Unreal Nature

February 21, 2017

Experiences Not Messages

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… — something already known but lost in the depths of the mind.

This is from ‘Magritte II’ (1969) in About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-96 by David Sylvester (1996):

It wasn’t enough for Pharaoh that he had seen seven fat kine being eaten by seven lean-fleshed kine. He had to find a meaning. The meaning as interpreted turned out to be the same as that of the dream about ears of corn. Symbols are interchangeable.

Magritte resented any tendency to read his images as symbols. “If one looks at a thing with the intention of trying to discover what it means, one ends up no longer seeing the thing itself, but thinking of the question that has been raised.” The interpretation of an image was the denial of its mystery, the mystery of the visible. “One cannot speak about mystery, one must be seized by it.” His images are to be looked at, not looked into.

Pharaoh’s dreams were interpreted because they were messages from God; ours because they are messages from ourselves. Magritte presents dreamlike images as experiences not messages. He evokes extreme or impossible physiological states or events which have an intense affective import — being crowded, being trapped, being immobilized, defying gravity, etc. — with great immediacy but no sensuous correlative, just as in dreams the action is all in one’s head. And he depicts this action with a conspicuous absence of distortion, so that the artist seems to have no attitude towards the phenomenon, and the spectator is not distracted by speculation as to what is meant, is left free to concentrate on what is there.

magritte_humanCondition
René Magritte, The Human Condition, 1933

… In a lecture given in London in February 1937, he said: “There is a secret affinity between certain images; it is equally valid for the objects which those images represent … We are familiar with birds in cages; interest is awakened more readily if the bird is replaced by a fish or a shoe; but though these images are strange they are unhappily accidental, arbitrary. It is possible to obtain a new image which will stand up to examination through having something final, something right, about it: it’s the image showing an egg in the cage.”

[line break added] Lecturing in Antwerp the following year he had more to say about this insistence of his that it wasn’t enough to indulge in free association, that he was involved in an ‘investigation’ of reality directed towards the discovery of images which would have a certain inevitability: any object he dealt with presented a problem to which there was “only one correct answer,” an answer that was “strictly predestined” — something already known but lost in the depths of the mind.

magritte_humanCondition1935
René Magritte, The Human Condition, 1935

My most recent previous post from Sylvester’s book is here.

-Julie

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