Printer Friendly

Finding the way back through systematic confusion.

The first Manifeste du surrealisme/Surrealist manifesto (1924), through a free interpretation of the Freudian theory, postulated the supremacy of mind over matter, and the possibility of expressing the processes of unconscious thinking, with a minimum of subjective control:

surrealism, n. Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express--verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner--the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern. (Breton 1969a: 26)

Automatism thus involves the descent into one's own self, the practice of spontaneous writing, as means of articulating the unknown inner world (the unconscious). By allowing the hazardous and the accidental to manifest themselves, the artist frees the act of creation from the censorship of rationality. The product thus obtained could communicate one's deepest wishes, urges, or ideas. Moreover, Surrealists seem to have been the first to openly explore the connections between contemporary psychological theories and the idea of creativity, or artistic production; they did not hesitate to claim that mental disorders might be an important source of art. In 1930, Andre Breton and Paul Eluard, jointly published The Immaculate Conception, a volume that brought together some of the key texts of Surrealism, first of all, "The Automatic Manifesto," the essay-preface written by Breton, but which also contained a series of essayistic contributions by others, arranged in such a way as to suggest various states of mental instability (debility, acute mania, dementia praecox, general paralysis, the delirium of interpretation included), implying by this that the boundary between insanity and normality is a simple social convention, directly related to the degree of suppression of the individual's creative subconscious, in the Freudian sense. However, no one of the members of the movement, except Salvador Dali, showed such an exclusive and persistent interest in psychosis, so as to make it the focal point of a method of artistic creation.

The "paranoiac-critical method"

In the early 1930s, the founder of the Surrealist movement talked ever more insistently about "a crisis of the object" of art, which could no longer be imagined as an external fixed object, but as an expansion of the artist's subjectivity:

I shall remind you that when I spoke a little less than a year ago in Brussels [i.e., 1934], I mentioned, very summarily, that a fundamental crisis of the object was taking place in the wake of Surrealism. "It is essentially on the object that the more and more clear-sighted eyes of Surrealism have remained open in recent years," I wrote. "It is the very attentive examination of the numerous recent speculations that this object has publicly given rise to (the oneiric object, the symbolic object, the real and virtual object, the found object, etc.), and this examination alone, that will allow one to understand all the implications of the present temptation of Surrealism." It is essential that interest be focused on this point. (Breton 1969b: 257)

Dali's "paranoiac-critical method" emerged from his growing dissatisfaction with surrealist experiments. The Spanish painter presented his own ideas in a series of articles and essays published between 1930 and 1940, in two magazines--Le Surrealisme au service de la revolution and Minotaure -, or in separate publications, such as La femme visible (1930) and Le Mythe Tragique de L'Angelus de Millet (1936).

Dali binds artistic activity to a form of mental delusion,--paranoia--understood as systematic delirium, which the artist (poet, or painter) deliberately simulates. His famous statement "The only difference between a madman and myself is that I am not mad!" (Dali 2007: 20), gains a more specific meaning, in this context. In other words, Dali makes of his own psychoses the subject-matter of his paintings, however preserving the critical distance characteristic of the analyst. His "paranoiac-critical method" is not only a means of deciphering the hidden meanings of his paintings, but also a means of "reading the real." Within the framework sketched by the method, he proposes "a vast autobiographical ensemble from painting to personal story and intimate diary, passing through the spectacular enacting of his own person" (Amossy 1995:91). The artist affixes on its corporeal image and the story of his life the paranoiac grid of interpretation, giving us "a theatrical and clairvoyant presentation of his own self," thus instituting a new dimension of his creation. (Amossy 1995: 91-92)

Drawing his inspiration from the interpretative vision of the paranoiac, Dali explores the psychic "mechanism" specific of this mental disorder, which reveals to the eye a distorted perception that however allows him, through the systematic association of the features of external objects with those of the "obsessive" image" that haunts his subconscious, to re-create the former, in accordance with the logic of his subconscious drives, over-determining their contours and structure. In other words, the paranoiac interpretative system deconstructs the object in order to reconstruct it, consistent with the structural schemas of the phantasm, producing alternative forms. In an article of 1930, entitled L Ane pourri / The Rotting Donkey,

The word "putrefied," for the French pourri, has special meanings for Dali. The title of the article may have been suggested by a book of Juan Ramon Jimenez, Platero y yo / Platero and myself (1917), about a donkey, that brought the author, otherwise little known, a huge popularity, but also the vehement reaction of the young painter who deplored the fact that "Juan Ramon Jimenez, by writing Platero, could not have imagined the sterilized poetry of putrefied donkeys, even less the rare lyricism of Old donkeys with a Nightingale head." For Dali, the putrefied body of the donkey did not represent the poetical decomposition but the fight against it. Putrefaction is a form of "leaning," and it contains in it the seed of a new aesthetics, which explains the iterated presence of these images in his paintings. In "The Rotting Donkey," an eulogy of paranoia, "putrefaction" is the central image (Anes 2007: 69-70), because it is connected to the "agony" and the "darkness," typical of mental diseases.

Dali announces his intentions as follows:

The paranoiac phenomenon, contrary to the general ideas of constitutionalist theories. Would be in itself already a systematized delirium. The paranoiac phenomenon, by virtue of its strength and authority, and its characteristics of productivity, permanence, and growth, all inherent in the systematic fact, would prominently objectify the integration of all the basic dynamitic notions of "process" in the "dialectical delirium" of Surrealism.

From the still uncertain beginnings in 1929 of "La Femme visible," I predicted that 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.

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. [...] Paranoia makes use of 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. (1998g: 223)

The term "paranoia," used by Salvador Dali in the essay, refers to a state of abnormality in which someone constructs an idiosyncratic model of reality, with its internal logic, perfectly functional, no matter how absurd it may be, or how much it deviates from the ordinary understanding of reality. Naturally, Dali does not proclaim a voluntary state of madness, instead he admires the mental agility of the paranoiac. First of all, the Spanish painter is interested in the affective perceptions of the paranoiac:

[A]ll individual endowed with a sufficient degree of this faculty, might as he wishes see the successive changes of form of all 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. (Dali 1998g: 224)

He insists on the force with which subconscious images foist on one's perception, and does not see reason as a corrective of the interpretative automatism of sight: rational thinking intervenes only a posteriori; it does not correct, but clarifies the resulting interpretation, in other words, it sheds light on the systematization characteristic of delirious perception.

