Shrink to Expand: The Readymades through the Large Glass

Jacob Wamberg

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Departing from Duchamp’s advice in 1961 of finding the “common
factor” between the non-representative and the representative,
translated here into modernism and avant-garde, this article
seeks to understand the readymades as objects that have passed
metaphorically through Duchamp’s magnum opus, the unfinished
Large Glass (1915-23). More precisely, the readymades are seen
as mass-produced utensils that have been stripped bare of their
usual function, i.e. their actualization, in order to regain potentiality.
Mapping Giorgio Agamben’s interpretation of Herman Melville’s
short story Bartleby, the Scrivener (1856) onto the readymades,
this shrink-to-expand strategy is understood as a skeptical suspension
of judgment, epoché, comparable to Bartleby’s polite refusal
to work. Moreover, it is seen as equivalent to the down-scaling of
dimensionality observed in the Large Glass, where transparency in
one go eliminates the representation of spatial circumstances and
opens up the objects toward the ever-changing physical surroundings,
thereby exposing more of those 4-dimensional projections,
which are normally suppressed in our reduced 3-dimensional perception
of the world.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Nordic Journal of Aesthetics
Pages (from-to)109-40
Number of pages32
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • 4-dimensionality
  • Alchemy
  • Epoché
  • Marcel Duchamp
  • Potentiality
  • Skepticism
  • Theory of technology

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