PRINT April 1988


These shoes are hallucinogens.
—Jacques Derrida

Extensions of his being, they image the qualities and conditions necessary for his health of mind.
—Meyer Schapiro

The peasant woman, on the other hand, simply wears them.
—Martin Heidegger

DURING THE SECOND HALF of 1886, while working in Paris, Vincent van Gogh borrowed a couple of shoes (or several pairs?) for the express purpose of painting them. From whom they were borrowed is unknown, although it has commonly been assumed that he borrowed them from his own peripatetic feet, giving them, as it were, secondary employment in art. We imagine the scene of the production of van Gogh’s small, unassuming, but animated painting as consistent with Modernism’s basic struggle—the artist/painter wrestling with pictorial truth. But the warm simplicity of this benign setting will recede quickly from view as the story shapes itself into an episodic parable, one that—perhaps disappointingly—will not quite arrive at the comforting shores of moral conclusion. Instead, it will drift among the riffles of a number of philosophical, historical, ideological, and critical projects.

A half century after van Gogh’s initial creation, the German philosopher Martin Heidegger borrowed one of the artist’s several paintings of old shoes for the purpose of philosophical explication. Exactly which of the paintings it was cannot easily be determined from Heidegger’s imprecise textual descriptions. Actually he made use of the painting twice: a brief, somewhat cryptic reference in An Introduction to Metaphysics (1953), and the extended, now famous borrowing for his three-part lecture/essay “The Origin of the Work of Art” (1935).1 Here Heidegger employed the van Gogh painting to disclose the riddle he believed art to be in our age of “technicity,” i.e., the technological domination of nature as the site and means of production. His project in the essay is, to begin with, what has been described as a “transvaluation of esthetics,”2 a philosophical examination of Western thought about art, specifically the structural pairings of matter/form and subject/object that have traditionally supported it. Beyond this preeminently deconstructive task Heidegger’s intentions become difficult to encapsulate, but we may say that for him the work of art is an event that, through a certain revealing strangeness, manifests the essentially conflictual and anxious relation between earth and world—or, in non-Heideggerian terms, between nature and culture.

At the same historical moment of Heidegger’s essay, René Magritte painted The Red Model, a wry representation of a pair of empty shoes that meld into human (male) feet. We suspect but cannot prove that these shoes too were borrowed. (The painting itself has since been pirated by the advertising industry, as a model for an entirely different affair of the foot.) The following year Walker Evans borrowed the work shoes of a tenant farmer named Floyd Burroughs, photographing them idle and solitary on dry earth in the intense heat of an Alabama summer. The resulting image was a single frame in the protracted “documentation” of the bare world of Southern sharecroppers that Evans undertook with writer James Agee.

There may be no particular significance to the synchronic clustering of these events in the mid ’30s, no shared travel along the same psychic path; but where the speculative urge exists, it tends to construct relentlessly. In 1934 Irving Stone published his long ode to van Gogh, Lust for Life. Book five recounts the adventures of an earnest Vincent as he wanders through Post-Impressionist Paris, where, at one point, in the company of a picaresque Gauguin, he meets Cézanne asleep on a park bench. Cézanne’s boots are tucked under his head, not to provide a crude pillow, as Gauguin assumes, but rather to keep them from being stolen.3 Taking up Stone’s fictional motif, we might fantasize that Cézanne was the source of van Gogh’s Souliers aux lacets4 (Boots with laces); and that nearly a century later a clever Parisian shoe-thief would surreptitiously make off with this famous footwear. Later, in 1956, taking Lust for Life as a readymade for its script, Hollywood reified our collective image of van Gogh. No mention of either shoes or painting is made in the film.

It’s surprising how long it was before the conservative art-history community took aim at Heidegger for what must have been seen as his philosophical mischief with van Gogh’s painting. The challenge finally came in 1968, in the form of a succinct and distinctly art-historical attack written by Meyer Schapiro, a prominent scholar and inspirational figure in American high Modernism, and a man about whom the art historian Irving Sandler once said, “He’s a philosopher.”5 Schapiro’s well-tempered response was delivered in a short essay, “The Still Life as a Personal Object—A Note on Heidegger and van Gogh.”6 His intentions might be reflected more accurately, however, if the essay’s subtitle were to read, “A Note to Heidegger Correcting His Representation of van Gogh’s Art.” Needless to say, Schapiro operates precisely within the tradition Heidegger dismantles in “The Origin of the Work of Art.” From Schapiro’s perspective, Heidegger fails to apprehend or acknowledge the privileged place of the creative individual, “the artist’s presence in the work.”7 The shoes belong to van Gogh not so much because he may have worn them but because by painting them he has suffused them with his own subjectivity. They are his in the same proprietary way that Mont Sainte-Victoire belongs to Cézanne. Philosophical fancy and carelessness of observation have led Heidegger away from just such essential insights.

