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Duchamp’s wager: disguise, the play of surface, and disorder

Scanlan, John (2003) Duchamp’s wager: disguise, the play of surface, and disorder. History of the Human Sciences, 16 (3). pp. 1-20. ISSN 1461-720X (Unpublished)

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Abstract

This article considers the notion of ‘play’ in the plastic arts as described by Johan Huizinga, its definitional relation to the materiality of the art object, and the way in which such a conception rests on a notion of aesthetic order that, after the work of Marcel Duchamp, could not be sustained. I argue that Duchamp’s readymadesforce a re-evaluation of plasticity (and thus of Huizinga’s definition of play), and introduce a permanent revolution of plasticity, which in social and intellectual terms must be considered as the expression of an essential disorder underlying all appearances. It is further argued that Duchamp achieved this by employing strategies of disguise in order to lay bare the epistemic play of surfaces, and thus the contingency of knowledge and identity. Duchamp’s wager was that changing fashions in art revealed that it was neither formal presentation nor skill that defined art, but rather some connection to a hidden realm of disorder, and that this connection could be found, and repeatedly renewed, by ensuring that the art ‘object’ was received as an uncertain bequest.

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