The name of Donald F. Theall is perhaps more subliminally connected with James Joyce in the minds of Joyceans than it should be, and there are many reasons why his works in the form of essays and books require to be emphasized in relation to the work of the Arts in general in the 20th and 21st centuries and to Joyce in particular. I expect in due course that the up-to-now overlooked status of Theall’s contribution to Joyce enquiries will have been overturned by the growing and perpetual force of the work of Hypermedia Joyce Studies with which Professor Theall has long been deeply associated, since Theall’s work on Marshall McLuhan, for instance, and his brilliantly clear in-depth insights into Joyce’s inferences in A Portrait of the Artist, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake on the science and technology of Joyce’s day in his James Joyce’s Techno-Poetics alone, places him at the forefront of an avant-garde in the literature of the most difficult kind: Theall’s scholarly intense writings display his classical temper, including Beyond the Word: Reconstructing Sense in the Joyce Era of Technology, Culture, and Consciousness; and The Hieroglyphs of Engined Egypsians: Machines, Media and Modes of Communication in Finnegans Wake, that came to me as a lived other-dimension to the less standard works on Marcel Duchamp, such as Linda Dalrymple Henderson’s Duchamp in Context: Science and Technology in the Large Glass and Related Works (Princeton 1998). It was from the point of view of Theall with regard to Joyce’s previously unimaginable buryings of subtleties that were virtually beyond the pale but which he had somehow dug-out for us all that rapidly had me seeking more assurances of the connections between Duchamp and Joyce I was looking for as a means of interrogating the visual arts and literature, and which I soon discovered in the writings first of Louis Armand, opening a cascade of fresh-to-me scholarly tomes that were read and enlisted into the work for which I am now, as it were, responsible: Reading Joyce Reading Duchamp. The name of Donald F. Theall is recorded in my ongoing notes from 2004 during which period I had been attempting to include all exegetes and critics of Joyce into a visual display of portraits of the “damned” in Finnegans Wake, standing as engineers of their very own doom - those souls for whom all hope was lost having once entertained the notion that Joyce’s own “work in progress” actually might have a heart. As it has turned out up to now, four years later, Theall’s is the only contemporary visage in a “tesseract” in my images, with Joyce and Duchamp themselves, that is apposite as a persona who has stood a very minor test of time alongside this terrible duo of “techno-art”.
I offer below the notations I made near to the beginning of my reading for Reading Joyce Reading Duchamp 2004 whose title is of course borrowed from Alan Roughly’s Reading Derrida Reading Joyce (University Press of Florida, 1999), a co-founder of Hypermedia Joyce Studies of which Donald Theall was an editorial advisor. Re-reading these notes again that come from the very bowels of my computer I dedicate them in memoriam to Professor Theall as I do a recent Image from a series entitled The Four Watches of Shaun XII, an opening sequences of a Book I am making on the subject of Joyce and Duchamp: Philosophy and Poetry in Science and Technology, and the Cover Page of my Newspaper project that likewise incorporates the work of Theall and McLuhan as perhaps any critical work on Finnegans Wake might do with rewards. Toward the Conclusion of his book The Virtual Marshall McLuhan Theall shows that in McLuhan we find Theall’s own opposite in his position as an “educator”, so to speak, vis-à-vis a promotional or self-inflicted “professionalism” on McLuhan’s part as he expanded away from the university into the spheres of “theological exegesis”, Thomism and “Natural Prophecy”. One anomaly that I discovered in Theall’s writings is a confusion made between Marcel Duchamp and René Duchamp seeming to point to the kind of observation Theall actually makes of McLuhan:
His [McLuhan’s] is essentially a world in flux and in that very process the nature of the opposites themselves is perpetually changing; just as alchemical aspects of Joyce’s world in Finnegans Wake; opposites separate, then coalesce, undergo metamorphosis and re-emerge, often at the diametrically opposite pole. (p.117)
Such are the generally accepted roles and character reversals taking place between Shaun, Shem and HCE in The Four Watches of Shaun as elsewhere in the Wake that I applaud with opportune glee in the coming together of Marcel and René Duchamp(1) and Wassily and Paul Kandinsky in Theall’s work that even operators on the Internet are also happy to metamorphose.(2) Finnegans Wake, as Theall has documented via McLuhan (employing sources from a quite vast cornucopia of “thinkers”) is arguably, as he suggests, the most democratic work of art save, I must add, for that of Marcel Duchamp whose Notes to the Glass also make links to his complete oeuvre. I had the pleasure only once of seeing and hearing Donald F. Theall speak on Joyce, at Cornell, and I am still keenly reading his Art.
Notes 2004: Reading Joyce Reading DuchampThe Routes between JJ and MD So Far
- “The potential source material read by Joyce is of extreme diversity, mixing the profound and the trivial in equal measure. Some of it is so obscure and ephemeral that it is almost miraculous that so much has survived. Were it not for the farsighted policies of institutions such as the British Library – which set about collecting and preserving schoolgirls’ novelettes with the same zeal that was accorded to what were judged to be canonical works – many of Joyce’s sources would probably never have come to light”. (The Notebooks at Buffalo. P.3).
- The practice of keeping Notes and Notebooks for work in progress. The use of coloured pencils or crayons for annotations and coding.
- Perhaps one of the most important ideas is that both Joyce and Duchamp thread strands of ideas through all their major works that are difficult to separate out from the rest of the other original material and their later works. Self Quotation is a consistent thread as a form of criticism and memory ready for Irony and tongue-in-cheekness.
- The notion of the childlike (Roussel) and the absurd (Jarry) need to be considered in light of material stolen, borrowed, and lifted wholesale from so called ‘original’ sources written about by several commentators.
- The issue of the infrathin regarding Duchamp needs to be considered in light of the writing of Joyce. This is a major issue and ‘connotation’ may be a help toward this. Connotation in the sense of : undertone, undercurrent, implication, hidden meaning, secondary meaning, nuance, flavour, feeling, aura, atmosphere, colouring, smack, hint, vein, echo, vibrations, associations, intimations, suggestions, suspicions, insinuations, subcurrents. William York Tindall sights the terms ‘correspondence’ and ‘analogy’ in relation to Joyce and the Hermetic tradition. An intellectual and occult attitude to the text. Denotation means: to be a sign of, signify, signal, symbolise, it is a representation, identity, to typify. The infrathin in Duchamp and Joyce is arguably ‘beyond’ these.
- Duchamp, Joyce and Wittgenstein shared a delight in notekeeping as a form of address and as private consolation. Wittgenstein creating an almost childlike code or ‘open letter’. Dictionaries and letters consistently occur in Joyce, Duchamp and Wittgenstein.
- These three proclaimed the ordinary as remarkable. This was already a deeply philosophical position. Joyce and Duchamp shared a life-long fascination for the readymade and ‘bricolage’ and if Duchamp ‘borrowed’ from Alfred Jarry then Max Ernst borrowed Duchamp’s Bride for quite a long time. Joyce’s Bride’s are as complex and as incandescent as Duchamp’s Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even as Rrose Sélavy. Artists have been borrowed from Duchamp for almost the entire 20th Century and as you can see are doing so still and will continue to do so.
- Constant references to the scientific and the Fourth Dimension are consistent in both Duchamp and Joyce.
- The revolutionary language use in Joyce and Duchamp and Wittgenstein’s, Nietzsche’s, and Heidegger’s (among others) reflections and views on language and especially poetry are important in light of this
- We can study HCE and the non-confession of ‘original sin’. Duchamp’s ethical position of indifference and meta-irony supported by the Dadas’ disgust for the ‘ethical’ and Wittgenstein’s views on the ethical and the ‘confessional’ through writing.
- Both Joyce and Duchamp were interested in Science Fiction.
- Both were Visionaries (of a disinterested kind).
- Eyesight in the case of Joyce and Optics in the case of Duchamp. What might be the consequences of pursuing this route – perspective is metaphor and visual art is not a ‘language’.
- Most important is the nature of writing in Duchamp that needs further attention so that we can examine Joyce by comparison.
- There are other issues like Gertrude Stein and Beckett, Roussel, Jarry, Mallarmé, Derrida. The philosophy of language.
- Metaphor and simile in Joyce and Duchamp.
- Supplementarity that belongs to Joyce and Duchamp is vast.
- The ‘pun’ and ‘punning’ inherent in all language for Heidegger: Song, Sounding, and Listening. Gestalt too for Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Duchamp and Joyce, not necessarily in the psychoaesthetic tradition, but as a form of what Heidegger called ‘Enframing’ where things do not appear to be what they are – the ordinary enters into the open as something other than itself or other than the usual. Metaphor conceived in a Heideggerian spirit emphasises otherness, difference, strangeness, disguise, and allegory.
- Perhaps from my own point of view the activity of consistently putting one’s owns medium into question is a useful and important way of proceeding. Wittgenstein thought that Art is the most economical, compact method for storing and transmitting information. This is an important view.
Correspondences between Joyce and Duchamp.
Darren Tofts: Joyce and Duchamp. From Memory:Trade. p.100.
The artist with whom Joyce had the closest affinities, in terms of the aesthetics of parallactic reading, is Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp, like Joyce, conceived of his work in dramatic, rather than lyric or epic terms, identifying the spectator as the missing link “in the chain of reactions accompanying the creative act” (Duchamp in Lebel, 1959, 78). Duchamp’s subtitle for The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, even (1915-1923), was “delay in glass”.
This is suggestive of the element of movement and duration essential not only to perception, but to aesthetic experience as well. Duchamp’s Large Glass was not something to be looked at, but thought about, accessed as a “catalogue of ideas”, accompanied by a “text as amorphous as possible, which never took form”. (Hulton, 1993, 25/12/49).