A clash was inevitable given Heidegger’s apparent disregard for the tradition of Kantian esthetics, the tradition of the subjective experience of art. His treading on the highly territorialized domain of Post-Impressionist painting did not help either. In 1977 the French post-Structuralist Jacques Derrida stepped into the breach, brandishing his own text, “Restitutions”8—a remarkably prolix piece of writing, considerably longer than both Heidegger’s and Schapiro’s essays combined, a virtual shoe novella. On the surface it appears that Derrida was attempting to sort out, in an act of literary mediation, matters under dispute between philosophy and the offended party, art history. Beyond and beneath this, his singularly cunning and exhaustive critical reading inverts both Heidegger’s and Schapiro’s texts to investigate their underside, where Derrida finds an unsuspected correspondence between the two litigants. It could be said that he sees them as a pair, an odd couple, two thinkers both of whose thought is regulated by the need to return the abandoned shoes to an erect body capable of walking in them. One more point: Derrida turns out to be the Parisian shoe-thief.

Though Heidegger, Schapiro, and Derrida between them map the principal contours of the shoe debate, they are not the only contributors to it. The notion of a lively antagonism between two well-established districts of academic practice caught on with at least one van Gogh specialist, Marxist art-historian John Walker. In 1980, in the British journal Block, Walker published an article entitled “Art History versus Philosophy: The Enigma of the ‘Old Shoes.’”9 Overall, his exposition of the duel for the shoes is useful, but it is heavily varnished with polemic, and is prejudicially impatient, overreductive, even silly at times. As a historical materialist, Walker demands contextual specificity in art writing, and this he finds lacking in Heidegger’s essay. Heidegger, however did not take issue with historicity; as suggested above, it was the transhistorical subjectivization of esthetic experience that troubled him. Walker also asserts that Heidegger rejected “a correspondence theory of truth”—a theory arising from the fact that if a statement (“Vincent has cut off his ear!”) corresponds to observed fact (Vincent standing before us with a razor in one hand, his left earlobe in the other, and blood running down his neck), then we judge the statement’s claim to be true. (The same applies, of course, to visual statements such as paintings. . . of shoes.) But Heidegger’s position on this matter is clear: he believed such a theory does apply to relations between beings (things and their representations), though it cannot disclose the truth of Being. He focused his attention on truth as alētheia, or unconcealment, which stands prior to, and is the very ground for, the truth of adaequatio (correspondence). The truth of unconcealment is what Heidegger sought in and through van Gogh’s painting. Walker’s defensive frame of mind and ideological rigidity make it impossible for him to occupy even briefly the space of Heidegger’s philosophical argument.

In 1982, the English writer and critic John Berger made his own quiet bid for a place in the tale of two shoes, writing a piece for The Village Voice, “A Chair, a Bed, a Pair of Boots,” which borrowed one of van Gogh’s shoe paintings for its sole reproduction. In marked contrast to Walker’s intransigence, a gentle and measured slope connects van Gogh’s passion for the pastoral labors of the peasant, and Heidegger’s designation of the peasant (peasant woman) as the destiny of Being, to Berger’s continuing unfolding of productive experience in peasant society. The sympathetic inclination toward peasantry shared by these three should not suggest, however, an ideological identity without difference. Berger’s dedicated privileging of the peasant, and of the artist, is generally well known; for him, both represent an order of labor, a reality of work, of creative production. Directly put, “Take a chair, a bed, a pair of boots. [Van Gogh’s] act of painting them was far nearer than that of any other painter to the carpenter’s or the shoemaker’s act of making them.”10 Berger enters the shoe discourse without naming names or taking up the debate as such; nonetheless, by the simplest means, his essay frames a triangular field between Heidegger, Schapiro, and Marx. However, the snare in this appealing triangulation of thing-truth, artistic compulsion, and the hypostasis of handwork is that in an ecstasy of mutual yearning such a triad can easily slide toward a mythification of primary production linked to the notion of a supreme artist-genius.

