Resonances: Marcel Duchamp and the Comte de Lautréamont

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Cushing, Douglas Clifton

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This thesis explores the relationship between Marcel Duchamp’s oeuvre and the texts of the Comte de Lautréamont, arguing that the author’s works comprise an overlooked and undervalued source of interest and ideas for the artist. Scholars have done an extraordinary job of documenting and analyzing a number of Duchamp’s literary sources and inspirations. Their work has elucidated the roles of Raymond Roussel, Alfred Jarry, Stéphane Mallarmé, Jules Laforgue, and Jean-Pierre Brisset, among others, for Duchamp. The work of Lautréamont, however, has received proportionally little attention, despite several indications of its importance for the artist. Among the few who have proposed such a connection, none have yet offered a broadly documented or sustained argument. Other historians, generally working under the premise that Lautréamont only came to Duchamp’s attention by way of the Surrealists, have explicitly rejected the possibility that the Uruguayan-French poet had any meaningful position in Duchamp’s library prior to the Surrealist championing of the author. This thesis proposes otherwise, making the case that Lautréamont was more fundamentally important to Duchamp than yet realized. Historical documents as well as statements by the artist himself and those closest to him suggest a stronger engagement by Duchamp with the works of Lautréamont than has been previously proposed. This relationship seems to have begun by as early as 1912, well in advance of the Surrealists’ discovery of the author, and it lasted throughout Duchamp’s life. Furthermore, an examination of Duchamp’s body of work demonstrates a number of strategic and thematic resonances between artist and author that reinforce what the archival evidence suggests. These resonances should be understood as open readings, rather than exclusive readings. They are proposed as additions to the existing constellation of understanding of Duchamp’s oeuvre, rather than as foreclosures upon other ways of reading Duchamp’s body of work.




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