Richard's Blog

Paris: The Heart of Surrealism 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 3:10:42 AM

Paris: The Heart of Surrealism
From Documents of Dada and Surrealism: Dada and Surrealist Journals in the Mary Reynolds Collection

André Breton marked his definitive break with Dada with the release of his Manifeste du surrealisme; Poisson soluble in 1924. This treatise established Breton's position as the leader of Surrealism[29] and earned him the support of many who had previously participated in the Paris Dada group. Aragon, Éluard, and the writers René Crevel and Philippe Soupault were among those who aligned themselves with Breton's new movement. In his Manifeste du surrealisme, Breton officially renounced Dada and gave a formal definition for Surrealism:

SURREALISM, n. Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express—verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner—the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.

ENCYCLOPEDIA. Philosophy. Surrealism is based in the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected association, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought. It tends to ruin once and for all all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in solving all the principal problems of life.[30]

With the release of Breton's Manifeste du surrealisme, Surrealism had a name, a leader, and a direction.

Like Dada, the Surrealist program was marked by pessimism, defiance, and a desire for revolution. Under Breton's leadership, however, Surrealism sought productive, rather than anarchic, responses to the group's convictions. Exploring the subconscious, dream interpretation, and automatic writing were just some of the the Surrealists' interests. Not only did such experiments appeal to their revolutionary spirit, but they proved to be remarkable sources of artistic inspiration. Much like Dada, the history of the Surrealist movement can be traced through its many journals and reviews. On December 1, 1924, shortly after he published the first Surrealist manifesto, Breton released the inaugural issue of La Révolution surréaliste (Surrealist Revolution).[31] The cover announces the revolutionary agenda of the journal: "It is necessary to start work on a new declaration of the rights of man." With writers Pierre Naville and Benjamin Péret as its first directors, La Révolution surréaliste set out to explore a range of subversive issues related to the darker sides of man's psyche with features focused on suicide, death, and violence. Modeled after the static format of the conservative scientific review La Nature, the surrealist periodical took a pseudo-scientific approach to such themes: it published an impartial survey on suicide and detached descriptions of violent crime data taken from police reports. The sober and uninspired format was deceiving, and much to the delight of the Surrealist group, La Révolution surréaliste was consistently and incessantly scandalous and revolutionary. Although the focus was on writing, with most pages filled by tightly packed columns of text, the review occasionally made room for a few mediocre reproductions of art, among them works by de Chirico, Ernst, André Masson and Man Ray.

The third issue of La Révolution surréaliste (April 1925), bearing the words "End of the Christian Era" on the cover, strikes a decidedly blasphemous and anticlerical tone with an open letter written to the pope by the writer and actor Antonin Artaud. His "Address to the Pope" expresses the Surrealists' revolt against what they viewed as constraining religious values: "The world is the soul's abyss, warped Pope, Pope foreign to the soul. Let us swim in our own bodies, leave our souls within our souls; we have no need of your knife-blade of enlightenment."[32] Anticlerical remarks such as this are found throughout La Révolution surréaliste and speak of the Surrealists' relentless campaign against oppression and bourgeois morality.

In the fourth issue, André Breton announced that he was taking over La Révolution surréaliste. Concerned by some disruptive factions that had developed within the Surrealist group, Breton used this issue to assert his power and restate the principles of Surrealism as he saw them. With each succeeding issue, La Révolution surréaliste became political, with articles and declarations that have a pro-Communist slant.

In the eighth issue (December 1926), Éluard revealed the Surrealists' growing fascination with sexual perversion in a piece celebrating the writings of the Marquis de Sade, a man who spent much of his life in prison for his deviant writings about sexual cruelty. According to Éluard, the Marquis "wished to give back to civilized man the strength of his primitive instincts." Breton, Man Ray, and Salvador Dalí as well were among those whose writing and imagery exhibited the influence of Sade.

While Surrealist-inspired writings often were the focus of the journal, issue 9–10 of La Révolution surréaliste (October 1927) introduces a significant development in Surrealist imagery, with the first publication of the Exquisite Corpse (Le Cadavre exquis)—a game greatly enjoyed by the Surrealists that involved folding a sheet of paper so that several people could contribute to the drawing of a figure without seeing the preceding portions. Some of the best results of this game were published in this issue.

The eleventh issue further explores the Surrealists' interest in sex with the publication of the group's "Research into Sexuality," an account of a debate that had taken place during two evenings in January 1928. In this rather frank discussion, the Surrealists had very openly expressed their opinions on several matters related to sex, including a wide range of perversions. The comments of the more than a dozen Surrealist artists and writers who participated were printed in this issue.

La Révolution surréaliste 12, ed. André Breton (Paris, December 15, 1929), cover.


La Révolution surréaliste 12, ed. André Breton (Paris, December 15, 1929), p. 1.

In the twelfth and final issue of La Révolution surréaliste (December 15, 1929), Breton published the "Second Surrealist Manifesto." This declaration marks the end of the most cohesive and focused years of Surrealism and signals the beginning of disagreement among its many members. Breton celebrated his faithful supporters and spitefully denounced those members who had defected from his circle and betrayed his doctrine.

The views of this dissident group of Surrealists found a voice in the periodical Documents. The inaugural issue, published in April 1929, includes writings by ethnographers, archaeologists, and art historians, with poets Georges Bataille and Michel Leiris emerging as the principal contributors. Employing much of the conventional graphic design and thematic focus of La Révolution surréaliste, Documents, with an editorial board made up of university professors and other scholars with academic pedigrees, presents a more academic stance. Through Documents these dissidents attempted to define their directives for the future of the movement and sought to undermine Breton's claim on Surrealism. As with so many journals of the time, however, by the end of 1930, after fifteen issues had been published, the editors turned their attentions to other projects and Documents ceased to appear.

Breton's successor to La Révolution surréaliste was the more politically engaged journal Le Surréalisme au service de la Révolution. Although this journal appeared only sporadically between 1930 and 1933, it made a lasting mark on Surrealist imagery. Like its predecessor, it sought to counter oppression of individual liberties with writing and imagery that celebrate blasphemy, sadism, and sexual expression. In this first issue, Dalí, who had just moved to Paris and joined the Surrealists in 1929, declared, "It must be stated once and for all to art critics, artists, etc., that they can expect from the new Surrealist images only deception, a bad impression and repulsion."[33] In subsequent issues, the Surrealists would make good on this promise with increasingly blasphemous and deviant writings. Horrific texts on suicide and murder, bizarre accounts of the macabre, and a series of explorations of the work of Sade are just some of the features that run alongside the journal's aggressive political assertions.

Perhaps due to the outrageous and militant tone of this journal, after only six issues sales of the journal dropped drastically and lack of financial backing forced Breton to cease publication in 1933. At this same time, the publisher Albert Skira had contacted Breton about a new journal, which he promised would be the most luxurious art and literary review the Surrealists had seen, featuring a slick format with many color illustrations. He promised that this magazine would cover all Breton's interests—poetry, philosophy, archaeology, psychoanalysis, and cinema. Skira's only restriction was that Breton would not be allowed to use the magazine to express his social and political views. Although the extravagance of Minotaure would be unlike any of the raw revolutionary periodicals conceived by the Surrealists, with Le Surréalisme faltering and his personal finances in a desperate state, Breton eventually lent his support to Skira. In the sixth and final issue of Le Surréalisme (May 1933), Breton published a full-page advertisement announcing the inaugural issue of Minotaure.[34]

In February 1933, four months before the first issue appeared, Skira had ambitious hopes for his new journal of contemporary art:

Minotaure will endeavor, of set purpose, to single out, bring together and sum up the elements which have constituted the spirit of the modern movement, in order to extend its sway and impact; and it will endeavor, by way of an attempted refocusing of an encyclopedic character, to disencumber the artistic terrain in order to restore to art in movement its universal scope.[35]

With eight hundred subscribers already in hand, in June 1933 the first two numbers of Minotaure appeared. With cover designs by Pablo Picasso and Gaston Louis Roux, respectively, these inaugural issues, expertly printed and designed, assert Minotaure's claim as the authority on the "spirit of the modern movement." A sumptuous review, Minotaure is indeed the most lavish journal in the Mary Reynolds Collection and was the most effective vehicle for promoting Surrealist imagery.


Minotaure 11, ed. Albert Skira (Paris, 1938), cover, design by Max Ernst.

Over the next six years, twelve additional vibrant numbers were released with rich coverage not only of the Surrealists, but of many other emerging artists as well. Through Minotaure, many little-known figures such as Hans Bellmer, Victor Brauner, Paul Delvaux, Alberto Giacometti, and Roberto Matta came to the attention of the art world. With sensational covers, high-quality photography, and the frequent use of color, Minotaure brought such artists' work to life like no other magazine had. It was Minotaure that first reproduced the sculpture of Picasso, as well as some of the most provocative of Dalí's images. For Dalí, in particular, Minotaure provided a remarkable forum: his writing appears in eight issues.


Salvador Dali: Minotaure 8, ed. Albert Skira (Paris, June 1936), cover.


Magritte: Minotaure 10, ed. Albert Skira (Paris, Winter 1937), cover.

Breton, Éluard, and writer Maurice Heine were among Skira's other most valued contributors. Not only did this group offer editorial and at times fundraising assistance, they also regularly contributed features to Minotaure. Breton's theoretical writings, Éluard's poetry, and Heine's articles about book illustration and the works of Sade all added to its eclectic and animated contents.

In addition to broad coverage of visual art, poetry, and cinema, Minotaure reported on new technologies and advances in the human sciences. As Skira had so ambitiously intended, for a brief time, Minotaure was indeed a remarkable barometer of contemporary developments in all cultural activities. Although not exclusively Surrealist in orientation, it was faithful to the Surrealist spirit, and, with its appeal to the mainstream art public, gained wider recognition for the movement. By 1939, however, with Europe in a deep economic slump and on the verge of World War II, Skira was no longer able to afford to continue his deluxe magazine. In February 1939, the final issue appeared.


Article on Magritte's Swift Hope 1927 

Tuesday, March 24, 2009 9:58:38 PM

Here's an article on René Magritte's 1927 painting Swift Hope (L'Espoir Rapide):

Magritte, René: L'Espoir Rapide (1927) By Tom Lubbock
Friday, 25 November 2005

You know the scene. An old soldier is replaying a favourite battle on the breakfast table. 'We were here,' he says and puts the sugar bowl in the north-east corner, 'Jerry was here', and the marmalade is recruited, 'the Yanks were here', a china plate, 'the village was over here', a cereal box is laid flat, 'and the river' " spoons and forks are arranged into a trailing line of silver " 'the river was here...' etc.

And you know how this scene usually ends. The old buffer becomes excited and muddled. He forgets what stands for what. Other utensils, that haven't been allotted any part in the scheme, get drawn in.

It's a story about representing. In order to re-enact his battle, the man improvises a very rudimentary, and therefore fragile, form of representation. One thing stands in for another very different thing. There isn't any likeness between the two things, nor any established link. Consequently his scheme can easily break down into confusion. It's only a first step towards image-making.

But there is some likeness. A pot of marmalade may not look much like a unit of German troops, but in several ways the tabletop does resemble the battlefield. The relative sizes of the stand-in objects are roughly right. So are their basic shapes " the village is a compact form, the river is long and thin. And the spatial relationships between them are certainly meant to be accurate.

You can imagine the level of likeness being raised " or reduced. The stand-in objects could be made to correspond more and more closely to more aspects of the things they stand for. Alternatively every element of the battle, even the river, could be represented by an identical tea- cup. That would be a very minimal scheme. It would carry just two kinds of information. It would show the number of distinct items that were involved, and it would show their layout on the ground.

Magritte's L'Espoir Rapide (Swift Hope) makes a similar reduction. It offers a very inarticulate image, just about the minimum that will qualify as a pictured scene. And to emphasise the point, Magritte labels the image with some paradoxically specific words. But ignore the white labels for the moment. Concentrate on the deep-blue scene. How inarticulate is it really?

It's not a complete mess. It shows five clear elements, five rounded forms, with distinct shapes and different sizes. They have a hint of solid volume, a lighter patch swelling out of the middle of each one. You can't say precisely what they are, but they're not just anything. They're definitely something blobby " like megaliths, or inner organs, or amoebae.

You can say more. The long thin one is standing upright. Three are lying on the ground at various distances. The small one is off the ground. In other words, the scene doesn't only consist of these five blobs. It situates them within a view and a three-dimensional space. L'Espoir Rapide has the same spatial structure that you find in many pictures. It divides into two parts. Below, there's a ground level; above, there's a backdrop.

It is the standard picture stage-set, a template that's used in various types of scene. In a landscape, it corresponds to the surface of the earth, stretching to a horizon, with the sky beyond. In an interior, it is the floor of the room, meeting the back wall. In a still life, it is the table, and the wall behind it. The content changes, but the structure remains, and within it objects can be located as near or far, on the ground or in the air.

And Magritte's apparently elementary image holds another kind of information: shadows. Each of the five blobs has an area of darkness behind it that registers as a shadow cast on the adjacent surface. These bits of shadow aren't put down very precisely or consistently. There are isolated dark areas that aren't near to any object. But the effect is enough to stick the blobs to the ground they sit on, to make them seem more solid, to create a sense of dim light-fall.

Even without the labels, you'd probably have an idea that this scene was a landscape. And when you read them, what they declare isn't so paradoxical. Tree, lead road, horse, village on the horizon, cloud: the words correspond pretty well to the shapes and sizes and positions of the five blobs. The tree is a tall thing. The horse-form almost has a head. The village is indeed on the horizon.

True, it's weird to have a road represented by a long solid object, but it points away into the distance as a road might well do. And the cloud is funny, being such an abrupt lump, and apparently casting a shadow on the sky, but it's where a cloud should be. There isn't a sharp disjunction between the things and what they're meant to stand for " rather less sharp, actually, than in the breakfast battle scene.

L'Espoir Rapide is like a world in embryo. It feels thwarted and straining, a nocturnal, pupal landscape where things have not yet emerged into their destined identities. It's like Alexander Pope's lines about 'the Chaos dark and deep,/ Where nameless somethings in their causes sleep'. But Magritte's somethings are not quite the forms of things unknown. You can see how these blobs could fulfil their waiting names. They just need licking into shape. By contrast, the title of the picture is utterly baffling.


René Magritte (1898-1967) is a paradox. The Belgian surrealist, popular and influential, is the straight man who painted bizarre scenes in a deadpan manner. But he makes sense. He couldn't paint very well, but his work is a sustained exploration of the language of images. He's always making a point about how pictures work and how strange pictures are.


Article- The Unexpected Answer 

Tuesday, March 24, 2009 9:39:04 PM


The Unexpected Answer- 1933

Her's an article by Sophie Veulemans bases on Magritte's 1933 painting above:

The Unexpected Answer, with the Emphasis on the Answer

by Sophie Veulemans
INTAMS review | Volume 13 | Issue 2 | Autumn 2007 (November) | Promising Lifelong Commitment: René Magritte’s La résponse imprévue (Full-text)

Undoubtedly, the Belgian artist René Magritte requires little by way of introduction. He is widely known as one of the key figures in surrealism, an artistic movement that impacted on both painting and sculpture and that reached its height between 1925 and 1940. Yet, it could be that the 1933 piece La résponse imprévue (The Unexpected Answer), is somewhat less well-known than Magritte’s artistic reputation itself or than a number of other pieces from his rather large oeuvre. Works like La Trahison des Images (with the famous subtitle Ceci n’est pas une pipe) or Les Amants are more likely to ring a bell than The Unexpected Answer. Nevertheless, the latter is a clear example of Magritte’s inimitable artistic style. The painting depicts a door; the observer cannot make out whether it is made of ordinary wood or, indeed, of gold. What is striking is the large, irregularly shaped hole in the door that is vaguely reminiscent of the human form. Yet, it is not clear whether it is the outline of just one person or whether Magritte, in this painting, sought to depict the cut out silhouette of an embracing couple (1).

Whichever it is, it is clear that the area cut away reveals a yawning darkness on the other side of the door. Just like the lion’s share of Magritte’s oeuvre, this work belongs, stylistically, to surrealism. Indeed, just as in a considerable number of his paintings, the almost cartoon-like simplicity of this oil on canvas seems at odds with the insightfulness and depth of Magritte’s message, namely, that truly ingenious breakthroughs are seldom, if ever, the result of using the predictable points of entry that passages and doors provide and the expected answers that they contain (2).

Although there is no univocal interpretation of the meaning of this artwork, we can see, in this work, a paradigmatic depiction of the promise to lifelong commitment. Magritte himself refrained from providing a detailed explanation of the abovementioned painting, as well as every connection made to the symbolic expressiveness of the future-oriented promise. Nevertheless, we think it justifiable to conceive of this painting as a metaphorical expression of the way in which couples promise the future to one another by means of a promise to lifelong commitment. Indeed, Magritte, in this picture, claims for himself a boundless space where imagination and expressive agility know no bounds. As a result, the painting reproduced above can be interpreted in various ways, which we readily do here in order to elucidate the way in which the painting can be a “meaningful” guide in the interpretation of the “meaningfulness’ of the promise to lifelong commitment.

The Unexpected Answer, with the Emphasis on the Unexpected (Part 2)

The first striking feature that we shall consider in this attempt to interpret Magritte’s work is the manifest presence of the darkness in the painting, by means of which the invisible couple is made visible. Is Magritte predicting a grim future for the lovers? Does the sword of Damocles hang above the heads of the couple that, at the moment, still love one another intensely? Perhaps the artwork does not need to be understood in such a pessimistic sense. Behind the closely entwined couple, the darkness does indeed loom, but the observer cannot make out exactly what it is that the darkness conceals, just as the couple are only a silhouette and not actually recognisable. It is no more likely that something negative should emerge from the darkness than something positive. In support of this interpretation is the fact that there is no evidence at hand that suggests that the darkness entails a threat for the loving couple. Rather, the figuration of the darkness seems to eminently epitomise the mysterious pregnancy that marks the future. That which is already present, the fertile soil in which the relationship can be cultivated, is clearly visible. This is subtly evoked in Magritte’s painting by the fact that the image of the couple is embedded in the illuminated doorway. That which is currently happening, i.e., the basis upon which the partnership is formed, is bathed in bright sunlight. In contrast to this play of light, there appears behind the newly formed and still actualizing relationship, the mysteriousness of the future. It is as yet impossible to catch a glimpse of what will occur after the present.

