Blog Post 1: Readymades and Dead Authors

Hi everyone,

Welcome to our first blog post for EN 364, “Remixes, Memes, and Mashups!” For our first full-fledged day of discussion Friday, we’ll be looking at the work of Marcel Duchamp, the granddaddy of appropriation in modern art, alongside a few pieces of writing — some by Duchamp and his compatriots, and some by later scholars of art, literature, and culture, perhaps most notably the theorist Roland Barthes. Part of our work will be to put these different pieces in dialogue with one another in order to start fleshing out key questions, themes, and issues for us around this work and the course as a whole. So for this blog you should do some writing to move in that direction in a way that seems significant to you. In your post you should focus on making connections between Barthes’ thinking in “The Death of the Author” and Duchamp’s work and the conversation around it. What about Duchamp’s work seems culturally significant, and in what ways does it seem Barthesian — even though Barthes’ essay comes some 50 years after the Duchamp work we’re looking at, are there ways in which that work anticipates, illustrates, responds to, complements, complicates, opposes, or otherwise speaks to Barthes’ thinking? How so, and what’s significant about that dialogue — what does it tell us about larger questions of artistry, authorship, originality, etc.?

How and where you pursue these connections is up to you — there are lots of facets of these works to explore, so try to add to and expand on what others have posted before you rather than repeating things or discussing the same elements. The only other requirement is that you ground your post in close textual analysis, directly quoting and discussing both Barthes’ essay and at least one of the pieces of writing by or about Duchamp (as well as referring to the images where relevant) to develop your thinking.

Good luck, and enjoy — I’m excited to see what everyone comes up with for this first post!

Reminder: Your writing should go in the comments section for this post — click on the link near the top of this post where it says “Leave a Comment.” It should be at least 300 words, and is due by midnight THURSDAY, September 7 (note that this first post is different from our usual posting schedule) . If you have any questions, let me know via email.

21 thoughts on “Blog Post 1: Readymades and Dead Authors”

  1. What shook me most about Barthes’ essay is his diagnosis of the modern writer. Cutting through the myths of the author as God, he claims the modern writer is a dictionary of cultural phrases and clichés. His point is extremely well-illustrated in the five other pieces we read for class. Every text makes an explicit reference alongside many implicit ones. Take, for example, Norton’s quotation of the cliché “there is death in every change” (Norton 5). Or when Danto quotes Duchamp at length about painting. They (or as Barthes’ would want me to say, the text) make self-aware references to other texts while not realizing they reference something far more basic while writing: the English language. As Barthes’ said “the inner ‘thing’ [the author] thinks to ‘translate’ is itself only a ready-formed dictionary, its words only explainable through other words” (Barthes 146). Speaking as a writer “myself”, knowing that nothing I have written is actually original (including this very blog post!) is a scary thought. But as students, we are fortunately in the position of power in this relationship since we act as the reader primarily.

    Barthes’ starkest point connects to Duchamp’s art. The everyday objects used as art are part of this exact dictionary of texts that authors or artists mix to create “new” art. The banality of these objects allows viewers to see past the myth of the artist/author as an originator. That experience is akin to finding out the Wizard of Oz is a man behind a curtain. See, even I cannot go 300 words without explicitly referencing a cultural center. All I did for this post was mix some essays and paintings with my own background. To me, that speaks further to the truth of Barthes’ overall point of an author being a mixer of a cultural dictionary.

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  2. Writing—in its purest, most ideal form—states original thoughts or stories completely segregated from they who write them down. The origin of these texts is the work itself, not the author’s past, because, with the spotlight on the author, the text is not purely original. Barthes states, “The explanation of a work is always sought in the man or woman who produced it, as if it were always in the end… the voice of a single person, the author ‘confiding’ in us.” (Barthes, 143). Although Barthes has thought up this notion of a purely original text, it does not exist. This is why—even though Duchamp’s sculpture was taken from a store window—it is still on par with any other work of “original” artwork, because no artwork can ever be completely original. According to Duchamp, “nearly every one of the ‘readymades’ existing today is not an original in the conventional sense.” (Duchamp, 40). Still, any copy of any item is different. In other words, no item or thought is purely plagiarized (just like no item is purely original). “Even the most ‘perfect’ copies are different, because their spatial situation and thus their relationship to their environment must be different—they cannot be identical,” according to Marcus Boon in his piece titled “Fountain(s)”. In the realm of writing, plagiarism happens. However, not too distant from plagiarism is parody, which has been widely accepted in the modern media. Why? Much like Duchamp “chose” the urinal, writers have chosen old texts to reinvent. Because the time period, artist, and audience of the text has changed, it possesses a new meaning and elicits a different reaction. Art, many would argue, is the exhibition of a unique perspective. A lot of us use the same words of the English language, yet we use them in unique ways, much like how a lot of people use urinals, yet some people use them in unique ways.

