Ceci N’est Pas Une Pipe

Click Here for Lyrics and English Translation.

The title of this blog post refers to the painting “The Treachery of Images” (La trahison des images) by Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte, which features the image of a pipe with the words “This is not a pipe” (Ceci n’est pas une pipe) under it. 

One of the issues that the painting raises is the difference between the signifier, the word or image, and the signified, the actual object the word or image describes.  “This is not a pipe” is literally true because it is a painting of a pipe, not an actual pipe. 

Applied more broadly to our daily lives, the painting can be a reminder that the story we tell ourselves about an event is not the event itself. 

For example, if we email or text someone and they don’t respond immediately, we can turn their non-response into a story about how they don’t care about us.  

The only fact we have is that they didn’t respond yet.  They could be asleep, on an important phone call, meeting with a friend or colleague, or focused on another task.  But our brain immediately starts creating a story about how we’re being wronged or deliberately ignored.

In a psychological practice called dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), people are encouraged to “just state the facts” to help them recognize what is actually happening versus the story they’re telling themselves about what it all means.  By recognizing that we often trigger ourselves into extreme states of emotion like anger by telling ourselves certain stories, we can better control our responses to events outside of our control.

As Jacques Derrida notes, meaning is constructed, and it is always in the process of being created (a concept Derrida calls différance). We tell ourselves a story, and that story can change as we receive additional information. 

For example, we might be upset with our significant other because they didn’t text us back.  But then we find out that their sister was in a car wreck and is in the hospital.  Now, the story we’re telling ourselves about the delay totally changes.  The event stayed the same (delayed text response), but the meaning of the event changed. 

Whenever I get angry or frustrated, I try to wait until I have more information before responding.  99% of the time, I learn something that explains why someone acted the way they did, and it usually has nothing to do with me.  But if I blew up at that person, I would have made the situation much worse and more painful for everyone involved, including myself. 

When you’re feel frustrated or upset about something today, take a step back and look at the facts.  What things are verifiable, and what elements are you creating a story about?  

If you’re assigning intention to actions (they did X because they don’t care about me; they did Y because they’re out to get me), that’s usually a sign to step back and look at the situation more objectively.  We can rarely know another person’s intentions, and when I assume that they’re being intentionally negative towards me, I’m often wrong. 

Even people who insult me aren’t usually “out to get me.”  They’ve had a bad day, are frustrated or insecure, or maybe we have differing viewpoints on an issue.  None of those things are about me.  Those emotions are all about them and their perspectives.  The more often I can remember that, the happier I am! 

How do you remember to be patient and wait until you have enough information before judging a person or a situation?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and strategies in the comments below! 

French lyrics:
En ce qui concerne la langue, on est dans le marécage
J’ai été poignardé dans le dos au moins sept fois
Mais j’ai pas appelé les flics, et tu sais pourquoi?
Il y a pas de remède pour la trahison des images
Ceci n’est pas une pipe, c’est pas une chemise
C’est pas une vidéo qui joue sur ton portatif
Ce sont des particules de lumière et des ondes sonores
Qui désignent la chasse comme “à cri et à cor”
Mais je suis pas d’accord avec Derrida
Ouah tout est construit, mais il faut pas rester comme ça
C’est la prose combat, comme une explosion Solaar
Ou solaire, mais la différance est dur mon gars
C’est lacé comme tes chaussures ou de Saussure
Signifiant et signifié sont clairs sur le mur
Rien n’est pur, c’est une fable que je fripe
Résister l’invasion d’une idée qui va casser sa pipe
English translation:  The saying goes, "Poetry is what’s lost in translation," and in this case the French rap uses many French idioms that are difficult to translate into English.  Thus, I have attempted to convey the meaning of the rap rather than the poetic quality, which I hope makes it make as much sense as a surrealist poem can!
When it comes to language, we’re on dangerous ground
Where I’ve been backstabbed numerous times
But I didn’t call the cops, and you know why?
There is no redress for the Treachery of Images
This is not a pipe, this is not a shirt
This is not a video playing on your computer
These are light particles and sound waves
That signal the hunt like a battle cry
But I’m not down with Derrida
Yes, everything is constructed, but it doesn’t have to stay that way
This is prose combat like a solar flare
Or MC Solaar – the difference (différance) is difficult
It’s intertwined like shoelaces or de Saussure
The signifier and signified are written on the wall
Nothing’s pure, that’s a fable that I shred
Resist the power of an idea whose time has come to die


Posted on December 18, 2014 .