Yet another Marxist, the literary/cultural theorist Fredric Jameson, lifted the prestigious shoes out of the depths of debate and paired them with the Diamond Dust Shoes, 1980, of Andy Warhol, in a glittering intellectual effort to describe and thus constitute a connection between the post-Modern and multinational capitalism. In his lengthy 1984 essay “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” Jameson first sets out to justify his use of periodization—i.e., the establishment and characterizing of a historical period as a culturally dominant form—against the charge that it dampens difference within a given period. Next he takes up the “deconstruction of expression,” beginning with “one of the canonical works of high modernism in visual art, van Gogh’s well-known painting of the peasant shoes.”11 If it is to survive above the level of esthetic decor, he suggests, the painting must be grasped as symbolic of praxis and production, and, we might add, as somehow representative of its epochal constellation. Jameson then goes on to “depict the capitalist destruction of van Gogh’s world of peasant shoes and Heidegger’s country pathway.”12

Jameson’s citation of the van Gogh “shoes” seems suspiciously gratuitous given his disregard for the visual character of the specific painting, and especially when compared to his compelling reading of Warhol’s deathly pumps. Which is one reason we could imagine ourselves playing Schapiro to his Heidegger. Instead, we must finally confront the prodigious silence (or lack) that haunts the narrative of the shoes: except for two small, carefully placed clues, nothing has been heard of or from the feminine in our text so far. Furthermore, little has been said about the basis of the entire shoe exchange. So, in the painting under question van Gogh depicted two work shoes or boots standing alone in undefined space. Heidegger, in “The Origin of the Work of Art,” remarked almost incidentally that the shoes may be understood as belonging to a peasant woman. Schapiro, protesting what he considered Heidegger’s blatant substitution of poetic projection for good scholarship, emphatically reclaimed the shoes on behalf of the artist. Derrida found these conflicting attributions exceedingly instructive—especially with respect to the unquestioned belief that the shoes were a pair. And, significantly, he discerned in this “raging discord between art and truth”13 a fetishized object, one seemingly detached from the metaphysics of logocentrism, but properly fitting them.

Once named, the spectral presence of the (peasant) woman would not be dismissed or canceled; Derrida had insisted, at great length, that her voice be heard. In 1985, Nancy Holland, a philosopher with a feminist interest in Derrida’s writings, published the essay “Heidegger and Derrida Redux: A Close Reading.”14 Holland’s intention in the article (first delivered as a paper, in 1983) is a dramatizing of the feminist critique of the Western metaphysical tradition that she sees emerging from Derrida’s deconstruction(s). Specifically, the critique describes the exclusion of women from that tradition, their effective “scotomizing” in the metaphysical eye, because of the disruptive fact of their sexual difference from the tradition’s male progenitors. When Derrida made off with—purloined—van Gogh’s “shoes,” he inscribed them at the same time with a nonerasable vaginal form. Through this inscription or “invagination,” the female Other emerges and is finally given voice in the court of castrated truth. Holland pointedly notes the designation “(for n + 1—female—voices),” which appears on the verso of the title page to Derrida’s “Restitutions.”

It might be wondered whether Heidegger, in naming the peasant woman, doesn’t bring her (woman) to visibility and thereby escape the charge of metaphysical exclusion. In one sense, of course, if he hadn’t written a walk-on part for her in his drama of origins, then Derrida/Holland would not have been able to give her voice. But that at the same time is also the point: Heidegger gives the peasant woman only silence, “the silent call of the earth.”15 She is cast an essentialist role, playing mother earth to Heidegger’s world.

At the risk of precipitating imagistic dizziness, we will punctuate this synoptic hundred-year chronicle with David Lynch’s 1986 cinematic allegory of the fetish, Blue Velvet. Granted, it is a potentially problematic choice—more of an apostrophe than a period—but it is not as odd as it might first seem. Blue Velvet opens (and closes) on a utopian ordinariness that dwells securely under the aegis of a clear blue sky, a picture world where green lawns, white fences, and friendly firemen represent absolute well-being. Barely have the opening scenes gotten under way, however, before a kink occurs in the perfect order of things: a mysterious stroke incapacitates the father of the film’s protagonist, Jeffrey Beaumont. What follows during the sinister and seamy episodes of the main narrative has, in its classical pathologies, a certain structural utility and provocative baseness to lend to our labor of the shoes.

