James Joyce and Marcel Duchamp

by William Anastasi


* * *

On June 8, 1927, in Paris, Duchamp married Lydie Sarazin-Levassor, the granddaughter of a successful manufacturer. (They would divorce in about half a year.) “The unavoidable conclusion seems to be,” writes Tomkins, “that Duchamp had made a cold-blooded decision to marry for money. . . . When [he] learned at the formal signing of the marriage contract, in the presence of lawyers representing both parties, that the sum Lydie’s father was prepared to settle on her came to only 2,500 francs a month (slightly more than $1,000 in today’s terms of exchange), Duchamp did not immediately back out. He turned pale, according to Lydie, but he signed the contract.” [45] That same summer Joyce composed a connective episode in his 'Work in Progress' (later titled Finnegans Wake)—an insert between two previously completed segments, “The Hen” and “Shem the Penman”—including several pages that seem to me rife with uncomplimentary allusions to Duchamp. [46] Since the content of these aspersions typically involves avarice, the timing of the writing supports the suspicion of a connection between this insertion and Duchamp’s newsworthy marriage. The section of Finnegans Wake that we’re about to explore was written three years after Quinn’s death and the start of Duchamp’s relationship with Reynolds, and only weeks after the marriage that some of Duchamp’s friends saw as a Dadaist joke.

I suspect that Joyce’s Professor Ciondolone is based in the main on Duchamp. My caution stems from the knowledge that few characters in the Wake are based on a single person, evidence of the universality of certain human traits as Joyce saw them. The brothers Burrus and Caseous, for example, are temporary stand-ins for the twin brothers Shem and Shaun, two of the book’s five main characters; for Ellmann the twins in Finnegans Wake were “every possible pair of brothers or opponents.” [47] One such opponent among Joyce’s contemporaries was the writer and artist Wyndham Lewis, whom Joyce sometimes seems to pair up with himself in Finnegans Wake—Lewis was a sometime friend who had heavily attacked Ulysses in his book Time and Western Man. But when Burrus and Caseous become stand-ins for Shem and Shaun for about five pages, I believe they are largely based on Duchamp and Joyce. If this analysis is accurate, Quinn would be their commonly shared source of milk. Consistent with the idea of twins, they seem at times to exchange personality traits, just as Shem and Shaun periodically do. In the commentary that follows, it is important to keep in mind that almost all of Joyce’s descriptions in the Wake make multiple allusions to a dizzying variety of reference points. In focusing on Duchamp, I am effectively forcing into the background the other references that I’m confident are also present. I fully expect other Sherlocks, perhaps without even arguing with my basic analysis, to have different interpretations. For all we’ll ever know, all may have some kernel of truth.

* * *

My heeders will recoil with a great leisure how at the outbreak before trespassing on the space question

Probably the “art question,” as opposed to the “literature question.” The reverse, the “time” question, brings to mind Lewis’s Time and Western Man, with its attack on Ulysses.


where even michelangelines  

Great artists


have fooled to dread  

Feared to tread.


I proved to mindself as to your sotisfiction how his abject  

His object, but conceivably a reference to what I believe Joyce must have considered abject behavior on Duchamp’s part: marrying someone he thought wealthy, and in church (both Duchamp and Joyce were outspoken atheists), while deserting Reynolds, a woman of real value in the estimation of Joyce and his circle.


all through (the quickquid  

Quick buck.


of Professor Ciondolone’s  

ciondolone (Italian): idler, lounger. Breton had famously accused Duchamp, the chess bum, of being an idler, wasting his great intellegence.


too frequently hypothecated  

Mortgaged, i.e., borrowed.



