The Treachery of Images: A Structuralist Perspective
The Treachery of Images is an extremely interesting piece by René Magritte. The piece, which consists of one bold image and a short sentence consisting of only five words, has an outwardly apparent simplistic form. This form, however, raises many questions regarding its structure and its meaning.
Magritte's piece displays a bold image of a tobacco pipe beneath which is the sentence 'Ceci n'est pas une pipe' or 'This is not a pipe'. The text initially seems to directly contradict the image which works to provoke thought on the issue. The title of the painting 'The Treachery of Images' illustrates the disharmony and disunity between the image and the text. The clear image is on one hand contradicted by the text and on the other it is enforced by it.
The semiotics of the painting would raise questions for Structuralist and Post-Structuralist, alike.
A structuralist method would be to look for any underlying elements of structure, repetition, patterns and echoes from existing culture which may be apparent in the image and text. The painting may be considered alongside other work by the artist or other work in the genre of surrealism in order to make sense of it.
A Post-Structuralist method would be more concerned with deconstructing the work in an 'attempt
to make the not-seen accessible to sight' (Derrida, Of Grammatology). Contradictions, conflicts, omissions and aporia would be sought in order to find disunity. The text would be scrutinised in order to search out multiplicities of meaning.
The image displayed is of a tobacco pipe which is intended for smoking purposes. As a structuralist Suassure (1857-1913) would have described the word 'pipe' to be arbitrary and an 'unmotivated sign' but in this case the word 'pipe' is of great relevance.
A Post-structuralist viewpoint may be to look more directly at the word itself rather than the image that it represents. This view can be used to...