I saw the Magritte exhibit, Mystery of the Ordinary, at the Art Institute of Chicago last week. Rene Magritte,in case you don’t know, was a surrealist painter, known for works like The False Mirror:
which was at the exhibit, and Son of Man , which was not. What struck me about his work was the deliberate reuse of themes, again and again, from different angles, with different elements, as though he was trying to work out a puzzle.
It got me thinking about the work of writing, about how, time after time, we find the same things cropping up, unconscious seeds sprinkled through the body of a work. The things that you can set your spell check by when the time comes to edit.
Magritte took those things, the ones that seemed to stay foremost in his mind, and he played with them. He looked at them, really looked at them, deconstructed them and put them back.
In some ways, his early work–the focus of the exhibition–was a broad, fruitful practice for the pieces that would come later. It was a means of taking those elements that seem to creep into his work as a whole and taking ownership of them for subtle and complicated use later.
In that way, those repetitive stutters we all have in our writing might be more than something to search and destroy. Perhaps, as they were for Magritte, they’re our portal for a completely distinct perspective on the world. Maybe they form the cobblestone path to that elusive thing called voice..