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Paintings and Pictures
'I AM SURREALISM' - THE LIFE OF SALVADOR DALI
'I cannot understand', Dali once observed, 'why man should be capable of so little fantasy'. For Dali, fantasy was only the beginning. He joined the Surrealist group in 1929 because he recognized an affinity between their aims and his own nature. Five years earlier theleader of the Surrealists, Andre Breton, had announced their campaign for the liberation of the unconscious. Already an abnormally introspective and hypersensitive individual, Dali implemented this aim literally and without qualification. However, in his case probing the recesses of his psyche meant cultivating latent hysteria and what he regarded as a paranoiac sensibility. This resulted in behaviour and imagery which even the Surrealists found shocking. Where they held back Dali pressed on, contemptuous of their timidity: 'The difference between the Surrealists and me is that I am a Surrealist', he declared. The evidence for this assertion is manifest in Dali's life and art; a journey through a reality dominated by fantastic and irrational forces. In Dali's universe, desire, phobia and obsession are the terrorists of truth.
At 8.45 on the morning of May 11 1904, the most significant event in Salvador Dali's life occurred; he claimed that he suffered 'the horrible traumatism of birth'. Dali's belief that he could remember his prenatal experiences either attests to or explains the prominence of fantasy in his life. In the case of the latter, this conviction led Dali to regard reality as the opposite of the 'paradisial state' and to invest his imagination with the role of reconstituting an ideal world. Three years before Dali's birth, his parents had lost their first child, a seven-year-old boy also called Salvador. The over-protective love which they bestowed on their second born encouraged the development of a temperamental and selfish child; his bouts of attention seeking and whims were humored. He wet the bed until aged eight 'for the sheer fun of it', kicked his sister in the head, and pushed another child off a fifteen-foot high bridge. But his nose bleeds and angina were a cause for concern and his parents presented him with a king's costume - he was 'the absolute monarch of the house' and he knew it.
At the same time, Dali's character was marked by an abnormal sensitivity and a craving for solitude. When he was five years old he was given a bat with a damaged wing. Retreating to the wash house where he could be alone, he placed the bat in an empty pail and put a glow worm beside it so as to create a kind of shrine. This evoked a deep love for the bat and he kissed it tenderly on the head; he was distraught when he later discovered the bat being eaten alive by ants. When he grew older Dali was allowed to set up a studio in an old laundry room at the top of the house. This contained a large cement basin which Dali would fill with water. He would then sit in the basin for long periods, absorbed in the workings of his imagination and sustained by his developing narcissism.
Outside this womb-like space, the young Dali's mania for solitude manifested itself as total withdrawal. At school his teachers despaired of teaching him anything. He would spend hours staring at the stains on the classroom ceiling; these drew images from his imagination which he saw as clearly as if they had been cast by a motion picture projector. It was at second-ary school that Dali began to display the bizarre and audacious exhibitionism which later became synonymous with his name. He extracted money from his parents and sold it to his fellow pupils for half its value. His outbursts of aggression became more frequent and vicious, attacks being perpetrated on any pupil who looked sufficiently incapable of resistance. He grew his hair long and wore make-up. By the age of 16 he had discovered the attention which he could command by flinging himself down nights of stairs. As a result of this behavior questions often to be repeated were heard for the first time: Is he mad? Is he not mad? Is he half-mad?
While sitting in the laundry basin, Dali passed hours contemplating the art books given to him by his father. These inspired him to paint his first two oil paintings at himself in painting. By the time he reached the age of 17 Dali had produced a number of works, mostly views of the local landscape and portraits, in Impressionist and Post-Impressionist styles. Moved by his son's growing artistic ability and also by his lack of academic success - Dali was expelled from his secondary school - Dali's father agreed to his enrolment at the School of Fine Arts in Madrid in 1921.
Installed in the student's residence, Dali was at first a model student. The timidity which his outlandish behavior masked prevailed for the moment and he avoided the other students, but this reticence was not reflected in his appear ance, which was calculated to draw attention. Nevertheless, he led an ascetic existence, attending courses at the Academy or visiting the Prado, then returning to his room where he studied and devoted himself to his painting. It was at this time that he read Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams, a work which deepened his introspective nature by plunging him into self-analysis. He also developed a knowledge of avant-garde art movements, gained through reading various art magazines, particularly L'Esprit Nouveau. As a result he reacted against the influences of Pointillism, the Fauves and Bonnard, apparent in his work when he first moved to Madrid, and began to experiment with a range of avant-garde styles. Between 1921 and 1924 he employed techniques reflecting the lessons of Cubism, Futurism and Purism, as well as producing sporadic essays in a more conventional atmospheric realism.
He soon grew contemptuous of his teachers at the Academy; they were still absorbing the lessons of French Impressionism and could impart no useful technical knowledge. Dali felt that they could teach him nothing. At the same time he was 'discovered' by one of the more avant-garde student groups which included Luis Bunuel and Garcia Lorca. They were dazzled by Dali's intellect and his unconventional personality and he quickly assumed a prominent position within their ranks. He in turn underwent a transformation as a result of their ideas. He shed his fantastic garb, had his long hair trimmed and sideburns haved off, and re-emerged in the dandified image of his peers which, typically, he took to an extreme. No longer inhibited by his isolation, his bizarre behavior surfaced once more and he acquired the reputation for being 'crazy as a goat!' His asceticism as replaced by excess. Following the lead of Lorca and Bunuel he was introduced to the nightlife of Madrid. They initiated him into eating expensively, drinking copiously and staying out into the early hours.
