Duchamp made a well-known statement about chance. He states:
    I don't think that the public is prepared to accept it...my canned chance. This depending on coincidence is too difficult for them. They think everything has to be done on purpose by complete deliberation...in time they will come to accept chance as a possibility to produce things. In fact, the whole world is based on chance, or at least is a definition of what happens in the world we live in and know more than any causality...if I do propose to strain a little bit the laws of physics...it is because I would like you to think them unstable to a degree (Roberts, p. 62).

Duchamp asserts that: (1) the world is based on chance (Poincaré's view of probabilistic systems); (2) his mechanism, along with chance, can be used to produce objects (precisely what Duchamp did with his Large Glass, notes and readymades); (3) as a consequence of accepting fixed perspective and the limited Newtonian "cause equals effect" explanation of causality, the public is not used to the concept of chance as a means for creativity. Spectators don't yet know the new, broader perspective of Poincaré's probabilistic machines, where simple cause and complex effect are unlinked but still related, albeit non-linearly; and finally, (4) Duchamp tells us that he wants to strain laws of physics and mathematics (Newtonian cause and effect) to let us know that, from Poincaré's new perspective, the phenomena of nature, and the laws themselves, are in fact literally unstable and subject to chance! As Duchamp stated, his "interest" in "pure chance" (of probabilistic systems) was "a means to combat logical reality" or the fixed, limited perspective of determinism (DeDuve, p. 248).

So when Duchamp says that the readymades "are completely different from the Large Glass" and that there is "no common denominator" among them,13 this is literally true -- for whether in nature's return orbits from her initial conditions, or in Duchamp's readymades from his initial conditions, or in the choice made by the unconscious from its random combinations of gaseous molecules -- whatever probabilistic example you use, no two facts are the same. So therefore we must focus on the relations among facts or objects -- according to Poincaré, the only aspect of nature's reality we can know (Poincaré, 1902, p. 20).

When Duchamp told us that the fourth-dimensional Large Glass is open to all perspectives or "interpretations," he didn't mean that all choices are equally valid. (Hulton, March 28, 1965).14 He meant that ina probabilistic system of creativity, an overwhelming number of perspectives are possible (as he demonstrated, and we experienced, in Apolinère Enameled). The trick of creativity as known by both Duchamp and Poincaré, allows us to choose the best perspective among all the possible viewpoints and never to blindly accept a readymade "idea" without using your croquet box.15

I'm not offering an absolute truth in my new interpretation. I've learned too much from Duchamp and Poincaré to make that mistake. I believe that my new perspective on readymades and the Large Glass (after examining all the alternative theories including alchemy, the Dada joke, and the theory that "there is no theory") represents the best choice among "possible" perspectives. Why? Because this new perspective forges a new unity in Duchamp's words and works. In science, gaseous molecules, dust in fluid, and the Milky Way seemed unrelated until a new perspective demonstrated unity. Poincaré's universal probabilistic mechanism of chance demonstrates a unity that we have not known before among Duchamp's comments on creativity and dimensionality, Poincaré cuts, unstable equilibriums, readymades, the Milky Way, gaseous molecules, dust in fluids, pendulums, sieves, etc. The list of similar relations between Poincaré and Duchamp goes on. Coincidence? Hardly a reasonable assertion, for our experience, even in this brief essay, shows that single facts shared between Poincaré and Duchamp (they both use the term "sieves") aggregate into larger relations ("sieves sifting illuminating gas"), into even larger relations (of "unconscious choice," "sieves" sifting "illuminating gas," "readymades," "mental beauty," discovery and change every "fifty years") -- all steps of Poincaré's creativity process within the universal probabilistic system of chance.

The key to my thesis is not a claim that Poincaré was the major influence on Duchamp's career, but that the master work of Duchamp's life, the Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (the Large Glass), and the Green Box Notes of the same name, represent the "mock" universal probabilistic system that Duchamp created and left for us to discover. When we encounter such overwhelmingly similar patterns, (as listed just above) we are led to make a new generalization -- which I have done here as the basis for this essay. Duchamp said that he wanted to be the "champion of the world or champion of something" and to create something new that had never been done before (Schwarz, 1969A, p. 59). Poincaré's probabilistic system of chance offered a new perspective never applied before in art or science. (Poincaré's ideas didn't begin to get translated into chaos theory until the 1960's!)

As with the case of impossible figures, Duchamp's application of probabilistic systems of chance came 50 years before scientists recognized the power of the concept. Probabilistic systems, as part of the discipline of chaos theory and non-linear dynamics, sets a perspective that many mathematicians and scientists have recently adopted and are now busy applying to their work. Croquet boxes, everyone!

Part II of Rhonda Roland Shearer's was originally published in
Art & Academe (ISSN: 1040-7812), Vol. 10, No. 2 (Fall 1998): 76-95.
Copyright © 1997 Visual Arts Press Ltd.
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