In a section of his notes titled "Specifications for 'Readymades,'" included in the Green Box (1934), Marcel Duchamp wrote,

buy a pair of ice-tongs as a Rdymade

[Sanouillet, Salt Seller, p. 33.]

Now, we may choose to accept Duchamp's gambit by reading this as an injunction: performing the piece by going out and buying a pair of ice-tongs. It turns out to be not such an easy matter these days. Aha! And why not? Because the Ice Man cometh no more...or seldom, no longer keeping his appointed rounds. Symptomatically, even the professional basketball player George Gervin, who took the nickname "Ice Man," has retired; although, following a discovery in the summer of 1991, the 5000 year-old mummified remains belonging to a Neolithic hunter, who apparently fell into a Tyrolean crevasse and froze to death, were popularly dubbed the Ice Man. Still, it is difficult these days to find one of those street corner, coin-operated ice-block dispensing machines, once a common city sight up through the 1950s. And why? Because not many people have ice-boxes any more, hence the scarcity of ice tongs. In fact, only a few people had electric refigerators in the mid-1920s--some 65,000 in 1924--but over seven million just ten years later. The ice block began to melt from the scene: a big ephemeral cube of ice for Duchamp's hypothetical Ready-made tongs.

[Wilson, et. al., Machine Age, p.26.]

The refrigerator, or "reefer," in use earlier aboard oceangoing ships, was adapted for domestic use and marketed successfully only around 1929, the same year in which the great Soviet scientist Pavlov published his study of Conditioned Reflexes in the U.S.S.R. Of some poetic significance, no doubt, television appeared in research labs in the following year, although it did not come into widespread use in the United States until just about mid-century. By the early 1950s--through both increased air travel and the dissemination of magazines such as Mad, Esquire and Playboy--American popular culture also began to exert a stimulating impact on artistic ideas in Great Britain:

Early in 1952, as Jasia Reichard has chronicled it, a group of young London artists, writers and architects formed a discussion group which met at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Determined to catch a sense of history as it was happening rather than as it one day might be written, they called themselves the Independent Group and met to discuss topics as wide-ranging as science, cybernetics, information theory, philosophy, communications, mass media, pop music, fashion, industrial design, violence in the cinema and automobile styling. The Group included Eduardo Pao-lozzi, William Turnbull, Richard Hamilton, Peter Reyner Banham, Lawrence Alloway...Allison and Peter Smithson...among others....Richard 1956 at the Whitechapel Gallery exhibition in London called "This is Tomorrow," created the first genuine work of Pop, and certainly one of the earliest fully-matured pieces of New Super Realism called Just What is it that Makes Today's Homes so Different, so Appealing?

[Mario Amaya, Pop Art...and After, Viking Press, New York (1965), p. 32 f.]

In that well-known collage, Richard Hamilton, the Duchamp scholar and fan, summed up an early pictorial inventory of Pop sources that included TV, newspapers, tape recorders, comic books, reprise movies (like The Jazz Singer), vacuum cleaners for split-level housing, plastic fruit, car logos, canned food--but not yet frozen TV dinners--adulation of the human body, and the famous Tootsie POP that was soon to give its name to an entire artistic movement.

The trademark refrigerant Freon (also used to propel aerosols) replaced the earlier use of ammonia, and introduced the new curse of pollution by CFCs, the chemical compounds which interact with sunlight when released into the atomosphere, as important precursors of chlorine monoxide, which then attacks and depletes the layer of ozone shielding a vast range of both plant and animal forms of life on Earth from the absorbtion of potentially lethal doses of Ultraviolet-B rays from the Sun--a modern manifestation of the Arrows of Apollo, as The Destroyer. It's really too bad, because CFCs are cheap and efficient, they don't explode or behave weirdly and--apart from the fact, long concealed and deceitfully denied by patent holders, that they may lead to frying many life forms on the surface of our planet subsequent to destruction of the ozone layer--they would appear to be safe.

