“Black Luck: The Silence of Marcel Duchamp Has Been Terminated” (Tales from the Crypt, Vol. 666

by on Nov.21, 2013

Tales from the Crypt, Vol. 666
Black Luck: The Silence of Marcel Duchamp Has Been Terminated

Marcel Duchamp: The Afternoon Interviews by Calvin Tompkins (Badlands Unlimited, 2013)
The Unknown University by Roberto Bolano (New Directions, 2013)

In 1964 when Calvin Tompkins interviewed Marcel Duchamp verbatim transcripts weren’t the vogue. Incredibly, these three were shelved for 50 years before breaking day, eclipsed by preferred first person narratives, bon vivant vignettes, portraits posed in sympathetic situations. Dreck. Such as “So, I savor a Sauterne on Saint Germaine with mon ami Marcel, who wears downplayed gray Dior. Later, over smokes, he buoyantly confides that he’s ‘a pseudo, all in all.’”

Those of us who make art more than talk about it hold that, while Duchamp’s reticence proved golden, today Duchamp word for word cannot be overprized. (Plus the complete poetry of Roberto Bolano? Nuff said.)

A guest plus a host is a ghost.

In Roberto Bolano’s headstone-thick testament, 2666, goliard critics Jean-Claude Pelletier and Manuel Espinoza, listlessly trawling a disconsolate Mexico for incorporeal author Benno Von Archimboldi, visit one Oscar Amalfitano while mordantly dredging for clues. Archimboldi is their Moby Dick. Whether white whale or eminence grise, wild goose chase or fish story, proof of life’s iffy at best. Nobel prize nominee cum U.F.O. Archimboldi affords only inconstant, inconsequential sightings, ever unconfirmed. Close encounters of the third kind appear to have occurred, like twice. Such that a single dicey, and infra-thin (sic) tale draws these sad Ahabs clear across the Atlantic to the horse latitudes of gruesome, deplorable Sonora.Lunching on beans at Amalfitano’s home, Pelletier spies a geometry textbook suspended by a string from a clothesline in the yard, weathering in the wind “like a shirt left out to dry.”

Now, Marcel Duchamp “made” but one Readymade when in Argentina during 1919. This, near as immaterial as Archimboldi. For Duchamp did not even select a physical object; snow shovel, bicycle wheel (his Readymades were for chosen indifference, a complex contradiction in itself) but instead instructed newlyweds Jean Crotti and Suzanne Duchamp, overseas, to hang a geometry book by strings from their Paris balcony so that “the wind could go through the book, choose its own problems, turn and tear out the pages.”

Named The Unhappy Readymade, it amused Duchamp to give feelings to a Readymade, later stating that, “the treatise seriously got the facts of life.” Precursor to Conceptual Art, art by deference and according to instruction (you can create a brand “new” Sol Lewitt today), since Duchamp re-made many Readymades in replica, and favored chance as method- (thus activating another irresolvable self-canceling oxymoron) no rule precludes the possibility that by A.D. 2666, one such unhappy Readymade might make its merry way to imaginal Santa Teresa.

Santa Teresa A.K.A. Avernus: death’s door for ten years’ worth of women gouged and gored. Despite its being consigned to a scant handful of lines in a 900-page magnum opus, Bolano’s lost soul and so called “expert on Archimboldi” professor Amalfitano there invests his own Readymade with a feeling of “boundless sadness.”

Bolano moved to Mexico, from Chile, in 1968. Born in 1953, he would have been 15. He remained until 1977. In the early 1970’s he formed the Infrarealist group with Mario Santiago, a 2-man poetry movement sung under the sobriquet Visceral Realism in The Savage Detectives. It is easy to believe, as the simplest solution, that this prefix infra, meaning “beneath,” merely opposed that infinitely more famous, international and influential literary prefix sur meaning “above” in Surrealism. Opposition is the heart of radical poetry. Infrarealism: beneath both realism, and especially surrealism. As the measure of the lack of energy in a system, it might translate Entropic Realism. But the
principle stating that the simplest solution will be true also implies any excess must be necessary. All poetry movements are excessive. So, let us seek the excess necessary to

In 1945 Marcel Duchamp designed the covers for View, the only American surrealist periodical, volume 5, no. 1, an issue devoted solely to Duchamp. Its back cover posts the following poem, definition, or statement:

“When tobacco smoke smells of the mouth exhaling it, these two odors are wed by infra-thin.”

