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Culture & Society

Marcel Duchamp: Étant donnés by Julian Jason Haladyn

Nikos Papastergiadis
Theory Culture Society 2013 30: 152
DOI: 10.1177/0263276412438598

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Theory, Culture & Society
30(1) 152–160
Book Reviews ! The Author(s) 2013
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0263276412438598

Marcel Duchamp: Étant donne´s

by Julian Jason Haladyn
London: Afterall Books, One Work Series, 2010
Reviewed by Nikos Papastergiadis

Marcel Duchamp is a source of endless fascination. The brilliance of his

acumen, stunning combination of simplicity and complexity in his work,
and the outrageous avant-gardist provocations that paradoxically con-
tained a Zen-like concern with perpetuity are qualities that will ensure his
perduring contemporaneity. Each generation of critics and historians will
invent a new Duchamp. His works will in equal measure bedazzle and
bemuse, delight and frustrate, expand the horizons of his viewers and
confirm their worst prejudices. His capacity to redefine aesthetic experi-
ence through the utilization of ordinary found objects and his more gen-
eral attention to the endless process of motion and the sticky point of
things will deny the ability of his successors to categorize the meaning of
Duchamp with any degree of absolute finality. For instance, in his
famous Bicycle Wheel 1913, in which he simply attached a wheel to a
wooden stool, the wheel is always shown stationary. But surely the point
is that it is turning and not going anywhere.
Duchamp was amongst the first artists of modernity to recognize that
we lived in an era of surplus visuality. His focus was on challenging the
categories and heightening the faculties of perception. This mode of
attention to the way things appear was often grasped by reference to
his negative views toward the realm of art that intended to play with
retinal illusion or concern itself with symbolic content. It was not a flip-
pant remark when he declared that he had more in common with the
merchant. He saw himself as a broker and situation maker. With the leg-
acy of this context and methodology it is also no coincidence that one of
the most appropriate ways of approaching his work is in the spirit of
creating a dissonant echo of his effects rather than an attempt to decode
the precise origin and definitive meaning of his work.
Julian Jason Haladyn has stepped into this field with the deliberate
intent of picking up the threads of meaning that are established in the
specific work of Étant donne´s, known in English as Given. This was
Duchamp’s final work. It was a lifelong project that was only unveiled

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Book Reviews 153

as a public installation in the Philadelphia Museum of Art after

Duchamp’s death. Haladyn tackles the significance of Given in a
number of ways. First, he studiously and quite fairly assesses the wide
range of art historical and philosophical texts that have been written on
this work. However, he then proceeds to develop a conceptual frame-
work that splices together critical reflection with biographic experiences.
Some of the most engaging sections of this book are found where he
combines his own affective response to the journey to the museum, reflec-
tions on the institutional setting of the work and, of course, with the
experience of witnessing the work itself. Such a self-reflexive approach is
complicated further by the fact that, insofar as we can discern
Duchamp’s aims, it is clear that one of the most compelling intentions
behind this work was to disturb the very condition of neutral spectator-
ship. As a consequence it should come as no surprise that this small
book, while drawing from the discipline of art history, can make no
historiographic claims whatsoever.
This is a book that is more concerned with the consequences of
Duchamp’s initiation of the transference of meaning away from the
body of the artist and onto the viewer. This suggests that the work
must be open to the divergent and unpredictable realm of sensory and
conceptual response. But since the work was first installed for public
viewing in 1968, how far have we gone? Judging from Haladyn’s response
to Given, the mode of cultural and visual criticism has ventured some
distance from its own foundations, but his account of the effect of seeing
the work has not gone very far at all. It is clear that the prevailing
responses to Given are shock and shame. It is a work that summons
and unsettles the position of the voyeur – it oscillates between pornog-
raphy and tragedy, farce and poetry. Feminist art historians such as
Rosalind Krauss have willingly put forward their discomfort at peering
into the scene and resiling not just from the confrontation of an instal-
lation of a woman who is seemingly violated, but also from their own
self-consciousness of the secondary spectacle of their own body crouched
over in fascination. No-one else can see the work while the single viewer
such as Krauss or later on Haladyn are looking in. Although a gener-
ation apart, they both report the same response of being aghast at the
display of a headless woman with her legs spread apart and having the
creepy feeling of being a complicitous witness.
There is no doubt that Duchamp’s manipulation of perspective and his
positioning of the peephole were designed to heighten not only a specific
view into the scene, but also create another equally powerful image in the
mind of the viewer. Each viewer reports what he or she sees, but they are
also overwhelmed by and anxious of the fact that they feel that others are
seeing themselves looking into this horrible scene. Given Duchamp’s
lifelong rejection of classical single-point perspective, and his experimen-
tation with what I call ambient perspective, it is obvious that the work of

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154 Theory, Culture & Society 30(1)

