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Cosmopolitics and Post-Human Aesthetics: The Case of Marcel Duchamp

Martin Rosenberg


Despite the slight differences in their classifications of post-human philosophizing, David Roden and Stefan Sorgner diverge when Sorgner seems to identify two grand narratives informing the shift from humanism to post/meta-humanism: from Being to Becoming; and from Dualism to Univocality. David Roden’s fictional speculations in Snuff Memories, on the other hand, envision a post-human future without either. This talk creates a context for these two grand narratives by demonstrating how central they were to the avant-garde strain of high modernism in the works and writings of Henri Robert Marcel Duchamp. We can locate Duchamp’s sources for these narratives in the mathematics of Henri Poincaré, and the philosophy of Henri Bergson, both of whom he read carefully. These narratives should be situated in relationship to a debate within the philosophy of science over competing paradigms: deterministic time-reversible and contingent time-irreversible models of physical systems. This debate is addressed polemically in the work of (Bergson-inspired) Ilya Prigogine, alone (1980) and with Isabelle Stengers (1979; 1984) in the wake of Prigogine’s 1977 Nobel Prize; and more thoroughly addressed in Stengers’ masterwork Cosmopolitics I and II (2010; 2011). Stengers locates the grounds for this debate in the inherent bias of western mathematics towards the reversible model of time. These competing paradigms also seem to play a role in the shift from a disembodied, computational-deterministic model of cognition exemplified by John von Neumann, to a contingently emergent model of embodied and enactive cognition exemplified by the work of Francisco Varela and others. I will begin with how Bergson’s work Creative Evolution (1907) informs Poincaré’s essay “On Mathematical Discovery” (1908), which in turn proves central to Duchamp’s pre-World War I writings (@1913) that eventually inform his posthumous masterwork Being Given: 1. The Waterfall; 2. The Illuminating Gas (1968). I will conclude by addressing how Duchamp defines art as “a creative act,” an event generated by a charged field “between artist and onlooker” involving the distinct cognitive processes of “delay” and “exposure,” and how Duchamp’s chess treatise on the endgame: Opposition and Sister Squares Reconciled (1932) can be read as an allegory of distributed aesthetic cognition.

Recently retired, Martin E. Rosenberg wrote his dissertation on the cultural work across the arts of the scientific concept of “emergence,” beginning with Henri Poincaré, Henri Bergson, and Marcel Duchamp, and ending with Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Ilya Prigogine, Francisco Varela and Thomas Pynchon. He has written on Deleuze and Freud, Ezra Pound, Duchamp and Thomas Pynchon, Samuel Beckett, John Cage, Kiki Smith, and the avant-garde architects Arakawa and Gins. He recently published on emergent behaviors, visible in music notation, in jazz improvisation and composition, and currently researches the cognitive neuro-science of improvisers, recently publishing essays on embodied cognition and improvisation, as well as jazz as neuro-resistance with reference to research on “cognitive capitalism.” Martin has programmed instructional software, theorized about hypermedia and interaction-design, and contributed articles on the role of metaphor in trans-disciplinary inquiry. He co-directed the first completely digital global academic conference—AG3-Online: The Third International Arakawa and Gins: Architecture and Philosophy Conference. Originally trained in jazz composition at the Berklee College of Music, he returned (having quit for thirty years) to performing in the Pittsburgh area from 2013-2020.