When we begin to discuss the fine arts and aesthetics in abstract or speculative terms, we may take for granted the coordinates of space as normally experienced, while tending to forget the more visceral realities and their powerful psychic components. The perceptual ambiguities of a mirrored space--such as the "barbershop effects" that would be experienced inside a cube-shaped room with all its surfaces mirrored--might have been what Duchamp sought to explore in his note from the The 1914 Box:

Make a mirrored wardrobe.

Make this mirrored wardrobe for the silvering.

[ Sanouillet, Salt Seller, p. 25. ]

Alongside such sophisticated optical concerns, Duchamp's penchant for elegance also led him to a profound fascination with the simpler, harder orders of seeing and being. In this spirit, let us recall a brief sampling of common human experiences--or at least ones that are familiar to many people--which may lead us toward exceedingly clear-cut definitions of spatial perception.

Of course, we have all begun life suspended floating in the dark, maternal ocean of amniotic fluid. Presumably the sensation of weightlessness is much the same as that experienced by astronauts. It has also been simulated here on earth, perhaps most successfully in "isolation tanks" such as those popularized by Dr. John Lilly, one of our leading researchers into the nature of human consciousness. A sodium bicarbonate solution effectively increases the body's buoyancy so that one floats easily; it is dark and quiet. The solution is heated to match the body's temperature, and perception of any space at all is minimal. All the same, there are smells (sometimes pungent) and, aware of wetness, one instinctively takes care not to roll over idly. Many people report similar effects from sensory-deprivation situations, such as deep within the dark, quiet and even-temperatured environments of caves. There, as in Dr. Lilly's isolation tanks, or in certain profound states of meditation, the ordinary sense of space--and even, sometimes, a sense of explicit self-awareness--may become suspended. Some find it desirable.

Anyone who has ridden a chair lift at a ski resort probably knows the sensation when, as frequently happens, the equipment pauses for a moment or two. All around is space, and on a calm day one may overcome almost all sense of direction save for the force of gravity interfacing (as it were) with the seat of the lift chair and producing a sort of direct one-dimensionality. There are a number of analogous situations--perhaps not every-day experiences, but common enough for most people--in which a perceived number of dimensions can be clearly distinguished and counted. Physics field trips may have great fun figuring out the various g-forces that affect one in wild carnival rides, since these are deliberately and diabolically designed to delight our proprioceptive sensibilities.

In order to appreciate the basic human understanding of space, imagine a simple, clearcut, elegant of the most straightforward, unambiguous experiences of space in which the six principal directions may be (and indeed must be!) distinctly perceived. That would be in highly specialized, "technical" mountain climbing of a kind that attempts the ascent of precipitous cliffs.

Pioneered by John Muir's solo ascent of Yosemite Valley's Cathedral Peak in 1869, technical mountaineering began to attain real creative attention only in the 1930s. Climbers then began to develop techniques for scaling the variety of vertical granite walls which abound in the popular paradise of Yosemite National Park. In such a sport or pastime, the extremely clear perception of directionality is essential if one is to enjoy continued success. For a taste of the potential, primordial, vertiginous sensation of space, imagine yourself on the surface of a vertical, smooth granite cliff, such as the sheer face of, say, El Capitan or Half Dome, both massive monoliths renowned as subjects in Ansel Adams's dramatic photographs of Yosemite:

Ahead = rock: the vertical granite "wall" of the cliff face: a smooth, solid, highly intractable plane surface.

Behind = space: a great expanse of it, everywhere except the surface of the granite wall.

Below = gravity: kinetically insistent and directly perceived as the space that can be seen between and beneath one's feet--but also the direction of the return rappel and home.

Above = work: in a technical sense, the energy required to raise a body of a given weight (i.e., one's own body, plus clothing, water and equipment) a given distance (to the summit).

Right and

Left = freedom: the main options, choice of directions available.


Over the past few decades the audacious skills of climbers have been applied to scaling sheer rock faces in many parts of the world. But the attention of many people was drawn again to California, astounded by the heroic efforts of Mark Wellman, the paraplegic ranger at Yosemite National Park, and his climbing partner, Mark Corbett, at the time (in the early 1990s), one of the premier extreme rock climbers. Their dramatic 13-day ascent attracted world-wide media coverage featuring some spectacular shots with sophisticated video lenses of the rigorously vertical Tis-Sa-Ack route up the famous face of Half Dome.

