sporklet 6

Kathleen Rooney



Le Jockey Perdu

Not a manifesto, but a manifestation. A collage. A wooden stage blackly framed with curtains. Bilboquets with rigid branches: trees of unease with musical notations for bark. Often, Loulou the Pomeranian has wished that he could play those songs on the piano in the long drawing room he shares with the master and Georgette, but his paws are too small. Paul, the master’s brother, is a musician, but he demurs at Loulou’s requests, preferring to play works of his own composition.


Magritte’s first foray into the Surrealist forest affords an irrational anguish to Loulou. Branches like arms, branches like antlers. Loulou’s pom ears hear echoes of Uccello’s The Hunt by Night: perspective and disappearance and horses and hounds and men with spears. Whatever they are attacking remains unseen. As does what this jockey, lost, is chasing or fleeing. Where is his racetrack? And why didn’t the master put dogs in his version? Loulou tries not to take such omissions personally—and he knows that many people would not technically consider him a “person.”


The horse has a face, but the rider is faceless, both of them displaced and incongruous with crazily bent joints. Speed and its freedom, speed and its emptiness. The whip flipping its arc from sky to flank. How does the horse not trip and fall on the thankless course? The horse’s hooves, when they hit the white geometry, beat ever on the point, the point, the point of vanishing.

L’Assassin Menacé

Pale on the fainting couch, a blood-smeared nude. Rudely ignored now by the man who killed her. An anti-hero possessed of psychotic self-confidence, he turns his back, face stern but enrapt in the horn of the phonograph. An elegant professional. A melodrama, stark and sordid, suggestive of the destruction of an old world and the violent creation of something new. Loulou the Pomeranian’s not saying the master meant this sadist to evoke Fantômas, but he’s not saying he didn’t.


Two men wait in the hall to capture the assassin—a club to break and a net to wrap. Hence: menaced. They wear an air of calm, plus matching bowler hats. Poised as if to collect a debt. Is it a delight or a stress to consider a murderer threatened? The master painted this fantasy crime scene for his first solo show, and it hung in a casino in coastal Belgium for a decade. Growing moldy and perplexing the gamblers.


The woman is neat, the woman is naked. The woman has been made into what Loulou understands as human meat. Death is not incompatible with fashion—a white scarf paired with her lifeless head. A cashmere perversity as fluffy as Loulou: final vestige of a lost insouciance.   


It’s sabotage and it’s plain and it’s simple. Three mystery men on the balcony in enemy attitudes. Outside, high skies and glints of secret ambition. Nostalgic music makes the murderer forget. The record on the gramophone pirouettes.

Les Profondeurs du Plaisir

Plenty of people think her husband must be quite the pervert, but the secret Georgette knows is that Mag’s really just an introvert.


This one’s another vache. Gouache on paper to capture with rapidity the depths of pleasure: a nude woman, leonine mane flowing past her butt, rubs herself against a human-sized chess piece, like Loulou their Pomeranian when he gets excited by another dog.


Magritte is better at answering questions in writing. Like once, a magazine asked him the following:

  1. What do you hate most?
  2. What do you love most?


Mag has made Georgette an excuse to back out of the vache style, as he has for other invitations he sought to avoid. “I have a tendency towards a lingering suicide. But there is Georgette and my aversion to ‘sincerity,’” he said at the end of the doomed Paris show. “Georgette prefers the well-made painting of ‘yesteryear,’ so, especially to please Georgette, I shall in the future show yesteryear’s painting. From time to time I’ll be able to slip in a good old absurdity.”


To the questionnaire, dear Mag replied:

  1. I hate my past and other people’s pasts. I hate resignation, patience, professional heroism and all compulsory fine feelings. I also detest the decorative arts, folklore, advertising, radio announcers’ voices, aero-dynamism, Boy Scouts, the smell of mothballs, reality and drunks.
  2. I love subversive humor, freckles, women’s long hair and knees, the laughter of young children at liberty, a young girl running down the street.


The secret that they both know is that Georgette likes his absurdity. Especially this one—is it a pawn? A porn? A pun? But his lie to the critics is of no more significance—to her, to him—than other such fibs. He once refused a dinner invitation from Prince Charles of Belgium upon the basis that: “My wife is expecting me. She’s made rabbit in plum sauce.” On being told, “That’s no problem, telephone Madame and ask her to join us,” he went to the phone, dialed a haphazard number, shouted “Hello,” and then hung up. “There’s no one in; perhaps something’s happened to Georgette; I’ll have to go and see at once,” he said and that was that.


Such is the pendulum of ambivalence her husband seems to inhabit. A room like this blue one where the clocks don’t say tick-tock, but love o’clock, hate o’clock, love-hate, love-hate.

Les Jours Gigantesque

The masculine attacker grasps at the woman from inside her own contours, and the struggle is ugly. Now that she and her husband no longer live among them, Georgette can just say it: the Paris Surrealists were a bunch of fucking sexists. Wrestling all day and into the night, expending energy on foolish fights. For all their prurient fascination with sex, she came to find them deeply unsexy.


She does not miss the gigantic days that she and Magritte and Loulou the Pomeranian spent residing in Perreux-sur-Marne, a suburb from which they commuted to commune with those dirty men and their trifling minds: 1927 to 1930. Breton and Communism, Breton and Surrealism, in a heroic period so proclaimed by Breton, all in their heyday! Hey Valentino! Hey Josephine Baker! Hey Fantômas! Hey the tango! Hey the Charleston! The vamps and Chaplin and music halls and Le Boeuf sur le toit! Hey hey hey.


Almost on arrival Georgette grew tired of their elevation of the outré just to be outré when so many of them really had little to say. Their violent denunciations and their automatism seemed self-pleasuring and dull: so much thumb-sucking. Georgette likes a life and an art executed with desire and intention. “Even their dogs are frauds!” Loulou would say.


The gallery closed in 1929, hopes dashed by the Crash. But the real last straw? Once, Georgette wore a golden cross around her neck, a remembrance of her grandmother, a small inheritance. Breton—more infantile than enfant terrible – remarked, without actually naming her, that it was in appalling taste to sport religious emblems. “Like a dog collar,” he’d said. Magritte insulted him back, and they left the room and never returned, turning back to Brussels. Aragon tried to patch things up later, but the match was a draw, and though Mag and Breton would correspond off and on over the years, their friendship became a stalemate.


At home in Belgium, her husband and Scutenaire—a superior Surrealist, if you ask Georgette, and a far better friend—burned the evidence of those days: letters and tracts and artifacts and manifestos and even an overcoat. Burned them late at night, in the basement, in the gas heater, like murderers. Had she and Loulou not come down the stairs and told them not to, they might have thrown themselves in, too.

Kathleen 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 with Eric Plattner 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, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in 2017.