Fasten your Seatbelts
as we Prepare for our Nude Descending

by Edward D. Powers

["Joey"] moved his penis as if it were the handle of a machine
and called it "cranking up the penis". -- Bruno Bettelheim

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Figure 20
Marcel Duchamp, Coffee Mill, 1911

As Time Goes By: The Passage from Pendu(lum) to Chronograph

The first and only other instance when these chronophotographic cues significantly come into play is Duchamp's pseudo-plan and -elevation of the Coffee Mill (1911) (Fig. 20), where, as in the second Nude, they again plot a specifically "circular" movement. This is the same (meta)physical trajectory--which, of course, is not one(33)--that Duchamp's two versions of the Chocolate Grinder (1913; 1914) (Fig. 21a, b) and, more famously, his Bicycle Wheel (1913) (Fig. 22) also share. In addition to their common trajectory, however, the Coffee Mill and Chocolate Grinder also share a common morphology: from the knobbed handle of the Coffee Mill, which traces a circle about its stationary rod; to the three cylinders of the Chocolate Grinder, which also rotate about a stationary rod--one which is, itself, capped with a circular head, and not so enigmatically called the "bayonet" (DDS 96; WMD 68), if we again think of Marey's fencers' foils; finally, to a bicycle wheel which, in the title work, is mounted to another stationery rod--this one (like "Le Pendu Femelle" in the second Nude, Passage and Bride), by contrast, forked. If we add, as post-scripts, Duchamp's experiments with the Rotary Glass Plates (1920) (Fig. 23) and Rotary Demisphere (1925) (Fig. 24), which figure the same sort of rod-and-demisphere apparatus spinning on axis, the fact of a common morphology to all these variegated objects becomes evident, as does its formal prototype in the work which Francis Naumann suggests might be Duchamp's first Ready-made: Bilboquet (1910) (Fig. 25), a variation on the traditional cup and ball game, which if correctly manipulated, exactly consists of a ball perched upon a rod. Indeed, the vicious circles all these rods variously describe, or are otherwise inserted into, like the sexual coupling Bilboquet assumes in particular,(34) even anticipate Giacometti's own "pendu"(lum) of sexual frustration, Suspended Ball (1930) (Fig. 26).

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Figure 21a
Figure 21b
Figure 22
Marcel Duchamp, Chocolate Grinder, No. 1, 1913
Marcel Duchamp, Chocolate Grinder, No. 2, 1914
Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel, 1913

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Figure 23
Figure 24
Figure 25
Figure 26
Marcel Duchamp, Rotary Glass Plates, 1920
Marcel Duchamp, Rotary Demisphere, 1925
Marcel Duchamp, Bilboquet, 1910
Alberto Giacometti, Suspended Ball, 1930

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Figure 27
Marcel Duchamp, The Chocolate Grinder's Leg, 1914, from the Green Box (1934)
In addition to their circular trajectory, however, the Coffee Mill and Chocolate Grinder are also productive of the same scatological-type comestibles, and in this sense participate in the same bodily metaphor: "Slow life--Vicious circle--Onanism..." (DDS 82; WMD 56), as Duchamp laments in his Large Glass dirge. Even without the dirge, however, the embodied onanism of Duchamp's "circular" imagery is not exactly subtle. "Always there has been a necessity for circles in my life", he explains, for "rotation. It is a kind of narcissism, this self-sufficiency, a kind of onanism".(35) In exactly these terms, indeed, Bruno Bettelheim describes how one of his similarly circle-obsessed patients, "Joey", "moved his penis as if it were the handle of a machine and called it 'cranking up the penis'".(36) (Like the crankshaft of the Model-T Duchamp could neither drive nor marry and, faute de mieux, the automobile heiress whom he did marry,(37) but soon only drove on Sundays?) Yet what the Coffee Mill and Chocolate Grinder add to the morphological mix is exactly this--an explicitly phallic "crankshaft": self-evident in the alternately detumescent, tumescent and outright saluting sweep which the Coffee Mill's knobbed "handle" traces; no less evident, however, in the "nickel-plated Louis XV chassis" on which Duchamp "mounts" his beloved-of-youth (if, perhaps, then G-Rated) Chocolate Grinder (DDS 97; WMD 68). For "she"--"[La] Broyeuse de chocolat" [The Chocolate Grinderess], as Duchamp calls her, already a very strangely marked type of what would simply appear to be "un broyeur"--ain't no lady. Not only is she "montée" [mounted] to her chassis, but how she is "montée" [hung]. Indeed, that Louis XV decor should ever have such Size-Queen-Anne "legs" (Fig. 27)--formidable! The only difference, then, between the Coffee Mill's knobbed "handle" and the Chocolate Grinder's cabriole "legs" is whether the body of the mechanomorphic apparatus prefers to crown itself at top with a time-lapse whirligig of lesser phalli, or to ride them instead like so many carousel horses: the casters with which, in a sheerly gratuitous gesture even for Duchamp, he supplies the second Chocolate Grinder's "legs".

