Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Readymade Marx

In his introduction to the "Critique of Political Economy," Karl Marx writes that "a product only becomes a real product in consumption... a dress becomes really a dress only by being worn, a house which is uninhabited is indeed not really a house."

Marx's statement makes me ask 'when is a readymade not a readymade' or 'how is a readymade not a readymade?' 

The word readymade originally came from the distinction in the beginning of the 20th century to differentiate hand-made, artisanal goods from mass-produced, 'ready-made' objects. By using everyday objects and altering their original use value, Duchamp initially renders the object or product useless. By attaching a bicycle wheel atop a stool, he proposes an alternate leisure to sitting down or riding a bike, he creates an aesthetic that ruptures the perspective of everyday life. If a house is not a house unless it is inhabited, a stool or bike rendered problematic to its original use goes beyond re-appropriation, perhaps to the point of expropriation. The essence assigned to this object has been expelled and the object has not necessarily been assigned a new meaning or essence, but rather takes on an undefinable or "incomplete" nature. In relation to Duchamp's readymade objects, the viewer may begin to regard what the philosopher Jean Paul Sartre calls the "thingness" of the object, or more so its nothingness. The readymade takes on an existential character and returns the gaze of the viewer with an indifference to an object of art or of everyday life. 

In her essay "Cinema as Readymade: Anemic Vision in Duchamp," Dalia Judovitz comments that "the visual experience of a readymade is one of indifference and anesthsia since the object has been selected on purpose because of its lack of 'esthetic emotion,' as a defense against 'the look'... the decontextualization of the object's functional place draws attention to the creation of its artistic meaning by the choice of the setting and position ascribed to the object." 

In a way, this indifference brought upon by the readymade abolishes the boundary between art and the everyday, between the author/auteur and the reader/spectator, and between consumption and production. It ruptures certain pre-conceived notions of what art and the production of art means, or does not mean, and exposes the construction of everyday life as it is, as another mobile and transitory construction, incomplete if you will, giving way to possibilites of new creations and constructions. 

The construction of the readymades becomes an important factor here. Playing upon the Dadaist collage techniques, Duchamp's readymades are juxtaposed objects, collages in their own right. It is what Marx would call an accumulation of labor and tools of production, objects that have already been made, processed, and worked upon. The readymade is not just a found object or purchased object called art, it is a tool of production, or a tool of provocation, that can be used to look at things and see how they are related to question readymade notions (ideologies, political parties, religions, organizations, unions, policies, economies, infrastructures, human relations). 

Are Godard's works Marxist Readymades in the making? we shall see...
Pedro Vidal


  1. Pedro, thanks for being the first to "take the plunge" and with such an interesting post. I understand what you mean when you say the readymade object has no fixed meaning (and that this was what Duchamp demonstrated with his Fountain) but I'm not sure why this would lead one to claim it has no meaning. There is meaning, it just isn't settled once and for all. It is precisely because the object or thing has no essence that it has the ability to enter into a limitless number of relations, and these relations allow for the production of meaning(s). (Later, I will show the resonance of this argument for Deleuze's claim that Godard be understood as a radical empiricist.) The question, as you say, is how these ideas about the readymade can also apply to a discussion of cinema (in general) and Godard (in particular). I will try to convince the class that the link is real and worthy of exploration.


  2. The absence of meaning allows for all these other possible meanings, just as the nothingness in existentialism allows for the possibility of an essence to b constructed.