PRINT September 1993

Marcel Duchamp’s Étant donnés

AFFECT BEING THAT which keeps you there, that which never really becomes an object’s property or adornment, what then can it mean to hear why a work of art has stuck in the mud of another’s mind? I would never expect my affects to be yours.

To be kept, as am I, by the Étant donnés is to be affected by something invisible. Remember saying to Teeny I’d like to write about the Étant donnés but wasn’t old enough and her saying to me I know what you mean. Affect keeps one waiting, aging, open.

And happy. With time one sees that one has not been kept waiting for answers. For what, then?

This is not an answer to that question any more than Duchamp’s givens are a gotten. All I can say for now is this: ceci n’est pas un con (this is not a cunt). Through the peepholes, for this is a stereoscopic peep, there is the famous view of the lady’s crotch, but the lady is not one, of course, she is a doll and is furthermore embedded, actually she is nested in a landscape that makes one think immediately of the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History and their electrically tinted, oh so magic air. Is this human nature?

Baby blue heaven. Fluorescent tilt. In so many ways the doll is removed. In so many ways the view through the holes is distracted from the cunt, which, albeit spotlit, is hairless, dry, stretched almost beyond recognition, and bloodless (why do some at this point speak of violence?). There is not enough here to sustain the common graphic interest, if one cares to really look, but in large part it’s because the rest of the scene bursts. Something else besides shame leads the eye back by the nose.

Back to the hand (so big and tense) and the glow of the gas lamp (supposed to be green). Just behind it, far far away, a cascade dances down. After all, they are what is given in the title: 1° la chute d’eau (the waterfall), 2° le gaz d’éclairage (the illuminating gas). Look at them. The doll is but their support.

Productive, asymbolic displacement, is it possible? What lies below the dog-eared chestnuts of the repressed? The Étant donnés siphons off its female and male material into light. Not an object: all that is shed.

Sparkles. Glows. Various wattages very carefully prescribed (read the manual). Illuminations. Erotic matter colors the air we breathe through the peephole, it is everywhere everywhere everywhere now, in the darkness, in the velvet, not locked in the tiresome theoretical stranglehold eyes have been made to have with, for example, cunts. The physical separates from the literal. Don’t ask, accept. Given: eyes must wander. The peep was just a stage. There will be a thousand others.

Molly Nesbit