Magritte’s drawing (for the moment I speak only of the first version) is as simple as a page borrowed from a botanical manual: a figure and the text that names it. Nothing is easier to recognise than a pipe, drawn thus; nothing is easier to say –our language knows it well in our place– than the “name of a pipe.” Now, what lends the figure its strangeness is not the “contradiction” between the image and the text. For a good reason: Contradiction could exist only be tween two statements, or within one and the same statement. Here there is clearly but one, and it cannot be contradictory because the subject of the proposition is a simple demonstrative. False, then, because its “referent” –obviously a pipe– does not verify it? But who would seriously contend that the collection of intersecting lines above the text is a pipe? Must we say: My God, how simpleminded! The statement is perfectly true, since it is quite apparent that the drawing representing the pipe is not the pipe itself. And yet there is a convention of language: What is this drawing? Why, it is a calf, a square, a flower. An old custom not without basis, because the entire function of so scholarly, so academic a drawing is to elicit recognition, to allow the object it represents to appear without hesitation or equivocation. No matter that it is the material deposit, on a sheet of paper or a black board, of a little graphite or a thin dust of chalk. It does not “aim” like an arrow or a pointer toward a particular pipe in the distance or elsewhere. It is a pipe.
What misleads us is the inevitability of connecting the text to the drawing (as the demonstrative pronoun, the meaning of the word pipe, and the likeness of the image all invite us to do here) –and the impossibility of defining a perspective that would let us say that the assertion is true, false, or contradictory.
Text: Michel Foucault, This is Not a Pipe, 1973