This text was the Green Box, a collection of ninety-three notes on torn pieces of paper, loose in a green suede-covered box, designed as aleatory prompts to allow the spectator to consider the beguiling, enigmatic Glass from “all associative angles” (30/9/49). Duchamp, like Joyce, was attracted to an intransitive art, declaring to Anais Nin in 1934 that it’s “not the time to finish anything”.
Indeed, his most famous catch phrase, describing the Large Glass as “definitively unfinished”, suggests that, like Finnegans Wake, it is a mechanism of illumination, of indeterminate possibility and impossible determinacy.
As with Derrida’s suggestive metaphor of reading Joyce as imminence, a precipitous ebb-and-flow of immersion into textuality and emission out of it, regarding the Glass is always a process of “indecisive reunion”. In this sense, Joyce and Duchamp did not produce texts, they provided systems of prompting, primary nodes in an interface completed by the spectator in a perpetual ‘later’. [a delay]. The nomenclature of hypermedia seems more relevant to such modernist experiments in fourth-dimensional space than contemporary interactive culture. Joyce and Duchamp both demanded the use of an extended or virtual memory, requiring the reader/spectator to retain an extraordinary mosaic of information in immediate, random-access memory (RAM), and at the same time relate it to a cache of stored, remembered detail that, depending on one’s history of indecisive reunion, may be considerable. In terms of Joyce’s aesthetics of delay, of fourth-dimensional poetics, the implosion of the synchronic/diachronic tension results in synchronicity, the obligation to handle more than “two thinks at a time” (FW 5830 – the real stuff of hypermedia. Such demands in 1939 were beyond even his most passionate readers, given that the Wake describes itself as “sentenced to be nuzzled over a full trillion times for even and a night” (FW.120).
[The concept of the fourth dimension was first theorised in the 19th century though its origins can be traced back to the work of Kant in the 18th century. The theory of the forth dimension belonged to the analytical branch of non-Euclidean geometry interested in theorising space beyond the familiar three dimensions of height, width and depth. Apart from its influence on the arts in the early part of the 20th century, fourth-dimensional geometry also contributed to the theory of relativity]. (See R. Rucker: The Fourth Dimension: A Guided Tour of the Higher Universes. (Boston. Houghton Miffin, 1984)].
[Quantum Mechanics also bears Joyce’s mark. It was from Finnegans Wake that the physicist Murray Gell-Mann appropriated the term “quark” to designate the smallest, most elementary particles of matter. (FW.383).] (see p.93 of Tofts).
Duchamp: “what we were interested in at the time was the fourth dimension. Simply, I thought of the idea of a projection, of an invisible fourth dimension, something you couldn’t see with your eyes”.
“The Bride in the Large Glass was based on this, as if it were the projection of a 4-dimensional object.”
Octavio Paz wrote: “it is above all the rigorous unity of Marcel Duchamp’s work that surprises anyone reviewing it in its entirety…He was fascinated by a four-dimensional object and the shadow it throws, those shadows we call realities. The object is an Idea, but the Idea is resolved at last in Etant Donnes and the Glass”.
Transformations of the Book in Joyce’s Dream Vision of Digiculture.
Whether or not the Wake’s speaking of “twattering of bards” (FW.37.17) is a reference to Paul Klee’s famous Twittering Birds completed in 1922/3 or Joyce’s speaking of his book as a “claybook”, of Glasheen’s suggesting that he is alluding to Klee’s relation with Marcel Duchamp (j’a moi trouvay la clee dang les champs) by playing on the French phrase for “freedom of the fields” and on the German word for clover i.e.klee) is consciously intended, the affinity of klee, Duchamp, Picabia, Ernst, the Dadaists, Surrealists and expressionists is noteworthy. If Duchamp, Picabia Klee and a number of other contemporary artists explored the impact of techno-scientific phenomena such as the X-Rays, atomic structure, electricity and magnetism, radiation, radium and aspects of chemistry on the visual and optical arts, Joyce extended this exploration into their impact on language, gesture, speech and print/writing. (p.2)
It’s clear that Duchamp also extended these phenomena in his writings as well as his visual art.
The Technopoetics of James Joyce.
In 1950…Norbert Wiener’s Cybernetics…I first encountered James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Marshall McLuhan…In that context, it was apparent Finnegans Wake was not only comic, satiric, and poetic, but also represented a deep insight into the new global culture that was awakening with the approach to the millennium. Joyce seemed as much akin with the new technological modes of production, reproduction, and dissemination of culture as with the medieval and European literary culture with which his work was at that time identified.
In the opening decades of the 20th century the experiments of the artistic avant-garde movements (such as the Dadaists, the Bauhaus, and the Surrealists) and of individuals (such as Marcel Duchamp, Paul Klee, Sergei Eisenstein, and Luis Bunuel) generated the exploration of the semiotics and technical effects of tactile, haptic proprioceptive and acoustic spaces and involvements. Duchamp, for example, became an early leading figure in splitting apart the presumed genetic boundaries of painting and sculpture to explore arts of motion, light, movement, gesture, and concept, exemplified in his Large Glass and the serial publication of his accompanying notes from The Box of 1914 through The Green Box to A l’infinitif. His interest in the notes as part of the total work echoes Joyce’s own interest in the publication of Work in Progress and commentaries he organised upon it (e.g. Our Examination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress). Joyce also explores similar aspects of motion, light, movement, gesture, and concept. So the road to MIT’s Media Lab and Cyberculture begins with poetic and artistic experimentation in the late 19th and early 20th century. (p.186)
The counter-poetic FW provides one of the key texts…This enigmatic work is not only a polysemic, encyclopaedic book designed to be read with the simultaneous involvement of ear and eye: it is also a self-reflexive book about the role of the book in the electro-mechinic world of the new technology.
Duchamp in Theall.
xv. “…Marcel Duchamp’s fascination with Riemannian geometry…”
Henderson. p.47. For Jarry and subsequently for Duchamp and other members of the avant-garde, these new geometries – particularly, non-Euclidean geometry, with its overt challenge to the sovereignty of Euclid’s geometry as absolute truth – could function as a subversive symbol for the rejection of tradition and established laws.
Theall. p.51. In his Alice books and other major nonsense writing, Lewis Carroll discovered the key to a wit of the surfaces in which words “can become like a shunting point and we go from one to the other by a multitude of routes; from which the idea of a book emerges that does not simply tell a history but an ocean of histories”. These portmanteau words and complex puns and their utilisation in a pseudo-logical structure create in Carroll’s writings what Deleuze has described as a schizoid-like artistic language. [Remember John Golding discussing Duchamp’s ‘pseudo language’ p.85 of Golding]. This language is central to Joyce’s mechanics of sense and of his comic-anarchic modes of writing. Here is a vision which parallels that of the world of Duchamp, Dada, and Cubism for it embraces both the complexities of sense and the potential for absurd emptiness of the growing technological world.
Theall. p.131. To further his interest in and awareness of contemporary mathematics, he [Joyce] was most likely familiar with how some of his contemporaries in the visual arts, notably Duchamp, were interested in Riemann’s n-dimensional geometry – a geometry which is fundamental to the treatment of space and time in Einstein’s general theory of relativity and in quantum theory. It has also been suggested that Joyce’s knowledge of the ‘tesseract’ (FW.100.35), a basic figure in non-Euclidean geometry, could have been discovered from reading Abbott’s Flatland.
The parallel between Duchamp’s “playful physics” and Jarry’s Pataphysics is unmistakable: an irreverent artist for whom nothing is sacred delves into avant-garde mathematics and science in secret so as to discredit longstanding beliefs still held by the majority of the public. The new geometries were an ideal tool for “slightly distending” the laws of science, for although they had actually existed for over fifty years, serious information about the n-dimensional and non-Euclidean and their possible scientific ramifications was only gradually becoming available to nonspecialists in this period.
Theall. pp.144-145 on Einstein and Relativity.
The profound impact of the new culture of space-time on the Joycean universe is comically illustrated by the way the stock fairy-tale formula with which the first page of A Portrait opens – ‘Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow…’ appears in the Wake, introducing a transformation of Aesop’s fable of the fox and the grapes into a fable about a Mookse and a Gripes, which begins, ‘Eins within a space and a wearywide space it was ere wohned a Mookse’ (FW.152,18-19). This parodic rephrasing also provides a clue to one aspect of Joyce’s treatment of space and time as intertwined and interdependent – as space-time – and it underlines this by playing on Einstein’s name. Joyce, who identified ALP with the River Liffey and her spouse, HCE with the Hill of Howth, also presents his two major dream characters as ‘father Times and Mother Spacies’ (600.3), but with the further byplay that ALP as river-wife can ‘meander by that marritime way’ (209.5) for if the river’s flow is the flow of time, that time is measured by the space through which the river flows – ‘the space of the time being’ (109.22). The very sex-play between ALP and HCE – the ‘fin’, ‘our human conge eel’ – in the river is a play of space with time: (see FW 526.2).
Darren Tofts. Memory/Trade. p.107.
Joyce, like many of his modernist contemporaries, was fascinated with the challenge of creating innovative forms of expression for the new understandings of consciousness and mind developed by William James and Henri Bergson, Freud’s writings on the unconscious, and the revolutionary ideas about space, time and matter in the physics of Albert Einstein and Max Planck.
Much has been made, within Joyce studies and 20th Century literary historiography, of Joyce’s pioneering importance as an interpreter of the modernist re-making of the world. However, one of the most incisive accounts of Joyce’s historic significance in this respect was the description of Ulysses by the Hon. John Woolsey, in his 1933 decision that lifted the United State’s ban on the book:
Joyce has attempted – it seems to me, with astonishing success – to show how the screen of consciousness with its ever-shifting kaleidoscopic impressions carries, as it were on a plastic palimpsest, not only what is in the focus of each man’s observation of the actual things about him, but also in a penumbral zone residua of past impressions, some recent and some drawn up by association from the domain of the subconscious.