Moreover, Blue Velvet represents for us the realization of the unimaginable version of Lust for Life; it is the film Vincente Minnelli failed to make—or, more fairly, could not have made—in 1956. This claim may be excessive, but it is precisely the excess we are interested in, an excess that takes cinematic form as extreme fetishism and insupportable evil. Just how this converges with the “Old Shoes” we will attempt to trace, along a line that runs from the concept of detachability to fetishism.

A detached part, a severed ear, but detached or severed from whom?
—Jacques Derrida

EARLY IN THE FILM, Jeffrey discovers a severed human ear lying among weeds in a vacant lot. The discarded ear has been separated forcibly, sacrificially, from its owner, and at the same time from the body of its “story.” The remainder of Blue Velvet is devoted largely to Jeffrey’s pursuit of this story, to the reattachment of the part, the detail, to its whole or truth. Now, the two unattended shoes in the van Gogh painting may not have been severed from human legs, merely detached from them by unlacing, yet they too have been cut away from their “story,” and, too, an impressive array of papers, articles, and essays by a long list of writers stands in evidence of an imposing, tendentious effort to reattach them to their “truth.” Are we really implying that Heidegger’s project of reattaching the shoes, for example, is somehow parallel to Jeffrey’s? It may sound like willful descent from the sublime to the obscene, but essentially that is what we are suggesting. Heidegger devoted his entire philosophical output to the reattachment (or return) of beings—such as a pair of shoes or a work of art—to Being, the Being of beings. Along the way, he put van Gogh’s shoes on the feet of a peasant woman, and, in that simple operation, tripped himself up in the very furrows of earth he wished to traverse. Jeffrey’s self-determined task in Blue Velvet is appropriately scaled to his inchoate manhood, but while he eagerly seeks to reattach the ear to its story, he too is implicated in the dark knowledge he must pass through.

The concept of detachability is familiar in its contentious guises: castration, expropriation, appropriation, autonomy. An attentive reading of Derrida’s “Restitutions,” however, shows that detachability should be treated as having no implicit value or connotation; the term “per se” is neutral. The text demonstrates the operative functions of detachability (and reattachability) as an enabling device for analytic thought. For a moment, follow the words below as they detach, reattach, and return:

Others would say: the shoes produce a discourse on painting. . . . These shoes are an allegory of painting, a figure of pictorial detachment. They say: we are painting in painting. Or again: one could entitle this picture “the origin of painting.” It makes a picture of the picture and invites you not to forget the very thing it makes you forget: you have painting and not shoes under your nose (just try putting them on, on your own feet or someone else’s!), painting is originally this detachment which loses its footing. But detachment must also be understood (sic)16

A quotation in this context is more than a mere example. It raises a set of questions: is the economy of detachability and reattachability real, or only rhetorical simulation? Can it go beyond the familiar detachment of signifier from signified? Is it just one more binary opposition? In what way is our own borrowing—detachment—from Derrida a falsification?

These questions fit Lynch’s film as well. Blue Velvet—the title, the film itself, and, of course, any interpretation of the film—is a “model” of detachment, and not only because its plot is set in motion by a detached ear, which originally belonged, incidentally, to a man obliquely referred to in the film as “van Gogh.” The blue-velvet robe that envelops this man’s wife, Dorothy Vallens, also detaches her from the possibility of her own subjectivity. As an article of clothing, the robe, like shoes, can easily be detached from its wearer (an object loosing its subject). Fragments can be detached, severed, cut from the “whole.” For example, Frank Booth, the film’s predatory villain, cuts a strip of blue velvet from the hem of Dorothy’s robe with the same scissors that he used to sever “van Gogh’s” ear. A parallel observation: Schapiro cuts out two paragraphs from Heidegger’s copious essay with the same methodical sharpness he used in trying to excise the German philosopher from the picture.