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  3. I noticed in several of the pieces we read, including the Barthe and Danto essays, an emphasis on the role of audience in art – be it visual art or literature.

    Danto addresses how audience perception can alter the entire meaning of a piece of art. It was not just Duchamp who “created a new thought for [the urinal],” but also the viewers who participated in his art (28). For instance, I was struck by the likening of Duchamp’s “Fountain” to a woman’s body in both the Danto and Norton pieces. Danto write that “Duchamp never avoided the sexual touch, if he could find one,” but this particular comparison seems like it should instead be accredited to the viewer (27). After all, Norton records the conversation of two critics discussing Duchamp’s piece: “Like a lovely Buddha”…”Like the legs of the ladies by the Cezanne” (6). This idea, that art accumulates meaning from not only the artist, but the audience, as well, colludes with Dantos condition that “works of art are about something” (37).

    The role of audience in art is directly addressed in Barthe’s essay, “The Death of the Author.” Barthe states that “a text is made of multiple writings…there is one place where this multiplicity is focused and that place is the reader” (148). The reader or viewer plays an active, conversational part in the understanding of art – and so enrich that very art with their observation. Duchamp’s urinal would have remained nothing more than a urinal, or perhaps a witty joke, if not for the response it has steadily garnered since 1917. If Duchamp’s “Fountain” “was not made by a plumber but by the force of an imagination,” it was not solely Duchamp’s imagination that did the work, but the multitude of viewers and critics that have taken time to discuss and ascribe individual, personal meanings to the piece (Norton 6).

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  4. Duchamp and Barthes’ both argue that the author dies with the birth of the reader/consumer. This pushes us to consider the author as less of a “God” figure and more of a “translator”. The author simply arranges the words in an order that readers may find appealing. This is easily connected to Duchamp with his “readymade” pieces. He takes Barthes’ argument one step further. By taking everyday items and making them into art, Duchamp, who in this case is the author, almost kills the genre; or at least translates it into something else for the consumer to kill. Works such as Fountain and Mona Lisa illustrate that he at once “kills” the original author and is “killed” as the author by the consumer. Fountain is a used urinal turned on its’ side. Simplistically, Duchamp is purely making the argument that the perceived ugliness in society is actually beautiful. Using Barthes, we can see that Duchamp is translating everyday objects and previously created works into something new and wonderful. Mona Lisa is a clear example of translation as it uses the famous Leonardo Da Vinci painting as a backdrop for Duchamp’s critique piece Mona Lisa. By scribbling a moustache and beard on the beautiful woman’s face Duchamp translates Da Vinci’s typically breath taking work into a critique of beauty standards. This in turn pushes the consumer to decide if it is Da Vinci’s work itself that is beautiful or if it is their interpretation of beauty standards. Thus, eliminating the author from the equation of interpretation.

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  5. Especially since the work of Barthes’ piece appears 50 years after Duchamp’s Fountaine, his work serves to complement the idea of Duchamp. The idea being to question the intention fallacy of “authorship” and in finding a new origin. It’s the same sort of philosophical endeavor that Duchamp explains in Apropos of Readymades when he attempts to “carry the mind of the spectator to other regions”.(40) Once the author gets removed then it calls focus more so to the work. When Duchamp sent in the work of art under the pseudonym Richard Mutt it, in a sense, subverts the importance of who is creating the art. In a sense because for the jurors of The Society of Independent Artists it functioned as one of the main reasons they could discredit the art—under the guise that it was actually made by a plumber and not Mr. Mutt.
    The only critique is that Barthe fails to take into consideration the artistic movement which influenced the birth of this idea. It’s definitely a universal truth that the Author maintains a sway over his/her work because even today we still use an authors life to understand their work, but the removal of the author does not necessarily impose a limit on the text. Having the Author quintessentially gives “authority” to that text. As evidenced by The Richard Mutt Case, having an author lends authority to that object as “art”. Mr. Richard’s piece was declined as art because it was “created” by a plumber who doesn’t fall under the category of an artist.
    On the other hand, if we follow the socratic method of getting to the root of “What is art?” as seen in Danto’s piece, it’s veritable that art is an embodiment of the artistic movement at the time. For Duchamp, that was Dadaism, which placed an emphasis on usurping conventional aesthetic with incongruity. Thus, under the ideology that the Fountaine was an usurpation of the beauty that could be found in quotidian appliances, it could be showcased in Stieglitz’s workshop beaus then the art appeared — “in attacking ‘taste’ he was calling into question the central concept of aesthetic theory”.

