gallery 24    
Katherine Sophie Dreier (1877-1952), title of painting not created yet

 



 

 

 

Interview with Marcel Duchamp*

(interviewer James Johnson Sweeney)

* James Nelson (ed.); Wisdom - Conversation with the Elder Wise Men of Our Day, W W·NORTON & Co. New York, 1958, pp. 89-99.

Marcel Duchamp outraged the American art concepts of 1913 with his "Nude Descending a Staircase"—first seen here in the revolutionary "Armory Show." His advocacy of modem. art in the United States is given large credit for its recognition here.
For this· conversation, Marcel Duchamp traveled, in late 1955, to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where thirty-five of his works are gathered in the Walter Arensberg Collection. His interviewer was James Johnson Sweeney, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Marcel Duchamp, talked directly at and about his paintings as he stood in front of them—"The Nude," "The Glass," "The Chocolate Grinder," and other paintings, and at his "ready-mades," and his valises—his portable museums. At first, this seemed like television—mostly pictures, and not for a book. But his conversation was too stimulating and droll, and his convictions too honest, to omit.

James Johnson Sweeney: So here you are, Marcel, looking· at your Big Glass.[1]
Marcel Duchamp: Yes, the more I look at it the more I like it. I like the breaks, the way they come, the cracks. You remember how the accident happened in 1926? It was in Brooklyn. They put the two panes on top of one another in a flat truck, flat—not knowing what they were carrying—and the glass bounced for sixty miles to Connecticut. The more I look at it the more I like the cracks. They are not like shattered glass; they have a shape. There is a symmetry in the cracking, the two cracks are symmetrically disposed. There is almost an intention here—a curious extra intention that I am not responsible for, an intention made by the piece itself, what I call a "ready-made" intention; and I respect that.
James Johnson Sweeney: The "Glass" was one of your biggest undertakings?
Marcel Duchamp: By far. I worked eight years on it. It is not finished. I do not know whether it will ever be finished: But I will show you some finished things—come along.
James Johnson Sweeney: There is "The Chocolate Grinder."
Marcel Duchamp: Yes, one of the two I made in that manner. The third one is on the glass itself.
James Johnson Sweeney: You had several versions of "The Nude Descending a Staircase" too, didn't you?
Marcel Duchamp: Yes, three; but this is the first one, the one that was shown at the Armory Show.
James Johnson Sweeney: The one the newspaperman called "an explosion in a shingle factory"?
Marcel Duchamp: Yes. That was really a great line he wrote. Next, here, is "The Boxing Match"—a drawing that I never used, in fact, for the glass. I felt it was not quite what I wanted.
James Johnson Sweeney: It must be a great satisfaction to you to have so many versions and so much of your work in one collection here in the Philadelphia Museum.
Marcel Duchamp: Wonderful! I always felt that showing one painting in one place and another in another place is just like amputating one finger each time, or a leg. Here I feel at home. This is my house. I have never had such a feeling of complete satisfaction.
James Johnson Sweeney: Marcel, where are your earlier works?
Marcel Duchamp: The earliest is this one in the corner—the church. That was done in my village, in 1902. I was fifteen. Then I went on.
James Johnson Sweeney: It is rather Impressionist, isn't it? That was the vogue?
Marcel Duchamp: Yes; it was the only thing we talked about. At that time it was advanced. But when you see these later two paintings, already Impressionism has gone down as a vogue. These later paintings are more structural. Cézanne had been recognized. Cézanne was the great man. I was influenced by Cézanne in those two paintings. These are my two brothers playing chess in their garden, and this is my father.
James Johnson Sweeney: The whole family were painters—your sister and brothers?
Marcel Duchamp: My one sister, Suzanne, paints, yes, but especially my brother, Jacques Villon, paints.
James Johnson Sweeney: Did they bring you into this style of impressionism?
Marcel Duchamp: No, no; that was on my own. It was in the air. My father was very helpful at that time. It was very difficult then, as it is now, to become a painter on your own. How can you expect to live, et cetera, et cetera? He was a good man.
James Johnson Sweeney: He looks patient—to have sat that portrait out. There seems to be quite a step between this and "The Nude Descending a Staircase."
Marcel Duchamp: "The Nude" was two years later, in 1912. It was after the portrait of my father that I decided to leave the obvious influences of before. I wanted to be living with my day; and my day was Cubism. In 1910, '11 and '12, Cubism was in its childhood. The approach was so different from the previous movements that I was very much attracted toward it. And I began being a Cubist painter. Finally, I came to "The Nude."
James Johnson Sweeney: "The Nude" had something of movement in it that the Cubists didn't seem to be interested in?
Marcel Duchamp: Yes. There was also Futurism at that time—the Italian Futurism. But I didn't know about it. The famous Futurist show in Paris was in January, 1912, when I was painting this, but I hadn't seen the show. There is a coincidence there. Of course, you might say Futurism was in the air, but I didn't intimately know the Futurists. I did this painting with the idea of using movement as one of the elements. The following year I sent it to America at the invitation of the American painters, Arthur Davies and Walter Pach.
