Exploring the irrational

The paranoiac- critical method of Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali

An autobiographical note
“He is a hero who revolts against paternal authority and conquers it.”

“To write the following, I am wearing for the first time some patent-leather shoes that I have
never been able to wear for long at a time, as they are horribly tight. I usually put them on just
before giving a lecture. The painful pressure they exert on my feet goads my oratorical capacities
to their upmost. This sharp and overwhelming pain makes me sing like a nightingale or like one
of those Neapolitan singers who also wear shoes that are too tight. The visceral physical longing,
the overwhelming torture provoked by my patent-leather shoes, forces me to extract from words
distilled and sublime truths, generalized by the supreme inquisition of the pain that my feet
suffer. So I put on my shoes and I begin to write down, masochistically and without haste, the
whole truth about my exclusion from the Surrealist movement. I care nothing for the calumnies
hurled at me by Andre Breton, who cannot forgive me for being the last and the only Surrealist,
but it is important that someday, when I publish these pages, everyone should know what really

To explain this I must go back to my childhood. I was never capable of being an average pupil. I
would either seem completely unteachable and give the impression of being utterly dumb, or I
would fling myself on my work with a frenzy, an application and a will to learn that astonished
everybody. But to awaken my zeal, it was necessary to offer me something I liked. Once my
appetite had been whetted, I became ravenously hungry.

My first teacher, Don Estaban Trayter, repeated to me for a year that God did not exist.
Peremptorily, he would add that religion was “a woman’s business.” Even though I was very
young, this concept delighted me. To me it seemed strikingly true. I could see the truth of it
every day in my own family, for only the women went to church and my father refused to go,
calling himself a freethinker. To emphasize the freedom of his thoughts, he would embellish
everything he said with enormous and picturesque blasphemies. If anyone objected he would
quote his friend Gabriel Alamar’s aphorism: “Blasphemy is the most beautiful ornament of the
Catalan language.”

I have tried elsewhere to recount my father’s tragic life. It is worthy of Sophocles. In fact my
father is the man I have not only most admired but also most imitated, though I made him suffer
a great deal. I pray God will keep him in His sacred glory, though I am sure he must be there
already, for the three last years of his life were distinguished by a profound religious crisis which
afforded him the consolation and final pardon of the last sacraments. But in this period of my
childhood, when my mind was thirsting after knowledge, I found only atheistic books in my
father’s library. Looking through them, I carefully noted, leaving no proof untested, that God
does not exist. I read with incredible patience the Encyclopedists, whom I nowadays find
unbearably dull. Every page of Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary provided me with the
arguments of a man of law (like those of my father, who was a notary) as to the non-existence of
My first dose of Nietzsche shocked me profoundly. In black and white he had had the audacity to
affirm: “God is dead!” What? I had just learned that God did not exist, and now someone was
informing me that He had died. My first doubts were born. To my mind Zarathustra was a
magnificent hero whose greatness of soul I admired, but at the same time he betrayed himself by
puerilities that I, Dali, had already left behind me. One day I would be greater than he! The day
after I first started reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra I had already made up my mind about
Nietzsche. He was a weakling who had been feckless enough to go mad, when it is essential, in
this world, not to go mad! These reflections furnished the elements of my first motto, which was
to become the theme of my life: “The only difference between a madman and myself is that I am
not mad!” It took me three days to assimilate and digest Nietzsche. After this lion’s banquet,
only one detail of the philosopher’s personality was left for me, only one bone to gnaw: his
moustache! Later, Federico Garcia Lorca, fascinated by Hitler’s moustache, was to say: “The
moustache is the tragic constant in the face of man.” Even in the matter of moustaches I was
going to surpass Nietzsche! Mine would not be depressing, catastrophic, burdened by Wagnerian
music and mist. No! It would be line-thin, imperialistic, ultra-rationalistic, and pointing towards
heaven, like the vertical mysticism, like the vertical Spanish syndicates.

It is true that Nietzsche, instead of driving me further into atheism, initiated me into the questions
and doubts of pre-mystical inspiration, which was to reach its glorious culmination in 1951 when
I drew up my manifesto; but on the other hand his personality, his pilose system, and his
intransigent attitude towards the lachrymose and sterilizing virtues of Christianity, contributed
inwardly to the development of my anti-social instincts and my lack of family feeling, and
outwardly to the transformation of my appearance. After reading Zarathustra I allowed my
sideburns to cover my cheeks to the corners of my mouth and my jet-black hair to grow as long
as a woman’s. Nietzsche awoke in me the idea of God. But the archetype that he had set before
me to admire and imitate was enough to make my family turn me out. I was banished by my
father for having studied too closely and followed too literally the atheist and anarchist teachings
of his books - banished by my father who could not tolerate my surpassing him in everything I
did, especially since my blasphemies were even more virulent than his.
The four years that preceded my expulsion from my family, I spent in a state of constant and
extreme ‘spiritual subversion.’ To me those four years were truly Nietzschean. My life during
that period would be incomprehensible if it were not considered within the context of that
atmosphere. This was the period when I was put in jail in Gerona, when one of my paintings was
rejected for obscenity in the autumn exhibition at Barcelona, when I sent insulting letters, co-
signed with Bunuel, to the humanist doctors and to all the most distinguished personalities in
Spain, including Nobel prize-winner Juan Ramon Jimenez. Most of the time these
demonstrations were quite unjust, but I intended in this way to assert my ‘will to power’ and to
prove that I was still impervious to regret. My superman was destined to be nothing less than a
woman, the superwoman Gala…

Having finally absorbed everything the Surrealists had published, and imbued with Lautreamont
and the Marquis de Sade, I entered the group, armed with a Jesuitical good faith, but determined
to become its leader as soon as possible. Why should I burden myself with Christian scruples
concerning my new father, Andre Breton, when I had none for the one who had brought me into
the world?

So I took surrealism literally, neglecting neither the blood nor excrements on which its advocates
fed their diatribes. In the same way that I had applied myself to becoming a perfect atheist by
reading my father’s books, I was such a conscientious student of surrealism that I rapidly became
the only ‘integral Surrealist’. To such a degree that I was finally expelled from the group because
I was too Surrealist. The alleged reasons for this I considered to be of the same nature as those
which had prompted my expulsion from my family, Gala- Gradiva, ‘she who advances,’ ‘the
Immaculate intuition,’ had been right once again. Today I can say that of all my certainties, there
are only two that cannot be explained by my will to power: one is my faith, which I rediscovered
in 1949, and the other is that Gala will always be right about my future…

A mere week spent with the Surrealists was enough to show me that Gala was right. They
tolerated to a certain extent my scatological elements. On the other hand a number of other
things were declared ‘taboo’. Here I recognized the same prohibitions I had encountered in my
family circle. Blood they allowed me. I could add a bit of shit. But shit on its own was not
allowed. I was authorized to represent the sexual organs, but not anal fantasies. Any anus was
taken in very bad part. They rather liked lesbians, but not pederasts. In dreams, one could use
sadism, umbrellas and sewing machines at will but, except for obscenities, any religious element
was banned, even of a mystical nature. If one simply dreamed of a Raphael madonna without any
apparent blasphemies, one was not allowed to mention it…

I have never denied my fertile and elastic imagination the most rigorous means of investigation.
But these only served to confirm my congenital craziness. This is why I made a great effort, even
while I was part of the Surrealist movement, to gain acceptance every day for an idea or an
image that was completely opposed to the ‘Surrealist fashion’. In fact, everything I proposed
went against their wishes. They did not like anuses! I tried to trick them by giving them lots of
anuses, carefully dis-simulated, and preferably Machiavellian ones. If I constructed a Surrealist
object in which no fantasy of this type appeared, the symbolic functioning of this object would
be anal. I opposed pure and passive automatism with the active impulse of my famous method of
paranoiac-critical analysis. In addition, I confronted the enthusiasm for Matisse and abstract
tendencies with the ultra-regressive and subversive technique of Meissonier. In order to defeat
primitive objects, I launched the vogue for hyper-civilized objects of the ‘1900 style’ which we
used to collect with Dior and which were one day to come back into fashion with the ‘new

While I was reading Auguste Comte in order to establish my new religion on a solid basis, Gala
turned out to be the more positivist of the two of us. Indeed, she spent her days in paint shops,
with antique dealers and restorers, buying brushes, varnish, and all the materials that would
enable me to start painting as soon as I decided to stop pasting color reproductions and bits of
paper on to my canvases. Of course I would not hear anything about technique while I was busy
creating the Dalinian cosmogony, with its limp watches which prophesied the disintegration of
matter, its fried eggs without a frying pan, its hallucinating and angelic phosphenes, reminiscent
of the intra-uterine paradise lost on the day of my birth. I did not even have time to paint it all as
it should have been. It was good enough if my meaning was clear. The next generation would see
to it that my work was finished and refined….
During this time, Hitler was Hitlerizing, and one day I painted a Nazi children’s nurse knitting.
She had accidentally sat down in a big puddle of water. At the insistence of some of my most
intimate Surrealist friends, I had to paint out her swastika armband. I had never expected the
emotions that would be aroused by this emblem. I became so obsessed with it that I projected my
delirium on to the personality of Hitler, who always appeared to me as a woman. Many of the
paintings I did at this period were destroyed when the German Army invaded France. I was
fascinated by Hitler’s soft, round back, always so tightly encased in its uniform. Every time I
started painting the leather strap that ran from his belt across the opposite shoulder, the softness
of the Hitlerian flesh squeezed into the military tunic brought me to a state of ecstasy that was
simultaneously gustatory, milky, nutritive and Wagnerian, and made my heart beat violently, a
very rare emotion I don’t experience even when I’m making love. Hitler’s chubby flesh, which I
imagined to be like the most opulent feminine flesh with the whitest skin, fascinated me.
Conscious nonetheless of the psycho-pathological nature of such transports, I was thrilled to
whisper into my own ear: “Yes, this time I believe I’m on the verge of true madness!”

And to Gala: “Bring me some amber in spike oil and the finest brushes in the world. Nothing
will be delicate enough to paint, in the ultra-regressive manner of Meissonier, the super-nutritive
delirium, the mystic and carnal ecstasy that seizes me when I set about putting on canvas the
impression of the leather strap on Hitler’s flesh…”

After Hitler’s death, a new mystical and religious era began to devour all ideologies. In the
meantime I had a mission. Modern art, dusty residue of the materialism inherited from the
French Revolution, was to oppose me for at least ten years. Now, I had to paint well, something
that would be of no interest to anybody whatsoever. However it was indispensable to paint well,
because my nuclear mysticism could triumph on the appointed day only if it was incarnated in
the most supreme beauty.

I knew that the art of the abstract painters- those who believe in nothing and consequently paint
nothing - would serve as a glorious pedestal for a Salvador Dali isolated in our abject age of
materialistic decorativism and amateur existentialism. All this was certain. But in order to stand
firm, I would have to be stronger than ever, to have money, to make gold, fast and well, in order
to hold out. Money and health! I stopped drinking altogether and took the most exaggerated care
of myself. At the same time I polished Gala to make her shine, making her as happy as possible,
taking even better care of her than of myself, for without her all would be finished. We would
use the money to do all we wanted to do in the way of beauty and goodness…

What I like best in all the philosophy of Auguste Comte is the precise moment when, before
founding his new ‘positivist religion,’ he places at the summit of his hierarchy the bankers to
whom he attaches capital importance. Perhaps it is the Phoenician side of my Ampurdan blood,
but I have always been greatly impressed by gold in whatever form. Ever since adolescence,
when I learned that Miguel de Cervantes, having written his Don Quixote for the greater glory of
Spain, died in blackest penury, and that Christopher Columbus, having discovered the New
World, also died under the same conditions and in prison as well- as I say, ever since
adolescence, my prudence has strongly advised me upon two matters:

1. To make my prison as early as possible. And this was done.
2. To become, as far as possible, something of a multi-millionaire. And this too has been

The simplest way not to have to make any concessions to gold is to have it oneself. When one is
rich, it becomes completely useless to be ‘committed.’ A hero enters into no commitments! He is
the exact opposite of the domestic. As the Catalan philosopher Francesco Pujols has so rightly
observed: ‘The greatest aspiration of man on the social level is the sacred freedom to live without
the need to work.’ Dali completes this aphorism by adding that this freedom in its turn conditions
human heroism. The only way to spiritualize matter is to fill everything with gold.

I am the son of William Tell, who has transformed into solid gold the apple of ‘cannibalistic’
ambivalence which his fathers, Andre Breton and Pablo Picasso, had in their turn placed
precariously on his head. That head, so fragile and so beloved by Salvador Dali! Yes, I believe I
am the savior of modern art, the only one capable of sublimating, integrating and rationalizing
imperially and beautifully all the revolutionary experiments of modern times, in the great
classical tradition of realism and mysticism which are the supreme and glorious mission of

The role of my country is essential to the great movement of ‘nuclear mysticism’ which must
characterize our times. America, because of the unheard-of progress of its technology, will
produce the empirical (we might even call them the photographic or microphotographic) proofs
of this new mysticism.

The genius of the Jewish people will involuntarily give it, thanks to Freud and Einstein, its
dynamic and anti-aesthetic possibilities. France will play an essentially didactic role. She will
probably draw up the constitutional form of ‘nuclear mysticism’ owing to her intellectual
prowess. But, once again, it will be the mission of Spain to ennoble all by religious faith and

In the meantime I want to record an anecdote. One very successful evening as I was coming back
to my apartment in St. Regis Hotel in New York, I heard a metallic sound in my shoes after
having paid for my taxi. I took off my shoes and found in each of them a fifty-cent piece. Gala,
who had just awakened, called out to me from her room: “Dali, my dear! I was just dreaming that
the door was ajar and that I saw you with some other men ... You were weighing gold...!”

I crossed myself in the dark and murmured nobly: “So be it.” Whereupon I embraced my
talatiev, my treasure, my weight in gold!”
Gala- Dali


How can one be cured by one’s neurosis? One way is to be hospitalized. Another way is to make
one’s obsessions art. This was the way of Salvador Dali. Furthermore, in the times of Salvador
Dali the promotion of madness was encouraged at a level of art and psychology. It was the
period of the surrealist movement in Europe, which Dali adopted and improved as much as no
one had done before. However, Dali was not just a mad painter spraying paint on the wall. He
was an excellent classical painter, according to a tradition which went far back in time in his
motherland Spain. But classicism would now be expressed at a new level, through the surrealist
movement, to establish a new eternal expression of art.
Galarina (1940-45)
Leda Atomica (1949)

Gala Dali, his wife, is regarded as an enormously influential person in his life. Dali himself
immortalized her in many of his paintings. Gala became his ultimate muse. In the course of their
early long walks Dali and Gala were regularly taking along the cliffs at Cape Creus (in
Catalonia), an intensely melancholy spot, when Dali told her that he loved her. He did so in the
interval between two fits of laughter; it did not come easily. The woman everyone called Gala-
her name was Helena Devulina Diakanoff, and she was the daughter of a Moscow lawyer- was a
fascinating, charming, self-confident person, and she made quite an impression on Dali. To have
her body so close to his own took his breath away. Did not the fragile beauty of her face of itself
vouch for the body’s elegance…? “I looked at her proud carriage as she strode forward with the
intimidating gait of victory, and I said to myself, with a touch of my budding humor, “From the
esthetic point of view victories, too, have faces darkened by frowns. So I had better not try to
change anything!””

Their relationship was platonic, as Dali despised physical love. For him pleasure could only be
found at an artistic and psychic level:

“On awakening I kiss Gala’s ear to feel with the tip of my tongue the thickness of the minuscule
molding on the lobe. At that moment I feel, all mixed in with my saliva, Picasso. Picasso, who is
the most vital man I have ever known and who possesses a birthmark on the lobe of his left ear.
That mark, slightly more olive than dark gold and protruding very-very slightly, is in exactly the
same spot as the one on my wife, Gala. It could be thought of as its exact copy. Very often, when
I think of Picasso, I caress that slight bulge in the corner of Gala’s left ear. And this happens
often, because Picasso is the man of whom I have thought most often, after my father. Both are
more or less the William Tells of my life. It is against their authority that I have risen in heroic
revolt, unhesitatingly, ever since my earliest adolescence.

That birthmark of Gala’s is the only living part of her body that I can completely envelop with
my two fingers. It reassures me in an irrational way as to her phoenixological immortality. And I
love her more than my mother, more than my father, more than Picasso, and even more than

Spain has always had the honor of offering the world the highest and most violent contrasts.
These contrasts in the twentieth century are incarnated in the two personalities of Pablo Picasso
and your humble servant. The most important things that can happen to a contemporary painter

1. To be a Spaniard;
2. To be called Gala Salvador Dali.

These two things have happened to me. As my Christian name Salvador indicates, I am destined
to do nothing less than to save modern painting from sloth and chaos. I am called Dali, which
means ‘desire’ in Catalan, and I have Gala. Picasso certainly is Spanish, but of Gala he has only
a biological shadow on the corner of his ear, and he is called Pablo, like Pablo Casals, like the
Popes - that is to say, he has a name like everybody else’s.”

In his book ‘Secret Life,’ he later described her in these terms: “Her body still had the
complexion of a child’s. Her shoulder blades and the sub-renal muscles had that somewhat
sudden athletic tension of an adolescent’s. But the small of her back, on the other hand, was
extremely feminine and pronounced, and served as an infinitely svelte hyphen between the
wilful, energetic and proud leanness of her torso and her very delicate buttocks which the
exaggerated slenderness of her waist enhanced and rendered greatly more desirable.”
Girl standing at the window (1925)

In the same book, he tells a story about a girl named Galuchka, who he later identified with Gala:

“I pressed myself closer and closer against the infinitely tender, unconsciously protective, back
of the nurse, whose rhythmic breathing seemed to me to come from the sea, and made me think
of the deserted beaches of Cadaques. [...] I wanted, I desired only one thing, which was that
evening should fall as quickly as possible! At twilight and in the growing darkness I would no
longer feel ashamed. I could then look Galuchka in the eye, and she would not see me blush.
Each time I stole a furtive glance at Galuchka to assure myself with delight of the persistence of
her presence I encountered her intense eyes peering at me. I would immediately hide; but more
and more, at each new contact with her penetrating glance, it seemed to me that the latter, with
the miracle of its expressive force, actually pierced through the nurse’s back, which from
moment to moment was losing its corporeality, as though a veritable window were being
hollowed out and cut into the flesh of her body, leaving me more and more in the open and
gradually and irremissibly exposing me to the devouring activity of that adored though mortally
anguishing glance. This sensation became more and more acute and reached the point of a
hallucinatory illusion. In fact I suddenly saw a real window transpierce the nurse. Yet through
this maddening aperture, of frantically material and real aspect, I no longer saw the crowd which
ought to have been there and in the midst of which Galuchka standing on a chair ought to have
been in the act of looking at me. On the contrary, through this window opened in the nurse’s
back, I distinguished only a vast beach, utterly deserted, lighted by the criminally melancholy
light of a setting sun.”

What did finally Gala meant for Dali? Dali himself provided the key, both historical and
Freudian in character, to their love, which was born that very moment and lasted until death:
“She was destined to be my Gradiva, ‘she who advances,’ my victory, my wife. But for this she
had to cure me, and she did cure me [...] solely through the heterogeneous, indomitable and
unfathomable power of the love of a woman, canalized with a biological clairvoyance so refined
and miraculous, exceeding in depth of thought and in practical results the most ambitious
outcome of psychoanalytical methods.” Not long before, Dali had read Wilhelm Jensen’s novel
Gradiva, which Sigmund Freud had analyzed in Delusion and Dreams. The heroine of the title,
Gradiva, heals the male protagonist psychologically. “I knew,” wrote Dali, “that I was
approaching the ‘great trial’ of my life, the trial of love.”

The title of a book by Robert Descharnes ‘Dalide Gala,’ inevitably suggests that Dali belonged to
Gala. It was Gala who inspired Dali, Gala who kept him under control, Gala who saw to the
practicalities of their life together. In the ‘Secret Life,’ Dali confirmed that he would have been
nothing without Gala. It is useful to read Descharnes’ book if we are to understand his work, and
to see that Gala was not only his wife but also adopted the roles of his mother and sister.
Psychiatrist Pierre Roumeguere wrote a study of Dali’s personality which nicely complements
Dali’s own mythology of Gala. In it, Dali is cast as Pollux, while his dead brother is Castor and
Gala Helen. That is to say, after having been Leda’s mother, Gala became the immortal sister of
Pollux, and Leda’s daughter. Roumeguere’s theory changes the contours of the Port Lligat
house: suddenly we have to accommodate an extra oval, the egg in which Gala and Dali were
united, in our ideas.
Theories about paranoia
“The sole difference between myself and a madman is the fact that I am not mad!”
Salvador Dali

“I’m not the clown!” cried Dali in his own defence. “But in its naivety this monstrously cynical
society does not see who is simply putting on a serious act the better to hide his madness. I
cannot say it often enough: I am not mad. My clear-sightedness has acquired such sharpness and
concentration that, in the whole of the century, there has been no more heroic or more astounding
personality than me, and apart from Nietzsche (who finished by going mad, though) my equal
will not be found in other centuries either. My painting proves it.”

As far as paranoia is concerned, there have been some theories trying to explain its origin, and to
find a cure:
We know that exorcism was a common practice for treating madness in the past. After the advent
of modern science, more natural causes were taken into account. In psychology, mental problems
are treated dialectically, and a person, with the help of the analyst, has to realize the cause of the
traumatic experience. Freud was one of the first to realize that the psyche is part of human
personality, found within us. Jung, on his part, understood the psyche as part of a wider
consciousness, which can be expressed at the individual level. No matter what the origin of
supernatural or common experience (expressed in art and irrational thought) is, modern science
uses technology to approach the problem at the molecular, atomic or subatomic level.
Nevertheless, the way the individual is integrated into society remains fundamental. Think, for
example, how important is the way we treat Dali’s paintings. Their uncanniness or impossibility
tests the fundamental understanding of our own logic, what we regard as artistically and ethically
right or wrong. The uniqueness of everybody is juxtaposed against common sense. Finally
however, we are all faced with the reality of beauty and harmony- as David Bohm would say,
with the holistic aspect of the world. As far as quantum mechanics is concerned, it has showed
that nature can be as much crazy as ourselves, much more than we have ever thought. It was the
same time when both surrealism and quantum mechanics revolutionized the way we treat the
world. So Dali was the right person at the right time to express that age of irrationality, in his
own, unique way.

The pleasure principle
In simple words, the pleasure principle says that we all try to find pleasure and to avoid pain. The
principle was discovered by Freud. Most of the times, however, by seeking pleasure we make
ourselves miserable and unhappy. This pleasure paradox puzzled philosophers. Henry Sidgwick,
for example, concluded that happiness and pleasure are phenomena which do not follow known
laws. So most probably we find happiness when we search for it the least. In any case, what
makes us happy is something that we like to do whether this is pleasant or not. This is something
that has to do with duty or fate. The purpose of our lives is something that we realize seldom or
retrospectively, but when we do fulfill the meaning of our life then we get the greatest pleasure.
The surrealist sculpture park Las Pozas, Xilitla, Mexico

Edward James

Edward James was a poet and a patron of surrealist artists, such as Salvador Dali and Rene
Magritte. At some point in his life, he left everything behind, and moved to Mexico to build a
farm with a surrealist garden (figure above). The idea came to him after the orchids he had
planted were destroyed. So it was an idea that came to him gradually. This is exactly what
happens to all of us. The more we bias things, the more we make a mess of them. Furthermore,
when we impose to things and people our own desires, treating them this way as pleasure
objects, we miss their real value, which could be most beneficial. So there seems to be a point of
balance between enjoyment and interpretation.
Dali was ecstatic by nature with everything, including his own birth: “Let all bells ring!” he
exclaims. “Let the toiling peasant straighten for a moment the ankylosed curve of his anonymous
back, bowed to the soil like the trunk of an olive tree, twisted by the tramontana, and let his
cheek, furrowed by deep and earth-filled wrinkles, rest in the hollow of his calloused hand in a
noble attitude of momentary and meditative repose. Look! Salvador Dali has just been born! [...]
It is on mornings such as this that the Greeks and the Phoenicians must have disembarked in the
bays of Rosas and of Ampurias, in order to come and prepare the bed of civilization and the
clean, white and theatrical sheets of my birth, settling the whole in the very center of this plain of
Ampurdan, which is the most concrete and the most objective piece of landscape that exists in
the world.”

Dali also insisted that he had ‘intra-uterine memories.’ These were visual memories of the life
before birth, and he claimed: “It was divine, it was paradise.” Dali held it was the source of “that
perturbation and that emotion” which he had felt throughout his life when confronted with the
‘ever-hallucinatory image’ of two fried eggs: “The fried eggs on the plate without the plate,
which I saw before my birth were grandiose, phosphorescent and very detailed in all the folds of
their faintly bluish whites.” His intra-uterine memories provided Dali with the essential
foundations of his lifelong pursuits: “It seems increasingly true that the whole imaginative life of
man tends to reconstitute symbolically by the most similar situations and representations that
initial paradisaical state, and especially to surmount the horrible ‘traumatism of birth’ by which
we are expulsed from the paradise, passing abruptly from that ideally protective and enclosed
environment to all the hard dangers of the frightfully real new world, with the concomitant
phenomena of asphyxiation, of compression, of blinding by the sudden outer light and of the
brutal harshness of the reality of the world [...]”
The Enigma of Desire- my Mother, my Mother, my Mother (1929)

Amalgam- Sometimes I Spit on the Portrait of My Mother for the Fun of It (1929)

One of the first paintings that inaugurated his surrealist period was ‘The Enigma of Desire - my
Mother, my Mother, my Mother.’ He took the title from the French poet Paul Eluard. The figure
wearing shit-stained underpants made the painting notorious in Barcelona even before the
scandal shocked the Surrealists. At the very moment he finished this painting, Dali came across a
colored lithograph of the Sacred Heart at the Rambla in Figueras, and wrote on it: “Sometimes I
spit on the picture of my mother for the fun of it.” In his view (he subsequently explained in
justification) it was perfectly possible to love one’s mother wholeheartedly and still dream of
spitting on her; indeed, he pointed out, in some religions spitting was a sacred act!

The Great Masturbator (1929)

When Dali was painting ‘The Great Masturbator,’ his mind went back to the unattainable women
of Paris: “With my hand, before my wardrobe mirror, I accomplished the rhythmic and solitary
sacrifice in which I was going to prolong as much as possible the incipient pleasure looked
forward to and contained in all the feminine forms I had looked at longingly that afternoon,
whose images, now commanded by the magic of my gesture, reappeared one after another by
turn, coming by force to show me of themselves what I had desired in each one! At the end of a
long, exhausting and mortal fifteen minutes, having reached the limit of my strength, I wrenched
out the ultimate pleasure with all the animal force of my clenched hand, a pleasure mingled as
always with the bitter and burning release of my tears - this in the heart of Paris, where I sensed
all about me the gleaming foam of the thighs of feminine beds. Salvador Dali lay down alone in
his bed [...]”

The ‘Great Masturbator’ itself is a representation of pleasure. Gala’s mouth is almost touching
Dali’s genitals, while Gala’s body has the shape of a ‘pleasure vessel.’
Illumined Pleasures, 1929

For Dali, pleasure could be found anywhere, from a theater hall to a crowed street full of
bicycles. His favorite themes and symbols reappear as representations of pleasure, castration and
The Pleasure Principle (Portrait of Edward James), Rene Magritte (1937)

But for the artist pleasure is always found somewhere else. The pleasure principle can be
artistically summarized in the previous painting of Rene Magritte. On the table lies another
object of pleasure, one of the personal surrealistic symbols of the painter, while his hands are full
of expression. One hand is trying to reach the object, while the other hand is hiding below the
table. The painter’s head is covered with light. Is the light hiding something (the real face), or is
it shining in order to illuminate a different aspect of our mind?
The Invisible Man (1929)

In the previous painting we see how the light exposes the pleasure principle in one of its purest
forms. The form of a man interchanges with the form of a uterus.

Accommodations of Desire (1929)
By the time of the previous painting, Dali was engaged on another subject of desire. In this
painting, desire is symbolized by lions’ heads. Trembling, he asked Gala: “What do you want me
to do to you?’ Then Gala, transforming the last glimmer of her expression of pleasure into the
hard light of her own tyranny, answered, “I want you to kill me!” Dali noted: “One of the
lightning-ideas that flashed into my mind was to throw Gala from the top of the bell-tower of the
Cathedral of Toledo.” But Gala, as we might predict, proved the stronger of the two: “Gala thus
weaned me from my crime, and cured my madness. Thank you! I want to love you! I was to
marry her. My hysterical symptoms disappeared one by one, as by enchantment. I became master
again of my laughter, of my smile, and of my gestures. A new health, fresh as a rose, began to
grow in the center of my spirit.”

Somewhere between life and death lies the pleasure principle. Pleasure is not only comfort, but
also ‘pain.’ In fact, as we all know, most of the times extreme pleasure is accompanied by
painful repercussions. A violent or hideous scene in a painting should not always be treated as
immoral. On the contrary, it may have great liberating power. If the painting has also some
elements expressing the talent of the painter then we reach a point thinking that probably this
painting is a piece of art. In the case of Salvador Dali, we may find ourselves watching his
paintings for hours. It is this talent to combine the ‘hideous’ with the ‘harmonious’ which makes
his paintings so attractive and timeless.
The uncanny

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917 (Photograph of Alfred Stieglitz)

The feeling of the uncanny is created by the doubt if something is alive or dead. Freud was
among the first to recognize the phenomenon in his 1919 essay ‘The Uncanny.’ He linked the
sense of the uncanny with the existence of repressed feelings and thoughts which arise from the
world of the unconscious as familiar images of forgotten things. In this sense, the uncanny is also
‘canny.’ The first to identify the phenomenon was Ernst Jentsch as a product of intellectual
uncertainty, in his 1906 essay ‘On the psychology of the Uncanny.’ This uncertainty is
transferred from the mental to the psychic level as a feeling of simultaneous revulsion and
attraction. The surrealists will use exactly this feeling to both attract and provoke their audience.
Even a porcelain urinal, as shown in the previous image, can serve as a ‘fountain of inspiration.’
The importance of ambivalence in the production of the effect was noted by Freud: “In telling a
story one of the most successful devices for easily creating uncanny effects is to leave the reader
in uncertainty whether a particular figure in the story is a human being or an automaton and to do
it in such a way that his attention is not focused directly upon his uncertainty, so that he may not
be led to go into the matter and clear it up immediately.”

Freud’s analysis was based on the books of the German writer E.T.A Hoffman, in which there is
the case of a doll, named Olympia, which is treated as something alive. However, Freud
disagrees with Jenstsch, that Olympia is the most uncanny element in the story:

“ I cannot think- and I hope most readers of the story will agree with me- that the theme of the
doll Olympia, who is to all appearances a living being, is by any means the only, or indeed the
most important, element that must be held responsible for the quite unparalleled atmosphere of
uncanniness evoked by the story.”

This remark has to do with another strange hero of Hoffmann, in his book ‘Nachtstücken’ (The
‘Sand Man’). The sand man is an uncanny character, blinding a child by throwing sand in the
child’s eyes. All these figures, the talking doll, the sand man, the mummy, etc., stem from the
dreams of our childhood. But as Freud had already understood, what is really uncanny is not the
terrifying figures themselves but the feeling that someone cannot escape, because these creatures
appear everywhere, spontaneously, again and again. What is horrifying is this uncanny feeling.
Giorgio de Chirico, Love Song (1914) Max Ernst, The Elephant Celebes (1921)

In art the uncanny was represented by a split from classicism. The Dada movement, which
appeared in the beginning of the 20th century in Europe, used bizarre and provocative
expressions in art in order to attract and to shock the audience. This was a protest against World
War I and a declining bourgeoisie. But it was also a new way of expression, diving deep into the
human soul, and testing the limits of human ingenuity. Giorgio de Chirico was an influential
painter for the surrealists. In his ‘Love song’ we see how classical art (the head of an ancient
statue) is combined with a glove and a ball in an industrial environment (the locomotive in the
background). Max Ernst, on the other hand, would later paint his ‘Elephant Celebes.’ Here we
see a giant ‘stove,’ whose pipe is an elephant’s tale, ending in a bull’s head. The oddities of the
painting follow the collage technics of the Dadaists, according which objects and parts of objects
are missing, or found where they shouldn’t be. The name of this painting derived from a German
satirical poem which goes like this:

“The elephant from Celebes
has sticky, yellow back grease
The elephant from Sumatra
always has sex with his grandmamma
The elephant from India
can never find the hole ha-ha!”

Was Dada just an expression of antisocialism and repulsed sexuality, or was it an artistic fight
against these same feelings? It certainly expresses a cultural revolution, based on the new
techniques of the industrial era. But again Dada attitude reveals a deeper sense of depression and
nihilism, at a time when the human spirit was desperately trying to find new unique ways of
creativity. Here follows a passage from the beginning of the Dada manifesto, written by Tristian
Tzara in 1918:

“The magic of a word- Dada- which has brought journalists to the gates of a world unforeseen,
is of no importance to us.

To put out a manifesto you must want: ABC to fulminate against 1, 2, 3 to fly into a rage and
sharpen your wings to conquer and disseminate little abcs and big abcs, to sign, shout, swear, to
organize prose into a form of absolute and irrefutable evidence, to prove your non plus ultra and
maintain that novelty resembles life just as the latest-appearance of some whore proves the
essence of God. His existence was previously proved by the accordion, the landscape, the
wheedling word. To impose your ABC is a natural thing- hence deplorable. Everybody does it in
the form of crystalbluffmadonna, monetary system, pharmaceutical product, or a bare leg
advertising the ardent sterile spring. The love of novelty is the cross of sympathy, demonstrates a
naive je m’enfoutisme, it is a transitory, positive sign without a cause.

But this need itself is obsolete. In documenting art on the basis of the supreme simplicity:
novelty, we are human and true for the sake of amusement, impulsive, vibrant to crucify
boredom. At the crossroads of the lights, alert, attentively awaiting the years, in the forest. I write
a manifesto and I want nothing, yet 1 say certain things, and in principle I am against
manifestoes, as I am also against principles (half-pints to measure the moral value of every
phrase too too convenient; approximation was invented by the impressionists). I write this
manifesto to show that people can perform contrary actions together while taking one fresh gulp
of air; I am against action; for continuous contradiction, for affirmation too, I am neither for nor
against and I do not explain because I hate common sense.

Dada Means Nothing

If you find it futile and don’t want to waste your time on a word that means nothing... The first
thought that comes to these people is bacteriological in character: to find its etymological, or at
least its historical or psychological origin. We see by the papers that the Kru Negroes call the tail
of a holy cow Dada. The cube and the mother in a certain district of Italy are called: Dada. A
hobby horse, a nurse both in Russian and Rumanian: Dada. Some learned journalists regard it as
an art for babies, other holy jesuses-calling-the-little-children of our day, as a relapse into a dry
and noisy, noisy and monotonous primitivism. Sensibility is not constructed on the basis of a
word; all constructions converge on perfection which is boring, the stagnant idea of a gilded
swamp, a relative human product. A work of art should not be beauty in itself, for beauty is dead;
it should be neither gay nor sad, neither light nor dark to rejoice or torture the individual by
serving him the cakes of sacred aureoles or the sweets of a vaulted race through the atmospheres.
A work of art is never beautiful by decree, objectively and for all. Hence criticism is useless, it
exists only subjectively, for each man separately, without the slightest character of universality.
Does anyone think he has found a psychic base common to all mankind? The attempt of Jesus
and the Bible covers with their broad benevolent wings: shit, animals, days. How can one expect
to put order into the chaos that constitutes that infinite and shapeless variation: man? The
principle: “love thy neighbor” is a hypocrisy. “Know thyself” is utopian but more acceptable, for
it embraces wickedness. No pity. After the carnage we still retain the hope of a purified mankind.
I speak only of myself since I do not wish to convince, I have no right to drag others into my
river, I oblige no one to follow me and everybody practices his art in his own way, if he knows
the joy that rises like arrows to the astral layers, or that other joy that goes down into the mines
of corpse-flowers and fertile spasms. Stalactites: seek them everywhere, in managers magnified
by pain, eyes white as the hares of the angels.

And so Dada was born of a need for independence, of a distrust toward unity. Those who are
with us preserve their freedom. We recognize no theory. We have enough cubist and futurist
academies: laboratories of formal ideas. Is the aim of art to make money and cajole the nice
bourgeois? Rhymes ring with the assonance of the currencies and the inflexion slips along the
line of the belly in profile. All groups of artists have arrived at this trust company utter riding
their steeds on various comets. While the door remains open to the possibility of wallowing in
cushions and good things to eat…”
Double images
As far as the uncanny is concerned, Freud would go a step forward to recognize more parameters
of the phenomenon, such as the case of the ‘meaningful’ repetition of an event. For example,
numbers or names sometimes tend to repeat themselves with a certain meaning. Carl Jung related
such meaningful coincidences with synchronistic phenomena. In other words, the feeling of the
uncanny may have to do not only with repressed experiences, but also with a deeper reality of
our own psyche. Images seem to appear from the unconscious, which are common for everyone
(Jung called them archetypes), reproducing themselves in the real world, causing to us certain
unexplained but strangely familiar (‘uncanny’) feelings. Perhaps it was these images or psychic
contexts that the surrealists tried to grasp through psychic automatism, and through the ‘effect of
the double:’
In the previous paintings of Dali, we see a face appearing from within the landscape. The ‘Bust
of Voltaire’ disappears behind the other people, while in the other paintings a face appears from
within a mountain or a fruit disk. Here, the ‘endless enigma’ becomes an eternal expression of
Dali’s talent to depict the effect of the double. It seems that reality has (at least) two sides, which
appear altogether simultaneously. Since our brain cannot focus on two images at the same time,
we are left with an impression of a deeper level of reality, composed by far more subtle
interactions between things.

Interference pattern in Joung’s double slit experiment
The effect of the double is of fundamental importance in modern physics. It could be also stated
as the uncertainty (or complementarity) principle, and it is expressed through the wave-particle
duality. In other words, light behaves either as a wave or as a particle because we are uncertain
about it (there is always a margin of error in our measurements). This is not because of our
ignorance. This is a reality of nature. It is a ‘perhaps’ answer, with some quantities of ‘yes’ and
‘no’ in it. We don’t even know if there is something ‘propagating out there’ when we measure
light. But we can see the interference pattern (when we don’t try to find the particle!). This is a
generalization of the pleasure principle in quantum mechanics- the more we try to measure the
‘momentum,’ the more we lose the ‘position’ of some ‘thing.’

