What means infrathin? Marcel says, "On ne peut guère en donner que des exemples. C'est quelque chose qui échappe encore à nos définitions scientifiques." (3) It is now time to try to give a definition, even if this proposed definition is partial, and would merit a much longer development.
"Infrathin" generally characterizes a thickness, a separation, a difference, an interval between two things.
At first step, "infrathin" means "very, very, very thin." It could be "1/10e mm = 100 µ = minceur des papiers" as MD says in note MAT 11. But at this level, the concept means "infinitesimal," it is not new nor interesting.
At a second step, "infrathin" characterizes any difference that you easily imagine but doesn't exist, like the thickness of a shadow: the shadow has no thickness, not even at an Angstroem's precision.
At a third step, the most beautiful one, "infrathin" qualifies a distance or a difference you cannot perceive, but that you can only imagine. The best example to introduce you to this notion is this note:
Marcel Duchamp, Note 12, from Paul Matisse, Marcel Duchamp: Notes, 1980© 2000 Succession Marcel Duchamp, ARS, N.Y./ADAGP, Paris.
Séparation infra mince entre le bruit de détonation d'un fusil (très proche) et la marque de l'apparition de la marque de la balle sur la cible.(maximum distance maximum 3 à 4 mètres. — Tir de foire)
Infra thin separation between the detonation noise of a gun (very close) and the apparition of the bullet hole in the target.(maximum distance 3 to 4 meters. — Shooting gallery at a fair)
You know that there is a certain duration between the detonation noise of the shot and the apparition of the hole in the target, but this duration is not perceptible. Marcel Duchamp is certainly not interested in finding the instruments with which you could physically perceive this separation through some new technology. What interests him is making you understand that it is just enough to imagine it.
The more invisible this difference is, the greater is the infrathin dimension of it:
Marcel Duchamp,Note 18, from Paul Matisse, Marcel Duchamp: Notes, 1980© 2000 Succession Marcel Duchamp, ARS, N.Y./ADAGP, Paris.
Marcel Duchamp,Note 35, from Paul Matisse, Marcel Duchamp: Notes, 1980© 2000 Succession Marcel Duchamp, ARS, N.Y./ADAGP, Paris.
La différence (dimensionnelle) entre 2 objets faits en série [sortis du même moule] est inf un infra mince quand le maximum (?) de précision a été est obtenu.
The difference (dimensional) between 2 mass produced objects [from the same mold] is an infra thin when the maximum (?) precision is obtained.
Séparation infra-mince.2 formes embouties dans le même moule (?) diffèrent l'une de l'autre entre elles d'une valeur séparative infra mince.Tous les "identiques" aussi identiques qu'ils soient, (et plus ils sont identiques) se rapprochent de cette différence de séparative infra mince.
Infra-thin separation. 2 forms cast in the same mold (?) differ from each other by an infra thin separative amount. All "identicals" as identical as they may be, (and the more identical they are) move toward this infra thin separative difference.
With these two last notes, we are now very close to the readymades. In an interview in 1960, MD insisted "C'est un objet tout fait, (...) généralement un objet de métal plus qu'un tableau." (4) To Serge Stauffer in 1961, he gives precision about "‘the serial characteristic…' càd. le coté ‘mass production'" of the readymade. And indeed only industrial forms, especially metallic, once taken out of the same mold, look so much alike that their differences are greatly infrathin. Here comes the real reason why Marcel Duchamp's readymades were chosen amid industrial forms. Not at all because they are beautiful, as Louise Norton hints in Marcel's review The Blind Man, in 1917: their beauty doesn't need Marcel Duchamp. But because there is a very Duchampian question about them, which is: is there any difference between "2 mass-produced objects taken out of the same mould?" Is there a difference between two copies of the fifty-pronged bottle rack?
And it is true that the very very old philosophical questions about identity versus similarity, or about the existence of concepts versus the true singularity of individuals, must have been completely removed by the Industrial Age. Examples are very important in philosophy and the examples that the greatest philosophers — Duns Scotus, Plato, Occam, Hobbes, whoever — had in mind to discuss these matters could be faces, tables, pebbles or flowers. But all these objects, so similar could they be, remain very different to the naked eye. And the "argumency" was easy for Hobbes, for example, to demonstrate the irreducible singularity of single things by pointing out the difference between "even" 2 flowers of the same age and species. Confronted with mass-produced objects, such as packs of cigarettes or bottle racks, our notion of identity or our humanist notion of singularity is much more difficult and interesting to maintain.
The following note confirms that MD had this in mind, even in a naive way:
Marcel Duchamp,Note 7, from Paul Matisse, Marcel Duchamp: Notes, 1980© 2000 Succession Marcel Duchamp, ARS, N.Y./ADAGP, Paris.
Semblablité Similarité Le même (fabrication en série) approximation pratique de la similarité. ——— Dans le temps un même objet n'est pas le même à 1 seconde d'intervalle — Quels Rapports avec le principe d'identité?
Sameness similarity The same (mass prod.) practical approximation of similarity.——— In Time the same object is not the same after a 1 second interval - what Relations with the identity principle?
(excerto retirado de The Unfindable Readymade by Hector Obalk)