You spoke of anything that has the power
“to surprise and enchant” us as “poetry.”
Dear René Magritte:
This is not a thank you note.
Or if you prefer, Ceci n’est pas une note de merci.
Only kidding! Of course it is—that’s just a joke based on La Trahison des Images, aka The Treachery of Images, aka “This is not a pipe,” probably about the millionth one. Are you tired of them yet? Or, since you were something of a lifelong jokester yourself, are you happy that people are still joking, inspired by you?
Thank you for being a writer’s painter.
That is to say, thank you for declaring often: “For me, a reproduction is enough! Like in literature, you don’t need to see a writer’s manuscript to be interested in his book!”
That is to say thank you for seeing your paintings less as precious objects and more as philosophical propositions: “It’s not a question of painting, but of thinking.”
Thank you, too, for being a painter who wrote.
That is to say, thank you for living up to your friend, the poet Guy Rosey’s statement in a letter to you that, “You are far from being the occasional writer you claim to be, but you are, in my eyes and in the eyes of many others, a poet who sheds an unforgettable light on himself and his painting.”
You died in 1967, well before I was born. I never got to meet you or your wife and model, Georgette, or your and Georgette’s shared series of beloved Pomeranian dogs, all called Loulou. But I feel, now that I’ve worked on bringing your Selected Writings out in English, almost as though I’ve not only met but spent time with you all.
You thought in images, not novels or poems, but your paintings have always seemed to me very language-based, very narrative, very readable.
And you spoke of anything that has the power “to surprise and enchant” us as “poetry.”
And in your essay “Surrealism in the Sunshine” you offer this beautifully articulated strategy for living:
Life is wasted when we make it more terrifying, precisely because it is so easy to do so. It is an easy task because people who are intellectually lazy are convinced that this miserable terror is ‘the truth’, that this terror is knowledge of the ‘extra-mental’ world. This is an easy way out resulting in a banal explanation of the world as terrifying. Creating enchantment is an effective means of counteracting this depressing, banal habit.
Thanks for saying that and thanks, through your images and through your words and through your life, for doing your best to counteract the banal and the depressing.
Please send my love, too, to Georgette and to Loulou.
Your friend & admirer in the mystery that you always said elucidates knowledge,
[This is the latest post in the new Letters to Dead Authors series.]
Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press and a founding member of Poems While You Wait. With Eric Plattner, she is co-editor of René Magritte: Selected Writings (University of Minnesota Press, 2016), and her second novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in 2017. @KathleenMRooney
René Magritte (1898–1967) was an internationally renowned Belgian Surrealist painter who also wrote prolifically on art and other subjects.