Given is composed in the interplay of both viewers’ perception of the

scene in the installation and of the imaginary view of themselves
crouched over a peephole in the institution of art. Duchamp was com-
mitted to enhancing this partnership between artist and viewer in the
construction of a passage from what is real to what is possible. He
claimed that the possible is a space of becoming – a movement of the
one to the other. He described this space and process with his neologism
Krauss and Halady both see the overall strategy proposed by
Duchamp. However, there is a significant methodological difference
between Krauss and Haladyn. Krauss reports her subjective response
in an incidental manner. The encounter with the work is so overwhelming
and anxiety-provoking for Krauss that she cannot withhold the feeling of
being both shocked at the sight of the image of the violated woman and
ashamed that she has sustained her gaze towards the naked sex.
Although Krauss also elaborates her responses in formal art historical
and psychoanalytic terms, this does not really take her initial response
much further than a pure confession. Haladyn quite rightly eschews this
approach. As he notes, Duchamp would have anticipated this ‘academic’
and ‘politically correct’ move, but he would have also expected more.
Haladyn prefers to work in a way that he says is closer to Duchamp’s
own method – ‘endlessly inventive, playful and self-contradicting’. These
are indeed worthy intentions but difficult to sustain while also keeping
the reader in the clear. For the most part Haladyn takes us further into a
subjective sojourn that allows the work of Given to prompt deeper reflec-
tions on sexuality and aesthetics, but he also holds onto the hand rails of
art history and critical theory. Haladyn performs admirably in this tough
and delicate balancing act. His most significant theoretical guide is
Foucault. In particular, he finds deep analogies between Duchamp’s
method of association and Foucault’s archaeological analysis. In both
figures Haladyn sees a willingness to address ‘contradictions not as
appearances to be overcome or secrets to be uncovered’ but as sites
that stimulate new forms of interpretation (p. 92). Although it is a
short book, Haladyn has managed to survey in a comprehensive and
even handed manner almost all the major writers who have written on
Duchamp’s Given. At the end, I was left wondering what new starting
points might have emerged for this field if, at some point after 1968,
Foucault had popped into the Philadelphia Museum of Art and fur-
nished a text that saw the scenes of horror but also sneaked out with a
smile in the face of anxiety.
This is a bold contribution to the field of Duchamp studies, and it is
another wonderful title in a series of books that are dedicated to the
presentation of a single work of art. The series itself is a wondrous neck-
lace around the ‘canon’ of contemporary art. It functions best as a peep-
hole into the machinations of criticism, rather than as a further

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Book Reviews 155

glorification of the artist. They are delightfully light and curiously

profound additions to the contemporary interpretations of the cultural
existence of art.

Nikos Papastergiadis is Professor at the School of Culture and

Communication at the University of Melbourne. [email: n.papaster-

Constructions of Neoliberal Reason

by Jamie Peck
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010
Reviewed by Nicholas Gane

The global financial crisis that started in late 2007 and which, in many
respects, is still ongoing, has led many to reconsider the dynamics of
market capitalism in terms of its underlying political economy: neo-
liberalism. While this term is often used in popular discourse to refer
to a political ideology of laissez-faire or, more simply, a fundamental
belief in the freedom of the market, Jamie Peck advances a more nuanced
understanding of neoliberalism by addressing the complex connections
between the state and market in terms of ‘roll-back’ (deregulation, pri-
vatization and the devolution of state powers) and ‘roll-out’ (the ‘explo-
sion of ‘‘market conforming’’ regulatory incursions’, p. 23). This
approach is in some ways similar to that of Michel Foucault, who in
his lectures on biopolitics theorizes neoliberalism as a form of govern-
mentality that reverses the logic of classical liberalism by running from
the market to the state rather than vice versa. Peck, in similar vein to
Foucault, treats neoliberalism as a form of ‘market-oriented ‘‘govern-
ance’’’, and argues that neoliberalization is not the ‘antithesis of regula-
tion’ but rather a ‘self-contradictory form of regulation-in-denial’
(p. xiii). But Peck’s specific interest, in contrast to Foucault, is in neo-
liberalism as ‘a lived phenomenon’ (p. xii), and for this reason he is
concerned with its ‘sociological complexity’ (p. xiv) as well as its ‘histor-
ical geography’ (p. 8). These concerns underpin the structure of the book,
which is framed around the emergence of two different types of neoliberal
reason: the first coming from the ordoliberalism of post-war Germany,
and the second from the more aggressively market-oriented ideas of the
Chicago School (in particular Milton Friedman). It is through this the-
oretical framework that Peck addresses the emergence of neoliberal
think-tanks that have been pivotal in providing a response to events
such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina (Chapter 4), before turning to the
soft-neoliberalism of the ‘creative cities’ movement (Chapter 5) and the
‘leftish neoliberalism’ (p. 243) of the Obama presidency (Chapter 6).

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