The Dalian "paranoiac-critical method," which owes much to the interpretation of dreams elaborated by Sigmund Freud, is therefore a technique involving the use of the active processes of mind to visualize images in the work and to incorporate them in the final product. Dali argues in favour of the artist's capacity of discovering, perceiving and painting different images--his celebrated "double images"--in a single physiognomy of forms which, however, could be interpreted in various ways:

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. (Dali 1998g: 224)

Sharing the Surrealist precept according to which the inner world of the mind is infinitely more fascinating and veridical than the simple and the material perception of external reality, Dali rejects the idea that his method is simply a gratuitous gesture. On the contrary, he contends that through the intense and traumatic nature of visual images, and while the represented objects preserve some correspondence with reality, the artist is capable to directly deal with "lyrical," deeper mental states, in which memories and ideas are bonded together. Such a process avoids the conventional, the routine, or the trodden paths of thinking:

I submit to a materialist analysis the type of mental crisis that might be provoked by such all 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. All individual endowed with a sufficient degree of this faculty, might as he wishes see the successive changes of form of all 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. (Dali 1998g: 224-225)

Dali may have found the confirmation of these ideas in Jacques Lacan's book, De la psychose parano'iaque dans ses rapports avec la personnalite / On the paranoid psychosis in its relations with personality (1933)--which, starting with 1933, he quotes on a number of occasions to legitimize his own theory (cf. Dali 1998d: 259ff), but also in the series of articles the latter printed in the Minotaure magazine, especially, "The Problem of Style and the Psychiatric Conception of the Forms of Paranoid Experience" published soon after Dali's own "The Rotting Donkey," in which the young French psychiatrist demonstrated that the delirious experience of paranoiac subjects had the imaginative force and the complexity similar to that of the greatest artists (cf. Ades 1995: 122). The definition that Lacan gives paranoia in the doctoral thesis is very close to Dali's own opinions, as both consider it to be a dramatic modification of the manner in which the subject perceives the reality in which one lives.

Other Dalian formulas closely remind the language of Serieux and Capgras's works, or those of Kraepelin, who thought that at the basis of psychosis [paranoia] lies a certain type of personality, which manifests itself through the fact that it judges, in the first instance in a wrong manner, certain aspects of one's own experience, afterwards followed by an interpretative discourse, controlled by the normal mechanisms of reason (Kraepelin 1912: 145-146). The difference consists in the fact that, in the case of the approach proposed by Dali, the "paranoid delirium" remains only a mode of "deliberate" perception.

For all this, it is not such authorities that the Spanish painter draws on to construct his own conception of art, but on the ideas, today fallen into oblivion, of Gabriel Dromard, a French psychiatrist, the author of a work (in collaboration with Alexandre Antheaume), Poesie et folie : essai de psychologie et de critique / Poetry and madness: a study in psychology and criticism (1908), in which he establishes thought-provoking relations between art and madness. From Dromard, Dali took over the idea that the false judgment of the paranoiac is due to a deviation of intelligence and sensibility: the paranoiac, with whom an affective logic operates preponderantly, groups his ideas in accordance with his own psychic drives.

Dali sees the "paranoiac-critical method" as an improvement on the Surrealist principle of automatism, which he appreciates as being too passive, too preoccupied with "pure experience" (in the Bergsonian sense of the term), at a time when political imperatives of the day demanded the artist to put his ideas "at the service of an imminent crisis of consciousness, at the service of the Revolution" (Dali 1998g: 225). It was a means of destabilizing the world, in a somewhat nihilistic sense--"idealists partaking of no ideal", as he himself defines the Surrealist artists (Dali 1998g: 226)--suggesting that what the viewer sees may be, potentially, something else. It allows the artist to freely experiment with similitudes and associations of ideas, images, etc., in a vital, essential "game." A result of unconscious projection, the Dalian object thus has a minimum of mechanical sense:

The paranoiac mechanism giving birth to the image of multiple figurations, 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 led 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 if 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 urn, 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 we cannot infer the meaning of these distinct states of the image beyond the notion of time, nothing can convince me that this merciless putrefaction of the donkey is anything other than the hard and blinding glint of new precious stones. [...]

Connoisseurs of images, we have long ago learned to recognize the image of desire hidden behind the simulacra of terror, and the awakening of the "Golden Ages" in ignominious scatological simulacra. (Dali 1998g: 225)

Instead of adapting himself to the world, the artist dominates and shapes it, according to his own "delusion." By placing the creative act at the level of the subconscious, Dali sometimes seems to gives in to the imperatives of the libido; his paintings contain an often explicitly sexual symbolism, but other elements too, whose presence remains difficult to interpret.

Nothing illustrates better the "sudden" character, the "capacity of reaction" of the paranoiac phenomenon, the "profound change of the object," the objective communicability, etc., than the delusional image of the "paranoiac face" reproduced on page 4 of Le Surrealisme au service de la revolution magazine. "The real persistence of the paranoiac delirious image," Dali argues, its "interpretative cohesion," also strikingly exhibit their flagrant opposition to the "deletion during waking of the oneiric image," its "dissociative condensation," its "symbolic passivity that lends itself precisely to interpretative intervention." (1998b: 260)

The attempt to communicate the pleasure of a world governed by a "paranoic understanding" to the viewer led Dali to the development of the "surrealist object," an initiative for which the Spanish painter seems to have been responsible to a large extent. In 1936, the Surrealists opened an exhibition at Charles Ratton Gallery in Paris, where visitors were allowed to touch the objects on display: Dali's contribution consisted of The Lobster Telephone and The Face of Mae West Which May Be Used as an Apartment. Three years earlier, at Breton's request, the painter had written an article, Objets surrealistes / Surrealist Objects, for the magazine Le Surrealisme au service de la revolution, in which he proposed six different types of objects, as follows:

1) objects functioning symbolically (automatic origin) --These objects, lending themselves to a minimum of mechanical functioning, are based on phantasms and representations likely to be provoked by the realization of unconscious acts; 2) transubstantiated objects (affective origin); 3) objects to be thrown (oneiric origin); 4) wrapped objects (diurnal fantasies); 5) objects-machines (experimental fantasies); 6) objects-moldings (hypnagogic origin). (Dali 1998i: 231)

Dali then talks about the "poetical drama" of surrealism, generated by the "antagonism" [which demanded dialectical conciliation] between the "passive confusion of automatism" (promoted by Andre Breton, the founder of the movement) and the "active and systematic confusion illustrated by the paranoiac phenomenon" (1998d: 256257). For him, the new method was a window open to the unknown of the subconscious, an active filter, freed of the danger of psychical instability.

It is interesting to know that Dali did not use the term 'paranoiac-critical' until 1933. In "The Rotting Donkey" (1930), he had discussed his new method using the simple term of "paranoia," which he directly bound to the surrealist theory of art, and insisted that it, unlike hallucination, was a voluntary act, in other words, an active mental state, not a passive one.