The historical first ascent of Tis-Sa-Ack was made by the masterful climber Royal Robbins some twenty-one years earlier. There are only four routes up the sheer northwest face of Half-Dome, the 8000 foot granite peak at the head of Yosemite Valley sliced in half by the Tenaya glacier in Pleistocene times. In fact, Royal Robbins made the first ascent of every one of these four routes. Tis-Sa-Ack is the most difficult way up, unconsolingly perpendicular, with overhangs even on the lower sections, and a particularly faith-begetting overhang near the rim, 2,200 feet above the valley floor. It was named for the black streaks on the granitic face, in Miwok legend said to be the tears of an Indian maiden, but actually growths of lichen.

[ Royal Robbins, "Tis-Sa-Ack," The Vertical World of Yosemite: A Collection of Writings and Photographs on Rock Climbing in Yosemite, edited by Galen A. Rowell, Wilderness Press, Berkeley (1974), p. 161 ff. This article first appeared in the 1970 issue of Ascent. ]

When the team tried it in September 1991, Corbett climbed the lead, setting pitons (metal spikes, fitted with loops to hold the climbing rope) on each pitch, so that Wellman could then pull himself up with the aid of a special T-bar and a rope-crimping device known as a Jumar ascender. To surmount the cliff face required the equivalent of some 5000 pull-ups from Wellman. But Corbett effectively climbed it twice, since he would return down each pitch and haul back up the supplies and hardware gear used by the climbing team. We anticipate the the made-for-tv movie: it might feature storms with snow and sleet (there was a brief one), high winds, sweaty close-ups with bleeding knuckles scraped raw and hammer-bashed, with filmic cut-aways to an anxious cheering section below that included one pregnant wife nearing full term, plus an assortment of amazing, gut-wrenching, adrenalin-pumping, vertiginous camera angles. Declared Wellman, in good, laconic mountain-speak:

"Every pitch was tough. There was some scary stuff up there,"

[Quoted by Paul McHugh, staff writer, "Climbers Over the Top At Half Dome," San Francisco Chronicle (September 17, 1991), front page. For another account of the climb and the "fearsome route" of Royal Robbins's first ascent, "an ordeal," see Gary Arce, Defying Gravity: High Adventure on Yosemite's Walls. Wilderness Press, Berkeley (1996), p. 77. Robbins required eight days, "in the waning months of 1969, in the aftermath of the Apollo 11 moon landing and the Woodstock megaconcert."]

One of the really interesting things about the Corbett-Wellman ascent was the early report of difficulties encountered by the climbing team just in reaching the base from where the vertical rock climbing began. The circuitous route covers about ten miles, in which the trail winds up alongside both Vernal and Nevada waterfalls, arches around the back of the monolith, over its north-east shoulder, and then along the line of the cliff bottom to the point of perpendicular departure. Wellman, who was partially paralyzed in a mountaineering accident in 1982, found the initial part of the climb the most complex and difficult. He had to be transported by a beast of burden; a special saddle had to be made; the path (once off the main trail) tortuously led around boulders or across slopes of talus and scree. However complicated this process may have been, Wellman's "work" was theoretically easy: all he had to do was hang on to the saddle and ride. But then the second part of the climb signaled a radical shift: the work was very hard, yet virtually all complexities of the path were reduced to the ultimate simplicity of a direct anti-gravity operation.

Corbett and Wellman's triumph of climbing is admirable enough in its own terms. It also provides a beautiful illustration of profound mathematical relationships: the relatively superficial is complex and easy; closer to the core, the simple is hard. But their feat, whatever stirring message it may provide for media mavens, neither technically nor philosophically represents a state-of-the-art approach to rock-climbing.

One approach becoming increasingly popular among those drawn to radical mountaineering includes more free-climbing and solo ascents, with an element of retrospective irony, in a poetic revival John Muir's original style. The charisma displays an almost brutal rigor and rugged elegance characteristic of the true nomad's need for objective efficiency. These are values which "soft" settled society down-plays, to its own disadvantage and perhaps even to its peril.