On the basis of these observations, it is perhaps permissible to conclude that Magritte’s piece illustrates the impossibility of using a promise to make claims regarding the eventual course of the future. At the moment that the couple entrust themselves to each other, they are still “in the dark” with regard to exactly how the future will unfold. Another element that supports this interpretation is the fact that the darkness speaks from the cut out silhouette itself. The loving couple are not surrounded by a dark shadow, which would indeed evoke an ominous feeling. If that had been the case, then the idea would be that the couple seek support from one another in the presence of a variety of threatening and destructive influences. But this is not the way in which Magritte presents the darkness. Instead, the lovers find themselves surrounded by a bright, warm light, while the darkness in fact makes its appearance through the bodies of the couple. This supports the interpretation of the dark area as a symbol of the unpredictability of the concrete narrative that is still to unfold and according to which the relationship will allow itself to be defined. What for the time being remains dark is, in other words, the concrete challenges that the couple will find themselves having to face in their task of broadening and deepening their actual perception of their relationship so that they, to the best of their ability, give shape to the integral meaning of love.

This interpretation is also supported by the fact that the observer is given the impression that the couple have apparently (literally) left through the door. Together, they walk out of the room, but their destination is hidden from the observer’s view by the enveloping darkness, and perhaps also from the eyes of the lovers themselves. Arguably, in light of the vision of the promise to lifelong commitment outlined above, this expressive element could be understood as an illustration of the fact that they, by making a promise, enter into a commitment to a future that cannot be foreseen. And, precisely because it concerns a fundamentally invisible, uncontrollable future, they make a promise to one another, not to guarantee one another a certain future, but rather, in the face of an intangible future, to continually be committed to, with and for one another. It is precisely through this promise that the unpredictable future—sometimes surprisingly beautiful, sometimes painful—becomes possible. This also means that no matter how clear and lucid the moment at which the commitment is made may appear, the promise to lifelong commitment is in reality a leap “in the dark”, because they cannot now survey the route along which they will (have to) clear a path for their relationship. Against this background, the title of this specimen of Magritte’s artistic skill can also be interpreted. The adjective in the title The Unexpected Answer shows that in the love that is realising itself, many unexpected elements that cannot be reasoned out in advance will come to the surface. In line with this insight, it is pertinent for couples who will be getting married to realise that they should not gloss over the fact that the effective development of their marital life will ask “unexpected answers” of them.

That is to say that the ultimate realisation of the expression of love will call upon people to perform deeds of care, love, responsibility and/or perhaps even self-sacrifice, even though they would have previously thought it impossible that they could or might have to perform such deeds. In this sense, the title of the painting makes it patently clear that the answer to the question, “Do you promise to be true to him/her . . . all the days of your life?” is an “unexpected answer”, even for those who say “I do”. Last, but certainly not least, this creative marriage, where they can only do justice to love by giving wholly “unexpected answers”, is symbolised in the totally unusual way that the loving couple have sought to make their exit. They did not walk through the doorway in the usual manner, but straight through the door itself. Not only does this remarkably illustrate how love can clear wholly unforeseeable paths, sometimes even compelling couples to do so, but at the same time, it underscores Magritte’s basic axiom, namely, that an authentically ingenious breakthrough is never achieved by sticking to predictable paths, a principle that is of course applicable to the lifetime commitment made between two lovers.

(1) See H. LOMBAERTS: “Artiesten knipogen naar katecheten [sic], maar merken zij het?”, in: Verbum: Tijdschrift voor jongerencatechese 57 (1990), 81-87, at 82. Lombaerts himself interprets the silhouette as the depiction of a loving couple.

(2) See J. T. CAVENDER: Breaking Down the Doors: A Review of James Doyle's The Silk at Her Throat, (May 1999). (accessed 17.08.2007). H. LOMBAERTS: “Artiesten knipogen naar katecheten [sic], maar merken zij het?”, 82.

So far, we have mainly focussed on the way in which Magritte’s artwork can function as an artistic reflection of the fact that with the promise to lifelong commitment, nothing can be said about the concrete form that the future will take. However, we may not overlook the elements of the painting that show that there is still a certain perception of the future present in the promise, perhaps even necessarily so. Even though there is no all-encompassing fleshing out of the future inherent in the promise to lifelong commitment, in the sense that they only promise always to love one another and that it is as yet unclear whether that will be chiefly in sickness or in health, for richer or for poorer, the promise as such does indeed actualise a certain future project. Namely, the “I do” creates, against the backdrop of uncertainties about what is to come, a united future.

The perspective on the future that is revealed in the sealing of the relational commitment, then, must not be interpreted as if a concrete, well-defined image of the future has been called into being. Here, it is “only” stated that, regardless of what time might bring, they shall “bear” and “endure” it together. Paradoxically enough, they create an authentic perspective on the future precisely by refusing every anticipation of the future in favour of the promise that the future, irrespective of the form it takes, will be shared. One does not always control the fortunes or adversities that life may bring. The choice to face this future with a life partner, however, is not a decision dependant upon capricious fate, but on the will and the capacity of the couple itself. In this way, the promise manifests itself not as a rash filling in of a concrete image of the future, but as a simultaneous acceptance of and resistance to the unpredictable and unfathomable aspects of the future, which are in fact the conditions of the promise. When considered thus, the promise to lifelong commitment exemplifies Hannah Arendt’s vision of the promise as an island of certainty in a sea of uncertainty. Time, and by that we mean above all the future, is characterised by a certain instability. All sorts of events are continually taking place, unforeseen, uncontrollable, chaotic and contradictory.

In order to create some consistency and reliability therein, people can appeal to the promise. In the uncertainty and instability of the future, the promise indeed forms an anchor, not in the sense that one obtains some power over the future, but certainly as a perspective in which one can expand one’s possibilities so that the beloved “can trust in the future”, precisely because one, via the promise, puts oneself on the line. In short, the promise is a “commitment despite the future” through which those who make it make a future possible for themselves and for the other. Artistically, in the painting under discussion, the insights just mentioned translate into the path of light that leaves a trail in the darkness. From the point through which the couple stepped out of the room towards their future, we notice a few rays of light penetrating the darkness. Perhaps we may read into this aesthetical element the “greatness” of the now-moment of the promise to lifetime commitment.

As mentioned above, the promise indeed creates an island of security and continuity with regard to the unpredictable, capricious and uncertain character of the future. In other words, the moment in which the full commitment to the other is expressed expands further into every “future present” so that the moment of decision is absolutely irreducible to that one singular moment. Therefore, the now-moment of making the commitment is, from an existential perspective, much larger than a mathematical description of time would have us believe. Mathematically speaking, the moment when they choose each other lasts only a few seconds before it ticks away in time. Seen from a relational-ethical viewpoint, however, the promise must not be reduced to a single instant in ever-passing time. The present in which the lifetime commitment is confirmed remains preserved in the dawning future. In this context, looking at Magritte’s painting, one can see that the moment in which the couple embraced one another (the present) remains present in the darkness (the future) in the form of the trail of light that begins from the point at which they left together. The parquet floor that leads from the living room into the darkness is also suggestive in this regard. Attentive observers will note that the same flooring is found in both the illuminated room and the dark one. What might at first seem like an unimportant detail in fact also shows how the current commitment stands out unhindered in the darkness. The lovers, as it were, walk the path in the future that they laid in the present. Conversely, this clair-obscur effect also means that the darkness filters into the illuminated room. Via the cut out silhouette, the mysterious darkness seeps, as it were, into the illuminated living room.

The observer could interpret this to mean that, with the speaking of the binding “I do”, the future is already made present. Indeed, one makes a promise because one does not only live in the immediacy of existence, but, rather, wants to anticipate that which is to come. A promise that does not have the future in mind is, in other words, a contradiction in terms. It follows that every authentic promise already promotes the future to a central point of reference in the present. From these insights, it may be concluded that the future, grounded in the marriage vow, breaks through into the present. The door, which is at the same time open and closed, is another element that can be interpreted as a confirmation of the fact that the promise to lifelong commitment erects a protective barrier against the unforeseen whims of the future. Obviously, the artist has left the door closed. The couple have closed the door against that which lies behind it. This device evokes the impression that the lovers seek to lock out the unfathomable future. Nevertheless, the mysterious and unexpected aspects of the future are not kept fully at bay. The silhouette of the lovers makes it patently clear that they do not wish to exclude the future, but instead they seem to want to walk towards it. Based on this surrealist mixing of closed-ness and openness, perhaps we might conclude that the future is stripped of its potential menace by the confidence that, according to the promise, they will welcome the future together. It is precisely by stemming the tide of inconceivable situations that they can accordingly become receptive to the future. In addition to this blend of reticence and receptivity, we must also refer in this regard to the outline of the presence of the couple, who, even after their departure, remain unrelentingly present.

Together they walk towards that which is unforeseen in the future, but precisely in and through this choice-act for each other, the moment in which the couple embraced one another remains ever present against the background of a distant, still darker future. There is something else that is significant for our interpretive reading of Magritte’s piece as a symbolic representation of the way in which the promise puts limits on the unforeseeable future—the title of the work. Whereas, in the above analysis of Magritte’s work as an expression of the impossibility of anticipating the future, the adjective of the title of the work was turned to as an interpretive key, here, it is the noun that orientates the characterisation of the painting as a type of “winning of ground” against the future. The term “answer” indeed evokes the idea that, irrespective of what the future may hold, an answer will always be sought. In the promise to lifelong commitment, the loving couple assure one another that, regardless of the shape that the future may take as it becomes their present, they will try, to the best of their ability, to do justice to love. From the above observations, we may conclude that, in Rene Magritte’s The Unexpected Answer, one can see a reflection of the fact that the promise to lifelong commitment, first of all, acknowledges that the concrete realisation of the future is not uncommonly thwarted by unforeseen and unexpected circumstances. Judging what the future will eventually look like is therefore impossible. Nevertheless, one succeeds, thanks to the performative power of the “I do”, in limiting the unsurveability of the future. Marriage vows indeed give life to a joint future, even though the couple seeking to bind themselves together have not the faintest idea of the proportion of good days to bad for which they promise each other their mutual commitment. This is exactly why it is only about a promise, which, as it were, places the “lives” of both partners on the line, and not about an insurance policy that one concludes, or a guarantee that one extorts. The promise is indeed in no way an “invocation” of the future, which would reduce the promise to the order of magic and in so doing sideline the person’s free will, effort and commitment. In this surrealist work, then, we could also see an affirmation of the will to anticipate, and the possibility of anticipating, the future through the marriage vow without already having the future under control.

Article: Automatic Writing and the Surrealist 

Friday, March 20, 2009 2:27:04 PM

Excerpt from Invisible Culture: "Automatic Writing" by Rachel Thompson

[Rachel Leah Thompson, the author, is a graduate student in the Ph.D. Program in Visual Studies at the University of California at Irvine. She is beginning work on a dissertation on crises of agency and authorship in literary and artistic practice within Modernity.]

In 1922 a group of artists and writers led by André Breton began to conduct a series of experiments into what Breton called “psychic automatism.” Writing, speaking, or drawing in a state avoiding “any control exercised by reason [and] exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern,” psychic automatism would be credited to Freud, both by Breton himself, and by his commentators. [27] But if “the period of the sleeping fits,” as the Surrealists would later call this ecstatic time, was simply a project in lay analysis, why did Man Ray title his photographs of automatist dictation Waking Dream Séance?28 And why do these proto-surrealists seem to attempt to converse with the dead and prophesize the future?

What do you see?
He draws a hanged woman at the side of a path.
Written: Near the fern go two (the rest is lost on the tabletop).
At that moment, I place my hand over his left hand.
Q: Desnos, it’s Breton here. Tell us what you see for him.
A: The equator (he draws a circle and a horizontal diameter).

Q: What do you know about Peret?
A: He will die in a crowded train car.
Q: Will he be killed?
A: Yes.
Q: By whom?
A: (He draws a train, with a man falling from its door.) By an animal.29

Breton would later claim vociferously and repeatedly that he believed no contact was possible between the living and the dead, and that mysticism was simply a flight of fancy. In doing so, Breton attempted to remake Surrealism a secular and rational exploration of the forces of the unconscious mind.

Freud was clearly not the only influence on these proto-surrealists. Indeed, René Crevel, one of the founding circle, had learned the fine art of séance from a girlfriend’s Spiritualist mother the prior summer. Like Spiritualist automatism, psychic automatism functioned as a technique for producing creatively fertile psychic disassociation and communion with a kind of force or voice that seemed radically other. No longer “authors,” no longer the originators of discourse, Surrealist practitioners of automatism envisioned themselves as conduits for a kind of “magical dictation,” as “modest recording instruments.”30 At a time when literature and art seemed at an impasse, the imagination locked in a deplorable “state of slavery,” and the possibilities of new experiences and sensations “increasingly circumscribed,” the Modern subject was left pacing “back and forth in a cage from which it [had become] more and more difficult to . . . emerge.” Automatism seemed capable of ejecting its practitioners from the realm of mundane experience and appeared the only way out.31Yet automatism was not an easy way out. Since it involved a release of responsibility over textual production, automatism functioned as a site of dispossession and a violent loss of authorial control, one that was specifically figured as devirilizing by Surrealists. As I will argue in my final section, automatism’s threat to authorship is projected specifically onto women’s bodies within Surrealist automatic texts.32 Breton cites a conversation with another writer in which he describes exactly such a moment:

. . . all of a sudden I found, quite by chance, beautiful phrases, phrases such as I had never written. I repeated them to myself slowly, word by word; they were excellent. And there were still more coming. I got up and picked up a pencil and some paper that were on a table behind my bed. It was as though some vein had burst within me, one word followed another, found its proper place, adapted itself to the situation, scene piled upon scene, the action unfolded, one retort after another welled up in my mind . . . my pencil could not keep up with them, and yet I went as fast as I could, my hand in constant motion, I did not lose a minute. The sentences continued to well up within me. I was pregnant with my subject.33

The result of this traversal of the interior is a radical othering culminating in the production of “phrases such as I had never written,” channeled through the threshold of the physical body. The text seems to write itself, to happen or unfold; rather than written by, it writes on, coursing through and spilling out of the body like a hemorrhage, invading the interior like a fetus. It is not by accident that the autographic process is described in terms of violence – childbirth and hemorrhage are of course equally bloody – for what is obliterated in automatic discourse is the Author-God as origin of meaning and sense.34 The result of automatism is thus the relocation of author or artist to the margins, transforming her/him into merely a hand that writes, merely a body that secretes words; the text itself, literally automatic, perhaps even autonomous, enters the light of the center.

What is left of the author is a corporeal shell enfolding the detritus of subjectivity, a seeping discharge, an unstemmable flow of semi-incoherence which is as much grotesque as ecstatic. Breton writes later of his disconcerting inability to “capture” the autographic flow on paper. It exceeds him, exceeds the structure of textuality, the physical materiality of paper, and emerges from his interiority only to cause him to drown in his own fluids: “[t]he control I had . . . exercised upon myself seemed to me illusory and all I could think of was putting an end to the interminable quarrel raging within me.”35

The period of sleeping-fits was terminated abruptly in the first weeks of 1923 for reasons that were not entirely made clear in subsequent Surrealist writings. We do know that automatism seemed to impel certain members of the group toward a psychotic break. Aragon’s description of the events is perhaps most resonant:

. . . there were some seven or eight of us who now lived only for those moments of oblivion when, with the lights turned out, they spoke without consciousness, like men drowning in the open air. Every day they wanted to sleep more. They became intoxicated on their own words . . . They went into trances everywhere . . . In a café, amid all the voices, the bright lights, and the bustle, Robert Desnos need only close his eyes, and he talks, and among the books, the saucers, the whole ocean collapses with its prophetic racket, its vapours decorated with long oriflames. However little he is encouraged by those who interrogate him, prophesy, the tone of magic, of revelation, of the French Revolution, the tone of the fanatic and the apostle, immediately follow. Under other conditions, Desnos, were he to maintain this delirium, would become the leader of a religion, the founder of a city, the tribune of a people in revolt.36

Desnos and Crevel found themselves consumed by trance, unable to fully awake, losing weight day by day. Desnos became convinced that he was possessed by “Rrose Selavy,” Duchamp’s own irrepressible alter ego, channeling her voice like an oracle. There were episodes of violence, and finally, during one “séance,” several members of the group were discovered in a coat closet in the midst of a group suicide attempt.37

Within a few short years, Breton himself would seem to abandon psychic automatism, at least in his own literary practice. As for the “sleeping fits,” Breton would later describe them as merely diversionary or experimental. An examination of his Manifestos and other writings on the subject of automatism reveals a profound ambivalence, an oscillation between the desire for the “luminous phenomenon” of the “pure” psychic text of automativity and a nebulous sense of fear combined with a defensive attempt to exert control and mastery over the automatic text.38

In the Second Manifesto (1924) Breton noted only that automatic writing involves a “rampant carelessness” of authors who “let their pens run rampant over the paper without making the least effort to observe what was going on inside themselves – this disassociation being nonetheless easier to grasp and more interesting to consider than that of reflected writing.”39 Although disassociation, revision, reflection, and rationality are diametrically opposed to the process of automatism, by the time of the writing of the Second Manifesto, Breton wanted desperately to reinstate the virile protagonist of the drama of authorship. He writes: “[i]f the depths of our mind contain within it strange forces capable of augmenting those on the surface, or of waging a victorious battle against them, there is every reason to seize them, then, if need be, to submit them to the control of our reason.”40

While automatism initially provided Surrealism with a method of “liberating” both textuality and subjectivity, it ultimately eluded the Surrealists’ control, thus proving profoundly dangerous for artists and writers who were attempting to stamp their names upon a new creative movement.

