What connects Velázquez’s Las Meninas, Manet’s Un bar aux Folies Bergère and a number of Magritte’s paintings – all of which were analysed by Foucault? Are they examples of the technique of mise en abyme, a term originally from heraldry meaning the centre of a coat of arms which mirrored the larger shield, and a term taken up by André Gide to describe the effect of a painting within a painting, a play within a play, a book within a book and so on? Jorge Louis Borges mentions this last example in reference to Don Quixote, but Borges himself provides a wonderful illustration in one of the classifications of animals found in an imaginary Chinese Encyclopaedia – the reading of which of course prompted Foucault to write The Order of Things and described by Foucault as an example of textual heterotopia:
(a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied (j) innumerable. (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies……
And isn’t mise en abyme an aspect of all heterotopia, world within worlds, imitating, contesting or inverting the wider world, a different kind of relational space reflecting back? To be continued…..
These thoughts were sparked by reading Jack Flam’s essay (see below with other references.)
Borges, J. L. (1964) ‘The Partial Magic in the Quixote’ in Labyrinths. London: Penguin 228-231.
Dällenbach, L. (1977) Le récit spéculaire. Essai sur la mise en abyme. Paris: Seuil.
Foucault, M. (1970) The Order of Things. Andover, Hants: Tavistock.
Gide, A. (1943) Journal 1 (1889-1912 [Rio de Janeiro] 44-45
Flam, J. (1996) ‘Looking into the Abyss: the Poetics of Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère’ in B. R. Collins (Ed.) 12 Views of Manet’s Bar. New Jersey: Princeton University Press 164-188.
12 March 2014