Bettler (German): beggar, so “beggarman.”


is nothing so much more than a mere cashdime however genteel he may want ours, if we please (I am speaking to us in the second person),


  The phrase suggests the idea of twins on which Joyce will elaborate below.
for to this graded intellecktuals dime is cash and the cash system  

In 1924 Duchamp had spent a month on the Riviera, “experimenting with roulette and trente-et-quarante at the Casino, trying out various systems. In a letter to [Francis] Picabia, Duchamp described in . . . detail his attempts to work out a ‘martingale,’ or system, for winning at roulette. He had been winning regularly, he said, and he thought he had found a successful pattern. ‘You see,’ he said, ‘I have ceased to be a painter, I am drawing on chance.” [49]


(you must not be allowed to forget that this is all contained, I mean the system, in the dogmarks of origen on spurios)  

Darwin’s Origin of Species, i.e., the survival of the fittest. I think of Duchamp’s statement, “In a shipwreck it’s every man for himself.”


means that I cannot now have or nothave a piece of cheeps


in your pocket at the same time and with the same manners as you can now nothalf or half the cheek apiece I’ve in mind  

Possibly a reference to the wealthy Quinn: both Joyce and Duchamp wanted their bread buttered by the same knife, and the question was whether there would be enough butter for both of them.


and Caseous  

Cassius, but also caseous: cheesy. [50] A coincidence to investigate—Duchamp states that during the Second World War he “went back and forth (across the demarcation line) with a cheese dealer’s pass.” [51] Did he have such a pass going back to the mid-twenties?


have not or not have seemaultaneously sysentangled themselves, selldear to soldthere, once in the dairy days of buy and buy.  

Both Duchamp and Joyce sold to Quinn, exchanging their wares—art or manuscripts—for “milk” to free them from the needs of normal labor.


Burrus, let us like to imagine, is a genuine prime, the real choice


full of natural greace,  

Grease, grace.


the mildest of milkstoffs yet unbeaten as a risicide  

Regicide—Brutus and Cassius conspired to kill Caesar. Also risus (Latin): laugh—so perhaps killer of laughter?


and, of course, obsoletely unadulterous  

If Burrus is Joyce in this passage (Joyce also appears as Caseous, but Caseous and Burrus at times seem to switch personalities), he may be describing himself here as a faithful husband, and therefore obsolete—especially in the face of Duchamp’s recent behavior, interrupting a three-year-old affair with Joyce’s friend Reynolds in order to marry - to all appearances - for money (a marriage that Duchamp’s circle unanimously, and accurately, believed would be short-lived).


whereat Caseous is obversely the revise  

Rival, reverse.


of him and in fact not an ideal choose by any meals, though the betterman of the two is meltingly addicted to the more casual side of the arrivaliste case


  Arriviste—perhaps Joyce’s view of Duchamp (second definition: an unscrupulous, vulgar social climber; a bounder).
and, let me say it at once, as zealous  



over him as is passably he.   Can possibly be. Perhaps Joyce is saying that each twin is jealous of the other.

We'll leave Burrus and Caseous for awhile. My reading has Caseous and Burrus as temporary stand-ins for Shem and Shaun. They mainly represent Duchamp and Joyce. They're the twins - butter and cheese- in competition for the milk from Quinn; and they are both close to many Reynolds, although in very different ways. I believe there is a strong likelihood that Duchamp's abrupt discarding of Reynolds in favor of what was widely perceived as a marriage of convenience was a significant motivating factor in his rewriting the passage. It appears on pages 160 and 161 of the Viking edition. This is section, first published in transition, No.6, Sept. 1927, a few months after Duchamp's very public marriage in Paris. The timing could not be better if this interpretation is on the mark.

The year of 1927, and particularly its first half, contains much of interest to one delving into a connection between Joyce and Duchamp. “The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly,” from a section of Finnegans Wake that Joyce revised for publication in June 1927, contains many references that seem likely connections to Duchamp. [52] Here are lines leading up to “The Ballad”:

leave it to Hosty, frosty Hosty,

"Frosty" a possible reference to Duchamp’s Why Not Sneeze Rrose Selavy, 1921, with it's marble cubes resembling ice cubes


leave it to Hosty for he’s the mann to rhyme the ran, the rann, the rann, the king of all ranns.

click to enlarge
Figure 10
Marcel Duchamp, Opposition and Sister Squares Are Reconciled, 1932




