Opposition and Sister Squares: Marcel Duchamp and Samuel Beckett.
Bath Spa University, UK.
Paris in the 1930s
Samuel Beckett first encountered Marcel Duchamp in Paris during the 1930s. Something of the familiarity of their relationship may be deduced from this casual remark in a letter to George Reavey, written in 1938:
I am halfway through a modified version in French of Love and Lethe. I don’t know if it is better than the English version or merely as bad. I have 10 Poems in French also, mostly short, When I have a few more I shall send them to Éluard. Or get Duchamp to do it. (ed. Fehsenfeld and Overbeck, 2009, 645).
Some relief from the pressures of writing Murphy came from playing chess. Marcel Duchamp seems to have been an occasional opponent during this period. Deirdre Bair cites Kay Boyle, Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia, Josette Hayden, and an anonymous Irish writer and friend of Beckett, in recording that:
The 1930s marked a period of tranquillity, contentment, and artistic achievement for [Mary] Reynolds. Her relationship with Duchamp had settled into a comfortable intimacy. Her creativity and binding production were at their highest levels. She held an open house almost nightly at her home at 14, rue Hallé, with her quiet garden the favored spot after dinner for the likes of Duchamp, Brancusi, Man Ray, Breton, Barnes, Guggenheim, Éluard, Mina Loy, James Joyce, Jean Cocteau, Samuel Beckett, and others. (Godlewski, 2001, 12).
Murphy reflects this sense of detached engagement. The celebrated chess game in which Mr Endon methodically moves his pieces out, then moves them back to their starting positions, irrespective of Murphy’s own moves, is both dadaistically absurd and surreal, while at the same time fitting neither of those descriptors exactly. The detached and remorseless logic of Mr Endon himself, whose chess-playing is described as his ‘one frivolity’, also seems somewhat Duchampian in character:
Endon was a schizophrenic of the most amiable variety, at least for the purposes of such a humble and envious outsider as Murphy. The langour in which he passed his days while deepening now and then to the extent of some charming suspension of gesture, was never so profound as to inhibit all movement. His inner voice did not harangue him, it was unobtrusive and melodious, a gentle continuo in the whole consort of his hallucinations. The bizarrerie of his attitudes never exceeded a stress laid on their grace.
Chapter Six, which is devoted to the split between Murphy’s mind and his body, reminds one of Duchamp’s finding a way out of ‘retinal’ painting and into conceptual art and thence to chess. Duchamp famously sought to put art at the service of the mind and eschewed the physicality of ‘retinal’ painting, by adopting a ‘neutral’ style, by eliminating backgrounds from his work, by removing evidence of the artist’s hand, and finally by giving up the making of art altogether. His celebrated pursuit of the beauty of aesthetic indifference, expressed most strongly in the readymades, was also a quest for freedom: from taste, from the art world, from choice. He consciously worked within the concept of liberty that this afforded him, describing himself as a Cartesian whose ideal was the logic of chess:
Beckett also made a link between indifference and freedom in Murphy:
All this leads to Murphy’s death. Soon after he has become a warden at the Magdalen Mental Mercyseat, he procures, with the help of the poet, Ticklepenny, the garret of his dreams. It is an attic with a single skylight that is isolated from the rest of the house. Its only drawback is that it lacks heating. While Murphy is out, Ticklepenny rigs up a contraption whose Duchampian characteristics are uncanny, consisting of a radiator that must be connected to the gas by glass tubing that flows from a WC on the floor below.
Thus the WC resembles the Bachelor Machine, powered by a waterfall, regulated by a ballcock (in the Glass it is a bottle of Benedictine) which rises and falls by means of a hook arrangement (just as the jet is turned on by a double chain and ring). The connecting tubes function like the capillary tubes of the lower domain of the Glass. The radiator, with its apparent defiance of ignition, suggests the cool Bride whose desire magneto (coils) has to be excited before she becomes aroused/hot. The skylight evokes the Moving Inscription, allowing Murphy to look out at the stars (i.e. the Milky Way). The Illuminating Gas, powered by the Waterfall, animates the whole and brings warmth to the garret.
