Unreal Nature

July 31, 2017

The Machine Runs Only on Words

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… This moment, which Duchamp struggled hard to freeze on crystal, is not the moment of expansion, or of explosion, or of the setting on fire; it is, on the contrary, the moment of contraction, of shrinkage, when everything is possible but in suspense.

This is from the essay ‘Possible’ by Jean Suquet found in The Definitively Unfinished Marcel Duchamp edited by Thierry de Duve (1992):

Everyone knows that he scribbled a moustache on the Mona Lisa, baptized a urinal “Fountain,” spun a bicycle wheel with its fork in the air, and fabricated puns from the crudest obsession. I don’t want to dilute the salty taste of these healthy snickers. Throughout his life, with obvious pleasure, Marcel Duchamp said “No” — a “no” that brought glory to his name, and rightly so.

[line break added] But what if these negations were really only shadows cast by the sun of a “yes,” whose rays sparkle through the splinters of the Large Glass? This hermetic window, to whose crystallization the glorious naysayer almost secretly devoted between fifteen and twenty years of work, will be the object of our questions.

… When Duchamp crystallized his scheme for the Large Glass (not yet having lost interest in someday unveiling it to onlookers), he considered accompanying it — as if with a manual of instructions — with a brief and dry text that would set his frozen machinery in motion. And here I want to make the point that I will be hammering to the end: the machine runs only on words. For Duchamp very carefully retained the notes, scraps, and sketches that, made in 1912-1915 in Paris, preceded the actual construction of the Large Glass; but not until the Large Glass, “definitively unfinished” in 1923, broke while confined to a crate in the back of a jolting truck on a Connecticut road, not until then did the words, firing from the cracks, start the engine.

[line break added] Instead of repairing the shattered Large Glass as soon as he was informed of its breakage, Duchamp decided to publish, at the cost of more very meticulous work, the corpus of writings that recorded his plans — resurrecting the imaginary flesh: the fabric of words that would drape again the skeleton of rods and gears. Only then did he restore the image between two new plates of glass, now to be read through the foundational grid of his writings.

[ … ]

… Infinity, by definition — to expand on one of the tautologies that Duchamp loved — is that which has no end. Consequently, and most logically, the Large Glass remained definitively unfinished

… Why? … One glimpse at the Large Glass is enough: it represents the instant before, it is a delay in glass. The chariot is drawn back. The scissors are closed. When they open (in a minute? soon? tomorrow? never?), they are going to spread the strings which are going to liberate the weight which is going to fall into the liquefied gas which is going to rebound as a splash which is going to be dazzled by the oculist mirrors which are going to direct drops to the tender gravity who is going to … Well, but nothing is going anywhere in the Large Glass.

[line break added] None of this is shown. Here we are at the heart of the contradiction. In clear sketches and with sentences that don’t stop along the way, Duchamp imagined the plan for a picture that would strip the Bride bare. And when the moment came to realize it, he chose a point of view that held the last veil in suspense. However much the jolting chariot comes and goes — as the Bride’s letters come and go, as the weight falls, as the gas runs and the balls roll — however much time runs with both legato and staccato movement, the Large Glass cuts through it all. It represents an instantaneous state of rest, it is an allegorical appearance, exalting above all a single moment.

[line break added] This moment, which Duchamp struggled hard to freeze on crystal, is not the moment of expansion, or of explosion, or of the setting on fire; it is, on the contrary, the moment of contraction, of shrinkage, when everything is possible but in suspense. Note 82 perhaps provides the key. I want to avoid distorting it, and I know very well that separated from its context its meaning is altered, yet I will quote from it two major propositions: le tableau est impuissnat … le langage peut [the picture is impotent … language can].

-Julie

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