The Du Pont Corporation has tried to push reputed "substitutes" such as the HCFCs, but they have the very great drawback of acting far worse than carbon-dioxide as a greenhouse gas, and are already responsible for over 20% of the current global warming, portending devastating effects for the world's climate. What happens when everybody else wants refrigerators? The political leaders in "developing" countries such as China and India are promising refrigerators to their enormous populations: so, "we" can have them, but "they" can't? Returning to the use of ammonia or other gasses is possible; alternatively, new technologies (not using compressed air) are being explored. Some possibilities are the thermo-eloectric cooling module developed by Igloo, the heat-transfer principles of absorption coolers by York, utilizing water and salt, and running off natural gas, or the new use of sound to effect heat-transfer as in the thermo-acoustic research conducted at the US Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

[See Caldicott, If You Love This Planet, p. 22. Information on new cooling technologies was reported by National Public Radio in a feature story on May 12, 1992.]

The origin of the term "air-conditioning" (and of the earliest practical air-conditioning systems) provides yet further evidence of the way in which everything somehow relates to everything else.

The expression is credited to physicist Stuart W. Cramer, who in 1907 presented a paper on humidity control in textile mills before the American Cotton Manufacturers Association. Control of moisture content in textiles by the addition of measured quantities of steam [Eau & Gaz?!] into the atmosphere was then known as "conditioning the air." Cramer, flipping the gerundial phrase into a compound noun, created a new expression, which became popular within the textile industry. Thus, when an ambitious American inventor named Willis Carrier produced his first commercial air conditioners around 1914, a name was awaiting them. An upstate New York farm boy who won an engineering scholarship to Cornell University,...a year after his 1901 graduation, he tackled his first commercial air cooling assignment, for a Brooklyn lithographer and printer. Printers had always been plagued by fluctuations in ambient temperature and humidity. Paper expanded or contracted; ink flowed or dried up; colors could vary from one printing to the next.

A gifted inventor, Carrier modified a conventional steam heater to accept cold water and fan-circulate cooled air. The true genius of his breakthrough lay in the fact that he carefully calculated, and balanced, air temperature and air flow so that the system not only cooled air but also removed its humidity--further accelerating cooling.

[Charles Panati, Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things, (Perennial Library) Harper and Row, New York (1987), p. 159 f.]


Through the efforts of advertising and PR campaigns such as those featuring Ronald and Nancy Reagan in their all-electric house, marketing moguls at General Electric promoted a new demand for all electric appliances. Among these, home freezers may have been the most insidious in their consequences, for by popularizing the use of frozen food in the daily diet, a nation was induced to change its way of eating, hence our ways of preparing food; and the new means and equipment used for storing food changed the way we shopped for food, and so also, inevitably, the way that food itself was produced. The transformation of the market probably couldn't have come about without the television set, a new electric altar before which people began to sit in order to eat their TV dinners, now "conveniently" retrieved from the freezer. While soon enough, Raytheon's Radar Range led to frozen food that could be swiftly thawed out, the first intimation of the microwave oven came from Great Britain's wartime secret radar project (although it came about years later and entirely by accident).

Microwave cooking can accurately be described as the first absolutely new method of preparing food since Homo erectus's discovery of fire...[because] there is no application of fire, or of a fiery element, direct or indirect, to the food. Pure electromagnetic energy agitates the water molecules in food, producing sufficient heat for cooking.

One day in 1946, Dr. Percy Spencer, an engineer with Raytheon Company, was testing a magnetron tube when he reached into his pocket for a candy bar. He discovered that the chocolate ahd melted to a soft, gooey mess. Well aware that microwaves generate heat, he wondered if the candy had been critically close to radiation leaking from the tube....He sent out for a bag of popcorn kernels, placed them near the tube, and within minutes, kernels were popping over the laboratory floor....

Not until 1952 could a home owner purchase a domestic microwave oven. Produced by the Tappan Company, the oven had two cooking speeds, an on-off switch, and a twenty-one minute timer; it retailed for $1,295.

[Panati, Extraordinary Origins, p. 125 f.]