Woolsey’s reflections in defence of the literary merits of Ulysses as an embodiment of new attitudes to mind and perception also evidence how important metaphors of writing have been to our understanding of such attitudes. Woolsey’s imprimatur, enabling the book to be imported into, and published in the United States, ironically continued this grammatological metaphor of the world and the mind. Joyce’s spatio-temporal experiments in Ulysses, techniques of interior monologue (mistakenly referred to as “stream of consciousness”), multiple points of view and the intersecting “structural rhythm” between the two, crystallised the types of experiments being conducted across all the art forms during and after the First World War.
Duchamp in Theall.
p.9. “Joyce’s complex literary machine parallels the contemporary projects of Duchamp, Léger, the Dadaists and the Futurists. Léger’s silent film Ballet Méchanique, produced while Joyce was living in Paris, dramatically and conclusively establishes the strong affinity of the newest mode of cultural production with the mechanical, the electrical, and the photochemical nature of light”.
p.27. “While Joyce’s work stands beside and beyond surrealism, as Klee’s does with…and Duchamp’s to Dadaism”.
p.51. “These portmanteau words and complex puns and their utilisation in a pseudo-logical structure create in Carroll’s writings what Deleuze has described as a schizoid-like artistic language. [Remember Golding discussing Duchamp’s ‘pseudo language’ p.85 of Golding]. This language is central to Joyce’s mechanics of sense and of his comic-anarchic modes of writing. Here is a vision which parallels that of the world of Duchamp, Dada, and Cubism for it embraces both the complexities of sense and the potential for absurd emptiness of the growing technological world”.
p.131. To further his interest in and awareness of contemporary mathematics, Joyce was most likely familiar with how some of his contemporaries in the visual arts, notably Duchamp, were interested in Riemann’s n-dimensional geometry – a geometry which is fundamental to the treatment of space and time in Einstein’s general theory of relativity and in quantum theory.
p.186. In the opening decades of the 20th century the experiments of the artistic avant-garde movements (such as the Dadaists, the Bauhaus, and the Surrealists) and of individuals (such as Marcel Duchamp, Paul Klee, Sergei Eisenstein, and Luis Bunuel) generated the exploration of the semiotics and technical effects of tactile, haptic proprioceptive and acoustic spaces and involvements.
Duchamp, for example, became an early leading figure in splitting apart the presumed genetic boundaries of painting and sculpture to explore arts of motion, light, movement, gesture, and concept, exemplified in his Large Glass and the serial publication of his accompanying notes from The Box of 1914 through The Green Box to A l’infinitif. His interest in the notes as part of the total work echoes Joyce’s own interest in the publication of Work in Progress and commentaries he organised upon it (e.g. Our Examination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress). Joyce also explores similar aspects of motion, light, movement, gesture, and concept. So the road to MIT’s Media Lab and Cyberculture begins with poetic and artistic experimentation in the late 19th and early 20th century. (p.186)
p.169. Physics, mathematics, mechanics and optics are important in two crucial and adjacent passages in the 4th and final book of the Wake, which takes place at dawn.
Chaos Theory as a cycle of patterning, a pattern in the form of a complex cycling and Duchamp’s conception of measurement and the Infrathin (‘events’ feasible in theory only) can be connected topographically with the Watermillwheel of the Glass. The watermillwheel is a symbol for Chaos Theory in this instance. It seems to me that the way in which phenomena are dealt with in Chaos Theory as Theory is perhaps the nearest we can get to some of the sensitive ideas that Duchamp was outlining in his notes called Infrathin and so it’s merely a hypothetical and purely theoretical and poetic place to see where connecting Infrathin with Chaos Theory might lead in visual terms. Note 35 for example: 2 forms cast in the same mold differ from each other by an infrathin separative amount - all “identicals” as identical as they may be, (and the more identical they) move towards this infrathin separative difference”.
In note 69 of the Green Box notes Duchamp invokes Plato and Aristotle and the oppositions of deductive and inductive thinking and the note also mentions ‘style’ as in Flaubert and Joyce and the notion of the book as being about nothing: “Text - Give the text the style of a proof, typing together the decisions taken by conventional formulae of inductive reasoning in certain cases, deductive in others. Each decision or event of the picture becomes either an axiom or a necessary consequence, according to a logic of appearance. This logic of appearance will be entirely expressed by the style and will not deprive the picture of its character of: Plastically imaged mixture of events. Because each one of these events is an outgrowth of the general picture. As an outgrowth, the event remains definitively: only apparent and had no other pretension that a signification of Image - It (the Glass and its construction with its Texts) can no longer be a matter of a plastic Beauty”.
Chaos Theory put simply is the idea that it is possible to get completely random results from normal equations. Chaos theory also covers the reverse: finding the order in what appears to be completely random data. The meteorologist Edward Lorenz was the first experimenter in chaos and showed that the tiniest differences or the feeblest amount of energy in phenomena can have a huge effect on an actual outcome. The amount of difference (remember Duchamp’s mention of ‘difference’ between two forms cast in a mold) in the starting point of the Lorenz’s experiment was so small that it could be comparable to a butterfly flapping its wings (and note here that the comparison is poetic and that in the Large Glass Duchamp had referred to the butterfly in this way):
“The Illuminating Gas collects in the Molds, (the 9 Malic Molds) and these “gas casting” travel through the Capillary Tubes to the point where the tubes meet at the left side of the Sieves or Parasols. There the Gas, having solidified during its journey through the tubes, is extruded in the form of ‘elemental rods”, which break into “Spangles”.
Lighter than air, these Spangles rise and move through the semicircular structure of the Sieves drawn by the never-executed Butterfly Pump, emerging as a “liquid elemental scattering”. Duchamp’s mind, texts and physical work conjoin in such a way that the forces employed in the machinery of the Glass are barely present at all. The Bride’s mechanical engine-like parts are described as emitting feeble energies. The word ‘feeble’ tends to make us think in this context of the ineffably human, the organic and the machine as being one thing. To demonstrate the effect of Lorenz’s discovery the usual poetic text provided runs like this:
“The flapping of a single butterfly’s wing today produces a tiny change (note that the term ‘tiny’ will not do here really!) in the state of the atmosphere. (The notion that we may need a new terminology to describe this kind of event is interesting) Over a period of time, what the atmosphere actually does diverges from what it would have done. So, in a month’s time, a tornado that would have devastated the Indonesian coast doesn’t happen. Or maybe one that wasn’t going to happen, does. (See Ian Stewart, Does God Play Dice? The Mathematics of Chaos. P.141).
This phenomenon, common to Chaos Theory, is also known as Sensitivity Dependence on Initial Conditions. The term Chaos Theory was invented in my view to help explain both the Large Glass of Duchamp and the writings of James Joyce, and especially the Joyce of Finnegans Wake.
Just a small change in the initial conditions can drastically change the long-term behavior of a system. Such a small amount of difference in a measurement might be considered experimental noise, background noise, or an inaccuracy of the equipment (and we should note well that Duchamp’s Glass is described as being both ‘faulty’ and flawed as is Finnegans Wake). Such things, as Duchamp and Joyce knew, are impossible to avoid in even the most isolated laboratory. With a starting number of 2, the final result can be entirely different from the same system with starting value of 2.000001. It is simply impossible to achieve this level of accuracy - we might as well try to measure something to the nearest millionth of an inch.
In Joyce and Shakespeare, Imaginative Possibilities: Finnegans Wake, Vincent Cheng writes that “Joyce’s notions in Ulysses about the “room of infinite possibilities” are carried out in the Wake, in which all history and literature are seen as uncertainty and gossip, the exploration of practically every possibility, and in which the study of the past is as uncertain as our knowledge of Shakespeare - his life, loves, plays (and their authorship), manuscripts, and so forth. pp.23-24 and p.248 note 14 on the Uncertainty Principle. Perhaps this is the same as Chaos Theory. “The present age has given us relativity and quantum mechanics…pp.23-24 and see the Rashomon effect. Note 13.
My hypothesis is that the construction of Duchamp’s texts in the Green Box notes were calculated to suggest the slightest hint of ‘feeble energy’ that might notionally be ‘carried over’ to the Glass, and what better way to supply energy to the Glass than through the spectator’s mind - pure thought, the position of the 4th dimension in the human for Duchamp (who was not so explicit as I am being here) could be identified as pure excitement of the brain cells triggered by electricity through the commonplace and universal act of sexual consummation at the point and during the relatively brief period in real time of ejaculation and the ‘tiny death’. The pun in Duchamp is that consummation is a parody of such an ecstatic moment in the form of a ‘delay’, just as HCE’s ‘sin’ is ostensibly sexual and ethically null and void in Finnegans Wake (rumors and “gossip” are more active than actual goals or achievements in the Wake). All of this point to the complexity of the human being for one thing and the way we perhaps need to be aware of delicacy in terms of expressing ourselves through words and gestures that are commonplace. From his ideas Lorenz stated that according to his finding it is impossible to predict the weather accurately. However, this discovery led Lorenz on to other aspects of what eventually came to be known as Chaos Theory. Lorenz started to look for a simpler system that had Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions. His first discovery had twelve equations, and he wanted a much simpler version that still had this attribute. He took the equations for convection, and stripped them down, making them unrealistically simple. The system no longer had anything to do with convection, but it did have sensitive Dependence on its Initial Conditions, and there were only three equations this time. Later, it was discovered that his equations precisely described a waterwheel. “At the top, water drips steadily into containers hanging on the wheel’s rim. Each container drips steadily from a small hole. If the stream of water is slow, the top containers never fill fast enough to overcome friction, but if the stream is faster, the weight starts to turn the wheel. The rotation might become continuous. Or if the stream is so fast that the heavy containers swing all the way around and up the other side, the wheel might then slow, stop, and reverse its rotation, turning first one way and then the other. (James Gleick)
Conclusions or Inferences therefore!
