white space

“Magritte reopened the trap the calligram has sprung on the thing it described. But in the act, the object itself escaped. On the page of an illustrated book, we seldom pay attention to the small space running above the words and below the drawings, forever serving them as a common frontier. It is there, on these few millimeters of white, the calm sand of the page, that are established all the relations of designation, nomination, description, classification. The calligram absorbed the interstice; but once opened, it does not restore it. The trap shattered on emptiness; image and text fall each to its own side, of their own weight. No longer do they have a common ground nor a place where they can meet, where words are capable of taking shape and images of entering into lexical order. The slender, colorless, neutral strip, which in Magritte’s drawing separates the text and the figure, must be seen as a crevasse – an uncertain foggy region now dividing the pipe floating in its imagistic heaven from the mundane tramp of words marching in their successive line. Still it is too much to claim that there is a blank or lacuna: instead, it is an absence of space, an effacement of the ‘common place’ between the signs of writing and the lines of the image. The ‘pipe’ that was at one with both the statement naming it and the drawing representing it – this shadow pipe knitting the lineaments of form with the fiber of words – has utterly vanished. A disappearance that from the other side of this shallow stream the text confirms with amusement: This is not a pipe. In vain the now solitary drawing imitates as closely as possible the shape ordinarily designated by the word pipe; in vain the text unfurls below the drawing with all the attentive fidelity of a label in a scholarly book. No longer can anything pass between them save the decree of divorce, the statement at once contesting the name of the drawing and the reference of the text.”

(Michel Foucault, This Is Not a Pipe, trans. James Harkness, pp. 28–29)

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