And what of Murphy and his imminent doom? We are already aware of his status as confirmed bachelor. We are also aware of the intensity of his longing to achieve the Endon state. Murphy resembles one of the nine ‘shots’ drilled through the Large Glass: a foreign body in the purity of the Bride, a hole in a pane of glass, a nothingness within a nothing. As he returns to the quarters of the male nurses (who, of necessity, all live below the garret) he strips bare. He leaves behind his uniform (in Duchampian parlance, his ‘malic mould’) and becomes undiluted, uncontained Gas. This loss of form and identity is shown by his inability to conjure up any images. He has become as transparent as the Glass which surrounds him. Seated in his rocking-chair (whose motion apparently resembles that of the Glider) he perceives the radiator (the Bride) before penetrating the Glass, shot through to ‘…the freedom of that light and dark that did not clash, nor fade nor lighten except to their communion.’
The consequent fireball seems to be more orgasm than apotheosis, more petit mort than Big Bang. Murphy confirms the volatile nature of the gas of which he becomes a part in his Duchamp-like proposition that ‘Chaos’ is the etymological origin of the word ‘Gas’. Now, ironically, the WC is ‘lit by electricity’, just like the Large Glass depicted in the drawing Cols Alités of 1959. The causalité that leads from Endon to the shattered skylight is the same that leads from opening move to checkmate.
Of course, none of these parallels is supported by any corroborating evidence, either in Beckett’s correspondence, or Duchamp’s writings, or in the critical literature. Yet, it does seem curious that, at a moment when chess dominates the novel, such Duchampian resonances should appear. Perhaps it is merely a matter of a certain zeitgeist which Duchamp and Beckett both succeeded in capturing, or perhaps it goes deeper than that. What is beyond doubt, however, is that the two men were about to begin a brief but meaningful association in which chess was the driving force.
Accounts vary somewhat as to the extent of the presence of Mary Reynolds in Arcachon during this period. According to James Knowlson, it was ‘thanks to her kindness and generosity’ that the couple were able to find a room and, with the help of a loan from Valéry Larbaud, then to rent a house overlooking the sea: the Villa Saint-Georges, 135 bis Boulevard de la Plage (Knowlson, 1996, 300). Susan Glover Godlewski, on the other hand, reveals that despite the best persuasive efforts of Marcel Duchamp, Reynolds stubbornly refused to leave Paris, reluctantly spending no more than perhaps a month’s vacation in Arcachon (Godlewski, 2001, 15). She certainly stayed in Paris throughout the war and was an active member of the Résistance. In a letter to her brother, dated August 7th 1941, she said that she spent much time ‘tracking down food and [giving] unorganized aid’ (Ibid. 15). This ‘aid’ was resistance work, for which she was later narrowly to avoid execution.
Whatever the truth, at some point the two couples were joined by a third, the painter Jean Crotti and his second wife, Duchamp’s sister, Suzanne. The main pastime of the three men was playing chess. Beckett was ‘delighted to find that, in one move, he had acquired two new chess partners.’ (Knowlson, 1996, 301). They played regularly in a seafront café. Crotti and Beckett seem to have been fairly well matched, but Duchamp, who was a leading chess master, was, according to Beckett, ‘always too good for him. Yet he said this with the quiet satisfaction of knowing that he had played against someone of that calibre.’ (Haynes and Knowlson, 2003, 13). Both men shared an enormous admiration for the great players, as this incident in Arcachon demonstrates:
Portrait of Chess Players
For Duchamp, it was ‘the imagining of the movement or the gesture that makes the beauty, in [chess]. It’s completely in one’s gray matter.’ (Cabanne, 1971, 18-19). It is often stated that he gave up art for chess on his return to Paris in 1923, and it is certainly true that playing chess dominated his existence from that time (despite the secret work on the posthumously revealed installation Etant Donnés). However, it is also clear that, for Duchamp, there was little distinction between art and chess. It was ‘a logical, or if you prefer, a Cartesian constant’ that was highly important to someone who famously wished to put painting ‘at the service of the mind’ (Sanouillet and Peterson, 1975, 125).