Andre Breton (Qu 'est-ce que le surrealisme / What is Surrealism, 1934) enthusiastically saluted the Dalian modus operandi, underlying its instrumentality and versatility:

Dali has endowed surrealism with an instrument of primary importance, specifically paranoiac-critical method, which has immediately shown itself capable of being applied with equal success to painting, poetry, the cinema; the construction of typical surrealist objects, to fashions, to sculpture and even, if necessary, to manner of exegesis. (Breton 1978: 182)

From that moment on, although not widely acknowledged, it came to dominate surrealist approaches, and even generated a scission within the movement.

The "paranoiac-critical method", as Dali understands it, is a process through which the artist discerns new and unique modalities of seeing the world around him. It materializes in the artist's (and the viewer's) ability to perceive multiple images within the same configuration. The new images of "concrete irrationality," tending toward their actual physical "possibility," overcome the domain of phantasms, the psycho-analyzable representations. The declared aim of the artist is to give dreams, visions, and hypnagogic images the force of concrete reality. The main aspect of paranoia which draws Dali in is the capacity of the mind to perceive relations among things, which otherwise are not rationally bound:

Paranoia: Delirium of interpretative association entailing a systematic structure--Paranoiac-Critical Activity--spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the interpretative-critical association of delirious phenomena. The presence of the active and systematic elements peculiar of paranoia guarantees the evolutive and productive character that is peculiar to the Paranoiac-Critical Activity. The presence of active and systematic elements dos not imply the notion of voluntarily directed thought, not any intellectual compromise, for, as we know, the active and systematic structure in paranoia is consubstantial with the delirious phenomenon itself--any delirious phenomenon having a paranoiac character, even the one that is instantaneous and sudden, already entails the systematic structure "in its entirety" and only becomes objectified a posteriori by the critical intervention. The critical activity intervenes uniquely as a liquid developer of images, associations, coherences, and finesses, which are systematic, weighty and largely in existence at the moment in which the delirious instantaneity occurs, and which, for the time being at that degree of tangible reality, only Paranoiac-Critical Activity allows to return to objective light. Paranoiac-Critical Activity is an organizing and productive force of objective chance. Paranoiac-Critical Activity no longer considers the Surrealist phenomena and images in isolation, but, on the contrary, in a coherent whole of systematic and significant relations. Contrary to the passive, disinterested, contemplative and aesthetic attitude, vis-a-vis irrational phenomena, there is the active, systematic, organizing, cognoscitive attitude, when the same phenomena are considered to be associative, partial, and significant events in the true domain of our immediate and practical life experience. (Dali 1998f: 267)

The new method, as Salvador Dali himself states, is not only an attempt to draw attention to the weaknesses of ordinary perception and understanding,--"pure, psychic automatism, dreams, experimental oneirism, Surrealist Objects functioning symbolically, instinctive ideography, phosphenic and hypnagogic irritation appear to us today by "themselves" as nonevolutive processes--but also an effort to order "irrational thinking" by means of a system of symbols, which should reconcile between one's immediate experience and complete abstraction (Dali 1998f: 266). His intention is to develop a means of investigating reality, which should justify the "irrational," independent of what is generally defined as rational. Its main function is to generate "authentic," new, surprising images, whose nature remains "unknown." They are not hallucinations however, for the "paranoic mind" only discovers alternative meanings and interpretations of real objects:

The Paranoiac-Critical Activity organizes and objectifies in an exclusivist manner the unlimited and unknown own possibilities of systematic associations of subjective and objective phenomena appearing to us as irrational solicitations, solely by means of the obsessive idea. Paranoiac-Critical Activity reveals by this method new and objective "meanings" of the irrational, and it makes the very world of delirium pass tangibly to the level of reality. (Dali 1998f: 268)

The ambition of the Catalan painter is to show that "the world of imagination and concrete irrationality may be of the same objective clearness, of the same consistency, of the same durability, of the same persuasive, cognoscitive and communicable thickness as that of the external world of phenomenal reality," and that "the images of concrete irrationality draw nearer to the phenomenally real, with the corresponding means of expression as approaching those of the great realist painting--Velasquez and Vermeer of Delft--, in order to paint realistically according to irrational thought, according to the unknown imagination" (Dali 1998f: 265). Dali thus gives precise contour to his own approach, in its most characteristic data: spontaneous capture of an image, which continues to remain latent; the interpretative character and the primacy given to visual perception, while underlying the new function reason performs in the process.

One of the most significant examples of the use of the paranoiac-critical method beyond the space of painting, his study entitled Le Mythe tragique de l Angelus de Millet / The Tragic Myth of Millets' Angelus,--a text written between 1932 and 1933, but which remained unknown for forty-seven years, until it was published in 1963--aims to uncover the great "mythical theme" (in Freudian terms) that informs the nineteenth century French painter's work, namely, the death of the son followed by the sexual aggression of the mantis-woman. Stimulated by the psychoanalytical interpretation of Leonardo de Vinci's The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, from Leonardo da Vinci and a memory of his childhood (1910), where Freud detected the representation of an eagle as a sexual symbol, Dali, in his turn, was surprised to discover that L 'Angelus was, in fact a "tragic myth":

In addition to the well-known symbolic eroticism of mystical ecstasies to which the posture of the woman in L 'Angelus corresponds, you will agree with me that the position of the hands brought up together under the chin and leaving exposed especially the legs and the belly, is a common posture, stereotyped even in the hysterical poses of sculptures and, in particular, "art objects" sold in bazaars. The nostalgia they express is in keeping with the crepuscular feelings abundantly illustrated by postcards in which nudes in the same posture stand out against the sunset. This posture entails in my opinion very distinct exhibitionistic, expectant, and aggressive factors. In fact, we are dealing with a typical posture of expectation. It is an immobility that is a prelude to imminent violence. It is also the classical springing posture of animals, and it is one that is common to kangaroos and boxers, and above all, it is the one dramatically illustrated by the praying mantis (spectral posture). (Dali 1998b: 290-291)

Firmly convinced that Jean Francois Millet's painting hid a deeper truth and presupposing that the two peasants--the man and the woman--do not pray to God, as most people believed, but pray for somebody dead, the Catalan artist insisted that the painting be X-rayed. The radiography evidenced the presence of a rectangular form, placed on the ground, between the two characters. Invisible to the open eye, because it had been covered by successive layers of painting, this form would reveal, according to Dali, the image of a child's coffin--the coffin of their dead child--in front of which the parents are now praying and meditating.

However, Dali reaches this interpretation not by traditional psychological methods but through a process in which the interpretative disorder of paranoia is simulated in order to produce alternative forms of knowledge, otherwise inaccessible. Dali's irrational, confused reaction to Millet's painting--attraction and repulsion at the same time--lead him to the understanding of the profound sexuality and morbidity of the work and gives it a (symbolic) sense.