Whether or not Schapiro’s gesture is a sign of fetishism we will examine shortly. In the meantime, the first thing to be made clear about fetishism is that it requires detachability and sexual ambiguity. For Freud, the origins of the fetish are rooted in the castration complex, the recognition (by the male child) of the mother’s sexual difference, her lack of a penis, which engenders fear of castration (by the father). The fetish functions to mitigate this anxiety; its physical presence mutes a psychic pain. If the assumed female phallus must be detached, the fetish allows it to be displaced, transferred, to another object. The fetishized, surrogate object is thus an alibi.

In his 1927 paper “Fetishism” Freud displayed nothing less than absolute prescience when he followed the example of “the foot or shoe. . . as a fetish” with an immediate reference to a second illustration, “Velvet and fur.”17 Fortuna smiles. In their general form, shoes are phallic on the outside and vaginal on the inside; as such, they have a compound analogical relation to human genitalia. In the same neighborhood of sexual signs, velvet reproduces the sight of pubic hair or the imagined interior of the womb. A (woman’s) shoe is also proximal (when worn) to the site of the mother’s “lack” (Freud’s primal scenario). These are the kinds of requirements a fetish object must satisfy. We might add, just to keep in touch, that a woman’s (velvet) robe as fetish is a veil or curtain, or hymen, that represents an arresting of the scene at the pretraumatic moment.

Among the several attractions Freud holds for visual artists, especially filmmakers, are the privilege he gives to sight over the other senses and the visual excess in his vivid scenes of sexual primacy. Lynch indulges himself in a surfeit of loaded fetishes; and Frank, of course, is the mobile, volatile center of Blue Velvet’s cinematic fetishism. Everything he touches becomes the property of his fetishizing behavior, including language. Frank rips “fuck,” in all its conjugations and conjunctives, from its particular, if uneasy, cultural niche and gives it new thanatoid intensity. One of the peculiar qualities of his fetishism is its perverse generosity: he wants to share it. Perhaps this is so because of his mastery over it. Midway through Blue Velvet he reveals to Jeffrey the disquieting observation, “You’re like me.” When he delivers this accusation he is looking into the camera, so that his eyes are riveted on everyone in the cinema audience. With that one line, Frank puts the shoe on the other foot.

The viewer of Blue Velvet may see all this as all too obvious. Even taking the shoe’s history as a fetish into account, however, the reader of our saga may find it hard to take seriously an application of the discourse of fetishism to the story of the “Old Shoes,” which, after all, is not blatant; it isn’t exhibitionist. “And yet —”18 Fetishism inhabits the two shoes van Gogh painted, the painted shoes levitating in their indeterminate surroundings, the stretched and framed painting itself, the underlined cadmium-red signature “Vincent,” and, for that matter, the several titles by which the painting has come to be known. A fetish is a richly invested object; considerable psychic energy is committed to sustaining its existence and “reliability.” As it implements the flight from castration anxiety, and the veiling of sexual difference, it also permits and maintains a necessary “oscillation between disavowal and acknowledgment” (Juliet Mitchell), “believing and not-believing” (Christian Metz)—necessary because the anxiety does not retreat, and the difference does not melt away. In other words, the fetish object exists in an inspired space of undecidability.

There is a second approach to understanding the fetishism of these battered old shoes, and it does not depend on erotic gloss, or on grafting the blue-velvet robe onto the peasant woman. We need to shift the discussion, at least temporarily, into the realm of metaphysical thought. All the necessary conditions for an exercise in fetishism are met in the painting. Derrida speaks about a secret correspondence between Heidegger and Schapiro, a point of agreement: both are committed to the belief, assumption, projection that the shoes are a pair, not just two shoes but a working, walkable pair. Examining them closely, there is reason to interpret them as a nonpair, as two left shoes. But neither Heidegger nor Schapiro pauses to doubt. For them, the Order of the Pair is a fundamental supposition: in Schapiro’s case, it enables him to return the shoes/painting to the feet/signature of their “proper” owner, the artist, the same artist Berger said had painted boots with the insight of a shoemaker; and in Heidegger’s case it allows him to shape his discourse into shoes that could be worn by a peasant woman and thereby returned to the soil, the earth, the Ur-ground of Being.

The two shoes are simply there, open to appropriation. What would have kept Heidegger or Schapiro or Derrida or any of us from borrowing them for a while? How quickly the shoes agree to serve the thinly veiled need to fetishize whatever truth is being erected. Is this any less the case for Derrida, who adroitly caught Heidegger in the masculinized structures of the latter’s own “anti”-project? Pointing out that Derrida seems to make a fetish out of the copulation of eyelets and shoelaces (to the extent of ignoring the predominance of lace-hooks on the boots) should not obscure, however, a debt of gratitude to him for having brought Freudian theory to a rereading of Heidegger’s “The Origin of the Work of Art.”

