Waves of stench thickened on each landing as one moved up

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Waves of stench thickened on each landing as one moved up

Waves of stench thickened on each landing as one moved up

As David Joselit put it to me, Duchamp’s relationship to masculinity in his New York Dada period parallels the “Warren Beatty effect in Shampoo”-the less macho man adopting feminine attributes in order to seduce women

as “a Bohemian” but also as a pathetic, desperate lover spewing “bloodygreen sensations” in a continuous “?ux” of letters; he claims that she has an ancient body (remarking on “her broken teeth, her syphilis” and calling her an “old lady,” though she was only in her mid forties) and a deep stench (“a reek stood out purple from her body”) that differentiate her from the “clean muslin souls of Yankeedom.” He describes her apartment in similar terms as “the most unspeakably ?lthy tenement in the city. Romantically, mystically dirty, of grimy walls, dark, gaslit halls and narrow stairs, it smelt of black waterclosets, one to a ?oor, with low gas?ame always burning and torn newspapers trodden in the wet. . . I saw them [her dogs] at it on her dirty bed.”14 Williams’s scatological characterization of the Baroness as a stinking ?ow seems intimately connected to Man Ray’s labeling of his missive with the punning “merdelamerdelamerde . . .”. Clearly, while the Baroness was a potent and active agent in New York’s cultural avant-garde (even personally terrifying and threatening to many associated with it, while her experimental poems and prose pieces provoked heated discussions),15 she also functioned as a site of violent projections. She was thus a ?gure who pointed to the limits of avant-gardism as such. Not only did the Baroness’s lived Dada perform this function; in her own published poems and prose pieces criticizing the life and work of Williams and Duchamp she made it clear what she thought their limitations were, for example characterizing Williams in her acerbic review of his Kora in Hell as “yoked by neurasthenia / poisoned by ‘loved ones’ [i.e., his bourgeois family in suburban New Jersey] / pestered by sex,” and noting, “W. C. attacks art-when has time.” From the Baroness’s point of view, Duchamp and Williams exempli?ed the tendency among male avant-gardists to make radical art in their free time, while living more or less bourgeois lives, driven by neurasthenic fears of the modern challenges to their coherence as male subjects.16 Elsewhere, in another text on the Baroness (with whom he seemed to be obsessed, in spite of himself), the married poet histrionically noted that she “tried to destroy me. That made no difference to me because she couldn’t, but the form it took was familiar. ‘Come with me and I will make a man of you.’ Yea, yea. . . . She was like Cortez coming to Montezuma and she wanted to do the same stupid thing he https://www.datingranking.net/nl/dominicancupid-overzicht did. Destroy.”17 Ultimately, then, Williams’s ruminations on the Baroness seem aimed at reestablishing his virile masculinity. In the Contact essay, he performs this through the transparently autobiographical ?gure of the essay’s potent, even godlike protagonist, “Evan Dionysius Evans,” who has de?nitively rejected the Baroness’s threatening charms and who makes her a symbol of a struggle between European encroach-

Toward the end of his diatribe, Williams plaintively poses the question, “what in God’s name does Europe want of America

ments-via Dada-and American culture. . . [?]”18 What, indeed, does the highly sexed Baroness-a sign of ethnic, national, class, and sexual otherness (an androgynous German woman with an overtly voracious sexual appetite, dressed in urban detritus like a mentally ill “bag lady”)- want of the hounded avant-garde poet? The Baroness, then, can be viewed (as she clearly was by many of the male members of the avant-garde) as embodying the cacophonous clash of races, sexes, sexualities, and classes of people that constituted the population of New York City in the World War I era and that accompanied the massive cultural shifts to which Dada responded and which it helped to promote. The Baroness, as constructed and reconstructed through accounts such as Man Ray’s, Williams’s, and Anderson’s, becomes not only a sign of New York Dada but a ?gure of the threat posed by these shifts to the normative-Euro-American, white, heterosexual, male-subjects of the modernist avant-garde, in spite of the vast variations among these subjects in their adherence to the codes of normative masculinity. Perhaps because of these variations, Williams’s misogynistic reaction contrasts sharply with the far more cool rejection of the Baroness by Duchamp, whose masculinity (at least in the context of World War I-era New York) was already ambiguous. 19 Joselit’s formulation encourages me to emphasize here that, while stressing the “feminine” as that which compromises normative masculinity, I do not mean to imply that masculinity is ?xed. Masculinity manifests itself in multiple, and mutable, ways, some of which (like Beatty’s character) are not at all typically “macho.” In this book, I stress feminization as a trope of a certain kind of compromised masculinity in order to stress the way in which gender categories were being shored up during this period-not incidentally, the period of their ?rst acute erosion; and the way in which the polymorphous “gender fucking” of the Baroness (and of parallel characters such as Arthur Cravan) completely subverts such reiterations of traditional notions of gender.20 The Baroness, then, became a sign of the ruptures in the social (and gender) fabric during this highly charged period-of the uncontainable, violent, feminizing, debased and debasing effects of modernity, and in particular of industrial urbanism and its most violent extrusions, the trenches and advanced weaponry of the World War I battle?elds, between roughly 1913 and 1923. These are precisely the years of

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