What can we draw from this writing? The Ass of Buridan symptoms – human emotions and uncertainty in Joyce’s writing and such words and issues that correspond to uncertainty in the modern world of machines and the machinic.
In his Ph.D. paper, Duchamp’s Glass in the Development of His Art, Lawrence Steefel sites Duchamp’s own words on the Creative Act: the artist is a:
“’…mediumistic being, who free from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seeks his way out to a clearing’. Duchamp realizes that if we:’…give the attributes of the medium to the artist, we must then deny him the state of consciousness on the aesthetic plane about what he is doing’. This does not mean that the artist cannot express anything which was part of his original conscious motivation, but rather that the final result us bound to contain unexpected elements of form and meaning. In extreme cases, the final work may turn out to be something entirely different from what was originally intended, although the original intention can still be used as a starting point for the viewer in her adventure with the work”. (p.160)
This is an appropriate point in these annotations to posit the idea that Duchamp and Joyce create resonances between conscious choice in the creative act, and the unconscious, chance-like encounters with the world of the real and the imagination that combine to bring a material thing into the world as a result of all of our responses to stimuli:
“Duchamp implies that he likes such extreme cases when he says; ‘all his decisions in the artistic execution of his work rests with pure intuition, and cannot be translated into self-analysis, spoken, written, or even thought out”. On the deeper level of the creative act and on the deeper levels of the work of art, the process of discovery and formulation are largely unconscious and bring into play hidden factors which seem to use the artist as mere instrument and “take over” for him.
There is a kind of ‘perspective’ within the creative act which directs and focuses the emergence of the work…while it would be foolhardy to ignore what Duchamp says he was trying to do, the artist himself demands that we go beyond what we know and take all kinds of risks”. (p.161)
The spectator, reader, must help transmute the work from a material thing into an aesthetic event completing the creative act. Duchamp writes:
“The creative act is not performed by the artist alone. The spectator brings the work into contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his or her contribution to the creative act” (p.161)
The work of the apprentices who continue the work of Joyce and Duchamp have been ‘authorised’ to do so. But there are moments in reading further works on Joyce and Duchamp where the wheel of history seems to have been put into reverse like the watermillwheel discussed above. The question of history is a theme that Vincent Cheng attends to with regard to Finnegans Wake and Ulysses when he discusses History and Possibilities in his book Shakespeare and Joyce: A Study of Finnegans Wake.
“…me ken or no me ken Zot is the Quiztune…we are in for a sequentiality of improbable possibles though possibly nobody after having grubbed up a lock of cwold cworn above his subject probably in Harrystotalies [Aristotle] or the vivle [the Bible] will go out of his way to applaud him on the onboiassed back of his remark for utterly impossible as are all these events they are probably as like those which may have taken place as any others which never took person at all are ever likely to be. FW.110.14-21).
Cheng writes that:
“In describing the Wake’s explorations as “a sequentiality of improbable possibles”, Joyce appeals to the dean of the Department of Possibilities and Probabilities, Aristotle. Joyce explains in this passage that the book explores a history of resonant uncertainty and indeterminate sequentiality, a sequentiality of improbable possibles that are possible as anything, or as much so as the sequentiality put out by linear “history”: “for utterly impossible as are all these events they are probably as like those which may have taken place as any others which never took person at all are ever likely to be”.
Nor, as we well know, is fact or history ever certain. The present age has given us relativity and quantum mechanics; but historians and novelists have known for centuries that no event ever happens in a known or exclusively certain way, for what “happens” is ultimately determined by the beholder (in the forms of gossip, criticism, history books, and so on), and nothing is ever conclusive: every generation reinterprets history, just as each generation of critics reinterprets Shakespeare, [and Joyce and Duchamp too for example]. (pp.23-24)Modern physics has given us a new terminology for this literary and historical resonance, which has been explored by such books as Tristram Shandy, Clarissa, The Good Soldier and Absalom, Absalom! we are dealing with the Uncertainty Principle in literature – or, what I like to call the Rashomon effect. Finnegans Wake studies this effect by exploring all possibilities and all viewpoints which “are probably as like those which may have taken place”.
[The Rashomon Effect: Cheng draws our attention to the classic Japanese film (and novel) Rashomon, a sequence of events centered around a rape is re-enacted four different times in four significantly different versions – as recollected by the raped woman, then by the rapist, by the woman’s husband (tied to a tree and forced to witness the rape), and finally, by an unsuspected fourth witness to the crime. Such literary relativity in shifting points of view is masterfully explored by modern writers such as Ford, Faulkner, and Durrell. Joyce would have been familiar with similar effects in Browning’s The Ring and the Book].
One issue or theme that is being attended to visually is connected with delicacy in tracing out how ‘details’ of the Pictures as Works in Progress might also be perceived from different viewpoints implying a history that could have taken different routes. ‘Details’ of the pictures are being added to new documents that then grow according to the notion developed above in which history, according to the Uncertainty Principle, is linked with Chaos Theory.
Lorenz’s Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions or the Waterwheel description in Chaos Theory is notanother description for the Uncertainty Principle as described above by Cheng. Duchamp’s Watermillwheel, if in accordance with the general mood of the Glass as a contrary machine frustrated by its inabilities to perform its simple and complex tasks, is aligned with Chaos Theory, then as the notional water stream increases in its efficiency the more likely it is that the wheel will slow, stop and even reverse its rotation, turning first one way and then the other in a mechanised version of Duchamp’s note that evokes the Ass of Buridan which cannot choose between two stacks of hay placed either side of it but out of its reach, and so dies of indecision. The delicate state of weight of water is the simple but crucial factor as to whether the watermillwheel rotates ‘forwards’ or ‘backwards’ or remains dithering in an analogy to the condition of what we call ‘the present’. Chaos Theory has had a lasting effect on science, yet there is much still to be discovered and many scientists believe that 20th century science will be known for only three theories: relativity, quantum mechanics and Chaos Theory. Interestingly the data that I have found shows that aspects of Chaos show up everywhere around the world, from the currents of the ocean and the flow of the blood through fractal blood vessels to the branches of trees and the effects of turbulence as in the flow of wind.
What in his Green Box Notes Duchamp was calling ‘canned chance’ might now be assimilated with Chaos Theory. Something that in Joyce and Duchamp is ‘decentred - the always “almost, but not quite”. We have it on good advice that Chaos Theory has its applications outside of science as we are trying to demonstrate here, since we read that: “Computer art has become more realistic (sic) through the use of chaos and fractals. Now, with a simple formula, a computer can create a beautiful and realistic tree. Instead of following a regular pattern, the bark of a tree can be created according to a formula that almost, but not quite, repeats itself”. (Chaos Theory: A Brief Introduction). DNA like Joyce’s HCE and ALP hold amazing amounts of data, but they are “almost, but not quite” able to hold all the data necessary to determine where every cell of the human body goes or how they mutate. However, by using fractal formulas to control how the blood vessels branch out and the nerve fibres get created, DNA has more than enough information. It has been speculated that the brain itself might be organised somehow according to the laws of Chaos (but perhaps any answer to that would depend on whose brain scientists might look at since according to relativity one of its chief features is its stress on subjectivity).
This “almost, but not quite” describes Joyce’s precise use of language which is almost English, and Duchamp’s Glass which almost works precisely as we think a machine should. According to the Uncertainty Principle or as Cheng prefers the Rashomon effect in literary theory, things are also “almost, but not quite” which is a short term for what probably applies to all our lives and at all moments in space and time.
In fact the Uncertainty Principle from one point of view deals with indeterminacy in quantum mechanics in which it is meaningless to speak of a particles’ position, momentum or other parameters, except as the result of measurements or purely theoretical measuring which, as we know, was Duchamp’s starting point for the Glass with his pieces of dropped meter length strings that were “allowed to assume any position they liked as a mark of a new measurement for a meter”.
Measuring in terms of the Uncertainty Principle, however, involves an interaction such as a photon of light bouncing off the particle under scrutiny, which must disturb the particle, though the disturbance is noticeable only at an atomic scale. The principle implies that one cannot, even in theory, predict the moment-to-moment behaviour of such a system. It was established by Werner Heisenberg and gave a theoretical limit to the precision with which a particle’s momentum and position can be measured simultaneously: the more accurately the one is determined, the more uncertainty there is in the other. Joyce’s language use as we can see in the above text that considers the “possible” is based upon indeterminacy and chaos as a movement in which the more one commentator, for example, seems accurately to describe the working allusions in a single word, and the more precisely it seems to be determined within his or her ‘system’, the more uncertain the words surrounding it become and the less like other “possible” variants it is.
Unlike critical texts on Joyce’s work as a whole and Finnegans Wake in particular the literature on Duchamp’s Large Glass to date:
“…has generally missed many of [the] layers of humour and complexity – in large part because we have lost the context of the early 20th century science and technology to which Duchamp was responding so creatively. Recent hermeneutical and poststructuralist studies have provided a healthy reminder to historians [as Wittgenstein and Heidegger did] that context is a complex and elusive notion and that, of course, one can never see phenomena from a given period as did the artists or writers of that time. With this caution in mind, however, and with a renewed commitment to a self-conscious practice of historical investigation, we can proceed.
In the field of art and science, in particular, such contextual investigation is essential, because we operate on the other side of a major paradigm shift (the coming of relativity theory and quantum physics) that swept away the late classical ether physics dominating scientific practice in the early years of the 20th century. Although we can never know Duchamp’s intentions exactly, [and Joyce is there to remind us in Finnegans Wake that this is anyway a tautology], we can establish a range of possible meanings in which he was operating. In his notes for the Large Glass, Duchamp himself talked of what he termed the “Possible”, a concept that is highly appropriate to the historical consideration of his project in its context…Although Duchamp in later life rarely bothered to contradict readings of the Large Glass with which he disagreed, he stated his basic position succinctly in a 1959 radio interview: “In the Large Glass there is nothing to converse about, unless you make the effort to read the notes in the Green Box”. That directive can be extended to the whole body of Duchamp’s notes as they are now available. Reading Duchamp’s notes against the possibilities suggested by the scientific and technological milieu of the early years of the century, we can begin to converse in new ways about the Large Glass and that works that led to it. Illuminated in this manner, the Glass can be recognised, as it should be, as a remarkable synthesis of contemporary ideas that stands as one of the great monuments of early 20th century art and culture. (pp. xxii – xxiii).
