says René Magritte

I despise the past, my own and everyone else’s. I despise resignation, patience, heroism and all the obligatory sentiments.

This is a favorite quote from the Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte. As the author of a novel set in the past, it puts me on my toes.

The quote is a little outré, and I have a soft spot for outré. He’s drawing a line, and daring us to cross it. I like outré, but I also can’t take it literally.

Is this saying that if we launch into some yesterday anecdote he’ll walk away while we’re still talking — and we can’t get offended because we were warned?

Or is it a full and true representation of his philosophy, with deep undercurrents to be read in all his paintings?

I have no idea.

I like the feeling of freedom in these words, the freedom to let the past and any meaningless obligations go, and live in the present. I suspect that Magritte, like everyone, ground his teeth over remembered slights, and returned, again and again, to significant events. For me, these words are not descriptive, because I don’t despise the past, exactly, but they are prescriptive, because oh dear me, I want to let the past go. I want it to sit over there, in a corner, obediently with its knees together, where I can see it but it cannot sink its claws into me.

And to heck with the reassurance of canned responses to perceived reiterations. New situations drive new responses. I think a story set in the past can maintain that sensibility.

Most publications about Magritte that print the above quote add the following additional quote, to show that he is not a total sourpuss:

I love subversive humor, freckles, knees, the long hair of women, the dreams of young children at liberty, a young girl running in the street.

Me too, me too.

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