Unreal Nature

July 10, 2017

The Shadow of the Needle on a Sundial

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… in the circuit of the same with which he has his rendezvous, it is he who changes.

Continuing through Pictorial Nominalism: On Marcel Duchamp’s Passage from Painting to the Readymade by Thierry de Duve (1991):

… In the beginning was language. Whether it was drawn by X or Y, spoken or written in this or that order, it preexists the arrival of specific speaking subjects. “Sound of this language is it speakable? No.” With implacable irony, Duchamp reveals the naiveté of all the dreams of the plasticians who, like Kandinsky or like the functionalists, imagined themselves to be the founders of a language at the same time they wanted their work to speak directly, without delay. It is not the constituted subject who can found a language, even a pictorial one, but language that founds the subject, even if he is a painter. Like all the great artists of his generation, Duchamp had the desire for a foundational language.

[line break added] But he was perhaps the only one to whom it was revealed that the “foundational act” was not in a subject who would be the producer of a new and specific language, but in language itself, immemorial and general, as it produces the subject; that this “act” did not have as its condition a me centered on a feeling of “inner necessity,” but did have as its consequence an I that would leap into existence out of the “ground” of anonymous language; that this “act was of the order of the wo es war, soll ich werden by which the “voice of no one” opens up the possibility of saying I or, in other words, the possibility of simultaneous destruction and creation.

Duchamp did not entertain the fantasy of the tabula rasa — but do I need to repeat this? If literal nominalism reduced language to nothingness and seemed to destroy even the elementary social contract that constitutes it, this was not to establish the imaginary conditions of an ex nihilo creation. Quite the contrary.

[line break added] At the end of a reduction that cuts short all the imaginary unravelings of speech, the note in question [from Duchamp’s notes] shows in the realm of language the exact same revelation as The Passage from the Virgin to the Bride does in the pictorial realm. And this revelation is a double one: of the Real and of the Symbolic, with any sort of Imaginary abolished. The Real is sameness. The Real is not this terra incognita beyond language, which all those people who dream of the tabula rasa postulate so that they can build on it the bases of a new language.

[line break added] The Real is in language as well, insofar as language is already given in the absence of the subject, insofar as signs, words, numbers are all made to come back to the same place, like the shadow of the needle on a sundial, which functions whether or not one has a rendezvous with it planned. The Real of language is reproduced with each repetition of the same, with each execution, or, as Duchamp says, each “musical audition of the same work.” The Real doesn’t have a history; it is eternal. For the Real, time does not count.

But let enter into the cycle of repetitions of the same someone for whom time counts and who counts time, and we have the emergence of the Symbolic. The sameness of the Real becomes the Real itself — that is, it becomes impossible. As soon as an enunciator or an auditor, or “reproducer,” as Duchamp puts it, enters into the picture, an I is born for whom creation, in contrast, is possible, since in the circuit of the same with which he has his rendezvous, it is he who changes.

My most recent previous post from de Duve’s book is here.

-Julie

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