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#1591 ~ Sunday, October 19, 2003 ~ Editor: Gloria . Mary Bianco ~ NDS    


ephemeral life sings to eternal death
in nature's permutable
yet enduring

colors and forms partner with 
to perform a celebratory dance 
of joy, praise
and gratitude
for all this wonder.

  Birth is an expression complete this moment. Death is an expression complete this moment. They are like winter and spring. You do not call winter the beginning of spring, nor summer the end of spring.

-Genjo Koan

From "Teachings of the Buddha," edited by Jack Kornfield, 1993. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Boston,

Click to enlarge  
Figure 1  

Man Ray,  Rrose SÚlavy (alias Marcel Duchamp), 1921


Duchamp & Androgyny:
The Concept and its Context

by Lanier Graham

For my grandson Kai

(Author's note: The following article consists of the first three chapters of the
forthcoming Duchamp & Androgyny: Art, Gender, & Metaphysics. For further
information, please contact:
[email protected])



He based much of his work on the ideal of Androgyny (true male-female balance). Bringing together within ourselves the so-called "male" capacity to be rational and the so-called "female" capacity to be intuitive is the stated goal of the meditative traditions within Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. This dynamic harmony is said to be a key to Enlightenment.

Enlightenment (as they understood it) became the objective of many modern artists in their non-religious quest for wholeness, their secular search for the sacred. However, few if any were able to attain this ideal. Various kinds of self-centeredness got in the way. Duchamp was not without shortcomings (especially in his early years) and may not have attained total selflessness, but he seems to have come closer than most. Whatever his limitations, Duchamp was widely regarded by major artists on both sides of the Atlantic ocean as a highly "evolved" human being - perhaps not fully enlightened, but more so than anyone else they were likely to meet.


There is another definition of "androgyny," one that is much older than any of those in common use today, one that is not even found in most dictionaries. This metaphysical definition is even older than the civilizations of Greece and Egypt. It goes back to the Stone Age, but seldom is discussed in scholarship today except by historians of mythology and religion.

The great World Religions of today usually are identified as Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All of them have some of their roots in the spiritual traditions of our Stone Age ancestors who, for thousands of years, venerated the Androgyne as a deity. The public (or exoteric) doctrines and rituals of today's World Religions usually make no reference to the Androgyne or Androgyny. However, the ancient Androgyne has endured as the image of a spiritual goal in the contemplative (or esoteric) teachings of all these religions--teachings traditionally available only in monastic settings for people who have made a total commitment to self-transformation in order to be greater service to the world.

Everyone interested in comparative religion is familiar with the symbolism of Yin-Yang in Taoism, Shiva-Shakti in Hinduism, Yab-Yum in Tibetan Buddhism, etc. These unusual symbols of oneness/two-ness are not limited to Asian religions. All World Religions symbolize themselves with visual forms that have a double structure. Consider the double triangle of Judaism, the star & crescent of Islam, and the horizontal & vertical elements of the Christian Cross. 

As with all mythological symbols, there are many levels of symbolism associated with these images of what might be described as bi-singularity. Among the most commonly discussed are the relationships between the tribe and the transcendent, between the individual and the divine, between male and female, between active and receptive, between spirit and matter, etc.

Among historians of sacred symbolism, it is widely accepted that these images symbolize both the appearance of duality (to ordinary ways of looking) and the larger truth of nonduality - the ultimate cosmic unity of all reality. In short, these double-images of nonduality represent a basic metaphysical teaching: what may seem to be two-ness actually is oneness when seen from a higher level of perception.

There are a handful of symbols that have been used in World Religions for many centuries to represent universal unity. One of the best known is the image of the circle-square usually called a "Mandala," from the Sanskrit term for sacred circle or sacred space. Generally speaking, the square stands for matter, or the material world of forms, while the circle stands for the infinite spirit that surrounds and permeates all forms. Less widely known is the traditional image of the Androgyne in which maleness and femaleness are combined in a single human figure. In the traditional literature, the term Androgyne is capitalized because of its transcendent meaning. So it will be in this book when that specific meaning is intended.


