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Michel Foucault’s This Is Not a Pipe (Treachery of Images)

12 Jan

This philosopher is new to me and new to this site. I will be talking more about him from here on out. The French post-structuralist philosopher wrote This is Not a Pipe referring to the surrealist painter Rene Magritte’s painting Treachery of Images. This painting yields confusion as to what Magritte’s point was and what it means overall.

Ceci n’est pas une pipe is French for This is not a pipe. The issue here is what does it mean to write this across a clear painting of a pipe. Michel Foucault’s writing about the surrealist painting is a clear detailed analysis of the two versions of the painting, the calligram in the painting, and a lot of other detailed information. Foucault’s section of the writing The Unraveled Calligram is th section I have interest in because it gives 3 possible explanations to what the [this] is referring to.

A calligram is a piece of art that is made of a word or phrase or many phrases. When the word or phrase(s) is put on paper/canvas it is structured into a shape of something and what the word or phrase says represents the shape the word or phrase makes.

The above is a calligram. It makes the shape of skilled guitarist Jimi Hendrix and any enthusiast of his would understand that the words the calligram says are of Hendrix’s music. Magritte’s calligram in his surrealist painting has the same function but is with one word.

Going back to the calligram later, the two issues is what is meant by this? and what is Magritte’s point? Magritte’s point is an easy one. He stated himself he would be lying if he were to say that the pipe in the painting really was a pipe. Could you fill that pipe? no you for sure could not, therefore that is not a pipe. What Magritte is aiming to convey is that the non-pipe is a representation of a pipe.

This is an idea that is and can be applied to epistemology and phenomenology in epistemology did just that. Phenomenology, Foucault and Magritte are not related and have no ties, this is just my noticing a similarity in principle between the painting and phenomenological epistemology. Phenomenology is a school of epistemology that studies phenomena and perceives the world unempirically in that when object X is viewed it is not thought that the object is being seen, it is thought that the phenomenal representation of object X is being seen. Therefore being is taken out of the picture in consciousness in epistemology. So, phenomenologically, if one were to see a pipe in real life it would be viewed as a representation of a pipe, however that representation of a pipe being filled would just be an episode of a representation of a pipe being filled with a representation of tobacco. Coming back from my epistemological tangent, in Magritte’s painting it is just a matter of aesthetics in surrealism, while phenomenological thinkers are just a matter of viewing things as phenomena as representations. These two are only the same in principle.

Knowing Magritte’s point to the painting, Foucault discussed 3 functions of the [this] in Treachery of Images. In the first function of the [this], the [this] is referring to the picture of the pipe. The statement is what Magritte’s point is, that the picture of the pipe is not really a pipe.

The second function of the [this] is when the [this] refers to the written statement [This is not a pipe]. It is saying that the statement of the pipe is not the representation of the pipe. This seems difficult to grasp because when speaking of the statement it might be thought that it cannot be denied that [pipe] refers to the above design. Foucault states that ‘design and designation do not overlap’. I understand this as the statement denying that it corresponds to any object like pipe.

The third function of the [this] is when the [this] refers to the entire boundless painting overall. Here the calligram matters in two ways: 1) In the English version of the painting where [this is not a pipe] is what the statement is, the calligram is with the word [pipe] the place in the pipe where tobacco goes in is where the top of the p and the ipe, and the taller part of the p is the long part of the pipe.

Look at the large letter p and try to envision how the pipe can become a calligram with the p especially when the ipe are added. Foucault has illustrations in the writing but I could not find them on the internet. The third function of the [this] again refers to the whole boundless (second version of Treachery of Images by Magritte) painting with the pipe representation and the statement. The calligram here being with the word pipe, the proclamation is that [this], the painting and its entailments is not any representation of a object pipe or a statement/word meaning a pipe.

“Hence the third function of the statement: “This” (this ensemble constituted  by a written pipe and a drawn text) “is not” (is incompatible with) “a pipe” (this mixed element springing at once from discourse and the image, whose ambiguous being the verbal and visual play of the calligram wants to evoke” (Foucault).

In this third function there is an ambiguity. This lies in the identity of the [a pipe] because it is not understood what it refers to because of the ambiguous calligram. The above is a quote on the third function of it from Foucault, and he even says that here lies an ambiguity.

