Sunday, March 14, 2010

Les Six éléments


The other day, while reading up on surrealism (as part of a quick study of Interwar culture), I happened upon this painting, Les Six éléments (The Six Elements), by Belgian surrealist René Magritte.

The work immediately reminded me of Martin Heidegger's "fourfold": earth, sky, divinities and mortals (see Building Dwelling Thinking). Magritte's work struck me as a sort of amalgamation of the ancient Greeks' four elements - usually earth, air, water and fire - with something like Heidegger's list. In the upper left is clearly fire, in the upper middle women (or perhaps humanity generally) and in the upper right earth (or vegetation). On the lower left we have a building (society?), in the lower center air, and on the lower right some thing I cannot identify, which looks like it might also be vegetative. This seems like an interesting list, though three problems came to mind:

(1) Where are the divinities?
(2) Is (wo)man's sexuality or primordial nature being distinguished from the human society represented by a modern building?
(3) Why two kinds of plants? Or just what is that in the lower right?

A quick search of the internet revealed no answers, only this odd little poem:
As of this
writing, there

are 137 Magritte
items available

on eBay. They are
mundanely pre-

sented—none of
the six elements

that Aristotle con-
sidered essential

for drama are
in the frame.
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