by Edward D. Powers
With his interest in incandescent lights came also
a fascination with headlights. -- Bruno Bettelheim(72)
The lost weekend Duchamp shares with Apollinaire and Picabia, visiting Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia and her mother, is nevertheless survived by two important documents: Apollinaire's 1912 "Zone", named after the region in the Jura mountains they were visiting, and Duchamp's "La Route Jura-Paris", also from that year, named after the road they took to get there. Having only just harrowed every driver's hell--mountain passes in a torrential storm--Duchamp memorializes the headlights, which he surely confronted on the road that stormy trip, as the "headlight / lighthouse child" ["enfant-phare"], who is indeed the principal protagonist in "La Route Jura-Paris" (DDS 41-42; WMD 26-27).(73) Throughout the text, Duchamp even imparts a telling specificity to the oncoming direction of these headlights in particular. Yet the automotive near-collision he stages is not only personified, but also its protagonists, rather more surprisingly, are nude. "To one side", as Duchamp explains in "La Route Jura-Paris", the "leader of the five nudes" is "in front of" the others, "towards" the road and, himself, a sort of "terminus". "To the other side", also a sort of "terminus", etc., the "headlight / lighthouse child" confronts the "leader of the five nudes" (DDS 41-42; WMD 26-27).
A lighthouse is not itself without sexual suggestion, as Breton's important article on Duchamp specifically emphasizes, "Lighthouse of the Bride" (1935),(74) by otherwise inexplicably attributing the lighthouse to the "Bride", just as Duchamp's Etant Donnés nude is famously possessed of a beacon-like lamp she also holds aloft. Nor do Duchamp's light sources, any more than Zeus' mighty thunderbolt, or his golden-shower visitation of Danaë, leave much to the imagination. As Duchamp explains in his instruction manual for installing Etant Donnés, "the spotlight should fall vertically, exactly, on the cunt".(75) Yet, in exactly this sense, the "headlight / lighthouse child", as it turns out, is also a "comet", one which, precisely reversing the natural order of things, instead leads with its fiery tail ["sa queue en avant"] (DDS 42; WMD 26). As such, Duchamp's conflation of the headlight / lighthouse / tail-leading comet doubly emulates Marey's foil-leading fencers. For not only do comet and fencer each lead with the "tool" ["queue"] of his trade, but also the tip of that tool--not unlike the fiery spear of Saint Theresa's "ecstasy", or the bizarrely protuberant, glowing finger of E.T. --is, in both cases, brightly illuminated.(76)
Suddenly, however, the rules change, and what would have originally read "Ger s ten d or fer Bros."--and, therefore, should read "[H]er Ten Or Fer Bros."--instead reads "[H]er Ten Or [Epergne]". Never more appropriately, "Or" is indeed the turning point, between old rules "or" new ones, as between what should read "Fer Bros.", but does read "Epergne". As a Duchamp-style bilingualism, an untranslated "Fer" [Iron], plus a translated "Bros." ["Frères"], would have yielded the eminently conceptual, metallurgical-as-metalogical concern: "Fer Frères et cie."(80) Like a gaggle of geese, or a pride of lions, an "Epergne" is exactly this: a "fraternity" of phallic-metallic candlesticks ["Fer Frères"] which, surrounding a large central dish, can be used as a centerpiece. But if "Or" constitutes a full stop in the flow of the text, pronounced "Au-Er" in French, it also refers to Duchamp's beloved-of-youth (Bec) "Auer" lamp. In addition to the sconce which is clearly observable on the rear wall of Apolinère Enameled, we therefore have an "Auer" lamp in the text, which itself presents a choice between two further lighting fixtures: "Fer Bros." and "Epergne".
If, however, these various lighting fixtures are the prick, where, as Duchamp says ["où il y a Chaliapine"], is the pussy? It is "mirrorically returned", right where we should expect to find it, in the mirror which, beside the sconce, is also set against the rear wall of Apolinère Enameled. Insofar as "mirrorical return" constitutes a process of sexual involution (e.g. her urinal becomes his faucet, or her trough becomes his peak), we should expect the "spectacular" presence of the sconce to "mirrorically return" as a spectacular absence. In other words, as a multi-phallic figuration of his sex, expressly included within the picture, the sconce should "mirrorically return" not only in an inverted form (as a unitary, concave figuration of her sex) but also, paradoxically, as an absence (as something implied by, but no longer expressly included within the picture). No differently, what the "Epergne" adds (textually) that the sconce does not contain (visually), a large central dish, we should likewise expect to "mirrorically return" in the mirror.
75. Marcel Duchamp, Manual of Instructions for Marcel Duchamp, "Etant Donnés" (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1987) 20 (my translation). On Duchamp's similarly phallic use of light in the Arcane 17 window installation, see Charles Stuckey, "Duchamp's Acephalic Symbolism", Art in America, vol. 65, no. 1 (Jan.-Feb. 1977): 96.
76. In order to produce his time-lapse imagery of "phallic barbs", Marey thus rigged his foiling-leading fencers with "tiny electric bulbs" or, at times, with reflective "metal buttons". See Marta Braun, Picturing Time: The Work of Etienne-Jules Marey, 1830-1904 (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1992) 100 ff, 287-91; François Dagognet, Etienne-Jules Marey: A Passion for the Trace, trans. Robert Galeta, Jeanine Herman (N.Y.: Zone Books, 1992) 149-50.
78. See Lawrence Steefel, "Marcel Duchamp's Encore à cet astre: A New Look", Art Journal, vol. 36, no. 1 (Fall 1976): 23-30, where he discusses the possible gender(s) of the nude(s) on the staircase. See also Bradley Bailey, "Once More to this Staircase: Another Look at Encore à cet Astre", Tout-Fait: The Marcel Duchamp Studies Online Journal, vol. 2, no. 4 (January 2002) Articles <http://www.toutfait.com/issues/volume2/issue_4/articles/bailey/bailey1.html>.