This extravagant existence was cut short in October 1923. His teachers had identified him as a rebel; a student protest against a staff appointment was blamed on Dali and he was suspended for a year. More trouble followed upon his return to Figueras. A revolutionary upsurge in Catalonia had just been crushed and Dali's reputation as an anarchist again incriminated him. The Civil Guard imprisoned him for 35 days. Dali reveled in the notoriety which surrounded him when he returned to the Academy but his days as a student were numbered. He continued to experiment with a variety of styles, often using completely opposite techniques in different paintings simultaneously. During the next two years he passed through Cubism and Neocubism' - a kind of figuration with simplified planes and forms demonstrating Picasso's in- fluence - as well as painting portraits, landscapes and still-lifes in a realistic idiom. Although as yet undefined, Dali's confidence in his artistic ability was growing. In 1925 he had his first one-man show in Barcelona, which attracted the attention of Picasso and Miro. In April of the following year he visited Picasso in Paris and showed the Master one of his recent paintings. Six months later Dali was expeled from the Academy, having announced his refusal to be examined by his professors on the grounds of their incompetence.
Undismayed, Dali returned to Figueras and threw himself into preparations for his second one-man show. This was held between December 1926 and January 1927 in Barcelona and was widely praised by the press. Dali spent the following nine months doing his compulsory military service and painted virtually nothing during this time, but the respite appears to have given him the opportunity to consider his artistic future. The paintings he began to make at the end of the year were like nothing he had done before. Paint- ings such as Apparatus and Hand, 1927, and Bather, 1928, demonstrate his adoption of Surrealist ideas, gleaned from discussions as a student and from articles in reviews. He found that this new idiom provided an outlet for the nervous excitability, fantasy and introspection which continued to provoke the bizarre excesses of his behavior. At the end of 1928 he was visited in Figueras by Bunuel and together they wrote the scenario for Un Chien Andalou, the film which was to make Dali's reputation. Miro and his dealer Pierre Loeb also visited Dali and encouraged him to visit Paris. Miro con- fided to Dali's father: T am convinced that your son's future will be brilliant!' At the end of 1928 Dali traveled to Paris to collaborate with Bunuel on the shooting of Un Chien Andalou. During this visit Miro acted as his guide and, having suggested that Dali acquire a dinner jacket, launched him on a round of society dinners. Miro was also responsible for introducing Dali to the Surrealist group. Although Dali was to suffer a relapse of timidity he made an impression. When he showed Robert Desnos his painting The First Days of Spring , the Surrealist poet observed 'It's like nothing that is being done in Paris'. Left to his own devices, Dali prowled the brothels and boulevards of Paris looking for a woman who might be persuaded to act out his erotic fantasies. Since adolescence Dali's sexuality had shown signs of aberration; although erotic fantasies obsessed him, the physicality of sexual union repeled him and his sexual practices then and in later life seem to have centred on auto-eroticism and voyeurism. Unsatisfied Desires, a painting executed at this time, reflects Dali's lack of success in finding an appropriate partner. The strain of the visit soon began to tell; Dali became depressed and succumbed to a bout of angina which confined him. When he returned to Figueras his state of nervous exhaustion threatened to plunge him into madness. He became prey to delirious fantasies and suffered a full hallucination. Bouts of hysterical laughter gripped him, rendering him incapable of speech or movement. Despite this he threw himself into painting and attempted to transcribe the images which flashed before his mind. The Lugubrious Game , a key work of this period, conveys forcefully the irrationality to which Dali surrendered.
During the summer of 1929, Dali was visited by the Belgian
Surrealist Rene Magritte and hiswife, the Paris art dealer Camille Goemans,
and the Surrealist poet Paul Eluard and his Russian wife Gala. They were
intrigued by Dali's work but his mental condition was a cause for con-
cern. The scatological elements in The Lugubrious Game became a focus
for controversy. As an image it fulfilled the Surrealist ethos of uncensored
thought, yet it also seemed to point to pathological thought processes.
Gala was initially repulsed then intrigued by Dali. His manic and intense
personality alarmed her, yet she sensed a boyish helplessness beneath
the surface. One day she took Dali by the hand and silenced his fanatical
laughter for a moment. Dali saw a way out of the
When Dali joined the Surrealists he found the group split by internal dissension and in need of arenewed sense of purpose. The question of their affiliation with the Communist party had alienated a number of Surrealists and had led to expulsions. The initial revolutionary spirit which had been sustained by the Surrealists' experiments with dream transcription and automatic writing had flagged. Dali immediately invigorated the Surrealists with his originality, daring and natural ability to shock. At the cutting edge of this activity was his development of the paranoiac-critical method, which he outlined in a number of publications between 1930 and 1935. Dali denned it as a 'spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the interpretive-critical association of delirious phenomenona'.Unlike dreams and automatism, which depend on passive states in order to gain access to the unconscious, the paranoiac critical method became, in Dali's hands, a way of unleashing irrationality at will, by subjecting his thought processes and the external world to the irresistible force of paranoiac interpretation and association. During the next decade Dali poured out a sequence of paintings in which he used the method to give vent to his fantasies, phobias and obsessions. Nothing was censored and his subject matter ran the gamut from masturbation, coprophilia, oedipal desire and fellatio to Hitler, Lenin, skulls, pianos, soft watches and crutches. Dali's aim was, he announced, 'the Conquest of the Irrational'.
