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Subject and Object
Extract from a letter to André Lhote, September 1943

Subject - everything whose existence can be registered by the individual's senses, or every line of thought based on the same, comes under its dominion. Every point of view, all perspective, everything that is of the nature of perception whether with the senses or with the intellect. Originality and personality belong to the subjective mode.

Again, put in other terms, all figures, whether prettified or reduced to their essentials, such as they appear before us in natural history or in geometry, all images of the world that we can perceive, imagine or express. And we mustn't forget all the philosophical or scientific systems that have been built solely on the subject, on what has been observed and on the act of observation which, consequently, can never be anything other than analytical, constructions only capable of seeing things in partial, particular ways, which is what explains their diversities and their instability. In sum "I" consider as subject this "I", this "me", which confers the ability to speak about space and time, extensions and instants, extensions that may be small or great, instants that may be long or short. Plurality, multiplicity, divisibility, subtraction and addition, that is what determines the subject. To the subject belongs variety and variability.

The subject, for us, comes "from outside" and also "from within", because it is uniquely dependent on the "self", on the "self" as experienced by the senses, emotional, subject to feelings, intellectual and thus, because of all these characteristics, disturbing whatever it tries to sieze from within itself or outside itself, whether because its movement is stopped in an arbitrary way, or in being unable, because of this movement experienced as agitation, to give it a precise location.

What particularly characterises the subject and the "subjective", in its inability to arrive at the conclusion it seeks, is the fact that it remains inescapably in the realm of the relative. You don't need to be a great philosopher to understand that. You can understand it easily, simply by being aware of your own limits. But what throws everything into confusion at the present time is precisely that we have lost the consciousness of our limits. This can be seen alarmingly in all the fields of activity in which human bipeds are engaged. At a time when all the resistances are giving way, there are very few who are trying to pull themselves together, or even showing any signs of wanting to pull themselves together. We do not see the limits, and the subjective supports the illusion which is already more than just marked with the outward appearances of death.


 Object: what is. Being. In it is resolved the contradiction that seems to exist between the appearances that are accessible to the senses, apparently in a state of immobility, and the changes they undergo, growing or withering away, in the memory. The object is the very realisation of reason, as opposed to the various processes of reasoning. Pure effusion, it is perfection and so it reduces originality and personality to irrelevance. In principle it is transcendent. Whether understood in an affirmative or in a negative way. If we acquire the notion of the subject through our senses or through our reasoning, we acquire intelligence of the object through our act. Against observation we must affirm experience. The subject is acquired within us from the outside, even when it seems to come from within, because it only comes from the intellect; the object is manifested outside us from within. It is the seed as it unfolds.

To the object belongs "form". Exclusively. It is by a deviation that we say "forms". We should say "figures". For the object is one, unity itself. All figures and all combinations of figures are resolved in the object. They come from the object and they return to the object. At the human level, only theology takes account of the object, and that is why theology is not subject to change. Space and time, extensions and instants, are simultaneous in the object.

The object is realised through love, And this love is absolute. In fact it is unlimited, infinite, infinitely living.

The object is transcendent. Beyond our reach, beyond us. Does that mean that it cannot be expressed? And that it is a futile endeavour to want to touch it or to want to represent it in one of the plastic arts, in our case, painting? Do the relativities that are an essential part of our nature not immediately put up barriers that cannot be crossed?

Doubtless, if we do not have the wisdom to recognise our limits.

But an awareness of our limits immediately opens up the way of truth which, infinite, shows us that it is by renouncing ourselves that we can aspire towards an authentic reality, that of the unity of the object. And, if we cannot claim to reach the object in itself, we are free, at any moment of time, using any figure of space, to enter into a unity with the object. For the object is hierarchical, and at all levels of awareness it is possible to have a glimpse of it - by making it ...

The carpenter who makes a cupboard, the potter who makes a jug, the blacksmith who makes a horseshoe, are objective. These are not subjects which they develop through making commentaries; they are not observations that they record, they are objects that they realise with wood, with clay, with iron. They, all of them, obey the same natural laws which manifest themselves differently depending on whether they are imprinted in iron, in clay or in wood.

To what material laws do we have to turn to look for them? Not at all to those laws of analysis, always lagging behind, that are proclaimed by physicists and university professors. But rather in those essential laws which regulate the living processes of growth and which - measure, cadence and rhythm - go from the seed to the organism in its fulness, afterwards abandoning it to itself so that it can return to a state of potentiality with all its possibilities of renewal. It is by an ordered series of movements that the inertia of the extension of the wood, of the clay, of the iron takes life, expands, becomes rhythmic, acquires direction, reaches the limits that have been assigned to it, is stabilised in an equilibrium of forces and suspends - long enough for the period in which it is to serve its practical purpose - its falling apart and its return to a state of of potentiality. This is how a cupboard, a jug or a horseshoe "grow". They are true objects which, within the limits of what is humanly possible, are a solution to the problem of subjectivism, which has nothing to do with their reality. These material objects are at the bottom of the hierarchy of objects but undeniable images of the object that is their archetype, ineffable and transcendent.


The religious ages, alone, are able to understand and to realise at every moment of their life, on every possible occasion, objective works. Imbued with unity - I don't say "synthesis" - they don't feel any need to lose themselves in analysis, of whose weaknesses, of whose dangerous attractions, they are very well aware. Man, in his unity, is their object and, once this unity is attained, he has to unite himself to the transcendent object, which is called God. Don't jump. They didn't imagine God as a subjective personality with a beard and all sorts of anthropomorphic appearances, the sort of figure that might appear in a picture. They knew Him as a transcendental form that could only be expressed allusively.