In the first section of the article, Dali explores and analyses an extremely vivid experience he lived through, in June 1932, when, "all of a sudden, without anti-recent recollection nor any conscious association that lends itself to an immediate explanation," Millet's painting came to his mind, yet "completely modified and charged with such latent intentionality (Dali 1998b: 283), that the Angelus became for him "the most disturbing, the most enigmatic, the most dense, and the richest in unconscious thoughts ever to have existed" (Dali 1998b: 283). The structural scheme of the phantasm inscribed in the painting is psychical and, once recognized by the subject, in an unconscious manner, it manifests itself in "secondary delirious transformation and to communicate it." (Dali 1998b: 288)

The third section methodically reports the results of the analysis. Firstly, Dali compares the Angelus of Millet with Watteau's L Embarquement pour Cythere / The Embarkation for Cythera, since both "tackle the fundamental question of instantaneous images and representations that are "arrested" according to the "temporal-argumentative becoming." In the Angelus, the confrontation of memory with the "argumentative time" is resolved oneirically, in terms of "psychic time," while in the Embarkation for the Cythera, the solution is more "relative," and is based on a "system of instantaneous references," meant to establish comparative irrational notions of time, in other words, concrete notions of time. The solutions suggested in both cases are equally dialectical--"the malaise" and "the incomprehensible violent obviousness" that characterize the two paintings are essentially similar--and what distinguishes them is the distinct manner in which each of them produces the "mechanical" verification, and in some way "spatial," of the argumentative question. The critic recognizes in the well-known psychic phenomena of "condensation," "substitution" and "displacement," as well as the existence, for this particular painting, of a "vast subject," with distinct, consecutive phases that are "held" within an instantaneous image, "exceptionally simple and seemingly devoid of the least action." (Dali 1998b: 293-294)

The organizing theme of the "phantasm" hiding in L'Angelus, corresponds to a Freudian narrative, including three important moments. Firstly, the expectation, in the crepuscular ambiance, which forebears the sexual aggression of the mantis-woman, figured in the painting through the posture of the two characters:

First phase: Standing out against the light of the crepuscular atmosphere determining the atavistic feelings, the two disturbing obsessive simulacra embodied by the couple of L 'Angelus face one another. We are dealing with a moment of waiting and immobility that heralds the imminent sexual aggression. The feminine figure--the mother assumes the expectant pose which we have identified with the spectral pose of the praying mantis, a classical posture used as a preliminary to the cruel mating. The male--the son--is captivated and is deprived of life by the irresistible erotic influence; he remains "nailed" to the ground, hypnotized by the "spectral exhibitionism" of his mother that annihilates him. The position of the hat, whose symbolism is one of the best known and least refutable ones in the language of dreams, betrays the state of sexual excitation of the son and illustrates the very act of coitus: it also serves to define a posture of shame vis-a-vis virility. (Dali 1998b: 295)

Then follows the violent sexual act, symbolized in the painting by the pitchfork thrust into the ground, and the death of the son (however no pictorial element directly alludes to his death, but Dali trusts his own "lyrical impressions"):

Second phase: the son carries out with his mother a coitus from the rear, holding the woman's legs in his hands at the height of his loins. We are dealing with a pose that reveals the highest degree of animality and atavism. This representation is provided for us in the painting by one of the accessory objects, the wheelbarrow, whose erotic personality is among the most unquestionable ones. Besides the extremely complex and extremely rich anthropomorphic metaphors it governs, the wheelbarrow is yet charged with a very concrete and special intentionality. Indeed, in the series of phantasms that are typical of erection, such as flight, skating, speeding locomotives, etc., we know animal traction--the painful traction so common in the obsessions of painters and designers (a horse pulling a heavy cart with paroxystic effort to the top of a hill)--to symbolize complexes of impotence and sexual deficiency, this by dint of the excessive effort attributed to the realization of that sexual act. The wheelbarrow takes its place among the latter representations; it is more direct than these, including as they do substitutive elements provided by the element of animal traction. This circumstance, we say, confers on the act of coitus a character of extreme and insurmountable physical effort, wholly savage and excessive, which is illustrated again by the element of the "pitchfork planted in the plowed land." (Dali 1998b, 295-296)

The final phase of the "argumentative development" that makes up the "myth"--the woman's sexual aggression--is summarized as follows:

Third phase: As in the love of the mantis, the female devours the male after the mating. [...] This last phase, as it will be remembered, is the one that had been studied with the most meticulous care in the course of the analysis of the delirious phenomena of the "cups" and the "cherries." Limiting myself to the painting, I still cannot, after all that has preceded, but appeal to the poetic intuition of the reader. There are certain determinations--like that of the maternal element provided by the association with the sacks, the cultivated land, the basket--that I don't judge to be sufficient, concerning which I am unwilling to insist, and which, when all is said and done, I don't even wish to be taken into consideration. I forgo specifying, on this occasion, notions such as that of the feeling of death, which, although I hold them to be certain, are too generalized to be of use in the present work. I prefer, as I have said, to limit myself, with regard to phenomena, to impressions that are, if you wish, strictly lyrical, formed in my mind by L'Angelus. I therefore acknowledge, with extreme clearness of fact that the masculine character appeared to me, from the beginning of the first scene of expectancy, in the light of disruption and anxiety. I saw him "as if being latently dead," "as if dying in advance." This impression can only be linked to my identification with the said character, which has already been sufficiently clarified. I would, in conclusion, be loath to appear to underestimate much the lyrical, or purely sensitive, intuition of the reader by returning with meticulous detail to the factors of "extinction," "monumental funerary feeling," the woman's active "immobility,"' the man's passive and annihilated one, and other circumstances and factors of "argumental ambiance," whose prodigious resolution in the painting, however oneiric, does not contribute with lesser power to the extraction, out of the insipid and stereotyped image of Millet's L'Angelus, of the maternal variant of the immense and horrifying myth of Saturn, of Abraham, of the Eternal Father with Jesus-Christ and of William Tell himself, all devouring their own sons. (Dali 1998b: 296-297)

Doing so, Dali distances himself from the "passive automatism" of surrealist thinking and of his mentor Andre Breton, and evinces the active and concrete character of subconscious thinking, capable of manifesting itself as an external reality, a reality which thus continues to bear the enigmatic mark of the inner world. The eye is not only a lens turned toward the world, it is the very process through which the intellect gives sensitive form to the "phantasm" of the subconscious, producing fresh images or narratives. The viewpoint adopted stimulated the painter's interest in the interpretative automatism of sight, and incited him to attribute an unexpected function to reason: far from being a corrective of the paranoiac vision, it revels and legitimizes it.

