Another Magrittean disavowal

Passed around on Facebook:

The 1929 Magritte original, often riffed on, went Ceci n’est pas une pipe ‘This is not a pipe’, a disavowal that sets up a contradiction between text and image. So here we have another Magrittean disavowal, as I’ve come to call the phenomenon; there’s a survey in my 8/19/17 posting “Magrittean disavowals”.

But they come in two species, and it’s not entirely clear which one the example above belongs to.

In simple examples, the text is a deictic construction (with English this, French ceci, whatever) that points to an image in the composition; the text asserts that the image is not an X — a pipe, a penguin, a penis, a fan, to choose some examples from my postings — while to a viewer the image clearly is an X, so there’s a contradiction between text and image.

More complex examples are self-referential disavowals: the text points to the compostion as a whole. A comic strip that says it’s not a comic strip, a sentence that says it’s not a sentence, a sign that says it’s not a sign.

The question is then what the ceci in the example above points to: the image within the composition, or the composition as a whole.

Background on GIFs (and JP(E)Gs). From Wikipedia on the former:

The Graphics Interchange Format (better known by its acronym GIF) is a bitmap image format that was developed by a team at the bulletin board service (BBS) provider CompuServe led by American computer scientist Steve Wilhite on June 15, 1987. It has since come into widespread usage on the World Wide Web due to its wide support and portability.

The format supports up to 8 bits per pixel for each image, allowing a single image to reference its own palette of up to 256 different colors chosen from the 24-bit RGB color space. It also supports animations and allows a separate palette of up to 256 colors for each frame. These palette limitations make GIF less suitable for reproducing color photographs and other images with color gradients, but it is well-suited for simpler images such as graphics or logos with solid areas of color.

And on the latter:

JPEG is a commonly used method of lossy compression for digital images, particularly for those images produced by digital photography. The degree of compression can be adjusted, allowing a selectable tradeoff between storage size and image quality. JPEG typically achieves 10:1 compression with little perceptible loss in image quality.

JPEG compression is used in a number of image file formats. JPEG/Exif is the most common image format used by digital cameras and other photographic image capture devices; along with JPEG/JFIF, it is the most common format for storing and transmitting photographic images on the World Wide Web. These format variations are often not distinguished, and are simply called JPEG.

The term “JPEG” is an initialism/acronym for the Joint Photographic Experts Group, which created the standard. … JPEG files usually have a filename extension of .jpg or .jpeg.

We now have a three-way ambiguity in the terms GIF and JPEG:

(a) a format for storing images; (b) a file in this format; (c) an image stored in this format

The example above has the image of a pipe, plus the GIF label. The example isn’t a format or a file, so senses (a) and (b) of GIF are inapplicable, and only sense (c) applies. But exactly what does the label apply to — just the pipe image or the whole composition?

Can’t be just the pipe image, since parts of an image don’t have formats of their own. Must be the whole composition. But then the question is whether the composition above is stored as a GIF or in some other format.

In fact, the composition above is stored as a .jpg file on my computer, so Ceci n’est pas un gif is simply true — on this computer, though it would be false in other installations. The point is that the composition itself has no intrinsic format, and Ceci n’est pas un gif embodies a type of category error.

Now, Ceci n’est pas une image ‘This is not an image’ would be a candidate for self-referential disavowal, and we could argue over whether it’s paradoxical or simply false. But Ceci n’est pas un gif makes no testable claim at all.

One Response to “Another Magrittean disavowal”

  1. ezwicky Says:

    You are missing a key fact. GIF, unlike JPEG, supports animation; a single GIF file can contain multiple images. Because obviously these are large, some platforms (particularly Tumblr) mark them with the kind of circle in the middle shown here. When you click on them they download the rest of the frames and animate. This is specifically not an animated GIF but a flat image with the icon as part of it.

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