Of far greater consequence to the other species with whom we share the planet, may be the connection between the market for frozen foods and the changes it induced in the way food was produced, i.e., the shift from mom and pop, family-owned or small-scale market farms to the huge monocrop farming of corporate agribusiness, which could--through refrigeration--get enormous harvests to market before they perished. Non-diversified crops are statistically more susceptible to devastation by pests, since vulnerability to a single insect species, mold, bacterium, or virus can lead the the loss of an entire harvest. This encouraged the use of pesticides marketed by the chemical and petroleum industries, and the addition of toxics to the ecosphere, with the ironic consequence of inducing mutations that produced new pesticide-resistent strains of pest species, thus accelerating the vicious cycle of developing--and applying--newer and more devastating toxic pesticides, and so on.

This would have been unconscionable--perhaps even unthinkable--behavior for the tradition of successful farming that had been passed along since the Neolithic, the end of which was marked (in effect, through bookkeeping alterations in the definition of "ownership") when the maximum size of agricultural land qualifying for U.S. water subsidies was increased from the single-family-farmable area of 160 acres. That made it profitable for large-scale agribusiness to engage in soil exploitation, in most cases with little of that concern for long-term effects (which constituted a major substratum of RELIGION for the Neolithic), but with much anxiety about short-term monetary returns. This insouciance of bad stewardship also perpetuated the sacrifice of the nation's most fertile agricultural land to the selfish chicanery and benighted imperatives of real estate speculation or "development" scams, including many of those projects involved in financial scandals following the deregulation of the savings and loan industry.

To expedite such irresponsible despoiling of the planet Earth, where zoning restrictions had been designed and implemented for the protection of agricultural lands or the natural habitat of threatened and endangered species, they have been attacked by coordinated schemes fueled by direct contributions to individual candidates for public office (or softer money given to political action committees), PR disinformation and media propaganda. Obviously, this presents a challenge and an opportunity for mindful citizens to reconsider the apparent consequences of our past collective actions, and where necessary to elect or promote to the appropriate positions in government new representatives who will act responsively and responsibly; or revolution. As with the issue of defining what constitutes "wetlands" to be protected from development, the government has also colluded in attempts to subvert the results of scientific inquiry and to pervert the sense of common words in the language itself. Obviously this presents a challenge and an opportunity for true scholars, artists, philosophers, and poets to enlighten, and where necessary to reconsti- tute the integrity of both image and language, perhaps along the lines of the ancient Celtic bards or the Welsh tradition of the Eisteddfod.


The perceptive critic Leo Steinberg, in an essay on Hans Haacke for the catalogue of his 1986-87 exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, although not mentioning With Hidden Noise specifically, cited two of its main attributes--as a Ready-made, and as a "box" (CARRE)--which remain lively themes for modern art.

The question "Is it Art" usually comes in the rhetorical mode, as if there were a categorical answer....Do Duchamp's famous ready-mades now exist as anything but works of art--the store-bought snow shovel, the bottle rack, and the rest? ...And since Duchamp's day, "when [as Joyce pointed out] we were jung and easily freudened," we have admitted under the heading of art grosser improbabilia--artifacts whosse aesthetic presence was as nothing compared to their unforgettable impact as facts.

Would someone please write the history of "The Box" in latter twentieth-century art? Frank Lloyd Wright despised rooms with four walls and could think of no grosser insult than calling them "boxes." And how that degraded thing has been exhalted in sculpture! The plain wooden box accompanied by a playback of the noises made in producing it; the minimal cubes, uncertainly solid or hollow; Haacke's own Condensation Cubes; Brillo boxes indistinguishable [sic!] from their prototypes in the supermarket. Et cetera.

[Leo Steinberg, "Some of Hans Haacke's Works," Hans Haacke, p. 9 f.]