The potential of the method was obvious but few of the
Surrealists, if any, followed Dali's lead in applying it to painting.
However, Dali's invention of the Surrealist object, a three-dimensional
collage of fetishistic elements, caused a rash of activity within the
group. Dali's notoriety grew inexorably. A second suc- cessful show in
Paris in 1932 was followed the next year by his first exhibition inNew
York. In 1934 he had no less than six one-man shows in New York, Paris,
Barcelona and London. Breton watched with disapproval; success for Dali,
it seemed, bred excess. His behavior and pronouncements became increasingly
provocative, and his fascination with Hitler in particular irked Breton.
Finally he summoned Dali to his apartment and demanded he explained himself
before an assembly of the Surrealist group. Dali stated that his obsession
with Hitler was strictly paranoid and essentially apolitical. The crisis
passed and Dali continued
With the coming of Civil War in Spain Dali embarked on a period of extensive travel. He visited Italy, where he fed his admiration for Raphael and the Renaissance; in London he met Freud who pronounced him a 'fanatic'; and he visited America on several occasions, finally settling there while the Second World War raged in Europe. On his arrival in New York he declared 'I am Surrealism' and in so doing alienated himself from the Surrealists from that point onward.
Dali sealed the rift the following year. In the catalogue of a large exhibition of his work at the Julien Levy Gallery, New York, in 1941 he declared 'Finished, finished, finished, a thousand times finished - the experimental epoch'. His destiny was, he announced, 'TO BECOME CLASSIC!'. Despite this Dali hesitated, as if uncertain as to what form this destiny would take. His output of paintings slowed but, apart from a growing academicism noticeable in his technique, they continued to provide an out let for his fantasies. One Second Before Awakening from a Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate 1944 , is a key example of Surrealist dream transcription and interpretation. His activity in other fields was frenetic. Resolving to become 'the greatest courtesan' of his time, a decision under taken in a paranoiac rage', Dali threw himself into the social and commercial maelstrom of American life. During their eight years of exile, when Dali and Gala divided their time between California New York and Pebble Beach. Dali designed jewelry, painted portraits of society personalities and decorated their apartments, wrote his autobiography The Secret Life and a novel Hidden Faces, created advertisements, collaborated with Schiaparelli on the marketing of a new perfume, designed the scenery and costumes for three ballets, and worked with Alfred Hitchcock in Hollywood on the dream sequence in the film Spellbound. The wealth which he began to amass in spired Breton's famous anagram on his name, 'Avida Dollars'. Swept along on the tide of his own celebrity, it seemed that Dali had lost direction. His sense of spiritual aridity at this time is conveyed in the disgust he expressed for 'the surrealist banquet which we had allowed to grow cold' and in his declaration at the end of The Secret Life: 'At this moment I do not yet have faith, and I fear I shall die without heaven'.
In 1945, the cataclysm of the atomic bomb lit up the
direction Dali would take. Destruction on this scale implied that Dali's
Conquest of the Irrational now lay in the world of phenomenal reality
rather than in the depths of his own mind. He declared, 'After the First
World War it was Psychology. After the Second World War, it shall be Physics'.
Fascinated by the discoveries of atomic theory, he embarked upon a new
creative phase which he dubbed 'nuclear painting'. In Disintegration of
the Persistence of Memory, 1952-4, for example, he returned to one of
his most famous images, reinterpreting it in terms of the atomic structure
of the material world. Its elements are held in a state of suspended disintegration,
referring metaphorically to the divisibility of matter. But this was only
a preliminary stage in Dali's new development. Previously he had sought
to go beyond reality by diving into the depths of his unconscious; he
now moved in the opposite direction. He observed, Transcendent reality
had to be integrated into some fortuitous part of pure reality . . . But
this already presupposed the uncontested presence of God, who is the only
supreme reality'. From 1949 onward, Dali began to harness his nuclear
painting to religious subject matter. The techniques of the Old Masters.
'It was necessary', he explained, 'to turn to the silver oxide and olive
green dignity of Velasquez and Zurbaran, to the realism and mysticism
that we were to discover were alike and consubstantial'. The transcendent
reality which Dali sought in the fusion of physics, metaphysics and Renaissance
beauty was, as ever, subjected to paranoiac interpretation. In 1955 Dali
gave a lecture at the Sorbonne entitled Thenomenological Aspects of the
Paranoiac-Critical Method'. In this he identified the logarythmic spiral
of the rhinocerous horn, which he discovered in sunflowers, as being the
embodiment of absolute formal perfection. Dali brought all these ideas
together in his painting
Dali died on January 23 1989. He courted irrationality until the end of his life, and in so doing he raised a question which may never be answered: was the Conquest of the Irrational by Dali or over Dali? In 1974 Customs officials seized 40000 sheets of blank paper bearing Dah's signature. It seems these were destined to have been used in the production of prints which should have been limited in number. Dali's assistants reported that he had signed as many as 1800 sheets in an hour, while Dali claimed that he had been betrayed by those around him.
