Alchemist of the Avant-Garde: The Case of Marcel Duchamp (SUNY series in Western Esoteric Traditions)
John F. Moffitt
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
A fascinating book demonstrating the influence of alchemy and esoteric traditions on the mature art of Marcel Duchamp.
Acknowledged as the "Artist of the Century," Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) left a legacy that dominates the art world to this day. Inventing the ironically dégagé attitude of "ready-made" art-making, Duchamp heralded the postmodern era and replaced Pablo Picasso as the role model for avant-garde artists. John F. Moffitt challenges commonly accepted interpretations of Duchamp's art and persona by showing that his mature art, after 1910, is largely drawn from the influence of the occult traditions. Moffitt demonstrates that the key to understanding the cryptic meaning of Duchamp's diverse artworks and writings is alchemy, the most pictorial of all the occult philosophies and sciences.
This innovative art history is written in a lively, unique style. Much like a prosecuting lawyer's brief, Alchemist of the Avant-Garde argues its case with documented historical evidence, not theoretical models. A fascinating read, Moffitt's work will be welcomed by artists, art lovers, and all those interested in the cultural history of the modern and postmodern eras.
“…this extensive and profound research is highly informative, thought-provoking and horizon-broadening.” — AMBIX, Journal of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry
"The whole book is unexpected to those who have never considered Duchamp as an alchemist, ranging from the professors who include him in their Art History surveys to the authors of even fatter books about him. Moffitt's a prolific and very widely cultured author, with special expertise in the Renaissance and in the subject of forgery as well as in those most enigmatic of modern artists, Joseph Beuys and Marcel Duchamp. I cannot name any other art historian who knows the esoteric field as well as he does." — Joscelyn Godwin, author of Theosophical Enlightenment
the perennial wisdom of the ancient Hermeticists’ desire to reconcile the opposites (coniunctio oppositorum). The mythic ﬁgure of the Androgyne was to become of capital importance to the Surrealists. However, well before them, by 1919, the motif had became a central concern of Duchamp, who probably had read Seraphita. The artistic result was Duchamp’s androgyne, in effect him/herself, “Rrose Sélavy” (see ﬁg. 20). As is recognized by scholars of Balzac’s once immensely popular mystical novel, he
symbol of the elusive Spiritual Gold, the metaphorical goal of which the Hermetic Philosophers so vainly dreamed (songer). This superior desideratum is directly contrasted by Laforgue to Earth, a drugged and blemished realm placed below, and so representing base matter and directionless animal passions. In this context of blockage and frustration, we may now translate the underlying sense of the title put to Laforgue’s poem’s to mean: “Again, again, and again after that (unattainable) star.”
Futurist doctrines stridently announced: We wish to exalt the aggressive movement, the feverish insomnia, running, the perilous leap, the cuff, the blow. . . . The world has been enriched with a new form of beauty, the beauty of speed. . . . The poet must augment the fervor of the primordial elements. There is no more beauty except in struggle, no masterpiece without the stamp of aggressiveness. Poetry should be a violent assault against unknown forces. . . . Time and Space died yesterday. We
transmuted; and to that condition we have given the name of “etheric.” We may have, for example, hydrogen in an etheric condition, instead of as a gas; we may have gold or silver, or any other element, either as a solid, a liquid, or a gas, or in this other higher state, which we call etheric. . . . Occult science has always taught that all these so-called elements are not, in the true sense of the word, elements at all. . . . The study of these units and of the possibilities of their combination
which case, that is should he bring his autonomous amorous labors to their proper conclusion, then of course our artist-masturbator will soon produce a great splatter of sperm, or “seed.” If so, then here is another weird kind of proof for Duchamp’s speciﬁcally alchemical activities. We must so conclude because, besides various other hermetic experts discussing at length the bizarre spermatic motif, Pernety often mentioned this particular spermy entry, semence, and he eventually got around to