James Johnson Sweeney: It was. an event in American history.
Marcel Duchamp: At that moment, "The Nude" might have been an explosion; it might have enjoyed a successful week or ten days —then finished and good-by. But we know the painting forty years later. After "The Nude," I had done what I could with Cubism, in my opinion. Immediately I wanted to change. The idea was to change; not to repeat myself. I could have done ten "Nudes," probably, at that time if I wanted to. I decided not to do that. A discussion of that probably will come later. But I went, immediately, to another formula which is the formula of "The Chocolate Grinder." I was in Rouen, and one of the shops was showing, through the glass, a real natural chocolate grinder that the manufacturer had put in the window. It amused me so much that I took it as a point of departure.
James Johnson Sweeney: What was different in your point of view than in any normal still life of a chocolate grinder? Was it a mechanical interest, is that it?
Marcel Duchamp: Of course, the mechanical side of it influenced me. At least, it was the point of departure for a new technique. I couldn't go into haphazard drawing or the splashing of the paint. I wanted to go back to a completely dry drawing, to a dry conception of art. The mechanical drawing, for me, was the best form of that dry form of art. Accuracy, precision—nothing more.
James Johnson Sweeney: Any chance values?
Marcel Duchamp: Chance is another question. This drawing could not be liked by all the people who like Impressionism. It was a new decision by me to get away even from Cubism; after a year of that. "The Chocolate Grinder" was the real beginning for the large glass.
James Johnson Sweeney: At the time you did the glass, there was no notion of what was coming?
Marcel Duchamp: No. But I had already begun to make a definite plan for the whole glass. The chocolate grinder was one point, and then the sliding machine on the side. All the glass was imagined and was drawn in 1913 and 1914, on paper. It was based on a perspective view, meaning complete control of the placement of things. It couldn't be haphazard or changed afterwards. It had to go through according to plan, so to speak.
James Johnson Sweeney: I imagine you feel that "The Chocolate Grinder" heralded something in your work, something of that break you have often told me about?
Marcel Duchamp: It was really a very important moment in my life. I had to make great decisions then. I made a great one by saying to myself, "No more painting, you get a job." I looked for a job in order to get enough time to paint the kind of painting I really wanted to do. I got a job as a librarian in Paris in the Bibliothèque Ste.-Geneviève. It was a wonderful job because I had so many hours to myself.
James Johnson Sweeney: You mean you had time free to paint for yourself, not merely to please other people?
Marcel Duchamp: Exactly. That experience at the library led me to the conclusion that you either are a professional painter or not. There are two kinds of artists: the artist who deals with society, who is integrated with society; and the other artist, the completely freelance artist, who has nothing to do with it—no bonds.
James Johnson Sweeney: You mean the man in society has. to make certain compromises to please society and to live. Is that why you took the job?
Marcel Duchamp: Exactly, exactly. I didn't want to depend on my painting for a living.
James Johnson Sweeney: Didn't you have a certain income from your father?
Marcel Duchamp: Enough to live, if you want to say that, yes. My father was very nice about that; he always helped us along.
James Johnson Sweeney: All three of you?
Marcel Duchamp: All three of us. Yes, long after we were of age. And he had a very funny idea. He said, "All right, I will give you what you want but don't forget, you are three sisters and three brothers — so, whatever you get during my lifetime you will not get after my death as an inheritance." So, all these sums that he had added carefully were deducted, subtracted, from what we got after his death, you see. It was a very amusing French idea.
James Johnson Sweeney: Marcel, when you speak of your disregard for the broad public and say that you are painting for yourself, wouldn't you accept that as meaning you are painting for the ideal public — for a public which should appreciate you If they would only make the effort to?
Marcel Duchamp: Yes, indeed. It is only a way of expressing myself — of putting myself in the right position for that ideal public. The danger for me is to please an immediate public — the immediate public that comes around you, and takes you in, and accepts you, and gives you success, and everything. Instead of that, I would rather wait for a public that will come fifty years — a hundred years-after — my death. It is the ideal public — the right public — that, I want.
James Johnson Sweeney: It is a rather aesthetic attitude. But I don't think you ever felt that an artist is justified in retiring to an ivory tower and disregarding the intelligent and sympathetic public.
Marcel Duchamp: No, it is not an ivory tower I'm thinking about at all. I know there are people today who understand my work.
James Johnson Sweeney: I remember a line in an article by Henri Pierre Rochet in which he referred to you, saying that you were always careful to find a way to contradict yourself. I imagine you mean you were trying to avoid repeating yourself. Is this right?