This has to do with entangled properties of matter. Entanglement is something hard to find in
nature. It needs effort to create entangled particles in the laboratory, as much as a painter needs a
lot of effort to make double faces appear in his paintings. The analogy is not irrelevant.
Entangled systems always have two or more sides simultaneously. We just chose to see one side
(or state) each time we make the observation. But when we let the system be, without paying
much attention, then all the possible configurations of the system are there.

Ghosts appearing in a photograph
Portrait of my Dead Brother, 1963

This blurry nature of systems in their natural state (when they are not forced to take one form
against the others) can be described mathematically by a wave-function, and can be captured
with a photographic film. It’s not impossible that during a not-so-conscious state of our brain,
our thoughts and memories, which in fact form a system, co-exist superimposed somewhere-
here or there. Do ghosts exist? Well, the answer is that they do exist but perhaps not in a real but
in a fantastic world. Perhaps under certain conditions, yet unknown, images from the past,
consisting of memories and the lives of us or other people, come down and manifest themselves
or ‘collapse’ in our world, so that sometimes and always under very special conditions we may
capture ‘strange things and forms’ with a camera or with our own eyes. The double forms that a
painter produces don’t escape the general rule that reality always has many faces, and that it is
just our choice of representation or interpretation at a certain time what we finally see.
Psychic automatism

Andre Masson, Automatic Drawing, 1924

Even if Dada was artistically and politically radical, it seems that its methods led to a sterile
dead-end. Surrealism was the step forward, a creative force which came together with
psychoanalysis, quantum physics and a new dream for the world. Among others, Andre Breton
in poetry, together with Dali and Magritte in painting made the difference. Breton defined
surrealism as follows:

“Pure psychic automatism by which one proposes to express, either verbally in writing or by any
other manner, the real functioning of thought. Dictation of thought in the absence of all control
exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation.”

Surrealism, based on the artistic expression of spontaneous thought and ‘literate meditation,’
tried to explore the world of the human psyche, and to experience reality in the state of ‘The
marvelous.’ Here follow examples of automatic drawing,
Two ‘marvelous bodies,” by Victor Brauner, Andre Breton, Jacques Herold and Yves Tanguy

and of automatic text:

“Chance is logical the turn of the cards which are only odd and even at night the greatest
endeavor lies in the onset of the profile of love where man shows no signs of dispensing with the
sustenance of ethical matters in vegetation wreckage to appoint rats in strict hierarchy with a
theological gesture which makes fine slaves total surrender but the bounds of mute villains
creates a grammarian creator in incoherent language only by experience to the point of ridicule
like the gravity of Descartes’ discourse particularly useful and precise in general savage kisses
for Christian principles drool of the old fanatic that the Jesuits give like eternal life purely
hysterical and idle in its farcical cloak of civilization from another then that is to say fashion with
some guidance from the bottom of an ordinary dungeon where the glory of muscles without
candles in a commendable ocean comes willingly to the stake for execution which increases the
fruits of success by using a singular magic always scalping on principle of great responsiveness
necessary reproduction of their enthusiasms or their odorous mug scoffs at the least protection
like the spleen of emotions requires a method to the lips of geometry as useless as integral beauty
in terms of intelligent form first storms of the sciences in accordance with which it is a
woodworker in bullion by trade morphological dissertation without a sound the innocence of
today to take flight in circular words but that dominates the possible pleasure submitted to the
diet of this woman with internal hearing as only children treasure of foolhardy superstitions in
the flesh of centuries leave the hands of time definition of the subjunctive social life made of
porcelain unforeseen or warped like the brains of absolute fools who dance at the cinema in
Zurich at the onset of futile drawings on each quill disguised as a mouth to guide its stem
through all the doors of virtue watch the wheel on the contrary to color vain entities subjected to
return to a bygone era whose emotions i adorn oh Marcel Duchamp dreams about New York
surroundings halo on a golden backdrop replace when we clean up on the business of migraines
or even to the left air, burgeoning air and imploring gathering a handful arranged without the
ignorance of a doll virtuous in name only like distinction in contact of the coquettish naivety
modern language do you want a writer Chateau-briant or six passing fancies the dilemma of free
love is the false key to the system of liberties one has in beavers’ castoreum to pass houses on a
beam eye within the reign of happiness in the slavery of Clovis for the virgin blushing from
mysterious and sterile unions puerility to the blossoming of unions on horseback thereabout
some small stroke of luck or save it from patriotic decline.”
Francis Picabia & Tristan Tzara (1919)

Andre Breton wrote an article concerning automatism, ‘The Automatic Message,’ in 1933, with
respect to surrealist writing:

“The history of automatic writing in Surrealism- and I’m not afraid to say it- is one of continual
misfortune. Indeed, not even the underhanded protests of the critics, who have been particularly
attentive and hostile on this point, will keep me from recognizing that, for years, I counted on the
torrential outpouring of automatic writing to cleanse the literary stables definitively. In this
regard, the desire to throw open the floodgates will certainly remain the generative idea of
Surrealism. It says something that, in my eyes, the movement’s partisans and adversaries will
always and easily be defined by whether they value only the authenticity of the automatic
product or whether, on the contrary, they wish to see it reconciled with something other than
itself. Quality, here as elsewhere, could not help becoming a function of quantity. If there was no
lack of quantity, some easily imagined factors kept it from acting on the public scale as a force of
submersion: thousands of notebooks, each as good as the next, have remained in desk drawers.
The important thing, moreover, is for more such notebooks to be filled, an infinite number-and
better still, for their authors frequently to compare their method with ours and to admit to us
openly their technical concerns.

Although I never sought to codify the ways in which this highly personal and infinitely variable
dictation was obtained, I have not been able to avoid (by suggesting certain modes of behavior)
simplifying the listening conditions to an extreme degree, nor generalizing totally individual
methods of resumption in case the current was interrupted. I also omitted, even in a series of
publications that came after the first Manifesto, to specify the nature of the obstacles that often
conspire to divert the verbal outflow from its original direction. Whence the very legitimate
questions - which furthermore did not meet the slightest objection-that I have sometimes been
asked: How can one ensure the homogeneity or remedy the heterogeneity of the constituent parts
of such a discourse, which often seems to contain scraps of several discourses? What should one
make of interferences or gaps? How can one keep from visualizing up to a certain point what is
being said? How can one tolerate the distressing passage from the auditory to the visual? etc. It is
unfortunately quite true that up until now, those who dipped ‘poetically’ into automatic writing
have not all been equally concerned with such questions. Many, in fact, have preferred to see
automatic writing only as a new science of literary effects, which they blithely adapted to the
needs of their little industry. I believe I can say that the automatic flux, which they had flattered
themselves they could use at their leisure, lost no time in abandoning them completely. Others
spontaneously contented themselves with a half-measure that consists in encouraging the
eruption of automatic language in the midst of more or less conscious developments. Finally, we
must note that numerous pastiches of automatic texts have recently been put into circulation -
texts that are not always easy to distinguish at first glance from authentic examples, because we
lack objective, original criteria. These obscurities, these failings, these stagnations, these efforts
at simulation seem to demand more imperiously than ever, for the benefit of the actions we mean
to carry out, a complete return to first principles.

A precise distinction must be established between ‘automatic’ writing and drawing, in the sense
that the term is used in Surrealism, and automatic writing and drawing as they are commonly
practiced by mediums. The latter- those of them, at least, who truly have remarkable abilities- set
down letters or lines in strictly mechanical fashion: they are completely unaware of what they are
writing or drawing, and it’s as if their anaesthetized hand were being guided by another hand.
Apart from those who limit themselves to such guidance, who passively witness their lines being
drawn and don’t understand their meaning until afterwards, there are others who reproduce, as if
they were tracing them, inscriptions or figures that appear to them on a given object. It would be
pointless to ascribe any superiority to one or the other of these faculties, which moreover can
coexist in a single individual.

In 1909, Marcel Til, a professor of accounting, communicated to Theodore Flournoy several
specimens of decorative writing that he obtained via the second method, in which he received
information about his son (information that proved false). Another medium, in a series of
mechanical gestures, and all the while taking an active part in the ongoing conversation, rapidly
covered several sheets of paper without the movements of his hand being at any time subject to
his conscious control. The prodigious Elise Muller, better known as Helene Smith, successively
demonstrated automatic phenomena that were verbo-auditory (she noted as best she could
captured fragments of fictional conversations), vocal (in a trance state she uttered words in an
unknown tongue), verbo-visual (she copied exotic characters that appeared to her), and graphic
(she wrote while completely in a trance, sometimes substituting one of her ‘Martian’ characters
for herself). We should note that in this case, which is by far the richest, only the verbo-auditory
and verbo-visual automatisms left the subject a measure of critical freedom, whereas the verbo-
motor automatisms completely divorced her from reality…

The term ‘automatic writing,’ as it is used in Surrealism, is (as we have seen) subject to debate.
If I can be held partly responsible for that impropriety, it’s because ‘automatic’ writing (or
‘mechanical writing,’ as Flournoy puts it; or rather ‘unconscious writing,’ as Rene Sudre prefers)
has always seemed to me the limit towards which the surrealist poet must strive, while not losing
sight of the fact that, contrary to what spiritualism aims to do- dissociate the psychological
personality from the medium- Surrealism proposes nothing less than to unify that personality. It
is obvious that, for us, the question of the exteriority of (let’s say, for simplicity’s sake) one’s
‘voice’ could not even be posed. Furthermore, from the outset it seemed needlessly difficult and,
considering the extra-psychological aspects of the goal we were pursuing, almost superfluous for
us to get bogged down in a division of so-called inspired writing- which we set in opposition to
calculated literature- into ‘mechanical,’ ‘semi-mechanical,’ and ‘intuitive’ writing: these three
qualifiers account for no more than differences of degree. Once again, our only choice was to
head as far as possible down a trail that had been blazed by Lautreamont and Rimbaud (as to the
latter, I need only cite as manifest proof the first line of his poem ‘Promontory’), and that had
become particularly attractive thanks to certain procedures of psychoanalytic investigation. In the
twentieth century, right after the war, this trail necessarily wound past the small group of poets
that we formed; and when we began following it, we suddenly became aware of murmurs
stretching behind and before us as far as the eye could see. We know that the attempt to capture
written automatic messages was soon joined by another process that tried to capture this message
in its spoken form. But on this point, our experiments fully justified Myers’ claim that automatic
speech does not in itself constitute a more developed form of the motor message than automatic
writing, and that moreover it is to be feared because of the profound changes in memory and
personality it can bring about.

Surrealism’s distinctive feature is to have proclaimed the total equality of all normal human
beings before the subliminal message, to have constantly maintained that this message
constitutes a common patrimony, of which everyone is entitled to a share, and which must very
soon, and at all costs, stop being seen as the prerogative of the chosen few. I say that every man
and every woman deserves to be convinced of their ability to tap into this language at will, which
has nothing supernatural about it and which, for each and every one of us, is the vehicle of
revelation. In order to do this, it is crucial that they revise their narrow and erroneous conception
of such specific vocations, whether artistic or mediumistic. If one looked closely, one would in
fact discover that every vocation has originated in a fortuitous accident, whose effect has been to
undermine certain resistances in the individual. For whoever is concerned with something other
than his prosaic, immediate interest, the essential thing is that these resistances can be
undermined. As Professor Lipps observes in his study of the automatic dances performed by the
medium Magdeleine around 1908, “Hypnosis is never more than the negative reason for the
talents manifested under its influence; their true source lies in pre-existing tendencies, faculties
or dispositions, which were diverted from their natural expression by contrary factors. The role
of hypnosis is simply to free these talents by paralyzing those factors.” Automatic writing- which
is easy and attractive, and which we hoped to put within everyone’s reach by eliminating the
unnerving and cumbersome apparatus of hypnosis- seems, regardless of such obstacles, to be
what Schrenck- Notzing wanted to see it as, namely, “a sure means of favoring the outpouring of
psychic faculties, and particularly artistic talents, by focusing one’s consciousness on the task at
hand and by freeing the individual from the inhibitory factors that restrain and trouble him,
sometimes utterly blocking the exercise of his latent gifts.”

This standpoint of artistic talent, and the incredible vanity that goes along with it, is naturally a
large part of the internal and external causes of distrust that, in Surrealism, have prevented
automatic writing from fulfilling all its promises. Although the original aim was simply to seize
involuntary verbal representations in their continuity and fix them in writing, while avoiding any
qualitative judgements, critical comparisons could not avoid showing that the internal language
of different writers displayed unequal levels of richness and elegance- which was fertile terrain
for despicable poetic rivalries. In most cases, furthermore, an inevitable, subsequent delight in
the very terms of the texts obtained, and specifically in the images and symbolic figures with
which they abounded, also helped undermine the indifference and distraction that these authors
needed to maintain towards their texts (at least while producing them). This attitude, instinctive
on the part of those who are practiced in judging poetic value, had the unfortunate result of
giving the recording subject an immediate hold over each part of the recorded message. And so
ended the cycle of what Dr. Georges Petit, in an utterly remarkable work, called ‘apperceptive
self-representations,’ on which, by definition, we still propose to act by relating them, with no
possible ambiguity, to the Ego. For us, the result was a barely intermittent succession of visual
images that occurred during the very act of listening, interrupting the murmur, and that, to the
latter’s great detriment, we could not always resist capturing. Let me explain. Not only do I think
that there is almost always complexity in imaginary sounds- the unity and speed of the dictation
remain active concerns- but it also seems certain that visual or tactile images (primitive, not
preceded or accompanied by words, like the representation of whiteness or elasticity without any
prior, concomitant, or subsequent intervention of words that express them or derive from them)
freely operate in the immeasurable region that stretches between consciousness and
unconsciousness. Now, if automatic dictation can be obtained with a certain continuity, the
process by which these images develop and join together is very difficult to grasp. As far as we
can tell, their nature is eruptive. So it was that on the very evening that I noted the two sentences
at the beginning of this article, just when I had given up in my subsequent attempts to provoke a
verbal equivalent, I suddenly saw myself (my hand?) rolling the edges- as one does to prepare a
paper filter- or reducing the sides of a kind of scallop shell. Without a doubt, I took this as
another form of automatism. Was it obtained in compensation for the verbal one that I was trying
too hard to hear? I don’t know. Nonetheless (and this is the main thing), I consider verbal
inspirations infinitely richer in visual meaning, infinitely more resistant to the eye, than visual
images properly speaking. Whence my constant protest against the poet’s so-called ‘visionary’
power. No, Lautreamontand Rimbaud did not see, did not experience a priori what they
described; which is tantamount to saying that they didn’t describe it at all, but rather that they
limited themselves in the dark corridors of their being to listening- indistinctly and, while they
wrote, without understanding them any more than we do when we first read them- to certain
accomplished and accomplishable works. ‘Illumination’ comes afterwards…”

Landscape with Flies, 1964
Prehistoric cave painting

Modern studies on neurology has shown that, while in a state of trance or hypnosis, people
describe ‘images’ appearing in their thought, like ‘dots’ or ‘wave-patterns, ‘whirls,’ and so on.
What is worth noting is that these patterns are the same, irrespectively of the individual, personal
experiences, or the place he grew up. It is also interesting to note that the first examples of
‘automatic drawing’ are the cave- paintings in Europe of the first humans. As we see in the
previous figure, the animal figures are accompanied with ‘dots’ and ‘lines,’ which express some
abstract symbolism. Archeologists now believe that these paintings express something more than
the mere representation of nature, and that the paintings were conceived by the prehistoric artists
during some state of trance.
Mandala painted by a patient of Carl Jung

During the previous century, Freud recognized the existence of such patterns and their possible
value in psychoanalysis, while Carl Jung went a step further to relate these patterns with what he
called archetypes. This sort of archetypal patterns of behavior came forth in automatic drawings
of mandalas (previous figure). Of course, the previous figure is highly standardized, meaning
that the individual who drew it possessed a high level of some sort of geometric preoccupation.
And this is exactly the point: Whatever the images produced by the unconscious, their final
expression always comes ‘filtered’ by the conscious mind. This is a fundamental distinction,
since the process of description, either by the subject or by the audience, is inherently conscious.
How can anyone get rid of any conscious interference in order to produce ‘pure’ automatic art? I
guess this was the aim of the surrealists. However, their art was so much involved in politics, or
even in a desperate effort of verbal demonstration, that in most cases it finally missed this effect.

Breton also wrote the surrealist manifesto, in 1924. Here is an abstract from the beginning of the

“So strong is the belief in life, in what is most fragile in life- real life, I mean- that in the end this
belief is lost. Man, that inveterate dreamer, daily more discontent with his destiny, has trouble
assessing the objects he has been led to use, objects that his nonchalance has brought his way, or
that he has earned through his own efforts, almost always through his own efforts, for he has
agreed to work, at least he has not refused to try his luck (or what he calls his luck!). At this
point he feels extremely modest: he knows what women he has had, what silly affairs he has
been involved in; he is unimpressed by his wealth or his poverty, in this respect he is still a
newborn babe and, as for the approval of his conscience, I confess that he does very nicely
without it. If he still retains a certain lucidity, all he can do is turn back toward his childhood
which, however his guides and mentors may have botched it, still strikes him as somehow
charming. There, the absence of any known restrictions allows him the perspective of several
lives lived at once; this illusion becomes firmly rooted within him; now he is only interested in
the fleeting, the extreme facility of everything. Children set off each day without a worry in the
world. Everything is near at hand, the worst material conditions are fine. The woods are white or
black, one will never sleep.”

Nonsense poetry
Automatic writing was based on previous forms of what is called ‘nonsense poetry.’ Usually, it
is written for a humoristic effect, and it is purposefully vague and paradoxical, hilarious and
satirical. Some of the Dadaist texts (or all of them) may be considered as nonsense writings. But
the ‘nonsense’ in this occasion is not because what is said is ‘dump,’ but because it seems to defy
the proper order of logical syntax. For example the phrase:

“'I see said the blind man to his deaf and dumb daughter as he picked up his hammer and saw.”
The Jabberwock, as illustrated by John Tenniel

Lewis Carroll was one of the first to use nonsense writing. ‘Jabberwocky’ is one of his nonsense
poems and the word literally means ‘nonsense.’ Its first verse goes like this:

“Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.”

There have been many translations of the poem in many different languages. Carroll himself
used to combine part of different words to form new ones. So it is a sort of collage in writing.
For example, in his ‘The hunting of the Snark,’ the word ‘snark’ is formed with the words ‘snail’
and ‘shark.’ I am not really sure what such creature would mean if it took it literally.

Other examples of nonsense poetry include Edward Lear’s poem ‘The Jumblies:’
“Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue
And they went to sea in a sieve…,”

or the much earlier popular English poem ‘See Saw Margery Daw:’

“See Saw Margery Daw,
Jacky shall have a new master;
Jacky shall earn but a penny a day,
Because he can't work any faster.”

