Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Defying the Gender Binary: A Comparative Feminist Analysis of Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even and Rrose Sélavy PART I


The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même) is perhaps Marcel Duchamp’s most complex conceptual oeuvre. Because of its ambiguity and radical deconstruction of sexual relations, of desire, of gender identity, and of identity in general, it is challenging to formulate a coherent feminist analysis. Paradoxically, Duchamp created this work based on a definite binary of sexual desire, yet he compromises this binary by adopting a female alter ego, Rrose Sélavy. What does gender identity mean to an artist who devoted years to constructing a work of binary sexual desire yet who fused genders through his own performance of a feminine identity?  I argue that Duchamp held a radical stance on the deconstruction of gender long before many postmodern feminist scholars, and his ability to not only adopt a female alter ego, but to have it accepted and lauded by his otherwise sexist colleagues is a testament to his clever genius and stature as an artist.

To grasp the feminist paradoxes in The Bride Stripped Bare, I will begin by analyzing Duchamp’s use of a masculine and feminine binary.  The first indication that the Bride retains a stereotypically passive ‘feminine’ position is in the title of the work itself. She is the Bride Stripped. Despite Duchamp’s laborious notes, the French title and English translation indicate that she is the recipient of a gesture, not the actor.  In the French title, “La mariée” is definitely feminine, as it is worth noting that the French language employs masculine and feminine nouns and pronouns. We know from the rest of the title that the Bride is “stripped bare by her bachelors.”  These bachelors represent the actors in this scenario, a stereotypically ‘masculine’ role, as it is by them that the Bride is stripped.

The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)
Marcel Duchamp
created from Duchamp's notes by Jean Suquet (includes parts never completed). (Courtesy of Jean Suquet.)