Duchamp began playing chess as a child and its presence in family life was depicted in the 1910 painting La Partie d’échecs (The Chess Game), which shows his two older brothers at the board while their wives take tea. Jacques Villon and Raymond Duchamp-Villon were the subjects once again of the Portrait de joueurs d’échecs (Portrait of Chess Players) of 1911, but Duchamp’s style had already moved on from the earlier influence of Cézanne to a reinterpretation of Cubism that was to culminate later the same year in the Nu Descendant un escalier (Nude Descending a Staircase). Duchamp commented:
The readymades, ‘found’ objects that most epitomised this indifference, also contained allusions to chess, most notably in Trébuchet (Trap)(1917), which consists of a coat rack nailed to the floor, its four hooks uppermost. The title is a reference to this equally spiky, yet salutary, chess position (Figure 1):
Figure 1: Le Trébuchet (The Trap)
If Black is to play, he wins the opposing pawn by:
1. … f4-e3
2. b5-c5 e3-e4.
It would be wrong to play
1. … f4-e4
and White wins the pawn.
In the same year, he saw Raymond Roussel playing chess at a nearby table in the Café de la Régence, but he did not have the courage to introduce himself. The influence of Roussel on the Large Glass has been well documented (Henderson 1998) and the presence of his poetic method (derived from plays on words) may be detected throughout Duchamp’s oeuvre, including the readymades and the alter ego Rrose Sélavy. Along with Alfred Jarry and Jean-Pierre Brisset, Roussel provided much of the literary underpinnings of Duchamp’s art. The fact that Roussel was also a leading chess player, who had published a celebrated solution to the difficult mate with a Bishop and a Knight alone, explains Duchamp’s nervousness at the encounter.
Duchamp took part in his last major international chess tournament in 1933, in Folkestone, England, but continued to play correspondence chess, serving as captain of the French team, in which role he remained undefeated.
Beckett shared Duchamp’s passion for chess, if not his playing ability. He (Beckett) was inspired by his uncle Howard, who had the rare distinction of having beaten Capablanca (later to become world champion) during an exhibition match in Dublin before the First World War (Knowlson, 1996, 9). Beckett also greatly admired Capablanca, whose extremely lucid playing style and influential books emphasized the importance of the endgame as the essence of chess. Beckett played enthusiastically during his schooldays and at university and, as we have seen, throughout his life, never losing an opportunity for a game. He had an extensive library of chess books, and explicitly based certain aspects of his writings on the game, most notably, of course, in Murphy and Endgame, although allusions to it appear as early as 1929 in the short story ‘Assumption’.
Opposition and Sister Squares are reconciled
L’opposition et les cases conjuguées sont reconciliées was published in Paris and Brussels (Editions de l’Echiquier, 1932) in a limited edition. Few copies were sold, and Francis M. Naumann records that, late into his life, Duchamp “kept most of the edition in a closet, giving copies away to friends whenever he thought the gift appropriate” (Naumann and Bailey 2009, 22). The book’s design and its use of chess terminologies are both somewhat unusual for a chess textbook, and clearly resonate with themes in Duchamp’s artwork. So, for example, the illustrations frequently divide the chessboard across the middle using a dotted line as a ‘hinge’, self-consciously echoing the division of the Large Glass into two panels. To compound the allusion, eight of these ‘hinged pictures’, as Duchamp called the Large Glass (Sanouillet and Peterson, 1975, 27), are printed on transparent paper so that they may be folded to make the two principal domains correspond exactly. Here we see one variation of the instruction that was eventually to be included in the Green Box of 1934: ‘develop the principle of the hinge’.