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  6. In the final paragraph of “The Death of the Author,” he declares that “it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author” (148). Overall, Barthes’ point is that the reader must resist the temptation of what I am calling “the one true meaning” of a text, for it stifles analytical thought and buries texts under the weight of their creator’s identities. In this short essay, Barthes does everything in his power to shift the focus from authorial intention to the audiences of texts: “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination,” that destination being the individuals who view it (148). As a reader and consumer, I must confess it is at times difficult to take up a Barthesian stance on content. I believe that in doing so, however, I’ve come to a deeper realization about Duchamp’s work and the cultural impact it leaves. Duchamp’s work serves to throw a wrench into the dogma of the art world, regardless of how the individual viewer chooses to interpret it. What I mean by this is that the emotions and responses his work stirs in its audience are fundamentally leveled by the fact that these feelings don’t change the physical being of the work. Norton documents the sense of indignation felt by some upon looking at Duchamp’s fountain; the belief that it was inappropriate, or that it was plagiarism. Many others wondered if it was even art at all, or if “Richard Mutt” was serious or merely joking. Herein lies the exact type of thought Barthes warns against, the audiences’ desire to place a sort of “true meaning” onto “Fountain.” Is it meant to be taken seriously, which in doing so may challenge the individual’s very conceptions of what is and is not art, or is it a joke? If it were a joke, would it not still have the same effect, challenging the confines of art or at the very least criticizing the exclusive nature of the art world? I believe Duchamp’s work speaks to Barthes’ thinking in that it refuses to be simple to digest (in that a simple to digest piece has a clear meaning or story behind it) and in that it is not necessarily his physical creation, but his intellectual framing that makes it what it is. “He chose it” Danto states (28). Chose, but did not will into existence. Duchamp, in many ways, is Barthes concept of the modern scripter despite.

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  7. In the final paragraph of “The Death of the Author,” he declares that “it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author” (148). Overall, Barthes’ point is that the reader must resist the temptation of what I am calling “the one true meaning” of a text, for it stifles analytical thought and buries texts under the weight of their creator’s identities. In this short essay, Barthes does everything in his power to shift the focus from authorial intention to the audiences of texts: “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination,” that destination being the individuals who view it (148). As a reader and consumer, I must confess it is at times difficult to take up a Barthesian stance on content. I believe that in doing so, however, I’ve come to a deeper realization about Duchamp’s work and the cultural impact it leaves. Duchamp’s work serves to throw a wrench into the dogma of the art world, regardless of how the individual viewer chooses to interpret it. What I mean by this is that the emotions and responses his work stirs in its audience are fundamentally leveled by the fact that these feelings don’t change the physical being of the work. Norton documents the sense of indignation felt by some upon looking at Duchamp’s fountain; the belief that it was inappropriate, or that it was plagiarism. Many others wondered if it was even art at all, or if “Richard Mutt” was serious or merely joking. Herein lies the exact type of thought Barthes warns against, the audiences’ desire to place a sort of “true meaning” onto “Fountain.” Is it meant to be taken seriously, which in doing so may challenge the individual’s very conceptions of what is and is not art, or is it a joke? If it were a joke, would it not still have the same effect, challenging the confines of art or at the very least criticizing the exclusive nature of the art world? I believe Duchamp’s work speaks to Barthes’ thinking in that it refuses to be simple to digest (in that a simple to digest piece has a clear meaning or story behind it) and in that it is not necessarily his physical creation, but his intellectual framing that makes it what it is. “He chose it” Danto states (28). Chose, but did not will into existence. Duchamp, in many ways, is Barthes concept of the modern scripter.