But subjectivity in relation to relativity needs to be seen against our language which is a social phenomenon and in which no ‘private language’ exists. We don’t have to read Wittgenstein on this to know that according to synaesthesia as a neurological condition (and as a site occupied by artists like Kandinsky and Wagner but also Duchamp and Joyce as proponents of the gesamtkunstwerk) the universe we live in is colourless, inodorous, insipid and silent. Our common sense of language, which is infinitely more complex than we could possibly describe, is the attribute that singles humans out from everything else in the world. According to Aristotle, to whom Joyce often refers in Ulysses and the Wake, the process of finding patterns from particular sense-perceptions takes place through the common sense – the place in our psyche where all of our senses meet and integrate our perceptions and which, as alluded to consistently by Joyce and Duchamp, the “possible” is kept alive, but only as a consequence of the transformation and augmentation performed by our senses.
We experience magnetic waves, (of which Joyce and Duchamp were so fond in their writing) not as waves, but as images and colours. We experience vibrating objects, not as vibrations, but as sounds.
We experience chemical compounds, not as chemicals, but as smells and tastes. Colours, sounds, tastes, smells and touch are the products of our cognition built from sensory experiences within an abyss and thus, for Heidegger for example, works of art and poetry in particular are distillations of the human experience, of the estrangement that occurs when the work comes so radically into its own – becomes so powerful and solitary – that “it seems to cut all ties to human beings”. Human life presents itself as a ‘rift’ in the earth and yet belongs to both earth and world as a composite of what Derrida, after Heidegger, calls “differAnce’. It is language that keeps “possibilities” and “impossibilities” alive in works of the imagination. [This part: try using Duchamp’s notes to exemplify what is said].
Duchamp’s and Joyce’s careful integration of science, technology, geometry and mathematics forms with other elements of their works to create an orderly experience of the ironic and the “impossible” kindred to Aristotle’s comment that “a likely impossibility is always preferable to an unconvincing possibility”. Neither Joyce nor Duchamp systematically read on the subject of the new physics, but neither did they do so with many other ideas which found their way into Finnegans Wake and the Large Glass. Their methods consisted in selecting sources which had a direct bearing on their work and disregarding whatever did not suit their immediate purposes. They were not interested in assimilating ideas in their entirety but rather in determining which ideas could be useful to them. Joyce’s use of Giambattista Vico serves as a good example of Joyce’s way with sources.
Vico’s cyclical view of history furnished one of the important structural devices for organising Finnegans Wake. Joyce provided his patroness Harriet Weaver with a clue to that source, but he also cautioned scepticism: “I would not pay overmuch attention to these theories, beyond using them for what they are worth, but they have gradually forced themselves on me through the circumstances of my life” (Letters I.241). Given Joyce’s strategy of using whatever came to bear upon Finnegans Wake whether relativity theory or the Egyptian Book of the Dead or Huckelberry Finn or slush magazines, it is difficult to determine how much in-depth knowledge or understanding of Einstein’s theory Joyce really had. The question in Joyce, however, is not crucial because Joyce’s use of relativity in Finnegans Wake involves mostly the basic concepts rather than intricate details of the theory. It is important to point out, however, that these basic concepts did suit his purpose better than the details because they confirmed, reinforced, and refined other motifs already present in the structure of the book.
Like the pictures I am working on Joyce’s method of composition was accretive. He constantly added on to his Work in Progress by breaking it open to add refinements and to enrich the texture of the work by providing new points of view, or commenting on the text itself and what he was doing with it, or contradicting it to bring out its meaning and in this way relativity theory occurs in Finnegans Wake.
The publication of the relativity theory was bound to have at least a general impact on Joyce for the theory was characterised by a number of features which duplicated or resembled the elements of his own vision of the world. To begin with, the creation of a new definition of time and space and of the resulting new cosmogony was in itself a powerful act of imagination that Joyce could not help but admire. Joyce found the lack of imagination to be deficiency in science. Asked whether he really believed in Vico’s Scienza Nuova, he replied: “I don’t believe in any science, but my imagination grows when I read Vico as it doesn’t when I read Freud and Jung”. (Ellmann 693).
The relativity theory was partly the result of Einstein’s thought experiments (Gedankenexperimente). These were mental exercises in which the physicist imagined a situation that was impossible to arrange in practice. Though believable in theory (such as, for example, an elevator moving close to the speed of light). The physicist then tried to speculate on the possible outcome of experiments conducted by an imaginary scientist in those conditions. In some of his thought experiments Einstein was not afraid to postulate conditions which contradicted everyday experience and common sense, such as when he assumed that the velocity of light, unlike any other form o motion, is not subject to classical transformation laws and always remains constant. Beside a new thought approach, Einstein also had to develop an entirely new vocabulary to communicate his mathematical findings. This aspect of relativity paralleled Joyce’s own situation: he, too, had to invent a new language to write Finnegans Wake.
In Duchamp’s case his attitude to painting was, like Leonardo’s, a “mental thing”, as Leonardo termed it, and to the process of intellectual explorations in extensive notes for works of art and scientific machines that might never be realised. In his book Queer Thing Painting, Walter Pach refers specifically to Duchamp’s numerous references to painting as “an absolute, a ‘mental thing’ unconditioned by material support” (p.32).In other words ‘Pure Thought’. Duchamp formulated his most extensive “Laws, principles, and phenomena” in the area of mechanics. His creative inventions and challenge to accepted principles of mechanics reflect not only the rich history of this field – including the contributions of Leonardo – but also the ferment in contemporary physics, chronicled by Henri Poincaré and others, in which, for example, anomalies in the area of electrodynamics were challenging the traditional interpretation of basic concepts such as mass and inertia. Although Einstein’s 1905 special theory of relativity had addressed those anomalies, his formulation of relativity, which would come to dominate physics after WWI, was not acknowledged in Paris until late 1912-13. Instead, what Duchamp knew of this ferment would have come from general comments in the writings of figures like Henri and Lucien Poincaré, who made no mention of Einstein.
Duchamp’s Glass was a work deeply rooted in the culture of pre-WWI Paris, and when he abandoned work on it in 1923, it may have been not only because, as he said: “it became so monotonous” and “there was no invention”, but also because the new paradigms of relativity theory and quantum physics and new technologies such as radio had supplanted the earlier science and technology – from X-rays and radioactivity to wireless telegraphy – that he had explored so extensively in the pre-war years.
Beyond their interests in science and technology, Duchamp and Leonardo shared other traits that have been noted by scholars: a precise, engineer-like drawing style and an interest in designing machines, a concern with optics and perspective, a desire to experiment with new materials and techniques (including dust), a belief in the validity of chance and accident in the creative mental process, a view of the human body in terms of its mechanical functioning, and personality traits such as secretiveness and a fascination with androgynous sexuality: that Joyce was concerned to experiment with the material qualities of language, exploiting chance and accident in the Wake, seeing the human body in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake as a repository for symbolic universals, and had a constant reminder of optical concerns in his glaucoma and iritis problems, (dust explorations).
Duchamp and Relativity Related to Joyce and Relativity above. Coloured words look in Concordance.
Duchamp need not have understood the complexities of developing relativity physics to gather from Poincaré’s discussions that major challenges were afoot . In addition to the seeming threats to the first and second laws of thermodynamics presented by radium and Brownian motion, respectively, Poincaré included in the “new crisis” even more basic scientific laws, such as “Lavoisier’s Principle” of the conservation of mass. The discovery of cathode rays or electrons and of the particles emitted by radioactive substances had led to talk of an “electric theory of matter”, which, in turn, had raised questions concerning the material “mass” of such particles. The mass of the electron was considered to be solely electro-dynamic, that is, the result of its inertia in relation to the ether. Further, at the high speeds at which electrons travelled, the mass of such particles would increase appreciably with velocity. Lavoisier’s principle would thus not hold at speeds approaching that of light, an idea that would ultimately become codified in Einstein’s equation E=mc2.
p.197. Duchamp formulated his most extensive “Laws, principles, and phenomena” in the area of mechanics. His creative inventions and challenge to accepted principles of mechanics reflect not only the rich history of this field – including the contributions of Leonardo – but also the ferment in contemporary physics, chronicled by Henri Poincaré and others, in which, for example, anomalies in the area of electrodynamics were challenging the traditional interpretation of basic concepts such as mass and inertia. Although Einstein’s 1905 special theory of relativity had addressed those anomalies, his formulation of relativity, which would come to dominate physics after WWI, was not acknowledged in Paris until late 1912-13. Instead, what Duchamp knew of this ferment would have come from general comments in the writings of figures like Henri and Lucien Poincaré, who made no mention of Einstein.
Duchamp’s Glass was a work deeply rooted in the culture of pre-WWI Paris, and when he abandoned work on it in 1923, it may have been not only because, as he said: “it became so monotonous” and “there was no invention”, but also because the new paradigms of relativity theory and quantum physics and new technologies such as radio had supplanted the earlier science and technology – from X-rays and radioactivity to wireless telegraphy – that he had explored so extensively in the pre-war years.
The Chariot-Glider itself is a superb example of the multiple layers of meaning and humour Duchamp could develop on a specific theme, such as back-and-forth motion and the lifting and falling of weights. The most important alternative identity for the Chariot-Glider derives from the cable-drawn plough, encoded in Duchamp’s notes in the Rousselian homophone buttoir/butoir (plough/buffer) and providing, at last, a specific locus for his references to an “agricultural instrument” in the Large Glass.
