Following please find an extensive quote dealing with the concept of skeptical indifference --- suspension of judgement. This is a concept I have been discussing with a number of people for some time, both in a broader "life" sense, but, very directly regarding Artist Trading Cards and not making value judgements about cards. I recently came across this quote and think it sums things up a succinctly as it can be. My position is that the trade is the important thing; the quality (so to speak) of the cards is of little or no importance --- if it does become important it leads to dogma and subsequently to quarrels and to fights. Anyway, I thought this might be of interest and generate some discussion. See you, Don
FROM: The Definitively Unfinished Marcel Duchamp - Edited by Thierry de Duve
CHAPTER: Objects of Modern Skepticism - Herbert Molderings
Discussion: Pages: 273-274
J E A N S U O U E T ( F )
I'm afraid that it's been demolished.
H E R B E R T M O L D E R I N G S ( F )
No, no, the pharmacy was still there last summer.
E R I C C A M E R O N [NOTE: Teaches at the University of Calgary, Department of Art]
I wonder if you could say something about the way Duchamp's response to Henri Poincaré's scientific theories and his mathematics might have changed in his later years. What I am thinking of is that Duchamp, in the later interviews, seems to talk of things like the fourth dimension as being very much in the past. I wonder how those things relate both to skepticism and to the mathematics of n dimensions.
H E R B E R T M 0 L D E R I N G S
I would say that the thinking and working on specific questions of rotations, passages from one dimension into another, gravity, and optics, ended around 1923-24, although they came back in the Rotoreliefs, in Coeurs volants [Fluttering Hearts], etc. Poincaré, as you said, was then a thing of the past. But what Duchamp kept from Poincaré's philosophical writings was his fundamentally skepticist world view. And I would like to add one or two things in order to take up what you said yesterday. You started by presenting Pyrrho from Elis as very important, and I agree completely. But there are many differences between modern skepticism in the Poincaré sense and ancient skepticism. I will only stress one point: ancient skepticism, that of Pyrrho above all, was a philosophy which asked how one should live, how one should conduct one's life. It always ended in moral philosophy, whereas modern skepticism, since Descartes, and above all in the form of Poincare's thinking, was a theoretical method. I think that when Duchamp said to Schwarz that the philosopher he appreciated most was Pyrrho from Elis,(4) he referred to this idea that the essence of skepticism lies in arriving at what Pyrrho called ataraxia, inner tranquility. And Duchamp called it in French "I'indifférence." Inner tranquility is happiness based on the absence of judgment. What I think Duchamp took over from Pyrrho's teaching was: no judgment because judgment is the beginning of dogma, and dogma is the beginning of fights, of quarrels. Such is the basis of happiness because it's the basis of ataraxia, indifference. This is the gist of Duchamp's Pyrrhonism. And as I understand it, it also somehow accounts for the influence he had on other artists. You see, when Julien Levy was asked about his admiration for Duchamp, the first thing he said was, "He taught us how to live."(5) And there is an article by Man Ray in View, 1943, "Photography Is Not Art," where in a whole chapter he is paraphrasing, almost word for word, this aphorism by Duchamp: "There is no solution because there is no problem."(6) There Man Ray too reflects on how Duchamp affected people by triggering them to find some different angle from which to make art.
W I L L I A M C A M F I E L D
This peace-making, serenity-invoking aspect of Duchamp is very important. It made me think of one very touching statement by Beatrice Wood, who admitted once in a letter to Louise Arensberg, in the forties, that frankly she had never really liked Marcel Duchamp's work that much but she loved him, not in a physical way but because he had taught her how to live. He had taught all of them how to live. That's all.
absence of judgment... no judgment because judgment is the beginning of dogma, and dogma is the beginning of fights, of quarrels.
"He taught us how to live."
chuck stake september 2001