View’s front shows smoke issuing from a wine bottle lazing in orbit.

In one of few discoverable mentions by Duchamp of infra-thin, Denis de Rougement quotes him as saying that he picked on purpose the word thin, which is a word having human, affective connotations, and is not an exact laboratory measure. The sound or the music corduroy trousers make when one moves, pertains to infra-thin.

“The void between the front and back of a thin sheet of paper . . . it is a category which has occupied me a great deal over the past ten years. I believe that by means of the infra-thin one can pass from the second to the third dimension.” (MD)

Duchamp is intellectually sexy. Bolano’s elegant negligence? Ça c’est m’egal.


Marcel Duchamp ushered art into the age of its mechanical reproduction (his replicas, his Boite-en-Valise). Original, aporetic, he invented repetition! Like Muybridge, then Marinetti, he stopped, showed, and slowed motion (3 Standard Stoppages, his Descending Nude, The Bride Stripped Bare—called “a delay in glass.”)

Seminal emission anointing his Paysage Fautif (1946) went undetected until 1989, touching ten years before Dash Snow ooked on the New York Post, and the piece itself predates Warhol’s Oxidation pee series by more than thirty years.

While in Buenos Aires, Duchamp completed just two other works besides his mail order Unhappy Readymade. Stéréoscopie a la Main, an assisted Readymade was comprised of dual seascapes to which he added painted polygons. When inserted in a stereoscope these pyramids meet as one, floating on the waves.

The more elaborate piece was his To Be Looked at (from the Other Side of the Glass)with One Eye, Close to, for Almost an Hour: a free-standing glass eye chart, 20”X16”,incorporating actual optical lenses, rods and cones, Though an independent work, this served too as a study for the Oculist Witnesses sector of The Large Glass.

In such theaters devoted to intimacy innocence regains an excuse for production without fear. Carrying his assault on retinal painting through reversion to revenge (it is not an instance of the opposite of the same), the operative term in both artworks would be “close”. Two separate images virtually fused, without the intervening thickness of reality. Back in Cubist Paris four dimensions thronged the air. If a 3-dimensional object casts a 2-dimensional shadow, could our 3-dimensional world be a projection of the 4th? Clearly Duchamp felt The Large Glass (The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even) to be infra-thin: the slimmest conceivable interval, scrim, screen, borderline or door between the 3rd dimension and the 4th.

“Suppose we have two panes of glass in contact with each other; if we look at them from the front, we will not notice anything unusual, but if we look at them side-on, we will see that there are indeed two panes . . .”

(Roberto Bolano: Monsieur Pain)



No! No one can view my face! Hideously disfigured by a terrible accident I was brought up in the sewers of Paris where I learned to play the accordion. Honk! Squawk! Bleat! My genius went unappreciated. Now, tucked away in my hidden fastness, I rule the border wastes, periodically emerging to fight in corrugated tin sheds for almost no money. Did you think for one minute I would not be drunk enough to spend three bucks for some stupid rubber mask at yet another Mexican wrestling match? Hah! I am Checkmate! I am the Eight Ball! And you, señor, are finished!

What I Want, What I Really, Really Want (Spice Girls)

Now, don’t you finally wanna know just exactly how MD reassembled his shattered Bride?

See The Afternoon Interviews with Calvin Tomkins.

Of course, Duchamp “detourned” the Mona Lisa in 1919 adding mustache and beard, decades prior to Debord. But did you know he also mounted an unaltered playing card of Da Vinci’s minx (L.H.O.O.Q.) on an invitation circa 1965 showing only the word rasée (shaved)?

2 comments for this entry:
  1. Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle

    Error: (Should read)

    —his Readymades were chosen for indifference, a complex contradiction in itself—

  2. Edward Black

    Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle

    reads Roberto Bolaño: the two spheres

    of influence in my universe have finally