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Writing through Marcel Duchamp

ENGL 165.301
instructor(s):
R 1:30-4:30

The visual artist Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) changed the course of art history with a series of artworks that radically questioned the status of the art object in ways it had never been before. Although he worked in the 20th century, his queries continue to inspire new generations of artists in the digital age. Canonized in art history, rarely have his numerous investigations been explored in literature. In this year-long class, we’ll literally be writing through Duchamp’s oeuvre, adopting his artistic strategies for the page.

What could this be? His output was so wide and ranging that any number of his works are translatable into writing prompts. His Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912), for example, could inspire cubist arrangements of words on the page; his famous found urinal, Fountain (1917), suggests that found text can be reframed as poetry; his The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (1915–23) is a portal into the world of literary surrealism; his cross-dressing alter ego, Rrose Sélavy, hints at expanded explorations of sexuality and gender; and his final work, Étant donnés (1946–66), inspires literary mediations on eroticism, violence, and death.

A rich cross between creative writing and art history, we’ll be exploring in depth the life and milieu of Duchamp. Using numerous critical and art historical texts, as well as immersing ourselves in the many hours of Duchamp on screen (interviews, art films, biographies), we’ll acquaint ourselves with many of the major figures of modernist art, music, and literature.

This course will be given in conjunction with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which has the largest number of Duchamp artworks in the world. We’ll be working closely with the museum’s curators and educators, who will be able to give us unprecedented insights into the works of Duchamp. And needless to say, we’ll be spending many classes at the museum, basking in the presence of Duchamp’s masterpieces themselves.

The class will culminate in a paper-bound publication to be copublished by the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Note: This is a two-semester course. Students who enrolled in 165 in the fall should re-enroll in 165 in the spring.