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Long After Duchamp

Down the elegance of this stairway flows an unseen nude. Don’t mistake her for the one in the Duchamp painting, a stutter of unkempt rhomboids. This one is a creature of fictive music, someone flowing into and out of herself with abandon and glee. She knows that we can’t see her, and guesses that we would rather not. She assumes that we admire the purity of the curved rail without a human hand marring it, and prefer that the pie-shaped treads and arc of white wall remain innocent of ghostly presence.

This invisible nude is the residue of an unresolved schism. It happened in our mutual youth: the ideal form, distraught with the actual person, went adrift. That actual person lives nearby. Like us she has stumbled backward into age, but retains her outline, still casts a shadow. We phone and ask her to come and identify this detached and brightly polished figure. But when she arrives she can’t see it, either. We all agree, though, that unlike Duchamp’s rickety cubist slur this nude self-enhances with opalescent transparency, critiquing flesh by its absence.

  William Doreski