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  8. To Barthes, Duchamp’s Fountain was never a urinal. It had only been mistakenly interpreted by its manufacturer as a urinal. Only when Duchamp, the true arbiter of what Fountain truly is, illuminates its nature. Says Barthes: “The removal of the Author… is not merely an historical fact or an act of writing; it utterly transforms the modern text (or – which is the same thing – the text is henceforth made and read in such a way that at all its levels the author is absent” (Barthes 145). Duchamp is the reader, and the nameless, faceless factory worker, or perhaps it might be better said J. L. Motts Ironworks of Fifth Avenue, is the author. In interacting with the formerly misidentified urinal, Duchamp exhibits, in clear, easily identifiable strokes, the death of the author. This is not to say that all urinals are works of art currently and criminally misinterpreted, but rather that, through interpreting this one piece of porcelain, Fountain reveals itself as art. It only waited for Duchamp to tip it over so that its true nature could reveal itself. The readymade was always a readymade; it only waited for Duchamp’s interpretation. Furthermore, Duchamp’s claim that “Another aspect of the ‘readymade’ is its lack of uniqueness – the replica of a ‘readymade’ delivering the same message” (Duchamp 40) puts the idea of ownership based on creation in a different light. Fountain is not an isolated example of artwork that people thought was a urinal. Any presupposed urinal, until acted upon by Duchamp, can reveal itself to be a work of art by Duchamp. Art then, or in fact urinals, does not and do not belong to its or their maker, but to the interpreter, in this case Duchamp. I must note that Fountain’s example only exists on one level. If someone were to find the original Fountain and pee in it, it would then reveal itself to have been a urinal the whole time.

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  9. I think that, in many ways, a piece of art is a collection of media until the public ascribes meaning to it. By this I mean that an artist might have a purpose or an idea in mind when they create a piece however, it isn’t until someone looks at it and views through the lens of their experience and context that it has a deeper meaning. Roland Barthes writes: “The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost…a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination”.
    Barthes’ explanation of the importance of “the reader” is one that I think is crucial to understanding recreations and art similar to Duchamp’s. It is this explanation that helps us understand the ways in which the reader (who can also be considered the consumer) has a role in contextualizing and ascribing meaning to the art. I think this is particularly pertinent in the discussion about contextualizing art and recreations similar to those of Duchamp. Duchamp simply submitted his “fountain” and then the “readers” decided that it was/wasn’t art, and determined what the appropriate meaning was. This prompted me to think about how the understanding of a piece changes depending upon the context in which its viewers are seeing it.
    Duchamp took an ordinary, already-existing object and said it was art. We spoke briefly in class about context, and the context in which you would need to read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in order to be able to truly appreciate it. The understanding and acceptance of this book/recreation come from the reader. Once a book leaves the author’s hands, they are no longer the one controlling it’s “artistry”; it is up to the reader to then interpret it. Further, in this case, because zombies as characters can have many interpretations, it is up to the reader to understand the significance of zombies ; are the zombies just part of the zombie craze that started a few years ago? Or are they a social commentary? This interpretation is largely left up to the reader and may change not only depending on who is reading it but also on when and where it is read. This is significant in Duchamp’s work and, I think this emphasis on the reader brings up larger points about artistry and authorship and originality. Perhaps in 50 years, both “The Fountain” and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies will be significant in different ways because the society of the consumer will be different.
    Lastly, Danto’s piece explains that Duchamp was “far less concerned with pleasing the eye than with deepening the way we think” (Danto, 25). This sentiment makes Duchamp’s art work the perfect compliment to Barthes’ idea because Duchamp consciously emphasized the importance of the conversation that the public would have about his art. He is recognizing that art has significance depending upon the viewer. All this is to say that we must not underestimate the importance of the consumer.