So it seems that ‘nonsense speaking’ is a common feature of human language, serving some
humoristic purpose, and it was modern art which wrote it down and presented it in a ‘systematic’

There exist not only nonsense ‘word poems,’ but also nonsense sound poems. Hugo Ball
performed a piece of sound poetry in a reading at Cabaret Voltaire in 1916:

“I created a new species of verse, ‘verse without words,’ or sound poems... I recited the

gadji beri bimba
glandridi lauli lonni cadori…”

But the masterpiece of sound poems is the Ursonate of Kurt Schwitters. It goes like this:

“Fümms bö wö tää zää Uu,
kwii Ee.
dll rrrrr beeeee bö
dll rrrrr beeeee bö fümms bö,
rrrrr beeeee bö fümms bö wö,
beeeee bö fümms bö wö tää,
bö fümms bö wö tää zää,
fümms bö wö tää zää Uu…”

Its main theme is a word ‘fmsbwtözäu,’ spelled as ‘Fümms bö wö tää zää Uu,’ from a 1918
poem of Raoul Hausmann. Schwitters describes his creation as follows:

“To explain in detail the variations and compositions of the themes would be tiresome in the end
and detrimental to the pleasure of reading and listening... The letters applied are to be
pronounced as in German... Letters, of course, give only a rather incomplete score of the spoken
sonata. As with any printed music, many interpretations are possible. As with any other reading,
correct reading requires the use of imagination. The reader himself has to work seriously to
become a genuine reader. Thus, it is work rather than questions or mindless criticism which will
improve the reader’s receptive capacities. The right of criticism is reserved to those who have
achieved a full understanding....”

Here we may pose the question, what is finally art? Is it something more than a collection of
things, arranged in a way to offer an ‘artistic effect?’ And if so, what is this artistic effect? The
classic artists were based on nature and beauty. Some modern artists also used the paradox and
the uncanny in order to attract their audience. Is there an objective sense and definition of what
‘beauty’ and harmony are? Or is it the implications, historical or political, of a piece of art which
make the difference? In any case, it seems that we people are attracted both from the classical
and the modern. But then again when something modern becomes successful then it becomes
classical. Until recently, we regarded an ancient statue as the only eternal expression of beauty.
So time will decide what will be the position of the surrealist movement among the achievements
of human art.
Form and background

Grid optical illusion

The distinction between the form and the background can be illustrated in gestalt psychology as
a characteristic organization of perception in order to distinguish a form through an
undifferentiated background. The word ‘gelstat’ in German means “essence or shape of an
entity’s complete form.” This means that our brain always tries to reconstruct what it sees not in
a fragmentary way but as a whole. In the photo above, the white dots, which appear between the
black blocks, do not exist but they are created by the mind in an attempt to synthesize the overall
picture. What form stands out at a given time depends on the instantaneous sensory stimulation
as well as on the conscious preference of the perceiver. This is the way we organize the
landscape of reality in our minds.

This holistic aspect of our consciousness is fundamentally related with the unconscious.
Hermann von Helmholtz was not only a well-known physicist, but he was also interested in
human perception. Examining the human eye concluded that it was optically rather poor. The
poor-quality information gathered via the eye seemed to him to make vision impossible. He
therefore concluded that vision could only be the result of some form of unconscious inferences.
So most of the times what we see is a picture of reality reconstructed unconsciously in our brain.
In other worlds, first we ‘see’ and then we conceive. This may be the reason why surrealist
paintings have such a great impression upon us. They seem so familiar, yet unknown. The good
painter, like the good psychiatrist, seems to be able to excite a part of our brain, of which we
hardly know the existence or how it works.

Dali used this effect to manipulate the ambivalent nature of our attention for the sake of his own
artistic purposes. For example, double forms and multiple meanings arise in his following

Hyperxiological Sky (1969)

In this painting, the distortion of space and time is denoted by the mathematical symmetry which
the painting possesses, as if the walls of a room had been opened, and behind them the sea and
the sky appeared in the shape of a blue triangle and of a blue trapezoid respectively. The painting
is also adorned with many strange objects and forms, which seem to arise from within the walls.

The artistic game between the ‘inner’ and the ‘outer’ world was ingeniously depicted by another
surrealist artist, Rene Magritte.
The Human Condition (Rene Magritte, 1933)

In the previous image, the painting itself represents the landscape, as if the physical outer world
was nothing more than a representation of our psychological inner world. The juxtaposition
between the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’ was one of Magritte’s favorite themes, noting the
importance of the subject in how we view the world.
Not to Be Reproduced (Rene Magritte, 1937)

The Three Sphinxes of Bikini (1947)
In our everyday experience, we constantly and consistently chose images from the surrounding
environment or background. What we chose to see is highly subjective, as it depends on personal
preferences, feelings, beliefs, temporary emotions, and so on. We may take a look at the same
scenery or picture for a second time, and realize completely different things. This is what Dali
showed with his double images. In modern physics there is an even greater peculiarity
concerning the notion of the background. Initially, physicists used to believe in the notion of
absolute motion. In other words, someone could co-ordinate himself against the undifferentiated
background. But others argued if that was possible then how could someone find his orientation
with respect to nothing? This paradox led Ernst Mach to the assumption that motion could be
described and defined with respect to the distant stars. However, this assumption was equally
paradoxical because it implied instantaneous action at a distance, since an object was supposed
to be acted upon instantaneously by the distant stars. This riddle remains unresolved, and some
modern researchers are led to the conclusion that spacetime- as we know it- is an illusion.

Spacetime frame dragging

The form and background effect can be further illustrated by another peculiar phenomenon, the
so called Lense- Thirring effect. According to Einstein’s equations of general relativity, these
physicists showed that rotating objects drag spacetime, causing spacetime distortion. Einstein
had even suggested that the distortion of spacetime could take place inside an empty rotating
shell. Then what is it that makes empty space distort? Is it the influence from all the other
objects in universe? Or is it just the observer who causes the effect?

Whatever the answer, the effect seems to suggest a deeper aspect of reality, a ‘fundamental state’
in the world, where everything is found dormant in a primordial form, waiting until
consciousness choses what object will be awakened and brought forward. Before the observer
intervenes, everything may be found both ‘inside’ and ‘outside,’ whereas all forms have equal
importance against the undifferentiated background. At the moment when the subject intervenes
and choses an object, this object prevails over all others. So Dali’s method gives an opportunity
to our consciousness to choose from a totality of ‘paradoxical’ things what will become ‘real’ for

Impossible objects

Penrose triangle
Penrose stairs

According to Wikipedia, an impossible object is a type of optical illusion. It consists of a two-
dimensional figure which is instantly and subconsciously interpreted by the visual system as
representing a projection of a three- dimensional object. In most cases the impossibility becomes
apparent after viewing the figure for a few seconds. However, the initial impression of a 3D
object remains even after it has been contradicted. There are also more subtle examples of
impossible objects where the impossibility does not become apparent spontaneously and it is
necessary to consciously examine the geometry of the implied object to determine that it is

The Penrose triangle was first created by the Swedish artist Oscar Reutersvärd in 1934. The
mathematician Roger Penrose independently devised and popularized it in the 1950s, describing
it as “impossibility in its purest form.” The Penrose stairs was created by Lionel Penrose and his
son Roger Penrose. A variation on the Penrose triangle, it is a two-dimensional depiction of a
staircase in which the stairs make four 90-degree turns as they ascend or descend yet form a
continuous loop, so that a person could climb them forever and never get any higher.

The point is that the brain becomes confused as it tries to reconstruct a 2D image in a 3D way.
However, this does not mean that we cannot accurately reconstruct multi-dimensional objects on
a plane (2D). In other words, it’s not the number of dimensions what counts but the total
perspective of the figure, the ‘environment,’ or the background, in which the unconscious works.

The contradiction between the holistic unconscious and the detail-oriented will, can produce
what is called an optical illusion. It is characterized by visually perceived images that differ from
objective reality. The information gathered by the eye is processed in the brain to give a
perception that does not tally with a physical measurement of the stimulus source. There are
three main types: literal optical illusions that create images that are different from the objects that
make them, physiological ones that are the effects on the eyes and brain of excessive stimulation
of a specific type (brightness, color, size, position, tilt, movement), and cognitive illusions, the
result of unconscious inferences.
Hering illusion

Mark Changizi has a more imaginative take on optical illusions, saying that they are due to a
neural lag which most humans experience while awake. When light hits the retina, about one-
tenth of a second goes by before the brain translates the signal into a visual perception of the
world. Scientists have known of the lag, yet they have debated how humans compensate, with
some proposing that our motor system somehow modifies our movements to offset the delay.
Changizi asserts that the human visual system has evolved to compensate for neural delays by
generating images of what will occur one-tenth of a second into the future. This foresight enables
humans to react to events in the present, enabling humans to perform reflexive acts like catching
a fly ball and to maneuver smoothly through a crowd.

Illusions occur when our brains attempt to perceive the future, and those perceptions don't match
reality. For example, the Hering illusion (figure above) looks like bicycle spokes around a central
point, with vertical lines on either side of this central, so-called vanishing point. The illusion
tricks us into thinking we are moving forward, and thus, switches on our future-seeing abilities.
Since we aren't actually moving and the figure is static, we misperceive the straight lines as
curved ones.
Changizi said: “Evolution has seen to it that geometric drawings like this elicit in us
premonitions of the near future. The converging lines toward a vanishing point (the spokes) are
cues that trick our brains into thinking we are moving forward- as we would in the real world,
where the door frame (a pair of vertical lines) seems to bow out as we move through it- and we
try to perceive what that world will look like in the next instant.”

I am aware of cases of war- plane pilots who have demonstrated the remarkable ability to predict
the enemy plane’s maneuvers, under controlled, simulated conditions, just a fraction of a second
before this actually occurred. Did they somehow manage to predict the simulator’s program, or
was it an authentic ability to foresee the future? Is there an ‘extended’ mode of consciousness
into the future? Could this state be aroused by some extreme conditions, like danger or
expectation? The unconscious elements which the surrealists were mainly interested in were
repressed sexual contexts. But since life and death experiences are related to the sexual instinct,
an artistic survey, surrealistic or not, into the human mind cannot be limited to sexual drives, as
far as the spontaneity and the universality of expression is concerned.

The surrealist object

Apolinère Enameled (Marcel Duchamp, 1916-17)
An early example of an impossible object comes from Apolinère Enameled, a 1916
advertisement painted by Marcel Duchamp. It depicts a girl painting a bed-frame with white
enamelled paint, and deliberately includes conflicting perspective lines, to produce an impossible
object. To emphasize the deliberate impossibility of the shape, a piece of the frame is missing.

Andre Breton, in his 1935 article ‘Situation surréaliste de l’ objet (Surrealistic situation of the
object), describes the abstract, metaphysical object of surrealism, in contrast to the concrete,
common one of everyday use:

“The fundamental critique to which Marx and Engels submitted eighteenth-century materialism
is well known: first, the early materialists’ conception was ‘mechanistic;’ second, it was
metaphysical (by reason of the anti-dialectical character of their philosophy); third, it failed to
exclude all idealism which continued to survive ‘above,’ in the realm of social science (poor
understanding of historical materialism). It is understood, of course, that on all other points Marx
and Engels agree unequivocally with the early materialists.

In its own territory, surrealism likewise has no difficulty setting the ‘boundaries’ that limited not
only the means of expression, but also the thought of realist writers and thinkers, in order to
justify its own historical necessity to erase these boundaries. It will also assure that at the end of
this undertaking no disagreement with the old realism will break out over recognition of the real
and affirmation of its omnipotence. Contrary to what certain detractors imply, it is demonstrably
easy to prove that, of all the specifically intellectual movements succeeding one another up to
our time, surrealism alone has fortified itself against any vague yearning towards idealistic
fantasy, and alone has thought out beforehand how to settle accounts definitively with ‘fideism.’
If it is true that two such apparently distinct spiritual lines of action as the preceding present such
parallels and pursue such a common goal, if only in a negative sense, it is all too evident that the
type of reasoning that opposes one to the other in order to make them incompatible from a
revolutionary perspective must miserably collapse.

Now, in the modern period until recent years, painting was almost entirely preoccupied with
expressing the manifest connections between external perception and the ego. The expression of
this relation proved itself less and less sufficient and more and more disappointing. Turning in
circles, it was increasingly inhibited from expanding, and more so by definition from deepening,
man’s system of ‘perceptual consciousness.’ As presented then, it was in effect a closed system
wherein the most interesting possibilities for artistic reaction had long since been exhausted. It
only permitted to exist that extravagant concern for deification of the external object marking the
work of so many great ‘realist’ painters. By fully mechanizing the plastic mode of representation,
photography was to deal it the decisive blow. Unable to engage in a seemingly futile struggle
with photography, painting was forced to retreat and reorganize its ranks in an invulnerable
position, under the necessity of visually expressing internal perception. It must be observed that
in this way it was forced to take possession of fallow ground. Yet I cannot emphasize too
strongly the fact that this place of exile was the only one left to it. It remains to discover what
this soil promised and what at this moment it has yielded. By the very fact that the external
image was captured mechanically, producing an immediately satisfactory resemblance and one
moreover limitlessly perfectible, representation of this object would cease being a goal for the

The sole exploitable sphere for the artist became pure mental representation, extending beyond
that of true perception, yet despite that, not merging with the sphere of hallucination. But here
we must recognize that separation is poorly established and that each effort at precise distinction
becomes a matter of dispute. The important thing is that the summons to mental representation
(outside the physical presence of the object) supplies, as Freud said, “sensation related to
processes unfolding in the most diverse, in fact the deepest, recesses of the psychic mechanism.”
In art, a necessarily more and more systematic research into these sensations works towards
abolition of the ego in the id and strives thenceforward to achieve the more and more complete
dominance of the pleasure principle over the reality principle. It works to liberate more and more
the instinctual drive and to obliterate the barrier erected before civilized man, a barrier unknown
to the primitive and the child. Given, on the one hand, the general disruption of sensibility it
causes (by diffusion of substantial psychic charges through the system of perceptual
consciousness) and, on the other, the impossibility of regression to the prior stage, the
significance of such an attitude is socially incalculable.
Is this to say that the reality of the external world has become unreliable for the artist forced to
draw the elements of his particular intervention from internal perceptions? To maintain this
would be poor judgment. It is quite clear that there can be no question of ‘spontaneous
generation’ in the mental domain any more than in the physical. The most evidently free
creations of the surrealist painters can naturally only come to be by means of their return to
‘visual remnants,’ deriving from external perception. It is only through the effort of
consolidating these disorganized elements that their claim to attention manifests itself in both its
individual and collective aspects. The potential genius of these painters depends less on the
relative novelty of the materials they employ than on the greater or lesser initiative they display
when it comes to taking advantage of these materials.

Consequently, the entire technical effort of surrealism, from its beginnings to this day, has
consisted in multiplying the routes of penetration to the deepest mental recesses. I say that we
must be visionaries, must make ourselves visionary; for us it has been solely a matter of
discovering the means to put this summons of Rimbaud into practice. In the highest rank of those
means whose effectiveness has recently been fully tested stands psychic automatism in all its
forms along with critical paranoiac activity as defined by Salvador Dali, “a spontaneous method
of irrational knowledge based on the critical and systematic objectification of delirious
associations and interpretations!...

Man’s predetermination of the goal to be attained, if this goal concerns knowledge, and the
rational adapting of the means to this goal, would suffice to defend it against any accusation of
mysticism. We state that the art of imitation (of places, scenes, external objects) has had its
moment and that the artistic problem today consists of bringing mental representation to an even
greater state of objective precision through the voluntary exercise of the imagination and
memory (given that external perception alone has permitted the involuntary acquisition of the
materials mental representation is called on to use). To this day, the greatest gain surrealism has
drawn from this kind of process is to have succeeded in reconciling dialectically these two terms,
perception and representation, so violently contradictory to the adult man, and to have built a
bridge over the abyss that separated them. Surrealist painting and construction have as of now
cleared the way for the organization of perceptions with an objective tendency around subjective
elements. By their very tendency to assert themselves as objective, these perceptions manifest a
subverting and revolutionary nature in that they imperiously summon something from external
reality to respond to them. We can predict that, in great measure, that something will come to

Mask of Sleep, 1937

What would ‘come to be’ is the surrealist object, manifesting itself and materializing into the real
world. If this object was spontaneous enough, i.e. collectively objective, then it could find a
place in the world of art and of human experience. Dali used his own unique surrealist objects,
like the face in the previous painting, representing an embryo, born by the unconscious, brought
into life, striving to find its balance in the world of reality.
Part of the ‘Persistence of memory’

The Lost Face- The Great Masturbator (1930)

The ‘saddle-like’ creature appearing in some of Dali’s paintings, such as the ‘Great
Masturbator,’ the ‘Persistence of memory,’ or the previous one, could be seen as a representation
of pleasure, in the shape of a ‘dolphin,’ or a vagina, or even a banana. Dali explores
representations of unconscious, sexual (or, more generally, ‘pleasure-like’) contexts, which arise
in the state of dreams.

The eye (1945)

Why are meaning and cause so important to us (even within the strict context of survival)? Is it
just because of our mortal nature, so that we all need an ethical-metaphysical basis to rely on?
The world of miracles belongs to the gods, so that cause and meaning seem to transcend the
sphere of our everyday-material world. But again, this is just the interpretation of our moral (-
mortal) mind, suggesting or even imposing on nature what she should be, and how she should
behave. Is there another way that we may prove or, better, agree that human morality
corresponds to some kind of universal ethics?

Concerning the ‘Great Masturbator’, Dali said:

“It represented a large head, livid as wax, the cheeks very pink, the eyelashes long, and the
impressive nose pressed against the earth. This face had no mouth, and in its place was stuck an
enormous grasshopper. The grasshopper’s belly was decomposed, and full of ants. Several of
these ants scurried across the space that should have been filled by the nonexistent mouth of the
great anguishing face, whose head terminated in architecture and ornamentations of the style of

The Ants, 1936

Insects, like grasshoppers or ants, reappear in Dali’s paintings, either as sadomasochistic
supplements, or simply as inescapable creatures of nature. We could indeed identify an
insectophobia in Dali’s personality. But again his phobias were what he expressed in his
paintings, in order to cure himself, and the rest of us.

Dali wrote an article, in 1931, with the title ‘Objects which function symbolically:’

“These objects, which lend themselves to a minimum of mechanical functioning, are based on
the phantasms and representations likely to be provoked by the realization of unconscious acts.
Acts whose realization cannot explain the pleasure thereby derived; acts which cannot be
accounted for by erroneous theories elaborated by censorship and repression. In all the cases
analyzed, these acts correspond to clear and blatant erotic fantasies and desires.

The incarnation of these desires, the way they objectify themselves through substitution and
metaphor and are enacted symbolically, constitute the process typical of sexual perversion,
which resembles, in every aspect, the process of the poetic phenomenon.

Even in the case when the desires and erotic fantasies, at the origin of these objects, are included
in common classifications of ‘the normal,’ the object itself and the phantasms unleashed in its
operation always constitute a new and absolutely unknown series of perversions, and
consequently, of poetic phenomena.

Objects which function symbolically were envisaged in the wake of the mobile and mute object,
Giacometti’s suspended ball, an object which had already posited and combined all the essential
principles of our definition but which is still limited to a sculptural means of action. Objects
which function symbolically leave no room for formal preoccupations. They depend only on the
individual’s amorous imagination and are extraplastic.