Duchamp also wrote of a crane or “mobile go-between”, surely another parallel to the Chariot’s tracking motion and the rising and falling weights carried on huge hooks. Eugen Sandow, the highly popular weight lifter of the period, is also included metonymically in Duchamp’s Chariot mechanism in the form of the elastic “Sandow”, which is meant to pull the Chariot back into place. If Duchamp’s Chariot took on historic, mythological dimensions with its ploughing theme, its reflection of Eiffel’s contemporary aerodynamic experiments with falling objects at the Eiffel Tower made it up-to-the-minute technologically. Spanning the past and the present and encompassing science and technology as well as popular culture, the Chariot-Glider epitomizes Duchamp’s sophisticated and humorous invention in the Large Glass in general. The title of the Large Glass, however, is its single most important debt to alchemy, an ancient tradition newly current in this period in the wake of the discovery of radioactivity. Instead of alchemy, it was science and technology, from X-rays through Perrin’s work on “molecular reality”, that offered Duchamp the most fertile possibilities for figuring the theme of “stripping” and the more general “collisions” between the Bride and her Bachelors. Indeed, in his move to science and technology Duchamp came to term the “stripping” specifically an “electrical stripping”, and he subsequently created a number of possible significations for this term: and electromagnetically controlled stripping (i.e. “electrical control of the stripping”), a stripping by the Bachelors carried out by means of the electrical connection made by the Precision Brushes, igniting the rods in the Desire Dynamo and setting off the Boxing Match, or, in a more general way, the themes of X-ray stripping (denuding) or the subatomic collisions and actual stripping of electrons that occurs in the process or ionization, for example, as photographed by Wilson.
[‘Mechanics’ in Duchamp via Henderson is to be equated as far as I can tell with ‘machinic’, meaning “from a mechanistic perspective’ in Theall and Joyce to avoid the connection to ‘machine’ or ‘machinery’].
Also make the powerful point of striking through words in JJ and MD in their Notes.
Accretion & Genetic Scattering are Absolutely Crucial
Make sure of this also: My pictures are accretive as in Joyce’s and Duchamp’s work such that the pictures should be able to reveal something of the relationship of thought to image and text as the product of accretion.
It is clear that transcendence is a key term for the work Duchamp and Joyce were attempting to attain. But this transcendence is connected to the hermetic.
Electric power and the further evolution of mechanisation are natural outgrowths of the trio of chemistry, mathematics, and mechanics. Awareness of machinery, science and technology as aspects of the everyday world of contemporary humankind abounds in Finnegans Wake.
p.xx. Chaos notions in Joyce
While Joyce’s exercise of his craft is knowledgeable, contrived, and controlled, nevertheless, like many contemporary modernists, in Ulysses and the Wake he uses such strategies to a present a ‘chaosmos’ (FW.118.21) of ‘coincidence’ (FW.49.36) permeated by the ‘ambiviolent’ and the ‘ANTITHESIS OF [THE] AMIDUAL’ (FW.282.R1) The machinic [a mechanistic perspective] may at first glance appear to be in contradiction with the chaotic, but the concept of chaos itself rises out of those mathematical and physical analyses in which Joyce was deeply interested. His ‘chaosmos’ is a machinic hetero-genesis, for his assemblages are non-linear and characterised by complex transversality.
p.12. The merging of the bricoleur with the engineer in some ways resembles the effect of the polyphonic novel, as described by Bakhtin, where the fragmented voices and the sleights-of-hand by which they are combined are themselves an interplay of planning and bricolage. Joyce’s merger necessarily constructs a world where order is in interplay with disorder, producing a chaos [effect] that still has a kind of intelligibility. Shem, the figure of the poet in the Wake, is ‘reflecting from his own individual person life unlivable, transaccidentated through the slow fires of consciousness into a dividual chaos’. (FW.186.3-5). The account of poetic composition complements Joyce’s ‘seriocosmic’ [serio-comic] vision, which will be explored in detail later. This cosmos which the new technologies reveal is actually a ‘chaosmos’, an ordered disorder that Joyce had intuited before 20th century physics discovered the complementarity (Bohr) or Uncertainty (Heisenberg) principle in 1927, or the more recent chaos theories of complexity and chaos.
pp.12-13.This disorder in technological transformations leads Joyce to establish the modern method as vivisection, rather than, like Benjamin, surgical. In 1926 Benjamin allusively dedicated One-Way Street to his mistress, Asja Lacis, who initiated him into Communism: “This street is named Asja Lacis Street after her who as an engineer cut through the author”.
This complimentary trope suggests that she inspired his work through an act of engineering by surgically re-embodying within him a poetic socialist understanding of the city from which his literary vision is produced. By 1926 James Joyce, ‘the greatest engineer’, writing his Work in Progress, is vivisectively constructing ‘ a commodius vicus of recirculation’ L/ vicus=street, village) – a road which cuts through his readers, both his producers ad consumers. These two quote dissimilar works, One Way Street and Finnegans Wake, both owe debts to surrealism (the liberating of self through intoxication) and to photomontage.
Joyce’s project is in many ways similar to what Benjamin outlines as surrealism: “the true, creative overcoming of religious illumination…resides in a profane illumination, as materialistic, anthropological inspiration’. To achieve this, Joyce (like the Dadaists and surrealists) pierces, probes, and palpates peoples bodies (‘Here Comes Everybody’) and the extended body of the metropolis (Dublin). While Benjamin, with his mixture of Frankfurt socialism and Jewish mysticism, speaks of this as exemplifying how the avant-garde executes a kind of literary surgery, years earlier Joyce as a socialist-anarchist and a hermetic ex-Catholic spoke about his method as ‘vivisection’. The Wake plays with the verbal transformations of vivisection, autopsy, and surgery. For example, HCE in one of his multiplicity of manifestations is a ‘heaviest corpus exemption’ (FW 362.17), because he is simultaneously a textual corpus in a literary work, a human person ( a corpus), and deceased body (a corpse).
Theall p.17. The idea that laughter has machine roots was central to some of the major theories of comedy in the early decades of the 20th century. Henri Bergson’s essay on the meaning of the comic stressed the relationship between laughter and the perception of people as mechanisms – ‘something mechanical encrusted upon the living’. Two decades laree, Wyndham Lewis, a critic of both Bergson and Joyce, also argued that laughter arises from seeing people as machines. He asserts
“The root of the comic […] is to be sought in the sensations resulting from the observations of a thing behaving like a person. But from this point of view all people are necessarily comic: for they are all things, or physical bodies behaving as persons”.
Theall further down the page 17.
Wyndham Lewis raising the issue of the affiliation of art with the machinic, and Bergson associating laughter with the machinic, highlights why Joyce would regard himself as an engineer making poetic machines.
See ALP and personae and name the personae in Duchamp’s Bride as all women. After all, as Theall writes: “The focus of Joyce’s Menippean allegory is an individual body, which is an archetype of a collective everybody, interacting with its techno-cultural environment - a ‘Here Comes Everybody’ or a Leopold Bloom’. P.27. And Duchamp’s Bride also reacts to her techno-cultural environment. See organic – mechanical qualities in Henderson.
Also the blending of the organic and machine in Joyce might be a way to bring Theall’s writing out from where it is.
Bride 1912. “This is not the realistic interpretation of a bride but my concept of a bride expressed by the juxtaposition of mechanical elements and visceral forms”. This new preoccupation with the internal organs of the body relate to advances in X-ray technology, which could now readily examine internal organs and chronicle bodily processes, such as digestion, by means of X-ray cinematography. In addition, the notion that the interior essence of a person could be expressed by one’s internal organs is close to the theories set forth by the occultist known as Papus in a fall 1911 series of articles in La Vie Mystérieuse.
Androgeny in Duchamp and Joyce. Papus’s image was a unisex human so Duchamp suggested the female sex only by means of the sign for female at the base of his drawing. He later added reproductive organs at the lower left such as her Desire-Gear.
Virgin (No.1) drawing and Virgin (No.2) drawing of 1912 preceded paintings and other drawings that were explorations for the more formal Bride of 1912. In the notes to the Glass Duchamp described the Bride as an arbre type (tree or arbour type). This term has led to considerable speculation on the subject of Duchamp and trees, but contemporary literature on the automobile reveals that the transmission shaft was standardly termed an arbre de transmission.
Thus, although Duchamp would play on the double meaning of the term (referring, for example, to the Bride’s “boughs” and her “blossoming”), his arbre type was closely tied to the automobile persona he initially established in his first extensive notes on the Bride. The linking of the arbre type in terms of automobile transmission to his earlier drawings confirms his interest in the technology he would have observed in the Deutsches Museum in Munich and the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris. Drawings taken from airplanes in a didactic diagrammatic drawing style were also linked with the automobile drawings that in the final painting of the Bride strongly suggests that the structure beneath her diaphanous, organic forms was derived from such vehicles.
p.89. The fields of science and technology offered Duchamp a new vocabulary of words, images, and operations with which to comment on bodily processes (especially sex) and spiritual experience (religion and myth). As in the case of Roussel, in particular, Duchamp’s awareness of science and technology multiplied, almost exponentially, the possibilities for inventive wordplay and visual punning both in the notes and the Large Glass. In this fluid realm of what Duchamp called Playful Physics, chemistry, and technology, Duchamp freely layered meaning over meaning, moving readily from fairground to science laboratory to mythic realms. To rediscover even a portion of the scientific and technological content of the Large Glass brings us closer to the rich complexity of Duchamp’s thinking as he prepared the major work of his career.
