Thursday, May 4, 2017

"The Treachery of Images, the Candour of Poetry" by James Frederick William Rowe, Frequent Contributor

The Treachery of Images, the Candour of Poetry
James Frederick William Rowe

The profile of a pipe
Its curved stem
Its deep bowl
Deceives me
It's painted lines
A pantomime
Committing so well
The treachery of images
In pretending it is a pipe
That I must be reminded
"Ceci n'est pas une pipe"
     "This is not a pipe"

"This is not a poem"
How absurd!
For here sign and signified
Are singular and the same
There is nothing here
But the words
And the form they take
That is the candour of poetry
Here you have the real thing
Art without artifice
     "This is a poem"

Poet’s Notes:  In general, I do not like clever art and I find surrealism, modernism, postmodernism, and all the other related disciplines as degenerate schlock in the main. Nevertheless, there is one piece of art that, as a philosopher, I quite like: RenĂ© Magritte's The Treachery of Images (pictured).  The painting paradoxically appears to deny its own subject matter, a pipe in profile, by proclaiming "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" / "This is not a pipe". The reason for this is simple: it really is not a pipe--it is a representation of one. You cannot place it between your teeth, tamp down the tobacco, light, and smoke this pipe. This is a painting of a pipe and nothing more.

In contrast, what is a poem but a poem? Nothing. It is what it is, "art without artifice". A poem's self-refutation would not merely be an apparent paradox but an evident and glaring contradiction. Whereas The Treachery of Images is truthful to a fault, such a poem would be inherently a lie.

The poem's structure is simple, consisting of an indented last verse at the end of two, twelve-versed stanzas. It was written in a few minutes on the subway and required only minimal revision. Given the split-title, the first stanza speaks to the Treachery of Images, whereas the second the Candour of Poetry.

Finally, if one were to sniff hard enough around the message of the poem, one might catch whiff of a bit of idealism in the tacit suggestion that a poem, being a purely intellectual expression, known immediately to consciousness, has a higher reality than a representation of an ostensible material object. I suppose you could put that in your pipe and smoke it! 

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