Phenomena in Exile Undoing Objects in the Work of Duchamp, Schürmann and Sturtevant
Philosophy is found wanting. It is considered anachronistic, some say dead. The tradition is in ruins. And, what is worse, they say, these are ruins of its own making. But it bears noting that debris has proved to be a productive site. For finding things.
Marcel Duchamp’s work, for example, can make an appearance as a phenomenology. And phenomenology itself, for another example, can dispel its origin, the transcendental subject – Kant’s old doublet. What this adds up to is a phenomenology of entropy and singularization, one that has very little to with things such as the “phenomenological viewer” of minimalist sculpture. These are the things that one indeed encounters in Reiner Schürmann’s Broken Hegemonies, his topology of ruins in reverse. The ruins are theoretical as much as political, they are the debris of all those fractured edifices of meaning that once reigned supreme in the name of law and order. And only toward the end of this history of the decay of standards can Duchamp make his appearance.1 On pages that are haunted by urgency, that speak of a definitive end. And an opaque possibility. They are written by a thinker who showed little interest in what is called aesthetics, art theory, or even the philosophy of art. His is a philosophy of anarchy, but one that goes further, or maybe elsewhere, than what is usually associated with that name. He was not an expert on Duchamp. Most certainly not. But he comes close to concluding his last book with a note on Duchamp, gathering a lifetime of thinking about phenomenology into a meditation on the readymade: the phenomenon that is said to eliminate the uniqueness of the artwork, displacing it with the indifference of the mass-fabricated objects, with the logic of the n’importe quoi. What could Duchamp possibly have to say to him? Giorgio Agamben, for one, hints at a strange link between Schürmann, in proximity to whom he has frequently located his own investigations, and the artistic avantgardes of the twentieth century.2 But the link remains unexplored by him, the reference to Duchamp goes unmentioned.
Under the Sign of Exile
Duchamp appears under the sign of exile. His act, Schürmann writes, “exiles and singularizes,” and by and through this exile, he reveals a tendency that is latent in all phenomena, a loss of meaning that is always imminent.
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