Possibly a reference to Duchamp's notes, which are full of repetitions, and his 1917 magazine titled "rongwrong." Its cover shows two dogs closely examining and/or smelling each other's posteriors, just as dogs are wont to do in life. (Fig. 10) This was a very provocative image to see on the cover of a magazine at that time. In view of Joyce's sexual proclivities it would seem that such a magazine cover might well have been noted. E.g. - from a letter, James Joyce to Nora Barnacle, Dec. 2, 1909: "I have taught you to swoon at the hearing of my voice singing or murmuring to your soul the passion and sorrow and mystery of life and at the same time have taught you to make filthy signs to me with your lips and tongue, to provoke me by obscene touches and noises, and even to do in my presence the most shameful and filthy act of the body. You remember the day you pulled up your clothes and let me lie under you looking up while you did it? Then you were ashamed even to meet my eyes." [52A] And in another letter four days later he tells Nora of his desire to "smell the perfume of your drawers as well as the warm odour of your cunt and the heavy smell of your behind." [52B] One other connection to Duchamp's exploring canines is Joyce's own primitive ink drawing reproduced on page 308 of the Wake, a close-up of a thumb-nosing, vulgarily translated as "kiss my ass!"

Remembering that Joyce later seems to be calling Duchamp (Caseous) a beggar man (Bettlermensch), we find in Roland McHugh’s Annotations to Finnegans Wake, “Ir. children used to take a wren from door to door collecting money on St. Stephen’s Day. They chanted: The wren, the wren, The king of all birds &c (U.481)—‘wren’ pronounced like ‘rann’.” [53] Perhaps, then, Joyce is dubbing Duchamp “the king of all beggars” here.


Have you here? (Some ha) Have we where? (Some hant) Have you hered? (Others do) Have we whered? (Others dont) It’s cumming, it’s brumming! The clip, the clop! (All cla) Glass crash.
The (klikkaklakkaklaskaklopatzklatscha


Here we have “Glass crash,” followed by the third 100-letter word denoting a “thunderclap” in the book. “Glass crash” and the thunderclap word were among the additions Joyce made to the text for its publication in transition in June 1927; the opening of the “Ballad,” on the other hand, was already present in the first draft, written in 1923. [54] Meanwhile, according to the accounts of the breaking of The Large Glass, that event took place a few months before Joyce made his additions to this section of Work in Progress. [55] This may be coincidence; from everything given to us as fact by Duchamp and [Katherine] Dreier, Joyce could not have known of the breaking of The Large Glass—according to Duchamp, he himself did not hear of it until several years later. Bearing in mind, though, that “Glass crash” and the thunderclap are followed immediately by the first lines of the “Ballad”—“Have you heard of one Humpty Dumpty/How he fell with a roll and a rumble)”—we may wonder whether, since The Large Glass was a very large and complex “painting” and etching on glass rather than on a more durable traditional support, Joyce was making a sarcastic prediction. Through Reynolds, he could well have known that Duchamp had worked on the Glass for the better part of a decade before leaving it “definitively unfinished,” and that everyone including the artist considered it his most important work. This may be Joyce’s poetic way of saying, “Glass has been known to break.” We have seen him comparing his pages in Ulysses not with conventional painting but with The Book of Kells, created in or around the eighth century; perhaps he was staking his claim to a longer duration for his work than for Duchamp’s. He could even have been manifesting a kind of envy: Although he was uninterested in, even disdainful of, “modern art,” here was a contemporary “painting” that was being hailed as even more of a breakthrough by the art world cognoscenti than Ulysses had been by their literary counterparts. The public reaction to the first showing of The Large Glass may conceivably have further prodded Joyce as he started Finnegans Wake. This fits the picture of energetically competing twins.

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[45] Tomkins, Duchamp, p. 278.

[46] Joyce, Finnegans Wake, pp. 126–216.

[47] Ellmann, James Joyce, (rev. ed., 1982), p. 545.

[48] Joyce, Finnegans Wake, p. 160.

[49] Calvin Tomkins, Marcel Duchamp, p. 259.