Dali's analysis has direct and immediate links with psychoanalysis and, while rejecting simple visual parallelisms, is based more on the psychoanalytical theory and its techniques of investigation to explain the deja vu phenomena, and interprets it symbolically. However, Dali detaches himself from Freud, insisting that his interpretative system of "spontaneous irrational knowledge" does not admit of logical reduction; instead, it proposes a reading based on "delirious" subjective-obsessive associations. Thus, paradoxically, the interpreter becomes, in fact, "the subject of his own analysis" (Ades 1995: 143144). By appealing to the "instinctive look," fertilized by a surrealist "automatic thinking," Dali succeeded in producing unexpected images of the world. Although the aesthetics adopted after this moment would change, the painter remained faithful to the paranoiac-critical method throughout his life, for the simple reason that it was the convenient means of summing up his own conceptual position, which seems to have emerged "directly from his experience as a painter" (Radford, 1997: 139), rather than from any theoretical readings.

Readings of the invisible

One might consider, for example, that Andre Breton's following statement is overbidding:

Dali, who reigns over these distant countries, must be aware of too many and too reprehensible examples ever to let himself be dispossessed of his marvelous treasures. May the powers of whom he is in the world and among us the envoy forever close his eyes to the pitiable plans that envy and spite have engineered to make him construct bridges over the brilliant, unapproachable and magnetic river. Dali is perhaps the first to throw open the windows of the mind. [...] We are literally snatched up [...] yes, into a sort of interior show-window (by his figures) which, to our fright, are reflected in the air as though the latter were suddenly revealed as a simple game of mirrors that one would have only to change around slowly but surely to see an immense hole made in which there would then appear the figures, conjurable or not, which haunt a second countryside in a second zone of which everything carries the premonition. (apud Carrouges 1974: 159)

However, his words aptly characterize the 1930s Dali, whose experiments with the pictorial technique however, do not belong exclusively to this moment, since there are antecedents of paranoiac images in Dali's earlier works, such the head of the locust which doubles the eyes of the fish, and the voluntary visions identified in the pebbles on the beach at Cadaques, in Accommodations of Desire (1929). Although they use the symbolic language of psychology, these paintings remained very personal documents, objectifying mythical figures or personal obsession (Ades 1995: 119-120). Dali was a painter of almost miraculous technical skills, who put on his canvas myriads of fantasies and paranoiac "hallucinations." His paintings show a world inhabited by weird objects and creatures, in a rarefied atmosphere, from where the laws of physics seem to have been suspended, and where the contours of immediate reality are blurred: a world of simulacra, forged according to the artist's deepest drives. His "paranoiac-critical" approach allows him to manipulate external phenomena, and invests them with oneiric meanings and emotions. It is an inter-subjective world of illusory experiences, by means of which art becomes a "fantasmatic reading" of the real. Indeed, the Spanish painter seems to deliberately project on the canvas his own obsessions and fetishes. The architecture of his paintings may look fortuitous, but it is not: "paranoia," whose creative resources he explores is a "rational" mental disorder, and the "paranoiac delirium" consists in a complex and logical explanation of the world, which is the key to the obsessive idea. The 'father of psychoanalysis' provides a convincing explanation for such an experience: "The most striking characteristic of symptom-formation in paranoia is the process which deserves the name of projection. An internal perception is suppressed, and, instead, its content, after undergoing a certain kind of distortion, enters consciousness in the form of an external perception" (Freud 2001e: 66). Furthermore, for Freud, the work of art is the product of "sublimation," by means of which the efforts of the artist, guided by the "reality principle," transforms unseen impulses into a socially and aesthetically acceptable object:

An artist is originally a man who turns away from reality because he cannot come to terms with the renunciation of instinctual satisfaction which it at first demands, and who allows his erotic and ambitious wishes full play in the life of phantasy. He finds the way back to reality, however, from this world of phantasy by making use of special gifts to mold his phantasies into truths of a new kind, which are valued by men as precious reflections of reality. Thus in a certain fashion he actually becomes the hero, the king, the creator, or the favourite he desired to be, without following the one roundabout path of making real alterations in the external world. But he can only achieve this because other men feel the same dissatisfaction as he does with the renunciation demanded by reality, and because that dissatisfaction, which results from the replacement of the pleasure principle by the reality principle, is itself a part of reality. (Freud 2001c: 224)

The simulated "paranoia" of Dali thus becomes a mechanism, which the artist employs and controls, in order to expand the scale of analogies, and to demonstrate the high incidence of subjectivity in the real world, thus, fulfilling an ideal formulated in the first Manifeste du surrealisme / Surrealist Manifesto (1924): "I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality, if one may so speak." (Breton 1969a: 14)

The Angelus: paranoiac variations of a tragic myth

Fascinated by the "tragic myth" of Jean-Francois Millet's Angelus, Dali transformed the French painters' work into a sort of "model," by means of which he attempted to elucidate the profound meanings of life. The perception of reality through an obsessive external image, yet perfectly integrated into it, not only reveals the phantasmatic dimensions of the representation, yet, through the play of correspondences, confers the work its unusual oneiric and lyrical power. The attraction is so irresitible that, at some moment, the Spanish painter "invents" himself as a charcter of the Angelus, as a passage from "New York me salue" seems to suggest:

What utter solitude! It is true (but this certainty actually highlights the horizontal melancholy) that in the geometric centre of the field, extremely tall, the two troubled and well-known figures, much like the ancient statues, represent the tragic couple in Millet's Angelus. [...] The man's figure is mine: I am blind, my golden mouth is full of feces, I have nice women's breasts, a whip in my hand, a crown of roses on my head: the woman, Sacher-Masoch's incarnation, looks straight into my eyes, with infinite sadness, all in furs" (apud Amossy 1995: 93)

Dali fully explored the creative possibilities of the tragic theme in the Angelus throughout his artistic career. If it were not for the clear indication in the title, The True Picture of the "Island of the Dead" by Arnold Bocklin at the Hour of the Angelus (1932), one could hardly establish any link between Dali's painting and Millet's. In fact, the relation is even more complex than it looks at first sight. The original impulse, as Dali acknowledges in Reverie / Daydream (1931) came from the celebrated painting of Arnold Bocklin, Die Toteninsel / Isle of the Dead (1880); the bay and the cypresses that the Swiss artist painted offered him the chance of imaginatively re-visiting his birth places:

All of a sudden, I am pulled out of this state of ecstasy by a very live erotic emotion. It is due to my drowsy eyes falling on the half-opened door of the stable, which I recognize, without a shadow of doubt to be the one in my dream. But this emotion becomes amazingly more pronounced the moment I notice the well-known presence of the swaying tips of the cypresses, a cluster of which, in reality, right away beyond the stable, separates the courtyard from the meadow, where, in my dream, my fantasy was placed: the huge pond. The emotion related to the tips of the cypresses derives from the instantaneous association with another cluster of cypresses found in a public place near Figueras, called "Fountain of the Log." This cluster of the very old thick cypresses surrounded a flagstone circle at the centre of which, in the midst of extremely worn stone benches, flowed a ferrugionous fountain. A little aluminium cup was attached to a small chain. (Dali 1998c: 154)

However, none of these appear in Dali's painting, the rich figuration of the original is replaced by a rocky, almost barren mass. It is only its form, and an aluminum cup attached to a small chain, in the foreground that still reminds of the Bocklian island. In Dali's eyes, the two objects may evoke symbolical sodomy--and thus establish a "paranoiac" relation of Millet's Angelus.

