Certain of my Books (1935) is often referred to as his posthumous “literary testament.”[64] Both the religious connotation of the term as a covenant and the legal association of a last “will and testament” are useful metaphors for the text. Roussel described the book as “secret and posthumous.”[65] Like a will, the text is a secret covenant with his readers, which was sealed by his death before it was published. Is How I wrote Certain of My Books a revelation of a secret, or a furtherance of secret? Michel Foucault contends in Death in the Labyrinth that it, “hides as much, if not more, than it promises to reveal.”[66] The explanatory intent of the book is undercut by the two themes on which it pivots: imagination and language. These are the gears of Roussel’s procédé or method. These gears are enmeshed, rotating simultaneously, yet I will approach the mechanics of each gear separately before returning to their conjoined transmission. Roussel’s expansive domain of conception rotates towards his use of language, an equally expansive endeavor that originates from the smallest units of writing—the word, the phoneme, and letter. Let us begin with a tableau vivant.[67] This is a scene of subjective travel.[68] The site is a dirt road in Egypt. On the road is a camping van, la roulotte, a vehicle similar to a small house on wheels, roughly ten feet long and eight feet wide. [69] The inside is fastidiously decorated with furnishings for a sitting room, bedroom, bathroom and study. Inside is a smartly dressed man in his thirties. He has dark brown hair, a brown mustache. His hygiene impeccable, his bow tie, perfectly fixed. Seated in his study, he has just finished writing a postcard. “Went to see the Valley of the Kings—Cold lunch—sun—heat.”[70] “La Maison roulante de M. Ramond Roussel” (M. Roussel’s motorized caravan), La Revue du Touring Club de France, no. 381, 1926. “I have travelled a great deal,” Roussel writes in How I Wrote Certain of My Books, boasting, “I have travelled around the world by way of India, Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific archepiligi, China, Japan and America.”[71] Yet, the curtain between his lived experiences and his writings was firmly drawn. “Now, from all these travels I never took anything for my books,” he wrote, “It seems to me that this is worth mentioning, since it clearly shows just how much imagination accounts for everything in my work.”[72] Roussel preferred the domain of conception to reality, his imaginary Africa to his experienced Africa, 1001 Nights to Baghdad. As Michel Leiris wrote in 1935, “Roussel never really travelled.”[73] How do we characterize Roussel’s imagination? Roussel scholars have attempted to codify his declaration that, “imagination accounts for everything in my work.” The various discourses on Roussel’s imagination form nodes from which a constellation of imaginative activity appears. Just as constellations include stars that are not visible to the naked eye, my account is far from exhaustive. Scholars and writers have situated or classified Roussel’s imaginative capacities, in numerous fields, both internal and external to Roussel, namely, Psychology, Science, Surrealism, and the Theater. Sublime, surreal, mad, unlimited, delirious, mechanical—all possible thresholds, but no single one is the key. If we conflate Roussel’s works with his imagination, then perhaps Ashbery’s claim in “On Raymond Roussel” provides the most suitable analogy: “What he leaves us with is a work that is like the perfectly preserved temple of a cult which has disappeared without a trace, or a complicated set of tools whose use cannot be discovered.”[74] Uncovering the sources of his domain of conception, is not the main focus of this study. This work has been undertaken most adeptly by the recent exhibition and publication, Locus Solus: Impressions of Raymond Roussel, which adds greatly to Roussel scholarship.[75] Instead, we will return to How I Wrote Certain of My Books to explore what Roussel called his special method. Although Duchamp’s method should not be considered equivalent with Roussel’s, within the labyrinth of Roussel’s method, one finds the pun, the readymade, and perhaps even, a Rousselian conception of the infrathin. “In the beginning was the pun,” wrote Samuel Beckett in his novel Murphy (1938). Though we cannot say with certainty, it is likely that Beckett read translations of Roussel in the experimental Parisian literary journal, transitions.[76] For Roussel, the pun was both the beginning and the end, a tool that “enabled him to fuse narrative and language into an indivisible whole.”