Surrealist objects are in their almost embryonic phase, but their analysis enables us to foresee all
the violent fantasy of their coming prenatal life. The notion of a true human spiritual culture will
appear more and more as a function of man’s capacity to pervert his thought, because perverting
oneself always presupposes the degrading power of the mind, led continuously by desire, to
modify and invert the unconscious thoughts which appear behind the rudimentary simulacrum of

Large cars, three times larger than life, are reproduced (with a minutiae of details surpassing that
of the most exact moldings) in plaster or in onyx, so as to be enclosed, enveloped in women’s
lingerie, inside sepulchres; their hidden existence identified only by the presence of a tiny straw-
Museums will quickly be filled with objects whose uselessness, grandeur and clutter will
necessitate the construction, in the desert, of special towers to house them. The doors of these
towers will be deftly effaced and in their place an uninterrupted fountain of real milk will flow,
which will be hungrily absorbed by the hot sand.

In this epoch of knowledge, croutons of bread will be crushed by the metallic shoes of men, then
soiled and splattered with ink.

The culture of the mind will be one with the culture of desire.”

The lugubrious game

The Lugubrious Game, 1928
Dali not only provoked the audience with his paintings, but also the other surrealists. Breton was
constantly annoyed by Dali’s sexual contexts. Or at least this was the way Dali interpreted the
reaction of the surrealists.

Sketch for The Lugubrious Game

Georges Bataille, in 1929, described the previous painting as follows: “Dali’s title ‘The
Lugubrious Game’ can be taken as an explicit pointer to the meaning of the painting, which
presents castration and the conflicting reactions to it in great detail and with extraordinary
expressive power. Without claiming to be able to analyze all the elements in the picture, I wish
only to adumbrate the thematic outline. The act of castration is expressed through figure A, the
body of which is slit from the belly. The provocation prompted by this bloody act is expressed in
B through male dreams of boyish, burlesque recklessness (the male elements are expressed not
only in the bird head but also in the red umbrella, the female in the hats). But the deep, age-old
reason for the punishment is none other than the disgusting dirt on the underpants of C, a dirt for
which there seems no occasion, for this figure finds a new. true masculinity in disgrace and
horror. The statue at the left (D) personifies the unusual satisfaction given by the sudden
castration, and betrays a need for the none too male poetic extension of the game. The hand
covering the statue’s face breaks the rules of Dali’s art, in which people who have lost their
heads normally only find them again if they pull horrified faces. We may therefore ask in all
seriousness how it must be for those for whom the mind’s windows are opened wide for the first
time and who see castrated, poetic pleasure where there is no more than an urgent need to
recourse to shame.”

Dali, however, exceeded all limits, as his ultimate cause was to chastise the surrealists
themselves. He said about this:

“When the Surrealists discovered in the house of my father, at Cadaques, the picture that I had
just finished painting and that Paul Eluard had baptized ‘The Lugubrious Game,’ they were
scandalized by the scatological and anal elements of the image represented. Gala in particular
objected to my work with a vehemence which disgusted me at the time, but which I have since
learned to adore. I was prepared to join the Surrealist movement. I had studied their watchwords
and their themes thoroughly, dissecting them down to the smallest bones. I had understood that
the point was to transcribe thought spontaneously, without rational, aesthetic or moral checks.
And now, before I had so much as entered the group with the best will in the world, they were
going to enforce restrictions upon me similar to those of my family. Gala was the first to warn
me that among the Surrealists I would suffer the same vetoes as elsewhere, and that they were all
ultimately bourgeois. My strength, she could foresee, would be to maintain an equal distance
from all artistic and literary movements. With an intuition which at the time was greater than
mine, she added that the originality of my method of paranoiac-critical analysis would have
sufficed for any member of the group to found a separate school. My Nietzschean dynamism
refused to listen to Gala. I categorically refused to consider the Surrealists as just another literary
and artistic group. I believed they were capable of liberating man from the tyranny of the
‘practical, rational world’. I was going to become the Nietzsche of the irrational. I, the obsessed
rationalist, was the only one who knew what I wanted: I was not going to submit to irrationality
for its own sake, to the narcissistic and passive irrationality the others practised; I would do
completely the opposite, I would fight for the ‘conquest of the irrational.’ In the meantime my
friends were to let themselves be overwhelmed by the irrational, were to succumb, like so many
others -Nietzsche included - to that romantic weakness.”

But Dali had a well-organized plan, because he knew that his society not only was attracted to
provocative and sexual contexts, but it also expected a sort of meta-religion, the New Age, of
which Dali, on behalf of the surrealists, would like to be the messiah and the prophet:

“When Breton discovered my painting, he was shocked by the scatological elements that stained
it. This surprised me. I started from shit, which from the psychoanalytical point of view could be
interpreted as the happy omen of the gold that- fortunately!- threatened to pour down on me.
Subtly, I tried to make the Surrealists believe that these scatological elements could only bring
luck to the movement. Invoke though I might the digestive iconography of all ages and all
civilizations - the hen that laid the golden eggs, the intestinal delirium of Danae, the ass whose
dung was gold - they refused to trust me. I made up my mind at once. Since they would have
nothing to do with the shit I offered them so generously, I would keep these treasures and this
gold for myself. The famous anagram laboriously composed twenty years later by Breton,
‘Avida Dollars’, might have been proclaimed even at that time.”

Dali was not only interested in creativity but also in money. He never denied this fact. In other
words, he wasn’t following some ideology in his art; on the contrary, he used ideology for the
sake of art. So he even dared to paint the two great political rivals of the time, Lenin and Hitler:
The Enigma of William Tell, 1933

“I have an idea! An idea that will scandalize the whole world and especially the Surrealists. No
one will be able to say anything against it because I have dreamed twice of this new William
Tell! It’s about Lenin. I want to paint him with one buttock nine feet long and propped up on a
crutch. I’ll need a canvas eighteen feet long for it... I’ll paint my Lenin with his lyrical
appendage even if they throw me out of the Surrealist group. He’ll be holding a little boy in his
arms- me. But he’ll be staring at me cannibalistically, and I’ll be crying out: “He wants to eat

To my great disappointment Lenin’s lyrical buttock did not scandalize my Surrealist friends.
This very disappointment encouraged me. So I could go even further... attempt the impossible.
Aragon was the only one who objected to my thinking machine adorned with goblets of hot milk.

“Enough of Dali’s eccentricities!” he exclaimed angrily. “From now on, milk will be for the
children of the unemployed.” Breton took my side. Aragon made himself completely ridiculous.
Even my family would have laughed at my idea, but he was already following a backward
political concept that was to lead him where he is now - that is, more or less nowhere…”

About Hitler he said,
“No matter how often I assured myself that my Hitler-inspired vertigo was apolitical, that the
work generated by the feminized image of the Fuhrer was of a scandalous ambiguity, that these
representations were tinged with the same degree of morbid humor as those of William Tell or
Lenin- no matter how often I repeated all this to my friends, it was no use. This new crisis in my
painting aroused greater and greater suspicion among the Surrealists. Things grew still worse
when news spread that Hitler would have liked the swans, the solitude, the megalomania, the
Wagnerism, and all the touches of Hieronymus Bosch I had been putting into some of my

With my congenital sense of contradiction, things were bound to get worse. I asked Breton to
call an urgent special session of our group in order to discuss the Hitlerian mystique from the
point of view of the Nietzschean and anti-Catholic irrational. I was hoping the anti-Catholic
aspect of the discussion would tempt Breton. In addition, I considered Hitler a complete
masochist possessed by the idea of provoking a war in order to lose it heroically. In fact, he was
preparing one of those gratuitous acts which were at the time very much appreciated by our
group. My insistence on considering Hitler’s mystique from the Surrealist point of view, as well
as my insistence on giving a religious meaning to the sadistic element in surrealism, both of
which were aggravated by the developments of my paranoiac-critical method of analysis, which
tended to deprecate automatism and its inherent narcissism, ended in a series of breaks and
intermittent rows with Breton and his friends. Besides, his friends began to waver between him
and me in a way that was alarming to the movement’s leader.
The Enigma of Hitler (1938)

I painted a prophetic picture of the Fuhrer’s death. It was called The Enigma Of Hitler, and it
brought me excommunication by the Nazis and cheers from the anti-Nazis, even though the
painting - and, by the way, this applies to anything I’ve ever done, and I shall say so to the end of
my days- lacked all conscious political significance. At the moment I write these lines, I must
confess I have not yet deciphered this famous enigma.

One evening the Surrealist group was convened to pronounce judgment on my so-called
Hitlerism. Unfortunately I have forgotten most of the details of this very peculiar session. But if
Breton wants to see me again someday, I wish he would let me know what was in the minutes
that must have been compiled after that meeting. At the time of my expulsion from the Surrealist
group I was suffering from the beginnings of a sore throat. Always alarmed whenever I feel sick,
I attended with a thermometer in my mouth. I think I must have taken my temperature at least
four times during my trial which lasted far into the night, for when I returned home, dawn was
breaking over Paris.

While I was pleading pro domo, I knelt down several times, not to plead against being expelled,
as has been falsely said, but, on the contrary, to exhort Breton to understand that my obsession
with Hitler was strictly paranoid and essentially apolitical. I also explained that I could not be a
Nazi, because if Hitler conquered Europe he would seize the opportunity to do away with all
hysterical characters like myself, as he had already done in Germany by treating them as
degenerates. Finally the feminine and irresistibly silly role that I attributed to Hitler’s personality
would be sufficient to classify me as an iconoclast in the eyes of the Nazis. Similarly my
fanaticism, aggravated by Freud and Einstein, both of them forced out of Germany by Hitler,
made it obvious that the latter interested me only as an object of my delirium and because he
seemed to me of incomparable catastrophic value.

In the end they were convinced of my innocence, but all the same I had to sign a document in
which, among other things, I declared myself not to be an enemy of the proletariat. I signed this
without any qualms, as I have never had any particular feelings either for or against the

This is an example of how pure art can be misinterpreted from people that understand it within a
political context. Ideology is one thing; art is another. All through the ages artists were
persecuted for their ideas. Scientists were also persecuted because their observations opposed the
religious establishment. Galileo, for example, was forced to confess that the earth is not spinning.
But this didn’t stop the earth from spinning, in the same way that politics haven’t stop art from
The dream

The Dream (1931)

“A huge, heavy head on a threadlike body supported by the prongs of reality... falling into space
just as the dream is about to begin.”
Salvador Dali (1945)

The hypnagogic method of the surrealists was of major importance for Dali’s inspiration. It
seems that he used to recover his themes from his dreams, having the special talent to ‘faithfully’
reproduce them. Dali was a strange brew of a person, struggling with his self- contradicting
tendencies- on the one hand a radical surrealist; one the other hand a devoted catholic and a
monarchist. As once said himself, he became the greatest painter of his time by improvising,
because if he tried just to imitate the great classical painters of the past, he would be the worst of
all by far.

Dali defined the role of ecstatic visions in surrealism, in 1933, in the magazine ‘Minotaure:’

“Ecstasy is the most phenomenally staggering ‘vital state’ of phantoms and psychic
representations. During ecstasy, with the approach of desire, pleasure, anxiety, all opinion, all
judgment (moral, aesthetic, etc.) undergo an astounding change. Every image undergoes,
similarly, an astounding change. It is as if ecstasy opens the way to a world that is as distant
from reality as the world of dream is. The repugnant can change to desirable, affection to cruelty,
the ugly to beautiful, failings to virtues, virtues to dire wretchedness. Ecstasy is the towering
consequence of dreams, it is the consequence and the deadly verification of the images of our
perversion. There are images that provoke ecstasy, while ecstasy provokes in its turn some
images. These are always authentically and essentially surrealist images. Ecstasy is the ‘pure
state’ of the demanding and hyper-aesthetic vital lucidity, the blind lucidity, of desire. The world
of images provoked by ecstasy is infinite and unknown. We are dealing here with neologistic
images that are extra fast compared to hypnagogic images. Any methodology concerning this
subject still escapes us. Sometimes the images provoked by ecstasy repeat ecstasy’s transfigured
images, whether it would be a matter of the ‘apparent’ stereotypy of ears (these are always in
ecstasy), or the ecstasy of some ‘atmospheric thing’, or yet the subtle ecstasy of an Art Nouveau
clock hand. I ask the art critic: what do you think of this or that work at the moment of your
ecstasy? And first of all: put yourself into a state of ecstasy before you answer me. Ecstasy is a
critical mental state par excellence that the incredible, hysterical, modern, Surrealist and
phenomenological current thought desires to render ‘continuous’. In search of images likely to
make us go into ecstasy.”
Concerning his dream-like experiences, he said: “Thank God, in this period of my life I sleep and
I paint even better and with more satisfaction than usual. So much so that I have to remember to
avoid the painful cracks that seem to occur at each corner of my mouth, the unpleasant physical
consequence of the saliva accumulated by the pleasure afforded by these two divine ardors-
sleeping and painting. Yes, sleeping and painting make me slaver with pleasure. Of course, with
a rapid or lazy movement of the back of my hand, I could wipe my face during one of my
paradisiacal awakenings or one of the no less paradisiacal pauses during my work, but I am so
completely addicted to my vital and intellectual ecstasies that I do not do so! Now here is a moral
problem that I have not solved. Should one let the cracks of satisfaction become worse, or should
one force oneself to wipe away the saliva in time? Pending a solution, I have invented a new
somniferous method, a method that must be included some day in the anthology of my
inventions. In general, people take sleeping pills when they have trouble going to sleep. I do the
exact opposite. It is during the periods of my life when my sleep attains its maximum degree of
regularity and its vegetable paroxysm that I, with a certain coquetry, decide to take a sleeping
pill. Truly, and without indulging in even a hint of metaphor, this makes me sleep like a log and I
wake up completely rejuvenated, my intelligence glittering with a new vigour that does not abate
till the very tenderest ideas have reached their full bloom. This happened to me this very
morning because last night I took a pill to make the cup of my present equilibrium overflow. And
what an awakening, at half past eleven, on my terrace where I had my coffee and cream and
honey in the sun, under a cloudless sky and without being inconvenienced by the vaguest

I took a nap between half past two and five o’clock, with last night’s pill continuing to make my
cup overflow and also my saliva, for when I opened my eyes I noticed, from my wet pillow, that
I must have slavered copiously.

Nevertheless I told myself: ‘No, you won’t begin wiping your face today, it’s Sunday! And all
the more reason not to, if you decide that the little crack that is just beginning must be the last. In
fact, it should become more distinct, so that you can appreciate the biological error and catch all
its incidences in the raw.’
So I was awakened at five o’clock. The master mason Prignau had arrived. I had asked him to
come and help me work out the geometrical aspects of my picture. We shut ourselves into the
studio till eight o’clock, I sitting down and giving orders: ‘Draw another octahedron, but one
leaning more, now another concentric one ...’

And he, industrious and as agile as a prosaic Florentine pupil, produced everything almost as fast
as I could utter my thought. Three times he made an error in his calculations, and each time, after
a prolonged examination, I let out three piercing kikirikis, which I think upset him a bit. Kikiriki
is the yell with which I relieve my great intensities. The three errors proved to be sublime. They
achieved in an instant all that my brain was laboriously trying to find. When Prignau had left, I
sat on in the dusk, dreaming. Afterwards I wrote with charcoal on the side of my canvas these
words which I am now copying into my diary. As I copy them I like them even better:

“Mistakes are almost always of a sacred nature. Never try to correct them. On the contrary:
rationalise them, understand them thoroughly. After that, it will he possible for you to sublimate
them. Geometric preoccupations incline towards a Utopia and do not favour erections. Besides,
geometricians rarely get a hard on.””

Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man (1943)
As far as the previous painting is concerned, he noted the following words: “parachute,
paranaissance, protection, cupola, placenta, Catholicism, egg, earthly distortion, biological
ellipse. Geography changes its skin in historic germination.” These words reveal the symbolisms
of the painting. The egg, which is distorted in an elliptical form, represents the world, from
within which the hutching figure (Dali himself?) represents a new birth in the United States. The
placental blood pouring from the egg is the blood of World War II. The little child at the bottom
right is a classical figure standing for the Old World, and the men born from the egg seems to be
grasping Europe. The parachute above and the cloth underneath the egg are protecting the new
birth, while the figure in the foreground (representation of Gala?) points to the emerging man.
The small background figures on the left are from Raphael’s ‘Marriage of the Virgin,’ and on the
right are based on figures from ‘John the Baptist.’ This was a time when Dali reverted to
Catholicism and when he renewed his interest in classicism.


Metamorphosis of Narcissus, 1937

Dali would deviate so much from the other surrealists that, as he said, he became surrealism
“As I have already said, I had turned 100 per cent Surrealist. Anxious to preserve my good faith,
I decided to push my experiment to its extreme and contradictory consequences. I felt I was
ready to act with that Mediterranean and paranoid hypocrisy of which I believe I alone am
capable in my perversity. The important thing for me then was to commit the maximum number
of sins, though I was deeply impressed by the poems of St. John of the Cross which I knew only
from having heard Garcia Lorca recite them with exaltation. I already had a premonition that the
question of religion would come up later in my life. Imitating St. Augustine, who indulged in
libertine behavior and orgiastic pleasure while praying to god for faith, I invoked heaven, adding:
“But not yet.” In a little while before my life was to become what it is now, an example of
ascetism and virtue, I wanted to cling to my illusory surrealism of a polymorphous pervert, if
only for three more minutes, like the sleeper who struggles to retain the last fragments of a
Dionysian dream. The Nietzschean Dionysus accompanied me everywhere like a patient
governess and soon I could not help noticing that he was wearing a swastika armband. Things
were going to be spoiled by those who were already rotting.”

Dali’s inspiration for this painting came from a conversation overheard between two fishermen
discussing a local man who would stare at himself in a mirror for hours. One of the men
described the man as having a ‘bulb in his head;’ a colloquium meaning that he was mentally ill.
The hand on the right that holds an egg, out of which a narcissus flower grows, echoes the
configuration of Narcissus and his reflection in the lake. The same configuration occurs again at
the top of the mountains that are directly above the figure of Narcissus, who stands on a dais
admiring his body. The familiar sight of ants and a scavenging dog both appear around the hand,
symbolizing the death and decay that has taken place.

The repetition of themes reflects the way Freud writes, constantly coming back to the same
fundamental points. Just as Freud manifests the compulsion to repeat (which is necessarily
unconscious) in the conscious writing of his work, Dali expresses the same in his painting. The
giant stone hand in the foreground immediately draws the eye and is much more prominent than
the ethereal figure of Narcissus. The duality and complementary nature of Eros and Tanatos as
explained by Freud in ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’ are therefore brought together in this
painting. The other theme of this painting is the idealization of unattainable desires.
The hand represents the harsh and unchangeable reality of life and death- as represented by the
sexual and death drives- in duality and opposition to the ephemeral and idealised figure of
Narcissus. Narcissus, in turn, represents desire, as the reflected image symbolises what Lacan
describes as the moment of initial recognition, when the mirror image represents a more perfect
idealised image of the self. But it also essentially represents miss-recognition, for the image is
perceived as ‘other’ that is necessary to complete us, but that we may never be united with. This
is what the myth of Narcissus illustrates so well, the longing to be reunited with our ‘other half’
that we experience from that first Lacanian moment- the first moment in which we realise that
we are not complete- and that we project on others as love.

According to Freud we will always desire to be reunited with our mother and return to that ideal
dyadic relationship that precedes the intrusion of a third party. Narcissus’ desire is the desire to
regress to that stage. This could also be linked to Freud’s initial description of the death drive.
Freud hypothesizes that “all instincts tend towards the restoration of an earlier state of
things…and inanimate things existed before living ones”. Therefore we could interpret this
image of Narcissus not only as longing to be united with his image, but perhaps also longing for
death, which would lead to this inorganic state of being.

