Thursday, January 27, 2011


On the January 7th while on a boat ride through the city I met up with an old college friend of mine, quite by chance. At the time I was reading a copy of John Berger's Ways of Seeing, and he rightly commented that it had been on the college reading list.
"Oh you remember that do you?" I said.
"Of course, I do. Everyone in college read that book, at one point or another."
"Well the thing that intrigues me most about it is the front cover," I said. It was a picture by Rene Magritte, the French Surrealist painter, called The Key of Dreams. "Do you have any idea what it means?"
"Well if I remember correctly it is to do with the incongruity of language and imagery."
"Quite right. But I believe it might have an even deeper meaning. Several, in fact."
"Oh? Well, seeing as we are going to be on this boat ride for sometime, I should think that you will enlighten me."
"Certainly. If you look though the window, which serves as the frame for the image you will see that the it is shaded black; the colour of night. Now notice that there are four different images in each section; a horse, a clock, a jug or jar, and a suit case. By applying the word 'night', which serves as a background to each of these four images, we can enhance or change their meaning, in turn. The horse becomes night-mare, the clock night-time, the jar a night-jar, which is a type of bird, and the suitcase a night-bag, as in overnight bag."
"That is very interesting. Perhaps it is The Key of Nightmares, as well as The Key of Dreams."
"That is what I think. I believe that Magritte was aware of a tradition that is stretches as far back into the dark mists of time, as mankind himself."
"This would perhaps be to do with the valise by any chance, would it?"
"Well as a matter of fact it does. How did you know?"
"Just a wild guess. But please go on I would quite like to hear your other theory."
"Well it has to do with how the words connect to their images in a deeply unconscious way and, in so doing, deepens their meanings rather than obscuring them, as once thought. For instance, did you know that the horse once served as a symbol of the rite of passage to the land of the dead?"
"Did it? I never knew that."
"It is quite true. Oisin rode to Tir na nOg on a horse and returned to Ireland on one, and many are the tales of Donn, the king of the dead, and his many horses. So you see, the horse and the door have a lot in common, both signify the entrance into another world."
"The clock and the wind, I suppose that has something to do with how time flies, which of course reconnects to the bird."
"That's correct," I said. "As for the jug, and the valise, this is where we get into more murky territory. The white jug, or bird, symbolises the Holy Spirit, which is commonly depicted as a dove in Christian iconography, and a favourite theme of Magritte's painting. The author Phillip K Dick specified that the Holy Spirit was an alien life form that had some connection to a holographic computer program called VALIS, hence the French valise instead of any other moniker."
"Ha, ha. Very good," replied my friend with a bemused smile. He then reached into his coat pocket and removed a well-used and rather unremarkable copybook, and after a quick glance around, he jotted something down in the margin of one of the pages. The handwriting and miniature doodles were very familiar to me. They could almost have been my own, I thought.
It was then that I noticed the boat ride had come to an abrupt end, at which point my friend said his farewells and went on his way. As he left, I noticed –for the first time– that he was carrying with him a very square and brown briefcase.

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