In 1982 Gala died; Dali was devastated and he withdrew
into her medieval castle at Pubol, closing the windows on the world, but
controversy continued to rage outside. In 1983 a young Catalan painter
claimed that since 1975 he had been responsible for a number of works
In 1984 Dali emerged from his isolation after being badly burnt when his bed caught fire. The world was shocked by his appearance. Apparently on the verge of insanity, he believed himself unable either to stand or swallow and was suffering from severe malnutrition; he weighed only 100 pounds. Nevertheless he recovered and moved to the tower of the museum he had created at Figueras. As in his childhood days, when he sat by himself in the laundry room at the top of this father's house, Dali's last days were passed alone, absorbed in his thoughts, in one small room inside the tower. Much of the time he spent looking out of the window, contemplating the weathered stones in the ancient wall opposite. Occasionally he received a single visitor, Antonio Pkchot, the nephew of the man who first inspired Dali. One day Dali confided to his visitor 'Do you know? Each day I see new things in the shape of the stones . . .'
Dali has endowed Surrealism with an instrument of primary importance, specifically the paranoiac-critical method, which has immediately shown itself capable of being applied with equal success to painting, poetry, the cinema; to the construction of typical Surrealist objects, to fashions, to sculpture and even, if necessary, to all manner of exegesis.
Dali's break with Surrealism at the end of the 1930s heralded a shift away from the exploration of internal experience and a growing fascination with the workings of the physical world. In the post-war period the paranoiac-critical method was no longer primarily employed by Dali as a means of probing his own psyche, but it remained an important weapon in the arsenal of his artistic practices. As Dali explained: 'I applied my paranoiac-critical method to exploring the world. I want to see and understand the forces and hidden laws of things, obviously so as to master them'. Although the paranoiac critical method permeated Dali's art as a whole, it received its fullest theoretical exposition and most rigorous application in the pre-war period.
In Conquest of the Irrational (1935), Dali defined paranoiac-critical activity as a 'spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based upon the interpretive critical association of delirious phenomena'. Essentially this is an experimental method in which 'paranoiac phenomena' are revealed by 'critical intervention'. Paranoia is a severe mental disorder and the nature of paranoiac phenomena is determined by its two dominant and interconnected symptoms. The first of these has been described by the philosopher Karl Jaspers as follows:
The sick persons (paranoiacs) are no longer in control
of the progression of their mental images ... all kinds of sensory illusions
(frequent hearing of voices, visual pseudo illusions, synesthetic sensations)
complete the picture.
Many things which take place in the immediate surroundings of these sick persons attract their attention and arouse unpleasant, barely comprehensible reactions in them . . . Sometimes, everything seems 'too much' to them . . . even a very ordinary noise or happening is enough to irritate them. They always have the impression that someone is deliberately doing this to them.
This demonstrates the way paranoiacs interpret both their hallucinations and their experiences in general by establishing associations and causal connections between disparate phenomena. Different ideas and experiences become linked in the paranoiac's mind, giving rise to feelings of persecution. These associations have no rational basis and yet to the paranoiac appear perfectly logical and coherent. Paranoia thus develops as a pattern of active and systematic delusion in which the sufferer interprets and structures his experiences of the world according to the irrational associations which he imposes upon it. Although paranoiac-critical activity is aimed at revealing associations of a paranoiac nature it is not designed to induce pa.ra.noia. per se. This is reflected in Dali's statement: 'The only difference between a madman and me is that I am not mad.' Dali claimed to have a paranoiac sensitivity which produced a reservoir of unconscious images and irrational associations, but he explained that, unlike the true paranoiac, this material was bought to the surface of the mind by 'critical intervention' , that is, by lucid and objective processes. As a result, no consistent pattern of delusional psychosis could develop. Dali's statement may thus be understood to reflect his convection that he could think like a madman without actually being mad.
The theory of paranoiac-critical activity was outlined
by Dali in a number of publications between 1929 and 1935. The first,
a manifesto entitled The Putrescent Donkey, was published in the first
The theoretical framework for the paranoiac-critical
method which Dali developed during the course of these publications suggests
a conscious alignment with the principles of Surrealism, as
My whole ambition in the pictorial domain is to materialize the images of concrete irrationality ... In order that the world of the imagination and of concrete irrationality may be as objectively evident, of the same consistency, of the same durability, of the same persuasive, cognoscitive and communicable thickness as that of the exterior world of phenomenal reality.
Breton originally identified automatism as the means of liberating the unconscious mind, by aiming at 'thought's dictation, in the absence of all control exercized by the reason and outside all aesthetic or moral preoccupations'. However, its almost complete absence in the second Manifesto of Surrealism (1929) demon- strates that Breton was beginning to recognize that automatism was more an ideal than a practical reality. Consequently the way was open for alternative methods.
In Conquest of the Irrational Dali's criticism of automatism
represents an attempt to clear the way prior to its replacement by the
paranoiac-critical method. Dali identified 'two grave inconveniences'
afflicting automatism. Firstly images produced in this way 'cease to be
unknown images' because, in being susceptible to psychoanalysis, they
are reducible to 'ordinary logical language' thus shedding their marvelous
nature. Since, according to Breton, 'only the marvelous
Dali advanced the cause of paranoiac critical activity
by exposing the weaknesses of existing methods but also by showing his
own method capable of accommodating the aims of Surrealism.
Critical activity intervenes solely as a liquid revealer of images, associations and systematic coherences finesses already existing at the moment when delirious instanianeousness is produced...
What Dali is suggesting here is that paranoiac images
based on the irrational association of different ideas and found in the
unconscious mind ,already possess a fully formed systematic structure.