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  10. “I suppose monkeys hated to lose their tail.” Began Louise Norton’s critique on Marcel Duchamp’s first piece to gain infamy in the art scene, The Fountain, and on mankind’s loss of aesthetic beauty. Yet, in the human body the small, diminished, and presently useless tailbone has lasted as a vestigial structure for dozens of generations. Over time, objects are invented, re-invented, and repurposed to fit new needs and to tell new stories.
    The tailbone’s transformation into a mostly useless bone that most people only think of when they fall, is much like the urinal’s transformation into a piece of art. A urinal is not compared to Buddha or considered to be as pleasing to the eye as the “‘…the legs of the lady of Cezanne.’” A tailbone is not considered to be useful.
    People routinely go to the Emergency Room because they sprained their tailbone, thus transforming a useless body part into a money maker for hospitals. The urinal was transformed by being flipped over and being signed by the pseudonym of an anonymous artist and being placed into an exhibition of art. Norton seems to realize the transformative quality of The Fountain by responding to questions of the seriousness of the artist with “Perhaps he is both! Is it not possible?” By believing in both of these statements, Norton is giving Duchamp the creative leeway he needs to transform the “Readymade” into art.
    Furthermore, Duchamp’s choice to write R. Mutt on his piece instead of his own name contributes towards a transformation. In both cases there is a transformation of identity. The link between artist and his art is exemplified by the fact that they are both transformations in identity and intent.
    “Perhaps!” is how Norton’s critique ends. A phrase that is often seen on DJ Khalid’s social media pages as a way of celebrating the beauty of life. DJ Khalid is himself a transformation of music, he does not sing, he does not rap, and many people believe that he did not even compose the tracks behind his last two platinum selling albums. He transforms other musicians’ work into something of his own, much like Duchamp’s piece, and Norton’s belief in the validity of it.

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  11. Barthes’s The Death of the Author asserts, “The Author, when believed in, is always conceived of as the past of his own book: book and author stand automatically on a single line divided into a before and an after” (145). Barthes’s doctrine greatly bolsters the validity of Duchamp’s readymades in the canon of art. In outlining the concept that once a “text” enters the school it wishes to inhabit it thereby becomes a “work,” wherein its meaning and interpretation is entirely up to the discretion of the viewer, Barthes affectively articulates that there is an implicit process through intention alone by which Duchamp’s art is transmuted from the mundane into the extraordinary. Louise Norton’s refutation of criticism towards Duchamp’s Fountain (1917) for its superficial creation by a plumber stands to reinforce this concept of the artist’s process when she writes, “I reply simply that the Fountain was not made by a plumber but by the force of an imagination” (Buddha of the Bathroom 6). Here Norton communicates that it isn’t the urinal itself that is the art, but rather what Duchamp did to the urinal, whether physically or solely in ideation, that gave it its meaning and value. To this extent, Arthur Danto says it best: “[Duchamp] chose it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view—created a new thought for that object” (Wakeful Dreams 28). In this situation the urinal, before it was purchased and altered by Duchamp, was a “text”; After new meaning had been attached to it, it had become a “work.”
    The process wherein a readymade like Fountain (1917) became a work of art invokes Walter Benjamin’s concept of the “aura” of an object, or the unique histories that come coupled with the art that is produced. Circling back to Barthes when he states, “The Author, when believed in, is always conceived of as the past of his own book,” one could complicate Barthes’s thesis. I ask that we momentarily “believe in” Duchamp not just in relation to Fountain (1917), but in the context of the body of his readymades as a whole. If we are to accept that Duchamp’s process of artistic intention creates an aura, or unique history, around his readymades that in turn qualifies them as art, then I ask, “What then is the ethos or aura that surrounded Duchamp himself which allowed him create these ‘found objects’?” If intention alone were all it took to create art, then anyone could produce a readymade to the same caliber as Duchamp—this is not the case. I believe there is a second facet to Duchamp’s artistic intention: whether it is the prestige of an art gallery or the approval of others, a community supporting the “text” is essential in it becoming a “work.”

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  12. The role of the author vs the reader brings into questions the different impacts both have on a given piece of work. Barthes argues that even what we consider original pieces of writing are all accumulations of words and thoughts that have previously existed; they are just being written or presented to us in a different way. Barthes believes that authorship is a form of limitation. Without claiming an author, it leaves room for writing to grow and not be restricted. It is thought that a piece of text will already be viewed in a certain light, or understood in a certain way if an author is attached to it. Disconnecting the author from the work leaves more room for interpretation and discussion, but “when the Author has been found, the text is ‘explained’” (Barthes 147).
    In contrast to the impacts of an author, Barthes discusses the unacknowledged importance of the reader. Barthes explains that “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination” (Barthes 148). I think this commentary connects back to Duchamp’s work. Duchamp managed to take normal everyday items and claim them as pieces of art. He did not do the creating of an original work, but he took something and made the world look at it in a different way. In this sense, the author is not what is arguably noteworthy, it is the audience’s reactions and critiques of the artwork. Barthes talks about how art can exist without the artist, and Duchamp’s work backs up this claim. Technically Duchamp’s art did, in fact, already exist without him, but it was him who connected the dots and put it in front of an audience in the way he wanted the world to see it. The role of an author, or artist is critical to a piece of work because it gives work a place to live and grow, but the reader, or audience, is what gives said work meaning.

