Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Three Creepy Belgians

That would be: Georges Simenon, Hergé,  René Magritte.

Simenon, he of a gazillion policiers and a double gazillion sexual conquests, all the time puffing affably on his pipe. Hergé --Georges Prosper Remi--creator of the beloved TinTin, with the stench of old-fashioned imperialist racism about him, no less unsettling because it seems to have been carried out in a cloud of guileless innocence. And Magritte--oh, I suppose "creepy" is too strong a word here, but there is something decidedly unnerving about the otherworldly surrealism of his art, packaged in the garb of bourgeois respectable civility; the man who insisted quite emphatically that "ceci" was not pipe.

I supposse I read a hundred-odd Simenons in my youth, fewer lately. I'm a huge Tin Tin fan and lucky for me I seem to have missed (more by good luck than good planning) the earlier, more offensive, numbers.

And Magritte--truth is, I never gave all that much thought to Magritte until I spent an afternoon at the Magritte Museum here in Brussels. It's an instructive and rewarding experience though as I've suggested already, I can't quite get my mind round the non-linearity of his imagination, swaddled in the apparent merry innocence of his private life.

But thst's the thing, isn't it? It's hard to think of any detached, uncoupled artist who has succeed in plugging himself more tightly into popular culture than Magritte.  Nearly everyone recognizes the clouds that are  not clouds, the Sabena airlines logo, and (perhaps most of all) the inevitable bowler hat.

I certainly claim no immunity on that score.  But at the end of the day (literally) I come to a couple of tentative conclusions.  One: that's kind of the story of surrealism: it starts with great fanfare, it makes its way into the popular imagination--and that's it, bam, finito, it goes nowhere.  Maybe Magritte can sustain merry innocence because in the end, there's nothing else to offer any real competition.

I don't know about you, but I think I find that unsettling.  Meanwhile, if you are looking for a truly creepy Belgian, go here.


Dave said...

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Ken Houghton said...

Magritte, of course, is also a title character of one of the songs on Paul Simon's best album: