Dada Culture: Critical Texts on the Avant-Garde

By Dafydd Jones | Go to book overview

The Language of “Expatriation”

T. J. Demos

Abstract: “The Language of 'Expatriation'” places the language games of Marcel
Duchamp in relation to the artist's exile during the years of the First World War. The
essay argues that Duchamp's self-professed “spirit of expatriation”, through which he
conceptualised his decontextualisation from dominant systems of conventional iden-
tity (including the pervasive culture of nationalism), was negotiated at the level of
artistic form. Pieces including The, Erratum Musical, and With Hidden Noise released
upon language the force of “becoming” – articulated by Duchamp, related to Bergson-
ian philosophy, and resonating with Deleuzean theoretical insights – which inter-
twined identity and difference in a mutually transformative and infinite cycle. The re-
sulting internal mobility that was established within Duchamp's artistic practice
expatriated language from its basis in repetition, thereby opening up a new modelling
of indeterminate existence beyond the rule of equivalence, habit, and tradition.

“I had left France basically for lack of militarism. For lack of patriotism, if you wish. I had fallen into American patriotism, which certainly was worse.” – Marcel Duchamp

“In particularly unfavourable social conditions, such a separation between the person and the ideological environment that feeds him can lead to a total decomposition of consciousness, to madness or dementia.” – Mikhail Bakhtin

In 1915, Duchamp arrived in New York, escaping from the unfavourable social conditions of French patriotism. One of the first artworks he created in that new context was a peculiar piece entitled The. On a simple piece of paper he handwrote a series of sentences in English. Each word is recognisable and the elements of each sentence agree

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