Marcel Duchamp: You see, the danger is to lead yourself into a form of taste, even in "The Chocolate Grinder" —
James Johnson Sweeney: Taste, then, is something that repeats something else that has been accepted. Is that what you mean?
Marcel Duchamp: Exactly; it is a habit. It is a repetition of the same thing long enough to become taste. If you refuse to imitate yourself I mean after you have done something, then it stays as a thing by itself. But if it is repeated a number of times it becomes a taste, a style, if you want.
James Johnson Sweeney: Good taste seems to be what is approved and bad taste is some repetition which is not approved. Is that what you mean?
Marcel Duchamp: Good or bad is not really the question because always what is good for one is bad for another.
James Johnson Sweeney: How did you find the way to get away from good or bad taste in your personal expression?
Marcel Duchamp: By knowing the technique — the mechanical technique — where no taste is possible. A mechanical drawing could have no taste in It. There was no style involved.
James Johnson Sweeney: Because it was divorced from the conventional expression in painting?
Marcel Duchamp: Exactly. At least, I thought so at that time and I do think today the same way.
James Johnson Sweeney: Was it this divorce from human intervention in drawing or painting that led you to the idea of ready-mades?
Marcel Duchamp: Yes. It was a sort of conclusion or consequence of dehumanization of the work of art, to such a point that I came to the idea of the ready-mades. I call them ready-mades. Let me show you. This is a ready-made bird cage. If I seem to be having a hard time lifting the cage, it is because these cubes that fit the cage are not sugar. They are marble, and they weigh a ton. That was one of the elements that interested me when I made it. It is a "readymade" and the sugar is changed to marble. It is a sort of mythological effect. This, next, is a ready-made dating from 1916. It is a ball of twine between two plaques of copper and brass. Before I finished it, Walter Arensberg put something inside the ball. of twine. He never told me what it was. I didn't want to know. It was a sort of secret and it makes a noise. We call this a ready-made with a secret noise. Listen to it. I never know, I don't know, I will never know whether it is a diamond or a coin.
James Johnson Sweeney: You didn't meet Arensberg until you came to the United States, did you?
Marcel Duchamp: No. I came in 1915. That was my first meeting with him. Walter Pach took me to Arensberg's house, when I came off the boat. I had a very long-lived friendship with him.
James Johnson Sweeney: Was Arensberg himself a painter?
Marcel Duchamp: No, he was a poet. He was a poet connected with the school of the Imagists, in England.
James Johnson Sweeney: HD and Richard Aldington, and that group.
Marcel Duchamp: Yes. And they had a magazine here—with Alfred Kreymborg and Wallace Stevens—called Others.
James Johnson Sweeney: Didn't Arensberg publish some magazine himself, a magazine connected with your group, or your friends?
Marcel Duchamp: Yes, two amusing magazines. Each had only one issue, unfortunately. One was called Wrong, Wrong, and the other was called The Blind Man.
James Johnson Sweeney: They were Dadaist?
Marcel Duchamp: Yes, they were inspired by Dada.
James Johnson Sweeney: Was Dada more a literary movement perhaps?
Marcel Duchamp: Yes, it was more literary. It had more to do with plastic art as such, and did not concern itself with considerations of technique as had all the schools beforehand. In fact, Dada was a negation—a refusal· to accept anything like that, to deny the validity of theoretical interests. So, the Dadaism movement in Paris became completely literary. In fact, it became Surrealism in 1923. Dada brought together a group of people. But they did not stay together very long. After two years or three years, they had enough. They began fighting together; they hated each other. So, they dispersed and became another group assembled on the ashes of Dada: they became the Surrealists.
James Johnson Sweeney: But your group in America, I mean the Arensberg group, was associated with several other groups, wasn't it?
Marcel Duchamp: There was, for example, Katherine Dreier, who was also a patron of art. She started a museum called "Société Anonyme." It was a group formed to bring paintings from abroad ... to get a sort of communion of art from the two sides of modern art. It was quite successful.
James Johnson Sweeney: These several groups, I imagine, laid a certain foundation for an understanding of contemporary European art in this country, much before other institutions entered the field?
Marcel Duchamp: Yes. It was from then on that modern America was absolutely modern—art conscious; it never had happened before.
James Johnson Sweeney: Katherine Dreier owned your large glass which .we were looking at a little while ago?
Marcel Duchamp: Yes. At the time when the Arensbergs, who had the glass for a while, when it was almost finished—it never was finished—in 1920 and 1921—when they left New York for California they didn't want to take the glass along because it was too fragile to transport very easily. So Katherine Dreier bought it from them. She had it all the rest of her life.
James Johnson Sweeney: From what you say the glass was never really finished. It remains a sort of unfinished epic, as I see it.
Marcel Duchamp: Yes. The last time I worked on it was 1923.
