The Representation of Reality in Western Art*

by Stephen Edgar

And reading Chapter Two of The Guermantes Way,
He thought “Why not?” and wandered in himself
To that immense hall which the drawing room
Gave access to.
The progress of the day could now resume
And someone cleared the book from where it lay
And put it back in order on the shelf.

Meanwhile he casually sauntered through
The hall, surprised by his command of French,
His friends, but very soon left them behind.
Trying to trace
A faint piano playing on his mind
The simple melody he must pursue—
That nocturne by Fauré: how it could wrench

His heart—he floated through a sunlit space,
Becoming what he heard. The notes decayed
And he was bodied in himself once more,
Confronted by
The painted cityscape he stood before,
Which showed a painting angled to replace
The very scene it covered and portrayed.

Magritte of course. Well, he need not apply
Much force to prise that canvas and expose
The main street’s long perspective, which he took
Back to today—
But earlier. So, browsing for a book,
He paused and thought, “Why not give Proust a try?”
And sat and opened it and stretched his toes.

* “…representational art is the least realist of all, since it is strictly speaking impossible. Nobody can tell it like it is without editing and angling as they go along. Otherwise the book or painting would simply merge into the world.”
—Terry Eagleton, London Review of Books, 23 October 2003, reviewing Mimesis: the Representation of Reality in Western Literature by Erich Auerbach.
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