Meditation on the Harp (1932-1934), is another Dalian reverie connected with the Angelus of Jean-Francois Millet. In it, the spectral figure of a man, with his head bent as if for prayer (obviously borrowed from Millet's painting), is embraced by a voluptuous naked woman. Another figure, dressed in black, with the leg deformed by a swelling (an allusion to the fact that in Greek "Oedipus" means "swollen leg"), on its knees in front of the first, occupies the foreground. Her elbow prolongs in an anatomical configuration on which one may distinguish the rictus of an anamorphozed skull. In psychoanalytical terms, teeth are a symbol connected to sexuality, and the protuberance could be interpreted as a substitute for the peasant's phallus in Millet's painting. Freud (1976: 650) describes displacement as an oneiric mechanism, by means of which disturbing images gain an inoffensive form. The anatomic prominence of the elbow thus unites eroticism with death, which the presence of the crutch--a Dalian symbol of death and resurrection--seems to confirm. Meditation on the Harp thus becomes a poetical evocation of the Oedipus complex, a reflection on the theme of incest and death, as the symbolical figuration discussed above, and the title of the painting seem to suggest.

In Gala and the Angelus of Millet Preceding the Imminent Arrival of the Conical Anamorphoses (1933), the original image (the Angelus) appears in a painting hanging above the doorway; behind the door, a man, with a pink lobster on his head--Maxim Gorky--, seems to be eavesdropping a conversation between Lenin, his back to the door, and a Lilliputian Gala, grinning from the other end of the room. Logically unexplainable, this work is typical of the "paranoiac-critical method," as it systematizes a succession of delirious elements too. Actually, through a series of "irrational associations" Dali reproduces the "great tragic myth" of Millet's painting, namely the confrontation between man and woman. We identify this duality in the busts placed on the shelf and in the enigmatic character on the left. Yellow--the colour of fertility, but also of decline, old age and death--dominates, forming a luminous framework, which corresponds to the panels of the open door. The ambiguity of the prevailing colour evokes a world that seems to be alive, yet dead, at the same time. The character on the left, with his eyebrows, moustache, and hand ossified--a leitmotif with Dali--, confronts a brightly coloured, smiling and exuberant Gala.

Millet's characters transform into biomorphic big and white rocks, atavist menhires, in The Architectural Angelus of Millet (1933), while in Atavism at Twilight (1933-1934), which Dali used to illustrate the Tragic Myth, the man becomes a skeleton, with a wheelbarrow extending out of its skull. The female has almost completely devoured the male character in Atavistic Vestiges after the Rain (1934); the spectacle is contemplated as an ancient monument by an infant Dali and his father, both placed under the rock representing the male. Although the rock on the left represents the male and seems to be governing the landscape, because of its size, the rock representing the female is even more aggressive, since it thrusts part of itself towards the male figure, as if willing to establish a physical contact with the former. A long crutch pokes her in the left arm, while the pitchfork mixes with her sleeve, as if supporting her for a prayer.

In 1933-1934 Dali illustrated Les Chants de Maldoror by Lautreamont, one of the most cherished books by the Surrealists. He used Millet's Angelus as a starting point for a series of variations on themes of sexual cannibalism, death and eroticism. In one of them, Saturn devours his own child caught in a sewing machine, a reference to a famous line in the 6th canto of Maldoror, where the French poet describes a young boy as "handsome as the chance juxtaposition of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table!" (1920: 322-323), very popular in contemporary surrealist circles, who were adamant about its erotic symbolism. However, Dali interpreted the sewing machine and the umbrella as two figures from Millet's Angelus.

Narcissus: the image of Transfiguration

The Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937)--the oil canvas and the poem of the same title that accompanies it, were, in the artist's own words, "the first poem and the first painting obtained nearly through the integral application of the paranoiac-critical method" (Dali 1998h: 324). On the canvas, three different types of images duplicate, with a similar configuration and with interconnected meanings. The bent-over figure of Narcissus, turns into an ossified arm holding an egg (a symbol of life), nonetheless broken, out of which a narcissus flower grows the flower of recollection, a tribute paid to the youth and beauty of the hero. The relationship between illusion and reality is perfectly embodied by the myth of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image, and drowned in an attempt to touch it. Thus, in the foreground, to the left, we have the image that contains the "phantasm" in its latent state (Narcissus as man), while on the right, the manifest image of the phantasm (Narcissus as flower) is presented. Finally, in the background, and in the intermediary space, there appear a series of images, which develop various aspects of the original image.

It is spring, the season of Narcissus, and on the right, visible above the mountains, the God of Snow lies. From beyond the mountain peaks, he bends over the remote reflection of his own image in the pond below, and is about to metamorphose, pushed by insatiable desires. The heterosexual group behind Narcissus, stirred by the troubling craving for the other sex, look like a parody of a group of figures from a Renaissance painting, except for the fact that their attitudes are no longer innocent, since they are in "preliminary expectation" (as the homonymous poem seems to indicate):

Under the splitting the retreating black cloud the invisible scale of Spring is oscillating in the fresh April sky. On the highest mountain, the god of the snow, his dazzling head bent over the dizzy space of reflections, starts melting with desire in the vertical cataracts of the thaw annihilating himself loudly among the excremental cries of minerals, or between the silences of mosses toward the distant mirror of the lake in which, the veils of winter having disappeared, he has newly discovered the lightening flash of his faithful image. (Dali 1998h: 325)

Narcissus himself is painted in smooth golden colours, and, as Dali claims in the poem, he too seems to dissolve in the red and golden rocks and their reflections; in love with himself, the petrified man gazes at himself:

When the clear and divine body of Narcissus leans down to the obscure mirror of the lake, when his white torso folded forward fixes itself, frozen, in the silvered and hypnotic curve of his desire, when the time passes on the clock of the flowers of the sand of his own flesh, Narcissus loses his being in the cosmic vertigo in the deepest depths of which is singing the cold and Dyonisiac siren of his own image. The body of Narcissus flows out and loses itself in the abyss of his reflection, like the sand glass that will not be turned again. (Dali 1998h: 327)

The poem unfolds the same story. The latent and the manifest images are presented one after the other. Firstly, the silepsis "he has a bulb in his head" (which corresponds to the double image of the painting, and contains the phantasm in a latent state) is an expression, which, in Catalan, has two different meanings. In a direct sense, it alludes to a bulb that could germinate and grow flowers; figuratively, it designates paranoia. The latent significance of the phrase then becomes manifest. (Dali 1998h: 325)