Towards the background we see the already mentioned naked figure on a pedestal. This could
represent love sublimation, the act of putting someone on a pedestal and raising that person to
the status of ‘Thing.’ Yet it is not the person per se that we are raising to that level, but the idea
of completeness that we aspire to. The figure on the pedestal, like Narcissus, is androgynous,
neither obviously male nor female, representing the unity of the two halves that is impossible and
that we all idealize. This duality is also symbolized by the fact that the pedestal stands on a
chequered floor, and it is placed precisely with half of it sanding on a black square and half on
white, uniting male and female in the perfect unison idealized in the Oedipus complex, where the
yearning to be reunited with the mother, to be complete and return to that perfect relationship is
expressed in this ever unfulfilled desire.
This phase of Dali’s work is extremely useful as a case study for psychoanalytical theory, as he
not only knew of and actively used Freud’s ideas in his work, but also used these to analyze and
depict his dreams, mirroring Freud’s own techniques of observing and dissecting one’s own
dreams. The fact that these works appeal to us in ways that we cannot immediately explain is
testament to their effectiveness as art constructed to effect us on a subconscious level and they
serve to prove the practicality of many of Freud’s theories.

Dali wrote a poem to accompany the painting when it was initially exhibited:

in his immobility,
absorbed by his reflection with the digestive slowness of carnivorous plants,
becomes invisible.
There remains of him only the hallucinatingly white oval of his head,
his head again more tender,
his head, chrysalis of hidden biological designs,
his head held up by the tips of the water's fingers,
at the tips of the fingers
of the insensate hand,
of the terrible hand,
of the mortal hand
of his own reflection.
When that head slits
when that head splits
when that head bursts,
it will be the flower,
the new Narcissus,
Gala- my Narcissus.”

Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) 1954

While Dali did attempt to distance himself from the Surrealist movement after his development
of ‘nuclear mysticism,’ he still incorporates dream-like features consistent with his earlier
surrealist work in Corpus Hypercubus, such as the levitating Christ and the giant chessboard
below. Jesus’ face is turned away from the viewer, making it completely obscured. The crown of
thorns is missing from Christ’s head as are the nails from his hands and feet, leaving his body
completely devoid of the wounds often closely associate with the Crucifixion.

On the bottom left of the painting, Dali painted his wife Gala as Mary Magdalene looking up at
Jesus. Very characteristic of the painting is also the terrain with the black and white squares, like
a chessboard, representing an elevated two-dimensional level. Gravity is nullified, as Jesus hangs
on the cross without nails, suspended in a state of assumption.
The tesseract can be unfolded into eight cubes into 3D space, just as the cube can be unfolded
into six squares into 2D space

The most striking change Dali makes from nearly every other crucifixion painting concerns the
cross. Instead of painting Christ on a wooden cross, Dali depicts him upon the net of a
hypercube, also known as a tesseract. The unfolding of a tesseract into eight cubes is analogous
to unfolding the sides of a cube into six squares.

In ancient times, the tesseract comprised the essence of Pythagorean philosophy. It represents the
sum of the first four natural numbers (1+2+3+4=10), with the help of which one could construct
the harmonics and ratios in music and mathematics. The tesseract was related to the tetrahedron,
the first geometric solid. In modern geometry, the tesseract is the physical generalization of a
cube in four dimensions.

The use of a hypercube for the cross has been interpreted as a geometric symbol for the
transcendental nature of God. Just as God exists in a space that is incomprehensible to humans,
the hypercube exists in four spatial dimensions, which is equally inaccessible to the mind. The
net of the hypercube is a three-dimensional representation of it, similar to how Christ is a human
form of God that is more relatable to people. The word ‘corpus’ in the title can refer both to the
body of Christ and to geometric figures, reinforcing the link Dali makes between religion and
mathematics and science.
Dali called this painting “Metaphysical, transcendent cubism; it is based entirely on the Treatise
on Cubic Form by Juan de Herrera, Philip the 2nd’s architect, builder of the Escorial Palace: it is
a treatise inspired by Ars Magna of the Catalonian philosopher and alchemist Raymond Lulle.
The cross is formed by an octahedral hypercube. The number nine is identifiable and becomes
especially consubstantial with the body of Christ. The extremely noble figure of Gala is the
perfect union of the development of the hypercubic octahedron on the human level of the cube.
She is depicted in front of the Bay of Port Lligat. The most noble beings were painted by
Velazquez and Zurbaran; I only approach nobility while painting Gala, and nobility can only be
inspired by the human being.”

The Sacrament of the Last Supper (1955)

Dali sets the painting in front of the bay of Port Lligat in Catalonia, which is also the setting of
other paintings of his including The Madonna of Port Lligat, The Sacrament of the Last Supper,
and Christ of Saint John of the Cross. In the previous painting, we see the Christ with the 12
apostles, sitting inside a transparent dodecahedron, while the windowpane behind is pentagonal.
The symmetries of the painting are explicit, as the enormous reflection of Christ in the center of
the background splits the painting in two.
Crucifixion sketch by St. John of the Cross

Christ of Saint John of the Cross (1951)

Of the same inspiration is the painting ‘Christ of Saint John of the Cross.’ Its inspiration came
from an original sketch by Saint John of the Cross, which is found in Avila, Spain. It depicts
Jesus Christ on the cross in a darkened sky floating over a body of water complete with a boat
and fishermen. The imagery is inspired by Velazquez’s painting ‘The Surrender of Breda.’ In
order to create the figure of Christ, Dali had Hollywood stuntman Russell Saunders suspended
from an overhead gantry, so he could see how the body would appear from the desired angle.

With respect to his interest in Christ, Dali said: “In the first place, in 1950, I had a ‘cosmic
dream’ in which I saw this image in color and which in my dream represented the ‘nucleus of the
atom.’ This nucleus later took on a metaphysical sense; I considered it ‘the very unity of the
universe,’ the Christ!”

Although ‘Christ of Saint John of the Cross’ is a depiction of the crucifixion, it is devoid of nails,
blood, and a crown of thorns, because, according to Dali, he was convinced by a dream that these
features would mar his depiction of Christ. Also in a dream, the importance of depicting Christ in
the extreme angle evident in the painting was revealed to him. Still, the recurring theme of
crucifixion in Dali’s paintings will become an act of revelation and deliverance, in which space-
time is cancelled, or transformed into a hyper-dimensional reality, according to a transcendental
human experience. This way, Dali will pass from the ‘narcissistic’ to the ‘scientific’ stage of his
career, with his everlasting unique ability to paint whatever he was interested in.

The paranoiac-critical method
The paranoiac- critical method of Dali is an effort to systematize irrational thought. The ‘shock,’
which the surrealistic movement had been searching for in order to shatter common logic, was
implemented by Dali with his double images, and with paintings which had more than one

Paranoiac Woman-Horse (Invisible Sleeping Woman, Lion, Horse), 1930
Paranoic Metamorphosis of Gala’s Face (1932)
Paranoiac-Astral Image (1934)

Paranoiac Critical Solitude (1935)
Paranoiac Visage (1935)

Suburbs of a Paranoiac Critical Town, Afternoon on the Outskirts of European History (1936)

Between the years 1930- 1936, the repetition by Dali of elements irrelevant to each other is
characteristic of his experimentation. In the ‘Paranoiac- critical solitude,’ for example, the effect
of the ‘uncanny’ takes place with the least possible means. In the desert landscape, an
automobile is partly incorporated into some rocks, while the missing seats are implied by a hole
in the rocks. The image of the vehicle reappears at the left part of the painting, as sculpted in the
rocks, and the part of the rocks which was removed to form the hole also appears there. The main
theme of the painting, which revolves around solitude, together with the complementary
elements of the painting, makes one feel at the same time lonely and full. Here, stereoscopy is
used by the painter, in order to reveal the interpretation of dreams in a continuous and vivid

As far as the ‘Suburbs of the Paranoiac-Critical City’ is concerned, Dali once wrote that he was
eating grapes when he first met Gala. This is why Gala appears at the center of the painting
holding a bunch of grapes. But these (black) grapes have the same shape as the (white) horse to
her left, as well as the skull below. Similarly, the blue mirror reflects the building at the far left.
Then, to the right, looking through the gate, the bell of the chapel has the same shape as the girl
below, while the dome is a miniature of the gate in front. Even the cabinet, at the lower right
side, reappears further at the back, as the short entrance of the walkway. The painting is full of
such reoccurrences, which form a harmonious composition, and show how closely related to
each other so many different things can be, while the contrasting colors note the difference
between them.

At this time, Dali published a number of key texts. The most important was his seminal essay,
‘The Conquest of the Irrational,’ (1935), which appeared simultaneously in Paris and New York
and was also reprinted in an appendix to the ‘Secret Life’ a few years later. In it he described his
quest, and wrote: “My whole ambition in painting is to manifest the images of concrete
irrationality in terms of authoritative precision… images which for the moment can neither be
explained nor reduced by logical systems or rational approaches.” He stressed: “Paranoiac-
critical activity: spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based upon the interpretive-critical
association of delirious phenomena; every one of these phenomena includes an entire systematic
structure and only becomes objective a posteriori by critical intervention.”
He extensively talks about his paranoiac- critical method in his 1930 essay ‘The Rotting

“An activity having a moral tendency could be provoked by the violently paranoiac will to
systematize confusion.

The very fact of paranoia, and, in particular, consideration of its mechanism as a force and
power, lead us to the possibility of a mental crisis, perhaps of an equivalent nature, but in any
case at the opposite pole from the crisis to which we are also subjected by the fact of

I believe the moment is drawing near when, by a thought process of a paranoiac and active
character, it would be possible (simultaneously with automatism and other passive states) to
systematize confusion and thereby contribute to a total discrediting of the world of reality.

The new simulacra which the paranoiac thought may suddenly let loose will not merely have
their origin in the unconscious, but, in addition, the force of the paranoiac power will itself be at
the service of the unconscious.

These new and menacing simulacra will act skillfully and corrosively with the clarity of physical
and diurnal appearances; a clarity which, with its special quality of self-reserve or modesty, will
make us dream of the old metaphysical mechanism which has something about it that may
readily be confused with the very essence of nature, which, according to Heraclitus, delights in
hiding itself.

Standing wholly apart from the influence of the sensory phenomena with which hallucination is
more or less taken to be associated, the paranoiac activity always makes use of materials that are
controllable and recognizable. Suffice it that the delirium of interpretation should have linked
together the sense of the images of heterogeneous pictures covering a wall for the real existence
of this link to be no longer deniable. Paranoia makes use or the external world in order to set off
its obsessive idea, with the disturbing characteristic of verifying the reality of this idea for others.
The reality of the external world serves as an illustration and proof, and is placed thus at the
service of the reality of our mind.

All physicians are of one mind in recognizing the swiftness and inconceivable subtlety
commonly found in paranoiacs, who, taking advantage of associations and facts so refined as to
escape normal people, reach conclusions that often cannot be contradicted or rejected and that in
any case nearly always defy psychological analysis.

It is by a distinctly paranoiac process that it has been possible to obtain a double image: in other
words, a representation of an object that is also, without the slightest pictorial or anatomical
modification, the representation of another entirely different object, this one being equally
devoid of any deformation or abnormality disclosing some adjustment.

The attainment of such a double image has been made possible thanks to the violence of the
paranoiac thought which has made use, with cunning and skill, of the required quantity of
pretexts, coincidences, and so on, taking advantage of them so as to reveal the second image,
which, in this case, supersedes the obsessive idea.

The double image (an example of which might be the image of a horse that is at the same time
the image of a woman) may be extended, continuing the paranoiac process, with the existence of
another obsessive idea being sufficient for the emergence of a third image (the image of a lion,
for example) and thus in succession until the concurrence of a number of images which would be
limited only by the extent of the mind’s paranoiac capacity.

I submit to a materialist analysis the type of mental crisis that might be provoked by such an
image; I submit to it the far more complex problem of determining which of these images has the
highest potential for existence, once the intervention of desire is accepted; and also the more
serious and general question whether a series of such representations accepts a limit, or, whether,
as we have every reason to believe, such a limit does not exist, or exists merely as a function of
each individual's paranoiac capacity.
All this (assuming that no other general causes intervene) allows me, to say the least, to contend
that our images of reality themselves depend on the degree of our paranoiac faculty, and that yet,
theoretically, an individual endowed with a sufficient degree of this faculty, might as he wishes
see the successive changes of form of an object perceived in reality, just as in the case of
voluntary hallucination; this, however, with the still more devastatingly important characteristic
that the various forms assumed by the object in question will be controllable and recognizable by
all, as soon as the paranoiac will simply indicate them.

The paranoiac mechanism giving birth to the image of multiple figuration endows our
understanding with a key to the birth and origin of the essence of the simulacra, whose furor
dominates the aspect under which are hidden the multiple appearances of the concrete. It is
precisely the violence and the traumatic essence of the simulacra with regard to reality, and the
absence of the slightest osmosis between reality and the simulacra, which lead us to infer the
(poetic) impossibility of any kind of comparison. There would be no possibility of comparing
two things, unless it would be possible for them to exist with no links whatsoever, conscious or
unconscious, between them. Such a comparison made tangible would clearly serve as illustration
of our notion of the gratuitous.

It is by their lack of congruity with reality, and for what may be seen as gratuitous in their
existence, that the simulacra so easily assume the form of reality while the latter, in its turn, may
adapt itself to the violence of the simulacra, which materialist thought idiotically confounds with
the violence of reality.

Nothing can prevent me from recognizing the multiple presence of simulacra in the example of
the multiple image, even if one of its states adopts the appearance of a rotting donkey and even if
such a donkey is actually and horribly putrefied, covered with thousands of flies and ants; and,
since in this case one cannot infer the meaning of these distinct states ofthe image beyond the
notion of time, nothing can convince me that this merciless putrefaction ofthe donkey is anything
other than the hard and blinding glint of new precious stones.
Nor do we know if the three great simulacra, excrement, blood and putrefaction, do not expressly
conceal the coveted ‘treasure land.’

Connoisseurs of images, we have long ago learned to recognize the image of desire hidden
behind the simulacra of terror, and even the awakening of'Golden Ages' in the ignominious
scatological simulacra.

The acceptance of simulacra, whose appearances reality strives with great difficulty to imitate,
leads us to desire real things.

Perhaps no simulacrum has created ensembles to which the word ideal could apply so well as the
great simulacrum constituted by the astounding Art Nouveau ornamental architecture. No
collective effort has managed to create a dream world so pure and so disturbing as the Art
Nouveau buildings, which, existing on the fringes of architecture, constitute in themselves a true
realization of solidified desires, and where the most violent and cruel automatism terribly betrays
a hatred of reality and the need to find refuge in an ideal world, in a manner akin to the way this
happens in infantile neurosis.

Here is what we can still like, this imposing mass of frenzied and cold buildings spread over all
of Europe, despised and neglected by anthologies and scholarly surveys. This is enough to put up
against our porcine contemporary aestheticians, defenders ofthe detestable 'modern art', and
enough even to put up against the whole history of art.

It would be appropriate to say, once and for all, to all art critics, artists, and so on, that they need
not expect from the new Surrealist images anything other than disappointment, foul sensation
and feeling of repulsion. Being quite on the fringes of plastic investigations and other kinds of
‘bullshit,’ the new images of Surrealism will more and more take on the forms and colors of
demoralization and confusion. The day is not far off when a picture would attain the value and
only the value of a simple moral act, which would yet be a simple gratuitous act.
The new images, as a functional form of thought, will adopt the free disposition of desire while
being violently repressed. The lethal activity of these new images, simultaneously with other
Surrealist activities, may also contribute to the collapse of reality, to the benefit of everything
which, through and beyond the base and abominable ideals of any kind, aesthetic, humanitarian,
philosophical, and soon, brings us back to the clear sources of masturbation, of exhibitionism, of
crime and of love.

The Surrealists are Idealists partaking of no ideal. The ideal images of Surrealism are at the
service of an imminent crisis of consciousness, at the service of the Revolution.”

Cannibalism of objects

The Great Paranoiac (1936)

My personal view is that, beyond its splendor, surrealism suffered a great misfortune, or
misunderstanding: The word ‘surrealism’ means ‘above reality,’ but what the ‘surrealists’ did
was found deep beneath reality, in the unconscious (therefore a better name for the movement
should be ‘sous-realism.’) To invoke unconscious automatism by psychoanalytic processes or
automatic writing and drawing is one thing. But if one lets oneself be drifted away by such
irrational experiences, he will end up like a drunk hanging in the streets. It seems that Dali had a
very good knowledge of this fact. He insisted that one should rationalize his spontaneous
thoughts and feelings. In fact, Dali used his paranoiac method to free the individual from
paranoia, like a psychoanalyst uses his methods to make an individual aware of his problems.
Dali was a great artist because he didn’t finally indulge into perversion (unlike most artists do).
Most likely he died a virgin, like Jesus, or Isaak Newton! However, he was a person who didn’t
deny fame and luxury.

In the previous painting, his paranoiac- critical method is vividly illustrated in the ‘Great
Paranoiac.’ The gigantic face appears from within the bodies of other people and the rocks of the
landscape. This could be a personification of Dali’s memories, but also of our collective
experiences, as if everything were in our brains. The face reappears at the top right in a smaller
scale, while beside it to the left there is a hole in the shape of a woman’s shoe.

Cannibalism of the Objects (1937)

We generally tend to transfer the hierarchical structure of our world into our own thoughts and
feelings. Furthermore, we recognize a proper chain of events, which succeed one another as pairs
of cause and effect. However, this causal succession of events loses any meaning in the world of
the unconscious, where the brain produces chains of events which do not seem to have anything
to do with each other. Are there any profound connections between things, uniting them in ways
unthinkable for common logic? How can we reveal the secret hierarchy of their succession?

The surrealist objects are part of our own intrinsic objects, which we look after. This is the
symbolism of the woman’s shoe, grabbed by the ‘cannibal’s teeth, in the previous painting. Was
Dali a fetishist? He certainly was, but in a very ingenious way. His personal surrealist objects
were powerful tools which he used in order to perfect his art, both spontaneously and
consciously. Although he liked luxury, he was not a ‘utilitarian.’ Most of us acknowledge in
things only properties which make them useful. A shoe, for example, needs another one to form
a pair, so that we can use them to walk. But a shoe in the teeth of a cannibal has a rather different

Dali’s obsessions were plentiful, including ants, grasshoppers, lions, elephants, rhinos, his
mother, Gala, Jesus, Hitler, William Tell, and Lenin. As far as Hitler is concerned, to fantasize
about him wearing women’s clothing is doubtless not altogether innocuous; nor is painting a
‘Hitlerian wet nurse’ with a swastika. Dali’s Surrealist associates had not the slightest doubt that
obsession with Hitler had its political side, and did not believe for a moment that this ambiguous
portrayal of the Nazi Fuhrer might simply be an exercise in black humor like his paintings of
William Tell and Lenin. People were to tell Dali in accusing tones that Hitler would have liked
the ‘weakness, solitude, megalomania, Wagnerism and Hiero-nymus-Boschism’ of his pictures
at this time:

“I was fascinated by Hitler’s soft, fleshy back, which was always so tightly strapped into the
uniform,” Dali observed in his own defense. “Whenever I started to paint the leather strap that
crossed from his belt to his shoulder, the softness of that Hitler flesh packed under his military
tunic transported me into a sustaining and Wagnenan ecstasy that set my heart pounding, an
extremely rare state of excitement that I did not even experience during the act of love.”
“Furthermore, I saw Hitler as a masochist obsessed with the idée fixe of starting a war and losing
it in heroic style…
Freud’s brain, one of the most savory and important of our age, was par excellence the snail of
terrestrial death. For that matter, in it resided the essence of the constant tragedy of the Jewish
genius which is always deprived of that primordial element, beauty- a condition necessary to the
complete knowledge of God, Who must be supremely beautiful.

