A Ceci disavowal

From Jeff Bowles on Facebook on the 12th, this Magritte-based composition:


Apparently a Magrittean disavowal (there’s a Page on such disavowals here), playing on Magritte’s wry late 1920s painting La Trahison des images (The Betrayal / Treachery of Images which shows a pipe, with the painting labeling itself Ceci n’est pas une pipe ‘This is not a pipe’. Here we get Louis Flint Ceci, on the left, objecting in astonishment that what’s on the right is not (a) Ceci; instead, it’s (a) Davisson.

In the lexical and grammatical swamp. The original has the French demonstrative pronoun ceci ‘this (here)’ as subject, but Jeff’s version (with ceci both as subject and as predicate nominal) opens up an assortment of other possibilities, involving at least the following:

– the (originally Italian) family name Ceci, referring either to a specific person with that name (the author Louis Flint Ceci, depicted on the left in #1) or to anyone with that name: LFC is a Ceci, or possibly in lower-case so as to look generic and not like German (Jeff wrote me in e-mail that he wanted to refer specifically to LFC but not make his family name look German), LFC is a ceci (note: the family name is of unsure origin, but might possibly be related to the next ceci)

– the Italian common noun ceci ‘chickpeas’ (pl. of cece), in which case the photo should be captioned Ceci n’est pas des ceci to be grammatically correct (but then joke versions of quotations aren’t necessarily grammatically correct)

– a nickname, in any of a number of languages, for the feminine personal name Cecilia or Cecille, in which case the predicate nominal should be une Ceci / ceci to be grammatically correct

(From here on out, I’ll use Ceci consistently for a proper name, disregarding Jeff’s worries about appearing to be German.)

On a separate front, Jeff agonized over whether it should be n’est pas un Ceci or n’est pas de Ceci (parallel to n’ai pas de Ceci), but opted to follow Magritte’s original.

The whiff of paradox. Put these lexical and grammatical musings aside. Does #1 in fact show LFC objecting in astonishment that what’s on the right is not (a) Ceci? That is, is Ceci n’est pas un Ceci a caption representing what LFC is saying (as I described things above), or is it part of the composition itself — in effect, representing what the composition is saying about (part of) itself.

On the first interpretation, Ceci n’est pas un Ceci is just true: what’s in the photo isn’t Ceci. (It is, however, an odd illeistic way for LFC to refer to himself; I’d have expected Ceci n’est pas moi. But let that pass.)

In any case, what the deictic subject ceci points to is something entirely separate from LFC.

On the second interpretation, Ceci n’est pas un Ceci has a whiff of paradox — the Magritte original is indeed (apparently) paradoxical, false if true, true if false — but again it’s simply true. Here, what the deictic subject ceci points to is the whole composition, of which Ceci is just a part, and that’s not Ceci. I’ll say that in this example LFC and the dectic ceci are (referentially) entangled.

So entanglement doesn’t necessarily bring (apparent) paradox in its train. Consider the Magrittean t-shirt below (shown here in red, available from Redbubble in 17 different colors):

(#2) Ceci n’est pas un homme ‘This is not a man’

There are (at least) three possible referents for the deictic ceci: the statement printed on the t-shirt; the t-shirt; and the person wearing the t-shirt. All three are entangled with the deictic ceci, but none of them leads to a paradox. The statement is not a man, so Ceci n’est pas un homme is true; the t-shirt is also not a man, so Ceci n’est pas unhomme is also true. Whether the person wearing the shirt is a man or not is to be determined by applying the real-world criteria for being a man, and the truth-value of Ceci n’est pas un homme will depend on what those criteria are and what the facts turn out to be, but there’s no paradox.

(I haven’t yet found a t-shirt with the legend Ceci n’est pas un pédé ‘This is not a fag’, but I continue to hope.)

Saints and Sinners, Davisson, and Ceci. Now the setting for #1, which is something of an in-joke for the lgbt literary community. The composition is set at at one of the Saints and Sinners Literary Festivals in New Orleans. From Wikipedia:

(#2) Poster for the 2019 festival, at the Hotel Monteleone, 214 Royal St.