2) The second calligram is with the French version of Magritte’s painting (the second version) where instead of [This is not a pipe], [Ceci n’est pas une pipe] is stated across the surrealist painting under the representation of the pipe. Here lies a different calligram and a somewhat similar ambiguity. The calligram is in the [une] and the u is the part of the pipe where tobacco is inserted to smoke and the other parts of the pipe is the ne and the word [pipe].

Foucault goes on into talking about Klee and Kandinsky and a lot of other things, but I have less interest in that and more in the painting, its functions, its ambiguities, the calligram(s), and the aesthetic value it possesses.

This painting contains astronomical aesthetic value for the following reasons: the three functions of the [this], the utter confusion at first sight of this painting, and the ambiguities from the calligram in each version of the painting. Hegel had 3 ways (as I have continuously affirmed as my standards for aesthetic value) to recognize aesthetic value and beauty in artistic pieces (and media now I think): 1) coming close to imitation of nature, 2) so beautiful you are emotionally moved, or 3) it is so confusing that it sucks you in and does not allow you to think otherwise because you want so much to comprehend. This surrealist painting causes utter confusion in the viewers of the painting because the desire to comprehend the functions of the statement and the desire to comprehend the ambiguities in the calligram(s). Once one understands 2 of the simple functions the [this] of the painting, the third function will create new confusion because whether in the French version the calligram is in the [une] or in the English version where the calligram is in the [pipe], there is renewed confusion as to what the third function means and aims to claim. Foucault even said himself in the writing that the calligram ‘evokes ambiguous being’ of the calligram. It is because of this large amount of things to take into account about Treachery of Images that this painting has aesthetic value by Hegel’s third qualification because it sucks one in in that the person desires to comprehend so much.

Through my reading about Magritte and into Foucault’s analysis of the painting I am only further sucked in than I was when I first saw it. I have made some progress in comprehension but I am right back where I started. This somewhat is what artists aiming for this kind of aesthetic value try to achieve.

Thanks for the support. I shall write more in the coming and soon weeks about phenomenology, existentialism, ethics, some older modern and 19th century philosophy, and more about epistemic justification.

If I misconstrued anything about Magritte’s painting or Foucault’s analysis of the unraveled calligram, please let me know on twitter (cosmosz), by email ( or comment below.


Introduction to Aesthetics and Hegel

23 Sep

Aesthetics is not something I have ever previously discussed or addressed on this site, but here is where I start. Like metaphysics, epistemolog y, and ontology, aesthetics is another field of philosophy I have become interested in, and would like to participate in discussions about art and beauty. Aesthetics specifically is the philosophy of beauty. This breaks down into all forms of art, and anything else that can be classified as beautiful. Therefore, aesthetics is thought of as the philosophy of art. I want to discuss what makes something beautiful, aesthetic value, and what an artistic piece aims to do. I, however, do not aim to do all of this here, I only want to introduce it with a small aesthetic argument, succeeding my discussion on what George Willhelm Friedrich Hegel says on the subject. He published a two volume book about aesthetics, and I am to include him in aesthetic discussion frequently. Not only, do I want to talk about Hegel’s aesthetics I want to bring in the aesthetics of every big philosopher that even remotely discussed aesthetics (including Kant, Nietzsche, Moore, Plato, Aristotle, Vico, and others).  Any piece of aesthetic value that I encounter are ones I plan to immediately post to my aesthetic thought page of this website, as a few pieces of art by great artists and photographers are posted there now. After discussing Hegel’s aesthetic introductions, I will glance upon a smaller aesthetic argument of what a forgery is in an aesthetic piece, and what if anything makes the forgery of less aesthetic value. On another note, I hope to analyze Hegel’s logical philosophy, but I have not the idea of the time I get beyond his aesthetics.

