The Secret of DUCHAMP
1 Gradual Progress
2 The microcosm of body
The Secret of Marcel Duchamp's works /2008
I will proceed with my argument that Duchamp owed the concept of Nude Descending a Staircase , NO.2 (1912) to The I Ching (the Book of Change) . I will then point out the parallels between The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (or The Large Glass, 1915-23) and the “nei-jing-tu,” an illustration of the “nei-dan” in the Chinese alchemy. Consequently, based on these observations, I will point out that not only The Large Glass but also Fountain (1917) and Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The illuminating Gas (1946-66) might in fact be based upon the “nai-jing-tu”.
1 Gradual Progress
It is noted in Marcel Duchamp (1999) by Dawn Ades, Neil Cox and David Hopkins that ‘From 1910 to 1911 Duchamp produced a strange sequence of paintings with strong mystical or Hermetic connotations,’ and that ‘Duchamp’s brief attraction to Theosophy, which brought together elements from both eastern and western religions, may well have been prompted by Frantisek Kupka, a neighbour of Duchamp’s brothers in Puteaux.’ After Kupka, Duchamp was influenced by the chronophotographic techniques of Marey. So the relation between Nude Descending a Staircase , NO.2 and the chronophotographic image has been argued repeatedly. The nude appears descending a staircase in gradual progress on this painting.
The I Ching (the Book of Change) consists of sixty-four hexagrams and commentaries. Each hexagram is represented by a unique set of six lines, under a name suggesting the theme. Individual lines represent yin and yang. There are eight possible sets of three lines. These symbolize elemental qualities. These eight elements can be paired in sixty-four combinations. The 53-th hexagram is named as Kien (Qian). In 1882 James Legge translated the first sentence of explanation for the entire figure of the 53-th hexagram that ‘Kien suggests to us the marriage of a young lady, and the good fortune (attending it),’ and commented that ‘Kien is ordinarily used in the sense of gradually; but there is connected with that the idea also of progress or advance.’
Thomas Cleary translates Kien as Gradual Progress in his book titled Cheng Yi’s I Ching (the Book of Change) (1988) which is based on the commentary by Cheng Yi who was a distinguished scholar of the 11th century. The comment of Gradual Progress begins with the following words. Things cannot end up stopped; if there is stopping, there must be progress. This is the principle of contraction and expansion, waning and waxing. Stopping comes from progress and it returns to progress.
The interpretation of Gradual progress in the first sentence corresponds with the movement of the nude in Nude Descending a Staircase, NO.2. Besides, the upper set of three lines in the hexagram Gradual Progress is meaning a woman, and the lower set is meaning a man as the following words. Gradual Progress is the way a woman marries correctly. The man is below the woman, yet each finds the proper place: calm and agreeable, the process makes orderly, gradual progress: man and woman find the right way to pair.
The 53-th hexagram Gradual Progress is followed by the 54-th hexagram. The 54-th hexagram is named as Kwei Mei (Gui Mei). J. Legge translated a sentence of explanation for the symbolism of the 54-th hexagram as ‘’The marriage of a younger sister is the end (of her maidenhood) and the beginning (of her motherhood).’ T. Cleary translates Kwei Mei as Marrying a Young Woman in his book. In the 54-th hexagram the upper set of three lines is meaning a man and the lower set is meaning a woman. Therefore the passage from virgin to bride is meaning the descending to lower place. Nude Descending a Staircase, NO.2 was depicted in January 1912: two drawings entitled Virgin, No.1 and Virgin, No.2 in July, and Passage from Virgin to Bride in August. Regarding these titles, we could think that the passage from virgin to bride owed to the hexagram Gradual Progress in the Book of Change.
The following words are in the commentaries of the 54-th hexagram Marrying a Young Woman that are translated by T. Cleary. 4YANG: A young woman puts off the date of marriage, delaying it, for there is a time.
In this sentence, the term of ‘delay’ appears. In The Green Box notes (1934) Duchamp called The Large Glass as “Delay in Glass”: Use ‘delay’ instead of picture or paining; picture on glass becomes delay in glass－ but delay in glass does not mean picture on glass－ It is merely a way of succeeding in no longer thinking that the thing in question is a picture…a delay in glass as you would say a poem in prose or a spittoon in silver.
2 The microcosm of body
The upper part of the Large Glass is called as the Bride and the lower part is called as the Bachelors. Duchamp might owe the positioning of the Large Glass to The I Ching (the Book of Change) ; a young man is below the young woman in the hexagram Sensing. According to the hexagram Sensing, the positioning of pair implies the harmony of Nature that is interpreted as the condition of stream from lake through mountain. There is an illustration of the internal alchemy called as the nei-jing-tu in which a body is depicted as a landscape of mountain and stream. In this section, I would discuss the parallels between the Large Glass and the nei-jing-tu.
from Takeshi YOSHIZUMI, The Secret of Marcel Duchamp's works, ( New version:2008/Original:2004)