Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"The naming act was of greater import than the real origin"

Another funny story from Sloterdijk's book.

Marcel Duchamp spent the Christmas of 1919 with his family in Rouen. On the evening of December 27, shortly before he was about to board the SS Touraine in Le Havre to go to New York, he sought out a pharmacy in rue Blomet, where he convinced the pharmacist to pull a mid-sized vial from his sfelf, open the seal, empty its liquid contents and re-seal the bell-shaped container. Duchamp took the empty ampoule with him in his luggage and presented it to his hosts in New York, the collector couple Walter and Louise Arensberg, as a gift, explaining that because the wealthy couple already had everything, he wanted to bring them 50 cubic centimeters of Air de Paris. And thus it happened that a volume of French air made it onto the list of the first readymades. It apparently didn't concern Duchamp in the least that his readymade air-object was a counterfeit from the beginning, since it was not filled with Parisian air, but with that of a pharmacy in Le Havre. The naming act was of greater import than the real origin. Nevertheless, the "original" did still matter to him; when in 1949 a boy accidentally shattered the vial of "Parisian air" in Arensberg's collection, Duchamp had an obliging friend in Le Havre procure the same vial from the same pharmacy. (Peter Sloterdijk, Terror from the Air, Semiotext, 2009, trans. Amy Patton and Steve Corcoran, p.p.105-6)

No comments:

Post a Comment