The chess argument depends on two well-known properties that become highly important in the endgame, but Duchamp’s choice of terminologies may have had a wider significance than just their chess usage. His preference for the term ‘sister’ squares (in English) over the more commonly used ‘corresponding’ squares may be a nod towards Suzanne.The term ‘opposition’, while it does not figure much as a word in Duchamp’s notes, nevertheless occurs throughout his work as a theme, as is best exemplified by the relationship between Bride and Bachelors, in the two panels of the Glass, which are then ‘reconciled’ by the operations of that imaginary technology. The word ‘domain’ occurs particularly in the Green Box with reference to the two panels of the Glass. The ‘passage’ of the White King from secondary to principal domain echoes the passage of the Virgin to the Bride (as depicted in the canvas of that title of 1912). The principle of the opposition in chess is as follows:
Figure 2: The Opposition
Figure 3: Virtual Opposition
To reach a full understanding of how all this might have influenced Endgame requires a knowledge of Duchamp and Halberstadt’s book. What follows is an illustrative account of one of the positions used by the authors to illustrate their thesis. The position was composed by Emmanuel Lasker and Gustavus Charles Reichelm, and first published in the Chicago Tribune in 1901, and is still occasionally used today.
Figure 4: Lasker-Reichelm, 1901
To prevent White’s King from occupying g5, Black’s King must arrive at g6 on the move after White’s reaches h4, forcing him to retreat. White, therefore, must reach h4 whilst Black is still at e8 or e7 (i.e. he is two files ahead of Black). Likewise, to prevent White from occupying b5, Black must occupy a6 or b6 on the move after White’s to c4. However, if Black chooses a6, White will be two files ahead in a race to the other pole and so Black can only prevent penetration on b6.
Figure 5: Routes
Figure 6: Sister Squares
The two domains have the property of ‘superposition by folding’ along the hinge a5-h5. For the coincidence to be perfect, one must move the Black domain one square to the right. This fact enables us to establish a law of heterodox opposition for this position: a7 and b3 (squares D) are in heterodox opposition because the two squares are equidistant from the hinge and on right hand neighbour files. Thus the general formula for heterodox opposition in the principal domains is as follows: without the move, the White King has the heterodox opposition when he occupies, on a right hand adjacent file to the file occupied by the Black King, a square of opposite colour to that occupied by the latter.
Let us suppose that the White King occupies b2 (i.e. square F in his principal domain) and he has the heterodox opposition to Black (who has the move) positioned on his own F (a8). The authors examine three possible replies for Black: 1) 1. … a8-a7; 2) 1. …a8-b7; 3) 1. …a8-b8. Of these, the second rapidly transmutes into the first.
1st Variation, after 1. …a8-a7
b2-b3 (White retains the heterodox opposition and the threat of reaching A in one move)
2. …a7-b7 (forced to remain one square from A)
3. b3-c3 (still has heterodox opposition and threat on A)
3. …b7-c7 (forced. If he plays b7-a7, White will have the two file advantage to O)
4. c3-d3 (still has heterodox opposition and threat on A)
4. … any (Black is now forced to abandon his control of A, as any move to the left will
give White a two file advantage to O. White now occupies A and wins).
Becomes 1st Variation, e.g.
2. b2-c3 etc.
3rd Variation, after 1. …a8-b8
2. b2-c2 (takes the heterodox opposition)
2. …b8-c8 (to keep White King as far as possible from A)
3. c2-d2 (retains the heterodox opposition)
3. …c8-d8 (Black cannot turn back because White will gain the two file advance. The first variation showed that …c8-c7 would be a win for White)
4. d2-c3 (White breaks the opposition, threatening to reach A in one move)
4 …d8-c7 (forced to protect A)
5. c3-d3 (reverting to the first variation, and White wins).
Figure 7: White’s Secondary Domain
If Black replies 1. … a7-b7 (avoiding F and E which would allow White to enter his principal domain with the heterodox opposition, at the corresponding sister square), then White must play 2. bl-cl (D’-C’), retaining the secondary heterodox opposition.
Now Black must avoid squares F, E, G, which would allow White to enter his principal domain as before, so he plays 2. … b7-c7 (C-B).
White, as before, can only retain the secondary heterodox opposition, and must play 3.cl-dl (C’-B’).
Black cannot now play to C, E or A, because White will have the two file advantage to pole O. If he goes to c8 (G), White will enter his principal domain at d2, with the heterodox opposition, and win as we have seen. Black must play to the d file (the solution is the same for 3. …c7-d7 as 3. … c7-d8).