David Smith, master of the craft of welding, assembled super-imposed steel boxes in his Cubi series of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Donald Judd also worked with cubic masses in the middle 1960s,but unlike Smith who executed all of his own pieces, Judd left the realization of his sculptural concepts and designs to the skill of industrial technicians, thereby continuing the spirit of Duchamp's early Readymades as "Made-to-orders." Cubic forms have retained a self-referential significance for most of modern art since the emergence of Cubism in the first decade of the twentieth century. Again, it was quite to be expected that they would appear in any art that dealt with common objects, such as the Pop Art of the 1960s. Following the series of Death and Disaster silk screens produced in the early 1960s--from the jet airplane crash of 129 Die (1962) through images of car crashes, the electric chair, the Kennedy assassination, race riots, and nuclear explosions--Andy Warhol's second show at the Stable Gallery in 1964 featured his distinguished Brillo boxes.

In fact, there was a variety of boxes--Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Mott's Apple Juice, Heinz Ketchup, and Del Monte Vegetables. On raw plywood forms the size and shape of cardboard cartons, Warhol had silkscreened these supermarket logos. The boxes stood in casual stacks, as if the gridded repetitions of his paintings had found their way into three dimensions. The following year, the Minimalist sculptor Robert Morris showed gray, nearly cubical forms. No one has suggested that these severe objects originated in Warhol's boxes-- they are, after all, plausible developments from sculptures Morris had made in earlier seasons--yet affinities between Pop and Minimal art seem clear. Warhol's Gold Marilyn is a monochrome painting violated by a media image, and his Boxes of two years later assault the Minimalist cube even before the latter had made an appearance.

[Carter Ratcliff, Andy Warhol, Modern Masters Series, Abbeville Press, New York, (1983), p. 46; see also illustration No. 46, p. 47.]

The turn of phrase from critic Leo Steinberg notwithstanding, Warhol's Brillo boxes really are easily distinguished from the "real" thing: visible holes and nail heads holding the boxes together, textures of the plywood surface, and irregularities in the silkscreened image itself give the game away. That "violated Minimalist monochrome" painting, Andy Warhol's Gold Marilyn Monroe (1962), was given to New York's Museum of Modern Art by the architect Philip Johnson, himself the designer of a famous cubiform glass house in Connecticut.

Among other pieces combining essentially cubic forms with the Duchampian medium of glass--including the use of mirrored surfaces--a series of untitled works from the late 1960s by Larry Bell and the several mirrored rooms and corridors by Lucas Samaras both capitalize on the medium's potential for creating spatial ambivalencies. We have commented in some detail upon the Mirrored Room, No. 2 executed by Samaras in the early 1960s, having also proposed certain refinements--admittedly, perhaps, of slight interest to Samaras-- that might enable one, nevertheless, to imagine a realization of Duchamp's idea to

Have a room made entirely of mirrors which one can move--and photograph mirror effects...

[Duchamp, "A l'Infinitif," in Sanouillet, Salt Seller, p. 76.]

The visual/optical effects, in this instance, seem to have been more important to Duchamp than the idea of the room as architectural sculpture. The mirrors could be mounted so as to permit accurate adjustment, much as the new generation of large-scale astronomical mirrors composed of separately ground and fashioned mirrored segments are all very carefully aligned so as to provide accurate and variable curvatures. Within the space of a mirrored cube, one experiences the illusion of infinite reflections, the "barbershop mirrors" effect. It is possible to get a hint of this inside the Samaras piece (by closing the corner-door the only light source, and striking a match, possibly itself an act of expropriation, since quite obviously this is NOT an intention of the Samaras room with its quasi-Surrealists table and chair covered with mirrors, and with its completely mirrored exterior surface, all of which are completely irrelevant for Duchamp's idea.

We have suggested an approach to understanding the epistemology of With Hidden Noise quite literally through revolution: turning the piece over so that it stands upon what before stood over. Of course, to say this is to play with the words UNDERSTANDING and EPISTEMOLOGY (Greek epi-"upon" + histanai "to stand, to place" + logos "word, speech, reason") which literally means "overstanding," and so suggests the physical rotation of the piece of sculpture in space. Yet, the conventional meanings of those words also apply, with UNDERSTANDING referring to insight and comprehension, and EPISTEMOLOGY to a theory of knowledge, or how it is that we know what we think we know. In much the same way, the word REVOLUTION may be "understood" both in the sense of a spatial action (enjoined by Duchamp's inscription on the piece and essential for generating the "hidden noise"), and in the extended sense related to transformations of ecological and economic(as well as the related social and cultural) orders.