The rules of civilized society have little effect on a man crossing an exposed traverse. A scowl or a smile, a soothing tone or a swear word, will not decide the outcome. What counts is his knowledge of the limits of his own ability.

Security is the antithesis of a moment of crisis in the mountains and yet during such moments life seems inestimably precious....The climber adapts his physical and mental behavior to a harsh, tilted world. Environmental adaptations, the very things that define civilized life, are considered in poor style. The climber is forced to return his thinking to the way of the rest of the animal kingdom: instead of changing his surroundings to fit his immediate needs, he must adapt himself to his suroundings. It is easy to see how modern conservation thought came from the chrysalis of the mountain years of its leaders.

[ Galen A. Rowell, "Introduction," The Vertical World, p. xi. Rowell is both a highly accomplished rock climber, photographer, and author of numerous gorgeous publications. Many others have added spectacular documentation in both text and photo, as Arce's Defying Gravity. ]


On the high mesas overlooking the desert of the American Southwest, the traditional Hopi symbolize their understanding of space by attributing to each direction a specific color of corn from which, in turn, a different color of piki (corn bread) is made. The directions to which the six colors refer are not the four compass directions familiar to Western culture, but rather the following: yellow = northwest, blue = southwest, red = southeast, white = northeast. In addition, the Hopis consider: purple = up, and speckled corn = down, to make six in all.

We should bear in mind this venerable color symbolism is fully integrated with the mathematical, clock-like precision and complexity of daily Hopi life, thoroughly imbued with deep psychological and spiritual significance. The impact of such an assertion is brought home when we realize that every traditional Hopi kiva--the partially underground structure used for ritual meetings--has a "smoke hole" in its roof; and while the smoke assuredly does escape from this aperture, it is also the case that the same oculus assists astronomical observation. From each traditional Hopi kiva, the transits of specific stars are marked, and duly logged into an exquisitely exact, comprehensive calendrical system that has, for many centuries, provided the temporal matrix for coordinating ceremony and ritual with planting and the cultivation of crops, as well as with both short- and long-term cycles of weather and climatic change. The six colors are multivalent cultural emblems far, far beyond the level of crude symbolic intellectualism to which similar, once meaningful and reputedly magical schemata have degenerated in other shattered societies of Native American peoples, who may have lost not only most of their land but with it, sadly, much of the substance, soul and spirit of their way of life.

[ A marvelous photo of Hopi corn in six colors appears in the handsome publication by Susanne and Jake Page, Hopi, Abrams, New York (1982), opposite page 97.]

Authentic data on the Hopis in printed form has been difficult to come by, and not just because of a native insistence upon oral modes of transmission. For example, a popular text by Frank Waters, based on material said to have been provided by Oswald White Bear Fredericks makes for intriguing storybook reading, but is regarded as an unreliable source of information. This critique is not merely carping or anthropological snobbery; it has been passed along through Hopi spokesman Thomas Banyacya's translation of forceful comments directly addressed to the issue by Traditional Hopi tribal elders. Specifically, the Traditional Hopis charge Fredericks with bruiting about secrets of the Flute clan to which he had neither spiritual, intellectual, moral, ethical, nor experiential claim: in other words, passing along mere hearsay as though it were a matter of fact about which one had real understanding, genuine authority. Of course, academic writing in the Western world does this all the time--but by different rules: the conventions of collegiality are understood to embrace mutual civility and scholarly respect while acknowledging the contributions of others, giving credit where it is due--and graciously where appropriate--and accurately citing one's sources, with both responsibility and integrity. Thus the tradition.

[ Now see Thomas E. Mails, The Hopi Survival Kit. Penguin/Arkana, 1997 (which appeared in print after this section was written). "The Prophecies, Instructions, and Warnings Revealed by the Last Elders; now made public for the first time--an ancient Hopi spiritual guide that may hold the key to our survival in the next millennium." The dedication is "To all of the Traditionalists who for nearly a thousand years preserved the message from the Creator that will enable the planet and us to survive." Mails does mention some of the earlier researchers and visitors to the Hopi: "It may be poetic justice that in their passionate efforts to expose sacred practices, the researchers shut themselves off from this greatest treasure of all--the Hopi and world survival kit." (p. 24) It is time now for these secrets to be told.]

