From Epistemology to the Avant-garde


IN THIS exploratory article I undertake a curious project: to compare the sociology of knowledge and the artwork of Marcel Duchamp along epistemological lines. Both the sociology of knowledge and Duchamp occupy a seemingly contradictory position of simultaneous marginality and centrality in their respective arenas. The sociology of knowledge is most explicitly practiced these days by a small set of researchers who study modern science in society. However, it can be argued that almost all social scientists are sociologists of knowledge in the sense that they aim to explain social phenomena in part through the context of how social actors come to apprehend those phenomena. Outside the art world and apart from one or two quintessential pieces, Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) is not particularly well known. His quirky, esoteric, dispassionate, deeply cognitive work has always been eclipsed in popularity by other 20th-century giants such as Picasso or Matisse. Despite this fact, no artist has had a more profound impact on art and art making in the second half of the century. I intend to demonstrate that many of the epistemological issues central to the sociology of knowledge are on parade in Duchamp’s work. There at least three reasons that bringing them together is important. First, a comparison with Duchamp can help throw some of the negative (critical) and positive (reconstructive) issues in the epistemology of the sociology of knowledge into relief: both launch a reflexive institutional critique of their objects (art and knowledge respectively) but then both ‘rehabilitate’ their objects with an anti-reification1 ‘agenda’ that suggests better, more dynamic

Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Duchamp2003FromET, title={From Epistemology to the Avant-garde}, author={Marcel Duchamp and Aaron Panofsky}, year={2003} }