‘It is When She is Asleep that She Truly Belongs to Me’

As I have argued, automatism originated in what can be posited as a proto-feminist discourse within the context of the Spiritualist movement; by the time of its reappropriation by Surrealism, automatism begins to be figured as potentially devirilizing. The production of an automatic text entails a relaxation of authorial control and an entrance into a passive trance state in which language is described as invading or impregnating the writing-body. For the purposes of a self-proclaimed, highly masculinist, revolutionary avant-garde movement, automatism seemed to gleefully rupture artistic tradition, yet simultaneously threaten the very existence of art’s production. For Surrealism, automatism can thus only be rendered as deeply ambivalent. In this section, I would like to examine the ways in which this ambivalence is marked upon the figure of the woman through a reading of André Breton’s and Philippe Soupault’s key automatist text, “Soluble Fish” (1924).41

A locus of multiple and conflicting tropes, woman is overdetermined in Surrealist automatism. As mystery, she represents radical Otherness and the “forbidden territory” of the unconscious.42As body, she stands for spaces – castles, roads, passageways, penetratable places. As object, she is eminently possessable, the site of a “mastery” within the anarchic discourse of the automatic. In lieu of such mastery over automatic textuality, it seems that the Surrealists settled for mastery over women’s bodies and psyches. Women are simultaneously seen as both closer to the site of the unconscious and as functioning as pressure valve for the uncanny/feminine aspects of automativity.43 Such a logic of substitution drives Breton and Soupault’s second automatic text, “Soluble Fish,” which they had intended to publish simultaneously with the First Manifesto. Women surface persistently in “Soluble Fish,” written onto the landscape in the form of bottomless oceans, labyrinthine passageways, mysterious shipping crates, rivers of blood that “nothing can dry up,” a woman’s discarded veil from which flows milk and flowers; embodied as monstrous woman-animal hybrids, stinging insects, torture machines, the torso of a statue discovered floating out to sea.44 Fishermen and police enthusiastically pursue “[t]he beautiful palpitating white breasts [of the torso which] had never belonged to a living creature of the sort that still haunts our desires,” but she eludes them, drifting ever-further from shore.45 While women’s bodies seem to corporeally and abjectively power the twists and turns of the automatic textual flow, there is little sense of denouement, the “narrative” is, as it were, structured around a sequence of failed sexual encounters. Of the elusive torso, “[s]he was beyond our desires.”46

Although woman is the site of an attempted mastery, she always slips away; she is always already lost. Of another nameless woman, Breton and Soupault write in “Soluble Fish”:

She is sleeping now, facing the boundlessness of my loves, in front of this mirror that earthly breathes cloud. It is when she is asleep that she truly belongs to me; I enter her dream like a thief and I truly lose her as one loses a crown.47

As Briony Fer writes, “the mythology that Surrealism constructed for itself both focused on woman as other as closer to the unconscious than men, and attempted to inhabit the world of otherness, of the unconscious, from beyond its boundaries, in order to question what it saw as a morally bankrupt world.”48 This inhabitation from beyond the boundaries was of course always destined for failure. We are reminded of Magritte’s photomontage I do not see the woman hidden in the forest (1929), in which photographs of male surrealists, their eyes closed (reminiscent of Man Ray’s photographs of the sleeping-fits) surround a painting of a nude woman’s body. Text above and below the nude read: I do not see the and hidden in the forest. In her very centrality to their discourse, she is of course doubly invisible – invisible because language itself seems inadequate facing the void of her psyche, the mass of her corporeality; invisible to their closed lids, she can enter only along the registers of fantasy. Reduced to weightless image, always already posited as mystery (“What do women really want?” asked Freud) she will be forever unseeable, unsignifiable, infinite, deadly – and the territory she harbors utterly impenetrable.

But although Soluble Fish envisions woman as a site of uneasy slippage, within its closing pages it enacts a grim narrative solution in order to gain mastery over her body and psyche. The story’s narrator begins an intimate relationship with a woman named Solange; while their waking hours together seem blissful (“[t]here was a call button for the realization of each of our desires and there was a time for everything,”) she seems to disappear in her sleep “between midnight and one o’clock.”49 After one of these mysterious absences, the narrator discovers in her place the body of a woman “whose last convulsion I was able to witness by chance and who, by the time I had reached her, had ceased to breathe” lying in Solange’s place in bed.50 It is not altogether clear whether the corpse belongs to the elusive Solange or someone else entirely – “Solange had not appeared all night, and yet this woman did not look like her, except for the little white shoes whose sole, where the toes went in, had imperceptible scratches like those of dancers.”51

Like the folktale from which it perhaps unconsciously derives (The Twelve Dancing Princesses and related tales) this is a story of unruly women who, through the dream, absent themselves from the lives of men. These women disappear from their beds and descend into an interior space to which men have no access (figured as an invisible castle beneath the earth in The Twelve Dancing Princesses); their absence is traceable only through the “imperceptible scratches” on their shoes.52 While the soldier-hero of the Dancing Princesses penetrates the dream through clever trickery in order to end the princesses’ oneirical nighttime habits, the narrator of “Soluble Fish” penetrates Solange’s psychical text only through her death, through an act of thievery (“I enter her dream like a thief”) by which doppelgänger/corpse is substituted for living woman.53

It is in fact only through this necrophiliac substitution that the narrator “escapes” and the story ends. Through an examination of Solange’s waxen, splay-legged body, the narrator discovers a way out of the chamber within which he and the corpse are trapped – in the typical dream-logic of “Soluble Fish,” “[m]y inspection had lasted only a few seconds, and I knew what I wanted to know. The walls of Paris, what is more, had been covered with posters showing a man masked with a black domino, holding in his left hand the key of the fields: this man was myself.”54 At the close of the automatic text, “man” has found his way into the dream, safely out of its forbidden territory, and back to himself as both “man” and “author.” It is of course woman who functions as conduit for this alchemical dialectic, and her (dead) flesh its medium.

As one final note, we might reflect upon the way in which the practice of surrealist automatic writing was literally written upon and through women’s bodies. In one of Man Ray’s photographs of the sleeping fits, Waking Dream Séance (1924), Breton’s wife, Simone, sits at the typewriter, taking dictation of the sleeping-fits, surrounded by the anxious faces of the Surrealists. Like many of the wives and lovers of Surrealists, she is both at the center of the autographic process and utterly unacknowledged. Her body, her hands at the typewriter, function as conduit for the automatic text; and thus literally she becomes “modest recording instrument.” For all three vicissitudes of automatic writing I have mapped in this essay, Spiritualism, psychoanalysis, and surrealism, woman is situated at the center of a kind of discourse which ultimately does not belong to her. She can function only as automatic hand, only as mediator/medium, a telegraphic operator for textual producing machines.

1.For a discussion of the Fox sisters, see Ruth Brandon, The Spiritualists: The Passion for the Occult in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson; 1983); Ann Braude, Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-Century America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989); and Ernest Isaacs, “The Fox Sisters and American Spiritualism” in The Occult in America: New Historical Perspectives, eds. Howard Kerr and Charles L. Crow (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1983).

2.See Albert von Schrenk-Notzing, Phenomena of Materialisation (New York, Arno Press; 1975) for a discussion of “typtology” in automatic writing.

3. The work of eighteenth-century self-proclaimed prophet Emanuel Swedenborg provides some evidence for an older lineage for automatic writing; some have also claimed that Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon was authored automatically. However, to my knowledge, the use of the term “automatic” and the trope of the mechanical-writing body emerge only within the context of the Spiritualist movement.

4.For further discussion of automatic writing machines, see Lawrence Rainey, “Taking Dictation” Modernism/Modernity 5, no. 2 (1998): pg 123-153. For visual examples of writing machines on the internet, see John Buescher, Ephemera, and The Museum of Talking Boards,

5.See Jeffery Sconce, Haunted Media: Electronic Presence from Telegraphy to Television (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2000) for a discussion of the relationship between telegraphy and Spiritual mediumship.

6.John S. Adams, Answers to Seventeen Objections Against Spiritual Intercourse and Inquiries Relating to the Manifestations of the Present Time (New York: Fowlers and Wells, 1853), 11-12.

7.See Roland Barthes, "The Death of the Author,” in The Rustle of Language, ed. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1986), 49-55. Barthes re-envisions authorship as merely a hand which writes, “detached from any voice, borne by a pure gesture of inscription (and not of expression) [which] traces a field without origin – or at least with no origin but language itself”(52). However, after putting forth the intriguing notion that all writing is author-less and automatic, Barthes returns to a traditional notion of embodied agency by refocusing attention on the reader, impossibly the coherent locus of all agency and desire deployed by the text. See also Michel Foucault, “What is an Author?” in Critical Theory Since 1965, eds. Hazard Adams and Leroy Searle (Tallahassee: Florida State University Press, 1986). Like Barthes, Foucault obliterates the embodied agency of the author only to reanimate its corpse in the guise of “initiators of discursive practices.” In this paper, I tentatively map the possibilities of agency without bodies and of bodies without agency.

8.On the relationship between radical politics, feminism, and Spiritualism, see Braude, Radical Spirits and Alex Owen, The Darkened Room: Women, Power, and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990).

9.On the manifestation of “ectoplasm”, see Rolf Krauss, Beyond Light and Shadow (Munich: Nazraeli Press, 1995) and Albert von Schrenck-Notzing, Phenomena of Materialization.

10.Emma Hardinge, “Guide to Mediumship,” excerpted at

11. One observer noted: “[i]t may be observed that ordinarily the feminine mind possesses, in a higher degree than the masculine, two important requisites of elevated mediumship: first, it is more religious; and secondly, it is more plastic.” Quoted in Sconce, 26.

12.Ibid., 49.

13.It should also be noted that Spiritualists often profited handsomely from such masquerades. A Spiritualist could build a lucrative career out of séance, the performance of possession, and public trance speaking.

14.For the official etiology of hysteria, see Sigmund Freud, “Studies in Hysteria,” in James Strachey, ed. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (S.E.), 24 vols. Hogarth, 1953-73. vol. 2, pp. 189-221.

15.Even contemporary writers on Spiritualism tend to conflate Spiritualism and hysteria; see, for example, Brandon, 145.

16.Pierre Janet, The Mental State of Hystericals (Washington, D.C.: University Publications of America, 1977), 281. In “Taking Dictation,”Rainey argues that Janet was entirely unaware of Spiritualism during the early stages of his investigation. However, in “The Autobiography of Pierre Janet,” in History of Psychology in Autobiography, ed. Carl Murchison (Worcester, Mass.: Clark University Press., 1930). Janet writes that his uncle was a “spiritualist metaphysician.” A doctor he did early work under also studied animal magnetism, hypnosis, and clairvoyance. Thus, I would argue that Spiritualism is the primary, though disavowed, source of Janet’s theoretical and clinical use of automatism.

17.Janet, The Mental State of Hystericals, 46. There are no extant images of Janet’s “stem device,” but we can imagine that it might consist of two long shafts connected by a flexible joint (Janet makes reference to sixteenth-century mathematician Girolamo Cardano, inventor of a double-sided joint). Although such a “stem device” would have been structurally dissimilar to Spiritualist automatic writing machines, the rotating castors featured on many Spiritualist planchettes, as well as the floating needles suspended by wheels and pulleys on Dial Plate Talking Boards functioned similarly to harness ideomotor responses from the user. See The Museum of Talking Boards ( for examples of planchettes and Dial Plate Talking Boards.

18.Dédoublement, literally defined as a splitting or doubling of consciousness, is related to Freud’s work on disassociation. However, while Freud insisted that subjectivity is a coherent whole, with consciousness and unconsciousness forming opposite sides of a single surface, Janet suggested that a single body might contain multiple selves.

19.Janet, 281.

20.Ibid., 147.

21.Ibid., 249.

22.Ibid., 427.

23.Ibid., 450.

24.In “A Seventeenth-Century Demonological Neurosis” (SE 19:73, pg. 72), Freud writes: “[t]he states of possession correspond to our neuroses, for the explanation of which we once more have recourse to psychical powers. In our eyes, the demons are bad and reprehensible wishes, derivatives of instinctual impulses that have been repudiated and repressed. We merely eliminate the projection of these mental entities into the external world . . . instead, we regard them as having arisen in the patient’s internal life, where they have their abode.” Although it is my argument that Janet’s work is an attempt to control the irruptive discourse of the occult, other authors have noted that psychoanalysis (usually conceived narrowly as Freudian) can be read as a form of secularized occultism. See B. J. Gibbons, Spirituality and the Occult: From the Renaissance to the Modern Age (London: Routledge, 2001).

25.Janet, 262.

26.In The Female Malady: Women, Madness, and English Culture 1830-1980 (New York: Pantheon, 1985), Elaine Showalter argues that “epidemic hysteria exists on one extreme of a continuum with feminism, as a body language of women’s rebellion against patriarchal oppression, [and] is a desperate, and ultimately self-destructive, form of protest” (10). See also Elisabeth Bronfen, The Knotted Subject: Hysteria and its Discontents (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998) for a reading of hysteria as symptom of cultural dissidence.

27.André Breton, “Manifesto of Surrealism,” (1924) in Manifestoes of Surrealism, ed. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1969), 26.

28.For Breton’s crediting of automatism to Freud, see ibid., 10, in which Breton writes that “a part of our mental world which we pretended not to be concerned with any longer – and, in my opinion by far the most important part – has been brought back to light. For this we must give thanks to the discoveries of Sigmund Freud. On the basis of these discoveries a current of opinion is finally forming by means of which the human explorer will be able to carry his investigations much further, authorized as he will henceforth be not to confine himself solely to the most summary realities. The imagination is perhaps on the point of reasserting itself, of reclaiming its rights.” See the website kicking giants for Man Ray’s Waking Dream Séance.

29.André Breton, “The Mediums Enter,” in The Lost Steps trans. Mark Polizzotti (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996), 93-94.

30.André Breton, "The Automatic Message" (1933), in What is Surrealism? Selected Writings, ed. Franklin Rosemont (New York: Monad, 1978), 100.

31.Breton, “The Manifesto of Surrealism” (1924), 4, 10.

32.Ibid., 27-28.

33.Ibid., 22-23. My emphasis.

34.For a discussion of the term “Author-God,” see Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” 53.

35.Breton, “Manifesto of Surrealism” (1924), 21-22.

36.Louis Aragon, A Wave of Dreams (1924), trans. Adam Cornford. Available online at Duration Press (

37.It is difficult to know how to interpret the violence and psychic unraveling of the final days of the sleeping fits. Certainly, we know that the Surrealist movement was always suffering from internal strife of one sort or another, which may have emerged in the form of textual and interpersonal rupture. In Surreal Lives (New York: Grove Press, 1999), Ruth Brandon has argued that the Sleeping Fits became violent due to an escalating “duel of psychics” (202) between Desnos and Crevel, both being over-eager to impress Breton. However, as I am suggesting, automatism itself can be seen as a textual practice which does violence to subjectivity and authorship. The events that took place during the final days of the Sleeping Fits, as well as its subsequent abandonment, can thus be read as symptomatic of this violence.

38.See André Breton’s “Second Manifesto of Surrealism” in Manifestoes of Surrealism, trans. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1969), 117-195.

39.Breton, “Second Manifesto of Surrealism,” 158.

40.Breton, “Second Manifesto of Surrealism,” 10. In the “Manifesto of Surrealism” (1924), however, Breton had written that automatism “constantly and vigorously [opposes] any effort to retouch or correct, however slightly, any passage … which seemed … unfortunate” (24).

41.The “reading” of any automatic text is perhaps an inherently difficult practice. In my reading, I have attempted to be particularly attentive to textual slippage, complex metaphor, intertextuality, rhizomatic logic, and word association. See Andrew Rothwell, “Incoherence and Allegory,” Paris Dada: The Barbarians Storm the Gates, ed. Stephen C. Foster (Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group, 2001) for a discussion of the process of reading an automatic text.

42.For a discussion of the “forbidden territory,” see Breton, “Manifesto of Surrealism,” (1924), 16-18.

43.See Briony Fer, Realism, Rationalism, Surrealism: Art Between the Wars (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993) for a discussion of the ways in which Surrealism figures women as bearers of access to the unconscious.

44.André Breton, “Soluble Fish,” in Manifestos of Surrealism, eds. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1969), 64.

45.Ibid., 57.

46.Breton, “Soluble Fish,” 62.


48.Fer, 180.

49.Breton, “Soluble Fish,” 107.

50.Ibid., 108.

51.Ibid., 109.

52.See “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” in Grimm’s Fairy Tales (available at Project Gutenberg, This tale is analogous to the closing pages of “Soluble Fish” on many levels.

53.See Bliss Cua Lim, “Serial Time: Bluebeard in Stepford," forthcoming in Film and Literature: A Reader, ed. Robert Stam (Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell Press, 2003) for a discussion of such folkloric substitutions.

54.Breton, “Soluble Fish,” 109.


Article on Magritte: The Poker-Faced Enchanter 

Thursday, March 19, 2009 9:34:00 AM

The Poker-Faced Enchanter
By ROBERT HUGHES Sunday, Jun. 24, 2001

THE IMAGES AND IDEAS OF RENE Magritte are known to millions of people who do not know him by name. So argues the art historian Sarah Whitfield in her catalog to the retrospective of 168 works by the great Belgian Surrealist that opens at New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art this week, and she is certainly right. This accounts for the faint feeling of deja vu that even non- Magritteans sometimes get when looking at his work. Magritte died in 1967, but for the best part of a half-century his images -- or variants on them -- have been used to advertise everything from the French state railroad system and chocolates to wallpaper, cars and political candidates.

The advertising industry has had a vast effect on modern art, but no modern artist has had more effect on advertising itself than Magritte. Yet there is never the slightest feeling that his work has been corrupted by its commercial reuse, and this is because of its clarity and intelligence. Magritte's paradoxes still slice cleanly. No matter how many times you see the small locomotive steaming from the living-room fireplace in his Time Transfixed (1938), with the mantel clock pointing to 12:43 and every grain line in the wooden floor in place, it will still come from behind its utter familiarity and surprise you.

       Time Transfixed- 1938

The history of modernism is suffused with cults of artistic ego and rampant "originality" -- especially Surrealism, the movement Magritte was linked to. But he made a virtue of anonymity, disappearing behind the work like one of the partly vanishing, ambiguous figures in his own paintings. Apart from a short stay in Paris (1927-30), Magritte spent his whole adult life in Brussels, issuing his mind-wrenching visual conundrums from a base of the most perfect bourgeois propriety, using a corner of his living room for a studio and never painting any naked woman but his wife Georgette, who, in return, never posed for any other artist. The common man in Magritte's paintings, with his raincoat and bowler, whether standing with an apple in front of his face or floating down in multitudes upon the unperturbed streets of Brussels, really is Magritte -- the poker-faced enchanter. No artist ever behaved less like one.