Plainly put, the culture of the copy, the hoax or the counterfeit progressively subverts--and in the estimate of many has already undermined--the edifice of academic accountability built upon some 500 years of print technology and book studies. The process may have begun already with forged letters and fake broadsides, and may lurk intrinsically in all mechanical modes of reproducing text...whether by letterpress with its moveable type, or by lithography, photography, mimeograph, fax or copier.

Many reflective, literate people are addressing these concerns. Hillel Schwartz presents an ambitious attempt to survey the peculiar Western fascination with the imitatio, including replicas, duplicates, twins and multiples.

Schwartz investigates a stunning array of simulacra--counterfeits, decoys, mannequins, and portraits; ditto marks, genetic cloning, war games and camouflage; instant replays, digital imaging, parrots and photocopies; wax museums, apes, and art forgeries, not to mention the very notion of the Real McCoy.

[Hillel Schwartz, The Culture of the Copy: Striking Likenesses, Unreasonable Fascimiles. Bookjacket blurb, Zone Books, New York (1996).]

The qualification "Western" is important, because there is quite another cultural view of copying elsewhere, as in the Chinese artist's interactive relationship with a tradition of preceding masters. In gratitude for his having done so much of the gathering work, author Schwartz can be forgiven his slight appreciation for Marcel Duchamp's signal to this enormous discourse, not the least entailing his widely influential subversion of concepts like artistic originality, uniqueness, appropriation, etc. An earlier and less inclusive study, but nevertheless providing a delightful approach, is Hugh Kenner's sparring with Buster Keaton's aesthetics in The Counterfeiters.

Kenner sees the origin of modern simulacra in 17th century empiricism, and contains an intriguing section on a chess automaton, written decades before Gary Kasparov met IBM's Big Blue. Yet, as the blurb on the paperback cover of Kenner's book presciently asserted (in 1973!):

"Today we are so proficient at producing synthetic objects that we may soon be unable to distinguish between being truly human and an infinitely clever machine."

[The Counterfeiters: An Historical Comedy. Doubleday Anchor Books (1973).]

The nature of the game fundamentally changed around 1950, almost precisely half a millennium after Johann Gutenberg, when the leading edge of print reproduction became an electronic field, and the internet subsequently began to emerge as a pervasive oceanic presence. The essayist and novelist George Orwell foresaw the full-time profession of data rectification in 1984, as Winston Smith erased physiognomies from official photographs with the same aplomb and precision of real-time 1984 photo-technicians, whether working for the Soviet Union or the CIA. So, from where do we get our information? Whom can we trust? Whose word should we take? Pictures do lie, or can be made to lie. And while the weight of the words for a humanist scholar traditionally depends upon the person of the speaker, the corollary assurance that the author of a printed published text might be held responsible--that is, theoretically capable of responding to comment or critique--has evaporated in the world of virtuality in which the wide web is woven with many thinly-stretched strands of anonymous assumptions and naive presumptions of good faith.

Kurt Vonnegut, the master of phantasmagoria, has become a victim of cyberspace. The famous author and a witty Chicago columnist now are forever linked in what is perhaps the most wide-ranging--if harmless--hoax in the history of the internet. Some mysterious computer nerd attached Vonnegut's good name to a column by Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune, saying it was a transcript of a commencement speech Vonnegut was supposed to have made this year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The cyber-hoaxer sent a copy out over the Internet sometime last week, setting off a chain reaction that has scholars, First Amendment advocates, journalists and cyber-sages arguing anew about the problems that unlimited access to the Internet can create. Vonnegut...never made a commencement speech at M.I.T. But the purported transcript was hilarious and cynical enough to be mistaken for his words...hundreds of thousands of people in the United States, and many around the globe, received it... . Even Vonnegut's ex-wife, photographer Jill Krementz, was fooled, apparently sending e-mail copies to several friends.