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  13. Drawing from the words of Duchamp and further dissected by Arthur Danto, the ‘readymades’ were less about the specificity of the object itself but rather about the concept and the shear unoriginality of the ‘piece’ that inherently prompted the question; what really are the boundaries of art (Danto 26)? Barthes expands upon this concept of originality in art and in other mediums. When the “Author” (in Barthes’ case) removes or “distances” himself from the medium, not only can he transform the medium itself but also diminish it (145). In this case—the author has all the power and at the same time has none. Furthermore, as Barthes later explains, the only “power” of the Author is to “blend and clash” unoriginal ideas to give a “meaning” to his work. Essentially, no idea is ever original but rather compounded of other ideas which can inevitable destroy or diminish the very form in which they are presented. Barthes scrutinizes this thought even more by explaining how even when the Author wishes to “express himself” or “translate” the “inner thing” (his idea) he can only do so through a “ready-formed dictionary” thus making every idea (ever) fundamentally unoriginal (146). However, one thing to take away (especially when applying to Duchamp) is that while of course not every person can design their own alphabet or language to create completely original ideas, they can create completely original concepts—something Duchamp executed 50 years before Barthes’ ideas.

    Duchamp explains that his ‘readymades” “lack uniqueness” as they are functional objects (often ones purchased just as any other person would). However, by conceptualizing this ordinary object, Duchamp manages to create an original idea out of something mundane. He blends and clashes ideas from different parts of life and distances himself as the creator—using the name “R Mutt”. By doing this, Duchamp diminishes art and any aesthetic value it holds. This was not only offensive but also bewildering—people rejected his ideas because they did not understand them. This rejection or confusion may have prompted Duchamp to explain himself and explain the genius behind his work. Consequently, as Barthes might say, he gave up his power in doing so.

    Duchamp’s work is culturally significant because it is multifaceted. It is humorous and vulgar and also a general commentary on a medium and on a period of time. Though at the time his work might not have been as celebrated as it is now, he undoubtedly created an original idea out of unoriginal materials. In doing so, he did not plagiarize or become derivative but instead inspired imitative work in others—continuing a cycle of unoriginality!

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  14. The readings all encompassed the recreation of a new story that adds another perspective on a previously authored piece of content. Barthes’ essay challenges the notion of original authors being the only innovators of a piece, discussing the importance of viewing authorship as a collective and collaborative approach that enhances our experience as consumers. As mentioned in class, we struggle to identify the true “author” of manipulated content. Danto speaks to the blurred perception of defining art. He explains how Duchamp’s works of art proves that anything can be defined as art, but how do you choose what the art actually is? Danto says, “we are left with the not very consoling idea that just because anything can be art, it doesn’t follow that everything is art” (Danto 26). Essentially, Duchamp’s piece of an inscribed shovel can be considered art, but the empty glass on my desk may or may not cut it.

    Barthe’s also focuses on the connection readers have with their authors. We feel an emotional connection to the author’s creation – an empathy for characters and close relationship with the story presented. As readers, we tend to feel “the voice of a single person, the author ‘confiding’ in us” (Barthes 143). When looking at Duchamp’s art, is there a gap between the consumer and artist because it was a manipulated piece of art or ‘readymade’ material we can find anywhere? I believe Duchamp has a style that differentiates from the original piece. For example, in his recreation of the Mona Lisa, he added a humorous yet thought-provoking touch to one of the most influential paintings. With this piece, he completely changed the impression of the Mona Lisa. Duchamp explains that his ‘readymade’ style “is not an original in the conventional sense”, and introduces contemporary ideas in relation to historical mindsets (Duchamp 40). Whether the piece of work is the original or a recreation, we should be able to differentiate, compare and connect with both types and find new meanings that challenge us as cultural thinkers.

