prevalence of excessive "R"s in Duchamp's uvre may seem
to hold a clue for those who care, or "ose"----dare, to
look. After all a Frenchman struggling with the English language might
pronounce those "Rs" as "arse" a term which refers
in colloquial English speech to a measure of daring. Duchamp so loved
to use colloquial speech and puns. And to all accounts he loved, as
the Americans say, to "get some arse," his pursuit of the
ladies being legendary.
influence of Raymond Roussel on Duchamp is often cited but not sufficiently
documented. The double R's of Raymond Roussel's initials figure into
Duchamp's female pseudonym: Rrose Sélavy.(1)
This name could be a conscious tribute to Roussel, Duchamp here giving
him life. Rrose Sélavy / Roussel, la vie--Roussel, life. This could
be a measure of his respect for Roussel.
Click to enlarge
Duchamp, Tonsure, 1919
Duchamp, 50 cc of Paris Air, 1919
of Roussel's later plays was called L'Etoile au Front--the
Star on the Forehead. Duchamp's famous haircut in which he had
a star cut into the hair on the back of his head may be a joke in
which he has reversed the forehead, in French "le front,"
or in English pronunciation, the "front" of his head, for
significance of Duchamp claiming to be a "breather" is also
connected to Roussel and the excessive "R." The word "hair"
when pronounced with a heavy French accent "air" is a homophony
to the French pronunciation of the letter "R"--Roussel's
initials, RR. Every time Duchamp evokes an "R" he is evoking
not only Roussel, his own haircut, but also the "Air" which
he so relished.(2)
gift to Walter Arensberg of a glass phial of Air de Paris continues
the trail. The French pronunciation of the letter "R" is
also a homophony of the word "err" to wander, stray or to
err in the English sense of making an error. The "Air de Paris
" Air of Paris that Duchamp gave Arensberg in the United States
does in fact err, or wander, from Paris--"Air / err de Paris."
Duchamp, as an expatriate, had also wandered from Paris--"il
err de Paris"--he wanders/strays from Paris. There is also a
lexical link between Air de Paris and Duchamp's later Monte
Carlo gambling spree. This lexical link continues as "Paris"
is not only the name of a city but the plural of the noun "pari"
which means in English--"bet" or "wager." Duchamp's
"Air/Err de Paris," the "error of bets" prefigures
his recognition of his Monte Carlo betting spree as an error of judgement.
to Duchamp's gift to Arensberg, "Air de Paris," we have
established that the words "Air" and the French pronunciation
of the letter "R" are homophones. "Air/R de Paris."
If we substitute the English pronunciation of the letter "R"
for the French pronunciation of the same letter "R," which
is pronounced the same as the English word "Air," we can
see a further correlation. The letter "R" when pronounced
in English is also the equivalent of the French pronunciation of the
word "art," the "t" being silent. Hence in substituting
the French pronunciation of the letter "R" = English "Air"
with the English pronunciation of the letter "R" = French
"Art," we have, instead of "Air de Paris," "Art
de Paris." This is in fact what Duchamp gave Arensberg. "Art"
from Paris, which was Air. Equivalences.
once again at Duchamp's use of the double "R" of Roussel's
initials we can, in applying a similar cross linguistic procedure
to the interpretation of this usage, extrapolate from the "Rr"
of Rrose Selavy--in English/French pronunciation "Art err"(3)--Art
errs. Or Art (with a capital A--high art) errs or wanders--Art/R errs/r--ose
Selavy--ose, c'est la vie--dare, that's life. Art has entered into
life. Similarly one can extrapolate Art/air--ose c'est la vie. Art/air--dare
that's life. Art and the air of life are equivalent. Dare to breathe.
may have made a further comment on the status of art through his use
of the double "R." In a reference to Jarry
he says "Arrhe is to art what merdre is to merde."(4)Arrhe--from the (feminine) word for a (monetary) deposit--arrhes,
and art, similarly to merdre and merde, are homophones
in French. Duchamp's cynical interpretation of the relation between
art, money and shit/shitte is here presented succinctly. Jarry's "merdre"
is similar to money in the bank, a deposit or "arrhe" and
"art" is placed similarly to shit. "Arrhe" and
"art" are in French homophones with the English pronunciation
of the letter "R." There is a further stress on the letter
"R" with the redundant "R" in Jarry's neologism
This redundant "R" recalls the redundant "R" of
Rrose. It seems Duchamp's stress on the redundant "R/art"
may be a cynical statement about the status of art. If the redundant
"R/art" (from "merdre") is placed similarly to
"arrhe" or cash in the bank what would we deduce from this?
That this type of monetarily motivated art is shit?
about "R"s "arse" and their extrapolations. Maybe
we have wandered too far or maybe we just err and its time to find
some fresh air.
1. Other commentators-- including Thierry de Duve in his Kant and Duchamp
(Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996); and André Gervais in
La Raie Alitée d'Effets have noted the
similarity between Rrose Sélavy and Roussel.
2. George Bauer playfully expounds some of these correlations in his
article entitled "Roussel-- Duchamp" in La Quinzaine Litteraire, no. 407 (1983): 14--15. He does
not however make the front/back connection.
3. French conjugation of the verb to err or wander.
4. Marcel Duchamp, Duchamp du signe (Paris: Flammarion, 1994).
"Arrhe est à art ce que merdre est
5. The second "r" is redundant. The word is pronounced similarly
to the French word for shit.