Vonnegut believes the incident is confirmation that the Internet, e-mail, cyberspace and computers cannot be trusted. ...[T]he incident certainly raises serious legal questions about infringements over the Internet of copyrights, privacy and attribution, according to Robert Cole, professor of law at U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law. "There is the potential for error or distortion because of the fact that information on the Internet passes through so many hands," Cole said.

["Internet Prank Snares Vonnegut In Its Web," by Peter Fimrite. San Francisco Chronicle, August 8, 1997, p. A1.]

In the case of Hopi anthropology, the question of inauthentic transmission obviously means far more than mere inaccuracies among scholarly footnotes or the cachet of popular writers. The issue raised, however, seems to be much the same: that of the authenticity, or etymologically the "authority," of the author. From the archaic roots of this word, as it was probably associated with early-Neolithic priestly functions, the original quality of "authority" could be objectively determined, by overt consequences, since it was held to derive from the power that makes the crops grow, i.e., from that which is in harmony with Nature and oriented, in principle, toward the spirit of life.

The present author is steward, for the time being, of four 7-inch tapes recorded on an old Nagra III, containing accounts in the Hopi language with interpretations and translations of the major Hopi Prophecies. Since this recording was made, the Hopis have had problems with other media representatives of Western "civilization" and now are much more reticent about either recordings or photographs being made at all--and especially so of sacred or ritual affairs. Another cautionary example involves visual data: the photos published in the Frank Waters book were taken by H. R. Voth, selected from the voluminous collection of his negatives at the Bethel Historical Library in North Newton, Kansas. As Mr. Waters notes, Voth was a Mennonite missionary,

believed to be the only person ever to have made photographs inside the kivas. Photography, even of public ceremonies in the open plaza, was prohibited soon afterward.

[ Frank Waters, Book of the Hopi, Ballantine Books, New York (1963). The note and photos are bound in the middle of the book. As to recordings and guarantees of accuracy, American citizens should recall the mysterious missing 18 1/2 minutes from former President Richard Nixon's infamous White House tapes. The brilliant director Francis Ford Coppola's movie, The Conversation (1974) explores several other problems of authenticity and tape recordings. ]


The Hopi people in the Reverend H. R. Voth's time, so we are told, had never yet seen a camera, or at any rate did not understand just what the instrument could do. When they eventually arrived at that understanding as a consequence of seeing some photos taken by the Mennonite missionary, reluctant action was taken to control recording ritual events--not so much to make new secrets, since after all many of subjects photographed were part of dances or ceremonies performed with the whole community present--but primarily in order to maintain respect for the living moment. In general, however, the pahana (or "white brother") has become so obnoxious that attendance at most Hopi ceremonies has now been made difficult for anyone not a member of the tribe in good standing, or who has not demonstrated they can be trusted with what have become, in effect, secrets. Happily, in any event, the Hopis still remain living where they have always lived, in harmony with the earth and with all creatures sharing their world, and in time with the sun, with the moon, with the planets, and even with distant stars, the people they have always been, as their name says, the people of peace.

In terms of associations with the work of Marcel Duchamp, the theme of the camera's eye might belong more appropriately to a discussion of To Be Looked At With One Eye, Close To, For Almost An Hour (1918), incorporating as that work does the actual lens of a magnifying glass. Also among Duchamp's works, inscribed with Rrose Sélavy's name, is the actual camera with which he and Man Ray shot the Anémic Cinèma (1926).

Missionary Voth's behavior ought to be contrasted with the successes in diplomacy, showmanship and technique by the great American photographer, Edward S. Curtis, who achieved a more friendly and productive relationship with the native peoples of America. In addition to being a superb photographer, Curtis was also a primary innovator of darkroom technique, having developed several specific procedures for making gold- and platinum-plate prints. Stricken with the realization that the native peoples of the continent were rapidly dying out toward the end of the ninteenth century, Edward Curtis resolved to visit every surviving tribe in order to document for posterity whatever visual evidence there remained to be recorded. In this endeavor he enjoyed the assistance of what today would be an advance man along the election trail or concert tour. Things would be set up for Curtis when he arrived, and the entire community awaiting the man ballyhooed with something like "He Who Would Be Bringing The Magic Eye of Future Time." This was, of course, the lens of Curtis' big box camera. But the real sense of it was true. Indeed, the main way we know some of these peoples today is by reference to the photographs of Curtis, whom the Native Americans came to call the Shadow Catcher. Nobody else ever got authentic Native Americans to POSE for them: in all their regalia, and with such dignity, aplomb, true gravitas, courageously looking directly into The Eye...and some of them, no doubt, seeing all too clearly what the Future looked like.

