Tuesday, April 25, 2006
In all my excitement over The Ister, I forgot to mention a new arrival in the household that will probably hold my attention much longer: an anniversary present, the big book Marcel Duchamp: The Box in a Valise (de ou par Marcel Duchamp ou Rrose Selavy): Inventory of an Edition, by Ecke Bonk (Rizzoli, 1989). I've always been fascinated by Duchamp, & convinced that his ideas about art probably have a lot of bearing on contemporary poetry. (For instance, his early and repeated rejection of "retinal art" – art that provides immediate sensual pleasure to the eye – in favor of an art of ideas, an art that appeals to the mind rather than the senses, is probably of some relevance to the discussion of the relationship between intellectuality and immediate apprehensibility in alt-poetry going on over on Josh Corey's blog these days.)
The Box in a Valise is an exhaustive and loving chronicle, with pictures and diagrams of every detail, of Duchamp's monumental-miniature "late" work, the Boîte-en-valise, a handy wooden carrying case containing reproductions – most of them made thru painstaking and enormously time-consuming handicraft methods – of all of his major works, and most of his minors. There's a wee clay model of "Fountain," the signed urinal; there are hand-colored reproductions of all of the paintings; there are precise simulacra of his odder projects (the fake checks, the Monte Carlo investment "bonds" Duchamp had made for his own attempt to break the bank at roulette; there are photos of most of the ready-mades).
It's an amazing, and amazingly obsessive project. It took Duchamp over five years of full-time labor to produce the reproductions of his works for the approximately 350 copies of the Box, and he would release the finished products in "homeopathic doses" of maybe 20 to 30 over the last 27 years of his life.
It's a gesture I really love: a pocket "canon," as it were, an artist assembling – on his own idiosyncratic terms – the sort of catalogue raissoné that most artists have to wait a lifetime to see published. Or perhaps I'm just drawn to it by my own longstanding obsession with miniaturization, with shrinking the big down into the little. Zukofsky claims somewhere that 80 Flowers – a book that totals 648 lines of verse – was the compact version of his entire life's work. Something to be said for shriking it all down into something you can tuck under an arm and walk away with. Thoreau would approve.
Posted by Mark Scroggins at 12:18 AM