Magrittean disavowals

About the terminology Magrittean disavowal / Disavowal, not the phenomenon. Mike Pope suggests that the terminology may be original with me, and that might be so. But the phenomenon has been around since Magritte’s 1929 painting — the famous pipe image captioned Ceci n’est pas une pipe —  and similar examples have been around for longer than that, in apparently paradoxical sentences like the one above (or its French equivalent Ceci n’est pas une phrase), in a sign that announces This is not a sign (French: Ceci n’est pas un panneau), and, more distantly, in the ancient Liar Paradox, with a number of variants:  I am lying – Everything I say is false – This sentence is false.

My postings with the terminology in them:

from 2/15/17, the first occurrence:

Elizabeth boldly denied the Penguin Interpretation [of a cupcake] — well, with a  Magrittean disavowal (Ceci n’est pas une pipe): This is not a penguin.

from 2/19/17:

this instance of a Magrittean Disavowal (which I’ve posted about several times; it all started with a pipe, but it’s gone in lots of directions, here to a wooden penis): [Ce n’est pas un pénis]

from 2/27/17:

But this is Zippy’s world, so we get surrealism, not extremism, with an instance of the Magrittean disavowal … [Ceci n’est pas un président]

from 6/28/17:

one in a long series of strips referring to the Magrittean disavowal, a contradiction between text and image: in this case, the title of this comic strip, This is not a comic strip.

from 7/10/17:

In Magritte’s The Treachery of Images, the text disavows the image — see this recent posting on Magrittean Disavowals — so you have the choice of trusting the image (in which case, the text is false) or trusting the text (in which case, the image is counterfeit). Hilary Price’s buyer makes the second choice, so since he was looking for a picture of a pipe — don’t ask why, people’s desires are sometimes inscrutable — he’s returning what he believes to be a picture of a non-pipe.

from 8/18/17:

the ad’s caption Ceci n’est pas un ventilateur ‘This is not a fan’, exemplifying what I’ve come to call the Magrittean Disavowal.

3 Responses to “Magrittean disavowals”

  1. Gary Says:

    My mother used to say that in her childhood in Germany, there was a hiker’s joke that farmers would put up signs saying “Dieser Weg ist kein Weg” to discourage hikers from following something that obviously was a path through their fields. A sort of self-contradictory Magrittean disavowal?

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      It might just be disingenuous, turning on an ambiguity in Weg — roughly, ‘(mere) path’, something you can walk on, vs. ‘route (to somewhere)’. Such a sign might be used straightforwardly to communicate ‘No Thoroughfare’ or ‘No Outlet’, but it can also be used deceptively, to warn people off paths that actually do go somewhere.

  2. Mark Mandel Says:

    I have never — well, not for many years — considered the “Magrittean disavowal” in “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” at all paradoxical. It’s quite accurate. That is *not* a pipe, but rather a painting of a pipe.

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