As for Curtis, he kept his word in both spirit and in deed. He spared nothing in making the most supremely beautiful prints, on expensive, gorgeous papers, interleaved and elegantly bound with only the very finest of materials and the most accomplished of craftsmanship. His volumes, with ordinary good fortune, will last as long as any books that have ever been made. This vast, deluxe project called for the political support of President Theodore Roosevelt and the financial underwriting from no less a modern philanthropist than the legendary banker J. Pierpont Morgan (who was also, alas, a principal financier of the First World War). The Curtis project resulted in many volumes (twenty in all), requiring thirty years to publish. Over ten thousand songs were recorded, and Curtis took 40,000 photographs, of which 1,500 were published as photogravure prints for each set of volumes, with another 722 copperplate prints in an accompanying portfolio. 500 sets of the whole twenty volumes were printed, of which some 272 received full Moroccan bindings.

Ultimately, Curtis failed to fulfil his original resolve: there were many tribes that perished altogether, even before he could make it around to visit them with his magic Eye. At the time Curtis was about one-third of the way into his project, a contemporary Native American elder was quoted as saying about the Shadow Catcher,

He is just like us, he knows about the Great Mystery.

[ Barry Gifford, "Introduction," The Portable Curtis: Selected Writings of Edward S. Curtis, Creative Arts Book Co., Berkeley (1976), p. iii. Gifford quotes the article by Professor Edward S. Meany, "Hunting Indians with a Camera," World's Work (March, 1908). ]


The art historical game of ascribing influences is a dicey one, especially problematical in the twentieth century when information can be so swiftly and widely disseminated. We have no particular reason to suppose that Marcel Duchamp was directly influenced by the Hopis, the Chinese, or the Delphic Oracle. Notwithstanding the issues of historical artistic influence or the sources of an artist's inspiration, we are certainly not limited to looking only for linear, causal relationships in order to understand a work of art or an artist's oeuvre. At some sufficiently deep level, the art of all people is about the same thing and involves the same essential processes: art is a "putting together," generally intending to induce an experience of wholeness, potentially embracing all dialectic and distinction. Great art always recalls in us the Unity as vision or revelation. The vision that inspired and focussed the magic eye of Edward Sheriff Curtis' camera lens produced documentation that (in some cases) is all that remains to provide a bridge between those peoples who lived on this continent--possibly for millennia--and their present descendants, in the midst of invaders and conquerors. And those spectacular photographs must also serve as a bridge for the rest of world as well.

The power of the eye is marvelous indeed for our species, with the abundant portion of brain cells we have available for visual cortex processing. We have stressed the importance of LOOKING at the work of art, and have imputed other, extended values to objective examination modeled on scientific observation. Marcel Duchamp was deeply absorbed, for most of his life, in studies of precision optics and perspective rendering. But there is another sense in which we must understand vision, a way that has less to do with ordinary perception, seeing with the physical eyes, than with the mind's eye: what we sometimes call insight. One of the best known emblematic representations of this idea, suggesting an esoteric internal source of knowledge: the so-called "third eye."

For contemporary educators in the Western world, one of the most basic challenges--and most glorious of opportunities--is the task of designing and implementing bridges between the two great traditions of teaching. The exoteric mode (depending upon external correspondences, such as written texts) began in earnest with the invention of the alphabet and the emergence of a scientific attitude in ancient Greece. This objective, exoteric mode of transmitting cultural teachings was nourished in Islam following the inspiration of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), and flourished during the Renaissance in Europe, initially so dependent upon the Greek and Latin classical texts that had been preserved by scholars in Arabic and Hebrew. In the Age of Enlightenment, the Western world established an intellectual dominance through the intellectual power of the modern scientific method abetted by the compelling material agency of industrial technology: the steam-driven, then the electric printing press--and also compelling gunpowder, ordnance, ballistics, naval architecture, we should not forget.

