The Private Worlds of Marcel Duchamp: Desire, Liberation, and the Self in Modern Culture
by Jerrold Seigel
Marcel Duchamp is a founding figure of twentieth-century art and culture, the common source to which many contemporary movements trace their roots. His career has often been celebrated for its contradictions and discontinuities, its disparate parts unified only by their assault on the traditions of art. Jerrold Seigel offers a wholly different view, revealing a web of interrelated themes that unify Duchamp's work and tie it to his life.At the book's center is a reinterpretation of the famous "readymades," of which the urinal "Fountain" and the defaced Mona Lisa were the most shocking. By recovering their history, Seigel shows that their playful and rebellious surface veiled the meanings that linked them to Duchamp's pictures (especially the famous "Large Glass," here illuminated by a comprehensive new reading) and to his experiments with language. The result gives the artist's career the unity of a colorful and intricate puzzle.Behind that puzzle were the great modernist themes of isolation, perpetuated desire, and the imagined dissolution of the self. These themes entered Duchamp's mind both from his social and cultural environment and from the shaping experience of his family; around them were woven the patterns of working and loving that Seigel uncovers in his life. Duchamp emerges not just as a coherent, understandable personality, but as an exemplary one, his very eccentricities reflecting essential dimensions of modern experience.A mythic presence in modern culture, a hero whose story we tell for the sake of its valuable lessons, Duchamp opened the floodgates to a sea of questions about the nature and meaning of art. Seigel demands that we think again about these questions, and about the answers that Duchamp's heirs and followers have tried to give to them.