Now the White King can breach the opposition, by entering his principal domain at c2 (E), thereby preventing Black from taking the heterodox opposition at his sister E, and simultaneously threatening to reach c4 (A) in two moves.
Black must remain on the d file, since a move to G or B would enable White to take the heterodox opposition in the principal domain.
White replies 5. c2-c3 (E-C), remaining in breach of the opposition and threatening to reach A in one move.
Because of this, Black is forced to play 5. … (d)-c7 (C-B).
We have already seen how White will win once he has taken the heterodox opposition in the principal domain (e.g. 6. c3-d3).
The authors conclude their investigation into this position by giving a drawing variation, in order to show how ignorant play by White can ruin his chances of a win. In such a variation, Black is satisfied to take and hold the heterodox opposition, preventing penetration of his position.
Returning to the position of Figure 7 (the original position), let us assume that White foolishly plays 1. al-b2 (C’-F).
As Black has the move, he takes the heterodox opposition in the principal domain by playing 1. …a7-a8 (D-F). If the White King moves about in the principal domain, Black will follow him, always keeping the principal heterodox opposition, and will accompany him, one file behind, if he attempts to reach pole O. That is a draw. If White returns to al (C’), Black can take the secondary heterodox opposition in reverse at b7 (C).
From this, it is clear that White must leave the a-file on his first move (in the original position) and never return to it. An opening move of 1. al-a2 would lead to a draw, since Black would take the secondary heterodox opposition in reverse with the reply 1. …a7-b8 (D-E), leading to a drawn game.
In conclusion, it will be observed that the most Black can hope for is a draw. Given accurate play by White, Black can only succeed in delaying the progress of events.
It is this sense of frustration and despair, deriving from the inevitable decline of a chess game first identified in Murphy, but exaggerated at the hands of the idiot players (amongst whom, one suspects, Beckett might have numbered himself) who represent us all as we fail to grasp the hopelessness of our situation, that is a theme in much of Beckett’s work. The Cartesian mechanisms of chess always demand that choices are made; choices that gradually run out until, in the end, win or lose, there remain no more. Duchamp declared: ‘in art I came finally to the point where I wished to make no further decisions, decisions of an artistic order, so to speak’ (Judovitz, 2010, 109). Beckett applied the same principle to life itself.
It is interesting to note that the chess-playing protagonist of Eleuthéria is called ‘Victor’, which was the nickname given to Duchamp by Henri-Pierre Roché (the author of Jules et Jim), a close personal friend since before World War I. Roché’s unfinished novel of 1957, entitled Victor (Duchamp), is a character study. Caroline Cros observes:
VICTOR: I look out for my welfare, when I can.
GLAZIER: Your welfare! What welfare?
VICTOR: My freedom.
GLAZIER: Your freedom! It is beautiful, your freedom. Freedom to do what?
VICTOR: To do nothing.
Either way, its unique characteristics may be detected in the structuring of the drama, in the staging, and in some key points of dialogue. The endgame position itself is, as Duchamp himself pointed out, ‘so rare as to be nearly Utopian’ (Cabanne, 1971, 78). It almost has the status of a philosophical proposition of great theoretical purity. It is full of ironies, indeed of potential horrors. This is not just any endgame: it is the endgame to end all endgames.
The frustrations of the position described above finds expression in the way in which Black (Hamm) haphazardly delays and thwarts White (Clov). Identification of these two characters with their respective chess colours is made easy by the symbolic attributes of both: Hamm is blind, hence unaware; in a wheelchair, hence restricted; wearing dark glasses, hence ‘black’; Clov is knowing, mobile, and very frustrated.
Both the structure and content of the play echo this delayed peculiarity. Beckett’s response is poetic yet formal: the state of a player at the end of a long game. Hamm and Clov themselves represent both players and pieces (the Kings) and the whole play takes place at the next-to-end of the dramatic structure, which so strongly resembles the phases of a game of chess.
Hamm is desperate for the end of the game, yet unable to comprehend the geometry of the position: ‘Enough, it’s time it ended, in the refuge too. (Pause) And yet I hesitate, I hesitate to… to end.’
