The Treachery of Images

The Treachery of Images (This is not a pipe)-Rene Magritte-1928-1929
The Treachery of Images (This is not a pipe)-Rene Magritte 1928-1929

A supremely thought provoking and troubling  philosophical painting by the Belgian Surrealist Rene Magritte. We are presented with a meretriciously drawn image of a pipe while beneath the neat legend paradoxically informs us that Ceci n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe). It seems that before us is less a painting than another one of Magritte’s  monstrously banal, and ultimately terrifying, pictorial mysteries.

The pipe drawn with such painstaking exactitude is of course just a representation of a pipe. You cannot hold in your hands, stuff it with tobacco and smoke it, which is surely what is required of a pipe for it to be a pipe. Yet we feel perplexed and somehow obscurely cheated. If it the case that ‘perception always intercedes between reality and ourselves’, then all we can know are images of the world, and images are by their very nature treacherous. All we have is the map, and as everyone knows, the map is not the territory.

My Life as a Gothic Novel

Jean-Marie Poumeyrol
Jean-Marie Poumeyrol

My room is strewn with the detritus
Of my attempted past lives:
The deadmens suits of discarded personas,
Soiled with sweat and stained at the crotch;
On the floor lie at succession of cracked masks,
Obscuring chalk drawings of circles and pentagrams,
The walls are lined with shattered mirrors
A procession of refracted images
Which if superimposed would reveal
To everyone interested a detailed confession
Of my life as a Gothic novel:
The sad eyes heavy with unquiet sleep
Stare back at me unfocused,
People used to say I was bleakly handsome
And though I couldn’t quite see it myself
I took them at their word,
Ran with this perception and granted it half a reality
But is this any excuse for such overweening vanity,
Because looks are always waving goodbye
In the darkening glass as the autumnal light fades.

The rain is soon to set in,
I doubt it will stop until after journey’s end.

The Human Condition

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La Condition Humaine-Rene Magritte 1933

Subtly terrifying, Rene Magritte’s La Condition Humaine uses the picture within a picture device that was to become a Magritte trademark. The painting is realistically banal, showing a painting by a window that is an exact representation of the obscured landscape. Or is it? Is the human condition the fact that we are trapped in the realm of appearances and any attempt to tear asunder the veil will reveal only another deceptive surface without any depth?

Magritte was characteristically unrevealing in his comments on the painting:

‘In front of a window seen from inside a room, I placed a painting representing exactly that portion of the landscape covered by the painting. Thus, the tree in the picture hid the tree behind it, outside the room. For the spectator, it was both inside the room within the painting and outside in the real landscape.’

I Just Don’t Know

Performance 1970
Performance 1970

– I just don’t know
-Yeah, you do
Come on take one more stab
It’s worth a shot for I am a bullet
Searching to destroy, heat seeking tracer
Deeply penetrative, detonating on impact
-I just don’t know
-Yeah, you do
Surrender all agency and I might let you
Boss and dominate, lose my identity
Forget my name, forget the world
Close my eyes and just go insane
Rearrange the reality, form different patterns
Let I become other, transfer personalities
-I just don’t know
-Yeah, you do
I perfectly understand your hesitancy before
The sacred violence that is bound to come
But let me perform, it’s what I do
So empty your mind and I will shatter
Your perceptions; let those demons loose,
Take you down that paradisaical garden path
Where everything is permitted and nothing is true.

Did I hear somebody say yes?

Subversion of the Image

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The Birds Are Following You-Paul Nouge-Subversion des Images 1968

In late 1929-early 1930 the poet, photographer, theoretician and co-founder of the Belgian Surrealist Group Paul Nougé created a series of 19 photographs that were collected and published as Subversion des Images in 1968. The series lives up to the title, subverting and questioning perception in the manner of his friend and fellow co-founder Rene Magritte, who is featured in several of the images.