M. Duchamp, “With My Tongue in My Cheek”, 1959

The especially puzzling in the impression from Duchamp’s profile in his “With My Tongue in My Cheeks” is the visual “incompatibility” between his forehead, eyes and nose on the one hand and his cheek-and-chin which swallowed his tongue and is keeping it locked there in order to paralyze its function as a promoter of talking and, therefore, thinking. The cheek-and-chin with tongue is, as if, not drawn, but photographed – it, somehow, became “fleshlier” than other parts of the profile. What Duchamp meant to say by this drastic visual and stylistic difference between cheek-with-tongue and the other areas of the face? It is, as if, by “swallowing”, “appropriating” and “burying” the tongue – the cheek-and-chin became more “material”, than the other parts of the anatomy of the face.

As it’s well known there’re at least two basic functions of the tongue – physically manipulating food to prepare it for swallowing, and emotionally expressive and verbal. Idiomatically the meaning of “keeping tongue in the cheek” can be to refrain from saying what we want, avoiding being frank, being afraid of saying what we are really thinking.

Duchamp’s (as the subject of annunciated of Duchamp-the artist) cheek-and-chin is fleshly in a sense of its materiality including skin with its pores seen, as if, through a magnifying glass. It is, as if, for Duchamp it was not enough just to draw the cheek more swollen. It is, as if the artist is suggesting that there is a connection between “keeping tongue in cheek” and the tendency to have a more materialistic perception of the world, the human soul and human life. Millions of people in today’s world hide their tongue in their cheek because they don’t want to lose the stability of their jobs, positions, careers, professions and general comfort, etc.

Still, in Duchamp case as an exceptional intellectual artist the main reason for mistreating his tongue is not only fear (which we all have while living in entropic world), but the bitter and depressing feeling that it’s absolutely meaningless to explain to people what he, Duchamp, has understood about his and our condition – having a feverish fear of our violent end and the materiality of this fear. Duchamp was sophisticatedly idealistic fighter with people’s simplistic and naïve idealistic beliefs and formulas. From here comes the ironic and comic semantic coloration of his “self-portrait”. But, probably, according to Duchamp himself he personally wasn’t too fearless in his life and not too frank, while only disinterestedness in human beings’ actions can prevent people from having swallowed their tongue. Duchamp thought about himself as about a rather artist-trickster, somebody who is distant from the world.

Let’s pay attention to the Duchamp’s eyes – it is, as if, he drew them and then erased his very gaze, probably, to get rid of the impression that the gaze is focused on something external or on our vain inner needs perceived as normal. By depicting the cheek-and-chin as the “matter” the artist is parodying not only people’s consumerist-materialistic perception of the world, but the manipulative “materialism” of technical-scientific mind. May be, for this reason the pores of the skin of his cheek-and-chin look exaggerated by, as if, a magnifying glass as a caricature of microscope. In other words, people will notice the swollenness of Duchamp’s cheek and its cellular fabric instead of understanding – why he and us “keep the tongue locked inside it”. While technical science makes the invisible world more understandable, those who finance it from tax-payers’ money will “care” about human and nature’s health through alchemical operation of transforming life of the majority into fear and despair.

It seems like Duchamp is right in that it’s impossible to explain to people with limited humanistic education and with mind full of mass-cultural crude clichés the truth about reality and their life. Cheek-with-tongue of those who understand this begins to swell, while their gaze starts to erase itself. Sometimes I am afraid (and my cheek-and-chin is obviously swelling) that many people will accept the absence of honest medical care, stable job, healthy food and a roof over head, if they will be allowed to take with themselves to nocturnal eternity the cell-phones, several video-games, beer belly, flashy tattoos and Sea-hoax T-shirt, not to forget high-tech machine guns and consciousness that in their past life they were the strongest people on the earth.