It mattered a lot that Magritte was Belgian, not French. The French Surrealists made a point of public provocation, inserting themselves into politics, issuing pretentious manifestos. Not so their Belgian cousins; "the subversive act," said one, the writer Paul Nouge, "must be discreet." Magritte's style, as it evolved, was studiously neutral. His early work, in the 1920s, was mainly exercises in late Cubism -- the "tubist," streamlined, geometrical forms of Fernand Leger and Amedee Ozenfant, shapes that might have been made from metal. The artist who clearly had the biggest impact on Magritte, turning him toward fantasy and irrational images, was Giorgio de Chirico. And even then Magritte couldn't find a way to use De Chirico's unique scenography until he learned about collage from Max Ernst.

The objectivity of collage -- taking an image from outside and putting it, whole and entire, in the fictional space of the painting -- appealed to Magritte, because he liked standardized images; it was their encounter and rearrangement that created the magic, more than the things themselves. "Our secret desire," he remarked, "is for a change in the order of things, and it is appeased by the vision of a new order . . . The fate of an object in which we had no interest suddenly begins to disturb us." Turned balusters, game pieces, the little round horse bells known as grelots, cut-out paper doilies, wood paneling, views through a window, fire, a birdcage, a rifle, a tuba, a pipe, loaves of bread, a naked woman: there wasn't much in Magritte's repertoire of images that couldn't have been seen by an ordinary Belgian clerk in the course of an ordinary day.

But assembled they are another thing -- just as Ernst's drawings made of rubbings from the floorboards of his seaside hotel became another thing. Here is the silent ugly cannon in the room of screens, each bearing a familiar image; in a second it will fire of its own accord, blowing the screens to shreds; we stand, as the title says, On the Threshold of Liberty. Some of Magritte's images have taken on, with time, a truly prophetic aura. One of these is Eternity (1935). Three pedestals in a museum, with a red rope stretched in front of them. On the left one, a medieval head of Christ. On the right, a head of Dante. In the center, a block of butter. A jab at the contented Belgian stomach, 60 years ago; but today you can't help thinking of the lumps of fat by Joseph Beuys that are enshrined in the world's museums, as though Magritte had been conducting satire in advance.

He painted in a perfectly deadpan style, neutral rather than "primitive" -- serviceable, in a word. It came partly from posters and partly from kitsch art. "This detached way of representing things," he remarked, "seems to me to suggest a universal style, in which the quirks and little preferences of an individual play no role." It is meat-and-potatoes figuration, with no pretensions; if there were any pretensions in this world, where flotillas of loaves sail by in the evening sky like flying saucers and an innocent eye opens in the middle of a slice of ham on your plate, they would greatly reduce its credibility.

But the epigrammatic force can be irresistible, especially where Magritte reflects on sexual violence, alienation or loneliness: the couple trying to kiss through layers of cloth in The Lovers (1928), or The Titanic Days (1928), his image of attempted rape, in which the bodies of the terrified woman and the attacking man are fused together as in a grim photographic overlap. Often his color is extremely beautiful, though the viewer, intent on the visual conundrums, may not at first notice how powerful and tender it can be. But as his friend Louis Scutenaire wrote, "Magritte is a great painter. Magritte is not a painter." He had no interest in what the French called la belle matiere, and when he did essay it -- as in a series of pseudo-pastoral kitsch- classical paintings in the manner of Renoir, done during World War II -- he subverted it; these hot, sluglike nudes are of a brutal vulgarity exceeded only by late Picabia, who may in fact have influenced them.

In some ways his most extreme work comes from this aberrant moment of peinture vache (stupid painting), as he called it -- it's as though, in parodying other Belgian artists (Ensor, and a particularly gross comic illustrator named Deladoes), he touched a demotic rock bottom from which he could only recoil in the end. But Georgette hated the new style, and by 1950 Rene was back to the old one, often repainting versions of images he had first made in the '30s. This recycling fitted his own idea of himself as a craftsman rather than an artist. You could make more than one chair to the same pattern.

Magritte was not a "literary" artist, and his work was more about situation than narrative. Nevertheless, his titles were important to him, and they are never neutral. They were, so to speak, pasted on the image like another collage element, inflecting its meaning without explaining it. They reflected his browsing in high and popular culture. The Glass Key comes from Dashiell Hammett, and references to the Fantomas thrillers (on which Magritte, along with the rest of the Surrealists and everyone else in France and Belgium, doted) are everywhere. On the other hand, The Man from the Sea is Balzac's title, and The Elective Affinities Goethe's.

Then there was Edgar Allan Poe. Magritte used him repeatedly. The Domain of Arnheim, Magritte's image of a vast, cold Alpine wall seen through the broken window of a bourgeois living room, with shards of glass on the floor that still carry bits of the sublime view on them, is the title of Poe's 1846 tale about a superrich American landscape connoisseur who creates a Xanadu for himself. "Let us imagine," says Poe's hero, "a landscape whose combined vastness and definitiveness -- whose united beauty, magnificence and strangeness shall convey the idea of care, or culture . . . on the part of beings superior, yet akin to humanity . . ." Yes, one can well imagine Magritte liking that. His work too sets up a parallel world, extremely strange and yet familiar, ruled by an absolutist imagination.


Homesickness by Rene Magritte: A review 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 1:09:33 AM


This blog will look at one of Magritte's paintings: Homesickness

                                       Le mal 'du pays: Homesickness 1940

Magritte originally thought of calling this painting Menopause (a period of depression) but his final title is Le Mal du Pays (Homesickness).

This is clearly one of Magritte's most emotionally honest paintings and instead of giving the painting one of his whimsical surreal titles like "Waiting for the Pea-Souper" (a title proposed by one of his friends that Rene considered but rejected), he chose the title that reflected how he he was he wished he could go home.

In May 1940 his home was invaded by the Nazis during World War II and Magritte fled with his close friends Paul Eluard and Scutenaire. It would be easy to assume then that this painting was about the German occupation of Belgium and Magritte's homesickness about having to flee the country he loved. Certainly this is an emotional component of the painting but there's much more.

What is homesickness for Rene Magritte? The yearning for home is one of the strongest human desires. Home for many people represents safety or freedom from concern, of being a child again- protected by your parents. Home is a place you belong and with every fiber of your being you wish you could return.  By returning to your earliest thoughts, to the womb, you could escape the fears and torments of life.

Magritte, as we all do had this powerful yearning for home. His home life was not easy- in fact he didn't want to talk about it. He moved frequently with his two brothers when he was very young. Then when he was just 13 his mother committed suicide, drowning herself in the Sambre River. As a child becoming a young man, this was not easy. For he was the eldest and I'm sure felt some responsibility. After all, when a parent commits suicide the children blame themselves. It was somehow Rene's fault, he didn't know why...he did have a reputation as being a little hellion, of being the difficult child. I'm sure at that moment, everything he did wrong began to haunt him. Later, because he could represent his subconscious mind in his art, his mother's suicide became manifest in his painting (Another of his emotionaly honest paintings, "The Musings of a Solitary Walker" 1926, shows Magritte again turning his back on his pain while his dead mother lies dead in a tomblike state). 

Magritte's father died in 1928 of diabetes leaving Rene without parents. He was alone except for his loving wife, Georgette. They were living in the suburbs of Paris at the time. Soon they too would become homesick and and after a three year sojourn to Paris, the Magritte's came home to Brussels where they could be near their remaining family members.

Six or seven years later Rene Magritte's life started to change. Leaving his happy home in Brussels, he went on his trips to London to visit Edwards James and ELT Mesens to prepare for his exhibitions. During that time Rene became involved with the young surrealist model known as the "Surrealist Phantom" of 1936, the artist Sheila Legg, who posed for surrealist events with Dali and others and was one of the most photographed surrealist woman at the time. According to one source: "Magritte, in fact, fell in love with her."

Magritte did not want to hurt Georgette or arouse her suspicions, so he arranged for his friend, Paul Colinet (1898-1957) a Belgian surrealist poet, to spend time with Georgette so she would be safe... a little too safe as it turned out. While Magritte was away Georgette and Paul Colinet became romantically involved. Georgette at one point asked Rene for a divorce. 

So Rene Magritte fled Brussels, the Nazis and his marital problems for France in May 1940, five days after German troops invaded Belgium and Holland. Georgette did not go with him. Rene spent three months in Carcassonne, France, with Paul Eluard and Scutenaire.

The painting Homesickness features a forlorn Magritte as an angel leaning over a bridge contemplating the river, perhaps thinking of suicide. It reminds me of Jimmy Steward in It's A Wonderful Life standing on a bridge over the icy water with no reason to live. Magritte had the courage and honesty to paint himself, on the edge... on the brink of catastrophe. He was losing the two things he most valued in his life...his wife Georgette and his home.

What about the lion? The lion is hard to overlook. Curiously the "king of the jungle" is not threatening or menacing and looks away disinterested. Clearly the lion represents Georgette, and perhaps Magritte never understood this himself. The two are separated, not interested in each other, while Magritte contemplates his sorrow, his sadness, his rejection.

He truly has lost his home, his true love and the love of his life. When conditions allowed, Magritte returned to Brussels and reconciled with Georgette. At this point Magritte became depressed and experimented with different styles perhaps to escape his emotional demons. The 1940s was a time of change: in order to show the 'bright side of life', Magritte changed his style and began to paint impressionistic paintings inspired by Renoir. Later in 1948 he began his Vache period, partially as a reaction to the French artistic society who Rene felt rejected him.

Much of the change of the 1940s can be seen in his painting Homesickness, a painting that showed with great courage his depression over the very real threat of losing his family and home.

Bowler-Hatted Men, Raining From the Sky 

Monday, March 16, 2009 1:52:58 PM


This 1992 article provides some insight into Magritte's mother's suicide:

Bowler-Hatted Men, Raining From the Sky
By Michael Kimmelman chief art critic of The New York Times.
Published: Sunday, November 29, 1992

RENE MAGRITTE Catalogue Raisonne. Volume One: Oil Paintings, 1916-1930. By David Sylvester and Sarah Whitfield. Edited by David Sylvester. Illustrated. 388 pp. New York: The Menil Foundation/Philip Wilson Publishers/ Rizzoli International Publications. $180. MAGRITTE The Silence of the World. By David Sylvester. Illustrated. 352 pp. New York: The Menil Foundation/Harry N. Abrams. $75.

SERIOUS opinion has always been sharply divided about Rene Magritte. Some, like the French philosopher Michel Foucault, regarded him as a modern master. Others, like Thomas Hess, the influential American art critic, dismissed him in 1954 as a "peripheral" figure even among the Surrealists.

What is indisputable is that Magritte's paintings of trains steaming out of fireplaces and bowler-hatted men raining from the sky have become some of the most famous and frequently reproduced images in modern art. In 1958 it was still possible for one Larousse reference book to exclude Magritte, even though it listed his Belgian Surrealist colleague, Paul Delvaux. Today, Magritte's popularity is such that a retrospective of his art recently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was visited by as many as 11,000 people a day (the famously crowded landmark Matisse exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art has 7,000 ticketed visitors each day).

And with the latest publications by David Sylvester and Sarah Whitfield, two English art historians and critics, he has been honored with the painstaking scrutiny accorded the most prized artists of the century. Excellent monographs -- like the one by Suzi Gablik in 1970 -- have been written about him in the past. But the new books are far and away the most important.

The first of five projected volumes of a catalogue raisonne of Magritte's art, written by Mr. Sylvester and Ms. Whitfield and edited by Mr. Sylvester, deals with the paintings of 1916 to 1930, encompassing the feverishly creative years of 1925 to 1930, when many of his signature motifs and ideas emerged. The book is the product of more than two decades of research. (The entire project, it should be said, has been underwritten by the Menil Foundation in Houston, which owns many works by Magritte.)

This volume, extensively illustrated in black and white, documents the eclectic sources for Magritte's art. They range from a fresco by Fra Angelico to an illustration from a medical encyclopedia to the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, whose lead Magritte was to follow often. The book includes information about the condition and history of every painting. And it begins with a 120-page chronology of the artist's early life that is a model in its detail and lucidity. For serious students of the first phase of the artist's career, the book is indispensable.

For a more general readership, "Magritte," a catalogue by Ms. Whitfield accompanying the exhibition that was at the Hayward Gallery in London and at the Metropolitan, and which now has moved on to Houston and Chicago, offers a concise although still elaborate chronology of Magritte's entire life, and color photographs of 168 of his most important works with a brief commentary about each one. (Published in London by the South Bank Center, this "Magritte" is available in American museum bookstores; the price is $49.50 in cloth, $35 in paper.)

An introductory essay traces the history of the artist's reputation, which, the author admits, "has suffered from the tendency of critics to see him as a case apart, a painter of the modern age who has no place in the mainstream of modern art." Ms. Whitfield argues that because he absorbed the lessons of Cubism, because of his use of collage and because he frequently expressed "a profound uncertainty about the nature of existence" in his art, Magritte was actually very much a mainstream modernist. To underscore the point, she cites artists and writers in his debt, including the Pop artists for whom he had little regard. A second introductory text brings together extracts from writings about him by fellow Belgian Surrealists and others.

Ms. Whitfield's book is a helpful companion to the exhibition, but those looking for a thorough overview of Magritte's art cannot do better than Mr. Sylvester's "Magritte: The Silence of the World." Whereas the catalogue raisonne sticks to facts, this monograph, in the form of an extended and highly personal essay rather than a strict biography, puts forward evaluations and interpretations of the works that are distinguished by their insight, sobriety and clarity.

Mr. Sylvester has tracked down a wealth of new information, including the circumstances of the suicide by drowning of Magritte's mother, who, the artist once said, was recovered from the river Sambre in Chatelet with her face covered by her nightdress. That memory, which Mr. Sylvester makes clear was almost certainly a fantasy originating with the artist's governess, has often been cited as a source for the recurrent paintings of bare-chested women and hooded figures.

The author is appropriately circumspect about the story, while acknowledging its poetic significance: "Perhaps through acceptance of his governess's account of his mother's suicide, Magritte had perhaps been haunted for years by such images. Perhaps he had nursed a more general idea of the covered face and perhaps of the body laid naked and gave form to the idea only when he came to do these pictures. Perhaps such images were not associated in his mind with his mother's death until he did these pictures. Perhaps he did not associate these pictures with his mother's death at all. . . . Perhaps the whole invention of that story of the suicide came out of an obsession with covered faces which was part of an obsession with the hidden which undoubtedly . . . did haunt him."

Photo: "The Musings of a Solitary Walker," 1926, by Rene Magritte. (From "Magritte: The SIlence of the World")

About Magritte's 45-year marriage to Georgette Berger, Mr. Sylvester not only offers intimate details but also links them, often inventively, to the art: "She seems," he writes in one case, "to have been both daughter and mother to him. In that sickening image he made in which the head of a mother has switched places with that of the infant son in her arms, perhaps he was alluding unconsciously to his marriage."

And Mr. Sylvester writes with authority and deliberateness about the sources of Magritte's art, the characteristic frontality of his images, his deliberately neutral, just-the-facts style of painting, and the curious vache pictures of 1948 -- jokingly mimicking such artists as Ensor, Daumier and Renoir -- in which he temporarily threw over that style for something outrageous and provocative. He convincingly describes the quasi-Fauve and quasi-Impressionist vache works, which have traditionally been considered merely aberrant, as consistent with the rest of his art. "They did not represent an abandonment of his general attitude to style," Mr. Sylvester observes. "That attitude was essentially an opposition to style for art's sake and to style as an ego trip for the mandarin artist. In their different ways the styles of the aberrant periods were both demotic styles. The vache style was obviously that, since it was founded on popular art of the basest kind and had all the attributes of a pictorial slang."

For this artist's devotees, "Magritte: The Silence of the World," which is also notable for being beautifully and elaborately illustrated, will be a fitting tribute. As for detractors who see him, instead, as the source of a few memorable images and ideas, this book may well leave them impressed more by the author than by his subject.


L'Empire des Lumieres (Empire of the Lights) 

Saturday, March 14, 2009 9:33:06 PM


In this blog we'll look at Magitte's most popular series of paintings L'Empire des Lumieres (Empire of the Lights). Below is a version done in 1967 the year of his death. The uncompleted painting would remain on its easel in the painter's house in Brussels until the death of Georgette Magritte in 1986.

Margitte's last painting (unfinished) was his 1967 version of Empire of the Lights

Between 1949 and 1964, Magritte made seventeen oils and ten gouache versions of L'Empire des lumières, one of his most famous and sought-after themes, each of which displays some variation on a dimly lit nocturnal street scene with an eerily shuttered house and glowing lamppost below a sunlit blue sky with puffy white clouds.

Magritte explained the origin of the image in a radio interview in 1956, stating: "What is represented in a picture is what is visible to the eye, it is the thing or the things that had to be thought of. Thus, what is represented in the picture [L'Empire des lumières] are the things I thought of, to be precise, a nocturnal landscape and a skyscape such as can be seen in broad daylight. The landscape suggests night and the skyscape day. This evocation of night and day seems to me to have the power to surprise and delight us. I call this power: poetry" (quoted in D. Sylvester, op cit., p. 145).

According to Roisin (and I agree) the painting L'empire des lumières (the empire of the lights, figure.8) was inspired in Magritte by a poem of Lewis Carroll:

"... the sun on the sea was shining/ it shone with all its forces/ it did its best to reflect the sparkling and calm waves/ and it was very odd, you see, because/ it was in the middle of the night."

The first painting from this series (Sylvester, no. 709) depicts a somewhat urban street with a couple of houses and an off-center streetlight. This composition was immediately popular with Magritte's collectors, and was purchased by Nelson Rockefeller in January of 1950. Although Magritte initially preserved this format (fig. 1), by 1951, he had switched this scene to a more rural setting (Sylvester, no 768), depicting a manor house lit from within and introducing the enormous conical tree that also dwarfs the large house in the present work.

