Magritte and Literature

Elective Affinities

Ben Stoltzfus

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Monograph - paperback

Magritte’s interarts dialog with literature
The Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte (1898–1967) is well known for his thought-provoking and witty images that challenge the observer’s preconditioned perceptions of reality.

Magritte and Literature examines some of the artist's major paintings whose titles were influenced by and related to works of literature. Baudelaire's The Flowers of Evil, Goethe's Elective Affinities, and Poe's The Domain of Arnheim are representative examples of Magritte's interarts dialog with literary figures. Despite these convergences the titles subvert the images in his paintings. It is the two images together, the image in the painting and the image in the title, that expresses the aesthetics of Surrealism -- sparked by the juxtaposition of unrelated objects. Magritte's challenge to representation compares with metafiction's challenge to classic realism, Les Chants de Maldoror for example, and the intersecting space between art and writing, sometimes referred to as the iconotext, manifests itself whenever Magritte borrows a literary title for a painting. His strategy is to paint visible thought, and this reverse ekphrasis, the opposite of a rhetorical description of a painting, undermines the written text. When he succeeds, the effect is poetry. 

This publication is GPRC-labeled (Guaranteed Peer-Reviewed Content).

List of illustrations

1 Magritte's Painterly Language: Reading, Writing, and Art-Magic
2 Toward Surrealism: Baudelaire and Poe
3 Lautréamont and Les Chants de Maldoror
4 Magritte and Jules Verne: Voyages extraordinaires to the Center of Art
5 Laclos and Les Liaisons dangereuses: Woman, Mirrors, and Robbe-Grillet
6 Cladel and The Tomb of the Wrestlers: Roses, Daggers, and Love in Interarts Discourse
7 The Glass Key—an Interarts Dialogue: Magritte and Dashiell Hammett
8 Dialectical Affinities: Hegel, Sade, and Goethe
9 Time Transfixed: Bergson, Proust, Einstein, and the Fourth Dimension
10 Magritte and Sheherazade: The Enchanted Domain

Gallery with color plates

Format: Monograph - paperback

Size: 285 × 190 × 20 mm

288 pages

ISBN: 9789058679604

Publication: January 13, 2014

Languages: English

Stock item number: 83972

Ben Stoltzfus, Edward A. Dickson Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Riverside, is an internationally recognized scholar of Chennevière, Gide, Robbe-Grillet, Hemingway, Lacan, Magritte, and Jasper Johns.

The relationships uncovered with Lautréamont, Jules Verne, and even Hegel and Goethe is amazing. It's a really fascinating book. - Marjorie Perloff, Professor Emerita from Stanford University, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences


It is a masterpiece that not only just full justice to Magritte as a great artist but also reveals his intellectual powers. - Professor Emeritus Judd Hubert, University of California, Irvine


What a fantastic book! A real treasure--it brings to it all of the author's inimitable skill with language, poetry, and visual aesthetics [...] handsomely printed and so well illustrated - Professor MacCannell, University of California, Irvine