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Beautiful Theology

Signifying truth in more than words alone

Monday, August 27, 2007

Magritte in London

Saturday I indulged my fascination with Magritte by buying a second-hand copy of The True Art of Painting, which — to my delighted surprise — includes not only a version of “Les Mots et Les Images” (hitherto I’ve made do with photocopies) but also a relate presentation that he gave at Marlborough Fine Art Ltd in London, in 1937. The numbered sections seem to correspond to images displayed at the same time he spoke, but the source does not make that explicit. The typescript does include some very rough sketches at particular points; I’ve represented these with words in braces. The argument of the presentation tends to follow that of “Mots et Images,” as you’ll see. Occasionally, though, his text departs from the compressed prose of the published predecessor.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The presentation we are about to undertake together will endeavor to show several characteristics proper to words, to images, and to real objects.

(1) A word can replace an image: (followed by the words “Chapeau” and “HAT”)

(2) An image can replace a word. I will show this using a text by André Breton in which I will replace a word with an image:

[Magritte inserts a few words of French followed by his translation of the whole passage; I’ll omit the French and give only his translation, with an indication of the picture in braces.]

IF ONLY THE {SUN} WOULD SHINE TONIGHT.

By Jean Scutenaire:
ONE CANNOT GIVE BIRTH TO A {FOAL} WITHOUT BEING ONE ONESELF.

By Paul Eluard:
THE DARKEST {EYES} ENCLOSE THE LIGHTEST.

By Paul Colinet:
THERE IS A {SPHERE} PLACED ON YOUR SHOULDERS.

By David Gascoigne: [apparently blank]

By [E. L. T.] Mesens
WIDOW’S {MASK} FOR THE WALTZ

By Humfrey Jennings:
THE FLYING {BREATH} OF EDUCATION

(3) A real object can replace a word [“real” inserted with a carat]
THE {BREAD} OF CRIME

(4) Any form whatsoever can replace the image of an object a word.
THE {blobs} ARE BORN IN WINTER.

(5) A word can do the work of an object:
THIS BOUQUET IS TRANSPARENT.

(6) One can designate an image or an object with a different word name than its own.
{image of an egg} THE BIRD
{image of a bird} THE MOUNTAIN
{obscure image} BEHOLD THE SKY [Magritte writes this out phonetically in French: “skaie”]

(7) There is a hidden affinity between certain images. It applies equally to the objects represented by these images. Let’s examine [“rechercherons”] together what one should say about this. We recognize the bird in the cage. Our interest is awakened anew if the bird is replaced by a fish or a shoe.
These images are peculiar. Unfortunately they are arbitrary and accidental.
{images of a cage, bird, fish, heeled shoe, and an oval}

It is nonetheless possible to obtain a new image that would better resist the spectator’s examination. A large egg in a cage seems to be the needed answer.
{image of a doorway beside a gap in a wall}
Let’s now consider the door. The door might open on a landscape seen on the other side.

The landscape can be represented on the door.

Let’s try something less arbitrary: beside the door let’s make a hole in the wall which also makes another door.

This juxtaposition will be perfect if we reduce the two objects to a single one. The hole thus fits naturally in the door, and through this hole one sees darkness.

This image could be enriched again if one illuminates the item made invisible, hidden by the darkness [originally: “by illuminating the invisible thing that the darkness hides from us”]. Our gaze always aims always to go further, aims to see at last the object, the reason for our existence.

I’m not going to comment further in the body, here, save to note that the translation is my own, though I consulted the translation offered by Harry Torczyner in the appendix to The True Art.

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