But for all her great good luck, just like the modus (non) operandi of the Large Glass "Bride", the Chocolate Grinder's is also the tale of an affection she does not exactly requite, as Duchamp describes:

sur un châssis Louis XV = sur un[e] chasse: il lui quinze
during the chase: fifteen times [she]

nickelé = niques, elles, [f]ait
thumbs that nose of hers at him

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Figure 28
Salvador Dalí, Persistence of Memory, 1931
Yet the perhaps ball-busting Chocolate Grinder is no lady in this sense as well. For the viciously-circular bodily metaphor she figures is, in itself, an endlessly-sweeping clockwork metaphor: a sort of sexual end-game gone terribly wrong and instead become a waiting-game--or, more to the point, a kind of Crying Game (as in "Le Pendu Femelle" after all...). Thus the "circularity" of the Coffee Mill and Chocolate Grinder refers not only to the not-so-merry-go-round of onanism--"éternullité", as Jules Laforgue says in his vein splittingly funny way(38)--but also to the circular movement of a clock, as does "Le Pendu Femelle" which is both "femelle" [la "pendu...le" = clock], yet grammatically masculine ["le pendu...le" = pendulum]. Indeed, the so-called first "Blossoming" of the "Bride"--which, in the upper register of the Large Glass, includes "Le Pendu Femelle"--"should graphically aim", says Duchamp, "at a clockwork movement (electrical clocks in railway stations)... to develop[:] how best to express the throbbing jerk of the minute hand" (DDS 64; WMD 43). With its source, then, not only in the type of "rotation and sexual movement" which Bataille similarly identifies to locomotives, but also in the sort of clock we specifically find in "railway stations" -- in other words, in waiting rooms--"Le Pendu Femelle" indeed inaugurates the same countdown which Dalí's famous paean not just to time waiting to get hard, Persistence of Memory (1931) (Fig. 28), by contrast, indefinitely suspends.(39)

It is not only in relation to a clock, however, but also as another sort of measuring device, a "barometer", that Duchamp describes "Le Pendu Femelle". In a note entitled "In 'Le Pendu Femelle' -- and the Blossoming-Barometer", he explains: "The filament substance might lengthen or shorten in response to an atmospheric pressure organized by the wasp. (Filament substance extremely sensitive to differences of artificial atmospheric pressure controlled by the wasp)" (DDS 69; WMD 48). This "Blossoming", by contrast, is thus effected by two principal actors. First, there is the "baromètre" (i.e. "une barre à mettre"), of which Man Ray's Catherine Barometer (1920), as well as his portrait that year of Mina Loy (which prominently features a thermometer-earing), also create something on the order of phallic mood-rings.(40) Second, there is the "guêpe" [wasp]. However, the wasp is not only the grammatically invariable riposte -- "La Guêpe" (femelle) -- to "Le Pendu Femelle", but also it is the female of the wasp that has the poisonous stinger ["aiguillon"], which is itself a variant on the "minute hand" ["aiguille"] of the first "Blossoming", just as the former's venomous "sting" reiterates the latter's "throbbing jerk". No matter, then, whether we prefer to speak of a mercurial "barre" become "longue et rigide", as Le Robert defines it, or, instead, of a retractable "aiguillon". At issue, either way, is the same tumescence-inducing operation: whether of bar or stinger, a process of "lengthening or shortening" which, in response to "differences of pressure", the barometer and the wasp can bring to bear more or less at will. Although Duchamp's "Blossoming" perhaps parallels the undisclosed inner workings of Woody Allen's famous "Orgasmatron", we can be certain that it does parallel the tumescence-inducing "mechanical woman whose vagina, contrived of mesh springs and ball bearings, would be contractile, [and] possibly self-lubricating", which Duchamp once proposed to erect.(41) >>Next