A complementary esoteric mode (depending upon internal coherence), was the preferred way of transmitting information for the millennia before reading and writing appeared. This approach balance disembodied abstractions with experiential, epistemic, embodied wisdom. Because our species has always needed a balance of both ways to arrive at the most efficient means of transmitting information most worth knowing to successive generations of children, both methods of imparting information have their advantages, as well as their downsides or pitfalls. The complementary process models now often seem desperately out of balance: what the Hopi people characterize as koyaanisqatsi. We should question any educational system that perpetuates a bias systematically overstating the utility of one approach while minimizing its shortcomings, and overlooking the continued relevance and purpose of the other, disparaging or oblivious of its promise.

If we are to explore the fullest orders of meaning in a work of art, we must proceed cognizant of but unhindered by arguments about imagined artistic intentions, beyond stifling speculation about historical influences, and free from anxious concerns about "investment values." Helpful in such a balanced approach are studies of art in relation to things that change least in our world, phenomena essentially the same for all peoples: number, color, musical tones, stars in the sky, anatomy and physiology, the structure and function of the human psyche. It should become apparent upon reflection--since, for example, musical tones can be indicated by counting cycles per second, and colors by counting frequency or angstrom units--that number has a special significance in all this. Moreover, through the agency of number many of these phenomena and modes of perception may come to serve as practical keys for making successful and sublimely useful translations between different languages and media forms as between whole nations or cultures, fostering global consciousness and heightening humanity's realization that WE ARE ONE.


Oscar Wilde, with his typically flippant brilliance, urged his readers not merely to regard "The Critic as Artist," but as a meta-artist. The critic was the artist's artist, working at some higher level of awareness and deliberation--more "refined." For Wilde, the superior spectator thus comes to embody both functions of artist and critic. Wilde would have understood very well Duchamp's use of the term régardeur, and his notion of critical function accords very well with Duchamp's insistence upon the active role of consciousness and the importance of choice in the creative act. Similar ideas may be what Duchamp had in mind in 1957 when he spoke of the roles played by the spectator and posterity--about the "art coefficient":

like an arithmetical relation between the unexpressed but intended and the unintentionally expressed...a personal expression of art...still in a raw state, which must be "refined" as pure sugar from molasses, by the spectator.

[ Sanouillet, Salt Seller, p. 139. Perhaps really worthwhile critics and historians must be like a refiner's fire.]

This dynamic interaction between intention and expression, as might be expected, forms a favorite field of study within esoteric disciplines. The piece of sculpture we are presently analyzing in this text, With Hidden Noise, is doubly involved with mysteries or secrets: it contains the secret within, the hidden object: as it were, the esoteric content. This was unintended by Duchamp, but intended (and inserted) by Walter Arensberg. It is unexpressed when the piece of sculpture is exhibited at rest, but expressed (whether intentionally or not) if it is picked up. Again, on the surface of the brass plaques, are painted and inscribed (intentionally expressed) the ciphered words and letters, not only mystifying all who have tried to make sense out of them. The semantic content--their intentional sense--according to Duchamp himself, was meaningless: hence a sort of exoteric puzzle, as well. Accordingly--in the teeth of these logical convolutions--our method of procedure prudently intends to scrutinize evidence from both great traditions of communication and education: we must drink from both wells: the esoteric and the exoteric.

A valuable key lies in the sense of inquiry itself as an activity. This may be revealed by a close study, for example, of the verb TO SCRUTINIZE, which indicates a processes of careful investigation and critical study. The Latin form of this verb meant to rummage in a heap of trash, and was popularly used to describe the activities of ragpickers. The noun scruta means trash, and also frippery (pretentious finery, elegance, frills and trivia); the Indo-European root skeru gives us the cognates SHRED, SHROUD, SCROLL, ESCROW and SCROTUM. Perhaps SCRUTINY is just as suitable to describe our approach as it is for Duchamp's Readymade style and famously salacious sense of humor.