The above version of Magritte’s L’Empire des lumières, which brought $3,554,500, was one of the only works from the Alice Lawrence collection to fare well in a recent Christie auction. 

From the Peggy Guggenheim Collection:

The detailed brushstrokes give the painting the appearance of a photograph. They are smooth, so the individual brushstrokes are not seen. It seems almost as if the viewer were looking through a window rather than a work of art. The painting is very 3 dimentional in that there is a foreground and a background and a middle ground. The placing with the house in the center and the tree ont hre left of it with the sky on the top and the water beloww creates a calming atmosphere. The water looks as if it is moving because of the speckeled reflections of the house and tree. The bright baby blue sky contrasts the dark gray house, trees and water. The foreground helps lead the viewer's eye up to the light.The sky takes up almost half of the painting, causing the tall tree in the middle to stand out, and the tree leads the viewer's eye down to the light by the door and water.The sky gives the appearance of daytime because it is light, while the rest of the painting seems to be night because it is dark and black. The painting is almost monocromatic, having only blue, white, black, and yellow/gold. The painting gives off a sense of serenity, and calmness because it is still and quiet. It gives the appearance of either a warm summer night because the sky stays lighter later, or a cold winter morning because the sky gets light earlier. The detailed sky, with the realistic clouds,could be representing heaven. This painting represents Surrealism, because it is a mix of the real world (everything in it could be seen in real life) and the unconcious mind (the objects are placed in a non realistic fashion). The scene could not possibly be depicted in real life, because the sky is a different time of day than the rest of the painting, which shows that it is definately a surrealist painting.

 Another  L'Empire des lumières

The major gouache seen here is similar to versions in oil that Magritte executed in 1954 (fig. 2; Sylvester, nos. 804, 809-810), when collectors were clamoring for further interpretations of this image. The painter increased the size of these works, and selected a vertical format, thus focusing attention on a single dollhouse-like residence whose tightly shuttered first floor is illuminated by lamplight. The glowing second floor windows are obscured by the lowest branches of the tall tree that stretches into the daytime sky. The markedly increased psychological tension of these works from the mid 1950s illustrates Siegfried Gohr's conviction that, by repeating and reinterpreting successful themes, Magritte was "arranging and rearranging visual elements until they produced a shock like a blow from a boxer's glove--whose force, however, remained purely visual and mental" (in Magritte, exh. cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2000, p.17). Indeed, this version of L'Empire des lumières best instantiates the uncomfortable if not threatening idea of domesticity that can be found in works by his contemporary Louise Bourgeois (fig. 3). Magritte's mysterious house was also fundamental to the development of early works by Vija Clemins such as House #1 (fig. 4), a house-shaped box that opens to reveal fiery orange tufts of fur.

Magritte's friend, the Belgian poet and philosopher Paul Noug (1895-1967) suggested the title for this image, playing on the double meaning of l'empire ('dominion') as 'territory' and 'dominance.' Noug was undoubtedly sensitive to Magritte's conviction that his paintings never expressed a singular idea, but rather were a form of stimulus that created new thoughts in the mind of the viewer. "Titles play an important part in Magritte's paintings," stated the poet, "but it is not the part one might be tempted to imagine. The title isn't a program to be carried out. It comes after the picture. It's as if it were its confirmation, and it often constitutes an exemplary manifestation of the efficacy of the image. This is why it doesn't matter whether the title occurs to the painter himself afterwards, or is found by someone else who has an understanding of his painting. I am quite well placed to know that it is almost never Magritte who invents the titles of his pictures. His paintings could do without titles, and that is why it has sometimes been said that on the whole the title is no more than a conversational gambit" (quoted in Sarah Whitfield, Magritte, exh. cat. The South Bank Centre, London, 1992, p. 39). Indeed, when Paul Colinet, one of Magritte's closest friends, ventured a definitive explanation for the imagery of L'Empire des lumières, Magritte confided to another friend, "The attempt at an explanation (which is no more than an attempt) is unfortunate: I am supposed to be a great mystic, someone who brings comfort (because of the luminous sky) for unpleasant things (the dark houses and trees in the landscape). It was well intentioned, no doubt, but it leaves us on the level of pathetic humanity" (quoted in H. Torczyner, Magritte, Ideas and Images, New York, 1977, n.p.).

By including day and night, two normally irreconcilable conditions, within a spatially continuous scene, Magritte disrupts the viewer's sense of time. "After I had painted L'empire des lumières," he recalled to a friend in 1966, "I got the idea that night and day exist together, that they are one. This is reasonable, or at the very least it's in keeping with our knowledge: in the world night always exists at the same time as day. (Just as sadness always exists in some people at the same time as happiness in others.) But such ideas are not poetic. What is poetic is the visible image of the picture" (quoted in ibid.). André Breton also recognized in this work the unconventional reconciliation of opposites that the Surrealists prized, stating: "To [Magritte], inevitably, fell the task of separating the 'subtle' from the 'dense,' without which effort no transmutation is possible. To attack this problem called for all his audacity--to extract simultaneously what is light from the shadow and what is shadow from the light (l'empire des lumières). In this work the violence done to accepted ideas and conventions is such (I have this from Magritte) that most of those who go by quickly think they saw the stars in the daytime sky. In Magritte's entire performance there is present to a high degree what Apollinaire called "genuine good sense, which is, of course, that of the great poets" (A. Breton, "The Breadth of Rene Magritte" in Magritte, exh. cat., Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, 1964, n.p.).

Anotehr Version

oil on canvas 39 3/8 x 311/2 in. (100 x 80 cm.) Painted in 1952 PROVENANCE Iolas Gallery, New York. Dominique and Jean de Menil, New York (commissioned from the artist and acquired through the above). By descent from the above to the present owners. LITERATURE Letter from A. Iolas to R. Magritte, 23 June 1952. Letter from R. Magritte to A. Iolas, 9 July 1952. Letter from R. Magritte to A. Iolas, 30 July 1952. Letter from R. Magritte to A. Iolas, 1 October 1952. Letter from R. Magritte to A. Iolas, 8 January 1953. Letter from R. Magritte to M. Mari‰n, 27 July 1952, in R. Magritte (ed. M. Mari‰n), La Destination: Lettres … Marcel Mari‰n (1937-1962), Brussels, 1977, no. 258. Magritte, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1992, no. 111 (illustrated in color). D. Sylvester, S. Whitfield and M. Raeburn, Ren‚ Magritte, Catalogue Raisonn‚, London, 1993, vol. III, p. 200, no. 781 (illustrated). EXHIBITION (?)New York, Iolas Gallery, Ren‚ Magritte, March-April, 1953. Dallas, Museum for Contemporary Art and Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Ren‚ Magritte in America, December 1960-March 1961, no. 42. Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, The Vision of Ren‚ Magritte, September-October 1962, no. 36. Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Ren‚ Magritte, March-June 1998, p. 178, no. 175 (illustrated in color, p. 179). Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art; and The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (no. 54), Magritte, August 1999-September 2000, p. 80, no. 59 (illustrated in color).

NOTES: The Surrealists believed in the power of the subconscious. They considered it a repository of the dark and negative wills inherent in human nature, and the well-spring of creative activity. In an effort to render the dream concrete, Magritte turned toward a plastic figuration that deviated from the traditional beaux-arts academia. In this and other works by the artist, Magritte employed techniques that recall the characteristics of Freudian dream interpretation: bizarre juxtapositions, and irrational arrangements of perspective, lighting and atmosphere. Creating an element of subversion that so many of the Surrealists propagated, Magritte explored his subconscious - constantly awakening and reviving dreams. The present work belongs to a series of oils and goauches based on the contrast between daylight and darkness.

While Magritte's concerns lay deep within our use of language and our perceptions of reality, the concept intrigued Magritte. He once remarked, "I got the idea that night and day exist together, that they are one. This is reasonable, or at the very least it's in keeping with our knowledge: in the world, night always exists at the same time as day (Just as sadness always exists in some people at the same time as hapiness in others). But such ideas are not poetic. What is poetic is the visible image of the picture" (Letter from Magritte to M. Marion, 27 July 1952; see S. Whitfield, Magritte, London, 1992, no. 111). Magritte further explained the origin of the image in a radio interview in 1956: What is represented in the picture The Dominion of Light are the things I thought of, to be precise, a nocturnal landscape such as can be seen in broad daylight. The landscape suggests night and the skyscape day. This evocation of night and day seems to me to have the power to surprise and delight us. I call this power: poetry. (Quoted in D. Sylvster et al., op. cit., p. 145) Perhaps his most popular image, the title was suggested by one of the founders of the Surrealist movement, Paul Noug‚.

While the success of the title L'empire des lumiŠres lay in its expression of the ambivalent nature of reality itself, the title was often misunderstood and mistranslated to mean "empire" rather than "dominion". "English, Flemish and German translators take it in the sense of 'territory', whereas the fundamental meaning is obviously 'power', 'dominance'" (M. Mari‰n quoted in ibid., p. 145). As Andr‚ Breton wrote: Ren‚ Magritte's work and thought could not fail to come out at that opposite pole from the zone of facility - and of capitulation - that goes by the name of 'chiaroscuro'. To him, inevitably, fell the task of separating the 'subtle' from the 'dense', without which effort no transmutation is possible. To attack this problem called for all his audacity - to extract simultaneously what is light from the shadow and what is shadow from the light " L'empire des lumiŠres. In this work the violence done to accepted ideas and conventions is such (I have this from Magritte) that most of those who go by quickly think they saw the stars in the daytime sky. In Magritte's entire performance there is present to a high degree what Apollinaire called 'genuine good sense, which is, of course, that of the great poets'. (A. Breton, "The Breadth of Ren‚ Magritte", in Magritte, exh. cat., Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, 1964) Invariably Surrealist landscapes are wrought with contradictions that are intended to arouse wonder as they defy comprehension. Though they may seem to spurn suggestions of a future and an ultimate order, L'empire des lumiŠres succeeds in reminding the viewer of the recurring, inescapable paradoxes of life itself.

In 1950, Dominique and Jean de Menil donated the second completed version of L'empire des lumiŠres to The Museum of Modern Art in New York (Sylvester 723). It met with great critical and public acclaim, and in 1952 the de Menils commissioned Magritte to paint the present work, the fourth completed version of this subject. Introduced by Alexander Iolas to many of the Surrealist artists, including Magritte, the de Menils assembled a vast collection of their paintings, sculptures and objects. Reluctant to be labeled as "collectors", the de Menils were actively and personally engaged with their art and emotionally powerful patrons who fostered the development of many artists. Dominique's claim of not to "know what Surrealism is" now seems redundant, as the de Menils built one of the most renowned collections in this field over the next forty years. (fig. 1) Ren‚ Magritte, circa 1960. SALESROOM NOTICE Additional EXHIBITION: London, The Hayward Gallery; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Houston, The Menil Collection; and The Art Institute of Chicago, May 1992-May 1993, no. 111 (illustrated in color). Additional LITERATURE: B. Levin, "Seeing is Disbelieving", The Times, 23 July, 1992, p. 12. M. Kimmelman, "Magritte in His Defiance of Life", The New York Times, 11 September 1992, p. C26.


Magritte on his Life & Paintings- Interpreted and translated by R. Matteson 

Saturday, March 14, 2009 6:11:30 PM


This blog is not a blog! It features my translation of Magritte's chapter in the 1951 Robert Motherwell book The Dada Painters and Poets, a collection of Dada (surrealist) poets and artists. Here's a quote from Andre Breton and Paul Eluard:  

“To be nothing. Of all the ways the sunflower has of loving the light, regret is the most beautiful shadow on the sundial. Crossbones, crossword puzzles, volumes and volumes of ignorance and knowledge. Where is one to begin? The fish is born from a thorn, the monkey from a walnut. The shadow of Christopher Columbus itself turns on Tierra del Fuego: it is no more difficult than the egg.”

This typifies the surreal logic and prose. Magritte himself although aligned with this illogic or random juxtaposition was a believer in rational thought. Maybe the dreamworld and subconscious was unknowable and mysterious, but he still had his own theories about art.

Later in this blog you can see how some of Magritte's ideas originate. His 1936 "egg in the cage" incident led to his basic philosophy of art: 1) there's a real object 2) there's a subconscious image of that object 3) by changing (bringing to light) what we expect to see, we are made aware of our subconscious image of that object.

In the Son of Man 1964, below, what we expect to see has been obscured by an apple:

          Son of Man- 1964

About the painting Magritte said,

"At least it hides the face partly. Well, so you have the apparent face, the apple, hiding the visible but hidden, the face of the person. It's something that happens constantly. Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present."

The Son of Man is Magitte's alter-ego, seemingly innocuous but really a Fantomas character with a touch of danger lurking under his facade. Magritte strongly identified with Fantamos in his early work and it becomes his Jungian animus, his diabolical subconscious. The Son of Man charater first appears in Magritte's 1926 “Les Rêveries d'un promeneur solitaire et Les Eaux profondes” (The Daydreams of a Solitary Walker) which dealt with his mother's suicide in 1912. In his 1926 painting Magritte's alter-ego Son of Man has turned his back on his dead mother who lies on a slab before him. The death and inferred rejection by death of his mother hardened the 13 year-old boy. Magritte disliked talking about the past and his childhood.

Here's are two of the rare interviews where Magritte discusses his childhood and early inspiration:

To prefix the 1951 publication of Magritte's analysis of his work let's look at the following similar quotes from a lecture by Magritte in 1938:

"His earliest recollection concerned a crate next to his cradle; it struck him as a highly mysterious object, and aroused in him that feeling of strangeness and disquiet which he would encounter again and again later in his adult life. His second recollection was connected with a captive balloon which had landed on the roof of his parents' house. The maneuvers undertaken by the men in their efforts to fetch down the enormous, empty bag, together with the leather clothing of the "aeronauts" and their earflap helmets, left him with a deep sensitivity for everything eluding immediate comprehension."

"During my childhood, I liked to play with a little girl in an abandoned old cemetery of a country town, where I spent my vacations. We used to lift up the iron gates and go down into the underground vault [passageways]. Once, after climbing back up to the light of day, I noticed an artist painting in an avenue of the cemetery, which was very picturesque with its broken columns of stone and its heaped-up leaves. He had come from the capital; his art seemed to me to be magic, and he himself endowed with powers from above. Unfortunately, I learnt later that painting bears very little direct relation to life, and that every effort to free oneself has always been derided by the public. Millet's Angelus was a scandal in his day, the painter being accused of insulting the peasants by portraying them in such a manner. People wanted to destroy Manet's Olympia, and the critics charged the painter with showing women cut into pieces, because he had depicted only the upper part of the body of a woman standing behind the bar, the lower part being hidden by the bar itself. In Courbet's day, it was generally agreed that he had very poor taste in so conspicuously displaying his false talent. I also saw that there were endless examples of this nature and that they extended over every area of thought. As regards the artists themselves, most of them gave up their freedom quite lightly, placing their art at the service of someone or something. As a rule, their concerns and their ambitions are those of any old careerist. I thus acquired a total distrust of art and artists, whether they were officially recognized or were endeavoring to become so, and I felt that I had nothing in common with this guild. I had a point of reference which held me elsewhere, namely that magic within art which I had encountered as a child."

"In 1915 I attempted to regain that position which would enable me to see the world in a different way to the one which people were seeking to impose upon me," Magritte explained. "I possessed some technical skill in the art of painting, and in my isolation I undertook experiments that were consciously different from everything that I knew in painting. I experienced the pleasure of freedom in painting the most unconventional pictures. By a strange coincidence, perhaps out of pity and probably as a joke, I was given a catalogue with illustrations from an exhibition of Futurist painting. I now had before my eyes a mighty challenge directed towards that same good sense which so bored me. It was for me the same light that I had encountered as a child whenever I emerged from the underground vaults of the old cemetery where I spent my holidays."

The Dada Painters and Poets 1951- Rene Magritte: Lifeline (Edited Excerpts)

"In 1915 when I began to paint the memory of that enchanting encounter with the painter, turned my steps in a direction having little to do with common sense. A singular fate willed that someone, probably to have fun at my expense, should send me the illustrated catalogue of an exposition of futurist paintings. As a result of that joke I came to know a new way of painting. In a state of intoxication I set about creating busy scenes of stations, festivities or cities in which the little girl bound up in my discovery of the world of painting lived out an exceptional adventure. I cannot doubt that a pure and powerful sentiment, namely eroticism, saved me from slipping to the traditional chase after formal perfection. My interest lie entirely in provoking an emotional shock."

"This painting as search for pleasure was followed next by a curious experience. Thinking it possible to possess the world I loved at my own great pleasure, once I should succeed upon fixing its essence upon canvas, I undertook to find out what it's plastic equivalents were. The result was a series of highly evocative, but abstract and inert images that were in the final analysis, interesting only to the intelligence of the eye. This experience made it possible for me to view the world of the real in the same abstract manner. Despite the shifting  richness of natural detail and shade I grew able to look at a landscape as if though it were but a curtain hanging in front of me. I became skeptical of the dimension and depth of a countryside scene, of the remoteness of the line of the horizon."

"In 1925 I made up my mind to break from so passive an attitude. The decision was the outcome of an intolerable interval of contemplation I went through in a working-class Brussels beer hall: I found the door mouldings endowed with a mysterious life and I remained a long time in contact with their reality. A feeling bordering upon terror was the point of departure for a will to action upon the real, for a transformation of life itself."

"I painted pictures in which objects were represented with the appearence they have in reality, in a style objective enough to ensure their upsetting effect- which they would reveal themselves capable of provoking owing to certain means utilized- would be experience in the real world whence the object had been borrowed. This by a perfect natural transposition."

"In my picture I show objects situated where we never find them. They represented the realization of the real, if unconcious desire, existing in most people. The lizards we usually see on our houses or on our fences, I found more eloquent in a sky habitat. Turned (lathed) wooden table legs (bilboquets) lost the innocent existance ordinarily lent to them, when they appeared to dominate a forest. A woman's body floating above a city was an opportunity for me to discover some of love's secrets. I found it very instructive to show the Virgin Mary as an undressed lover. The iron bells hanging from the necks of our splendid horses, I painted to sprout like dangerous plants from the edge of a chasm."

