Thursday, July 19, 2007


From Surrealism and it s Others - Yale French Studies - Number 109

As early as 1922, Breton wrote to Jacques Doucet that Duchamp was "the man from whom I would be the most inclined to expect something, if he wasn't so distant and deep down so desperate. " Typical case of transference, for it was Breton who was des­perate to delve programmatically into Duchamp's putative uncon­scious as he did with everyone in the surrealist inner circle. But as com­ments he made in the 1950s, disapproving of Michel Carrouges' study of "bachelor machines" amply indicate, Duchamp gave little credence to the theory of the unconscious. Consequently, Marcel Duchamp's (or, rather Rrose Selavy's) many salacious puns, which to Breton were the most remarkable poetic phenomenon in years, were to Duchamp ex­pressions of fully conscious cognition.

If there was one study on his work that got him really worked up, it was Michel Carrouges' Bachelor Machines, first published with the Ar­canes psychoanalytic publishing house in 1954. And in perfectly anti-­psychoanalytic terms, he made perfectly clear to Breton what got his dander up and just how Carrouges missed the whole point (which was laughter): "Using the Green Box, Carrouges has brought to light the un­derlying process with the meticulousness of a sub-mental dissection. No need to add that his findings, even if they form a coherent whole, were never conscious when I was working out my strategy because my subconscious is mute like all subconsciousnesses and that my strategy had more to do with the conscious need to introduce some 'hilarity' or at least some humor into such a 'serious' subject." Duchamp's under­lining, twice, of the word " conscious" speaks voluminously of his con­viction (that jibes with that of Gertrude Stein, moreover) that there is only consciousness - no unconscious. And his dismissal of Carrouges and his book, Les machines celibataires, could not be more definitive: "For me, there is something other than yes, no, and indifferent - it's the absence of investigations of this sort, for example" ( to Breton, 4 Oc­tober 1954, N° 235).

"Where's Duchamp? - Out Queering the Field" by Robert Harvey


Anonymous said...

Actually, Duchamp, whom I was seeing quite frequently at the time, liked the book, recommended it to a number of people and wrote 4 letters to that effect that were printed, with Teeny Duchamps's blessings (!), in the second edition.

Bogus Magus said...

Whoops, sorry M.Carrouges! (I assume).

I was only quoting Yale French Studies, without any real knowledge of my own - in particular for the quotes about consciousness, and "yes, no and indifference" as related to the subjects dear to the blog's heart, but I apologise for any inadvertent implication that I agree with the complete quotation.

Anonymous said...

Don't apologize. It had been unacceptable to many surrealists that MD like the book. Their version prevailed. "It's their right", MD would probably have said, with a smile.
Monique Fong


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