[77] The genesis of Roussel’s elaborate narrative in Impressions of Africa was his choice of two words: billard [billiard table] and pillard [plunderer]. From these homonyms, Roussel created two nearly identical phrases: 1. Les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du vieux billard… [The white letters on the cushions of the old billiard table] 2. Les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du vieux pillard… [The white man’s letter on the hordes of the old plunder…] The slight, nearly imperceptible difference between these two words resolved for Roussel the question that all novelists must ask: how do I write a story? From two words, he developed both his short story, “Parmi les Noirs” and Impressions of Africa. In How I Wrote Certain of My Books, Roussel summarized the narrative of “Parmi les Noirs” in unembellished prose: At the beginning we see someone chalking letters on the cushions of an old billiard table. These letters, in the form of a cryptogram, composed the final sentence, “The white man’s letters on the hordes of the old plunderer,” and the story as a whole turned on the tale of a rebus based on the explorer’s epistolary narratives.[78] Foucault characterized Roussel’s duality of language as a, “proliferation of distance, a void created in the wake of the double, a labyrinthine extension of corridors which seem similar and are yet different.”[79] If we adopt Foucault’s metaphor, then the space of Impressions of Africa is also labyrinthian.[80] Starting with the homophones billard and pillard, Roussel expanded his labyrinth, generating further words in a chain of seemingly endless association: “This queue [billiard cue] supplied me with Talou’s gown and train. A billiard cue sometimes carried the “chiffre” (monogram) of its owner; hence the “chiffre” (numeral) stitched on the aforementioned train.”[81] The compounding of successive homophonic associations required both choice and linking, which as Roussel described, was “difficult and required a great deal of time.”[82] Yet, he never explained how he arrived at his initial puns. Why billard? Why pillard? Roussel’s explication of his method, to this point, is only a half-telling. Analogous to half-telling is half-hearing, the second component of Roussel’s method. Continuing his analysis, Roussel wrote: “As the method developed I was led to take a random phrase from which I drew images by distorting it, a little as though it were a case of deriving them from the drawing of a rebus.”[83] Amplifying the initial displacement of the b for the p, Roussel enlarged his phonetic inquiry to include whole sentences: I take as an example that of The Poet and the Moorish Woman. In this I made use of the song, “J’ai du bon tabac.” The first line “J’ai du bon tabac dans ma tabatière” gave me “jade tube onde aubade en mat (objet mat) a basse tierce [jade, tube, water, mat object].”…We recognize in this latter grouping all the elements form the beginning of the story. [84] Whereas billard reconnects with pillard at the beginning and end of a text, the eponymous word or sentence is lost in this methodological expansion. It is destroyed and then resurrected by phonic dislocation. This dislocation generated new narratives as demonstrated in this passage from Impressions of Africa: The diaphanous image evoked an oriental landscape. Beneath the clear sky stretched a magnificent garden filled with seductive flowers. In the middle of a marble basin a jet of water in the outline of a gracious curve sprang from a jade tube…Beneath the window near the marble basin stood a young man with curly hair…He lifted the face of an inspired poet toward the couple and he sang a few elegies in his own fashion, using a megaphone of mat silver metal.” Yet, this is just one possible narrative. “The forms of dispersion authorized by a sentence such as “J’ai du bon tabac” (I’ve got good tobacco),” Foucault argued, “are infinitely numerous.”[85] The syllables within, “J’ai du bon tabac” could be dispersed to form: “geai (jackdaw), tue (kill), péan (paean), ta bacchante (your bacchante).”[86] Every word and every syllable, moreover, provides a generative possibility, just as eros c’est la vie, generated Rose Sélavy. Roussel transformed the banal forms of language such as advertisement copy and addresses into strands of his narratives. James Fabion, in his introduction to Death and the Labyrinth, describes Roussel as having a “preoccupation with the prefabrication of language, with the “ready-made” and artificial quality of words and phrases and sentences.”[87] In an interview with Michel Foucault, Charles Raus associates this “ready-made” quality of language with the development of “ready-mades” in the visual arts, an unstated, but obvious nod to Duchamp. Foucault’s response to the ready-made suggestion, further suggests a comparison of Duchamp and Roussel: What Roussel did was to take a completely banal sentence, heard every day, taken from songs, read on walls, and with it he constructed the most absurd things, the most improbably situations, without any possible relationship to reality.