James Johnson Sweeney: Also for me, it seems to indicate that you were never really dedicated to conventional painting in the ordinary sense of the word. You were happy enough to create this, you were happy enough to leave it. You were happy enough to use bottle racks as ready-mades, and to fill bird cages with marble to deceive those who thought it was sugar. I imagine that there is something broader in your concept of what art is than just painting. Is that what you feel yourself? I don't like to put words in your mouth, but I have often thought about it.
Marcel Duchamp: I considered painting as a means of expression, not an aim.
James Johnson Sweeney: One means of expression?
Marcel Duchamp: One means of expression instead of a complete aim for life ... the same as I consider that color is only a means of expression in painting. It should not be the last aim of painting. In other words, painting should not be only retinal or visual; it should have to do with the gray matter of our understanding, not alone the purely visual. It is that way with my life in general. I didn't want to pin myself down to one little circle. I have tried to be as general as I could. For example, that is what I did when I took up chess. Chess in itself is a hobby, is a game. Everybody can play chess. But I took it very seriously and enjoyed it because I found some common points between chess and painting. When you play a game of chess, it is like designing something or constructing some mechanism of some kind by which you win or lose. The competitive side of it has no importance. The thing itself is very very plastic. That is probably what attracted me in the game.
James Johnson Sweeney: Do you mean by that, chess for you is another form of expression?
Marcel Duchamp: At least it was another facet of the same kind of mental expression, intellectual expression—one small facet, if you want. But it had just enough difference from painting to make it another facet; and then to add to the body of my life.
James Johnson Sweeney: Marcel, you spent quite a bit of time in the late 1930's and the early 1940's on your valises? Do you regard them as a distinct personal expression also?
Marcel Duchamp: Absolutely. They are a new form of expression for me. I wanted a reproduction of the paintings that I loved so much in a small reduced form—in a small shape. How to do it, I didn't know. I thought of a book, which I didn't like. I thought of the idea of a box in which they would be mounted as in a .small museum, a portable museum, so to speak. This is it, this valise.
James Johnson Sweeney: They are a sort of ready-made help, as you call it.
Marcel Duchamp: Ready-made help, yes. See: .it opens this way. Practically all my work is in here. I think very few things are missing. You see this roto-relief here? It is a disk—a series; it is twelve different drawings that are based on this spiral—
James Johnson Sweeney: To be used on a gramophone or Victrola?
Marcel Duchamp: Yes, on a Victrola. When you turn these disks at a certain speed, like 331/3 turns a minute, you get the effect of a growing form such as a cone or corkscrew or spiral. But they are different drawings. This one, for example, is a glass. It doesn't look like a glass here but when it turns it comes up in third dimension. This one here, that is the Dada period—the Mona Lisa with the mustache and a goatee. That was of course a great iconoclastic gesture on my part, sacrilegious—blasphemous; all you want to say of it. But outside of that blasphemous gesture, I have other gestures of the same kind in the Dada period ... such as this check. I paid my dentist with this check which was an original check drawn on myself on no bank at all; and he accepted it. He was a very good sport and he accepted it. The funniest part of it is that ten·or fifteen years later I saw him again, and I bought the check back for my own collection. And there it is.
This drawing is about a gambling system—a system to win at Monte Carlo; to break the bank at Monte Carlo. Of course, I never broke any bank with it. I thought I had a system. I sold some shares to different people to raise some capital to try to break the bank in Monte Carlo.
James Johnson Sweeney: Did you undertake it?
Marcel Duchamp: Oh, I did. I sold a few shares, of course.
James Johnson Sweeney: But did you win anything?
Marcel Duchamp: No, I never won anything. Now, this is "The Boxing Match." As you see, the drawing is completely geometrical or mechanical because that was the period when I changed completely from splashing the paint on the canvas to an absolutely precise coordinated drawing; and with no relation to artistic handiwork. This drawing was supposed to be in the big glass but was never put in.
James Johnson Sweeney: People say you have not been painting lately.
Marcel Duchamp: I would, if I had the urge—if it came forth. I don't want to repeat what I have done before. I am searching only for a new idea. Maybe, tomorrow ...·
James Johnson Sweeney: I've heard you discuss the word "intellectual" from time to time.
Marcel Duchamp: As you know, I like to look at the intellectual side of things, but I don't like the word "intellect." For me intellect is too dry a word, too inexpressive. I like the word "belief." In general when people say "I know," they don't know, they believe. Well, for my part, I believe that art is the only form of activity in which man, as man, shows himself to be a true individual who is capable of going beyond the animal state. Art is an outlet toward regions which are not ruled by time and space. To live is to believe, that's my belief.