"The creation of new objects, the transformation of known objects, the change of matter of certain other objects, the association of words with images, using ideas suggested by friends, using scenes from half-waking or dream states, were other ways of establishing a connection between consciousness and the real world. The titles of my paintings were chosen in such a way to arouse mistrust in the viewer."

"In 1936 I awoke in a room where a cage and the bird sleeping in it had been placed. A distortion of vision caused me to see an egg, instead of the bird, in the cage. I had just discovered a new and astonishing poetic secret from the shock of associating two different objects; whereas I had come to this startling revelation by switching the two objects. I came to the realization that the mind attaches certain qualities of how an object appears; there's only one "exact" tag for each object. I came to the  determination that 1) there is the object 2) there is the shadowy tag of the object in my unconscious, and 3) the light which makes the unconscious object visible."

Renée Magritte, a particular destiny of the scopic impulse 

Friday, March 13, 2009 11:36:54 PM


Here's a great article by Jacques Roisin titled “Renée Magritte, a particular destiny of the scopic impulse:”

Here's a bio on one of the principle figures mentioned in the book: [Louis Scutenaire is chiefly remembered as a central figure in the Belgian Surrealist movement, along with René Magritte, Paul Nougé, Marcel Lecomte and his own wife Irène Hamoir. He studied law at the Free University of Brussels (now split into the Université Libre de Bruxelles and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel) and was a criminal lawyer from 1931 to 1944. In 1926 he discovered surrealism and was a primary contributor to the Revue surréaliste. He was sympathetic to Communism during the 1930s and 1940s but as the truth about the Stalin regime became more apparent, he grew disenchanted with it and became an anarchist. After the Second World War he became a civil servant in the Belgian Ministry of the Interior, a job he kept for the rest of his life.

Scutenaire grew disillusioned with the increasing commercialisation of Surrealism after the Second World War, but this did not apparently impair his close friendship with the most famous Belgian surrealist René Magritte. Scutenaire and his wife would visit the Magritte home on Sundays, where Scutenaire would be invited to give titles to Magritte's recent paintings; 170 of the paintings still bear the titles that Scutenaire suggested. (He is also the model for the figure in Magritte's canvas Universal Gravitation.)

Scutenaire, 1985Scutenaire's published works include a series of books entitled Mes Inscriptions, collections of gnomic and mischievous aphorisms, as well as one of the earliest and most entertaining monographs on Magritte. He was awarded in 1985 the Grand Prix spécial de l'Humour noir in recognition of his achievements as a writer with a lifelong distrust of authority and institution. He died twenty years to the hour after his friend Magritte, just after watching a television programme on the painter.]

Scutenaire, in my opinion, tends to exaggerate and sensationalize the facts creating legends of certain events in Magritte's life, such as the death of Magritte's mother.

INTRODUCTION by editor Leo Berlips:
The original article was published in the Cahiers of the Centre d'Etudes Pathoanalytiques (CEP) with the title: “Renée Magritte, a particular destiny of the scopic impulse” (A short essay of applied psychoanalysis) by Jacques Roisin.

In order to facilitate an easier internet reference to the contents of this article I changed the original title of this article into: “Psychoanalysis of surrealist Magritte.”

As I am not a professional translator this translation was extra difficult mainly depending on two facts: 1. Roisin uses very long and complex sentences. (His text reminded me often of Karl Marx). 2. He uses Lacan’s concepts to explain his main viewpoint. For those who, like me, never had a chance to study Lacan they were very difficult to translate. Therefore I lifted out some of these concepts and put them at the end my translation (unfortunately in a very incomplete way)

Some translation details:

>pensée< I translated sometimes as: thought, mental representation, concept, human thinking.

>présence d'esprit< as “presence of the spirit”, instead of “alertness.”

In case of doubt I put the original French word next to my translation.

As a literal translation often would miss the point I have sometimes added an extra word in brackets (abcde….) I hope you will look at my text with some benevolent tolerance. Anyhow I have to take full responsibility for any mistake made. In case you can make a better translation I will immediately change it with this one!

Roisin refers often to the “veil” in Magritte’s painting, as well in a concrete as in an abstract (symbolic) sense. However, surprisingly enough, neither he nor Magritte ever referred to the fact that the symbolic use of the “veil” is a well known in philosophy, religion or literature. Nevertheless Roisin clearly mentions in his speech:

> But aren't we all in the illusion to think that we have contact with reality when (in reality…..) we have to do with image representations redoubled by the painted images, or with word representations redoubled by the written words <

The Hindu religion uses the word “Maya” (veil) since a long time ago in the same sense as Magritte, when he wrote:

"I could see the world as if it were only a curtain placed in front of my eyes." This is exactly what the Hindus mean: the veil of material reality covers spiritual reality. Goethe described the same view in a very beautiful way, in Faust II: “Anmutige Gegend”. (strophe 4695 till 4725). Faust is not able to see the sun in a direct way, but only indirectly by way of the Rainbow, used as a veil to protect him from directly seeing “the Light”. (In the Tibetan book of death the first discovery of a new reality after death- ego loss - is described as being exposed to intensive light phenomena. In his book “The Doors of Perceptions” Aldous Huxley even plays with the idea that the human brain might function as a kind of veil-filter to protect us from the intensity of another reality. (In case you are interested in this I recommend you read Ken Wilber’s books, see:

However what we own to Roisin is that he shows us in detail the connection between Magritte’s trauma, with the concrete veil of his dead mother, and his mental and artistic working through of this trauma on a higher symbolic level.

I do hope that for you who are interested in surrealism or in the mystery of existence that this translation of Roisin’s psychoanalysis of Magritte is useful. I am aware that this is translation is imperfect! To tell you the truth in connection with it I felt sometimes very much like the grasshopper that Mephistocles described in Faust when he says:

"Er scheint mir, mit Verlaub von euer Gnaden, wie eine der langbeinigen Zikaden, die immer fliegt und fliegend springt und gleich im Grass ihr altes Liedchen singt (He looks like the grasshopper who ever jumps and flying through the air falls down, but continues to sing his old melody"

Your editor Leo Berlips. ><

PS. Unfortunately I could not reproduce Magritte’s pictures. You find them in the Cahier itself or in a library.

------------------ Start translation ----------------------------------

“Renée Magritte, a particular Destiny of the Scopic Impulse” (Rene Magritte, A short Essay of applied psychoanalysis) by Jacques Roisin.

I came here invited by Jean Kinable, to speak to you about my work concerning the painter Rene Magritte. I can say that it was the passion of my life: I devoted to this work several years of my spare time. It concerned- I underlined this especially with Jean Kinable— a true biographical investigation, looking for what was the life of the painter from his birth (on November 21, 1898) to the moment of his so called “surrealistic” revelation (in 1926). For various reasons the account of this investigation, finished 5 years ago, was never published. The following are the notes that I entirely worked over for your sake.

You will thus take the proposals that I address to you for what they are: working hypotheses not entirely worked out, and because of this I hope you will forgive me for the unmethodical character of certain aspects of my contribution. If you want despite everything to give me some merit, I hope that it will be because I have tried new tracks in the psychoanalytical interrogation of a work of painting. It is indeed only with this short exercise in applied psychoanalysis that I answer the invitation that was made to me.

A belief was propagated among amateurs of the painting of Magritte. According to this, the suicide of his mother (occurred on February 23, 1912, in Châtelet) would be the cause of the fact that he became a painter. The pictures “Les Rêveries d'un promeneur solitaire et Les Eaux profondes” (the Daydreams of a solitary walker and The Deep Water) would evoke this tragic event. Perhaps you will understand the source of this belief after having heard me. For me it is first of all the occasion to denounce the common belief: which consists in believing that psychology or psychoanalysis could explain art. Something, which is quite as stupid as its opposite: to believe, because it is about art, that psychoanalysis could say nothing about the subjective resonance of the process of painting (act to paint) or about any of the works of an artist. It is clearly necessary to separate art and the unconscious or the desire which is the subject of psychoanalysis from the artistic production which is characterized by the going beyond the impulse.

Figure 1. Les rêveries d'un promeneur solitaire, 1926. Dreams of a lonely walker) [From a recent report in the newspaper: The one Surrealist work in the sale went through the roof. Magritte's drawing of the black silhouette of a man standing a few steps from the cutout of a musical score was done in 1926. The title, "Les reveries du promeneur solitaire," is a spoofy reference to Jean-Jacques Rousseau's essay. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago was selling it. Bolstered by its provenance, the "daydream of a lonely walker" climbed to $589,900, making it the most expensive Magritte work on paper ever auctioned.]

Figure 2. Les eaux profondes, 1941-42. Deep waters

A new way to paint.

When in 1925 a friend of Magritte shows him the reproduction of the picture of Chirico "the Song of Love"
(figure. 3) below, "the painter cannot retain his tears."

"It was," magritte will say later, "one of the most moving moments of my life." “My eyes saw the 'la pensée' (idea, conception, thought) for the first time."

"It is about a new vision where the spectator again finds his isolation (loneliness) and understands the silence of the world." From now on, because Chirico showed him the way, Magritte will know that it is for him a question exclusively to be preoccupied by "that what he needs to paint and not any more how to paint."

Figure 3. Song of love, Chirico, 1914

He passes like in a fever a period of "laborious trial and error" (figure. 4 and 5) during which he "finds his first picture:" The window -La fenêtre- (figure. 6, see below). He starts at last the realization of the “Jockey perdu” (Lost Jockey, figure. 7 see below) in 1926, which he considered his "first really successful surrealist painting."

Magritte will herewith introduce once and for all the theory, which he tirelessly will repeat in his texts, in his letters to his friends, his answers to the journalists, that what he baptizes as "a new art of painting."

[painting image not found]

Figure 4. Le goût de l'invisible. (Taste of invisible, 1925).

        Figure 5. Le gouffre argenté (The silver plated pit, 1926)

                        Figure 6. The Window, 1925

“The art of paint for me is a means of description," said Magritte. "It is a question of describing a thought (concept) but of course not any thought. I cannot describe a thought that has the quality of duration for example. It is up to a writer to do it. I can describe only a thought that consists of images, of what the world offers in the way of the visible. The image of a sky, a tree, a person, an inscription, something solid. This image, however, is not a juxtaposition of visible things. It deserves in my opinion to be only described if it is inspired. It is inspired when this thought links visible things in such a way that their mystery is evoked."

             Figure 7. Le jockey perdu (The lost jockey, 1926)

“What do you call an inspired idea?” asked the journalist. “Well," replied Magritte, "this is an idea (thought) that links visible things in such a way that mystery is evoked. An example is: a night landscape under a sunny sky. (L'Empire des lumières- Empire of the lights) Without any doubt the union of night and day evokes this mystery."

Thus Magritte would often say, "I show poetry which I identify with the description of the inspired idea," and added, "these ideas which suggest the mystery then resemble the world because the world is mystery."  (1954) The picture L'empire des lumières (the empire of the lights, figure.8) was inspired in Magritte by a poem of Lewis Carroll:

the sun on the sea was shining/ it shone with all its forces/ it did its best to reflect the sparkling and calm waves/ and it was very odd, you see, because/ it was in the middle of the night."

I (Roisin) especially like this picture, as well for its successful mystery-effect as for the biographical resonance that it evokes in me. Because I met, during my investigation into the life of René Magritte, multiples incarnations of day and night in the unions of the father and the mother, Georgette and Rene Magritte in the (works of…) Magritte of before and after surrealism...

However, since the moment of the revelation, Magritte never changed any more, neither his type of painting nor in the preoccupations which supported it. The Renoir period (renamed afterwards: The Surrealism in full sunshine and Vache period express his two only exceptions.

                                Le Premier jour (figure. 9)

In 1943, in contrast with the ambient despair of the war period [I believe this is also, and more importantly, due to his marital problems of 1940], Magritte launches out in a type of painting inspired by impressionism in order to combine, through his personal research, the expression of the feelings of lightness, unconcern, and happiness. The evocative titles are Le Premier jour (figure. 9), La Moisson, Les Heureux présages.  By the way, the so-called Vache “period", was only a nasty trick. Magritte was making fun of the criticisms and of the people of Paris, who sudden, in the year 1948, seized his name and claimed "pictures made by Magritte." Magritte’s friends told me how he proceeded. He noticed in a review illustrations which he judged dreadful, and used them to work out, in one week according to some, or two according to others, the ugliest pictures (Le galet, 1948, figure. 10) which he could design– This is in any case that of which he boasted himself afterwards...

      Le galet (The Pebble), 1948, figure. 10

But so to say the good luck of finding his way in painting, as well of his activity as a painter as of the theorization that accompanied it, had an effect on Magritte’s personality, it produced a change of character. As a child, Magritte had been treated as of being possessed by the devil, as the terror of his neighborhood; because his behavior had show a kind of radical rebellion.

As a young groom, he was tyrannical with his wife. It seemed to me that one spoke about quite another character when my fellow biographers told me about the Magritte in the time after 1926: He had entered a routine life, painted at fixed hours, had been transformed into a dutiful husband and was from then on very attentive... Where thus had his rebellious tendencies gone?

“Renée Magritte, a particular destiny of the scopic impulse:” Some proposals concerning the psychic life of Rene Magritte

Let us return to his painting, which was to manifest the mystery of the world. Magritte linked his taste of mystery to some events of his childhood.

First memory

"From where did come this feeling of mystery?" asked a journalist. (1)

Rene Magritte answered, "The first memory that I remember is when I was in a cradle and the first thing that I saw it was a case [crate] close to my cradle, it is the first thing which I saw, the world was offered to me in the appearance of a case [crate]."

Second memory

"I felt a vivid feeling of astonishment by looking, from my cradle, at some men who removed a deflated balloon that had fallen on the roof from my parents house."

Third memory

Questioned as for his reaction to his mother’s suicide, Rene Magritte said, "(...) these were things of the same order as the deflated balloon, the closed case. (...) and the feeling of being in a mysterious world." To his friend Scutenaire [see his bio above], he had heard some confidences concerning the suicide of his mother. The following is how Scutenaire comments on the remarks which the painter made to him:

"Being a young person still, his mother committed suicide when he was twelve years old. She shared the room of her last born who, in the middle of the night, realizing that he was alone, woke up the family. One vainly sought everywhere in the house and then, noticing the traces of steps on the threshold and the pavement, followed them to lead to the bridge of Sambre, river of the Country."

"The mother of the painter had thrown herself into the water and, when her corpse was fished out, she had her faced covered with her nightdress. It was never known if she had hidden her eyes in order not to see the death that she had chosen or if the whirlpool had thus veiled her."

I (Roisin) initially questioned the memory of the suicide as a false memory, using the following questions: what had been the facts in reality, did the scene told by Magritte have a connection with what he desired? I present four reasons for my affirmative answer.

The veil on the death body, in the memory, just like the attitude of the picture of the man with the bowler hat, turning his back on the corpse, in Les Rêveries d'un promeneur solitaire (Daydreams of a lonely walker) are metaphors of the personal attitude of Rene Magritte. It consisted in posing a veil in front of the effects that his mother’s death produced on him. I give you some illustrations of them.

Scutenaire had brought back, in his monograph, Rene Magritte’s very particular reaction when this happened." The only feeling, wrote Scutenaire, which Magritte, in connection with this event, remembers — or imagines to remember — is that of an intensive pride at the thought of being the pitiful center of a drama." I (Roisin) have, from my side, questioned the great friend of Magritte’s childhoods concerning the reaction of Rene to the disappearance and the information about his mother’s death. I leave out the passages of this testimony that have a too anecdotic character... Raymond Pétrus (his childhood friend….) had concluded:

"Rene never showed anything, I did not even see him crying, whereas we, the street urchins, we cried during two weeks... and did not go out, so much were we frightened to have heard what happened: Magritte’s mom committed suicide! Indeed this is really quite exact, I must say it... and he would never spoke anymore about his mother."

He would never speak anymore about his mother Pétrus had told me: such was in effect from now on the attitude of Rene Magritte and— I do mean with this: during his whole was the same.

Of the many texts of Magritte, only one contains a reference to his mother’s dead. In the “ Outline of an autobiography” written in 1954 — seven years thus after the publication of Scutenaire’s book — one can read the small following sentence: “ In 1912, his mother Régina does not want to live any more. She throws herself in Sambre”.

In the interviews with the painter, his mother’s death was evoked only twice. Thus in 1961, a journalist explicitly asked him the question about the suicide of his mother. Listen well at the question and the answer:

"During a long conversation, we asked him whether the suicide of his mother in the water of Sambre, had deeply marked him. Here is his answer:

"Of course, these are things that one does not forget. Yes, that marked me, but not in the sense that you think. It was a shock. But I do not believe in psychology, not more than I do believe in the will, that is an imaginary faculty. Psychology does not interest me. It claims to reveal the course of our thought and of our emotions, it attempts to oppose what I know, it wants to explain a mystery. Only one mystery: the world. Psychology deals with false mysteries. One cannot say if my mother’s death had an influence or not... During my adolescence, I felt things of the same order as the deflated balloon, the closed case. Very often, I had (and I still have) the feeling to be in a mysterious world: a street, a face, the sky, they appear to me in unknown, strange aspects. It is then that thought (la pensée) resembles the world..."

Admittedly, there were the remarks that Magritte held according Scutenaire, but I would like to underline the insistence which his friend had to use. Let me restore you the context of this confidence of the painter, because its importance seems large to me.

A complicity in surrealist rebellion linked the painter and the writer since their meeting in 1927. In the current of the year 1940, Scutenaire decided to devote a monograph to Rene Magritte, and he started with him a series of discussion-interviews. But the war occurred and delayed the publication of the manuscript, (3) Scutenaire’s book “Rene Magritte” appeared first in 1947.(4) One year later, Scutenaire took up his notes and asked Magritte some extra questions concerning his past, and edited this second text with the title Renée Magritte.

When I interviewed Scutenaire concerning Magritte, he started laughing when he remembered Rene’s attitude confronting his past. “He (Renée )gave the impression that he was incapable to remember. Can you imagine told Scutenaire amused and astonished at the same time, he could not arrive to remember his father’s first name. Leon?…. no it is not Leon, ….Francois? No!”