A deeply instructive mathematical model for revolution may be found in G. Spencer Brown's "calculus of indication," Laws of Form, in the section on "Equations of the Second Degree," as one tunnels under the surface upon which a distinction has been drawn. In particular, the effective transmission of values from the outside to the inside may be arranged by the process of SUBVERSION. In some transformations the memory function is retained, but in others it is apparently lost, suggesting profound implications, that perhaps ought to be pondered with great care by any who might seek to apply these principles to artistic expression and other forms of cultural activity. For example, right away we may notice a difference in the choice of prepositions used to illustrate these processes. In this order of space--recalling observations of Buckminster Fuller about flying--concepts of ABOVE and BELOW seem to be less useful than OUT and IN, or OUTSIDE and INSIDE.

So it is, also, with boxes. In January 1984, in an exhibition held at the public mall of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Haacke showed U.S. Isolation Box, Grenada, 1983. There wasn't much to it: an unpainted cube, hastily hammered up, about eight feet high, narrow window slits near the top, some small ventilation holes here and there, and, on one of the sides, in large stencilled letters, the words:

The exhibition was organized by...Artists' Call Against U.S. Intervention in Central America, an ad hoc coalition of artists in the U.S. and Canada, [which] staged numerous exhibitions,performances, and other events in over twenty cities from January to March 1984. They were organized in protest against U.S. policy in Central America and in solidarity with the victims of that policy....Shortly after the exhibition opened, the administration of the Graduate Center moved the sculpture into a dark corner of the mall and turned it in such a way that the inscription was hardly visible. Only after protests was the work restored to its original position....

Haacke's Isolation Box is an accusing object, and, as befits its foursquare presence, it levels its broadsides four ways: at the U.S. Army for violating the Geneva Convention on Human Rights; at the complicit silence of public opinion; at the know-nothing aloofness of those minimalist works ensconced in the safety of art; and finally at the discerning critic. For if Haacke's piece--despite its stylistic kinship with Minimalism--is classified as non-art on the grounds that the lettering on it betrays propagandistic intention, then the critic stands self-accused of being wholly distracted by subject matter, and thus ipso facto disqualified from aesthetic judgement.

[Steinberg, "Some of Hans Haacke's Works," Hans Haacke, pp. 258, 14.]

Perhaps deriving a cruel lesson from the final failure of the government's attempt to control news reporting of the war in Vietnam, the Reagan administration employed a pattern of inventing information and manipulating the media in Grenada which set a precedent for the succeeding fiascoes of the Panamanian invasion and the barbarities of Iraq. It's not as though, by searching a bit, one couldn't discover some clues as to what was going on. In his own catalogue notes for U.S. Isolation Box, Grenada, 1983, Hans Haacke records the reaction to exhibition of his piece by the New Museum of Contemporary Art and the City College of New York--that is, the negative reaction to exhibiting the work of art drawing attention to the incidents in Grenada, and NOT to those incidents themselves. He also documents the insidious network of right-wing political interests associated with those disparaging art critics such as Hilton Kramer, writing in The New Criterion and Thomas Woodruff in the Wall Street Journal, who linked Haacke's artrespectively to "the Stalinist ethos" and "obscenity and pornography." But Haacke was also able to quote reports in the standard press:

David Shribman reported in the New York Times, November 17, 1983, that the U.S. troops that had invaded Grenada detained prisoners in boxlike isolation chambers at the Point Salines airport. The wood boxes measured approximately eight by eight feet, had four small windows so high that one could see neither in nor out, and had a number of ventilation holes with a radius of half an inch. Inside one box as prisoner had written, "It's hot in here." The prisoners were forced to enter these boxes by crawling through a hatch that extended from the floor to about knee level.

