Following Poincaré's (1908, pp. 53-55) insistence that readymade "sudden illuminations" and "right combinations" come in rare, limited "series," Duchamp consciously limited the production of his readymades. Duchamp even wrote a note reminding himself to "limit the number of readymades yearly" (Duchamp, 1960, p. 98).

Before 1915, when he first uses the word "readymade" in direct connection with his objects, Duchamp refers to a "readymade" series, out of his Large Glass machine, as an "operation" of choice (Duchamp, 1960, p. 98; Schwarz, 1969b, pp.2, 88, 90).21 Duchamp's emphasis on choice goes back to his 1917 public statement following the rejection of his fountain urinal from the Society of Independent Artists' Exhibition. Duchamp wrote that the important thing was that "Mr. Mutt CHOSE" it (emphasis original) (Schwarz, 1969a, p. 43).22 Duchamp, like Poincaré, often repeated that it was the unconscious mind that "chooses." According to Duchamp, "because the subconscious attends to the choice-in reality everything has happened before your decision" (see Hulton, 1993-Dec. 8, 1961, p. 62). Duchamp states that the "readymade" "chooses you" (Roberts, 1968, p. 62) and is "pulled out" from the unconscious (Clearwater, 1991, p. 53). If we use Poincaré's definition of the "unconscious choosing" of a new idea or perspective, Duchamp's comments are no longer contradictory. The "readymade" would seem to "skip earlier stages (of conscious work) and come to its final conclusion," readymade for verification (measure and experiment by us) just as Duchamp claimed (see Hulton, 1993-June 16, 1966). If the unconscious mind does the choosing, artists are literally "mediumistic beings" in a state of "complete anesthesia" (absence of conscious mind) and would avoid relying upon the "hand, taste or style" which Duchamp frequently stated was his creative goal (Sanouillet & Peterson, 1973, pp. 138, 141).

Duchamp makes the same point when he argues that conscious "indifference" is the "common factor" among all readymades: "if you arrive at a state of that moment it becomes a 'readymade'" (see Hulton, 1993-June 21, 1967). Obviously, if the choice occurs in the unconscious, Duchamp is correct to conclude that "no intention or object is in view" during this selection process, and that readymade ideas are only subsequently "unloaded" into the conscious mind (see Hulton, 1993-July 1, 1996). When Duchamp declared that readymades are "manufactured goods," he neglected to inform us that the manufacturing was occurring in the machinery of the unconscious (Hahn, 1966, p. 10).23

Duchamp's most contradictory statements will be explored later in my paper. For the moment, if we find, as we do, that the Apolinère Enameled is not what it initially seemed to be from the vantage point of our first unconscious choice of perspective, then perhaps, using Poincaré's definition of readymade, we should critically examine all the other readymade objects to see whether a strategy of consistent "doubt" leads us both to a fuller understanding of Duchamp's Large Glass (a discovery machine) and to a discovery of our own about the relationship of the readymades to the Glass.

Let us first take Duchamp's Why Not Sneeze Rrose Sélavy? (1921) (see Illustration 10). He tells us that it is a purchased birdcage to which he added a cuttlebone, marble "sugar cubes," and a thermometer. Given the skepticism that follows from our investigation of Apolinère Enameled, the suspicion arises that, although we have always accepted the presupposition that Duchamp bought it readymade and did not change it, this assumption is likely to prove false. The evidence that Duchamp did, indeed, alter the birdcage is right before us (see Illustration 10). The wires across the top edge have obviously been clipped off and cut to reduce the size of the cage. As in the case of the bed of Apolinère Enameled, we are now looking at an impossible birdcage. Examine the object non-retinally and try to imagine a bird that could fit within this cage. Look at the perches in relation to the cage. What bird could sit on these? Consider also the cuttlebone's absurd size in relation to the cage-the cuttlebone is bigger than the implied bird should or could be; it towers above the cage, obviously oversized.

Part I of Rhonda Roland Shearer's essay was originally published in
Art & Academe (ISSN: 1020-7812), Vol. 10, No. 1 (Fall 1997): 26-62.
Copyright © 1997 Visual Arts Press Ltd.
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