The notion of a critical faculty appears in The Interpretation of
Dreams (1900) by Sigmund Freud, meaning the capacity of the mind
to take notice of its own thoughts. According to Dali, critical activity
was responsible for bringing unconscious ideas to the surface of the mind
and then transcribing them onto canvas or paper. This was a voluntary
process, in contrast to the passive states of automatism. Dali claimed
that these unconscious images because they already existed, were unchanged
by their critical apprehension, even when this was sudden and instanta-
Breton recognized the value of the paranoiac-critical method as part of the Surrealists' campaign for transforming the nature of reality. Central to this campaign was their conviction that perception constitutes our sense of reality and, because perception can be molded by the liberation of unconscious forces, the real can be modified accordingly. The potential of a controled method of simulated paranoia - a condition which imposed irrational mental structures upon the real world - was clear. Breton wrote:
The paranoiac . . . [regards] the very images of the external world as unstable and transitory, if not as suspect, and it is, disturbingly, in his power to impose the reality of his impression on others. . . We find ourselves in the presence of a new assertion, with formal proofs in support of the omnipotence of desire which has remained since the beginning Surrealism's only act of faith . . .
The degree of congruity between the aims of paranoiac-critical activity and those of Surrealism is clear from comparing Breton's statement that 'One can work systematically, safe from any delirium, at making the distinction between subjective and objective lose its necessity and value' with Dali's parallel assertion that 'Paranoiac-critical activity organizes and objectivizes in an exclusivist manner the limitless and unknown possibilities of the systematic association of subjective and objective phenomena'. The theory of paranoiac-critical activity thus evolved within the wider conceptual framework of Surrealism's aims and principles. This provides a context for the development of the method but it does not account for its particular nature. In this respect it was consistent with tendencies apparent in Dali's work from the beginning of his association with the Surrealist group.
The central characteristic of Dali's earliest Surrealist
works is their conjunction of images relating to a range of abnormal psychological
conditions with autobiographical material. This included the use of free
association, which Dali subsequently denned as paranoiac in nature. The
key works of this period, including The Lugubrious Game, Illumined Pleasures,
The Great Masturbator, and Accommodations of Desire, all painted in 1929,
demonstrate a familiarity with and use of the major textbooks of psychoanalysis.
Notable among these were Freud's Interpretation of Dreams
The enlarged head in profile at the centre of The Lugubrious Game is a recurrent image in Dali's iconography and is a self-portrait. It features, for example, in Portrait of Paul Eluard, Illumined Pleasures , and The Persistence of Memory , while in The Great Masturbator it is the main subject. In many instances the face is represented with a grasshopper clinging to its mouth. This is typical of Dali's use of an obsessional idea, stemming from a childhood experience, expressed in a vivid pictorial motif. It relates to Dali's discovery as a child that a slimy and repellent fish which he had been inspecting had the same face as a grasshopper, an insect he had previously liked. As a result he spontaneously associated his repugnance for the fish with the grasshopper's face. This phobia is dramatized in the image of the grasshopper clinging to his own face. The sense of horror which invests this image is associated in The Great Masturbatorwith Dali's anxiety about sexual intercourse, hence his self-personification in this way.
Another recurrent image in the early Surrealist works
is the lion's head. In The Interpretation of Dreams Freud had identified
animals in dreams as symbols of genitalia, and wild beasts in particular
as symbolizing passionate drives which the dreamer is unable to acknowledge.
The title of Accommodations of Desire , a painting in which the motif
of a lion's head occurs six times in various forms, suggests that Dali
used the symbol according to its Freudian connotations. The lion's head
is a key element in Illumined Pleasures, where it is attached to a female
face, depicted in a Freudian way as a jug and hence as a receptacle, transforming
this image into a symbol of sexual desire. This in turn spawns a plethora
of associated anxieties represented by other motifs in the picture. Hands
struggle with a bloody knife, again suggesting fear of castration. The
figure of a youth turns away in shame. A shadow falls across the foreground
and, by reference to an identical shadow in The Lugubrious Game, we know
that this is cast by a castrating father supporting a mutilated son. In
The Enigma of Desire , the lion's head is connected to a huge amorphous
shape growing from the self-portrait motif. Dali often used forms growing
from the heads of figures in his paintings to suggest their thoughts;
in The Enigma of Desire the subject of Dali's thoughts is his mother,
indicated by the repeated phrase 'ma mere'. This is linked to feelings
of passion represented by the lion's head symbol, and so the picture symbolizes
In the second Surrealist Manifesto Breton connected 'the reasoned derangement of the senses' with poetic inspiration, and thus identified psychosis as a fertile source of inspiration. This was a direction in which Dali was already moving. In September 1929, Dali's first Paris exhibition included The Lugubrious Game, Accommodations of Desire and Illumined Pleasures. Referring to these works in his preface to the catalogue, Breton wrote: 'With the coming of Dali, it is perhaps the first time that the mental windows have been opened really wide'. Breton employed the theories of Freud and of F. W. Myers, an English writer on the paranormal, to support the Surrealists' inves- tigations into the depths of the mind. His accolade also gave the seal of approval to an approach which employed psychoanalytical theory specifically as it applied to abnormal psychological states. The ideas which Dali had begun to formulate on the use of paranoia were published in The Putrescent Donkey in July 1930. Shortly after, and independent of Dali, the results of Dr Jacques Lacan's research into paranoia were published. Lacan's ideas, con- tained in On Paranoiac Psychosis in its Relation with the Personality, concurred with Dali's proposals in identifying paranoia as a systematic and coherent, although completely irrational, pheno- menon. Dali's adoption of paranoia may thus be seen as implementing Breton's ideas. At the same time it was also completely consistent with his own artistic development, in that it represented a focusing of his preoccupations within the field of abnormal psychology.