The progressive revelation of the change then follows, with three sequences which reiterate the same theme and gradually reconstruct the story of Narcissus. In particular, the sequences devoted to the God of Snow and to Narcissus relate the same history (i.e. the history of a metamorphosis). However, while the transformation of the God of Snow is only announced hypothetically, Narcissus has already undergone it:

Narcissus, you are losing your body, carried away and confounded by the millenary reflection of your disappearance your body stricken dead falls to the topaz precipice with yellow wreckage of love, your white body, swallowed up, follows the slope of the savagely mineral torrent of the black precious stones with pungent perfumes, your body... down to the unglazed mouths of the night on the edge of which there sparkles already all the red silverware of dawns with veins broken in 'the wharves of blood.' (Dali 1998h: 327)

The parallel arrangement of analogous sequences is the source of revelation. The Metamorphosis of Narcissus could be considered a variant of Millet's Mythe tragique de l'Angelus. In both cases, the initial delirious phenomenon the image of the man contemplating himself in the mirror of the lake--is revealed through a series of secondary phenomena, which reiterate the same structural scheme; in both cases, the painter reconstructs a psychic scenario: the expectation which announces the realization of a devouring desire, the realization of desire and the consequences that derive from this. Thus, Dali re-writes in positive terms the tragic history of the Angelus; however, both the type of desire (narcissistic) as well as the result (rebirth of man) are different from those in Millet's painting.

In the Metamorphosis, there are two sets of representations of the idealized desire, both opposed to reality. In the foreground to the left, we see Narcissus, as an image of ephemeral androgynous beauty, on the right, a hand symbolizing reality. In the background to the left, a crowd of naked individuals, both men and women, seem to be in a state of great agitation. They too stand for reality, while, on the right, the androgynous image of perfection, placed on a pedestal, may signify ideal unity. This repetition of themes, this constant return to the same fundamental aspects, reflects the Freudian interpretative model.

The huge soft hand in the foreground draws the eye, and is even more prominent than the figure of Narcissus. The egg that it holds (a favourite Dalian symbol representing the duality of a hard exterior and a soft interior connected with pre-natal images) could denote the life instinct. However, at the same time, we cannot help seeing ants inexorably crawling the egg. The ants in Dali's paintings usually connote death. This hand, therefore, holds life, yet it cannot avoid being affected by death too. The flower that sprouts from the broken egg, like the flower that grows on the very place where Narcissus dies, epitomizes the merging of the two complementary principles. It is a new life, but a life that is born out of death. In Freudian terms, Eros and Thanatos meet in this work of Dali's.

The other theme of the Metamorphosis is the idealization of unfulfilled wishes. The arm, as an embodiment of the unforgiving and unchaining reality of life and death, stands in opposition to the idealized figure of Narcissus, representing wish, in the same way as the reflected image symbolizes what Lacan describes as the "moment of initial recognition," when the mirror gives the child a more perfect image of his own self. It is, Lacan argues (1966: 9ff), a mistaken identification, because the image is perceived as the "other," which is necessary for the individual to recognize himself as complete, but which can never be united with her. Along this line of thought, the myth of Narcissus illustrates the individual's wish to be reunited with the "other": it is the eternal search for that perfect, yet never achievable, union.

Moreover, according to freudian theory, the child also wants to be reunited with his mother and to return to that ideal relation which precedes the infusion of the third party (represented by his father, or someone else, who intervenes between them). Narcissus' wish, therefore, is the wish to regress to that original state. This could be further linked to Freud's "death drive," the individual's wish to return to stasis. We could consequently interpret the image of Narcissus not only as a wish for union with one's own mage, but also a death-wish, which could lead to the inorganic state of existence.

In the background, one can see a colossal figure on a pedestal. It could embody the sublimation of love. Like Narcissus, it is an androgyny, neither male nor female, representing the unity of the two halves, which is impossible to achieve, and which, for this reason, we tend to idealize. This duality is also symbolized by the fact that it is placed on a pedestal lying on a checkered floor, so that half of it rises on a black square and half on a white one, uniting the feminine and masculine principles, in a perfect union, idealized by means of the Oedipus complex, where the wish to be united with mother, to be complete and to return to this perfection is never fulfilled.

Narcissism represents the second phase in Freud's theory of psycho-sexual development, in which the desire focuses on one's own person:

A second pregenital phase is that of the sadisticanal organization. Here the opposition between two currents, which runs through all sexual life, is already developed: they cannot yet, however, be described as 'masculine' and 'feminine,' but only as 'active' and 'passive.' The activity is put into operation by the instinct for mastery through the agency of the somatic musculature; the organ which, more than any other, represents the passive sexual aim is the erotogenic mucous membrane of the anus. Both of these currents have objects, which, however, are not identical. Alongside these, other component instincts operate in an auto-erotic manner. In this phase, therefore, sexual polarity and an extraneous object are already observable. But organization and subordination to the reproductive function are still absent. (Freud 2001a: 198-199)

Dali imagined himself symbolically as the Great masturbator (1929), a painting which presents itself as a kind of self-portrait, in the image of a creature "driven by the darkest desires and pleasures" (Amossy 1995: 95). The deformed human face that appears in the foreground calls to mind the rocky formations on the coast at Port Lligat, on whose mouth lies a locust (one of the painter's phobias). Behind him, the body of a naked woman rises. The image is completed by another male figure, whom we can see only from the waist downward, his knee bleeding. The image most likely evokes the ambiguous sexual attitudes of the artist.

Specular games

That draws Dali to paranoia is its capacity to integrate diverse elements in an ensemble which generates unexpected forms and meanings. Based on a repressed wish, which only sheds light on its atavist sources, paranoia proves its efficiency through its capacity to unite a delirious image, art and desire. Dali re-constructs reality around an obsessively aberrant, yet perfectly coherent symbolic idea, which orders the logic of his artistic vision. The Spanish painter had explored the irrational resources of the image before 1930. Thus, in The Enigma of Desire (1929), three figures, i.e., an anthropomorphic rock reminding of the geological formations from his native Port Lligat, whose significance is commented upon in the Tragic Myth, with many recesses, in which the artist inscribed the words ma mere / my mother, and which prolongues with a face (Dali's) that touches the ground. A devouring and menacing female character can be seen through one of the perforations of the stone. This way, Dali gives expression to an oedipal complex eroticism that unifies incest and fear.

Dali's first experiment with the "paranoiac-critical method" was an engraving entitled, La femme visible, illustrating the artistic manifesto that Andre Breton and Paul Eluard published in 1930. It is a whimsical collage of strikingly sexual images--a whole palette of Freudian symbols expressing the deepest impulses of the subconscious, complex human figures (the second one, on the right, drawing on Leonardo da Vinci's Madonna of the Rocks or that of an old man spitting into a calyx), in a confusion of forms, which makes them difficult to identify. For psychoanalysis, the symbolism of such images relates to parental domination, rebellion, fear, necrosis, or obsession. The poetics (or the logic) of inscribing one image into another only calls attention to the symbol and, therefore, to continuity, at the expence of fragmentation, and enhances the impression of the subject's integration into the object.