Saints and Sinners is an alternative literary festival [founded in 2002] specializing in LGBT literature, held in various locations around the world-famous French Quarter neighborhood in the city of New Orleans, Louisiana each March.

About Davisson, from his own website:

(#3) The cover of Davisson’s recent novel, with (a version of) his photo on it

Davisson’s vision is a rich distillation of subversive thought. Tribal, mythic, punk and anarchic, he is a serious thinker with the spirit of a mischievous sprite…—Trebor Healey, author of Sweet Son of Pan

Sven Davisson is the publisher of Rebel Satori Press and the founding editor of Ashé! Journal of Experimental Spirituality.

He received a degree in Photography and Critical Theory from Hampshire College, Amherst, Massachusetts. He studied photography under former Photo League member and noted American realist Jerome Liebling and documentary folklorist Carrie Mae Weems.

A pioneer of rebel publishing, Sven co-founded the small, yet ground-breaking zine mektoub, which he produced from 1989 to 1995. [Wide range of publications on spirituality, the occult, speculative fiction, and gay consciousness.]

… Sven was born in Maine, the eighth generation descendent of the area’s original European settlers. He now lives with his husband [Nathaniel Bamford] and their two dogs in New Orleans.

Then about LFC, from several sites:

(#4) LFC thumbnail photo

[“About” on Amazon.com] Louis Flint Ceci is an author, educator, and retired software engineer. His published works include poems, short stories, autobigraphical essays, and a novel. He has also published scholarly works on poetics, linguistics, and artificial neural networks. He is a masters swimmer, having competed in the past four Gay Games, the FINA World Championships in Perth and Montreal, and numerous IGLA meets. He won the gold medal in the Poetic Justice poetry slam at the 2002 Gay Games in Sydney. [His first novel, Comfort Me, was published in 2009.]

[from “About the Author” on the Beautiful Dreamer Press site:] Louis Flint Ceci’s poetry has been published in Colorado North Review, and his short stories and essays in Diseased Pariah News. His autobiographical short story, “The Tree and the Cross,” appears in the anthology Queer and Catholic, edited by Amie M. Evans and Trebor Healey (Routledge, 2008). He is a former high school speech and English teacher, and a former college professor of Journalism and Mass Communications.

[Google Books description for Not Just Another Pretty Face, ed, by LFC (2016):]


The stories, poems, and essays in this collection have a single common element uniting their wide range of literary styles and genres: they all spring directly from photographs of go-go boys.

(#6) Minibar’s Go-Go boys at the 2008 Chicago Gay Pride Parade

The ideal go-go boy is the perfect erotic object. We imagine him as lost or broken so that we might rescue him, or as potent and aggressive so that we might be the focus of his desire. But the images captured here suggest deeper, more complex realities. These dancers are whimsical, haunting, satiric, playful, ominous. They are not objects, not icons, but stories waiting to be told.

Not Just Another Pretty Face plays with the interface of projections: what these young men project in their poses and expressions, and what we project on them in return. It explores assumptions, prejudices, fantasies, and revelations. It looks beyond the archetype, beneath the skin.

Babylon, my Babylon!  A wonderful find while I was investigating LFC: his poem “Babylon the Great”, on the Impossible Archetype site, from issue 3, released 3/19/18:

This city is destroyed each afternoon.
All day, the deluge hovers near
Presidio, until at five
It plunges down the Haight, its tongues as thick

As semen, swallowing Divisidero,
Polk, snaking round the wharf
And closing like a jaw on the
Financial district, crossing Market, seeping

Into stone and plaster till the Mission
Dims and drowns in milky twilight.
The citizens are not dismayed.
Though they may tremble in their beds at night

Rocked by carnal fear or lust or just
The San Andreas, prophets singing
Dies Irae in their ears
Catastrophes both intimate and public

Will not shake their civic faith. “Fallen,
Fallen is Babylon the Great!”
But what of that? All states are states
Of grace, wild, changing as the fog

That comes despite the best of days
And goes depite the night. Baptism
Or flames may do their best, but Babylon
The Great will rise again at dawn.

A celebration of San Francisco (affectionately called Babylon by the Bay by Herb Caen), with images of earthquake and fire, the pleasures of the body, the leveling of the mighty, resurrection. Plus some really excellent enjambments (I’m fond of enjambments).

