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September 22, 2016

Book Notes - Kathleen Rooney "René Magritte: Selected Writings"

René Magritte: Selected Writings

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

René Magritte: Selected Writings collects letters, poems, film scripts, and more to present an insightful portrait of the artist.

The Spectator wrote of the book:

"Selected Writings is nicely presented, properly scholarly and dense with interest. It is good value too. Of course, as a collection covering more than 40 years, it is inevitably repetitive and fragmentary, but there is an irrefragable sense of intellectual and artistic quality throughout."

In her own words, here is Kathleen Rooney's Book Notes music playlist for the book she edited René Magritte: Selected Writings:

In his essay "About 'the Universe of Sound'" the Belgian Surrealist painter Réne Magritte writes:

I am not in the least curious about the enigmas of acoustics: my "Universe of Sound" scarcely exists, it could hardly entertain or disturb anyone. I listen and I hear indeed, without the intervention of any other universe. I listen preferably to delightful and benign things, and I wish to listen to and to see what can evoke their mystery.

Perhaps unsurprisingly there are not a lot of images of sound, per se, in his paintings, but in his 1927 The Menaced Assassin, the assassin of the title is depicted as pausing at the crime scene—freshly murdered corpse behind him, detectives outside the door waiting to catch him—to listen transfixed to a phonograph on the table. What's this killer listening to?

For the first song on the playlist, let's suggest that the phonograph is playing the popular 1920s standard, "Bye Bye Blackbird," performed by the singer Evelyne Brélia, a friend of André Breton and his Surrealist circle, of which Magritte was briefly a part. Sadly, there's no recording of a Brélia version (though it's likely she would have known the piece), but it's best to imagine her as the performer because in 1923, she was the subject and purchaser of the first painting that Magritte ever sold.

Elsewhere in his Selected Writings, Magritte writes that, "In music, I don't go further than Debussy and Ravel," but that he "sometimes asks Georgette: 'Play me Satie's Gymnopédies'." So for Debussy, let's include "Clair de Lune," the third movement of Suite bergamesque, his piano rendition of a Paul Verlaine poem.

For Ravel, let's include Gaspard de la nuit: Trois poèmes pour piano d'après Aloysius Bertrand, a set of piano pieces inspired by the prose poetry of Aloysius Bertrand. Magritte himself has a painting called Gaspard de la nuit, and also wrote several prose poems which are included in his Selected Writings.

And, of course, let's add all three of Satie's Gymnopédies, pretty and grave.

In a letter to his fellow painter and admirer, the artist and art historian Suzi Gablik, Magritte recommends a "magnificent record. Mozart's Maurerische Trauermusik." So we'll include that too.

Finally, because René and his wife and model Georgette really were quite devoted to their series of Pomeranian dogs, all called Loulou (the Belgian-French equivalent of naming a Pomeranian "Pom" in English), let's add "René and Georgette Magritte with their Dog After the War" by Paul Simon. Here the Magrittes are, all three of them, in one of the photographs that may have inspired the song.

The Magrittes

Kathleen Rooney and René Magritte: Selected Writings links:

the author's website

The Spectator review

Chicago Book Review interview with the author
Chicago Reader profile of the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Live Nude Girl
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for O, Democracy
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Oneiromance
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Robinson Alone
Poetry Society of America essay by the author
The Volga interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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