“…after the end of painting”

Some readers familiar with my background and professional biography might wonder how I ended up in this unorthodox, fringe-dwelling sort of university teaching career in South Korea, rather than having pursued the more traditional and “prestigious” academic path typically prized by those who spend their early adulthoods on the educational path I followed. Here, in a nutshell — and I choose that idiom advisedly — is a simple answer to that question.

Just today, I stumbled across the following abstract for an article in the Oxford Art Journal, related to Marcel Duchamp’s “artistic” photograph “Tonsure,” which shows a comet trail and star shaved onto the back of Duchamp’s head. (If that isn’t description enough to whet your appetite for an academic journal article analyzing this work of art, then I can do nothing more to entice you.)

This essay interrogates the photograph Tonsure, which shows Marcel Duchamp with a five-pointed star shaved on this [sic] head. I consider this image within the context of Duchamp’s abandonment of painting and his transformation into the female alter-ego Rrose Sélavy. The chronological proximity of Tonsure to the ambivalent Rrose Sélavy suggests that Duchamp was searching for another way to represent himself as an artist. I thus propose reading the allusion to the de-sexualized masculinity of the priest with respect to his search for ‘another’ masculinity. By analysing the implications of Tonsure, this essay aims to broaden the field of investigation around Duchamp’s masculinity by situating this unusual self-representation in relation to his artistic strategy after the end of painting. [Giovanna Zapperi, abstract of “Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Tonsure’: Towards an Alternate Masculinity,” in Oxford Art Journal, Vol. 30, No. 2 (2007), Oxford: Oxford University Press.]

Now, my translation of this abstract, for readers who remain trapped in non-alternate forms of rationality:

Duchamp once shaved the top of his head as monks do, but did it in the shape of a comet and star, and took a picture of it. Around the same time, he was also having himself photographed dressed as a woman with the childishly pseudo-clever and essentially meaningless made-up name Rrose Sélavy (sounds like “Eros, c’est la vie”). These two acts, taken together, suggest that he had run out of whatever molecule of artistic intelligence he might once have had, and was flailing wildly in search of a reason to continue being taken seriously, or at least to look recherché to people as pretentious as himself but slightly less intelligent. If you were into wasting time on inconsequential blowhards, you might conjecture that these two silly acts of nihilistic stupidity, taken together — shaving one’s head in the style of a monk on drugs, and dressing up as an ugly woman in a fur coat — indicate that Duchamp was having some personal confusion about his masculinity during this period, or at least that he was willing to play with that idea for the sake of getting noticed. You might even imagine that this vacuous exhibitionism was the “artistic strategy” of a man who was almost clever enough to realize that he had nothing important left to say.

For what it is worth, all the humor value of the Academic Speak demonstrated in that Oxford Art Journal abstract quickly evaporates when the subject under discussion is something that actually matters, such as philosophy or classic literature. Hence, I got the hell off the standard university assembly line while I still had my marbles, such as they were. Now, rather than spending my life writing sentences like, “The chronological proximity of Tonsure to the ambivalent Rrose Sélavy suggests that Duchamp was searching for another way to represent himself as an artist,” I can teach students how to use the English language properly (i.e., not like a modern academic), how to read Plato and Rousseau, how to appreciate the varied charms of Austen and Kafka, and most importantly how to develop their young souls with a view to becoming free and independent individuals in an age of ascendant tyranny and spirit-devouring norms.

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