The roots of the esoteric tradition of course go much deeper than any historical records, or anything that can be documented by written words. Such a recognition is implicit in the reverberations of meaning elicited by James Joyce's profound announcement of an awakening from the "nightmare" of history. If "history" is only to be counted by markers: "that which has been made to stand up," or as the Greeks had it, "erected, like the mast of a ship," then we are only reckoning by the traces and scattered fragments of hard, material records left by a small portion of the earth's erstwhile denizens, and those primarily from the temperate latitudes. As Leo Frobenius emphasized, there was missing from this view of human culture the tropical, archaic, communal, oral, ritual, and essentially non-material culture of die unsichtbaren Gegenspieler, in Joseph Campbell's words, "the invisible counterplayers."

[Joseph Campbell, The Way of the Animal Powers. Volume I, Historical Atlas of World Mythology. Harper and Row, San Francisco (1983), p. 41. The translation is from Leo Frobenius, Indische Reise, Reimer Hobbing, Berlin (1931), p. 122-123. ]

There was, for example, an especially rich matrix of esoteric traditions anciently extending from Asia Minor and the Middle East, through Persia and Central Asia, all the way to Tibet, Mongolia, and the great deserts of the Takli Makan and the Gobi, and finally to the western shore of the Pacific Ocean from whence, indeed, it may have originated. This coherent tapestry of lore collectively came to be identified with the Sufis, who were generally respected--and who sometimes brilliantly flourished--under the aegis of Islam up until the present century. Whether told in folksy, time-honored teaching stories or in sophisticated literary expressions written in elegant calligraphic scripts, there was always a good chance that scrutiny might reveal concealed Sufic meanings after the tradition of the Carbonari, called the "Coal Men," masters of the secret language of the Qabala. This is a difficult and recondite subject, but the following comments by Idries Shah may provide some valuable clues about the orientation of the system and how it works.

"Seek knowledge, even as far as China," the phrase which is on all Sufi lips, has more than a literal or even a figurative sense. The meaning is unlocked by analyzing the use of the word "China," interpreted through the secret language.

"China" is the codeword for mind concentration, one of the Sufi practices, an essential prerequisite to Sufic development. The phrase is important partly because it provides an example of the coincidence in interpretation possible in either Arabic or Persian languages. Neither has any real connection with the other. The fact that the word for "China" in both, though spelled and pronounced differently, decodes to substantially the same concept, invests this phrase with special significance for the Sufi.

Here is the method of decoding: CHINA. In Arabic SYN (letters Saad, Ya, Nun). Equivalent numbers: 90, 10, 50. Totaled, these letters yield the number 150. Splitting by hundreds, tens and units: 100 + 50 (no units remain). Retranslated into numbers: 100 = Q, plus 50 = N. Q and N recombined to form a word: QN. The word QN (in the form QaNN) represents, in Arabic, the concept of "scrutinizing, observing," and is therefore taken as a symbol of concentration, focus. The injunction now reads: "Seek knowledge, even as far as concentration (of the mind)."

CHINA. In Persian CHYN (letters Che, Ya, Nun). Equivalent numbers: 3, 10, 50. Before translating into numbers, the Persian letter Che (CH) is first exchanged for its nearest equivalent in the Abjad scheme {the Arabic qabala} which is J. The three sums totaled: 3 + 10 + 50 = 63. These numbers retranslated into letters: 60 = SIN; 3 = JIM. The word we now have to determine is a combination of S and J. SJ (pronounced SaJJ) means "to plaster or coat, as with clay." Reverse the order of the letters (a permissible change, one of very few allowed by the rules) and we have the word JS. The word is pronounced JaSS. This means "to inquire after a thing; to scrutinize (hidden things); to ascertain (news)." This is the root of the word for "espionage," and hence the Sufi is called the Spy of the Heart. To the Sufi the scrutinization for the purpose of ascertaining hidden things is an equivalent, poetically speaking, with the motive for concentrating the mind.

[ Idries Shah, The Sufis, Anchor Books edition, Doubleday & Co., Inc., Garden City, New York (1971), p. 202 f.]