Thursday, April 30, 2009

Speaking of Silence

Marcel Duchamp at 13

As Rrose Sélavy, photo by Man Ray, 1921

As Adam in Satie's ballet Relâche, 1924

Photo by Victor Obsatz, 1953

Torn-paper self-portrait, 1958

"Marcel Duchamp, having become an aristocrat because of his original Dadaist anarchism, categorically refuses to take part in the contemporary artistic brawl. He does not want to be identified with those who tirelessly continue "barking at the moon," he abandons painting, not as an act of artistic suicide, but because he continues to have swift nudes cross the king and the queen in his thoughts, while playing chess."

--Salvador Dali, Art News, April 1959

Five years after Dali's salute to the sardonic eminence grise of the avant-garde, Joseph Beuys would challenge Duchamp's reputation on behalf of a new generation of socially engaged young artists. "The Silence of Marcel Duchamp is Overrated," he declared in a performance of 1964. I believe the obvious retort has already been made long ago: "The Talking of Joseph Beuys is Overrated!" While there is much I admire in Beuy's work, a little of his prophetic posturing goes a long way. I find much more repose and refreshment in Duchamp's playful economy of sparse gestures, each one of which seems to have launched a new genre and a hundred artistic careers. Where would Beuys himself have been without the example of Duchamp's readymades, which he magnified and multiplied into mountains of earnest kitsch?

Alas for Duchamp, even in retreat he could not escape from the interpretations of his critics and rivals. The game of art once begun could not be resigned. Probably he chuckled at Beuys' rhetoric in silent amusement, if he regarded it at all. Perhaps he even agreed. His absent presence remains a pleasure and a peace in this age of noise, for his silence was not vacancy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

To You

Whoever you are, I fear you are walking the walks of dreams,
I fear these supposed realities are to melt from under your feet and hands,
Even now your features, joys, speech, house, trade, manners,
troubles, follies, costume, crimes, dissipate away from you,
Your true soul and body appear before me.
They stand forth out of affairs, out of commerce, shops, work,
farms, clothes, the house, buying, selling, eating, drinking,
suffering, dying.

Whoever you are, now I place my hand upon you, that you be my poem,
I whisper with my lips close to your ear.
I have loved many women and men, but I love none better than you.

O I have been dilatory and dumb,
I should have made my way straight to you long ago,
I should have blabb'd nothing but you, I should have chanted nothing
but you.

I will leave all and come and make the hymns of you,
None has understood you, but I understand you,
None has done justice to you, you have not done justice to yourself,
None but has found you imperfect, I only find no imperfection in you,
None but would subordinate you, I only am he who will never consent
to subordinate you,
I only am he who places over you no master, owner, better, God,
beyond what waits intrinsically in yourself.

Painters have painted their swarming groups and the centre-figure of all,
From the head of the centre-figure spreading a nimbus of gold-color'd light,
But I paint myriads of heads, but paint no head without its nimbus
of gold-color'd light,
From my hand from the brain of every man and woman it streams,
effulgently flowing forever.

O I could sing such grandeurs and glories about you!
You have not known what you are, you have slumber'd upon yourself
all your life,
Your eyelids have been the same as closed most of the time,
What you have done returns already in mockeries,
(Your thrift, knowledge, prayers, if they do not return in
mockeries, what is their return?)

The mockeries are not you,
Underneath them and within them I see you lurk,
I pursue you where none else has pursued you,
Silence, the desk, the flippant expression, the night, the
accustom'd routine, if these conceal you from others or from
yourself, they do not conceal you from me,
The shaved face, the unsteady eye, the impure complexion, if these
balk others they do not balk me,
The pert apparel, the deform'd attitude, drunkenness, greed,
premature death, all these I part aside.

There is no endowment in man or woman that is not tallied in you,
There is no virtue, no beauty in man or woman, but as good is in you,
No pluck, no endurance in others, but as good is in you,
No pleasure waiting for others, but an equal pleasure waits for you.

As for me, I give nothing to any one except I give the like carefully
to you,
I sing the songs of the glory of none, not God, sooner than I sing
the songs of the glory of you.

Whoever you are! claim your own at any hazard!
These shows of the East and West are tame compared to you,
These immense meadows, these interminable rivers, you are immense
and interminable as they,
These furies, elements, storms, motions of Nature, throes of apparent
dissolution, you are he or she who is master or mistress over them,
Master or mistress in your own right over Nature, elements, pain,
passion, dissolution.

The hopples fall from your ankles, you find an unfailing sufficiency,
Old or young, male or female, rude, low, rejected by the rest,
whatever you are promulges itself,
Through birth, life, death, burial, the means are provided, nothing
is scanted,
Through angers, losses, ambition, ignorance, ennui, what you are
picks its way.

--Walt Whitman