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32. Bruno Bettelheim, The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self (N.Y.: Free Press, 1967) 304. On the "autism" of Duchamp's works -- including their conceptual relationship, in this sense, to Bettelheim's "Joey" -- see Rosalind Krauss, "Notes on the Index: Part 1", in The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T., 1985) 199-200; Annette Michelson, "'Anemic Cinema': Reflections on an Emblematic Work", Artforum, vol. 12, no. 2 (Oct. 1973): 64-69. See also Robert Lebel, Marcel Duchamp, trans. George Hamilton (N.Y.: Grove Press, 1959) 30, where he describes Duchamp as "entrenched in an 'autism' which leaves no possible ambiguity".

33. Cf. my "Meret Oppenheim -- or, These Boots Ain't Made For Walking", Art History, vol. 24, no. 3 (June 2001): 358-78.

34. Francis Naumann, Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Making Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (Ghent: Ludion Press, 1999) 40-41, 57 (n. 2), where he suggests that Bilboquet might be a souvenir of a bordello visit, or perhaps of a circus act in which "La Femme Bilboquet" was no less suggestively catapulted across the stage onto a projecting spire. Interestingly, Steven Harris reads Claude Cahun's and Man Ray's use of the bilboquet in the 1930s as "[playing] on castration in the detachability of cup and ball". "Coup d'oeil", Oxford Art Journal, vol. 24, no. 1 (2001): 103.

35. Roberts, "Interview with Marcel Duchamp", p. 63

36. Bettelheim, The Empty Fortress, p. 304.

37. On the Large Glass "Bride" as automobile, see n. 73, herein.

38. See Golding, Marcel Duchamp, p. 25.

39. Duchamp's La Pendule de Profil (1964) is exactly "Le Pendu Femelle" both become a clock [une "pendu...le"] (cf. DDS 47; WMD 31), yet one which, according to Duchamp, "no longer tells the time" (Arturo Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp (NY: Delano Greenidge Editions, 2000) 845).

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Figure 29
Marcel Duchamp, Why Not Sneeze Rose Sélavy, 1921

40. Duchamp's Why Not Sneeze Rose Sélavy (1921) (Fig. 29) materializes the same cold, dry conditions which Man Ray's Catherine Barometer parodies: the former, created for Dorothea Dreier; the latter, as a joke at the expense of her sister Katherine. Thus, the cold-as-marble cubes, which Duchamp includes, are unable to cause the thermometer even to rise, let alone to create the sort of tickle which only a good sneeze (or another spasm, also of the involuntary sort) can hope to relieve. To its coldness, the cuttlebone [cuttlefish = "seiche"], which Duchamp also includes, merely adds a sense of aridity ["sèche"] and, in this way, doubly describes both the object's patron [Dreier = drier] and its title subject: "Voici le domaine de Rrose Sélavy / Comme il est aride -- Comme il est fertile -- Comme il est joyeux -- Comme il est triste" [Here's where love lives. How dry it is -- and fertile. How joyous it is -- and sad]. Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, p. 900 (n. 23). Cf. Albrecht Dürer's Melencolia I (1514), where the melancholic elk and its referent in black bile also symbolize the artistic process as essentially "cold and dry".

41. Calvin Tomkins, Duchamp: A Biography (N.Y.: Henry Holt, 1996) 276, quoting Julien Levy, Memoir of an Art Gallery (1977).

Figs. 20-27, 29

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