October 2008

… modernity is always citing primal history…. Ambiguity is the appearance of dialectic in images, the law of dialectics at a standstill. This standstill is utopia and the dialectical image, therefore, dream image. Such an image is afforded by the commodity per se: as fetish. Such an image is presented by the arcades, which are house no less than street. Such an image is the prostitute — seller and sold in one.

Walter Benjamin, “Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century” in The Writer of Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelaire (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2006), p. 41.

… you know, all my work, literally and figuratively, fits into a valise . . . 

–Marcel Duchamp, 16 Dec. 1954.Cited in Dalia Judovitz, “Duchamp’s ‘Luggage Physics’: Art on the Move.” Postmodern Culture, Volume 16, Number 1, September 2005.

Box in a Valise (From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy) 

Marcel Duchamp. Box in a Valise (From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy). 1935-41. Leather valise containing miniature replicas, photographs, color reproductions of works by Duchamp, and one “original” drawing [Large Glass, collotype on celluloid, 7 1/2 x 9 1/2" (19 x 23.5 cm)], 16 x 15 x 4″ (40.7 x 38.1 x 10.2 cm). James Thrall Soby Fund. © 2008 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / Estate of Marcel Duchamp.

Dear Blind Man –

You are, I hope, to be an instrument for the accomplishment of an important an much-needed  work in America: namely, the fostering and encouragement of a truly native art. An art which will be at once the result of a highly vitalized age, of a restless artistic spirit, and of a sudden realization — on the part of our artists — of America’s high destiny in the future of the world. Such an art must very closely embody the spirit of our time, however morbid, however hurried, however nerve-racking that time may be….

So, if you can help stimulate and develop an American art which shall truly represent our age, even if the age is one of telephones, submarines, aeroplanes, cabarets, cocktails, taxicabs, divorce courts, wars, tangos, dollar signs; or one of desperate strivings after new sensations and experiences you will have done well. The future dwellers of the earth will then be able to look back with truth and conviction, and, say: “Yes, they had an art, back in New York, in the days following the Great War, an art that was a vitalized part of their life.’”

– Frank Crowninshield. “From a Friend.” April 27, 1917. The Blind Man, No. 2, p. 10.


A standard is necessary for order in human effort….

All great works of art are based on one or other of the great standards of the heart….

Civilizations advance. They pass through the age of the peasant, the soldier and the priest and attain what is rightly called culture. Culture is the flowering of the effort to select. Selection means rejection, pruning, cleansing; the clear and naked emergence of the essential….

… we [pass] from the elementary satisfactions (decoration) to the higher satisfactions (mathematics)….

it remains to use the motor-car as a challenge to our houses and our great buildings…


Decoration is of a sensorial and elementary order, as is colour, and is suited to simple races, peasants, and savages. Harmony and proportion incite the intellectual faculties and arrest the man of culture….

And beauty? This is an imponderable which cannot function except in the actual presence of its primordial bases: the reasonable satisfaction of the mind (utility, economy); after that, cubes, spheres, cylinders, cones, etc. (sensorial). Then … the imponderable, the relationships which create the imponderable: this is genius, inventive genius, plastic genius,  mathematical genius, this capacity for achieving order and unity by measurement and for organizing, in accordance with evident laws, all those things which excite and satisfy our visual senses to the fullest degree.

Then there arise those multifarious sensations, which evoke all that a highly cultivated man may have seen, felt and loved; which release, by means he cannot escape, vibrations he has already experienced in the drama of life: nature, men, the world.

Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture [1923]. Frederick Etchells’ translation. New York: Dover, 1986, pp. 138-143.

You cross Europe, the continents, airplanes, faxes, telephones, courier to the four corners of the world…. One cannot sell the same merchandise all the time. One must invent, read, imagine. Because without that, they are not content; they say that you are taking them for fools. Or even declining. You know, Marie, she has nothing more to say. Fit for the trash can.

Insomuch as things go smoothly, there is a hostess (I see her, that’s her, I’m sure) or an assistant who comes to take you to the airport in a taxi. A half-hour at the hotel to refresh yourself. Sometimes it’s been a ten-hour nonstop flight, eh? A cocktail and dinner, then the conference and a drink. Or perhaps a cocktail and the conference, then the dinner. Everywhere the same, in all the cities of the world. Sometimes they are apprehensive, sometimes enthusiastic, or a little wicked. Sometimes, also, a real friend. You are always smiling, Marie, even if you are sweetly telling sinister stories in your talk…. It’s a small world, gestures of the hand, a brief sadness, the suitcases pass through the security checks. Hi, you’re Keiko? Thanks for coming to fetch me. Is Keiko a little stream of cultural capital, she too? Evidently…. The taxi speeds along like a missile through the highways and interchanges. A stream of capital. We arrive; I am going to have my half-hour. The room is on the 58th floor and everything works.

In the shower Marie remembers that their teacher explained to them that as for capital, it’s not only that time is money, but that money is time as well. It’s the good stream that arrives the quickest. An excellent stream arrives scarcely having left. On radio and on television they call that real time, or live time. But the best feeling is to anticipate the arrival of the stream, its ‘realization,’ before it arrives. That’s the currency of credit. That’s stockpiled time, for dispensing before real time. One gains time, one borrows it. You must buy a word processor. It’s incredible, the time one gains. But what about writing? You write more quickly, the page formats, notes, corrections, you see?

Poor Maris, you’ll never get rich, you love scribbling on your paper, too bad. You are a little, sluggish stream. You will be submerged by faster little streams of expeditious culture…. true streams are subterranean; they flow slowly beneath the earth, they make sheets of water and springs. One doesn’t know where they are going to exit. And their speed is unknown. How would I like to be a subterranean pocket of black water, cold and immobile.

– Excerpt from “Marie in Japan” by Jean-François Lyotard  (translated by David Palumbo-Liu) in Palumbo-Liu, David, and Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (eds.). Streams of Cultural Capital: Transnational Cultural Studies. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1997, pp. 47-49.

If the new exterritoriality of the elite feels like intoxicating freedom, the territoriality of the rest feels less like home ground, and ever more like prison — all the more humiliating for the obtrusive sight of others’ freedom to move. It is not just that the condition of ‘staying put’, being unable to move at one’s heart’s desire and being barred access to greener pastures, exudes the acrid odour of defeat, signals incomplete humanity and implies being cheated in the division of splendours life has to offer. Deprivation reaches deeper. The ‘locality’ in the new world of high speed is not what the locality used to be at a time when information moved only together with the bodies of its carriers; neither the locality,  nor the localized population has much in common with the ‘local community’. Public spaces — agoras and forums in their various manifestations, places where agendas are set, private affairs are made public, opinions are formed, tested and confirmed, judgements are put together and verdicts are passed — such spaces followed the elite in cutting lose their local anchors; they are first to deterritorialize and move far beyond the reach of the merely ‘wetware’ communicative capacity of any locality and its residents. Far from being hotbeds of communities, local populations are more like loose bunches of untied ends.

–  Zygmunt Bauman.  Globalization: The Human Consequences. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. pp. 23-24.