It took him a quarter of an hour at least to find at last his fathers first name: Leopold. One ought to see how painful it was for him when I asked him these questions, continued Scutenaire and he concluded "If I had listened to him, I would have written in chapter "the Past: Nothing!"

It is thanks to Scutenaire’s tenacity, because he returned to harass him on several occasions, that Rene Magritte delivered some rare memories of his childhood to him. But the painter seemed then— I tell you this based on Scutenaire’s testimony— unable to locate those with some precision of time or place. Did the scene occur in Lessines, Gilly, Châtelet? All these questions disturbed Rene Magritte.(6)

At the time precisely when he wrote his book devoted to Magritte, Scutenaire, curious about additional details, asked one day addressed Georgette Magritte:

"Thus the mother of Rene committed suicide!" he had exclaimed. This sentence astounded Georgette, because Rene had never entrusted her with this fact. A few times later, Scutenaire asked her whether she had spoken again about it with Rene, and Georgette informed him what had been the reaction of Rene Magritte: One does not speak about these things! He had answered. (7)

2. I had referred to a second interview where the suicide of Mrs. Magritte was evoked. Rene Magritte seems there confusedly to connect the starting of his activity as a painter with the happening of this drama —this one has to understand with a question mark. The interview was carried out in the way of a questionnaire (8), and Michael Georis of the newspaper Le Peuple had asked:

"— When did you start you to draw, to paint?"

" — As a very young person, around six or seven years, had Rene Magritte answered. I attended later the Athenaeum of Charleroi and I liked much to draw and paint. My mother had died when I was very young. My father liked my drawings, my painting... He was benevolent and encouraged my vocation."

3. The veil, present in the account of the memory, multiplies through a chain of substitutes in many fabrics (some of those perhaps evoke the suicide).

You know certainly the obsessive presence of the curtains in the work of Magritte. It is to be noticed that the very first activity of Rene Magritte’s painting consisted — according to testimonies that I received from his childhood friends — to represent church curtains; moreover before he started as a painter he painted stage sets.

If you consult a catalogue of the works of Magritte you also find many veils (consult “ L'Histoire centrale ”, (the central History, figure. 11) and Les Amants , (the Lovers). The screening of the face by an object in La Grande guerre (the Great war), Le Fils de l'homme (the Son of man) , but also the screening of the of the face by hands ( Le Genre nocturne, (figure. 12), or still more the replacement of the face by a dead’s-head La Gâcheus (Mona Lisa) , or by a ball of light Le Principe de plaisir (the Pleasure principle) , etc...

4. The question of what is hidden in what one sees one holds a central place in Rene Magritte’s discourse concerning his painting. The painter deployed it through two topics: that of hiding and of showing, that of the mystery. I will return to it later.

For all these reasons, I consider the memory of the suicide as a screen-memory. It will be seen that the interpretation that I propose to give , when related to a basic function of the screen-memory, clarifies the meaning of the two other memories. But I will initially focalize on the double meaning (aspect….) of the interpretations in psychoanalysis. They are focused, indeed, on the repetition of the trauma (such as Freud approached it at the time of “Beyond the pleasure principle”), and the return of the repressed (the theory that onfinds in all Freud’s work).

The aspect of trauma

What is a trauma: it is the psychic impact resulting from the meeting with a destructive incident, which can not be put in words. (une destruction indicible) Working in a Service giving assistance to victims, I receive many people consulting me following a traumatizing event. The listening to these people in an analytical way enabled me to realize that the event gets its power and its traumatic resonance based on the brutal awakening of the person confronted with his possibility to die. In other words the awakening of the trauma of existence.

If those traumatized are taken in the conflict between forgetting and remembering , the way out of the experience of the traumatic happening is elsewhere. It is in the assumption of one’s existence as a living and mortal person.(9) It is certain that the refusal to speak about the death of his mother - that I lengthily have depicted to you -, like the retention of tears witness, as shown by Magritte, of the impossibility of expressing the trauma in words and likewise of the flight way from the memory is traumatic.

How not to think here of (La Mémoire, the Memory, figure. 13): showing a head of a young woman, a head made of marble or plaster, surrounded by objects dear to Magritte — sky, clouds or the moon, curtains, a bell, a sheet of a tree— all this is put on a wall in front of a stretch of water. It shows on the temple a stain of blood.

In the following I propose to discuss the question: up to what point was Rene Magritte’s painting a part of the anticathexis in connection with the trauma, or up to what point made it possible to mitigate the impossibility of expressing the trauma in words?

As for the aspect of desires….) I will not take up here the theory of the repressed needs as it is familiar to you, it was the axis of Freud’ s interpretations, including when he wrote about applied psychoanalysis. In such a concept, the childhood memory is named screen-memory, as a construction made afterwards to cover the repressed infantile needs.

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Editor:. The LACAN concepts described in this part I LEFT out, you will find a very incomplete and poor translation of them at the end of this translation.

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Let us return to Magritte’s memories, and focus on that what is beyond the impulses that can be set there in scene. I choose as the location of the scopic object:

In the memory of the “suicide”:

-the gaze of the dead and the veil in which it hides.

In the memory of the “wrecked balloon”:

-the deflation which suddenly gets hold of him and surprises the child who looks.

In the memory of the closed case:

-the "what is this", the condensed meaning of the question which seems to him the first visible manifestation of the world,

(Lacanian slutsats av Roisin:

One ought to be astonished here by the presence of the "object little a," even on the level of the text that refers to the childhood memories, whereas it generally only appears in associations related to the memory. This characteristic reveals the character of brutal and sudden appearance of the scopic object in the psychic life of Rene Magritte. I went directly to the "object little a." One could however question the unconscious desires which are pressed on the scopic object and which the setting in scene of the memories evokes.)

The balloons return in Les belles relations (the beautiful relations, (figure. 14) , Lorsque l'heure sonnera (When the hour strikes, figure 14, 1967)

The cases appear in the pictures under the aspect of coffins, thus in Perspectives I and II (figure 15 and 16), Magritte reproduced Le Balcon, (Balcony) of Manet and Madame Récamier by David, by substituting their person, (one sitting, the other lying), by that of coffins, keeping them in the same positions.

This reminds us also of the sentence that Magritte launched talking with Scutenaire, affirming: "we are in a cellar and there is not even a basement window..." The suggested questions relate to the relation of the painter to berth and death, and this relation seems captivated by his bond to his mother...

Where could this bring us? Briefly, let us try.

Figure 15. Prospect I. Mrs. Récamier de David, 1950.

Prospect II. The balcony of Manet, 1950.

I do not know what was former: the formation of these memories or the death, in reality, of the mother? But all these memories can be referred to this death: the case, the deflated and wrecked balloon (like the body of the mother gorged with water)... I want to say that this death came to concretize the phantasm. Let us return to the memory which account contains such a power of fascination.

Of what would thus consist this fascination?... Neither the dumb eternity of Eaux profonde (Deep Water) neither the distance of the " Promeneur solitaire (the lonely Walker nor the murder of La Mémoire (the Memory), only hide the pain of the painter. There is extreme pleasure in the scene of the memory! The nightdress does only covers the face, it is the face of a dead woman; the remainder of the body is completely naked, it is the body of a mother and it is in decomposition. Let us keep to the following two pictures: in “ Le Viol ” (the Rape, figure.17, 1934) a face — which the memory said was hidden to sight — is the female body naked itself, and in , La Philosophie dans le boudoir , (Philosophy in the boudoir, figure. 18), a nightdress carries on itself the sexual characters which it would be supposed to cover... Does not the painter without knowing it suggest (the fact) of still being attached to his incestuous sexual desire with the scopic object?

I will conclude this first point by two remarks.

Let us rest the question of the psychic effect which his mother’s suicide produced in Rene Magritte. I propose to reconstruct the facts as follows. A share of the impact had without any doubt the quality of a pure trauma. This is testified by the impossibility that Magritte found himself in his whole life of never to be able to speak again about the dead of his mother.

But under the insistent interrogation of his friend Scutenaire, the way appeared by which Magritte could, at least partially, assume his trauma. This is recorded in the repetitive chain of his unconscious instinctual position, i.e. in the scopic register which constitutes since his early childhood the traumatic center of his unconscious desires.

One can thus speak about a desired assumption of the trauma, and this always constitutes a success for a subject and this was partly so in the case of Magritte. Also let us question the psychic fate of the pieces of reality that Magritte included in his memories and his works. I make a point of underlining, far from any deterministic consideration, their statute of being material used by the unconsciousness of the subject. I chose to call them for this specific reason biographical remainders (restes) in the way in which Freud named the elements of the day before day's residues , which entered the composition of a dream. I could enumerate here a large number of these remainders (the grelots hanging at the neck of the horses, the small wall from where the mother threw herself in Sambre). This would start the following question:

Wouldn't the statute of these remainders be different according to:

a) whether they are marked by the impact of the trauma (which solidifies itself in the pure repetition), or

b) when they are worked through by the desire of the subject (who transforms depending on his situation)?

I have thus underlined the invasive and central presence, of the scopic object in the psychic structuring of Magritte. If one dares to make the assumption that the essential instinctual experience, by which all the painters are in relation to painting, is of the scopic order, then it is now a question of approaching the specific presence of this object named gaze (regard), such as the painting of Rene Magritte mobilizes it.

The gaze and the painting of Rene Magritte

Which is indeed the particular subjective resonance of the search and the way Rene Magritte made his pictures? I propose to consider that they are all wholly organized around the sudden scopic appearance of reality.

It is the brutal revelation, for the painter Magritte, of the object in its scopic statute. It is his research to work out in his surroundings, in an always to be remade construction, a feeling and a way of a mental representation (pensée) of the mystery.

I. The presence of the gaze (the scopic object) in the painting of Rene Magritte

One often questioned Magritte on the various elements represented in his pictures: were they symbols, one asked him, of objects, of images? Magritte answered by his scopic experience of the world:

"Perhaps one cannot speak about an object in an absolute way. It are images that I show, and the human figure appears in my pictures on the same level as the objects, as things (choses) — a tree, a sky, an animal, etc... The object can be the contents of a thought (pensée) . I would say that the world offers visible things; what the world offers as visible is immediate. In that case if I employed the term "object ", that would suppose an anterior consideration that would distinguish visible objects and that what is not an object. The man is a visible appearance like a cloud, a tree, a house, as everything we see (...)."

You have to know— I (Roisin) will not develop this point today— that the relationship between the vision and the question of the reality statute of what was seen (du vu) was already actual before Magritte had found his way in painting. One finds in La tentative de l'impossible , (the attempt of the impossible, figure 19) the extreme representation of a visual concept that makes reality . This picture represents a painter at work, painting his wife, who is born by this act of painting with the features of a living woman.

La grande Guerre (The large War, Figure 20. 1964) this picture puts in figuration an inherent tension in such a scopic experiment, that Magritte described in the following words: "I hope really to get rid of any symbol in the things that I show. For example, take the canvas entitled "La grande Guerre", where one sees a character with a bowler hat whose face is hidden by a large apple. Useless to tell you that it has nothing to do with 14-18 while painting it.

The apple it is that of the visible what appears that hides the hidden visible (the face of the fellow). In the world, everything always occurs like that. Thus, there is a kind of tension, of war: our spirit searches to see that what we cannot see (...)"

Look for that what we cannot see , is this not a good definition of the scopic impulse. This desire (to see what we cannot see) affected Magritte taste and his motivation to paint. Magritte adored riddles and other problems that had to be solved and which he had baptized "the key enigmas.. But his painting was focused he liked to repeat, on the only true enigma "the enigma without a key": “The mystery of the world”. Only one and invisible, affirmed Magritte, the why of the existence of things, but things do not exist for us in any other form then when they are visible.

Thus the tension between the apparent visible and the hidden visible took place between the visible and the gaze (regard) and, beyond, between the visible and a question that he named "the mystery".

3. If certain paintings express this concern, others present directly the character of raw reality, traumatic, surprising, inherent in a "realistic" experience of the world, with such a reinforcing of the reality character that it becomes uncanny...

Thus have a look at the reproductions of these pictures and at the same time listen to Magritte’s words: "I want to make the objects howl " and moreover "The existence of the world and (especially…) the one that is ours is a scandal for human thinking. (la pensée)

Red Model, figure. 21
Take the Le Modèle Rouge (the Red Model, figure. 21). ”the problem of the shoes shows how the most frightening things happen by the force of carelessness to become… completely inoffensive. One feels that thanks to the "Red Model" the union of a human foot and a shoe is based on a monstrous practice." In the examples that follow, Magritte resorted to the expatriation of objects - in order to repeat this scandalous experiment of sudden emerging of the scopic object.

As refers to L'Echelle de feu (the Scale of fire, figure 22) and La découverte du feu (the discovery of fire, figure. 22b):

"The discovery of fire " gave me the privilege to know the same feeling that the first men had who gave birth to the flame by the shock between two pieces of stone. I in my turn imagined to make burn a piece of paper, an egg and a key."

I (Roisin) come to the state of things of my hypotheses.. Without doubt painting, grounded in its subjective unconscious resonance, is a way of handling the scopic impulse. What would be then the specificity of the Magritte’s painting, as for the particular presence of the scopic impulse? The genius of Magritte, and his success in his painting is to have been able, to solidify the moment of appearance, the emerging of the gaze (regard) . He addresses us as if to show us the scopic object itself (something that by necessity gets an overloaded expression (nécessairement forcée).

This is why one does not enter the painting of Magritte but encounters as if getting a blow in the eye. See: La durée poignardée (Fixed duration, figure. 23).

"the image of a train engine is immediately familiar, (however….) its mystery is not perceived. In order that its mystery is evoked, another image immediately familiar — without mystery — the image of a chimney of a dining room was joined to the image of the engine (Thus I did not join it together with a "mysterious " image, such as for example: a Martian, an angel, a dragon or another being, wrongly known as "mysterious:"  Effectively there are not mysterious beings and non-mysterious beings. The power of thought appears by revealing, by evoking, the mystery of the beings which seem to us familiar

(by practice incorrectly). I thought of joining the image of a train engine to the image of a chimney of a dining room in a moment of presence of the spirit. I understand with this the moment of clarity that no other method can reveal . The power of thought appears then alone: we can be proud of this power or be exalted that it exists. But we, in this respect, do not count; we restrict ourselves to be present at the manifestation of thought. When I say: I thought of joining together, etc..., the exactitude would require that I should say: the presence of the spirit manifested itself, in this way I knew how the image of an engine was to be shown so that the presence of mind becomes manifest. The Euréka of Archimedes is an example of the unforeseeable presence of the spirit."

La durée poignardée (Stabbed duration, oil, Figure 23, 1939) In this same resonance moreover you can La chambre d'écoute (The room of listening) , L'Anniversaire (the Anniversary) Le Chateau des Pyrénées (the Castle of the Pyrenees).

II. The feeling of the mystery

See Les Vacances de Hegel (Holidays of Hegel, figure. 24. 1958): Magritte

" My last picture started with the question: how to paint a painting where a glass of water is the subject? I drew many water glasses..... etc..... a (specific…) line..... was always in these drawings. Then this line..... crushed itself..... and took the shape of an umbrella..... Then the umbrella was put into the glass: and to finish the umbrella opened itself and was placed below the water glass: What seems to me to answer the initial question. The picture thus designed is called: "Les vacances d'Hegel".(Hegel’s Holidays) ". I believe that Hegel would have liked this object that has two contrary functions: to push back and to contain water. That would undoubtedly have amused him as one can have when on a holiday" in a (Letter to Maurice Rapin, May 22, 1958).

Magritte had named his method "frenzied contemplation ". On the basis of objects taken as questions or as objects-problems , he sought while drawing and while reflecting during weeks or months, images which expressed an inspired idea, in other words an idea that creates the feeling of the mystery of the world . Look at L'Au-Delà (Beyond, figure.26. 1938). "For the sun, I found as an answer: a tomb. On the ground there is a tombstone and the sun lights the sky, the ground and the tomb. This answer is current but might become perhaps insufficient in the future? Indeed, by taking the sun as the starting point of the voyage which we make, by taking the sun as being our origin, it is not possible for us at present to consider for this voyage a term further away than death. It is about an actual certainty and the title of this picture, "Beyond” makes it possible for us again to find for this word an emotional content.". Une simple histoire d'amour (A simple history of love, figure 27.1958)

"My tail chair appears in a movie (of Lepesckin). Several persons sitting (on chairs) have in different ways appreciated " a simple love story " but all were shaken by an insane laughter (astonishing if one thinks that a chair manages to cause such a reaction)." "I await news from you, as news I do not see anything better than to let you known the solution found for this problem (how….) to paint a canvas with a chair as the subject. I sought a long time before knowing that the chair was to have a tail (which tells more than the modest animal legs which are sometimes used as legs for the chairs). I am very satisfied with this solution. What do think about it you?"

In La Réponse imprévue (The unforeseen Answer, figure. 28): " The problem of the door called for a hole by which one could pass. I showed in the unforeseen Answer a closed door in a room. In the door, a formless hole reveals the night." see L'Eloge de la dialectique (the Praise of the dialectical), La Poitrine (the Chest), L'Exception (the Exception), L'Invention collective (the collective Invention) ..

La réponse imprévue (The unforeseen answer, Figure 28, 1933)

(Roisin:) In front of the multiple psychoanalytical ways to approach the place of the feeling of the mystery, the following questions are worth of looking deeper into.

From which kind type of relation with the Other does such a repetitive sudden appearance of the scopic object and its reference to the mystery originate? What could have happened with Rene Magritte in the inaugural, and always repeated, encounter with the question of the desire from the Other?

a) a certainty: Magritte met this question in the scopic field and this was registered, solidified, like a vertiginous opening. Thus listen:

"There is a mystery in the universe ", told Magritte one day his friend Collinet, and it added: "but what?". (Roisin:) Let us think that the inaugural meaningful articulation of this question “but what” refers to the memory of the “case”.

The conference in which Magritte tells us about being a painter was entitled La Ligne de vie (the Life line) and opened with the question: “Who are we?"

Magritte affirmed to his close relations that the question of why we exist is the only question he never worried about. "It concerns, repeated he, of an

"enigma without a key".