As Breton pointed out, the paranoiac critical method was capable of being applied to 'all manner of exegesis'. Its use, for example, is apparent in Un Chien Andalou, the film on which Dali collaborated with Luis Bunuel in 1929. As the scenario reveals, the opening scene is a classic example of a paranoiac visual association:
Indoors, a man is whetting his razor. He looks through
the window at the sky and sees. . .
The film's subsequent momentum is generated to a large extent by other associations:
None of the ants falls off the hand. Dissolving into the armpit of a girl stretched on the sand of a sunny beach. Dissolving into a sea-urchin whose sharp spines wave slightly. Dissolving into the head of another girl. . .
The many Surrealist objects which Dali made, notably the Surrealist Object (1931), incorporating a glass of milk inside a woman's shoe, and the Retrospective Bust of a Woman (1933), also make use of the method and this underlies their fundamental difference from traditional sculpture. The elements which comprise them are not selected for their formal values and are not related according to aesthetic considerations; instead these objects are three-dimensional collages whose parts are fetishistic in nature - their components are irrationally associated with some other object or idea. As Dali stated in Conquest of the Irrational, 'The means of pictorial expression are placed at the service of this subject', and it is in Dali's painting that the paranoiac-critical method received its fullest exploration and widest application.
In Dada and Surrealist Art (1969), William Rubin observed that 'visually the "paranoiac-critical method" referred to the hallucinatory power to look at any object and "see" another'. This follows Dali's own definition: 'Paranoiac phenomena: common images having a double figuration'. The double image is, of course, nothing new in art. Leonardo da Vinci's Treatise on Painting, collected from notes made throughout his life (1452-1519) contains the following advice:
Look at certain walls dirtied with various stains or with a mixture of different kinds of stones. . . you will be able to see in them a resemblance to various landscapes adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys and hills. You will also be able to see various battles and figures in quick movements, and strange expressions on faces, and costumes, and an infinite number of things. . .
In the sixteenth century Giuseppe Arciboldo (1537-93) explored the use of the double image in his paintings of fantastic heads formed from leaves and twigs or fruit. Dali's fellow Surrealist Max Ernst also utilized the notion in his frottages. These rely on the use of rubbings, taken from irregular surfaces, to intensify 'the irritabilities of the faculties of the mind'. Put more simply, they permitted the artist to 'read' abstract patterns figuratively by a process of suggestion.
The double and multiple images produced by the paranoiac-critical method have a superficial affinity with these other processes. But an essential difference lies in the way that Dali specifically linked the recognition of double images with the ability of the hypersensitive paranoid mind to perceive hidden significances in reality by a mechanism of irrational association. Dali also argued that, in the absence of external stimuli in the form of, for example, stains on walls, the formation of these images drew on associations which already existed in the unconscious mind as a result of delirious obsession. Moreover, the visual manifestations of paranoiac-critical activity were not limited to the phenomenon of simultaneous representation but appeared in a variety of forms. One of its earliest applications took the form of a chain of irrationally associated images proceeding from an initial image. This is evident in The Lugubrious Game where a plethora of images - a grasshopper, Dali's own face, a rabbit's head, a hand, hats, stones, breasts, a finger, an anus, a vagina - spirals out of the first image: a pair of truncated legs and buttocks. The many other ways in which images became irrationally connected, by formal allusion, by fusion resulting in distortion and composite forms, by the linking of objects with unfamiliar qualities, by repetition of outline and form.
Firstly, however, it is necessary to look at Dali's
use of the paranoiac-critical method as a means of 'psychic-interpretive
illustration', which relates to the way paranoiacs 'interpret' reality,
perceiving hidden significances in events and objects by the irrational
associations of ideas as well as images. This is evident in Dali's treatment
of the legend of William Tell and of Millet's painting The Angelus. Between
1930 and 1933 Dali painted a number of pictures in which the legend of
William Tell became associated with and subjected to an obsessional idea.
The paintings include William Tell , The Old Age of William Tell (1931),
and The Enigma of William Tell. In these works the story of the Swiss
bowman, sentenced to shoot an arrow at an apple placed on his son's head
because of an act of patriotic rebellion, became bound up with the hiatus
which had occurred between Dali and his father. One cause of this was
Dali's affair with Eluard's wife, Gala. As a result, Dali saw the story
as signifying paternal threat and he reinterpreted the legend as a castration
myth. In William Tell for example, the hero has become a bearded father
figure wielding a pair of scissors, his intent made apparent by the obsessive
repetition of phallic references in the painting. His own penis and that
of the horse are fully exposed and are echoed in the egg-cup motif on
the plinth and the eggs in the nest. The youth's genitals are concealed
by a leaf, so that it is unclear whether castration is impending or has
In his book The Tragic Myth of Millet's Angelus, written in 1938 but not published until 1963. Dali applied a paranoiac-critical process of interpretation to Millet's painting, 'analyzing' the picture in terms of the personal, irrational and obsessive associations produced by its individual elements. In this way he divined a web of hidden significances. The predatory nature of the father, which Dali perceived in the William Tell legend, is restated in his interpretation of The Angelus. He saw this as 'the maternal variant of the immense and atrocious myth of Saturn, of Abraham, of the Eternal Father with Jesus Christ and of William Tell himself devouring their own sons', and identified an underlying sexual tension in the Angelus. This interpretation is also apparent in the preface to the exhibition of his illustrations for Lautreamont's Les Chants de Maldoror, where he established an equivalence between Millet's painting and Lautreamont's phrase 'as beautiful as the chance encounter on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella'. The setting of The Angela is analogous to the dissecting table. The fork thrust into the earth, 'sinking with . purposeful greed for fertility'' signifies sexual penetration but, by further association, is also connected with a surgeon's scalpel used for dissecting corpses. Thus, by the irrational processes of paranoia, sex and death become connected.