Beginning, with Hegel it is necessary to understand aesthetics by understanding what aesthetics judges of the art in question. One of the general things that aesthetics questions of art is whether or not the art achieves one of the 3 aims that art sets for itself. After endorsing these aims, I will discuss Hegel’s understanding of what the concept of beauty is. The introduction to Hegel’s aesthetics includes a Common Ideas of Art section and the Aims of Art is a sub section of that. The first of 3 aims of art is the principle that all art aims to imitate nature. Like all aims of art, this aim too is wanted to be another possible ‘means to an end’ in art, and a way to achieve the best state of art that it needn’t continue any further. All art according to Hegel  creates an aim just so that it can cut out goals from what drives artists, and so that they can cut out what would be top notch art. Top notch art in this case would be art that most correctly copies and imitates nature. Once artists create art that correctly imitates art, the keepers of that artwork would keep it and do with it what they want without the need for anything else. This aim that art has of the 3. Do not count on this aim ever being completely achieved, because as stated by Hegel still,  every piece of art attempting to imitate art is never close enough, and never even is able to match up. Hegel says that if we make this the ultimate aim of art, the ‘objective beauty’ will be lost for a cause that will never even be fulfilled anyway. I have not said anything about my personal hobbies on this site but not only do I love philosophy, but I love to paint specifically oil and watercolor paint on canvas or paper. What I specifically paint is nature, that being land or seascapes, animals or other phenomena of nature, whenever I even have a single moment of chance to do this kind of work, since school and philosophy occupy the rest (work also).  It is because of this I think that many of the beautiful artwork is made that tries to imitate art, yet does not come close. I would like to add to Hegel’s discussion on this topic that most artwork that tries to copy nature and yet fails, is still incredibly beautiful, and is featured in the most extravagant museums. There are numerous artists I love that aim for this imitation of nature, and make incredibly beautiful art in the process. I discuss Hegel’s aims of art mainly so that whenever I see an artwork, or I post an artwork on this website, that I and you can view it with these aims in mind while evaluating whether or not the artist achieved even a little bit the 3 aims of art, and if not so much (as in most cases), what came out of it anyway? I love these aspects of art and aesthetics, in that whatever artist aims to create, they are the enforcement as to what is right and wrong within an artwork, even while some aims/goals are pursued in the process.

The other two aims of art seem to me to kind of cohesively form one aim, but yet they still have their own individual distinctions from each other.  The  second aim of  art by Hegel is to appeal to parts of peoples’ spirits making their emotions trigger in a positive way. Hegel words it so great so I will just quote him: “….the task and aim of art is to bring home  our sense, our feeling, and our inspiration everything which has a place in the human spirit” and to ” consist in awakening and vivifying our slumbering feelings, inclinations,  and passions of every kind, in filling the heart, in forcing the human being, educated or not, to go through the  whole gamut of feelings which the human heart in its inmost and secret recesses can bear, experience, and produce….” (Hegel).  To sum this up, an aim of art is to make an artwork so appealing to person X that their emotions run wild because of identification with the piece, and happiness from beauty (loosely defining it as we have not clarified it so by Hegel yet). When you look at some art,  what emotions come through you? Not all art gives you the emotions that Hegel exemplified, but all art gives you some emotion and feeling. Go to my Aesthetic Thought page or search in any search engine ‘beautiful artwork’ or some other search term pertaining to art, and analyze your thoughts when you view this work. There is some kind of art out there that will aesthetically please you enough that you will have at least half of what Hegel exemplifies as an aim of art to do.  Again in this case, no artwork activates the  feelings and emotions to the degree that Hegel talks about, making this aim of art another device making  artists produce art that is incredible (however in this aim of art, some of the really most aesthetically pleasing artwork came about from the artist accidentally).

The third and final aim of art as shown by Hegel is what I seem to want to group with the second one in that both 2 and 3 activate the emotions in some way causing in depth activation of the spirit. What makes the third aim of art different from the second is that the third aim activates feelings and emotions in a less pleasant way by putting contradictory elements within the artwork causing ultimate argument of the sense and upheaval of all emotions. This activation of the spirit is not because it identifies with the sense and spirit like the second aim. Here the spirit is activated because an overall contradictory piece of art stands before the person. Again, Hegel explains it best so I quote him directly from his first aesthetics volume: ” …confronted  by such a multiple variety of content, we are at once forced to notice that the different feelings and ideas, which art is supposed to arouse or confirm, counteract one another, contradict and reciprocally cancel one another” and “Indeed, in this respect, the more art conspires to contradictory [emotions] the more it increases the contradictory character of feelings and passions and makes us stagger about like Bacchantes…..” (Hegel). Hegel uses the word Bacchantes correctly in that Bacchantes are figures in Roman mythology as followers of Bacchus who is the goddess of wine and intoxication to the Romans, and the goddess’ followers were women that ran crazily about. So, what Hegel infers here especially be using Bacchantes to exemplify this aim of art is that an aim of art is to create such amazing aesthetic value of something in the respect that the artwork causes conflicting emotions and confusion of thought. Again, like the other 2 aims of art, art that has existed has not lived up to making one run about like Bacchantes because of the conflicting and contradictory emotions and feelings form an artwork, but many pieces of art have lived up to half that or even a little more or less. An example of this would be M.C. Escher (Google him, or find most of his art on my Thought Media page) made a lot of art that was pleasing and beautiful aesthetically in that it causes one to question what the theme and meaning by interpretation Escher aims for. Go, and see his artwork to more fully understand the third aim of art (you will not begin to run around like a Bacchante).

