2. No Entry: Passage Inter-Dicted


It is from the indetermination in the ‘back and forth’, governed by the afterwardsness of the strategist, that we must set out; from the indetermination practised by Duchamp as a method of analysis and self-analysis33 that is not however a presence-to-self; from that first indetermination of the Nude, plastically and verbally brought down, descended from its organic academic status as a means to take on, to attack, all genres and all genders. That of painting, especially the Cubo-Futurism of the time, and that of the anatomical nude, masculine or feminine…but is it really a nude? Nude Descending a Staircase [Nu descendant un escalier] (1912), or the Fall of Genre/Gender in painting, inscribed in capital letters along the lower left edge of the canvas (an inscription painted in descending letters). ‘A nude never descends the stairs—a nude reclines, you know’,34 and yet, according to a regular at the Arensbergs’ New York salon, a psychiatrist by profession, ‘Marcel has projected the idea of a staircase full upon the screen of occidental art’. The same interlocutor goes on to report his discussion with Duchamp, freshly disembarked but ‘delayed’ in relation to the American succès de scandale, as they stood before the replica of the Nude (a photograph at 1:1 scale, hand-coloured by the artist: Nude Descending a Staircase no. 3 [1915]) that graced the home of Louise and Walter Arensberg: ‘Descant, expatiate, dissect, exfoliate—only by such terms I fitly recall the phrases of Marcel….’ Of course, this portmanteau English (the best Duchamp could do at the time) delighted the master of the house, an imagist poet and raging cryptomaniac to whom Duchamp would dedicate more than one readymade homage: the fantastic technicity of the unbridled concatenation of words [verbes enchaînés/déchaînés] responded perfectly to the way in which Duchamp’s painting broke the ‘mould’ of the Nude with a science-fictional diagrammatisation seemingly made-to-mea
sure for the Arensbergs’ fourth continent.

Reduced to its thinnest pictorial expression, this Nude had well and truly earned its interdiction (a prohibition on its being exhibited, or on its exhibitionism?): before being shown the following year at the New York Armory Show, the painting had been refused by the Cubist ‘friends’ of the Section d’Or…