Airborne holy figures are conjured up in “apotheosis of virginity” in Duchamp’s 10-page first note for the Bride in the context of the Large Glass. Duchamp writes “The Bride is a sort o invention of a Bride of my own, a new human being half robot and half four-dimensional”. By ‘robot’ it is generally considered that Duchamp meant the ‘automaton’ that had so fascinated French thinkers from Descartes to Villiers de l’Isle-Adam
Telegraphy, Telepathy, Radio Control in the Large Glass.
pp.103-4. Marcel Jean in 1959 wrote of the Bride’s Top Inscription: “Just as telegraph wires transmit messages, so the rose-coloured cloud in which the wind’s mouldings are cut should serve as a conductor for an Inscription”.
Rober Lebel, in his 1959 monograph referred more generally to the Bride’s “system of telecommunications” and Calvin Tomkins in 1966 described the Draft or Air Current Pistons as “a kind of telegraph system”. In Duchamp’s Box of 1914 a note says “electricity at large” and “painting of frequency”. Duchamp’s notes act to blur the possibilities of communication between Bride and Bachelors between “physical energy” and “psychic energy”. Duchamp made a drawing on an image of the Glass of a telegraph pole which he then titled Cols Alités (a pun on “Causality” or “Bedridden Mountains”). Duchamp’s image finds an interesting precursor in the work of another enthusiast of wireless telegraphy, Apollinaire. “Voyage”, a Calligrammes work, included a drawing of a telegraph pole. Duchamp imagined a form o wire-less electricity to which he allotted a quasi-mystical role in the communications – difficult over a long distance – between the separate parts of the Large Glass.
The Duchampian scholar Jean Suquet’s writings compare the Large Glass to a variety of scientific and technological phenomena. Evoking giant sparks of lightning, he describes the Milky Way as “flashed through by the breath-writing which the Bride telegraphs to the Handler of Gravity”. Other references Suquet makes are to the flow of female and male electricity and to the mid-section as a high-voltage condenser”, poetically capturing the spirit of the Large Glass.
Donald Theall writes:
“Books and telecommunication gadgets, the organs imposed on bodies [hearing aids, mobile phones today] or the geography imposed on spaces, [telegraph poles and the like]; or meanings imposed across pluralities of signs and gesture are all part of the world of Ulysses as they are the very stuff of Joyce’s ‘dream’ in Finnegans Wake”. (p.30)
Metaphors abound in writings on and by Joyce and Duchamp that weave a thick pattern of similarities linking their interests and work, as we can see in Donald Theall’s techo-poetics:
“The body or the body of a book (text) is a surface, (and we do refer to the ‘main body of a thesis’, meaning its text, without even noticing) a topography, across which a multitude of probabilities [possibilities] play by which that body is inscribed as an assemblage, an abstract machine…Joyce as a poet of his era involves popular culture, communicating machines, machinery, and all the signs of the times in his books”. (p.30)
Theall notes that “The engineering of these communicating machines occupies a role of particular relevance, for they are of three kinds: traditional sign systems (hieroglyphics, alphabets, icons, drawings); technologically mediated modes of reproduction (books, telephones, film); crafted modes of popular expression dependent either on the traditional or the technologically mediated (sermons, pantomimes, riddles, comics)”. (p.30)
See p.175-6. Duchamp’s pictorial invention was a creative response to scientific and technological forms driven almost completely by language and wordplay in the manner of Raymond Roussel; and the forms on the Glass stand as unprecedented plastic sources for audience participation as seriocomic and picture/language composites when seen against the artistic lineage, including Cubism, from which Duchamp had emerged. As his numerous notes on the subject attest, Duchamp was deeply interested in the nature of both verbal and pictorial language or representation, including the character of elementary signs in the linguistic and visual realms. In conceiving the imagery of the Large Glass, not only was he reforming artistic technique by adopting the execution of an engineer; he was inventing hybrid forms that went far beyond Cubism and constituted what he termed “a kind of illuminatistic or Illuminated Scribism in painting. The picture itself is the hieroglyphic data of the Bride stripped bare” Duchamp wrote; its information was to be conveyed in a new kind of schematic visual language of signs, accompanied by an explanatory text for which he considered creating an “entirely new alphabet or ideal stenography”.
See p.181. Although in an early drawing Duchamp had signified the Virgin/Bride by an image resembling the Madonna, he quickly returned to the automobile-based arbre-type of his Virgin (No.1) drawing and Bride painting of summer 1912, which he augmented in his new “hieroglyphic” language of images and, particularly, in his written notes. The Virgin Mary’s apotheosis-like Assumption gave her ubiquity or the ability to appear miraculously anywhere, and her four-dimensional existence in the Glass expressed in Duchamp’s notes, suggest the same power in geometric terms vis-à-vis the three-dimensional Bachelors. Duchamp not only layered scientific or technological identities one over the other in his invention of the Large Glass’s components but also multiplied the allegorical associations of these elements. Thus, to the bride’s basic identity as woman or women, Duchamp added characteristics not only of the Virgin Mary but also Persephony. [Interestingly, Ezra Pound was fascinated by the theme of Persephonyand Guy Davenport discusses this in his book The Geography of the Imagination. Of course, Pound was a contemporary of both Duchamp and Joyce, struck dumb by Finnegans Wake]. Through Apollinaire and other sources Duchamp knew of the traditional association between the Virgin Mary and Persephone and her mother, Demeter, whose identity was so closely tied to her own. If the Bride’s ready access to what Duchamp called in his notes the “elevator of gravity” suggests the Virgin Mary’s Assumption, it also evokes Persephone’s ability to escape (at least for six months of the year) the underworld kingdom of her “Bachelor”, Hades. Just as the Malic Molds form an underground “Cemetery of Uniforms and Liveries”, the Chocolate Grinder wears, in Duchamp’s notes “half mourning”, a term that described the attire of the second stage of official mourning but that suggests Persephone’s half-year absence from Hades’ realm.
Adding yet another classical allusion, Duchamp describes the Bachelors as suffering the “Torture of Tantalus”, whose everlasting thirst and hunger was produced, in part, by a tree branch that constantly blew out of reach when he tried to pick its fruit. As a fertility goddess associated with trees, Persephone may also be evoked in Duchamp’s Bride as a blossoming arbre-type that evades the grasp of the Bachelors as Tantalus.
Like the Virgin Mary, Duchamp’s modern Persephone is equally a mechanical arbre or transmission shaft and is encoded in technological terms in the Glass. The incandescent bulb as sealed vessel, which served as an updated symbol for the Virgin, was also a modern torch, evoking the tradition of light-bearing females rooted in the myth of Demeter and Persephone. [These images from Henderson must go into Picture One].linked to the activities of the Bachelors’ “agricultural machine” as buttoir/Plough. Persephone is also suggested in Duchamp’s merging of the automobile, electricity and agriculture in the note that says “irrigation law of the desire-magneto” he posits for the Bride. And like Duchamp’s original wordplays on arbre de transmission and buttoir/Plough. Persephone offered an extension of his Rousellian variations on goit and gouttes. In discussing Demeter and Persephone in the Origin and Aesthetic of Tragedy of 1905, Péladan, for example, noted that Persephone’s fate was sealed when she tasted [a goute] the fatal pomegranate.
In his allegorical references to personages and themes in Western culture, Duchamp displayed erudition and humour comparable to his scientific and technological inventiveness. A ritual bath of purification, suggested by Duchamp’s note concerning the Bride’s “bathtub” and “bath heater”, is a long standing theme in the Christian and classical traditions, although the more central theme in the Large Glass, that of stripping, is not generally associated with these traditions or with the Virgin Mary or Persephone. Stripping and a ritual marriage bath do, however, figure in the alchemical tradition, which would still seem to be the most direct source for Duchamp’s original conception of the image of the Bride Stripped Bare by the Bachelors” in a drawing he made in Munich in 1912. Like the attributes of the Virgin Mary and Persephone, Duchamp recasts these themes in terms of modern science and technology. Beyond the bride’s possession of a modern heated bathtub, the stripping, translated into the ballistic collisions of radioactivity particles, is figured in the language of chemistry, physics, and, ultimately, electricity in the Glass as a painting of electromagnetic frequency. Duchamp gave his Virgin/Bride the look, in part, of a chemical apparatus. Alchemy, which was newly energised in this period by the discovery of radioactivity, was itself an elaborate allegorical system and another aspect of Western culture that could be evoked in the Glass.
Significantly, alchemy had functioned as an image-text system, in which, for example the 17th century Exposition of the Hieriglyphicall Figures, attributed to Nicolas Flamel, offers a suggestive model for Duchamp’s conception of the Large Glass as the “Hieroglyphic data of the Bride Stripped Bare”.
In drawing on traditions such as Christianity, classical mythology and alchemy, his attitude was as a detached observer rather than as an advocate. In the Large Glass, then, he was not practicing alchemy – a subject hardly alluded to in his extensive notes. Nor was the Glass a celebration of the classical tradition or a veneration of religious themes – (indeed the Glass can be shown to be a humorous and highly irreverent mechanism whose first lusting Bachelor is a priest, and where Duchamp proposed a “Christ glued on an automobile carriage window with the paw serving for lifting the glass”. Note 178. It was Alfred Jarry who had humorously envisioned “The Passion [of Christ] as an Uphill Bicycle Race”.
Many of the scientific and technological components of the Glass are related to Gustave Eiffel’s experimental activities at the Eiffel Tower including: wireless telegraphy antennae (for both emitting and receiving) and the codes transmitted; the electrical condensers on top of the tower that made spark telegraphy possible, condensers whose stacked glass plates are paralleled in the encased 3 Standard Stoppages and the Bride’s Clothing; barometers and weather vanes; the powerful lightning sparks the metal structure attracted; the tower’s displacement by wind; the beacon light at the top; and Eiffel’s aerodynamic experiments with weights dropped from the tower. Duchamp’s brother Duchamp-Villon, in a 1913 essay, exuberantly likened the tower to the cathedral of Notre Dame, whereas Marcel, in typically detached an ironic manner, fused the themes of the Virgin of Notre Dame and the tower in the four-dimensional, infinite realm of the Bride of the Large Glass. Here sexual and spiritual striving were joined in Duchamp’s allegory of quest, in which the Eiffel Tower, science, and technology themselves were not the subject but rather the vehicle for his message.