A large thing that I find that each aim creates as a common ground is that no artist has created anything that has served the aim and fulfilled completely these goals. These are things that I think all mortal artists will forever strive to push forward with. I also think that these aims cannot ever be fully fulfilled on this earth, and if it did, art would cease to continue to be created, because all would be accomplished in that field. Even if no artist will ever live fully up to the  aims of each one, beautiful and aesthetically pleasing art that tries to imitate nature, identify with the human spirit, or throw the human spirit into confusion is created and appreciated by the whole of society.

When we see art, we must evaluate its progress as to how much it achieves the aim it seems to strive for. And in this process we can hopefully understand why an artwork is aesthetically pleasing and beautiful. In art and aesthetics, beauty has a stricter definition, yet that definition still is incredibly loose and unbounded. According to Plato, the beautiful is the good, which can be understood, but not comprehended. Hegel states that the entire definition of the beautiful cannot be understood by the understanding because of its infinity, while the understanding that we use to comprehend things is ‘finite, one sided and untrue.’  Hegel also states beauty to be the objectification of nature and spirit (making nature and spirit comprehended into an object).  This I think is the most accurate definition of beauty we can understand. We do not need strict philosophical and logical definition for beauty, not only because we know beauty when we see it, but our senses and things around us confirm it. Hegel’s definition of beauty correlates with the things art aims to fulfill. The beauty of each nature and spirit are things to be discussed in depth individually but as a whole beauty is objectification of nature and spirit, the manifestation of the good, infinite in its nature, and beauty finally is when the aims of art are achieved in even the smallest forms. This definition of overall beauty by Hegel, and collected by myself is the best way that we should conceive of it mostly because we cannot understand beauty in its full form, and that we simply know beauty when we see it. These characteristics of a thing prevent full definition of it, and we are left with our observations and feelings.

Considering the above, let us apply these things (and any other aesthetic values and principles) to the observation of every piece of art (by sight or by sound) and evaluate them as they deserve.

A small example of an aesthetic argument, is what I wanted to include with this introduction and foundation of my (and maybe your) of aesthetics. That small example is the event of a forgery of an artwork without the knowledge of the people apprehending and evaluating the artwork.  I wish to not go into the ultimate depths of this argument, but the argument by Alex Neill and Aaron Ridley is shown in Arguing About Art: Contemporary Philosophical Debates, and it can be read and further analyzed there.  Below is Georgia O’Keefe’s (one of many) painting, duplicated, and remove from your brain the fact that one is a forgery. They are both O’Keefe’s  painting, and you know nothing otherwise:

When viewing this painting(s), you understand that it does some of the things to achieve the second aim of art in that it arouses the soul, and brings home some feelings by the sense. If both are thought to be totally authentic O’Keefe  paintings, what is different from them aesthetically? Nothing at all. The awareness that a painting is authentic to a famous artist does nothing for a painting’s beauty, aesthetic value, or the aims of art being somewhat achieved if there is no difference between the two. Neill and Ridley go more in depth on the issue, but that is the main thesis on the entire argument. This exemplifies the use of the 3 aims of art in that nothing matters to its beauty or aesthetic value other than what is contained within those things. Any piece of art must be analyzed with nothing except the aims of art and beauty in all cases.

If you would like a better and larger discussion on the forgery of aesthetic pieces, please let me know by comments or Twitter, I would gladly talk more on the topic in the event of your desiring it. Hopefully this was a good enough introduction to aesthetics as this is over 2000 words, and thanks again for the support