Unreal Nature

August 7, 2017

To Give Back to Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… he created a form of expression that forever denied the possibility of defining art metaphysically, i.e. basing aesthetics on absolute rules.

This is from the essay ‘Objects of Modern Skepticism’ by Herbert Molderings found in The Definitively Unfinished Marcel Duchamp edited by Thierry de Duve (1992):

… “Does the harmony the human intelligence thinks it discovers in nature exist outside of this intelligence?,” asks Poincaré at the opening of his book, The Value of Science. “No, beyond doubt a reality completely independent of the mind which conceives it, sees or feels it, is an impossibility. A world as exterior as that, even if it existed, would for us be forever inaccessible. But what we call objective reality is, in the last analysis, what is common to many thinking beings, and could be common to all.”

[line break added] For Poincaré the scientific laws of nature are pure symbols, mere conventions, which man creates for the sake of “convenience.” “The scientific fact is only the crude fact translated into a convenient language. … All these rules, all these definitions are only the fruit of an unconscious opportunism.” Mathematical and physical theorems cannot, therefore, fulfill the demand to be true. “The things themselves are not what science can reach … but only the relations between things. Outside of these relations there is no knowledge of reality.”

… He considers basic geometric and physical principles such as three-dimensional space, the law of gravity, and the theorem of the conservation of energy to be mere products of consciousness, arbitrary arrangements, which could be formulated otherwise. In physics, especially theoretical physics, epistemological confusion was so great that one spoke of a “physics of believers.”

… In order to enter this discourse Duchamp had to invent a pictorial method that could not be compared to anything that had been known as art until then. “Can one make works which are not ‘works of art’?” In this note from 1913 Duchamp accurately formulated the aesthetic problem with which he was confronted in view of his philosophical ambitions.

[line break added] He found the answer in commonplace objects that he transformed into hilarious pseudoscientific devices, carrying forward and transcending the literary example of Alfred Jarry’s “pata-physics” into the field of the visual arts. It is, by the way, this pseudoscientific, philosophical function and point of departure that differentiates the readymades from all other subsequent forms of object art, especially from the Constructivist spatial structures and the Surrealist “objects trouvés.”

… It is as if Duchamp had wanted to simulate this different “education of the senses” by exposing himself and visitors to the crazy objects in his studio presenting totally new environmental conditions and object relations. In order to subvert the common belief in “top” and “bottom,” “left” and “right,” as absolutes, he had to disrupt, retard, paralyze the usual corporeal thing-experience.

[line break added] The unexpected position of the coatrack, hat rack, and snow shovel in space serves this aesthetic purpose. Of course, these amusements bore no results for the sciences. But they had far-reaching consequences for the further development of the visual arts. Are all definitions of art and the beautiful not at least as relative as the so-called iron laws of nature? “These rules are not imposed upon us,” Poincaré wrote on one of the most basic axioms of physics, the principle of cause and effect, “and we might amuse ourselves in inventing others.”

[line break added] Duchamp had fun doing exactly this, not only by inventing what he called playful physics and ironical causality, but by blurring the line between works and artworks, between commonplace utensils and objects in the service of the mind. Thus he created a form of expression that forever denied the possibility of defining art metaphysically, i.e. basing aesthetics on absolute rules.

… The anesthesia of logical thought, the “cretinization” of reason, was Duchamp’s lifelong artistic occupation. Although he was indebted to the sciences for his revolutionizing of the visual arts as hardly any other artist in this century, Duchamp was basically hostile to scientific rationalism, which had assumed the role of religion and philosophy as the principal means to explain reality.

… All his life he had, indeed, dealt with optical illusions, not to further the natural scientific world outlook but out of the conviction that all experiences, scientific thought included, touch on mere appearance, on sense illusions. Duchamp was as ironic as his colleague in the novel: they shared the same attitude, namely as Duchamp put it, “to discredit science mildly, lightly, unimportantly” and to give back to life a nonfunctional, playful dimension.

My previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

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