1. Duchamp in the Field (of the Sign) of Sex


The issue of the journal October is dated Autumn 1979.

It opens with the English translation of an article by Hubert Damisch, the title of which is sufficiently polyvalent for it to take on a programmatic status over and above Duchamp’s well-known interest in the game of chess: ‘The Duchamp Defense’.

For what is defended in this editorial is not Duchamp (and his strategy of the de-definition of art by other means): the conceptual historicisation of the readymade and the anti-aesthetic impulse that accompanies it in the wake of the Green Box is a process that has been underway for some time, laying the foundations for an institution al and experimental critique in a field not yet unanimously agreed upon calling itself ‘contemporary art’. No, what the editors of October Rosalind Krauss and Annette Michelson will defend, as they must here at the end of the post-1968 decade, is the multiplicity of artistic practices that have broken with all the canons and all the medium-specific disciplines that had maintained the ontology of art in continuity with aesthetics—because ‘in so far as it has been understood to be inseparable from its specific practices, the very notion of art itself appears compromised’. Now, according to the editors’ logic here, Duchamp appears not as the ideal curator (and ideas man) of this moment of a ‘break’ whose genealogy in fact goes back to the first ‘speculation’ (dated 1913) in the infinitive of the White Box (‘Can one make works that would not be “of art”?’); instead, in their defence become strategic counterattack, he is the anticipative symptom or prototype of the differential temporality of the ’68 years, years which served to render visible and legible the advanced nature of his ‘delay’ qua operational fiction of the emancipation of art (playing on the ambivalence of the genitive)from the artistic institution and the status of the object, to which he will finally add his ‘replicas’…of readymades.…