(Roisin) We can think of the shock which had the effect of the revelation of his way in painting, I want to speak about the Chirico shock and remind you of the sentence: "the spectator hears the silence of the world ".

b) Does not it seem to you that by hearing all this that one can speak about a personification, substantification, even deification of the Other - who is the place of the desire in Mystery. "Mystery is not one of the possibilities of reality. Mystery is what is absolutely necessary so that there can be reality ", launched Magritte.

c) But such a substantification did not place him it in peace with (his….) anguish.

" — It seems to me - it is Magritte who speaks to a journalist – that you had associated that which I showed in my pictures with an idea of a nightmare?

" — I thought - the journalist answered - of a canvas that represented a kind of gamekeeper who had his the arm taken in a brick wall, and who, I believe, howled, or, otherwise in any case expressed his astonishment. " — Yes, or his embarrassment, or his fear, his anguish. This picture is called by the way La gravitation universelle (the universal gravitation. 1943, figure. 29) The title of this picture, as those of the other pictures, was found after that the image was painted. Could one speak of a nightmare if one thinks of this universal gravitation? It seems to me that one then distinguishes the nightmare which can be imaginary and a necessity of the universe.

"— That concerns us little in our everyday life." — That concerns us little, undoubtedly, but it is an example, in fact, of the anguish that one can feel in connection with reality. But this anguish is nothing more than one privileged moment of thought — We speak now about it in an academic way. I do not feel at this moment any anguish, but there are moments when this specific anguish suddenly emerged and then I am certain that it is the feeling of mystery that reaches me."

It would be necessary to question Magritte’s construction of this feeling of mystery. It would be necessary to interrogate moreover of how the feeling of mystery is different from the feeling of the enigma, of that one of the uncanny strangeness. Is here sublimation at work?

Finally it is necessary, to give all its value to the Chirico shock: undoubtedly it is due to the what happened after the Chirico shock that Magritte could construct his feeling of mystery that caused his change of character and the revelation of his way in painting.

III. The thought of the mystery

Rumination was eternally, in an obsessing way, always at work in Rene Magritte. Listen to the testimony of Madeleine S, who was a maidservant at Magritte during 35 years: " Often Monsieurr Magritte was taken by his thoughts, as well whether he was sitting or was standing, then one did not have to speak to him. " But let me be, he said to me with an annoyed air, I reflect!".

Which was thus the place of thought (mental activity….) in this construction of mystery? If the activity of thought started as I have already underlined with the question, perceived and focused on the scopic level and put in terms of the founding of things (fixed in the question without response of the why ?), it was afterwards totally oriented towards deconstruction. By this Magritte worked to make possible to retrieve this meeting point originating of the world as a question, and wanted (voulait) that that the (re)construction of the feeling of mystery might take place.

See the human condition (figure. 30) and listen to the comment by Rene Magritte:

" the problem of the window showed the human condition: I placed in front of a window, seen from the interior of a room, a picture exactly representing the part of the landscape masked by this picture. The tree represented on this picture thus hid the tree located behind it, outside of the room. It was for the spectator, at the same time inside the room on the picture and at the same time, by the mental representation (la pensée), outside in the real landscape. In the same way we see the world, we see it outside our self and however we have only a (une) representation in us." (12) La condition humaine , (The human condition, Figure 30. 1933)

It is the illusion to which Rene Magritte himself was particularly attracted:

"I could", wrote it, " see the world as if it were only a curtain placed in front of my eyes".

(Ruison) But aren't we all in the illusion to think to contact reality when we have to do with the representations of images redoubled by the painted images, or with the word representations redoubled by the written words?

Have a look at La clé des songes (the key of the dreams, figure 31, 1930), Le Miroir vivant (the living Mirror) Un jour à l'autre (from one day to the other)

and have another look at this picture (figure. 32): both emphasize the error of the thought that identifies the word with the object, Magritte puts on the same foot the word representations and the painted images, and calls the canvas thus made up the Le Bon exemple , (Good example, figure 32, 1953)

A whole series of pictures of Magritte deploy their variations around these questions about which Magritte had been worrying since the Twenties. Certain letters to his friends testify this, like his text, known as Les mots et les images (Words and images testify, figure. 33). Magritte had the intention to deconstruct our mental practices and to start thinking again about the only true question: the irreducible, unexplainable mystery: "that the world exist". The canvas L'Importance des merveilles (the Importance of miracles, figure. 34) radically illustrates the sentence that could summarize Magritte’s position with respect to thought: The truth is in the deconstruction.

Which truth? " For me painting, he said, is to make alive my thought. I love much the poets and the writers, but I am not a writer, so I think in images, not in the form of a novel or of poems." Thus did Magritte work to put in pictures the questions which he worked though in such a completely personal way. Let me therefore, in this connection, inform you about a revealing anecdote. It expresses the personal anguish of Magritte that he could not circumvent. Moreover it was undoubtedly at the origin of his famous " This is not a pipe " in Trahison des images (the Treason of the images, figure 35). A picture which stimulate to think to all its spectatators, from little children to the famous philosophers. This anecdote was entrusted to me by one of the friends who Magritte had met during war 14-18, and whom I interviewed several times. (He told me….)

"You know from which “this is not a pipe" comes”, this gentleman told me. One day he continued Rene arrived at home, he was very distressed and asked me: - See Les mots et les images (Words and images, Figure 33) - in "La révolution surréaliste" (the surrealist revolution ", n° 12-15, 1929)

“Say, Charles, do you believe that I exist? Yes; but, how can you be sure that I exist?..... and can I myself be sure of it?" In fact, we had spent the previous night discussing in a bar with students in philosophy. They had spoken about the Descartes doubt and of his “cogito ergo sum”. Somebody had quoted the reflexion of a painter: " if I paint a horse, I do not obtain a horse but a painting of a horse ". And of course we had spoken about the legendary anecdote about Frans Hals. He entered one day a Dutch inn where he ordered a meal. "I left the money on the table” he shouted it the moment he left, and the landlord thanked him, satisfied because he saw on the table the golden coin that Frans Hals had painted there. It is said that he caught up with the painter, when he realized his mistake, and said to him then: «Ben jij Frans Hals of ben jij de duivel?» (Are you Frans Hals or are you the devil?) Rene, had all this mixed up.... And each time I heard him speak about his famous >This is not a pipe<

I think again of this discussion, and the arrival of a very distressed Rene at my home soon after.." L'importance des merveilles, (the Importance of miracles, Figure 34. 1927)

La Trahison des images (The Treason of the images, Figure 35. 1948)

One can, in this anecdote, hear all the acuity of the subjective resonance of the search for the concept (pensée) that resembles the world-mystery: Rene Magritte was under the distressing influence of a very personal question.

However one could likewise say that he personally put forward a question which arose beyond him, the one concerning the condition of our existence: The unthinkable fact that we are a part of this world and at the same time are ourselves, camouflaged under our usual constructions concerning the world. (This…) unthinkable that what Magritte reminds us of by his pictures, and to which he proposed his solution... It is by this double dimension of representation (énonciation) - in which I distinguish (15) - "talk with myself" and "talk to the outside - that I come to my conclusion."

(New sector….)

An umbrella is not a phallus. (In proposal with applied psychoanalysis)

I return to the belief that I expressed at the beginning of this exposition. I believe that my remarks have made understandable the thread that it has been able to follow. Did it maybe take form in the mind supported by the putting away the veil that the memory, confined to Scutenaire, had lain over the dead woman, those the painter has represented so many times on his canvas? Did not the idea of an intimate correspondence between the work of the painter and an event in his life (as told in the memory of the suicide) become amplified in the Les Rêveries d'un Promeneur solitaire (Daydreams of a solitary Walker) and Les Eaux Profondes (Deep water)?

There is another fact in the life of the painter, less known than the suicide, which still more directly raises the same question. I want to speak about the relation between a biographical fact and Rene Magritte’s vocation to paint, and I refer to the following memory:

"In my childhood, entrusted Magritte, I liked to play with a small girl, in the old unused cemetery of a small provincial town. We visited the underground caves of which we could raise the heavy iron doors. When we went up to the light, there was a painter, who had come from the capital, painting in an alley of the cemetery. It was very picturesque with its broken stone columns covered with dead leafs. The art of painting appeared then vaguely magic to me and the painter gifted with higher capacities." (Roisin) I will never know the deeper or accidental reasons that three years after the meeting on the cemetery, made decide Magritte to start painting. Certain is however: the vision of a painter had surprised the young Magritte when passing out of the shadows into the light. This experience could have reinforced the link that connects the painter with the experience of the vision. It is likewise true that the identification of the painter with a gifted being of higher capacities was a part of Rene Magritte. Look at those two self-portraits: Le Sorcier (The Wizard, figure 36) that reminds of the Hindu god Shiva. Magritte is equipped with 4 arms, and without a doubt the presence of bread and wine also evokes the Last Supper. The name of the other picture, Le Fils de L'Homme (the Son of man, figure 37, 1964), has been retained by Magritte together with other titles proposed by his close relations, it contains a religious connotation.

Think of the circumstances of the appearance of the painter: it took place in a cemetery, just when Magritte left a vault, a few months after the death of his mother (and more precisely, according to my investigation, at the moment of the festival of All Saints' day)... Between the higher powers, the divine position, the question of the impossibility of mourning his mother... are we not tempted to believe that it, in a hidden way, has to do with the myth of an absolute power over life and death? But who might tell us if the particular subjective resonance, of this identification with a holy being, has encouraged or merely accompanied Rene Magritte’s choice to become a painter? One can scorn these questions and only consider the painter’s art, and one will think that Magritte indeed was a magician. Aren't we fascinated when we see stones floating among the clouds, or motionless bird-plants at the foot of the mountains, see a boat-sea (bateau-mer) sailing on the water, and all that what comes to surprise each one among us?

I have for my part, questioned the resonances that life reflects. The psychic working through (le travail psychic) and the work of the artist... It is characteristic of popular mentality to attribute an explanation to the bond that links phenomena of so different order, the events of life and psychology, or the psychology of an author and his works. The position of Magritte in this respect was that he refused any explanation. He wrote in connection with the Perspective Amoureuse (Prospect In love, figure 38):

"This closed door however is open: an opening that makes it possible to pass there through it as in the opening of an open door. What one sees through this opening is a tree that has the shape of a leaf. Just as the door corresponds to an opening, the tree corresponds to the leave. And these connections are joined together by only one object: “Door-Opening” or “Tree-leaf”. Instead of being separate: a Door and an Opening or a Tree and Leaf . The house that is close to the Tree-Leave suggests the dimension of this Tree-Leaf and avoids confusing it with a leaf.

On the roof of the house is a bell is (as one attaches to the collar of a horse). The existence of this bell, located on a roof, loses its common triviality as agreed upon, indeed it becomes again mysterious, it invites us to ask (wonder….) why it is there.

La Perspective amoureuse (The Prospect in love, Figure 38. 1935)

The answers which one might make are without interest: for example one could explain that in the house lives a manufacturer of bells and that he put a large bell on his roof by way of publicity. A psychiatrist could answer that it is a disturbed person who put this bell on the roof, etc.... This kind of answers would dissipate the mystery that I precisely try to protect and to evoke. The difficulty of my thought, when I wish to find a new canvas is indeed to obtain an image that resists any explanation and which resists at the same time to be indifferent. "

(Roisin) Which position did I take compared to that which Magritte maintains in these remarks? I chose to be interested in the subjective resonance in connection (related….) to his work, but without ever implying a bond of explanatory nature of one with the other. Thus I have, between the memories and work, extracted the same subjective resonance, that of the brutal invading presence of the scopic impulse in the psychic life and Magritte’s artistic production. I underlined already, before, the not-causality in what happened in the psychism and the work. I would like to linger on, together with you, and stay with the report between of the explicative non-causality between the psychism and the artistic creation.

But I would like just here, at the end of this short essay about applied psychoanalysis, to question the legitimacy of such a procedure. In fact I will in this direction deliver some reflexions to start in this direction, which all are to be investigated more profoundly.

It will be a question of (first) posing the conditions of validity of the comments or proposed interpretations. I am convinced that applied psychoanalysis can reach some exactitude, in the sense where it is suitable to oppose exactitude and accuracy.

The exactitude of an interpretation is based on the criteria of the evidence, of the re-dividing of the representations, by the repetition, of our knowledge of the unconscious... The accuracy can only be confirmed by the cure, when the effects of an interpretation of the client reveal that the approach and the moment chosen for the intervention allowed the person to use it. Moreover the (possible) exactitudes cannot leave the statute of an assumption without any reliability, since the application of the psychoanalysis is exerted outside of the reaction (hors de la réaction ) of the interpreted subject. In other words, accuracy and certainty are the prerogative of the cures where the effects of words produce the proof!

Thus I could collect my assumption relating to Magritte in the sentence

”Magritte paints the feeling of "jamais-vu" (if this concept of "jamais-vu" does not exist, I have just invented it), or

”his painting solidifies, by a hypnotic standstill of time and movement the visible appearance of things ", or

”the act to paint was making an offer to the Mystery-God!". xxx

Is this interpretation faithful to the subjective range of Magritte’s texts, with the power of his images? It will be a question of stating the validity criteria or rather of the probability of the hypothetical exactitude Is this however more enlighting ? It will be a question of stating the criteria of relevance of them. There lies the question of the so called " applied psychoanalysis ". Because let us never forget the sentence pronounced by Cocteau when he discovered the Freudian theory: " If, when I dream of an umbrella, it is about a phallus that I dream, who will be able to contradict me if I say that when I dream of a phallus, I dream of an umbrella?"

But (secondly) a much more fundamental legitimacy is in question when a psychoanalytical approach to works of art is examined. One thing is to limit oneself to study the subjective resonance to it. Another thing is to seek to clarify the creative process itself, i.e. the passage of the subject to art, an attempt that I did not start today. For this purpose it is necessary to question the testimony of the artists themselves.

But what might be the result of such a step, if not to open the true question. Because if art consists of a going beyond of the instinctual (désir) - I would say in this direction " True art does not reside in psychoanalysis"- I could likewise say that the experience of art consists of a going beyond, even of the artist’s activity. ( l'expérience de l'art consiste en un dépassement de l'activité même de l'artiste). Shouldn't one reverse the usual description of causality, and (instead…..) think of the causality of art on the subject?

Doesn't the range of the concept of sublimation stop at the threshold of the world of art?

Such is the experience of the creative surprise, let us not forget it, and this points out to us all the relevance of the famous word of Rimbaud: I is another. (Je est un Autre!)

--------------------------- --------------------------- -----------------------

Here follows the text that was LIFTED OUT, referring to LACAN:

> But starting from Jacques Lacan a new interpretation, aiming at a more radical function of the screen-memory, can be tried out, when the setting in scene besides the needs additionally puts forward the appearance of the

"object little a " and shows the presence of the screen which occults it. (10)

I use a concept here that Lacan created within the framework of his seminar XI devoted to the Quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse 10 ( Four fundamental concepts of the psychoanalysis) Let me immediately specify that the object in question in the memories of Magritte is that of the scopic impulse. About what is it?

The invention of the concept of "object little a " is a result of a reflection on the impulses on which the unconscious desires are based, and on the active presence (présence agissante) of the death instinct within these impulses.

1° Lacan insists on the fact that the various instinctual vectors, (champs pulsionnels) far from being reduced to the instinctual in the person, are places of experience where the child meets the desire of the Other and where its own need is given form (se constitue). These places have a meaning, which is to confront the child with certain registers of human relations Thus in the oral period the primitive relation to the external world is acted out by the desire to incorporate, or to cannibalize the world, to satisfy itself with it. But the child encounters the need for weaning and, by this, is introduced to a fundamental human conflict. In the anal phase the child plays with the question of exchanges, the contract, the gift..., which he corporally experiences between himself and his entourage by the manner of way of what he can produce like a present. It concerns not only the pleasure of shitting, but to retain or not to retain his faeces, or any other production of himself, is a way of playing with giving a present and a control of the relations with the other, and the child will experience (rencontrer la perte dans les échanges) himself to be a loser, This is also true for the other impulses....

2° Lacan then reconsiders the active presence of the death instinct on the level of these sexual instincts. He realizes indeed that the fundamental object of the impulse has been chilled by the death instinct. That this object is not the object of the nostalgic pre-conflict, such as one can fantasy about as it was in the origin and got lost.

It is about the object as a representative of the mortifying loss and not the lost paradise. I insist in order that one understand, the “object little a” is the product of the conflict and not the imagination of its anteriority. In the attachment to the object, what the subject is looking for is to make up its loss in the relations of desire with desire, much more than of fantasying about a satisfying object. (that would be manifested in he attachment to the breast, or as in the oral cramming, or with the anal object which represents the loss in the exchanges...).

This register of the failure, which causes the trauma in the desire of the subject, Lacan, calls the dimension of reality, going beyond the imaginary and symbolic representations of the impulses. The reality which is, as insists Lacan, the heart of the repetition about which Freud spoke, occurs as by accident ("tuchè") and is repeated like such ("automaton"). We have here to do with the "real" character of life, which causes the brutal experience of being a part of reality, faraway from a feeling that life is only a dream. By the concept of the "object little a”, Lacan names this the central instinctual point of any desire, it is its traumatic point.

Let us not ignore that this relates to the register of the trauma of the desires and not to the trauma of existence, that in opposition to the precedent, I called pure trauma.

Several meetings of the Seminar XI are devoted to place (à penser) the "objet little a " in the scopic register of the desire. To introduce this concept, Lacan reverses the traditional diagram of the act of seeing (vision) : the subject, being the spectator who constructs his representation in the image of an object, is put in the position of resorting to a screen with respect to the look at the things, that overwhelm him.

(de spectateur construisant sa vision dans l'image d'un objet, est mis en position de tableau recourant à un écran vis-à-vis du regard des choses, qui l'inonde).

Likewise, it concerns on this level of désir (impulses, need), such what cannot be seen but kills each imaginary representation as being illusion. It is the evil eye, death’s eye (which, as one could say, breaks down what the imagination builds up). Lacan calls this eye, as far it is charged with cruelty and deadly despair, gaze ( regard ). Could one not name this, if it really is a question to locate the breast, faeces, gaze and voice – which one wrongly gives the name "objects" - as places where confrontation with reality is played on the scopic level: decomposition.


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