His opening cri de coeur resembles Duchamp’s note in the Green Box: ‘given that…. ; if I suppose I’m suffering a lot…’:
The play is set in a location by the sea, one where the outside world has crumbled away to nothingness. This setting is reminiscent of Arcachon and Europe under the Nazis. The opening description of the stage set and Clov’s actions establish the Duchamp/Halberstadt position. Grey light is reflected from the surface of a chessboard. The two windows represent the two poles of the position. This is confirmed later in the play when Clov looks through both windows and describes the scene for Hamm’s benefit: ‘Light black. From pole to pole.’ (‘Light black’ also describes the alternation of white and black squares).
The two ashbins, homes of Nagg and Nell, symbolize the immobile and redundant pawns. A picture with its face turned to the wall seems perhaps to echo Duchamp’s abandonment of painting for chess. When Clov removes the picture and replaces it with an alarm clock, the echo rings louder, since, from the audience’s point of view, the clock is seen from the side, a disposition which has a source in the Green Box:
The Clock in profile
and the Inspector of Space
Note: When a clock is seen from the side it no longer tells the time.
CLOV: Fit to wake the dead! Did you hear it?
CLOV: The end is terrific!
HAMM: I prefer the middle.
Clov’s opening movements and actions serve not only to map out the position, but also tell us that he understands it, since it is he who opens the curtains on the windows and looks through them. It is as though we are seeing enacted the thought-processes of the White player, as he analyses the position using Duchampian geometry. His opening speech makes clear the facts of his position, i.e. that he is waiting for Hamm/Black to move to a suitable square, enabling him (Clov) to enter his principal domain either with or in breach of the opposition.
The ensuing dialogue begins the cataloguing of the extraordinary relationship between the two characters, which finds its parallel in the minds of two chess-players. Each is dependent upon the other for his very existence, and some degree of union is achieved (via the chessboard), yet simultaneously they are engaged upon a struggle of mutual destruction. In this particular instance, the blind Hamm is aware of impending doom, but plays entirely by his feelings, whereas Clov, unable, due to his suppressed exasperation, to pity Hamm (suppressed by necessity since this is, after all, a game of chess), plays logically (‘I love order. It’s my dream’), hampered, indeed crippled, by Hamm’s lack of understanding. If Hamm understood, he would perceive that Clov also understood, and would resign forthwith. The relationship is summed up by the idée fixe:
HAMM: (anguished). What’s happening, what’s happening?
CLOV: Something is taking its course.
Clov, of course, cannot afford to reveal his knowledge to Hamm, even if such a thing were possible.
A further curious exchange acquires significance in the light of Duchamp:
HAMM: Why don’t you kill me?
CLOV: I don’t know the combination to the larder.
This exchange is followed by references to bicycle wheels which yet again call Duchamp to mind, and reminiscences of the recent middle-game, with its knights and pawns, of whom Nagg and Nell (who ‘crashed on our tandem and lost our shanks’) are two. During his conversation with them, Hamm reveals the depth of his feelings, confirming that he has ‘a heart in his head’ (a serious handicap for a chess player) and almost succeeds in eliciting our pity. He spoils everything with his cry: ‘My kingdom for a nightman.’
‘Nightman’ is a portmanteau-word containing the notion of a knight (i.e. a horse), black in colour (night) which will end the game in Black’s favour. As Hamm follows this futile wish with a desperate move, our suspicions of his inadequacies are confirmed. So desperate is he, in fact, that he takes comfort simply from the change of square (accomplished in the realm of the imagination, with the stage invisibly becoming the new square), and has Clov push him around its boundaries and back to the centre, straightening up fussily as a distracted chess-player (while saying ‘j’adoube’) might do with his King.