* James Nelson (ed.); Wisdom - Conversation with the Elder Wise Men of Our Day, W W·NORTON & Co. New York, 1958, pp. 89-99. [Regions which are not ruled by time and space. Edited version of "A Conversation with Marcel Duchamp," television interview conducted by James Johnson Sweeney, NBC, January 1956. The interview was filmed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Michel Sanouillet & Elmer Peterson (editors); The Essential Writings of Marcel Duchamp, Thames and Hudson, 1975, pp. 127-137.]

Notes:

[1] Editor's Note: The Big Glass, one of Marcel Duchamp's most important works, was the product of a decade's labor. The first sketches were drawn in 1913 and 1914, then were set aside. Little by little, Marcel Duchamp painted various motifs on the reverse side of the glass—a chocolate grinder and a sliding machine among them. The paintings were connected and strengthened by wires, then backed by tinfoil to protect them and to make them completely opaque. The glass was finally finished—Marcel Duchamp says: it was finally unfinished—in 1923. It was shown in Brooklyn for the first time m 1926. After the exhibition, en route to the Connecticut home of its owner, the glass was cracked. Marcel Duchamp repaired it and cemented the glass, cracks and all, between two panes of plate glass. This is the Big Glass in its present form—about 110 inches high by 70 inches wide (277.5 cm × 175.9 cm) —and in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.