[88] Duchamp’s readymades displaced everyday objects and destabilized the notion of art and non-art. Roussel’s found language, displaced from context and placed in an imaginary realm, destabilized the distinction between reality and non-reality. Although Roussel argued that he took nothing from the world for his works, his language, which is the French language, is of the world. The already present nature of language at least partially determines what can be said in the future. Roussel’s brilliance lies in his recognition of this fact. Returning again to his method, Roussel stated: As for the origin of Impressions d’Afrique, it consisted of reconciling the words billard and pillard. The “pillard” was Talou; the “bandes” his warlike hordes; the “blanc” Carmichael. Roussel’s first pun generated new words. He then assigned these words different meanings from their initial association, i.e. “blanc” becomes Carmichael. Roussel described this dislocation of association as a reconciliation. Nevertheless, an examination of the language in the context of his imagined narrative, reflects, as with Duchamp, difference and destabilization. From billard, pillard and blanc, Roussel developed the story of cabaret singer Carmichael, teacher and captive of Emperor of Ponukele, Talou VII. So impressed was Emperor Talou by Carmichael’s enchanting falsetto, blue silk gown, and golden-locked wig he demands to take singing lessons with Carmichael. Within a short period of time, “Using a falsetto voice, an imitation of a women’s pitch that matched his dress and wig, Talou executed Daricelli’s Aubade, a piece requiring the most hazardous feats of vocalizations.”[89] The plot of Carmichael and Talou enacts numerous layers of difference. As Mark Ford argues, Roussel’s method actualizes “polarities between black and white, male and female, imitation and uniqueness that structure the novel as a whole.”[90] By choosing each word based on “a meaning other than the primary meaning,” Roussel imagined relationships between characters based on dualities. As in Duchamp’s Fresh Widow, the incongruities in Roussel’s language hold multiple meanings simultaneously. Starting with the pun, we again find that the displacement of language can produce doubling, imitation, and transvestitism. We can only wonder if Rrose Sélavy had as beautiful a falsetto as Carmichael and Emperor Talou. “The work must contain nothing real, no observations on the world or the mind, nothing but imaginary combinations,” emphasized Roussel to his psychologist Pierre Janet.[91] Roussel allowed his imagination to wander and evolve in a circular path beginning with the pun, and moving out by rigorous discernment of associations. Roussel, as recounted by Janet, believed he was predestined to have a glorious imagination. “Yes, I have felt that I too carry a star on my forehead,” stated Roussel, “and I will never forget it.”[92] His genius of imagination, as represented by the metaphoric (or was it?) star on his forehead is reminiscent of another star, Duchamp’s Tonsure, a shaved star on the back of Duchamp’s head, documented by Man Ray in a 1919 photograph. Roussel’s star burned with the ecstasy of imagination and imagined glory, like the exploding pyrotechnics of Luxo’s firework displays in Impressions of Africa, in which each burst projected a dazzling array of scenes into the night sky. Reversing L’Etoile au Front, the title of a 1925 play by Roussel, Duchamp’s Tonsure, on the back of the head, is a cerebral gesture. Duchamp admired Roussel for what he described as his “delirium of imagination” and the location of the star on the cranium echoes Duchamp’s desire to turn away from the retinal and embrace “intellectual expression.”[93] Image Many Ray, Tonsure (Marcel Duchamp), 1919. Central to Roussel’s delirium of imagination and Duchamp’s intellectual expression was the small linguistic shifts of the pun. This difference, this infrathin possibility, yielded humorous incongruity, which developed generative destabilizations. As Ford insightfully notes, Foucault’s summation of Roussel’s method of undermining certainties of language, art, and identity, is equally germane to Duchamp: His work as a whole…systematically imposes a formless anxiety, diverging and yet centrifugal, directed not towards the most withheld secrets but towards the imitation and transmutation of the most visible forms: each word is at the same time energized and drained, filled and emptied by the possibility of there being yet another meaning, this one or that one, or neither one nor the other, but a third or none.