In confronting Heidegger with Freud, Derrida insists on luring the encounter away from “the truth of the fetish” in favor of “the fetish of truth.” Holland says that it is the shoes’ “status as representations cut off from reality. . . that makes them revelatory of truth. Their inutility, hence their truth, is based on their status as castrated, cut off. So, if the truth of the fetish is castration, the fetish of truth is likewise a castration.”19 Heidegger fetishizes the shoes in a way that allows him to not-see, to construct a blind against a more basic truth, which appears at the cleared site of the castration scene: sexual difference. Again Holland:

As fetish, the truth is undecideable, sexually ambiguous, the ambiguity which gives rise to (sexual) desire. Thus the argument I have traced out. . . is only one strand in a braid that would refer us backward and forward, to the uterus, to marriage, to the Mother, and to the very possibility of the pair, as in a pair of shoes, or socks.20

This statement is as much a genuine tribute to Derrida’s “Restitutions” as it is an attempt on Holland’s part to draw Heidegger (and Western metaphysical tradition) through the veil of alētheia, the blue-velvet robe of truth.

We have arrived at a place—with the assistance of Derrida, Holland, and Lynch—where the fetishization process of Western metaphysical thought has been brought into view. What comes to the fore is a significant absence (or castration) which needs addressing, opening up, and, perhaps, restitution. Unfortunately, for all the industrious excess of his imagination, Lynch has not yet managed; his consciousness is held hostage by its own filmic fetishism. But that is another story or critique. The place we have finally arrived at is like the two paragraphs in Heidegger’s “Origin” that Schapiro snipped out with his humanist scissors, a detached passage that becomes a paysage, a landscape of more unresolved questions.

In other words, a number of things are not quite sorted out. For example, what has become of the artist himself in all this? Like “van Gogh” in Blue Velvet, van Gogh remains rather marginal to the shoe narrative. In fact he may simply have disappeared some time ago into the cultural fetishism of his life and art—into artistic spectacle and spectacular capital. Also, although we have profited from setting up a confrontation between Heidegger’s quest for Being and Lynch’s dramaturgical unconscious (the Deep River apartments), would there be further value in remodeling Heidegger’s construct of earth and world in the double light of Lynch’s dichotomy of blue sky and murky underworld? Heidegger fails to account sufficiently for a sublife that seethes with mortal combat and uninhibited violence—the primal mud of evil—whereas Lynch keeps his ear close to the ground. Which comes around to the uncomfortable question of the sociopolitical reality behind Heidegger’s objectification of the peasant woman, his “natural” inclination to designate her as the wearer of the shoes. What about those young Aryan women in rural dresses and dusty boots, their hair pulled back according to convention, hauling large baskets of potatoes across the harvest fields of southern Germany—smiling for the propagandists’ camera? Walker, for one, was troubled by the shadow that National Socialist ideology cast over Heidegger’s writings in the mid ’30s. Its afterimage persists. Derrida also implies that more was going on in Schapiro’s essay than a correction of attribution or an academic protectionist action: Schapiro, in saying, “They are the shoes of the artist, by that time a man of the town and city” (authors’ italics),21 in effect was removing the shoes from those fields so contaminated by fascist propaganda. This observation leads to the problematic figure of Knut Hamsun, invoked as an aside by Schapiro, who quoted a brief soliloquy on the relation between self and shoes from Hamsun’s novel Hunger. (The reference is picked up in turn by Derrida and Walker.) Hamsun, who was a “No. 1 Norwegian novelist and No. 1 intellectual pro-Nazi,”22 suffered the bitter humiliation of having thousands of copies of his popular books sent back to him in Grimstad by the citizens of occupied Norway.

So there are shoes whose soles are clotted with damp soil, and shoes that wander the art world; but what about the shoes that march together in step? Or shoes that get off on the wrong foot and are left behind? And what about Magritte’s impossible object, The Red Model? Does it also “function” perversely as an impossible fetish? He apparently liked the idea enough to borrow it for a second version in 1937. Having thoroughly modernized van Gogh with irony, Magritte said, “One feels, thanks to The Red Model, that the union of a human foot and a leather shoe arises in reality from a monstrous custom.”23

Suzanne Bloom and Ed Hill are artists who work collaboratively under the name Manual. They live in Houston, Texas.



1. Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art,” Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter, New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1971.

2. See Calvin O. Schrag, “The Transvaluation of Esthetics and the Work of Art,” in Robert W. Shahan and J. N. Mohanty, eds., Thinking about Being: Aspects of Heidegger’s Thought, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984, p. 109.

3. Irving Stone, Lust for Life, 1934, reprint ed. New York: The Modern Library, 1984, p. 328.

4. In the French title the word “lacet” has a double play as both “shoelace” and “noose” or “snare,” representing for Jacques Derrida the trap that the shoes set for whoever tries to deal with them discursively.

5. Quoted in Helen Epstein, “Meyer Schapiro: ‘A Passion to Know and Make Known,’” Artnews 82 no. 5, New York, May 1983, p. 62.

6. Meyer Schapiro, “The Still Life as a Personal Object—A Note on Heidegger and van Gogh,” Reach of Mind: Essays in Memory of Kurt Goldstein, New York: Springer Pub. Co., 1968, pp. 203–9. Schapiro also discusses the shoes in “On a Painting of Van Gogh,” 1946, collected in Schapiro, Modern Art 19th and 20th Centuries, New York: George Braziller, 1982, p. 98.

7. Schapiro, “The Still Life as a Personal Object,” p. 206.

8. As of this writing, “Restitutions” exists in English in two distinct translations. The first —“Restitutions of Truth to Size, De la vérité en pointure,” trans. John P. Leavey, Jr., Research in Phenomenology 8, Atlantic Highland, New Jersey: Humanities Press, Inc. 1978 —is incomplete, for by the time of its publication Derrida had doubled the essay’s length and republished it in French in his book La Vérité en peinture (1978). The full text has since been translated as “Restitutions of the truth in pointing [pointure],” in Derrida, The Truth in Painting, trans. Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987, pp. 255–382. All references to “Restitutions” here are to the new translation.

9. John Walker, “Art History versus Philosophy: The Enigma of the ‘Old Shoes,’” Block no. 2, Cockfosters, Hertfordshire, England: Middlesex Polytechnic, Spring 1980, pp. 14–23.

10. John Berger, “A Chair, a Bed, a Pair of Boots,” The Village Voice, New York, 26 October 1982, p. 49.

11 . Fredric Jameson, “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” New Left Review no. 146, London, July–August 1984, p. 58.

12. Jameson, in Anders Stephanson, “Regarding Postmodernism—A Conversation with Fredric Jameson,” Social Text 1 no. 17, New York, Fall 1987, p. 34.

13. The quotation is modified from Heidegger, in Nietzsche, vol. 1, The Will to Power as Art, San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1979, p. 142. Heidegger is paraphrasing Nietzsche, who described the relation between art and truth as one of “discordance.”

14. Nancy Holland, “Heidegger and Derrida Redux: A Close Reading,” in Hermeneutics & Deconstruction, eds. Hugh J. Silverman and Don Ihde, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985, pp. 219–26.

15. Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art,” p. 34.

16. Derrida, p. 342.

17. Sigmund Freud, “Fetishism,” 1927, reprinted in Philip Rieff, ed ., Sexuality and the Psychology of Love, New York: Collier, 1963, p. 217.

18. Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art,” p. 33. This hanging phrase acts as a segue between the two paragraphs Schapiro chose to quote in his own essay. Derrida describes the “And yet—” as “the most apparent scansion” in the crossing of the line between the inside and the outside of the painting. See “Restitutions,” p. 345.

19. Holland, p. 224. What Holland says about the shoes applies equally to the painting of the shoes, so that for “their,” one can read either “the shoes” or “the painting.”

20. Ibid.

21. Schapiro, “Still Life,” p. 205.

22. Time, 7 September 1942, p. 49.

23. Quoted in Suzi Gablik, Magritte, 1970, reprint ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1985, p. 123. Apropos Magritte’s observation, among its numerous definitions the word “boot” refers to an old device of torture. One of the different versions of this boot consisted of wet materials fastened to the legs and contracting painfully under the pernicious influence of fire.