Entitled Fountain, rotated from its usual axis, and signed with the mysterious initials “R
In some ways the ?exibility of normative masculinity often facilitates its easy defusing of the disruptive potential of these nonnormative sexualities
Let us then be brave, as our sons were brave; let us be thankful that it has been our privilege to give our sons to our country and to the cause for which they so nobly sacri?ced their precious lives. – Robert Leighton to Thomas Brittain, June 24, 1918, on the loss of their sons in the war17
or homosexuality. The most important point to be drawn from Fussell’s argument, viewed from this angle, is that, while war functions in general to reinforce masculine and national power, World War I paradoxically set in motion experiences that served to unmask the absence at the heart of these narratives of progress, undermining their truth value and leading to a culture of cynicism and irony (a culture perfectly exempli?ed, in its most extreme form, by the work of the Dadaists). The so-called Great War, then, undermined not only nationalism and the corresponding unquestioned belief in progress that was promoted as part of untrammeled capitalist development but also masculine subjectivity, pointing to the fact that these three ideological and psychic structures (nationality, capitalism, masculinity) are intertwined and interdependent. Bringing together these regimes of lack through an ironic visualization of absence, in 19ously submitted a urinal to the Society of Independent Artists in New York City. Mutt,” the piece effectively tested the boundaries of the Society’s claim that any and all entries would, for a nominal fee, be accepted into its exhibition, which had no jurors (?g. 2.3). The piece was summarily rejected before the show opened (by whom, since there were supposedly no jurors, it remains unclear) but was then taken to Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 gallery and photographed by Stieglitz. While this “original” Fountain subsequently disappeared, in its radical absence it has nonetheless-via Stieglitz’s photograph, descriptions of the event, and later copies of the work-become one of the key works in the history of avant-garde modernism. One might say, too, that Duchamp’s initial refusal publicly to admit authorship of Fountain opens another hole, here at the “origin” of the piece-and so of mythic histories of Dada themselves.21 It has even been suggested by Irene Gammel, refreshingly against the grain of tendencies to construct Duchamp as the heroic instigator, via Fountain and other readymades, of a certain brand of Dada, that the Baroness, rather than Duchamp, was the “author,” as it were, of Fountain. Gammel makes a convincing argument, based on the Baroness’s scatological aesthetic, on Duchamp’s own equivocation in an April 11, 1917, letter to his sister Suzanne (where he notes that “one of my women friends, using a masculine pseudonym, Richard Mutt, submitted a porcelain urinal [to the Society of Independents show] as a sculpture”),22 and on the tendency among newspapers at the time to attribute the piece to a Philadelphian (the Baroness was then living in Philadelphia), that Fountain should be viewed as a
What Fountain pinpoints is the devastating and ironic separation of rhetoric from lived experience, a separation that served to open a hole at the center of heterosexual masculinity (and Frenchness, Englishness, etc
2.p, Fountain, 1917; photograph by Alfred Stieglitz. © 2002 Succession Marcel Duch Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.
companion piece to the Baroness’s God, an exactly contemporaneous work in which plumbing tubing is mounted ceremoniously atop bristlr a wooden miter box (?g. 2.4).23 Whatever their authorship, both God and Fountain make scatological reference, via industrially produced plumbing supplies, to an anatomical gendering gone awry- pointing, through a different means from that of the Baroness’s own cross-cultural, cross-gendered self-performances, to the massive dislocations in masculine (and artistic) subjectivity during the World War I period. The Great War, I am suggesting, is the epochal event that hollowed out discourses of nationalism and masculinity, metaphorically informing the drain sucking away at the center of Fountain.24 The loss of the center noted by Yeats thus translates into the collapse of nationalistic concepts of (masculine) honor and myths of European superiority and the progress of European culture. ). With its hole the absent urinal, itself a male-identi?ed industrially produced apparatus paradoxically formed of a womblike opening, waits for some kind of christening or de?lement.25 Beginning with the psychiatric studies initiated in response to the epidemic of shell shock among soldiers during the war, the shattering of nineteenth-century masculinity through the trauma of trench warfare has long been viewed as the war’s primary and most lasting psychic effect (although, of course, until recent feminist studies, the issue of war trauma was not dealt with in gender-critical terms).26 World War I, it is generally agreed in these studies, acted as a massive rupture between a nineteenth-century world of values, in which heroism and idealism were the touchstones of combat, and a brutal new world in which technology extended men’s bodies in horrifying ways27-ways that, paradoxically and with cruel irony, feminized the very bodies that were meant to be thus further empowered and phallicized. As Sandra Gilbert notes in this regard, “through a paradox that is at ?rst almost incomprehensible, the war that has traditionally been de?ned as an apocalypse of masculinism seems here to have led to an apotheosis of the feminine.”28 The Great War transformed not only nations but also gender roles and thus the individuals who enacted the effects of both nationalism and gendered subjectivity. The speci?c nature of this war de?nes it as an epistemological as well as historical and political turning point in the history of the West. The absences paradoxically at the “heart” of New York Dada (including the absence of an appropriately weighted acknowledgment of the crucial importance of the