Duchamp, Oh! Calcutta!’…. Since this text will always have been, until the very end, the archive of an ‘essay’ perpetually in progress, I feel that at the very outset, to place myself on the side of words and hit the ground punning, I must return to the readymade title under which it travelled for many years, beginning with my lecture in 2013 at Central Saint Martins (under the auspices of Kingston University’s Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy [CRMEP]), which itself reprised certain elements from an argument first assayed a year earlier in a paper given at a Cerisy-la-Salle colloquium on The Plurals of Barbara Cassin, at which Alain Badiou was also present.

Oh! Calcutta! is a reference to Kenneth Tynan’s famous avant-garde theatrical revue, first staged off Broadway in 1969 at the Eden Theatre (a former porno cinema renovated by the producer for the occasion). The first stage production to feature actors and actresses ‘au naturel’ (a guaranteed succès de scandale for these Nudes descending from 1968), the ‘entertainment’ consisted of skits penned by (among others) Samuel Beckett, Sam Shepard, and John Lennon (who contributed ‘Four in Hand’, a ‘masturbation comedy’ for the stage). The title makes use of a homophonic pun on the French O quel cul t’as [Oh, what a great ass you have!], inspired by a painting by the surrealist Clovis Trouille (Oh! Calcutta! Calcutta!, 1946): used as an illustration for the poster and stage backdrop projection, the painting would also (straddling its disguise as a ‘Copleymate’ [1966]) be reproduced inside and on the cover of the 1969 publication of the play).

A self-declared anarchist, Trouille was also a close friend of André Breton (part of the group around the periodical Le Surréalisme au service de la Révolution) and had been well known to Duchamp since his participation in the International Surrealist Exhibition of January 1938…