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R. rO. S. E. Sel. A. Vy

by Roberto Giunti


1b. Network of Stoppages

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Figure 7
Marcel Duchamp, Network of Stoppages, 1914
Figure 8
Figure 9
Marcel Duchamp,
Young Man and Girl in Spring, 1911
Young Man and Girl in Spring (1911), rotated 90

The Stoppages reappear in a new work executed in the same period: the Network of Stoppages (1914) (Fig. 7). The network is painted on the unfinished second version of the earlier Young Man and Girl in Spring (1911) (Fig. 8). First, we note that with respect to the original orientation of Young Man and Girl in Spring (Fig. 9), the background for the Network is rotated by 90. Many scholars, including Gould and Shearer, have noted that for Duchamp the right-angled rotation has special meaning and importance; this rotation usually denotes a passage from an n-dimensional space to an n+1-dimensional space (because adding a new dimension requires a new Cartesian axis, perpendicular to all the other previous). In the present case we have the passage from the monodimensionality of the single Stoppage, to the bidimensionality of the Network. But generally for Duchamp a rotation by 90 highlights the presence of a qualitative leap. Let us try to understand what kind of leap we see in the Network.

The thesis I assert here is that with this work Duchamp intuitively further focuses a new concept that today we call recursion, a concept that was latently under elaboration for some years, as we shall see.

In fact, in the Network Duchamp uses the Stoppages recursively: we have three Stoppages repeated three times, and the sets of three are organized in a hierarchical manner expressed by means of a quite abstract tree graph which seems to underline a ramification. The same ramification is the formal unifying motif of the painting Young Man and Girl in Spring, although here the ramification has the specific meaning of doubling: indeed, the whole composition is based on a Y-shaped motif. According to La sposa messa a nudo in Marcel Duchamp, anche, we must trace this motif back to the alchemic symbolism, where Y stands for androgyny (Schwartz, 111). Both the Young Man and the Girl lift their open arms as in a Y; their bodies themselves have an unnatural oblique disposition which, when observed upside-down, shows once more the Y-shaped ramification. At the bottom of the composition we note two branching arcs while at the top we find the ramification of a tree. At the center of the composition we find a circular shape, inside of which we see a little human figure. The tree with its branching starts from this circular shape; hence, if we look at the figures of the Young Man and the Girl as an extension of the tree branches, they constitute the ramification of the small human figure at the center of the composition. (According to Schwarz, the branching arcs at the bottom are buttocks, the circular figure represents Mercury in the ampoule, and the ramification of the tree represents a phallus; finally, the path I described would be followed backward, as the desire of re-conjunction of the youths into the primordial androgyne unity).

Whatever interpretation one gives for the painting, it shows an objective datum: the one of a doubling cascade, at which I look as a formal antecedent of the recursive motif. Furthermore notice that the spherical shapes, suggested by the arcs at the bottom of the composition, are repeated, by both the ampoule and several flowered shrubs in the background; and, more interesting, inside the spherical shrubs we observe several pink spherical inflorescence (like in the hydrangea). Thus we have a new suggestion of recursion: spherical flowers, inside spherical inflorescence, inside spherical shrubs, among other spherical shapes. Here, in addition, we have a first evidence of that repetition on a lower scale (shrub, inflorescence, flower) we'll discuss later.

The spherical motif is in turn connected with an ulterior important motif: the one of the circularity. Once again, by following the doubling cascade in the painting one notices that the two arcs at the bottom (like fountain jets) sustain the circle containing the small human figure, starting from which the branching tree grows; the branches fall down again, by means of the ramification of the human figures of the youths, which in turn lean their feet just on the starting arcs at the bottom of the composition. In other words, in the painting we can see a sort of convective motion which circularly returns to the starting point.

Hence, executing the Network of Stoppages on the (unfinished) replica of Young Man and Girl in Spring, Duchamp points out the formal antecedents of the work. We can underline the close continuity between the two works observing that the sole definitive detail of the replica is the bust of the girl with her lifted and opened arms: this human ramification is grafted on the ramification of the Network with perfect continuity. This (recursive) graft of a work into another work will be, even in the following years, a distinctive element in Duchamp's activity.

Previously we said that for Duchamp the right-angled rotations are special signals, by means of which our attention is alerted. Let's examine the possible meanings in this case.

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Figure 10
Marcel Duchamp, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even [a.k.a. The Large Glass], 1915-23

The bending of the Girl's bust and the position of her arms denote her standing position, which is clearly contradicted by the orientation of the painting; it is saying, in essence, that it is not the figurative element of the girl that is important, but the formal motif of the branching. So, in the passage from the Youths to the Network, Duchamp asks us to focus our attention on a conceptual aspect (the one of recursion), while the narrative element (the one of the psychical world of the youths and of the connected events) is openly confined to the background (but clearly not removed): this passage to the abstraction is the first qualitative leap.

As for the second leap, we can see it in the passage from a base 2 iteration (the doubling) to a base 3 recursion (three times three Stoppages). We have already underlined that often for Duchamp "3" means multiplicity or infinity.

I cannot conquer the temptation of advancing some interpretative conjectures: perhaps we are observing the lying Bride subjected to the tentacular embrace of the Bachelor, with arms lifted in the pleasure of the senses. Perhaps the Network doesn't represent tentacles but flames: flames of desire or punishment. Perhaps we are witnesses of Duchamp's progressive focusing of that man-machine graft that we shall see fully represented in the Large Glass (Fig. 10).

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Figure 11
Marcel Duchamp, Nine Malic Moulds, 1914-15

However it turns out, the next station in the odyssey of Stoppages is marked by a new right-angled rotation, by means of which the Stoppages' Network is prospectively projected into a horizontal plane, becoming the Capillaries' system in the Bachelor Apparatus of the Large Glass. We need not stress the qualitative leap connected with this new rotation. It also implies (among other important considerations) the exportation of the principle of the number "3" (and of the number "9") to the Large Glass, starting from the Malic Moulds (Fig. 11), which must be one for each Capillary, hence they must be just nine. (whereas we know from the reading of the Green Box notes that in the initial project they were only eight.) >>Next

Figs. 7-11
©2002 Succession Marcel Duchamp, ARS, N.Y./ADAGP, Paris. All rights reserved.

 

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