[50] I have explored Jarry’s influence on both Joyce and Duchamp in earlier articles; see Anastasi, Jarry, Joyce, Duchamp and Cage, and Anastasi and Seidel, “Jarry in Joyce: A Conversation.” Throughout the Wake I find Jarry referred to with near reverence. Joyce was an intimate friend of Léon Paul Fargue, who in his youth had been Jarry’s closest friend and probably his lover. (Some believe him to have been Jarry’s only lover.) Joyce would likely have heard all about Jarry from Fargue. A photograph of the “Déjeuner Ulysse” banquet, given by Adrienne Monnier in June 1929, shows Fargue sitting next to Joyce near the center of twenty-six guests. See Richard Ellmann, ed., Letters of James Joyce Letters vol. III (NY: Viking, 1966), p. 193. Jarry’s Faustroll, with its intermittently incomprehensible narrative and numerous made-up words, is an obvious forerunner of the Wake. Jarry’s biographer Keith Beaumont, writing of Faustroll and other works of Jarry’s that followed the lead of Stéphane Mallarmé, says, “The result is at times something in the nature of a verbal delirium which, at one end of the literary spectrum, recalls the delight in words of Jarry’s other great mentor, Rabelais, and, at the other, looks forward to the Joyce of Finnegans Wake and beyond.” Beaumont, Alfred Jarry: A Critical and Biographical Study (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984), p. 303. Jarry published his Caesar Antichrist in 1895. Passages in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar are likely to have informed the Burrus and Caseous sections of Finnegans Wake. Shakespeare has Cassius say of Caesar, for example, “Why man, he doth bestride the narrow world / Like a Colossus; and we petty men / Walk under his huge legs, and peep about / To find ourselves dishonourable graves.” Julius Caesar I, ii, 134. Jarry in life was very short, but since Joyce loved inversion (as did Jarry and Duchamp), he could have seen the Colossus image as a humorous inversion once he had set on the idea of Brutus (Burrus) and Cassius (Caseous) as stand-ins for himself and Duchamp. Actually, for Joyce to picture Jarry as a powerful father (a colossus), with himself and Duchamp as underlings, is consistent with images of Jarry found elsewhere in the book. Again, Shakespeare has Caesar say of Cassius, “He reads too much; / He is a great observer, and he looks / Quite through the deeds of men; he loves no plays, / As thou dost, Antony; he hears no music; Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort / As if he mock’d himself, and scorn’d his spirit, / That could be mov’d to smile at anything. / Such men as he be never at heart’s ease, / Whiles they behold a greater than themselves, / And therefore are they very dangerous.”( I, ii, 197) It was known that Duchamp - in contrast to Joyce - did not enjoy music. And just as Joyce was confident that no living writer could compare with himself, Duchamp behaved in a way that suggested a similar confidence in relation to other artists.

[51] Pierre Cabanne, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp (New York: Viking, 1971), p. 79.

[52] Joyce, Finnegans Wake, pp. 44–47. “By end of 1923 notebook containing rough drafts of all the episodes in Part I except i and vi (pp. 30–125, 169–216) was probably filled.” Ellmann, James Joyce, p. 801. “In 1927 Joyce was revising Part I (pp. 3–216) for publication in transition." Ibid., p. 802.

[52A] Ellmann, 1975, The Viking Press, NY, Selected Letters of James Joyce, p.181

[52B] ibid, p.184

[53] Roland McHugh, Annotations to Finnegans Wake (rev. ed. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), p. 44.

[54] See David Hayman, ed., A First-Draft Version of Finnegans Wake (Austin, TX: Texas UP, 1963), p. 66.

[55] “The crate containing The Large Glass—in storage since the closing of the Brooklyn Museum exhibition in early 1927—had been shipped from the Lincoln Warehouse to “The Haven,” [Katherine] Dreier’s country house . . . where she planned to have it permanently reinstalled. On opening the crate, however, the workmen had discovered that the two heavy glass panels . . . were shattered from top to bottom. Tomkins, Duchamp, p. 288.

Figs. 10
©2003 Succession Marcel Duchamp, ARS, N.Y./ADAGP, Paris. All rights reserved.