[94] Whereas formless anxiety might best describe Roussel’s method, formless humor better suits Duchamp. Nevertheless, Foucault’s description provides another possible definition of the infrathin: “the possibility of there being yet another meaning, this one or that one, or neither one nor the other, but a third or none.” Far from a reconciliation of opposites, the infrathin opens an alternative space of activity, a gap in which Roussel and Duchamp’s imaginative/intellectual expressions were invented and tested through play. Avid chess players, both Roussel and Duchamp approached language as they could chess, acknowledging that the value and possible moves of chess pieces are derived from their relationship to other pieces. Instead of favoring the metaphor that acknowledges that this pawn is like the another pawn, Duchamp and Roussel adopt a radical approach to difference. This is an infrathin approach in which one finds similarities in difference and difference in similarities: All “identicals” as / identical as they may be, (and / the more identical they are)/ all move towards this / infra thin separative / difference. (35) ________________________________________ [1] Arturo Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp (New York, NY: Delano Greenidge Editions, 1997), 1: 258. [2] Thierry de Duve, Pictorial Nominalism: On Marcel Duchamp’s Passage from Painting to Readymade, trans. Dana Polan (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1991), 160. [3] Marjorie Perloff, “The Search for ‘Prime Words': Ezra Pound as Nominalist,” Paideuma 32, nos. 1-3 (Fall 2003). [4] Marcel Duchamp, Marcel Duchamp, Notes, ed. and trans. Paul Matisse (Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1980). [5] Mark Ford, Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000), 51. [6] Francis M. Naumann, “Marcel Duchamp: A Reconciliation of Opposites,” in Marcel Duchamp: Artist of the Century, ed. Francis M. Naumann and Rudolf Kuenzli (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989), 20. [7] Naumann, “Marcel Duchamp: A Reconciliation,” in Marcel Duchamp: Artist of the Century, 36. [8] Naumann, “Marcel Duchamp: A Reconciliation,” in Marcel Duchamp: Artist of the Century, 36. [9] Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel, 1: 258. [10] Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel, 1: 258 [11] Hector Obalk, “The Unfindable Readymade,” Toutfait: The Marcel Duchamp Studies Online Journal, May 2000. [12] Dawn Ades, Neil Cox, and David Hopkins, Marcel Duchamp (London: Thames and Hudson, 1999). See Chapter 8, “Replicas, Casts and the Infra-thin.” [13] Pierre Cabanne, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp (New York: Da Capo Press, 1987), 19. [14] “word, n. and int.,” in OED Online (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), accessed April 18, 2013, [15] From the opening scene of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. William Shakespeare, The Arden Shakespeare Complete Works (London: A&C Black, 2010), 2626. [16] Shakespeare, The Arden Shakespeare Complete, 2627. [17] Howard Felperin, Beyond Deconstruction: The Uses and Abuses of Literary Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), 186. [18] Octavio Paz, Marcel Duchamp (New York: Grove Press, 1981). [19] Marcel Duchamp, The Writings of Marcel Duchamp, ed. Michael Sanouillet and Elmer Peterson (New York: Da Capo Press, 1989), 30. [20] Donald Kuspit, “A,” in A Critical History of 20th-Century Art (n.p.: Artnet Magazine, 2006), accessed March 19, 2013, [21] Michel Leiris, “On Duchamp,” October 112 (Spring 2005): 46. [22] Katharine Kuh, The Artist’s Voice: Talks With Seventeen Modern Artists (New York: Da Capo, 2000), 90. [23] Stephen Jay Gould, “The Substantial Ghost: Towards a General Exegesis of Duchamp’s Artful Wordplays,” Toutfait: The Marcel Duchamp Studies Online Journal, May 2000, 3. [24] Dalia Judovitz, Unpacking Duchamp: Art in Transit (Berkeley, CA: University of California, 1995), 118. “paronomasia, n.,” in OED Online (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), [Page #], accessed April 18, 2013, [26] Walter Redfern, Puns (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1984), 22. [27] John Allen Paulos, Mathematics and Humor (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 3. [28] Jonathan Culler, “The Call of the Phoneme,” introduction to On Puns: The Foundation of Letters (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1988), 4. [29] Duchamp, The Writings of Marcel, 78. [30] de Duve, Pictorial Nominalism: On Marcel, 127. [31] Duchamp, The Writings of Marcel, 38. [32] Duchamp, The Writings of Marcel, 78. [33] Duchamp, The Writings of Marcel, 31. [34] Duchamp, The Writings of Marcel, 31. [35] Duchamp, The Writings of Marcel, 6. [36] Duchamp, The Writings of Marcel, 78. [37] Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel, 1: 31. [38] Rudolf Kuenzli, “Introduction,” introduction to Marcel Duchamp: Artist of the Century, ed. Francis M. Naumann and Rudolf Kuenzli (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989), 6. [39] Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel, 1: 45. [40] Francis Roberts, “Interview with Marcel Duchamp, ‘I Propose to Strain the Laws of Physics,'” Art News, December 1968, 62. [41] Molly Nesbit, “Ready-Made