Wednesday, March 04, 2009
Ceci n'est pas une langue
Sorry, but I’m still on about words.
Small Boo has given me a rather splendid book about my favourite painter, René Magritte. Not only does it include all the images that have become stale through repetition on postcards and tea-towels, it also devotes a lot of space to some of the less familiar pieces, including paintings from the 1940s, when Magritte experimented with a looser style, some of them strongly influenced by Renoir and Matisse; as well as photographs and bronzes.
Throughout the shifts in style and medium, however, Magritte’s big idea persists: superficially ordinary, even banal subject matter, rendered bizarre and even threatening by juxtaposition and tweaking. A man with an apple for a face; boots becoming feet; a flaming euphonium; a pipe that isn’t.
The only downside is that the accompanying text seems to follow a similar trajectory. It’s comprehensible as English, but not comfortably so; the reader just about understands what’s meant, but every few lines, there’s an eye in your slice of ham. This may be the fault of author Jacques Meuris, but I’m inclined to point the finger at translator Michael Scuffil (the sort of blame game I discussed earlier). Here are a few choice morsels:
“The brush technique with its contrasts and glissandi calls forth immaterial, impalpable impressions.”
“It is moreover an example of his attempts on the moral plane to harmonize the meaning he gave to his work as a painter with that of his life.”
“Magritte was never a friend of symbols in painting, though in poetry perhaps.”
“The total rejection of the gratuitous was one of the constant features of Magritte’s attitude.”
“All that was left for this oeuvre was to topple over into its destiny in 1967.”