Dali sees the postures of the peasant couple as consistent with this interpretation. The male figure, he explains 'is trying to hide his state of erection. by the shameful and compromising position of his own hat'. The pose of the female peasant is identified with the 'superfree perforation of the praying mantis', an allusion to the female insect's habit of devouring the male after copulation. The handles of the wheelbarrow behind the woman echo the praying' attitude of the mantis. The Angelus appears in a numberof Dali's paintings between 1932 and 1935, including Meditation on the Harp , Gala and the Angelus of Millet before the Imminent Arrival of the Conical Anamorphoses, The Architectural Angelus of Millet , Archaeological Reminiscence of Millet's Angelus , Atavistic Vestiges After the Rain . The Atavism of Dusk and Portrait of Gala.
Dali's reinterpretation of The Angelus is evident in these works; in The Atavism of Dusk the male peasant has been transformed into a skeleton as a result of his fatal sexual encounter, and in Portrait of Gala Dali's future wife has become involved with the relation of the peasants through her double depiction.
The various manifestations of the paranoiac association of 'objective phenomena', as opposed to the 'psychic-interpretative' associations discussed above, are more subtle and diverse than is generally conceded. In The Visible Woman (1930). Dali wrote that:
It is by a specifically paranoiac process that it is possible to obtain a double image: that is the image of an object which, without the least figurative or anatomical modification can at the same time represent another, absolutely different object. . .
However, he also made clear that paranoiac associations are not necessarily limited to double figurations but:
The double image may be extended, continuing the paranoiac advance, and then the presence of another dominant idea is enough to make a third image appear. . . and so on, until there is a number of images limited only to the mind's degree of paranoiac capacity.
Hallucinatory images produced by the paranoiac-critical method are thus capable of indefinite multiplication. Although the paintings record the delirious images obtained by the artist during paranoiac-critical activity, the exact nature of the corresponding hallucination which they evoke in the observer is rendered ambiguous by these statements.
Dali's first statement implies the co-existence of two images which interrelate simultaneously, so that it is impossible to look at one without also being aware of the other. The mind of the observer thus hovers between two perceptual alternatives. In contrast, his second statement implies that two or more images coexist and are experienced sequentially. In this way the observer experiences a hallucination which corresponds to the passage of the mind from one perceptual alternative to another. This is a fine distinction which relates directly to the degree of exclusivity with which alternative images are rendered or, in Dali's terminology, the extent to which they have undergone 'figurative or anatomical modification'.
In practice, Dali's early attempts at double and multiple figuration involved a high degree of modification of the various alternatives so that different readings are not entirely visually exclusive, and so the observer tends to experience them simultaneously. As Dali's technique became more sophisticated he was able to make independent exclusive readings possible without a high degree of modification of the constituent elements. This enabled the observer to experience alternative images separately and sequentially. The process of multiple figuration was thus subject to considerable development throughout the course of the application of the paranoiac-critical process to painting. Two paintings which represent Dali's earliest attempts at double and multiple figuration, are The Invisible Man (1929- 33) and Invisible Sleeping Woman, Horse, Lion (1930). Both demonstrate the difficulty involved in entirely excluding figurative or anatomical modification from the process. In The Invisible Man we are aware of the figure and the architectural setting simultaneously, completely independent and exclusive read ings being precluded by the degree of transformation which various elements have undergone.
The figure's right arm, for example, has undergone a complete anatomical modification and is fully described as the torso of a woman, but can only be read as an arm because of its strategic placing. In other parts of the painting, alternative readings are not held quite in balance; the left hand is painted in a literal way and the head is easier to read than the corresponding architectural elements, so that the effect is one of transparency rather than hallucination. Invisible Sleeping Woman, Horse, Lion is a more ambitious subject and is Dali's first attempt at a multiple image, but is also not completely resolved. The artist described it as follows:
The double image (the example of which may be that of the image of the horse above which is at the same time the image of a woman) can be prolonged continuing the paranoiac process, the existence of another obscure idea being then sufficient to make a third image appear (the image of a lion, for example).
In one of the three versions that he painted there are two further elements, unnamed by Dali: a group of fellateurs in the foreground and a pair of boats with figures. In this image the metamorphosis of the various component elements is even more marked, so that mutually exclusive readings are not possible and some elements do not cohere independently at all. The difficulty of holding so many ele- ments in balance means that, overall, the image is confusing and we are aware of a number of similar forms competing simultaneously for our attention.
In contrast to these early non-exclusive, simultaneous images are later paintings in which Dali mastered the technique of making two images interrelate, so that completely alternative and exclusive readings are possible. There is a minimum of formal modification and the observer experiences either image fully independently and sequentially; the image is not so much a composite form as one which seems to 'switch' in the mind's eye from one form to another. This was achieved through simplification of the constituent elements, as is evident in one of the first fully successful works of this type, The Phantom Cart (1933). In this painting the observer experiences the illusion of a cart, which is being driven toward a distant town, suddenly appearing empty, the driver having vanished. Instead, a distant tower is seen through the covering on the cart. This hallucination rests on the simple formal association of the figure with the tower but the effect is potent in its power to disorientate. An insoluble question is posed and we are forced to question the veracity of our senses. It is, as Dali stated, part of his effort to 'systematize confusion and contribute to the total discrediting of the world of reality'.