One of his radical answers was the revolutionary "ready-made", which he described as "a work of art for which there is no artist." (16) His ready-mades were industrial products that he selected and signed, declaring them works of art. He went on to redefine art in a highly democratic way by stating that art is whatever an artist says is art (not what critics say is art). Many critics still hate him for that. By removing the "artist" from the center of the concept of art, Duchamp also seems to have been removing the assumed importance of his own Little Self, and thus the whole ego-centered idea of self-importance and self-expression. In short, he seems to have been moving toward Androgyny.

There are a number of traditional indications of how much a person is self-centered. One is aggressiveness.  Duchamp was anything but aggressive. He was gentle and humorous, confident and resolute; he never forced himself on others. Another traditional indication is how much money and material wealth one thinks one needs. Duchamp had little desire for money. His indifference to it was legendary. Duchamp owned very little. For most of his life what he owned would fit into a couple of suitcases and a few boxes. Another sign is whether or not one needs to dominate a conversation, and make others agree with you. Duchamp went out of his way to allow people their positions, as people, as artists, or as critics, even if he did not agree.

p.4] As already noted, certain sacred symbols have been in use continuously for centuries. Among the best-known are double images of nonduality, e.g., those by which world religions symbolize themselves: the Yin-Yang of Taoism, the Circle-Square (or Mandala) of Buddhism, the Double Triangle of Judaism, and the Cross of Christianity. As has been discussed, each symbol is both a two-ness and a oneness. All these double images are intended to remind us of the higher unity that transcends all forms of multiplicity. What seems to be two is one ultimately. Spirit and matter are one. Sky and Earth are one. Male and female are one. 

All those double images of nonduality are rendered in a visual language that is geometric. Geometry as a sacred visual language did not become common until after the Old Stone Age. In other words, abstract geometric forms of this type are part of the settled, post-nomadic experience. There are other double-images images of nonduality which are much older, going back to the Old Stone Age. This group is pictorial, naturalistic, not geometric. The best known examples include the Double-Serpent, which began in the Paleolithic era and has continued into our time as the medical caduceus, and the Flying Serpent whose various forms include the Quetzalcoatl of the Aztecs, and the cosmic Dragons of Asia. The heavenly and the earthly are united in this symbol of what might be called bi-singularity.

The least known of these primordial pictorial symbols is the Androgyne - a single human body which is part-male and part-female. The Androgyne image also has been with us since the Paleolithic era. In Asia it is better known than in the West, where its history and meaning usually are studied only by students of sacred art, archeology, religion, and mythology. Like all works of sacred art, images of the Androgyne are teachings in and of themselves--visual expressions of metaphysical truth.

New Stone Age/Bronze Age figures thought to be Androgynes

One of the earliest of its type known from Nepal, this jeweled representation of the god Siva and his consort Uma depicts them as one being, Ardhanarisvara, the Lord Whose Half Is Woman. The concept of the androgynous image uniting Siva and Uma was devised by theologians to emphasize the nonduality of the divine principle uniting masculinity and femininity. The fact that such images were conceived in a male-dominated civilization reveals the great importance of the feminine principle in Hindu religious thought.

Let us examine, in slightly more concrete terms, the particular forms of some of the archetypal symbols we find in the Vajrayana, many of which have still to do with the transcendence of duality. First let us consider the symbol of the union of male and female, which is so dominant in the Vajrayana tradition. This is a symbol that is archetypal in the sense that it has always been a fundamental part of the experience of living beings. It is a deep-seated element in the individual and collective consciousness of living beings. The union of male and female has served as a symbol of the union of opposites--very often as a symbol of the union of heaven and earth--in the arts, poetry, and literature of most cultures at one time or another.

In the Vajrayana, we find the prevalent use of this very powerful and meaningful element of experience to depict or symbolize the union of emptiness and form, nirvana and samsara, wisdom and compassion. The female aspect stands for emptiness, nirvana, and wisdom, as we saw in Chapter 22, where insubstantiality was represented in the form of the goddesses Nairatmya and Vajravarahi. The male aspect stands for form (phenomenal appearance), samsara, and compassion (skillful means). The female can also stand for emptiness and the male for luminosity, and so on.

The War In Iraq
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Jerry Katz
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