Theall p.30. References to new technologies or scientific theories occur frequently in Finnegans Wake: telegraphy, telephony (a ‘tympanum’ essential to the telephone is part of the Bride), photography (present in the Glass and Duchamp’s oeuvre on many levels), the typewriter, the rotary press, electromagnetic power, sound recording, electric light, skyscraper construction, moving pictures, radioactivity, wireless, airplanes and air-flight, the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, complementarity theory and mass mechanisation (Boîte en valise). “Cunning Artificers” is a term that addresses both the work of Duchamp and the work of Joyce.
p.31. The history of the composition of Ulysses confirms Joyce’s techno-poetic theory, which regards the writer as co-producer with his consumers, acting as a literary, or perhaps more precisely, a poetic engineer.
[Actually, it is only when we get close to reading Duchamp that we see how individual words in his notes and in supplementary texts by other authors make interfaces with plastic works that he posited at irregular intervals. Accretive or “delayed” meaning has been the most spectacular achievement Duchamp and Joyce have given to the community of artists and writers. The spectator or reader needs to use both deductive and inductive reasoning when approaching the works of Duchamp and Joyce. Everything in their works, from the smallest to the largest thing, seems to be connected in an elasticised space and time].
By 1922, when Joyce began working on FW, mechanisation, electricity, and electrification were already central aspects of everyday life and consequently destined to become part of the virtual world of Joyce’s post-electric, Menippean parody of comic epic, with its ambivalent hero HCE.
Another friend of Joyce’s, the poet and theorist Paul Valéry, who also promoted the revival and re-evaluation of the Renaissance polymath and artist-engineer Leonardo da Vinci as archetype of the modern artist, postulated that the method of the engineer and that of the poet were the same, rearticulating a frequent neo-Aristotelian theme of Renaissance poetics. Giambattista Vico, the Neapolitan philosopher whose magnum opus Joyce uses as the prime structural book for the Wake, also sanctioned this association of art and assemblage. Joyce once jocularly compared his jerky handwriting to Leonardo’s whose notebooks were first published in full in 1883, a year after Joyce’s birth. The habit of keeping elaborate notebooks related to artistic composition marks both Joyce and Leonardo’s modus operandi [as it also marks Duchamp’s].
The idea of an elaborate notebook is next to what I need to do but this term ‘elaborate’ hardly seems right. Are Leonardo and Joyce’s notebooks ‘elaborate’? Duchamp’s are perhaps more elaborate when one considers the lengths he went to when publishing his various notes, like having metal plates cut exactly the same shapes as the original torn fragments that held his notes.
Well before Freud’s Leonardo da Vinci (1918), Joyce’s reading of Walter Pater’s chapter on Leonardo in The Renaissance would certainly have reinforced his awareness, based on his classical education, of the historical affinity of the Renaissance engineer with the alchemist, the sorcerer, and the magician. Pater notes, ‘The science of that age was all divination, clairvoyance, unsubjected to our exact modern formulas, seeking in an instant of vision to concentrate on a thousand experiences’. The Joycean poet as alchemist is also both a shaman and an engineer. Shem, Joyce’s ‘penman’ (FW.125.23) in the dream of the Wake, is ‘alshemist’ (FW.185.35) and ‘shamman’ (192.23); and while composing the early versions of Finnegans Wake published as Work in Progress, Joyce jestingly observed:
Then Joyce’s letter to Weaver Re. ‘engine with one wheel’.
Several authors have discussed the striking parallels between Duchamp and Leonardo, who was actually the subject of an oral examination Duchamp took as part of his certification as an art worker in 1905. Among the most prominent is each man’s commitment to painting as a “mental thing”, as Leonardo termed it, and to the process of intellectual exploration in extensive notes for works of art and scientific machines that might never be realised. Beyond their interest in science and technology, they also shared a number of other traits that have been noted by scholars: a precise, engineer-like drawing style and an interest in designing machines, a concern with optics and perspective, a desire to experiment with new materials and techniques (including dust), a belief in the validity of chance and accident in the creative mental process, a view of the human body in terms of its mechanical functioning, and personality traits such as secretiveness and a fascination with androgynous sexuality. The latter was manifested in Duchamp’s irreverent Dadaist comment on Leonardo’s Mona Lisa in his 1919 L.H.O.O.Q., the “rectified” Readymade created by the addition of a moustache and goatee to a reproduction of Leonardo’s painting, and in the vulgar pun produced when the letters of the title are pronounced in French.
The iconoclastic attitude manifested in L.H.O.O.Q. however, was not typical of Duchamp’s thinking in the pre-war years. In the face of the Puteaux Cubists’ Bergsonian focus on intuitive, emotive artistic creation, Leonardo as artist-scientist would have offered Duchamp crucial validation for his belief in art as an intellectual activity.
Indeed, in the context of the Large Glass project, Duchamp was to carry out a number of activities suggested by Leonardo. These ranged from his playful explorations of the laws of mechanics to his gathering of dust on the Glass itself, an idea likely rooted in Leonardo’s comments on dust as a measure of the passage of time and on collections of dust as miniature landscapes. “My landscapes begin where da Vinci’s end” Duchamp told an interviewer in the 1960’s.
Alfred Jarry, Duchamp and Leonardo were ‘dusters’: William Anastasi claims that Duchamp borrowed from Jarry in which case Jarry borrowed from Leonardo who borrowed from:…
Joyce was concerned to experiment with the material qualities of language, exploiting chance and accident in the Wake, seeing the human body in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake as a repository for anatomy and symbolic universals, and had a constant reminder of optical concerns in his glaucoma and iritis problems (dust explorations).
Duchamp was not alone among artists in pre-war Paris in his admiration for Leonardo. His close colleague Kupka shared his respect for the mind and works of the artist-scientist. Among the Cubists, Villon, Duchamp’s brother, later recalled his own reading of Leonardo’s Treatise on Painting and asserted that the name “Section d’Or”, adopted by the Puteaux circle for their fall 1912 exhibition, was an homage to Leonardo’s concern with the Golden Section.
In contrast to the Cubist painters, however, Duchamp’s interest in Leonardo was not a retrospective one: he was not simply concerned with earlier ideas that bore Leonardo’s imprimatur. Instead, he sought to act as a new Leonardo, responding actively to contemporary science and technology as Leonardo had done in the Renaissance.
Given Duchamp’s far greater involvement in early 20th Century science than has previously been thought, the case for Leonardo as a seminal precursor can be made even more convincingly than in the past. For a young artist interested in science, Leonardo’s written record of his scientific pursuits, as presented and analysed in a variety of early 20th Century sources, offered a compelling example of a great mind at work. For example, Péladan’s introduction to Textes choises argued that the manuscripts revealed a new Leonardo, different from the “sphinx-like painter of the Joconda”, a Leonardo who “possessed ‘the highest consciousness and the most lucid mind of any artist”. * there is more here.
In his Introduction á la méthode de Léonardo de Vinci, published initially in 1895, Paul Valéry had also focused on Leonardo’s thought processes, celebrating a mind able to grasp “relations […] between things whose principle of continuity escapes the rest of us’, an approach Duchamp would cultivate in his work on the Large Glass. Although Valéry’s text has been noted previously in the Duchamp scholarship, no consideration has been given to the three-volume Etudes sur Léonardo de Vinci (1906, 1909 and 1913), written by Pierre Duhem, a prominent French scientist and chronicler of the history of science. Duhem’s study informally added the sanction of the French scientific establishment to Leonardo’s growing reputation. In his effort to clarify Leonardo’s relationship to medieval scientists and philosophers, Duhem devoted considerable attention to the work of Jean Buridan, whose name appears in Duchamp’s notes in the context of “Buridan’s Ass”. In addition, Duhem’s treatment of Leonardo’s interest in the problems of mechanics, such as equilibrium and the centre of gravity, touched on issues central to the operations of parts of the Large Glass.
According to Leonardo’s example, to be an intelligent artist required intellectual invention on scientific themes, which would be documented in individual notes on various subjects. The powerful example of Leonardo’s note making cannot be overlooked in considering Duchamp’s inauguration of his own career as a prolific recorder of ideas and his preference for randomness in ordering the notes.
Writers on Leonardo, from Jean Paul Richter, who compiled the first English edition of the notebooks in 1883, to Duhem himself, emphasised the lack of sequence from one manuscript page to another, even when the sheets were from notebooks whose pages were only subsequently dispersed. Duhem referred to the “chaos” of the pages, while Richter suggested that “even in the volumes, the pages of which were numbered by Leonardo himself, their order, so far as the connection of texts was concerned, was obviously a matter of indifference to him”. Duchamp ensured the absence if a any clear sequence among his notes by recording them on separate pieces of paper…Unlike Leonardo, however, who never carried out the final arrangement of his writings he had planned, Duchamp was determined to control the disposition of his notes by publishing them himself. “I wanted to make a book, or rather a catalogue, like the Armes et cycles de Saint-Etienne in which every detail would have been explained – catalogued”, he told Alain Jouffroy in the 1960’s. Or, as he wrote to Jean Suquet in 1949, “The glass in the end was not made to be looked at (with ‘aesthetic eyes); it must be accompanied by a text of ‘literature’ as amorphous as possible, which never takes form”.
Although we have come to think of Duchamp’s published boxes as the catalogue to which he often referred, he actually qualified that notion for Katherine Kuh: “Originally I had planned to finish the glass with a catalogue like the Green Box, except, of course, the Green Box is a very incomplete realisation of what I intended. It only presents preliminary notes for the Large Glass and not the final form which I had conceived as somewhat like a Sears, Roebuck catalogue to accompany the glass and be quite as important as the visual material”.