On the Mysterious Discovery and Publication of René Magritte: Selected Writings by Kathleen Rooney & Eric Plattner

by Albora Memushi
contributor to the the Underground

René François Ghislain Magritte, commonly known as René Magritte, is a renowned Belgian painter born in 1898. “The artist, the man, the aspiring noirist, the fire-breathing theorist”—in his own words.

On November the 2nd in DePaul’s Arts and Letters Hall, Kathleen Rooney and Eric Plattner hosted a reading of their co-edited book, René Magritte: Selected Writings (University of Minnesota Press and Alma Books, 2016).

The room filled with students and faculty, eager to hear and learn. Outside, the sky turned gray, and raindrops clattered on the windows. The Cubs will win tonight was the chatter that sparked around the room; many wore their Cubs jerseys. The Cubs are bound to make history  was the hope in many Chicagoans hearts.

This book project of Rene Magritte began about two years ago—at last the finished product is in hand and it is a marvelous work of art.

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press and a founding member of Poems While You Wait. She teaches English and Creative Writing at DePaul University and is the author of eight books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, including the novel O, Democracy! and the novel in poems Robinson Alone. Her latest novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (St. Martin’s), will be published in January 2017.

Eric Plattner is an adjunct professor of writing, rhetoric and discourse at DePaul University.  A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, he has translated the works of Nelly Sachs, Ernst Toller, Georg Trakl and etc. He is a founding member of Chicago Collective, Poems While You Wait and a consulting editor at the Community Literacy Journal.

Rooney read an epigraph from a letter from poet Guy Rosey, with whom Magritte corresponded. “You are far from being the occasional writer you claim to be, but you are, in my eyes and in the eyes of many others, a poet who sheds an unforgettable light on himself and his painting.”

Plattner followed with another writing of Magritte, “Nausea Takes Me.” In this piece, Magritte speaks about the way that he perceives his paintings. He speaks about the fact that he places objects in places where we never would be able to encounter them. In the end, Magritte defends his style with one simple statement: “Neither modest nor proud, I’ve done what I thought I had to do.”

Rooney and Plattner shared other works of Magritte such as: “You,” “The Condemned Man,” “On Titles,” and “Magic Lines.”

For the final piece, Rooney and Plattner joined their voices as they read an aphorism by Magritte. “There are no idiots, there is only idiocy. Idiocy consists in believing you understand what you do not understand.  It’s demonstrated among other things, by the impossible pompous boring twaddle written about painting.”

 A round of applause filled the crowded room. For the rest of the event the crowd asked their questions.

Rooney stated that it took about two years to complete the book. The only typewritten copy of the book was translated by Jo Levy, but there were no printed books available. So, after a lot of emailing back and forth with different individuals, they finally found out that the book was supposed to come out in 1987, but the publishing company had folded. At last, the one copy that still survived was finally OCR-ed from France to Rooney. Thus, Rooney and Plattner got to work and started the journey of shaping and creating the manuscript into a publishable book.

A cool fact that I found out in regards to Magritte is that we share the same birthday month—he was born a day before me and 95 years ahead of my time. I enjoyed this particular reading, primarily because I’ve always been a Magritte fan (although I never knew that he was a poet and writer), but also because the work that Rooney and Plattner have done is exemplary and of the utmost importance, especially for fans or admirers of poetry, art and prose.

This event was possible due to Department of English Literary Studies Speaker Series. The Department will provide more readings throughout the academic year. Stay tuned for other events.