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  15. While there are elements of Barthes’ ideology in the works of Duchamp and those who wrote about him, I believe Duchamp complicates “The Death of the Author” by providing more than one author in his pieces. Barthes’ essay serves as a response to those who value an author’s meaning as the ultimate meaning of their text. He argues that “it is language which speaks, not the author,” meaning the reader should make their own interpretation of the text regardless of the author’s intentions (Barthes 143). Duchamp’s “Readymades” also take away meaning from their initial authors creator by presenting useful household items as art. However, by providing a new context, Duchamp makes himself the new author of such pieces. As artistic works, the value of such pieces is no longer their functionality or even their aesthetic qualities, as Duchamp writes “This choice was based on a reaction of visual indifference” (Duchamp 40). This act of rejection thereby creates a new meaning for the piece as well as a new purpose of the artist.
    Barthes displays his narrow view of an author by stating, “To give a text an author is to impose a limit on the text” (Barthes 147). However, Duchamp’s works propose that authors and artists themselves have the power to take away meaning from a piece, with the lack of meaning becoming its new meaning. Barthes’ article fails to address how one should evaluate the author who “kills” another author. If one were to disregard the intentions of both authors of “The Fountain” they would mostly likely still utilize the piece for its widely-known cultural purposes: urination. It Duchamp’s presence as an author that invites a viewer to interpret a piece they would not otherwise contemplate. Arthur C. Danto discusses Duchamp’s contribution as an artist in his work “What Art Is,” writing, “Just because anything can be art, it doesn’t follow that everything is art” (Danto 26). Here, Danto argues that even though any object or text can have the potential for interpretation, there still must be someone who decides to present such a piece despite their contribution to the piece itself. Barthes argument, which proposes that meaning of a text relies solely on the reader, does not evaluate how a reader would have nothing to interpret without the author’s choices.

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  16. I would argue that, rather than reinforcing Duchamp’s artistic integrity, Barthes’ Death of the Author pulls into question the very issue surrounding the Modernist art movement: what exactly can be considered art? Barthes writes, “there is one place where this multiplicity [of meaning] is focused and that place is the reader, not, as was hitherto said, the author,” or in this case, the artist (Barthes 148). In another course where we touched on Duchamp, our professor said, “Art is whatever the artist says is art,” but how can this be true if, by Barthes’ logic, meaning begins and ends with the reader?

    Take, for example, Duchamp’s Fountain, submitted to The Society of Independent Artists under the name Richard Mutt (which in turn triggers a whole new line of questioning – how does our interpretation of the piece change with the presence of a false author? And more importantly, should we let our interpretation of the piece change?) According to Barthes, there is no more Marcel Duchamp, and therefore no more Richard Mutt. In order for us, the reader of the piece, to begin our interaction with it, they fade into oblivion. However, does this benefit our understanding of Fountain? A board of censors, readers in their own right, determined the piece not to be art, and who is to say that we would not have done the same? In the case of Duchamp, I would argue that authorial intent is perhaps the most important aspect f the piece. In “The Richard Mutt Case,” he anonymously wrote, “Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object” (The Blind Man 1). As explained by Duchamp himself, in this case it was the artist’s choices that made the piece of art, rather than the artifact itself.

    This is not my first exposure to Death of the Author, and although I agree with Barthes’ ideas in principle, in practicality I do not see much advantage to evaluating a text without taking the author into account. Barthes writes of Valery’s idea that “all recourse to the writer’s interiority seemed…pure superstition” (Barthes 144), and although baseless supposition is never the goal, no work was created in a vacuum – all texts and works of art are created by authors (or scriptors, if you prefer) and artists who were uniquely positioned to create that work. If one is privy to knowledge about an author, this should in no way strengthen one’s analysis – only strengthen it.

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  17. I noticed an interesting parallel between the way Barthes and Duchamp both scrutinize and devalue the role of the artist and their work. Barthes states, “…it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author.” Barthes believes the work is too focused on the author and claims the author limits the potential of the text. His focus is more on the reader of the text. Barthes believes it is partially up to the reader to figure out the meaning of the text, and seems to give the text a life in itself, implying the text still lives and goes on a journey long after the author dies, becoming even more important.

