For 20 years at the end of his life, Marcel Duchamp did little more than play chess…
|December 28, 2012|
From The Smart Set:
Robert Rauschenberg made a series of all-white paintings after meeting Cage and Cunningham and seeing the work they were doing in the early 1950s. Cage called Rauschenberg’s white paintings “landing strips,” meaning that they were like little airports for light and shadow and dust to chance upon. They are to painting what Cage’s silence composition is to sound. The work of art becomes an opportunity for chance events to happen beyond the artist’s control. Versions of this idea became a major theme in 20th century art and it was Duchamp who opened up this territory.
You could say, then, that Duchamp was the bridge from the Romanticism of the late 19th century to that of the 20th. He made Modernism safe for Romantics. He was carrying the Romantic legacy forward through the death of painting (or other media) into a new world. Duchamp said, “if you wish, my art would be that of living: each second, each breath is a work which is inscribed nowhere, which is neither visual nor cerebral.” Or, as Greenberg put it about the Romantics, “denial of the medium.”
For 20 years at the end of his life, Duchamp did little more than play chess as his primary artistic activity. This was not done out of some nihilistic desire to destroy art. Duchamp did it because he was trying to find a medium completely untainted by aesthetics. No medium at all, just the Absolute. Secretly, while he told everyone that he was done with art and only playing chess, Duchamp was working on his last great creation. He called it Étant donnés. Étant donnés is a peephole through a wooden door. Behind the door is a park where lays a corpse. The corpse is naked and splayed out so that one looks directly at the genitals of the naked, dead woman. Among other things, it is the work of an artist who, as Greenberg puts it, is ashamed that he is producing art. For the Romantic artist, being ashamed is a good thing. It means that you refuse to confuse the tool with the truth. Amusingly, the Romantic art of shame has proved far more resilient than any of the forms of art that Clement Greenberg championed, like Abstract Expressionism. 100 years on and we are still dancing around the bride.
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Inherent Vice’s Two Directions
The jokes certainly strike one as sophomoric and the latter one as clichéd, further below Pynchon’s intelligence than one would like to think he would stoop, at least in print. Discounting them and moving on, or throwing the book across the room as Parker half implies we should do, however, would be to lose sight of “that high magic to low puns”.
Auden, Larkin and Love
I was prompted to revisit these ancient questions anew by a long footnote about a single line in the new Complete Poems edition of Philip Larkin’s poetry. The footnote refers to “An Arundel Tomb” contains a provocative remark about that the poem’s celebrated, controversial, closing line, the one about the true nature of immortality: “What will survive of us is love.”
Plato, Our Comrade?
Not surprisingly, there have already been critics of Badiou’s translation. The first is that his translation breaks the formal rules of translation to such a degree that the original meaning of the text has lost its significance. But this critique is inadequate at face value because Badiou’s hyper-translation is forthright in its intention of taking Plato’s concepts and modifying them into his own lexicon.
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Marcel Duchamp sat silent. He seemed far away, lost in reverie. Then, he spoke of the death of art, which he described as “posterity, meaning art history.” He said “history” means death and so anything which is recorded permanently as a part of history is dead.” I thought of the internet. I made a note on my sheet of possible questions: the internet kills art by turning everything into a permanent record.
Twenty-three brunettes, 10 puffs of pubic hair, nine pairs of panties, two t-shirts, two socks, one tank-top, one bra, one bottle, and one bowling ball—though I suppose it could be a basketball, a medicine ball, or a soccer ball. Twenty legs amputated by the edges of absent frames. Four pairs of legs spread wide open (one of these ass-to-us).