The success of paranoiac-critical associations of this
type resides principally in the ability of the artist to undermine the
observer's assumptions about reality, but also in Dali's capacity to impose
a subjective idea upon the real world. As Paranoiac Face, published in
Surrealism in the Service of the Revolution, No. 3 December 1931, demonstrates,
the origin of such ideas can be as much a matter of recogni tion as of
invention. In this example, two completely independent images, an
Dali perfected the technique of double figuration during the middle of the 1930s. In Impressions of Africa (1938), the double images cluster at the peripheries, so that the edges of vision seem to shift and transmute as in a dream. A remarkable metamorphosis in this work is the switch which Dali forces from the image of a priest to the head of a donkey.In Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire (1940), two women in seventeenth-century Spanish costume disappear and are replaced by an apparition of Houdon's bust of the French philosopher. Quite different is the type of hallucination in Swans Reflecting Elephants (1937). In this painting double images abut, rather than overlapping, so that the reflections cast by the swans appear as elephants. The difference between this type of double image and those discussed so far is that instead of two images co-existing within a single configuration, the configuration is repeated in another part of the painting with a different visual significance. In this way, the viewer is made aware of an association between two different facets of reality, not by experiencing a transformation from one to another, but by being compelled to sense a connection between elements which are physically separate.Dali painted a number of works which feature this phenomenon. In Suburbs of a Paranoiac-Critical Town; Afternoon on the Outskirts of European History (1936 ), a network of associations connects the bunch of grapes held by Gala with the skull on the table and with the hindquarters of the equestrian statue; the girl skipping, with the bell in the distant tower; the figures on the arcaded building at left, with the chesspieces on the dressing-table; and the keyhole in the cabinet at the right of the picture with the distant figure framed by the doorway beyond. In Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937), the repetition of a configuration is the central feature of the work and carries a temporal significance; Narcissus is shown regarding his reflection, while at his side the hand holding an egg depicts the nature of his subsequent transformation. In The Weaning of Furniture-Nutrition (1934), three elements are linked by virtue of their related outlines: the cupboard seems to have been formed from the back of the nurse and, in turn, seems to have formed the smaller cabinet with the wine bottle. Outline as the basis of repetition is also evident in Paranoiac-Critical Solitude (1935), an arresting and sophisticated image reminiscent of Magritte. The car seems three-dimensional in its lower half because the wheels cast a shadow on the ground, while a hole driven through the rocks behind also cuts through the top half of the car, suggesting that the rock and car are somehow consubstantial. This confusion is heightened by the repetition of the outline of the car and hole in the rock wall. The implication is that the car is really a two-dimensional relief which has been removed and shifted; reality and appearance are thus meshed in an insoluble conundrum.
The relation of different levels of reality is also explored by the repetition of images in Portrait of Gala (1935). Gala is portrayed seated on a wheelbarrow, a 24 works is the relation established between animate and inanimate elements. Living things tend to putrescence while objects possess the ability to come alive. In Ghost of Vermeer of Delft Which can be Used as a Table , the leg of the apparition has assumed a purely functional role. In Skull with its Lyric Appendage Leaning on a Night Table which should have the Temperature of a Cardinal Bird's Nest, a remnant of human life and a manufactured object are connected by the linking of teeth with piano keys; in Atmospheric Skull Sodomizing a Grand Piano they indulge in an erotic act. In this way the systematic confusion and discrediting of reality is effected by linking elements belonging to different categories of being. Often the grounds for the association of different images and the forms taken by particular paranoiac visions are completely inexplicable. The connection, for example, between a piano keyboard and the head of Lenin in Composition - Evocation of Lenin (1931) remain enigmatic.
Toward the end of the 1930s Dali painted a number of pictures which demonstrate an increasing technical sophistication in the rendering of multiple images, but also a corresponding decline in hallucinatory force. The pictures are ingenious rather than truly delirious. In Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach , the multiplication of associations has produced a complex of images. A dog appears from a mountainous landscape, its body forming a fruit dish; in turn the fruit dish dissolves to reveal a face which is also, in part, formed from a seated woman shown from behind. Various other incidentals - a tabletop, figures in the landscape, a length of rope - support the illusion. In The Endless Enigma the interlocking forms include a beach scene depicting a woman mending the sail of a boat, a reclining philosopher, a hideous face, a greyhound, a mandolin and a fruit dish on a tabletop, and a mythological beast. Breton's opinion was that: 'By wanting to be punctilious in his paranoiac method, it can be observed that he is beginning to fall prey to a diversion of the order of a cross word puzzle'. The implication is clear: the means were taking precedence over the subject-matter, which is characterized by a growing banality.
The development of the paranoiac critical method in this
direction meant that its usefulness to Surrealism was compromised. For
Breton, the central tenet of Surrealism was the 'resolution of all the
principal problems of life'. When any method became valued for its own
sake it had to be abandoned. In Dali's case it was apparent that 'pictorial
expression' was no longer 'at the service of this subject': it had become
the subject. A more fundamental problem was the ideological dis-
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