    Duchamp speaks to Barthes thinking in rejecting the traditional concepts of beauty and originality in art and placing a value on the spectator’s interpretation of it. In “Wakeful Dreams” by Arthur Danto, Duchamp states, “ If only America would realize that the art of Europe is finished—dead—and that America is the country of the art of the future…” Duchamp similarly gives the work a life of its own in expressing how the life of art lies in the future and those willing to interpret it beyond the traditional confines of its author.

    An anonymous author in the article “The Richard Mutt Case” writes, “Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view—created a new thought for that object.” Again, similarly to Barthes theory, the artist plays no significant role in the meaning of Duchamp’s urinal. Any spectator can reinterpret and change the meaning of his urinal to something new without the artist limiting the thought process.

    I believe this calls into question whether originality exists, given Barthes and Duchamp’s criticism of the tradition surrounding the artists intent, and whether anyone can rightly take ownership over any piece of art.

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  18. Barthes’ final remark, “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author” (148), connected with one of the “arguments” Duchamp made about the nature of fine art when he submitted Fountain to the Society of Independent Artist. I was reminded of Ansberg’s observation, quoted in “Wakeful Dreams”, where he declares of Fountain, “a lovely form has been revealed, freed from its functional purpose,” (28). In some ways, Fountain is perhaps the ultimate example of the necessity of the death of the author for intellectually-unrestricted consumption of their work to be possible. Or, perhaps, it is a representation of this concept in its simplest form. Essentially, to be able to view Fountain as anything other than an upturned urinal, the function of the “source material”, as well as other contextual elements surrounding its creation, must not be taken into consideration. I think this translates well to what Barthes discusses in “Death of the Author”. Nearly piece of literature, when read closely enough, will be revealed to be a recycling of existing concepts and phrases. Nothing is more than a complex parody. Free interpretation of a work becomes impossible when, again, the context of its creation receives too much focus, or perhaps any focus whatsoever. Under the assumption that Fountain is a work of fine art, the piece itself is indisputable evidence in support of this claim. Of course, one could also use the connection between Barthes’ and Duchamp’s work as evidence to the contrary. Is freeing something from its “functional purpose” the only step necessary to then be able to interpret that thing as art? Is the death of the author the only factor in whether or not the reader can be born? One could say no to both questions, using Fountain as an example of the importance “authorial intent” can have regarding its status as a work of art.

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  19. In his essay “The Death of the Author,” Roland Barthes repeatedly references “the image of the author.” Where audiences may be inclined to question this phrase, as we do not often think about the author visually, it points out that we—audiences—often innately place authors as supreme beings in the context of their art. (This occurs on a most basic level; even a work famous as The Tempest is rarely referred to as such over “Shakespeare’s The Tempest.”) This immediate qualification of a piece of literature, however, is limiting. Barthes writes, “To give a text an author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing. (147)” By this Barthes means that consideration of the author in the context of analyzing his or her work takes away from analysis of the work itself and asserts a definitive, but intangible, subjectivity. He introduces this thought with the claim that, “Once the author is removed, the claim to decipher a text becomes futile.” If art is meant to be interpreted by its viewers, dwelling on biographical facts and theories that may or may not have contributed to a given piece’s creation prevents pure, objective interpretation.

    A similar critique manifests itself in the work of Dadaist Marcel Duchamp, specifically in his creation L. H. O. O. Q. A recreation of the Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, L. H. O. O. Q. depicts da Vinci’s famed portrait, but with the addition of a pencil-drawn moustache and beard. With this, L. H. O. O. Q. asserts Duchamp’s own control over Davinci’s and perhaps illuminates the audience’s inclination to attach the work’s importance to Davinci over its subject matter. By distancing Davinci from his work, L. H. O. O. Q. invites an analysis that is actually based on the woman depicted and the cartoonish additions to the painting.

    Duchamp does something similar with Fountain and Bicycle Wheel, in which he presents mundane objects that are considered authorless in such a way that they are considered works of art, asking the question of what constitutes art and what is worth being discussed critically. Of his works, called “readymades,” Duchamp clarifies, “A point which I want very much to establish is that the choice of these ‘readymades’ is never dictated by aesthetic delectation. This choice was based on a reaction of visual indifference with at the same time a total absence of good or bad taste… In fact a complete anesthesia” (4). It is then the case that by Barthes’ theory, an audience may still analyze and debate the meaning of Duchamp’s work, but by Duchamp’s description, it means nothing.

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