The association of the cliché with a devalorized and feminized sentimentality—with feeling regarded as excessive, insincere, mechanized, or commercially debased—emerged in the late nineteenth century and was instrumental to the canonization of literary modernism in the 1940s and 1950s. This essay proposes a different reading of clichés by focusing on artists who approach the cliché not with grimness but with fascination. Raymond Roussel, Marcel Duchamp, and John Ashbery recognized the cliché's constitutive function in modern culture; its ties to print, photography, and mechanical reproduction; and its vital role in mediating feeling. Rather than bemoan or attack the cliché, each artist put it at the center of their experiments, punning on and playing with clichés to generate a new language of feeling. For this trio of artists, the mechanical origin and mixed nature of the cliché facilitates rather than impedes their efforts to animate “dead metaphors.” Ashbery, a dedicated reader, translator, and critic of Roussel, adapts Roussel's methods, but his adaptations owe much to the work of a crucial intermediary, Duchamp, whose “bachelor machines” originated in his reading of Roussel. By reading Ashbery through Roussel and Duchamp, this essay illuminates an overlooked genealogy for the New York School poets' experiments with feeling.
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Susan Rosenbaum; Mixed Feelings: Ashbery, Duchamp, Roussel, and the Animation of Cliché. Genre 1 March 2012; 45 (1): 87–119. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-1507047
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