Or look at it this way. Had Haacke's piece lacked the stenciled inscription, it would have been a Minimalist sculpture of a late academic sort--art, yes, but wnating the charm of originality. With the label displayed, it becomes, you say, not even bad art--merely crude anti-government propaganda. But if it was an art event when [Donald] Judd and [David] Smith inducted plain cubes into art, then it is likewise an art event when another specimen of the class solicits its own expulsion from art by reminding us that just such minimal boxes are used by U.S. invasion forces to confine enemy prisoners. The reminder proceeds from the legend on one side of the cube. Well, then, suppose we whitewash the legend (as the CUNY administration at the Mall tried to do) turn it face to the wall. Have we thereby converted a non-art object (a piece of mere propaganda) into a passable sculpture? What an ingenious, user-friendly device for instant art Haacke will have invented! Think of it: an artist fashions a non-art object which any member of the Art Handlers Union may win for art by rotating it 180 degrees. Why, it's a magic box!

[Steinberg, "Some of Hans Haacke's Works," Hans Haacke, pp. 258, 14.]

The crucial element in Hans Haacke's "magic box" is the imaginary human being inside. By engaging that hypothesis, the sculpture becomes a radical work of art addressing the issue of torture: offering social and political commentary, not only on the abuse of human rights by the U.S. government, but also on the frighteningly effective PR cover-up and the notorious, blatant control of information exemplified by the entire misadventure in Grenada. The program of disinformation went far beyond the usual military concern for operational secrecy; it seems to have been conceived from the beginning as a callous and cynical manipulation of the American mass mind through the euchred agency of the media. The was no question of an "enemy" being deceived, nor even--considering the differences in relative firepower between the U.S. and any ragtag Grenadine forces--much need for tactical secrecy. No other real purpose was served, nor was any Grenadine citizen fooled by fallacious, fabricated feeding of a sieved and sequestered press pool. This was show time, pure and simple, soon followed by Panama and Iraq.


We have all along sought to divine what may be inside Marcel Duchamp's With Hidden Noise, approaching it as a veritable magic box.

This focus of interest has led us to reconsider the ancient dictum of alchemical lore attributed to the legendary figure of Hermes Trismegistus ("Thrice-great Hermes"), originally stated:


Applying this, literally, to Duchamp's piece of sculpture would lead to turning it over: performing "revolution" not once, but eight times. For, as we have seen, fully eight revolutions are necessary to follow the flow of the inscriptions--from the face of one brass plaque to that of the other, according to the arrows--beginning with the cursive sentence that provides indications for reading the cipher, then reading the letters of the cipher itself, in two sets of three lines each, as inscribed within the grid.

Since With Hidden Noise has been recognized (quite appropriately) as an important aesthetic statement from one of the present century's greatest--and unquestionably among the most influential--artists, the piece of sculpture had suffered, as have many other precious and valuable things, transformation into an object (or subject) of virtual cultural idolatry. This is understandable from the point of view of historical social psychology, and no objection is raised here to the practical demands of prudent conservatorship. Yet, this does little to relieve the irony that, according to the canons of good behavior in art galleries and museums today, one is forbidden to PERFORM the piece as the artist himself has FURNISHED it, by virtue of the inscription--which is, by the way, couched in the form of an injunction. This is important in the full sense of the word PERFORM--in the light of what we can divine about Duchamp's intent--which we take to indicate a process for the complete and thorough realization of the work of art.

Few other pieces by Duchamp have been so explicit about this requisite interaction, although the idea was of particular importance for most of the Readymades, and is implied by many works, as in the title of To Be Looked At..., by the peep holes in Etant donnés, and so forth. A different order of performance seems to be called for here, one in which the intellect and imagination might be engaged with this extraordinary product of the combined creative inspirations of both Duchamp and his collaborator, Walter Arensberg. Not having been granted permission, nor yet presented with the occasion, even with white gloves--nor yet by stealth--to touch the piece, we have had to imagine it tumbling in space, thus recasting the venerable dictum:


Now, what should come to mind while contemplating, in one's imagination, the sculpture's revolving exterior form? How many other more-or-less common, essentially cubic objects, given to tumbling in space, can one think of? Attempting to read some sense into the cipher in the search for clues, we recall that Duchamp himself referred to

three short sentences in which letters were occasionally missing, like in a neon sign when one letter is not lit and makes the word unintelligible....French and English are mixed and make no "sense."

