The Representation of Reality in Western Art*
And reading Chapter Two of The Guermantes Way,
He thought “Why not?” and wandered in himself
To that immense hall which the drawing room
Gave access to.
The progress of the day could now resume
And someone cleared the book from where it lay
And put it back in order on the shelf.
Meanwhile he casually sauntered through
The hall, surprised by his command of French,
His friends, but very soon left them behind.
Trying to trace
A faint piano playing on his mind
The simple melody he must pursue—
That nocturne by Fauré: how it could wrench
His heart—he floated through a sunlit space,
Becoming what he heard. The notes decayed
And he was bodied in himself once more,
The painted cityscape he stood before,
Which showed a painting angled to replace
The very scene it covered and portrayed.
Magritte of course. Well, he need not apply
Much force to prise that canvas and expose
The main street’s long perspective, which he took
Back to today—
But earlier. So, browsing for a book,
He paused and thought, “Why not give Proust a try?”
And sat and opened it and stretched his toes.
Rene Magritte ‘Les mots et les images’ 1928 detail
* “…representational art is the least realist of all, since it is strictly speaking impossible. Nobody can tell it like it is without editing and angling as they go along. Otherwise the book or painting would simply merge into the world.”
Terry Eagleton, London Review of Books, 23 October 2003, reviewing Mimesis: the Representation of Reality in Western Literature by Erich Auerbach.
Stephen Edgar (b. 1951) was born in Sydney, where he now lives again after some years in London in the 1970s and several decades in Hobart, Tasmania (1974 to 2005). He studied Classics and later librarianship at the University of Tasmania. He was poetry editor of the Tasmanian quarterly Island between 1989 and 1994 and continues to serve as subeditor of that magazine, a position he has held since the mid-1980s. For many years he worked in various libraries but over the last 20 years he has mainly earned his living by editing, proofreading and indexing. He has published seven collections of poetry, the most recent being History of the Day (Black Pepper, Melbourne, 2009).
Rene Magritte ‘Woorden en afbeeldingen’