Clov quickly realises that the new move has not presented the winning opportunity (‘If I could kill him I’d die happy’) and, exasperatedly, has to help Hamm by looking through the two windows once again, but this time with a telescope. Since they describe the telescope as a ‘glass’, and they consider the view from two separate panes, one is once again unavoidably reminded of Duchamp. The blue sea and sky seen through one window, and the earth colours through the other, suggest the ‘Bride’ and ‘Bachelor’ panels of the Large Glass. The telescope also seems to owe something to the iconography of the Large Glass. Clov observes the audience through it, with the comment: ‘That’s what I call a magnifier.’ Duchamp included a maginfiying lens in the small glass To be looked at (from the other side of the glass) with one eye, close to, for almost an hour, and intended to include one in the Large Glass, in the position eventually occupied by the Mandala.
Clov’s lack of pity for Hamm becomes more understandable as the play proceeds; indeed, we share his frustration. In tones of whining, threatening bombast Hamm prevaricates, delays and digresses. In the end, he makes a complete fool of himself, wildly predicting that Clov will lie down, like a resigning King. Hamm is even hoping to Queen a pawn, that is to say, Mother Pegg, whose death he will not believe.
The culminating folly is his attempt to move with the aid of the gaff, an attempt which fails, and fails again towards the end of the play when he makes a last effort to understand the position. It is at this point that the spectre of Duchamp appears, in a form resembling Mr Endon:
HAMM: Do you know what’s happened?
CLOV: When? Where?
HAMM: (violently) When! what’s happened? Use your head, can’t you? What has happened?
CLOV: What for Christ’s sake does it matter?
HAMM: Before you go…(Clov halts near door)… say something.
CLOV: There is nothing to say.
HAMM: A few words…to ponder…in my heart.
CLOV: Your heart!
On the 10th January 1958, Marcel Duchamp and his wife Teeny attended the theatre in New York. In a letter to Henry McBride, he noted: ‘We saw, and loved, Endgame of Beckett.’ (Caumont and Gough-Cooper, 1993, 10-12 January).
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I. Duchamp’s column was published every Thursday from 1937 to the outbreak of war. Ce Soir was edited by Louis Aragon.
II. The shapes of the three Inscriptions in the Cinematic Blossoming of the Bride were created by suspending meter squares of delicate gauze or lace above a radiator (also in front of an open window), photographing the resulting movements in the rising heat, and carefully transcribing their outlines onto the Glass.
III. It should perhaps be put on record at this point that, in a conference on ‘Art and Chess’ at the Tate Gallery, London, in 1991, Mme. Teeny Duchamp, the artist’s widow, insisted that Marcel Duchamp had never played chess with Samuel Beckett. Quite what the motivation was for this denial is unclear, but the abundant evidence, however anecdotal, seems to contradict Teeny completely. She was herself a keen chess player, and had first met Duchamp in 1923. She married Pierre Matisse in 1929, and renewed her acquaintance with Marcel only in 1951, when they were married.
IV. Despite this history, Duchamp’s highest chess level was only Master (rather than Grandmaster). Out of nineteen tournament matches played between 1924 and 1933, his record was one win, eleven losses and seven draws.
V. In 1933, Duchamp translated Eugene Znosko-Borovsky’s book on chess openings into French, as Comment il faut commencer une partie d’échecs. This study of the other end of a chess game rather complements his own publication on endgames.
VI. Note that I have used the English, algebraic, square-naming chess notation, as opposed to the piece-naming system used by the authors.
VII. Roché began calling Duchamp ‘Victor’ after a dinner in New York on January 22nd, 1917 (Caumont and Gough-Cooper 1993, 21-22 January).
VIII. Further correspondence between the present author and Deirdre Bair has failed to reveal the identity of this ‘Irish writer’.
IX. In his famous essay on Endgame, Adorno suggests that Hamm’s name refers to a castrated Hamlet, with the consequent associations of melancholy and blackness.
X. This note, in turn, originates in Alfred Jarry’s Gestures and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician: ‘Why should anyone claim the shape of a watch is round – a manifestly false proposition -since it appears in profile as a narrow rectangular construction, elliptic on three sides; and why the devil should one only have noticed its shape at the moment of telling the time? – Perhaps under the pretext of utility. But a child who draws the watch as a circle will also draw a house as a square, as a facade, without any justification…’ (Shattuck and Watson Taylor, 1965, 193).