How Man Ray Took on Lautreamount
By Eli Epstein-Deutsch
posted: 05-03-11
The abyss of objecthood: sewing machine edition
Image Source

In a recent post I compared Duchamp's assemblage of the bicycle wheel atop the stool to the Comte de Lautreamont (aka Isidore Ducasse)'s notorious saying: "as beautiful as the chance meeting of an umbrella and a sewing machine on a table." The latter, I argued, was radically disjunctive in a way that the bicycle wheel was not and furthermore that Lautreamont's image really only makes sense in language.

Recently however, I was proven somewhat (I emphasize somewhat) wrong: the surrealist photographer and painter Man Ray was iconoclastic enough to actually attempt to iconize Lautreamont's proto-Dada poetic turn! In "The Image of Isidore Lucasse," which I saw recently at the Museum of Art in Lugano, Switzerland, Man Ray sketches out the hypothetical meeting in a drawing simultanously lifelike, mundane (the style could be that of an illustrated textbook for kids) and perverse.

The point that it's not clear what could become of the umbrella and sewing machine together once they met, however, still stands: indeed it is reinforced by Man Ray's example. All he could do is produce a 2-dimensional sketch, with the illusory solidity of an M.C. Escher, portraying something impossible as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

When it came to rendering Ducasse's thought as a real world object in typical Surrealist fashion, Man Ray cleverly deferred. He produced a work called "The Enigma of Idore Ducasse": a sewing machine completely obscured by a blanket. The umbrella is nowhere to be seen.

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