BIBLIOGRAPHIES


 



Marcel Duchamp
The Great Trouble with Art in This Country*

* From an interview with James Johnson Sweeney, The Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art, Vol. XIII, no. 4-5, 1946, pp. 19-21.

The great trouble with art in this country at present, and apparently in France also, is that there is no spirit of revolt—no new ideas appearing among the younger artists. They are following along the paths beaten out by their predecessors, trying to do better what their predecessors have already done. In art there is no such thing as perfection. And a creative lull occurs always when artists of a period are satisfied to pick up a predecessor's work where he dropped it and attempt to continue what he was doing. When on the other hand you pick up something from an earlier period and adapt it to your own work an approach can be creative. The result is not new; but it is new insomuch as it is a different approach.

Art is produced by a succession of individuals expressing themselves; it is not a question of progress. Progress is merely an enormous pretension on our part. There was no progress for example in Corot over Phidias. And "abstract" or "naturalistic" is merely a fashionable form of talking-today. It is no problem: an abstract painting may not look at all "abstract" in 50 years.

During the other war life among the artists in New York was quite different-much more congenial than it has been during these last few years. Among the artists there was much more cohesion—much closer fellowship, much less opportunism. The whole spirit was much different. There was quite a bit of activity, but it was limited to a relatively small group and nothing was done very publicly. Publicity always takes something away. And the great advantage in that earlier period was that the art of the time was laboratory work; now it is diluted for public consumption.

The basis of my own work during the years just before coming to America in 1915 was a desire to break up forms—to "decompose" them much along the lines the cubists had done. But I wanted to go further—much further—in fact in quite another direction altogether. This was what resulted in Nude Descending a Staircase, and eventually led to my large glass, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even.

The idea of the Nude came from a drawing which I had made in 1911 to illustrate Jules Laforgue's poem Encore à cet astre. I had planned a series of illustrations of Laforgue's poems but I only completed three of them. Rimbaud and Lautréamont seemed too old to me at the time. I wanted something younger. Mallarmé and Laforgue were closer to my taste—Laforgue's Hamlet, particularly. But perhaps I was less attracted by Laforgue's poetry than by his titles. Cornice agricole, when written by Laforgue, becomes poetry. "Le soir, le piano" —no one else could have written this in his time.

In the drawing Encore à cet astre the figure is, of course, mounting the stairs. But while working on it, the idea of the Nude, or the title—I do not recall which—first came to my mind. I eventually gave the sketch to F. C. Torrey of San Francisco who bought the Nude Descending a Staircase from the 1913 New York Armory Show.

No, I do not feel there was any connection between the Nude Descending a Staircase and futurism. The futurists held their exhibition at the Galerie Bernheim Jeune in January 1912. I was painting the Nude at the same time. The oil sketch for it, however, had already been done in 1911. It is true I knew Severini. But I was working quite by myself at the time—or rather with my brothers. And I was not a cafe frequenter. Chrono-photography was at the time in vogue. Studies of horses in movement and of fencers in different positions as in Muybridge's albums were well known to me. But my interest in painting the Nude was closer to the cubists' interest in decomposing forms than to the futurists' interest in suggesting movement, or even to Delaunay's Simultaneist suggestions of it. My aim was a static representation of movement—a static composition of indications of various positions taken by a form in movement—with no attempt to give cinema effects through painting.

The reduction of a head in movement to a bare line seemed to me defensible. A form passing through space would traverse a line; and as the form moved the line it traversed would be replaced by another line—and another and another. Therefore I felt justified in reducing a figure in movement to a line rather than to a skeleton. Reduce, reduce, reduce was my thought; —but at the same time my aim was turning inward, rather than toward externals. And later, following this view, I came to feel an artist might use anything—a dot, a line, the most conventional or unconventional .symbol—to say what he wanted to say. The Nude, in this way, was a direct step to the large glass, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even. And in the King and Queen painted shortly after the Nude there are no human forms or indications of anatomy. But in it one can see where the forms are placed; and for all this reduction I would never call it an "abstract" painting ...

