Kathleen Rooney

Magritte, attempting the impossible


La Tentative de l’Impossible

A man in a suit produces, with his palette, a nude woman into the air, introducing their unbreakable relation to the room. The woman is Georgette, the man, her husband. She and Magritte were more beautiful then, and Loulou their Pomeranian was even cuter. Mag executed that oil-on-canvas in 1928, years before a handful of hateful things, years during which she and he were still attempting the impossible, which is to say: perfection.

In spite of sexual missteps—his with Sheila Legg (yes, Georgette knew) and hers (dull to say it was revenge, but it’s true) with his pal Paul Colinet (sent to distract her, so she let herself be distracted)—she remained the woman of his life. He, the man of hers. Only cartoons can say that they have “No regrets.” This was before the war.

rene_magritte_attempting the impossibleRené likes to say, “When I go off on holiday the best moment is when I come back.” Georgette feels the same. So back they came. She tries not to mock herself with the image of him taking off the groupie’s artist’s smock there, in England in the 30s; mussing a bed with this other woman. Tries not to think of her stupid nickname: “The Surrealist Phantom.” And Mag never mentions, on TV or the radio, that he knows his wife went to bed, too, with his poet best-friend.  

Such crazy love—such amour feu—they can attribute to a solitary and uncharacteristic lapse, and after a while (as in, a few years to reconcile) they clasped each other more tightly than before. This was after that war. 

“In music, I don’t go further than Debussy and Ravel,” her husband likes to say, too. But he sometimes asks Georgette: “Play me Satie’s Gymnopédies,” and she does. There’s a mystery in the universe—what then? “Let’s not talk about it,” he says of death. But it’s their friend E.L.T. Mesens who wants to keep their dumb affairs suppressed.

Georgette knows that she and Mag can never forget, so why not let it be said? Loulou their Pomeranian, he also knows. Georgette has told him; they’ve talked it over. He thinks no less of them—like any faithful pet, he values fidelity, but he’s not, thank god, a fanatic about it. He’s humped a few legs in his day. What of it? Mesens, though, took the news at the time like a murder confession. Georgette despised him for that then, but she’s over it now. Mesens was not, she does not think, any kind of enabler. She pities the man his belittling reduction of her, of her husband: as petit bourgeois, as slavishly devoted, as never subject to ungainly emotions. And sure, it hurt, but it wasn’t fatal. It went from puncture wound to something more bearable: the tiny pinecone that never quite leaves your shoe.

Like she said to Loulou, their marriage is nothing to do with class. Does she wish the cheating hadn’t happened? Of course she does, yes. But their audacity is bigger than can be contained by the petty mind. Where would she find a better soulmate than Mag? He still comes up behind her sometimes, whacks her on the ass and says something lusty. But one mustn’t burst Mesens’s bubble by admitting to that.                                                                                                                                                        

KRasMagritteKathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, and a founding member of Poems While You Wait. Co-editor of The Selected Writings of René Magritte, forthcoming from Alma Books (UK) and University of Minnesota Press (U.S.) in 2016, she is also the author of seven books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, including, most recently, the novel O, Democracy! (2014) and the novel in poems Robinson Alone (2012). Her second novel, What Makes You Seek Your Fortune Here, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in 2017. 

Photo credit: Philip Dembinski

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Magritte tribute at EIL

Magritte’s Grand Illusions