Regarding Rene Magritte’s Letter to Michel Foucault

By Rajesh Shukla

Surrealist painter Rene Magaritte After reading postmodern philosopher Michel Foucault’s book ‘the order of things’ wrote a letter to him with some photographs of his paintings. Letter was about relationship between things and words, thought and visuals, resemblance and similitude, Magaritte seeks confirmation on what he believes about thought and things. He says things do not have resemblances; they do or do not have similitude, only thought resembles. It resembles by being what it sees, hears, or knows; it becomes what the world offers it. Agreeing what Foucault discussed in his book but he asked for a problem which he encountered in painting.

He asks “painting interposes a problem: there is the thought that sees and can be visibly described. Las Meninas is the visible image of Velasquez’s invisible thought (about this painting which is in the collection of Museo del Prado, Madrid Foucault have written in the first chapter of his book ‘the order of things’). Than is the invisible sometimes visible? On condition that thought be constituted exclusively of visible images. On this topic, it is evident that a painted image- intangible by its very nature- hides nothing, while the tangibly visible object hides another visible thing-if we trust our experience…..for a time curious priority has been accorded ‘the invisible.’ Owing to a confused literature, whose interest vanishes if we remember; it can be known or not known, no more. There is no reason to accord more importance to invisible than to the visible or vice versa.” Further after clearing that issue is not the importance of visible or invisible; issue is the mystery evoked by the visible and the invisible, and which can be evoked in principle by the thought that unites ‘ thing’ in order that evokes mystery.

Now main issue lies in the relationship between thought and the thing. Visible world or things are very mystical, in the visible world there lies codes, signs, logos to be grasped. There are two versions of approaches to understand or see a visible thing: one is systematic analysis which is through thought or reasoning and another one through intuition. Analyzing things through thought is not always correct since it does not grasp it in its entirety. While through intuition one becomes able to see things as it is. Thousand years back Indian philosophers concluded that visible world (form-name) {drisya} has no absolute existence.

Rene Magritte being a surrealist painter thinks accordingly, he says that -the mystery evoked by the visible and the invisible could also be evoked in principle by the thought that unites ‘thing’. Means thought which unites things through seeking resemblances in visible phenomena can create illusion by assembling them, thus can create a new thing too. For example see his painting in which tree is depicted as leaf, it is constructed through resemblances in tree and leaf. Since leaf is the manifestation of tree therefore the properties and forms of tree has manifested in leaf too; like tree, in leafs too there are shoots and branches. So conceiving leaf as a tree or face as a torso on the basis of resemblances; is not a big thought which could make one able to unveil any mystery of existence. In search of other existence surrealism destroyed the very consciousness of art and literature, it became technocentric. Even the very idea of thought as they use to say ‘writing from thought’ or ‘painting from thought’ lost its aura; thought which was the seer lost its vision.

As for as art is considered; point is to create an art which could say something about inconceivable existence. Now, is visual language capable to unveil the mysteries of existence? Even, is any human language capable to say the thing? For centuries western thinkers are meditating on this point of thought but there is no appropriate answer but philosophers and poets have reached at a point of agreement that visual language can not reach there where thought or poetry reaches.

Though from the point of communication visual language is rich but as for as discourse in truth is concerned, it fails. The greatest poets have said that when language reaches the dangerous horizon (where visual language can not reach), the point where it becomes non-language; it grasps the inconceivable. Kandinsky was first modernist painter who having created non-objective paintings tried to raise the visual language up to that limit where visible and invisible meets. He believed that non-objective painting is the highest limit of visual language, once it crosses the limit it vanishes as a visual language. He strove for a visual poetry which could transcend imitation or representation. Once language leaves any kind of representation of things or of thoughts it becomes subject. The autonomy of an art work is valid only on this point since here artist enjoys absolute freedom, he becomes prophetic, and he experiences sublime.

Author is an art critic and writer of three books ‘Contemporizing Buddha’, ‘ Hindu Tantra Yoga’ and ‘Concerning The Spiritual In Art-an Indian modern art perspective’. He has been awarded with ‘Lalit kala Academy Scholarship Award’ for art criticism in 2005. Currently working on a book ‘Buddhist tantra yoga’. He lives and works in Delhi India.


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