Originals: The Duchamp Model,” October 37 (Summer 1986): 63. [42] Steven Gaines, The Sky’s the Limit: Passion and Property in Manhattan (New York: Back Bay Books, 2006), 175. [43] Reference to Paul Cabanne’s interview with Duchamp “A Window onto Something Else.” See: Pierre Cabanne, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp (New York: Da Capo Press, 1987). [44] Duchamp, The Writings of Marcel, 125. [45] Duchamp, The Writings of Marcel, 71. [46] Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel, 1: 83. [47] Cabanne, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, 16. [48] Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel, 1: 214. [49] John F. Moffitt, Alchemist of the Avant-garde Marcel Duchamp (New York: State University of New York Press, 2003), 220-1. [50] Andre Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1972), 174. [51] See Janis interview for reference to Aristophanes and Dada: unpublished interview with Marcel Duchamp and Sidney and Harriet Janis, pp. 50. For Plato reference, see: Plato, The Dialogues of Plato, illus. B. Jowett, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1892), 1:77. [52] David Antin, “Duchamp and Language,” in Marcel Duchamp, ed. Anne D’Harnoncourt and Kynaston McShine (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1973), 114. [53] Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel, 1: 258. [54] Cabanne, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, 41. [55] Judovitz, Unpacking Duchamp: Art in Transit, 110. [56] Judovitz, Unpacking Duchamp: Art in Transit, 90. [57] Naumann, “Marcel Duchamp: A Reconciliation,” in Marcel Duchamp: Artist of the Century, 6. [58] Raymond Roussel, Impressions of Africa, trans. Mark Polizzotti (Champaign, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 2011). [59] Ford, Raymond Roussel and the Republic, 115. [60] Raymond Roussel, How I Wrote Certain of My Books, trans. Trevor Winkfield (New York, NY: Sun, 1977),16. [61] Cabanne, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, 34. [62] Hans Richter, “In Memory of Marcel Duchamp,” in Marcel Duchamp in Perspective, ed. Joseph Masheck (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1975), 150. [63] Cabanne, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, 33. [64] Ford, Raymond Roussel and the Republic, 1. [65] Roussel, How I Wrote Certain, 23. [66] Michel Foucault, Death and the Labyrinth: The World of Raymond Roussel, trans. Charles Ruas (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1986), 5. [67] Impressions of Africa is rife with tableau vivants, such as this passage from chapter V: “All at once the curtains opened onto a tableau vivant imbued with picturesque cheer. In a rich timbre, Carmichael, designating the immobile apparition, pronounced this brief apostrophe: ‘The Feast of the Olympian Gods.” Duchamp also employed the style of the tableau vivant in his final work, Étant donnés (1966). [68] Stephen Werner writes: “…it was with an author virtually unknown in his time (and now only partially recognized) that travel in its modern or ‘absolute’ sense received its most radical expression.” Stephen Werner, Absolute Travel: A Study of Baudelaire, Huysmans, Roussel and Proust (Birmingham, AL: Summa Publications, 2010), 50. [69] For more on la roulotte, see: Werner, Absolute Travel: A Study, 51-52. [70] Roussel, introduction to Impressions of Africa, x. [71] Roussel, How I Wrote Certain, 14. [72] Roussel, How I Wrote Certain, 14. [73] Ford, Raymond Roussel and the Republic, 20. [74] Foucault, Death and the Labyrinth, xxvi. [75] See: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, comp., Locus Solus: Impressions of Raymond Roussel (Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, 2011). [76] See. Tyrus Miller, Late Modernism: Politics, Fiction, and the Arts between the World Wars (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), Ch. 5, note 59. [77] Ford, Raymond Roussel and the Republic, 2. [78] Roussel, How I Wrote Certain, 4. [79] Foucault, Death and the Labyrinth, 14. [80] Marcel Duchamp also had a special relationship to the labyrinth as described by T.J. Demos in “Duchamp’s Labyrinth: First Papers of Surrealism, 1942,”October, 97 (Summer 2001), 91-119. [81] Roussel, How I Wrote Certain, 4. [82] Roussel, How I Wrote Certain, 4. [83] Roussel, How I Wrote Certain, 8. [84] Roussel, How I Wrote Certain, 9. [85] Foucault, Death and the Labyrinth, 43. [86] Foucault, Death and the Labyrinth, 43. [87] Foucault, Death and the Labyrinth, xiii. [88] Foucault, Death and the Labyrinth, 178. [89] Roussel, Impressions of Africa, 51. [90] Ford, Raymond Roussel and the Republic, 104. [91] Ford, Raymond Roussel and the Republic, 18. [92] Ford, Raymond Roussel and the Republic, 16. [93] Duchamp, The Writings of Marcel, 126. [94] Ford, Raymond Roussel and the Republic, 219.

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