It seems that without realizing it I drew Freud’s terrestrial death in the pencil portrait I did of him
a year before his death. My special intention had been to create a purely morphological drawing
of the genius of psychoanalysis, instead of trying to do the obvious portrait of a psychologist.
When the portrait was finished, I begged Stefan Zweig, who had been my go-between with
Freud, to show it to him, and then I anxiously awaited whatever remarks he might make. I had
been extremely flattered by his exclamation at the time of our meeting: ‘I have never seen such a
perfect prototype of a Spaniard! What a fanatic!’

He had said this to Zweig after scrutinizing me for a long time in a terribly intense manner. All
the same, I only received Freud’s answer four months later when, accompanied by Gala, I again
met Stefan Zweig and his wife at a lunch in New York. I was so impatient that I did not wait for
the coffee before asking what had been Freud’s reaction to seeing my portrait. “‘He liked it very
much,” Zweig told me.

I asked for more details, eager to know if Freud had made any concrete observation or the least
comment that would have been infinitely precious to me, but Stefan Zweig seemed to me to be
evasive or distracted by other thoughts. He claimed that Freud had greatly appreciated ‘the
delicacy of the features’ and then plunged back into his idée fixe: he wanted us to come and join
him in Brazil. The voyage, he said, would be marvelous and would bring a fruitful change into
our lives.

That idea and the obsession wrought in him by the persecution of the Jews in Germany were the
unending leitmotifs of the monologue of our meal. It would seem that I really had to go to Brazil
in order to survive. I protested that I hated the tropics. A painter cannot live, I asserted, unless
surrounded by the grey of the olive trees and the red of the noble soil of Siena. My horror of the
exotic upset Zweig to the point of tears. Then he reminded me of the size of the Brazilian
butterflies, but I gnashed my teeth: butterflies everywhere are always too big…

Only when I read the concluding chapter of Stefan Zweig’s posthumous book, The World of
Tomorrow, did I finally learn the truth about my drawing. Freud had never seen his own portrait.
Zweig had piously lied to me. According to him, my portrait so strikingly forecast Freud’s
impending death that he did not dare show it to him, fearing to upset him unnecessarily, and
knowing him to be already very sick with cancer.

Without hesitation, I place Freud among the heroes. He dispossessed the Jewish people of the
greatest and most influential of all its heroes - Moses. Freud has shown that Moses was an
Egyptian, and in the foreword to his book on Moses- the best and most tragic of his books- he
warns his readers that proving this has been his hardest and most ambitious task, but also the
most corrosively bitter one! Finished are the big butterflies!”
Autumn Cannibalism (1936)

‘Autumn Cannibalism’ was painted the year the civil war began in Spain. The painting contains
elements reminiscent of war, but a war that seems to take place much deeper, in the human soul.
‘Multiple hands feasting on a corpse,’ could have been an equivalent title too. The corpse on the
table has the characteristic shape of pleasure. The shadow of a nail supplements the knife, and
the pieces of red meat are reminiscent of Dali’s melting clocks. “At the end we will all become
pieces of meat,” one could say. The apple on the top of the head symbolizes the Dalinian
William Tell. A pealed apple is found below the first one, as a symbol of birth and death.
Freud’s Perverse Polymorph (Bulgarian Child Eating a Rat), 1939

The surrealists tried to keeps us away from the common, ego-oriented, view of things, in order to
help us recognize new meanings and new, original, ways of using objects. The disintegration and
reorganization of words and images in surrealist art serves exactly this purpose, even if the
methods used are extravagant. Dali wanted to elevate his surrealist objects to the level of artistic
uniqueness, but he also made money by doing this. Dali seems to have taught the rest of the word
that ingenuity, even extreme, can gain as much or even more than mere obedience to an artistic
trend. So Dali was at the same time a utilitarian and an anti-conformist; an artistic cannibal,
eating objects in order to possess their soul.

Nuclear Mysticism
After the invention of the nuclear bomb, Dali was subjected to a sort of ‘nuclear mysticism.’ This
shift from psychoanalysis was characteristic of him at this later stage, together with his reversion
to Catholicism, as a personal search for new meaning.
Dali imagined atomic particles as divine elements because they helped him get closer to God.
Through his nuclear mysticism, he could find purification, a fundamental presupposition of
spiritual life. Paintings such as the previous ones are characteristic of this period. The images are
composed of corpuscles, but also of horns, grains, and other ‘elementary’ objects. In his book
‘Mystical Manifesto,’ he described the change happening to him:

“The explosion of the atom bomb on 6 August 1945 sent a seismic shock through me. Since
then, the atom has been central to my thinking. Many of the scenes I have painted in this period
express the immense fear that took hold of me when I heard of the explosion of the bomb. I used
my paranoiac-critical method to analyze the world. I want to perceive and understand the hidden
powers and laws of things, in order to have them in my power.

A brilliant inspiration shows me that I have an unusual weapon at my disposal to help me
penetrate to the core of reality: mysticism -that is to say, the profound intuitive knowledge of
what is, direct communication with the all, absolute vision by the grace of Truth, by the grace of
God. More powerful than cyclotrons and cybernetic calculators, I can penetrate to the mysteries
of the real in a moment... Mine the ecstasy! I cry.

The ecstasy of God and Man. Mine the perfection, the beauty that I might gaze into its eyes!
Death to academicism, to the bureaucratic rules of art, to decorative plagiarism, to the witless
incoherence of African art! Mine, St. Teresa of Avila!... In this state of intense prophecy it
became clear to me that means of pictorial expression achieved their greatest perfection and
effectiveness in the Renaissance, and that the decadence of modern painting was a consequence
of skepticism and lack of faith, the result of mechanistic materialism. By reviving Spanish
mysticism I, Dali, shall use my work to demonstrate the unity of the universe, by showing the
spirituality of all substance.”
Desoxyribonucleic Acid Arabs (1963)

Dali took a lively interest in every kind of scientific development, and in spring 1962 he returned
from America with an “electrocular monocle.” This astounding gadget had been developed by
the electronics section of a major aeronautics company. A recorder registered images and
transferred them televisually to a telescopic tube that substituted for a screen, a telescope so
constructed that the eye could distinguish the televised image yet at the same time see everything
in its field of vision in a perfectly normal way. For Dali, the painter needed a second type of
vision, occasioned by irritation of the retina. This double vision, which others were prompting
with the help of mescahn, hallucinogenic mushrooms or LSD, could be caused by the
electrocular monocle instead. In conversations with a professor named Jayle, a leading optics
specialist, over the course of several years, Dali had been expressing the wish to have a kind of
contact lens filled with fluid introduced into the eye - so that images controlled from outside
could even be registered during sleep.
Study for Leda Atomica, 1947

As a whole, Dali’s work as a painter was governed by a quest ruled by the need to discipline his
inspiration and technique. In 1948, at a time when he was working on Leda Atomica, he began to
take an active interest in the Divine Proportions laid down in the 15th century by Fra Luca
Pacioli. With the assistance of Prince Matila Ghyka, a Romanian mathematician, Dali spent
almost three months calculating the mathematical disposition of Leda Atomica.
Arabs- the Death of Raimundus Lullus (1963)

In all his works to follow, his procedure was the same; he used the golden section, the canon, and
the principles of divine proportion. Not long after, in Raimundus Lullus’s writtings, a Majorcan
writer and philosopher, he discovered arguably the most perfect square in aesthetics. As with
most great artists, it was in fact an innate sixth sense for proportion that enabled Dali to run the
gamut of the aesthetic range. He was able to endow the rules with life as he desired, whether they
derived from antiquity, the Middle Ages or the Renaissance. Every good painter, Dali said,
should proceed as Velazquez did: using his sense of proportion and obeying every rule in the
book to the letter in the first version of a painting - and then smashing up the lot, and indeed
standing several of the rules on their heads.

Dali at the Age of Six, When He Thought He Was a Girl Lifting with Extreme Precaution the
Skin of the Sea to Oberserve a Dog Sleeping in the Shade of the Water (1950)

Dali decided that henceforth he would devote himself to his threefold synthesis of classicism, the
spiritual, and concern with the nuclear age:

“My ideas were ingenious and abundant. I decided to turn my attention to the pictorial solution
of quantum theory, and invented quantum realism in order to master gravity... I painted Leda
Atomica, a celebration of Gala, the goddess of my metaphysics, and succeeded in creating
‘floating space;’ and then ‘Dali at the Age of Six, When He Thought He Was a Girl Lifting with
Extreme Precaution the Skin of the Sea to Oberserve a Dog Sleeping in the Shade of the Water’-
a picture in which the personae and objects seem like foreign bodies in space. I visually
dematerialized matter; then I spiritualized it in order to be able to create energy. The object is a
living being, thanks to the energy that it contains and radiates, thanks to the density of the matter
it consists of. Every one of my subjects is also a mineral with its place in the pulse beat of the
world, and a living piece of uranium. In my paintings I have succeeded in giving space

The Wheelbarrows (Cupola Consisting of Twisted Carts), 1951

My ‘Cupola Consisting of Twisted Carts’ is the most magnificent demonstration of my mystical
way of seeing. I maintain with full conviction that heaven is located in the breast of the faithful.
My mysticism is not only religious, but also nuclear and hallucinogenic. I discovered the
selfsame truth in gold, in painting soft watches, and in my visions of the railway station at
Perpignan. I believe in magic and in my fate.”

Marsupial Centaurs

Family of Marsupial Centaurs (1940)

Centaurs in ancient times, more than chimerical figures, they represented a symbol of man’s
struggle against his inferior, animal-like, nature. According to the myth, Theseus help humanity
in the fight against the centaurs so that they were finally expelled, and the proper order of things
was established. This symbolic struggle is depicted in Dali’s previous painting, where the human
element intermingles with the brutal one.

When he was asked why his centaurs were full of holes, he replied that holes were like
parachutes, only safer. Though this answer is vague, the need for holes comes from the memory
of the paradise inside the womb, a memory which Dali often recalled in his art. He once stated
that he was able to remember colors and images from his time inside the womb, and considered
the return to the womb the final destination of people. According to him, the struggle of the
embryo to come to existence becomes an act of violence at the time of birth, and it is largely
responsible for human suffering.

In order to recreate these ‘intrauterine’ experiences, one has to recreate the conditions in some
way. One way is sleep. While dreaming, we are liberated from the stress of everyday life, so we
can feel comfortable. In this sense, sleep can be the analog to an experience inside the womb.
Therefore, the ‘marsipus’ (pouch) of the centaurs is the ‘parachute,’ which one may use in order
to have a good landing in one’s dreams.

About his ‘intrauterine memories,’ Dali said that they were visual memories of the life before
birth, and he claimed: “It was divine, it was paradise.” Dali held it was the source of “that
perturbation and that emotion” which he had felt throughout his life when confronted with the
“ever-hallucinatory image” of two fried eggs: “The fried eggs on the plate without the plate,
which I saw before my birth were grandiose, phosphorescent and very detailed in all the folds of
their faintly bluish whites.” His intrauterine memories provided Dali with the essential
foundations of his lifelong pursuits: “It seems increasingly true that the whole imaginative life of
man tends to reconstitute symbolically by the most similar situations and representations that
initial paradisaical state, and especially to surmount the horrible ‘traumatism of birth’ by which
we are expulsed from the paradise, passing abruptly from that ideally protective and enclosed
environment to all the hard dangers of the frightfully real new world, with the concomitant
phenomena of asphyxiation, of compression, of blinding by the sudden outer light and of the
brutal harshness of the reality of the world.”

Space Elephants
Elephants are creatures which also appear in Dali’s paintings. They are depicted with long, thin
legs, and they carry obelisks on their backs. For Dali, they represent creatures able to defy
gravity, with their ability of super-balance, distorting with their proportions space-time. The
conical shapes on their backs denote this balance and establish the symmetry from top to bottom.
Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening (1944)

The first of Dali’s elephants appears in the previous painting. A chain of events- although
causally irrelevant to each other- is produced, in which a pomegranate gives birth to a fish, the
fish to a tiger, then a second one. Finally a riffle aims (almost touches) Gala’s naked arm.
Everything in the painting floats into the air, while the ‘space elephant’ magnifies this effect.

Despite the dream-like atmosphere, all objects have their significance. The bayonet, as a symbol
of the stinging bee, may represent the woman’s abrupt awakening from her dream. The bee
around the smaller pomegranate is repeated symbolically. The two tigers carry the yellow and
black stripes of the bee and the bayonet its stinger. The fish may be a magnification of the bee’s
eyes. The elephant is a distorted version of the ‘Pulcino della Minerva’ sculpture by Gian
Lorenzo Bernini, in Rome, depicting an elephant with an Egyptian obelisk on its back.

It has also been suggested that the painting is a surrealist interpretation of the Theory of
Evolution. In 1962, Dali said his painting was intended “to express for the first time in images
Freud’s discovery of the typical dream with a lengthy narrative, the consequence of the
instantaneousness of a chance event which causes the sleeper to wake up. Thus, as a bar might
fall on the neck of a sleeping person, causing them to wake up and for a long dream to end with
the guillotine blade falling on them, the noise of the bee here provokes the sensation of the sting
which will awaken Gala.” The guillotine anecdote refers to a dream reported by Alfred Maury in
his book ‘Sleep and dreams’ and related by Freud in ‘The Interpretation of Dreams.’

The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1946

Dali’s elephants seem too delicate to step on St. Antony, who is standing naked with the cross in
his hands against this parade of temptations. A horse leads the parade, while the elephants carry
the golden cup of lust, in which the nude woman is standing. The big obelisk represents a phallic
symbol, while the buildings on the back of the other elephants are reminiscent of the art of Rome
and Venice. At the back there is another elephant carrying a huge tower, while from within the
clouds appears the palace of Escorial, a symbol of spiritual order.
Swans Reflecting Elephants, 1937

Another example of ‘elephants’ is found in the previous painting. The swans reflect the elephants
in the lake. The swans’ heads become the heads of the elephants, while the trees form the
elephants’ bodies. In this painting, Dali succeeds in making swans look like elephants by
distorting space. The legs of the elephants are stepping on the ground, so that their reflection falls
directly to the eyes of the spectator. The rocks, the clouds, and the naked trees are painted in
such shapes so that their forms look different from the objects they represent, in Dali’s favorite
Catalonian landscape.

Rinoceronte vestido con puntillas (Rhinoceros dressed in lace), 1956, Puerto Banus, Marbella.

Dali was a polymath, since he was not only a painter, but also a writer, sculptor, photographer,
and fashion designer. Two of his most popular creations were ‘Lobster Telephone’ and ‘Mae
West Lips Sofa:’

Lobster Telephone, 1936 Mae West Lips Sofa, 1937

His interest in physics led him to create a sculpture of Isaac Newton. The holes in the chest and
head represent Newton’s genius, ‘open-heartedness,’ and ‘open-mindedness.’ The metal spheres
attached to strings symbolize the famous apple, which Newton allegedly observed falling and
was thus led to the law of gravity.
Homage to Newton, 1985, UOB Plaza, Singapore

In modern mathematics, all material objects are represented by vectors lying in an abstract space
(Hilbert space). However, vectors are not only ‘arrows.’ More generally, they are collections of
things or properties, representing all possible states of an object or system. In the same way, Dali
uses his personal surrealistic objects in ‘Dali space’ to make his paintings. The horns of the
rhinoceros have such a constructing ability, becoming vector arrows to materialize objects in the
physical world:
Goddess Leaning on Her Elbow -
Continuum of the Four Buttocks or Five
Rhinoceros Horns Making a Virgin or Birth
of a Deity, 1960

Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by the
Horns of Her Own Chastity, 1954

In ‘Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by the Horns of Her Own Chastity,’ two horns form the girl’s
buttocks, while two other horns symmetrically below are going to penetrate it. Some other horns
are propagating in the air in both directions. “As the horns simultaneously comprise and threaten
to sodomize the callipygian figure, she is effectively (auto) sodomized by her own constitution.”
The ‘four buttocks continuum’ in ‘Goddess Leaning on Her Elbow’ materializes in Dali’s
thought with the help or rhinoceros horns and nails.
The Paranoiac-Critical Study of Vermeer's The Lacemaker, Johannes Vermeer (1669-
Lacemaker, 1955 1671)

Dali’s inspiration for the image appears to have come from Vermeer’s ‘The Lacemaker.’ In
1955, Dali presented a lecture called ‘Phenomenological Aspects of the Paranoiac-Critical
Method,’ in which he illustrated the connections between Vermeer’s The Lacemaker and
rhinoceros horns in ‘Paranoiac-Critical Study of Vermeer’s Lacemaker.’ Dali said:

“These horns being the only ones in the animal kingdom constructed in accordance with a
perfect logarithmic spiral, as in this painting, it is this very logarithmic perfection that guided
Vermeer’s hand in painting The Lace Maker.”
Portrait of Gala with Rhinocerotic Assumpta Corpuscularia Lapislazulina, 1952
Symptoms, 1954

The ‘rhinocerotic’ pattern is repeated in the previous portrait of Gala, while in the ‘Assumption’
of the ‘corpuscular Virgin-Gala,’ the whole idea reaches epic proportions. The painting is
brilliant, and thanks to it Gala gained a place next to the Gioconda as an eternal representation of
purity. Of course Gala was the inspiration in the first place. For Dali, it was the eternal truths of
nature, represented by atoms, vectors, or other surrealist objects; the personification of lust in the
face of Gala; and the quest of eternity and immortality, manifested in his paintings in many
different ways.
Rhinocerotic Disintegration of Ilissus of God Ilissus, Phidias (?), Parthenon marbles
Phidias, 1954

Dali also used the rhinoceros horns to reconstruct the past. This way, the ancient God Ilissus
becomes a modern Dalinian hero. However, this time the body is not composed of the smooth
and continuous lines of the marble, but of the discontinuous and sharp horn edges.
The rhinoceros is a wonderful, peaceful creature. However, we are used to watch its volume, not
his psychic world. Otherwise, we might realize a part of it in ourselves, as an expression of vast
kindness. Dali used the form of the rhinoceros as a symbol of power and lust. But he amplified it
at a new level of art, by using its horns as ‘atoms’ to reconstruct the images he painted, in an
analogous way that modern science uses the atomic theory or vector calculus.

Rhinocerotic gooseflesh (1956)

The previous painting is an example of classical art employed in a modern context. The body of
an ancient statue becomes that of a woman who rises from within the sea-shell, and the harmony
of the painting is amplified by the combination of the stretched sea-shell and the clouds.

