Monday, October 13, 2003

duchamp: chicks & camus 

hey Conrad & whomever's interested in the post way back re Duchamp...
i've been wanting to write about my own thoughts that Sunday but have been occupied with other stuff. it's been nagging at me, though, coming up here & there. excuse me for backtracking.

i think Duchamp wanted to be a woman. there. i said it.

he worked on *Etant Donnes (Given: 1.The Waterfall, 2.The Illuminating Gas)* for twenty years. there was *Nude Descending ...,* *L.H.O.O.Q.,* *Bride Stripped Bare...* etc. -- all with a constant: reversal/inversion - gender play. in *Bride Stripped Bare..* there are some allusions/missing elements listed in his diagram of the piece - Region of the Waterfall and Region of the Picture of Cast Shadows - both of which are found in *Etant Donnes* as The Waterfall and The Illuminating Gas (my translation, anyway – has to do with fourth dimension for D as sexual act, casting shadow as third dimension and so on but that's another tangent i'll let alone now). his vulva casts of *Fig Leaf,* *Not a Shoe,* *Wedge of Chastity,* & *Dart Object* (likely the negative space of the vaginal canal – though i thought it looked like the jawbone of a mule when i first saw it & remembered the Biblical story of Samson slaying a lion with it, oddly/appropriately enough), etc. of course the moustache & goatee (with the title pun “she's got a hot ass”) on poor little *Mona Lisa,* some believe a self-portrait of DaVinci in drag. & the most obvious – his use of alter ego Rrose Selavy & the lovely photograph of her by Man Ray.

but seriously. i've seen *Given..* lots of times before & been only slightly disturbed. i think this was the first time, though, it occurred to me that Duchamp, of all people, was actually misogynistic or was at least conflicted about the weaker sex (self). it's obvious the scene is weird. not only is the face not visible but the pudenda is not anatomically correct – or at least not normal. and hairless. the position of the left leg is really awkward. what's more is that you're forced to view it through two little peep holes of a thick wooden door in a dark room.

it's important for me to feel more O.K. with Duchamp's possible issue with women (though he was reportedly perfectly intellectually respectful) – or rather my issue with Duchamp's disfiguration of the figure in *Given...,* hence my play with amateur psychoanalysis & conjecture. though it's more curiosity. & i'm asking for any input at all on this stuff, trying to figure out the figure.

of course i wouldn't want to censor any creative work. in fact, i prefer this sort of thing so we can see what might be going on in there. what's most disturbing, dangerous, is the conflict of reverence & disdain. that kind of volatility that makes a girl sniff the air. hair stands up a little. that intense masc. polarity arising from the socialized chasm (for some) between genders. i recently read Hericourt's volley with Proudhon wherein he, in his belief, provides a perfect example of this perception,

“Social equilibrium is the equalization of the strong and the weak. So long as the strong and the weak are not equal, they are strangers, they cannot form an alliance, they are enemies... It is logical; but I claim that they should be made unequal in society and in marriage. Man should have the prepotence, because he is the stronger."

i really like the part about strangers. that's great. it's common yet interesting to read how his argument, after she kicked his ass on every point logically and scientifically, finally came down to “...because he is the stronger.” archaic, but telling. (obviously this discussion verges on power dynamic, sexuality in general, libertines/privilege, s/m, colonialism, politics, slavery, economics, et al but those themes/discussions abound elsewhere anyway.)

throughout his artistic life, Duchamp tended toward the mechanical & alluded to the erotic but didn't seem to reconcile the sensual and the mechanical (if that should even be a goal, i don’t know). *The Chocolate Grinder,* for example, or *Why Not Sneeze, Rrose Selavy?* (sneeze = orgasm, the sugar cubes in the cage sexual indulgence, etc.) the division is clear. after all, it's why, he claimed, he stopped painting, that it was not, what did he say...pure? because painting was too sensual. he wanted to get rid of aesthetic/sensual in art but not the idea of it. i don't recall reading *why* that was but i'm really curious. i can't help but wonder if sensuality in art, to him, somehow threatened – or corrupted – the intellect (rather than the other way around). it's kind of a pathological sexuality, of (help me with pyschobabble here, i'm getting tired) the inability to experience satiety because of intellectual disengagement from the sensual by dissociation/objectification & the ensuing violent 'sexual' impulse. in *The Bride Stripped Bare,* we have the best example of his dilemma - perpetual desire and frustration. the elusive object of desire (bride) on the other side of the invisible barriers – the Bride's Garment, Region of the Gilled Cooler (isolating plates), Horizon, etc. all hinged on the Juggler of Gravity.

*Given...* is his full circle, three dimensional, full scale solution. gas being sexual/creative desire, falls as his emission/creative act (fountain/urinal). full circle in the dimensionality of the medium/mode as well. not to mention the utter control he has over the audience, much more drastic than his other work. this goes beyond being provocative; it's manipulative and sinister and far more significant than my joke of him wanting to be a chick. Duchamp seems really interested in murder here or at least intent on pairing brutality and desire. and on maintaining the female's anonymity/objectification. maintaining a chasm, much like what her genitalia resembles, as i recall.

Though begun in 1946, *Given...* recalls the 1947 scene of slain Elizabeth Short (who happened not to have malformed pudenda but vagina) when they found her body on a grassy lot in L.A. – except that she had been cut in half at the waist (truly severing the intellect from the sex) & a few other gruesome differences.

Duchamp had problems with the Women's League when he collaborated on a window installation for Breton in NYC. he had an armless, headless female form with a faucet (falls, again) coming out of her thigh (titled *Lazy Hardware*). his earlier drawings/studies for *Given...* had the figure (model was Maria Martins - the opinion of whom i'd love to hear on this) likewise armless. i imagine he had in mind other similar figures from Courbet's *Origin of the World* or Rodin's drawings *Demain, si les..* or *Elle Ètait suspendue* for Mirbeau's novel *The Torture Garden.* there was also Cornell’s freaky doll (though fully clothed and full faced) with twigs in *Bebe Marie.* the female figure in these pieces is common with the psychopathic killer's objectified figure.

maybe Duchamp attempted to contemplate the provocative (&/or resulting) figure rather than the socialized chasm (to have or to be or to understand, whichever) leading to such intense objectification. he stressed the dilemma of the sexual object igniting/perpetuating a maddening creative force whose beginning might be an effort to attain the object but whose frustration & hence conclusion/solution is violent.

however, he could no more resolve it here, in its finally full sensual (oh yes, he used actual pig skin), 3-dimensional glory, than he could in *The Bride...,* by violence (or the inference of violence) – as the gas lamp is still unshaken and burning & the falls are a twinklin' in the background. defiling or mutilating the object of desire (bride) does not eradicate the desire itself. possibly one point of his (for surely he had more than one) is that no matter how shockingly violent or absolute the death of the object, desire and creation continue. even brutality is ultimately, as he likely would have said (but in French), not important.


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