[D'Harnoncourt and McShine, p. 280; Schwarz, Complete Works, p. 462.]

After all, one might be well advised to take the artist at his word. Yet, there was his use of the cautionary quotation marks around the word "sense." The sentences, the words, and the letters, indeed, may convey little more than the most trivial and obvious sense, but this encourages us to look, not so much for conventional meaning as conveyed by the process of reading, but rather at the form of the cipher itself, as a graphic inscription, the idea of the grid, whatever the specific meaning (or lack thereof) may derive from the letters and dots in the substitution cypher. The idea for inscribing a grid on each of the outer surfaces of the two brass plaques may have been inspired by the reference in Raymond Roussel's Impressions of Africa, that we know so impressed Duchamp and Guillaume Apolinaire when they attended a performance in Paris at the Théâtre Antoine, probably in May, 1912. An early section of Roussel's thoroughly "nutty" text describes an art exhibition--amid tinsel and trappings and severed heads hung from weapons thrust deep into the bark of sycamore trees, around Trophies Square, in the heart of Ejur the capital city, at the coronation (or, restoration) of Talu VII, Emperor of Ponukele and King of Drelshkaf-- comprising twelve watercolors (one titled "The Performance of Daedalus") and featuring, as principal subjects of the series, Flora and the Sergeant Major Lécouron. Number Four of this suite, bearing the title "The Secret Correspondence"

showed the woman in the cloak [the Cumaean Sibyl?] offering Flora one of those special grids which are necessary to decipher certain cryptograms and which consist of a single card with oddly placed perforations.

[Raymond Roussel, Impressions of Africa, translated by Lindy Foord and Rayner Heppenstall, University of California Press, Berkeley (1967), p. 13; see also D'Harnoncourt and McShine, p. 13.]

This citation may serve to redirect our attention to the other elements in the cipher: the twenty "periods," two commas, three arrows, perhaps even the three accent marks (with a fourth implied over what would be the final of débarrass[é], and even the twenty-four void spaces within the grid. We demand objectivity from science, yet why have other writers so misrepresented this simple count? Again, each of the various elements and the number of themes that appear in the cipher suggest an intriguing network of associations-- and we have explored some illustrations of each--but none may be more imperative in this analytical process than the period. The key becomes apparent when we realize that it can also be read as an injunction: STOP!

As a punctuation mark in the context of Indo-European written languages, the period indicates a full stop, and the comma a pause or caesura, which is to say a half-stop. If two half-stops make one full stop, the total is equivalent to twenty-one full stops, periods, pips or "dots," precisely the total number of pips on a single die-- adding up the pips that appear on all six faces. The twenty-one numbered Trump cards of the traditional Tarot deck represent a cycle symbolizing the evolution of human consciousness, the marked numbers being equal to the sum of the pips on a single die, and this provides an important clue to the process (casting a die or dice) by which all of the values for the cards may be determined. With two (undifferentiated) dice, a total of twenty-one different combinations can be obtained, but as we have seen, there is more to it--and here- with we may read the significance of using two commas for a period--because, with two (differentiated) dice the true total of thirty-six combinations can be obtained. So there are fifteen combinations "hidden" when the dice used are indistinguishable one from the other.

Whether or not any of this was intentional on the part of either Arensberg or Duchamp is beside the point, since the paradigm provided by the piece serves as an accurate model for mapping these formal relationships. This is part of what we bring to the piece with our own interaction, that is, in the role of activist regardeurs. Duchamp may have been practicing alchemy without realizing it, as he suggested in a comment that could have been naive or merely coy. His disclaimer to the contrary, one may indeed practice alchemy today with at least a modicum of awareness, in a real sense coming closer than ever before to the heart of the matter.