Dali had a fascination with the human body phenomenon known as gooseflesh or goosebumps.
These are commonly linked to cold temperatures, fear, or other stimuli. Dali found that the shape
of the erect hair closely mimicked the shape of the horn. As Dr. Elliot King writes: “The
rhinoceros was the animal that experienced the greatest fear during the creation of the world.”
Dali would explain, “evidenced by the multitude of horns/‘goose pimples’ that cover its body.”

The painter invented a similar explanation for the morphology of sea urchins, which he said was
due to the fear felt by a drop of water the instant it first fell to earth. Seized with dread at losing
its purity, the ‘drop’ produced goose bumps- the urchin’s well-known spines.

The rhinoceros horn itself is a contradiction of sorts. Mythologists believe that the horn
symbolized chastity, which Dali was focused on at the time of his life. Dali believed that a
preoccupation with procreation distracted him from his artistic focus. On the other hand, ground
rhinoceros horn is believed to be an aphrodisiac. This is, of course, patently false, but their
phallic shape is symbolic of male virility nonetheless. Dali scholar Robert Descharnes writes:
“Expressing himself through the rhinoceros horn permitted Dali to respect the demands of
chastity which, at the time, had become an essential requirement of his spiritual life.”

Dali believed that the problem of modern science was that it was empty of feelings. For him this
was intolerable. He studied science and mathematical proportions in his art, but the most
important interpretation for him was the expression of the human psyche and feelings. He used
the rhinoceros horns both as geometrical objects but also as psychological symbols. I coined the
term ‘the rhinocerotic complex:’ It is Dalinian in nature, and consists of some conflicting
tendencies: The need for harmony, the need of lust, and the search for glory. The horns of the
rhinoceros, either symbols of power or aphrodisiacs, represent above all a Dalinian weapon
against any sort of neurosis. In this sense, the rhinocerotic complex is the potential with which
the artist achieved the unification of science and art, and his union with perfection.
‘Avida Dollars’

Dali: ‘Avida Dollars;’ photograph from ‘Dali’s moustache,’ by Philippe Halsman, 1954

Dali didn’t love money, but he needed quite a lot in order to pay for his strange habits; and
although he revolutionized art, he was rather a conformist. To the Surrealists he confessed:
“Very rich people have always impressed me; very poor people, like the fishermen of Port
Lligat, have likewise impressed me; average people, not at all.” He regretted that the Surrealists
were attracting “a whole fauna of misfit and unwashed petty bourgeois… society people every
day and almost every night. Most society people were unintelligent, but their wives had jewels
that were hard as my heart, wore extraordinary perfumes, and adored the music that I detested. I
remained always the Catalonian peasant, naive and cunning, with a king in my body. I was
bumptious, and I could not get out of my mind the troubling image, post-card style, of a naked
society woman loaded with jewels, wearing a sumptuous hat, prostrating herself at my dirty
Shirley Temple, 1939

Jewel, 1941 The Eye of Time, 1941

Dali started by painting landscapes and portraits, before making the big turn with the surrealist
movement. But he also became a forerunner of pop art. He even returned to classicism and
mysticism, at some extent, in his later years. Many people wanted his recipe for success. To one
young man who asked, Dali replied: “Then you must become a snob. Like me. For me,
snobbery- particularly in Surrealist days- was a downright strategy, because I… was the only one
who moved in society and was received in high-class circles. The other Surrealists were
unfamiliar with the milieu. They had no entree…
But the moment I arrived at the society people’s homes I adopted a different, more pronounced
kind of snobbery. I would say: “Right after coffee I have to go, to see the Surrealists.” I would
make out that the Surrealists had far greater shortcomings than the aristocracy, than all the
people one knew in society, because the Surrealists wrote abusive letters to me in which they
said high society was nothing but arseholes who understood absolutely nothing…

In those days, snobbery was saying: “Now I must be off to the Place Blanche. There’s a very
important Surrealist meeting.” The effect of saying this was terrific. On the one hand I had
society, politely astonished that I was going somewhere that they could not go, and on the other
hand, the Surrealists. I was always off to where the rest couldn’t go. Snobbery consists in going
to places that others are excluded from- which produces a feeling of inferiority in the others. In
all human relations there is a way of achieving complete mastery of a situation. That was my
policy where Surrealism was concerned.”

Someone could say that Dali was certainly an ambiguous personality. But he wasn’t really
snobbish. He could listen to anything one had to say, even if he would remember nothing in the
end. So I guess Dali was snobbish to the snobs, and a peasant to the peasants, while pleasant to
everyone. They say that after he became famous, and as he started to live a luxurious life
together with his wife, he used to draw sketches in a hurry, even in the bathroom, which he
would sell to cover his growing expenses. Again, he would say that the sketches were not made
‘in a hurry,’ but ‘very spontaneously.’ However, his growing fame as a mercenary was
incompatible with the whole morality of surrealism.

In 1939, Andre Breton coined the derogatory nickname ‘Avida Dollars,’ an anagram for
‘Salvador Dali’, which may be more or less translated as ‘eager for dollars.’ This was a derisive
reference to the increasing commercialization of Dali’s work, and the perception that Dali sought
self-aggrandizement through fame and fortune. Some surrealists henceforth spoke of Dali in the
past tense, as if he were dead. The Surrealist movement and various members thereof would
continue to issue extremely harsh polemics against Dali until the time of his death, and beyond.
About the characterization, Dali said, “The anagram ‘Avida Dollars’ was a talisman for me. It
rendered the rain of dollars fluid, sweet, and monotonous. Someday I shall tell the truth about the
way in which this blessed disorder of Danae was garnered.”

Whatever Dali meant by the previous statement, Andre Breton had to admit that Dali’s
paranoiac-critical method had provided Surrealism with “an instrument of prime importance.”
Even Andre Thirion, who was one of the dogmatic hard-liners of the group, later conceded:
“Dali’s contribution to Surrealism was of immense importance to the life of the group and the
evolution of its ideology. Those who have maintained anything to the contrary have either not
been telling the truth or have understood nothing at all. Nor is it true that Dali ceased to be a
great painter in the Fifties, even though it was distinctly discouraging when he turned to
Catholicism… In spite of everything, what we are constantly seeing in his work is exemplary
draughtsmanship, a startlingly inventive talent, and a sense of humor and of theatre. Surrealism
owes a great deal to his pictures.”

Agony for space and time
Dali said that modern sciences were centered on the study of three aspects of life: the sexual
instinct, the instinct of death, and the agony of space and time.
Melting space-time, 1975-1976

In the ‘Diary of a genius,’ he writes, “Tonight, for the first time in at least a year, I am looking at
the starry sky. It seems small. Am I getting bigger or is the universe shrinking? Or a combination
of both? How different from the painful contemplation of the stars in my adolescence. They
overwhelmed me because of what my romanticism made me believe at the time: the
unfathomable and infinite cosmic immensity. I was possessed by melancholy because all my
emotions were undefinable. Whereas now my emotion is so definable that I could make a cast of
it. At the same time, I decide to order one in plaster that will represent with maximum accuracy
the emotion prompted by the contemplation of the celestial vault.

I am grateful to modern science for corroborating by its researches that most pleasant, sybaritic,
and anti-romantic notion that ‘space is finite’. My emotion has the perfect shape of a four-
buttock continuum, the tenderness of the very flesh of the universe. When I go to bed, dog-tired
after my day’s work, I try to preserve my emotion even in bed, feeling increasingly reassured and
telling myself that, when all is said and done, the universe- expansible, even with all the matter it
contains, however abundant it may seem- is nothing but a simple and straightforward matter of
adding up marbles. I am so happy to see the cosmos finally reduced to these reasonable
proportions that I might almost rub my hands if that abominable gesture were not typically anti-
Dali. Before going to sleep, instead of rubbing my hands I shall kiss them with the purest
enjoyment, repeating to myself that the universe, like every material thing, looks petty and
narrow if compared, for instance, with the breadth of a forehead painted by Raphael.”

Morphological Echo, 1936
Morphological Echo, 1936

This view of Dali is reminiscent of the ancient saying “man is the measure of all things”- it is
humans who give meaning, purpose and extent to the world. Dali said that physics could give a
measurable aspect of the universe by regarding it finite, but that he could also quantify other
aspects of the human psyche, such as emotions and the infinity of loneliness.
Nude in the Desert Landscape, 1948

The Pharmacist of Ampurdan in Search of Absolutely Nothing, 1936

In the previous paintings, the distribution of different things in a symmetric way organizes space
itself. The shadows or the inclination of the objects towards one direction leaves the impression
that time stopped after the wind had gone. Solitude fills the paintings in the Catalonan landscape,
a favorite place for Dali to identify with loneliness. People are stones, in search of gold, the elixir
of life, anything. What does the doctor do on top of the rock outside the small city in the desert?
If I were him, I would be searching for the elixir, some herb which would offer the cure for
disease, and the secret of eternity. But I would be mad if I believed so. Therefore if I was asked
what I was looking for, I would reply absolutely nothing.

The persistence of memory

Dali painted and sculptured many clocks to depict the ‘agony of space and time.’ The clocks are
distorted as if melting, showing that time can be conquered, perhaps by just sitting on the beach
of port Lligat in Spain on a warm summer day, watching oneself sweating to the point of

Soft Watch at Moment of First Explosion,

Stillness of Time, 1976
Horse Saddled with Time, 1980

The clocks epitomize Dali’s theory of ‘softness’ and ‘hardness,’ which was central to his
thinking at the time. As Dawn Ades wrote, “The soft watches are an unconscious symbol of the
relativity of space and time, a Surrealist meditation on the collapse of our notions of a fixed
cosmic order.” This interpretation suggests that Dali was incorporating an understanding of the
world introduced by Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. However, asked by Ilya
Prigogine whether this was in fact the case, Dali replied that the soft watches were not inspired
by the theory of relativity, but by the surrealist perception of a Camembert cheese melting in the
The Persistence of Memory (1931)

‘The Persistence of Memory,’ may be regarded as one of the most important paintings of the 20th
century. Characteristic of the painting is the barren landscape, ideal to be filled with the surrealist
objects. The creature lying at the center is a substitute for pleasure, exhausted by lust and the
heat. Instead of a ‘saddle’ it has a clock on its back, and the melting clocks appear at different
parts of the painting. This is a distortion of space and time caused by extreme heat. The ants, or
insect- like creatures, on top of some clocks represent a sense of disorganization and annoyance
in the midst of a hot Spanish summer, while the surrounding place is denoted by the white
limestone rocks, typical of the Mediterranean landscape. The naked branch reminds of a long
gone childhood, while the ‘cabinet’ and the ‘platform’ may be interpreted as supplements of
reality and springboards to a new life.

The painting could be interpreted in many different ways. Essentially, I believe that the painter
dampens his own memories. He uses the most powerful weapon to soften the ‘hard’ everyday
reality, and this weapon is heat. Someone could say that Dali discovered the ultimate weapon of
thermodynamics to conquer space-time. Anyway, we should take into account that ‘heat’ is
neither ‘hot’ nor ‘cold.’ It is just a form of energy which we experience one way or another.
The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory (1952-1954)

In this version, the landscape from the original work (The persistence of memory) has been
flooded with water. Disintegration depicts what is occurring both above and below the water’s
surface. The landscape of Cadaques is now hovering above the water. The plane and block from
the original is now divided into brick-like shapes that float in relation to each other, with nothing
binding them. These represent the breakdown of matter into atoms, a revelation in the age of
quantum mechanics. Behind the bricks, the horns receding into the distance symbolize atomic
missiles, highlighting that despite cosmic order, humanity could bring about its own destruction.
The dead olive tree from which the soft watch hangs has also begun to break apart. The hands of
the watches float above their dials, with several conical objects floating in parallel formations
encircling the watches. A fourth melting watch has been added. The distorted human visage from
the original painting is beginning to morph into another of the strange fish floating above it. To
Dali, however, the fish was a symbol of life.

One way or the other, either by persistence or by forgetfulness, we will never forget. There are
the fixed objects and notions which surround and compose ourselves and our sense about reality.
No matter how much we distort or deform them, they remain the same things, even viewed by a
different perceptive. Einstein said that time is relative, but this relativity is found on both sides.
One sees the other one being distorted, but from either one’s own perspective nothing changes.
Therefore the persistence of memory comes from the hard core of existence, the essence that
always remains stable and unchanged.

The swallow’s tale
Finally, who was Dali? Was he a madman with a brilliant talent to paint? Was he someone who
used trickery in his paintings, and publicity in order to gain fame and make a lot of money? He

“I’m not the clown! But in its naivety this monstrously cynical society does not see who is
simply putting on a serious act the better to hide his madness. I cannot say it often enough: I am
not mad. My clear-sightedness has acquired such sharpness and concentration that, in the whole
of the century, there has been no more heroic or more astounding personality than me, and apart
from Nietzsche (who finished by going mad, though) my equal will not be found in other
centuries either. My painting proves it.”

Dali painting ‘The Medusa of Sleep,’ on
Head of Medusa (1962) Gala’s forehead
Dali observed: “At the time there were just seventeen people in Paris who understood the ready-
mades - the very few ready-mades by Marcel Duchamp. Nowadays there are seventeen million
who understand them. When the day comes that every object that exists is a ready-made, there
will no longer be any ready-mades at all. When that day comes, originality will consist in
creating a "work of art out of sheer urgent compulsion. The moral attitude of the ready-made
consists in avoiding contact with reality. Ready-mades have subconsciously influenced the
photo-realists, leading them to paint ready-mades by hand. There can be no doubt that if
Vermeer van Delft or Gerard Dou had been alive in 1973, they would have had no objection to
painting the interior of a car or the outside of a telephone box...”

About modern art, Dali said: “The consequences of contemporary modern art have brought us to
the maximum of rationalization and the maximum of skepticism. Today, young modern painters
believe in nothing. It is entirely natural that when one does not believe in anything one ends by
painting nothing, which is the case in all modern painting, including abstract, aesthetic, academic
painting, with the single exception of a group of American painters in New York who, through
lack of tradition and because of an instinctive paroxysm, are very close to a new pre-mystic faith
that will take form when the world is finally conscious of the latest progress of nuclear science.
In France, at the pole diametrically opposed to that of the New York school, I can find only one
example to give you, and that is my friend, the painter Georges Mathieu who, because of his
monarchic and cosmogonic atavisms, has adopted an attitude that is completely contrary to the
academicism of modern painting.”

In point of fact, Dali observed the gradual decline of modern art with contempt. As it slid into
nothingness, he laughed to see what Duchamp’s ready-mades in Dada and Surrealist days had
led to. He was amused to see the urinal Duchamp had exhibited in New York in 1911 as a
sculpture titled Fontaine. “The first person to compare the cheeks of a young woman with a rose
was plainly a poet. The second, who repeated the comparison, was probably an idiot. All the
theories of Dadaism and Surrealism are being monotonously repeated: their soft contours have
prompted countless soft objects. The globe is being smothered in ready-mades. The fifteen-metre
loaf of bread is now fifteen kilometers long... People have already forgotten that the founder of
Dadaism, Tristan Tzara, stated in his manifesto in the very infancy of the movements: “Dada is
this. Dada is that... Either way, it’s crap.” This kind of more or less black humor is foreign to the
new generation. They are genuinely convinced that their neo-Dadaism is subtler than the art of

Hercules Lifts the Skin of the Sea and Stops Venus for an Instant from Waking Love, 1963

In the previous painting, classicism meets with modernity once again in Dali’s paintings. The sea
enters a narrow gulf in a rocky Mediterranean landscape. Hercules and Venus have their faces
covered, expressing the anonymity of love affairs. Half of their bodies are above the water and
half of them below. Below the water, on the sea bed, is sleeping the child of love. His pose is
classical. Hercules holds with one hand the shit of the sea to unveil the whole mystery of the
scene. The shadows formed by the hands of the gods are extremely expressive. The shadow of
Hercules’s left hand complements the shadow of Venus’s right hand (stopping her this way from
waking love), while the pointed finger of Hercules’s right hand cast its shadow upon Venus’s
shoulder to denote the prohibition. In this painting Dali proves that modernism can also be
classic, in perfection.

Dali prophetically added: “I foresee that the new art will be what I term ‘quantum realism’. It
will take into account what the physicists call quantum energy, what mathematics calls chance,
and what the artists call the imponderable: Beauty. The picture of tomorrow will be a faithful
image of reality, but one will sense that it is a reality pervaded with extraordinary life,
corresponding to what is known as the discontinuity of matter. Velazquez and Vermeer were
divisionists. They already intuited the fears of modern Man. Nowadays, the most talented and
sensitive painters merely express the fear of indeterminism. Modern science says that nothing
really exists, and one sees scientists passionately debating photographic plates on which there is
demonstrably nothing of a material nature. So artists who paint their pictures out of nothing are
not so far wrong. Still, it is only a transitional phase. The great artist must be capable of
assimilating nothingness into his painting. And that nothingness will breathe life into the art of

Still Life Moving Fast (1956)

Dali new little about quantum physics or relativity, which, nevertheless, had just appeared at his
time. This, however, didn’t prevent him from painting masterpieces with his own unique sense
concerning space, time, gravity, atoms, etc. In the previous painting motion and time seem to
freeze. But it is summertime. Dali described the painting as the disintegration of a fruit dish. An
apple is being thrown, while a peach, a knife, a ‘rock,’ and other objects float. This is one of
Dali’s best paintings, depicting the illusion of motion and a deeper aspect of time and things. It’s
the defiance of gravity in the form of a standing swallow.
Dali seems to have possessed an outstanding ability to pick naturalistic elements and recombine
them into abstract symbols for physical representation. For example, the previous painting,
which is the last of the painter, has transformed the swallows and their tails into musical clefs,
merging in the canvas in eternal harmony. He believed in a sort of creative nihilism, not the
barren nihilism of his time, in order to produce a creation out of complete nothing. This is the
ultimate goal of authenticity, not the pompous repetition of already existing forms and
prototypes. He also added that the freedom of painting is always accompanied by heroism. The
only way someone could spiritualize matter is to “fill it with gold.” Despite the fact that he
sought publicity and that he made money, his ‘gold’ was first of all his art itself, which he would
never compromise. His free and unique spirit combined with the experimentation of his time,
were his ultimate weapons for success, so that he managed not only to become a good surrealist,
but, as he once said, to become surrealism himself.

Art of the 20th Century, Salvador Dali

Christ of Saint John of the Cross

Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus)


Dada Manifesto

Dalí (1904–1989): Psychoanalysis and Pictorial Surrealism

Diary of a genius

Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening

Gala Dalí
Gestalt psychology

History of the Surrealist Movement

Impossible object




Metamorphosis of Narcissus

Metaphor and Figure - Ground Relationship: Comparisons from Poetry, Music, and the Visual

Nonsense verse

On the Psychology of the Uncanny, Ernst Jentsch (1906)
Optical illusion

Overview of the GP-B Mission

Paleolithic Cave Art

Paranoiac-critical method

Paranoiac-Critical Study of Vermeer’s Lacemaker

Rhinocerotic Gooseflesh

Salvador Dali’s Paranoiac-Critical Method

Sound poetry


Surrealism today


Textual analysis- Metamorphosis of Narcissus

The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory

The Elephant Celebes

The Metamorphosis of Narcissus


The Secret Life of Salvador Dali


Unconscious inference


Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by the Horns of Her Own Chastity
Exploring the irrational: The paranoiac- critical method of Salvador Dali, 03-May-14, Chris
Tselentis, Athens Greece.

Last revised: 05-May-2018
mailto: christselentis@gmail.com