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

by Roberto Giunti

2b. Prime Words and Self-Production

Now, we shall try to clarify the meaning of the prime words. Following the suggestion of Calvesi, I think that they are primary vocal emissions, like the word "Dada," or like the first syllabic articulations of a child, like "mama"or "papa," when they haven't yet a precise semantic reference (to abstract words, says Duchamp), i.e. when they are still only pure combinations of elementary phonemes (135). So I look at the prime word and the abstract word as synonyms.

Thus, we can see some first examples of this new language, I think, in Duchamp's nonsensical wordplays based on cascade alliterations. The most famous being:

  Esquivons les ecchymoses des Esquimaux aux mots exquis.

Gould analyzed this in the above-mentioned essay  (which for me has been a source of both inspiration and pleasure). It is a question of rearrangement of some principal syllabic groups, that in this context we can consider as phonemes. The fact that from this combination of syllables into words a non-sense arises corresponds exactly to the programmatic devaluation of the semantic aspect relative to the syntactic one. Here syllables have a value exclusively because of their combinatory grammar, but they haven't any overall semantic reference; there isn't any pedagogical a sentence construction, any figures of speech (read, as I believe: idiomatic form). The grammatical rules for the syllabic rearrangement are abridged in the following simple (recursive) grammar that can generate Duchamp's wordplay (and infinitely other non-senses, with the same structure, in a pure French grammelot):

The starting symbol is P.
The other following symbols (in capital letters) are the so-called non-terminal symbols (i.e. the symbols which must be rewritten): W (Word), C (Connective), D (Double syllable), S (Simple syllable), E (syllable starting with E), K (Key syllables). Finally, the following (in lower case) are the terminal symbols (i.e. the symbols which cannot be rewritten): es, ek, ex, von, mos, mò, mot, key, keys; they transliterate the pronunciation of the corresponding French syllables.

The symbol | stands for "or".

P —> W C W

C —> C W C | les | des | o (notice that this rule is recursive)

W —> D S | S D

D —> E K

E —> es | ek | ex

S —> von | mos | mò | mot

K —> key | keys

Fig. 29 shows the derivation of the "Duchampian"wordplay.

Click to enlarge
Figure 30
Marcel Duchamp, Rotary Demisphere, 1925

Gould correctly underlines that the above analyzed wordplay is written by Duchamp on the Rotary Demisphere (1925) (Fig. 30), an optical device which, when rotating, produces the appearance of an outwardly cascading spiral. This meaningful association is very important because it shows that, in Duchamp's intentions, in this play there is a potentially unfinished self-production. Using the grammar proposed above, it is easy to verify this property, if one accepts not only non-sense sentences, but also non-sense words. (Remember that the present grammar generates sentences in a pure French grammelot.) >>Next




Fig. 30
©2002 Succession Marcel Duchamp, ARS, N.Y./ADAGP, Paris. All rights reserved.

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