Futurism was an impressionism of the mechanical world. It was strictly a continuation of the Impressionist Movement. I was not interested in that. I wanted to get away from the physical aspect of painting. I was much more interested in recreating ideas in painting. For me the title was very important, l was interested in making painting serve my purpose, and in getting away from the physicality of painting. For me Courbet had introduced the physical emphasis in the XIXth century. I was interested in ideas—not merely in visual products. I wanted to put painting once again at the service of the mind. And my painting was, of course, at once regarded as "intellectual," "literary" painting. It was true I was endeavoring to establish myself as far as possible from "pleasing" and "attractive" physical paintings. That extreme was seen as literary. My King and Queen was a chess king and queen.

In fact until the last hundred years all painting had been literary or religious: it had all been at the service of the mind. This characteristic was lost little by little during the last century. The more sensual appeal a painting provided—the more animal it became—the more highly it was regarded. It was a good thing to have had Matisse's work for the beauty it provided. Still it created a new wave of physical painting in this century or at least fostered the tradition we inherited from the XIXth century masters.

Dada was an extreme protest against the physical side of painting. It was a metaphysical attitude. It was intimately and consciously involved with "literature." It was a sort of nihilism to which I am still very sympathetic. It was a way to get out of a state of mind—to avoid being influenced by one's immediate environment, or by the past: to get away from clichés—to get free. The "blank" force of Dada was very salutary. It told you "don't forget you are not quite so blank as you think you are!" Usually a painter confesses he has his landmarks. He goes from landmark to landmark. Actually he is a slave to landmarks—even to contemporary ones.

Dada was very serviceable as a purgative. And I think I was thoroughly conscious of this at the time and of a desire to effect a purgation in myself. I recall certain conversations with Picabia along these lines. He had more intelligence than most of our contemporaries. The rest was either for or against Cezanne. There was no thought of anything beyond the physical side of painting. No notion of freedom was taught. No philosophical outlook was introduced. The cubists, of course, were inventing a lot at the time. They had enough on their hands at the time not to be worried about a philosophical outlook; and cubism gave me many ideas for decomposing forms. But I thought of art on a broader scale. There were discussions at the time of the fourth dimension and of non-Euclidean geometry. But most views of it were amateurish. Metzinger was particularly attracted. And for all our misunderstandings through these new ideas we were helped to get away from the conventional way of speaking—from our cafe and studio platitudes.

Brisset and Roussel were the two men in those years whom I admired for their delirium of imagination. Jean-Pierre Brisset was discovered by Jules Romains through a book he picked up from a stall on the quais. Brisset's work was a philological analysis of language—an analysis worked out by an incredible network of puns. He was a sort of a Douanier Rousseau of philology. Romains introduced him to his friends. And they, like Apollinaire and his companions, held a formal celebration to honor him in front of Rodin's Thinker in front of the Pantheon where he was hailed as Prince of Thinkers.

But Brisset was one of the real people who has lived and will be forgotten. Roussel was another great enthusiasm of mine in the early days. The reason I admired him was because he produced something I had never seen. That is the only thing that brings admiration from my innermost being—something completely independent—nothing to do with the great names or influences. Apollinaire first showed Roussel's work to me. It was poetry. Roussel thought he was a philologist, a philosopher and metaphysician. But he remains a great poet.

It was fundamentally Roussel who was responsible for my glass, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even. From his Impressions d'Afrique I got the general approach. This play of his which I saw with, Apollinaire helped me greatly on one side of my expression. I saw at once I could use Roussel as an influence. I felt that as a painter it was much better to be influenced by a writer than by another painter. And Roussel showed me the way.

My ideal library would have contained all Roussel's writings—Brisset, perhaps Lautréamont and Mallarmé. Mallarmé was a great figure. This is the direction in which art should tum: to an intellectual expression, rather than to an animal expression. I am sick of the expression "bête comme un peintre—stupid as a painter."

* From an interview with James Johnson Sweeney, The Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art, Vol. XIII, no. 4-5, 1946, pp. 19-21.
[Michel Sanouillet & Elmer Peterson (editors); The Essential Writings of Marcel Duchamp, Thames and Hudson, London, 1975, pp. 123-126.]


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