Some lexical background:

[NOAD:] noun Babylon-1: an ancient city in Mesopotamia, the capital of Babylonia in the 2nd millennium bc. The city was on the banks of the Euphrates River and was noted for its luxury, its fortifications, and, particularly, for the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

[Merriam-Webster Online:] a city devoted to materialism and sensual pleasure

[Dictionary.com:] any rich and magnificent city believed to be a place of excessive luxury and wickedness [especially sexual wickedness: fornication, prostitution, and sodomy].

[NOAD:] noun Babylon-2: (chiefly among Rastafarians) a contemptuous or dismissive term for aspects of a society seen as degenerate or oppressive, especially the police: praise them for bringing a new rectitude to Babylon.

Where does this contumely spring from? (NOAD: noun contumelyarchaic insolent or insulting language or treatment: the Church should not be exposed to gossip and contumely. [I don’t get to use this word very often.]) From the Bible, of course — some from the Hebrew prophets, some from the apocalyptic Christians. A sampling (two of the former, two of the latter):

Isaiah 21:9 (KJV): And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground.

Jeremiah 51:8 (KJV): Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed: howl for her; take balm for her pain, if so be she may be healed.

Revelation 14:8 (KJV): And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.

Revelation 18:2 (KJV): And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.

The refrain “Babylon is fallen, is fallen” is echoed in LFC’s poem. And in the 19th-century hymn that I know from shaenote singing as “Babylon is fallen”, 117 in the Denson Sacred Harp. With the refrain:

Babylon is fallen, is fallen, is fallen,
Babylon is fallen to rise no more

Discussion in my 9/23/10 posting “Memorial singing”. And you can experience a singing of SH 117 here:

(#7) From the Sixth Ireland Sacred Harp Convention, March 2016 in Cork

And then, back to San Francisco, where people have been playing with the Babylon label for a long time, most notably in the enormously entertaining Beach Blanket Babylon. From Wikipedia:


Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon is the world’s longest-running musical revue. The show began its run in 1974, at the Savoy Tivoli and has since moved to the larger Club Fugazi in the North Beach district of San Francisco.

The show was created by Steve Silver (1944–1995) and continues under the direction of his widow, Jo Schuman Silver, with frequent changes and spoofs of pop and political culture.

Performers wear disproportionately large hats/wigs and gaudy costumes while performing satirical renditions of popular songs.

On April 17, 2019, Jo Schuman Silver announced to the staff that the show would be closing on New Year’s Eve.


5 Responses to “A Ceci disavowal”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Jeff Bowles on Facebook:

    It was not about his name looking german, but that german Sentences tend to use Nouns that are capitalized to give an Emphasis, visually, to those Words in the Sentence.
    Which I wanted to avoid.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    More from Jeff Bowles:

    I admit that I like that weird gimmick in the German language. Nonetheless, in the strange gyrations I was already doing with the French language, I felt it would snap off and break in my hands if I stretched it further.

    It is worth noticing, I do not believe I wrote it above, that the presence of the article is significant. You do not use “the” or “a/an” or “some” in a specific context:

    I am a singer, it is what I do, it is what I am: “Je suis chanteur.”
    I am someone who sings: “Je suis un chanteur.”

    I am a student, it is my identity: “Je suis élève.”
    I am a student, somewhere: “Je suis un élève.”

    To write, for this, “Ceci n’est pas ceci,” would be confusing and mildly nonsensical. Were the last word capitalized, it would become mildly annoying. I think that it would force the collision of what was merely ambiguous before. The wink to the reader becomes a poke in the eye.

  3. Gadi Says:

    Hey, I got a Jeopardy! question right because of this post. This blog keeps paying off in new and different ways!

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Ok, *what* Jeopardy question?

      As for the blog, you might think of it as producing a constant gentle rain of cultural debris from all over the world.

  4. Gadi Says:

    They asked who painted the painting of a pipe with the caption “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”. I correctly answered that it was Rene Magritte. (Previous to reading this post, I had vaguely known of the painting, and I had known of Magritte, but I would not have known to put the two together.)

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