In a number of emblematic works, such as The Birth of Liquid Desires (1932), Surrealist Architecture (1933), Burning Giraffe (1934-1937), the represented objects lose their identity, they look soft, deformed, rotten, tumescent, their contours blur; they seem to dissolve and metamorphose. Time too seems to have liquefied, it is soft and elusive in the Persistence of Memory (1931) and Soft Clocks (1933). Images of death, excrement, of mutilation, castration, of rotting corpses appear in Autumn Cannibalism (1936-1937), or in the Spectre of Sex Appeal (1934) and The Knight of Death (1935).

In the Spectre of Sex Appeal, for instance, a gigantic and disquieting female figure, a spectral amphibian which probably reflects one of the artist's phobias, is captured at sunset, against the familiar background of the bay of Port Lligat. Here, Dali paints himself as an infant dressed in the well-known childhood sailor suit. In Freudian terms, the spectral monster--an image of eternal womanhood--may summarize the artists' own ambiguous attitude toward sexuality: "Vividly apparent in the latter deformation and decomposition," are "the simulacra of transmutation and metamorphosis that utter no promises of conciliation and union." (LaFountain 1997: 54)

Compositionally, the Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War) (1936) is also dominated by a huge grotesque figure, which seems to be dismembered, only to recombine in the most unlikely assemblage of a human body. Created before the Spanish Civil War broke out, the painting is a "mad" monument to a divided Spain:

When I arrived in Paris I painted a large picture which I entitled Premonition of the Civil War. In this picture I showed a vast human body breaking out into monstrous excrescences of arms and legs tearing at one another in a delirium of autostrangulation. As background to this architecture of frenzied flesh devoured by a narcissistic and biological cataclysm, I painted a geological landscape that had been uselessly revolutionized for thousands of years, congealed in its "normal course." The soft structure of that great mass of flesh in civil war I embellished with a few boiled beans, for one could not imagine swallowing all that unconscious meat without the presence (however uninspiring) of some mealy and melancholy vegetable. (Dali 1993: 357)

The oil canvas, Daddy Longlegs of the Evening... Hope! (1940) invites viewers to consider the Spanish painter's attitude toward war. Painted during his American exile, the work does not figure, as expected, a war scene, but an elongated, mutilated figure, stretched on the branch of a rotting tree. It looks like a woman, yet the inert head lying on the ground is undoubtedly Dali's. A spider, together with an army of black ants crawl on it. Above Dali's gelatinous head there is a cannon which spits out through its mouth a horse and an airplane, like a deflated balloon. Both are about to crash on the Winged Victory of Samothrace, which seems to be made of bandages. On the left, a desperate angel covers its eyes. The title alludes to a French legend that says that if one comes across a spider in the evening, this is good omen. It is a prophetic declaration against World War II and, in a more general sense, a condemnation of all wars:

A child with angelic wings is seated in the left corner of the picture, hiding his eyes so as not to see a sexual cannon supported by a crutch from which emerges a hollow-socketed horse with a muscular horse in the process of putrefaction, its forward legs forming the arms of a winged victory that ends in a gigantic funny foot that connects with a long limp breast also oozing out of the cannon like a sperm. Before this penis-cannon, a limp woman broken in two, supported by the branch of a tree, planted in a geometric frame, plays a limp violoncello with a viscous bow. (Dali 1976: 242)

From the extremely detailed and accurate description of Dali, the spider with such long and hairy legs and the ants which crawl on the woman's dress--thanatic symbols, of course--are missing.

Dali attempted to use the double image, for the first time, in an ambitious painting called, The Invisible Man, begun in 1929, and still unfinished in 1931, when it was displayed in Paris. The figure of the sitting man covers the whole length of the canvas, whose pictorial space is filled with ruins, statues and arches of buildings, a landscape inspired by the reminiscence of a colored plate from a children's book about Egyptian ruins (Dali 1993: 257ff). This time, the new images construct from other objects, a technique reminding of Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593). In this painting, one can see two different images: either a man whose hair is at the same time clouds and eyes, blue balls arranged on the pavement of a landscape, or a bust of a woman seen from behind. However, the man is not visible unless we accept the fusion of the space and the body, of the background and the figure. Indeed, if we look at the elements drawn in isolation, we can see there where man's arm should be, the bust of a woman lying on a geometrized surface through a perspectival network that disappears on the point of the horizon. On the other hand, the focal point of vision is, at the same time, the vanishing point of a deep crack in the ground, located exactly behind the anatomic representation of a woman's pelvis, a maternal groin, treated as a precious object--golden, grey-metallic, decorated with arabesques, with a white, empty and luminous point in the middle. The object has a paradoxical position in space, and seems, on the other hand, to float in the air, or to be placed on a pedestal, or on the ground, on a carpet of water, reflecting the sky. It belongs simultaneously to the earth and to the sky, ignoring the cut of the horizon line. Dali thus figures the ambiguity of contraries.

In Invisible Sleeping Woman, Horse, Lion (1930), the double and multiple images conceived by the artist are based on the instantaneous over-determination of contours and the automatism of sight. The title reveals three possible readings of the painting (latent images) existing in the represented form.

Not all images in the Suburbs of a Paranoiac-Critical Town: Afternoon on the Outskirts of European History (1936) function as 'double images.' Firstly, there are the distinct architectural spaces, horizontally arranged--reminding of the metaphysical architecture of Chirico--, and formally connected by an arch combined with a round dormer window which becomes a small sphere above the belfry, each representing a place familiar to the painter--on the left, a building from Palamos, south of Barcelona, where Dali was living when he realized this oil canvas; in the centre, framed by an arch, lies the village of Vilabertran, not far away from Figueras, and to the right, Calle del Cal, the main street in Cadaques, that leads to the port. On the left and in the centre, there are some buildings. Each of the scenes, in itself a separated pictorial space, evokes a non-specified interior space. Other images, seem to function as setting for a specific paranoiac phenomenon (cf. Ades 1995: 129). In the central scene, the cluster of grapes in Gala's hand, the horse skull on the table next to her, the rump of a horse seen from behind, isolated on a pedestal, all invite to a "paranoiac-critical" reading. Several other similar dimension figures, scattered on the canvas--the girls that can be seen through the central arch which repeats the configuration of the bell that we see through the embrasure of the tower, a bell that is then repeated in the couple of strange figures in the foreground and again, on the upper floor of the building on the left, where they are much easier to identify, the key-hole in the trunk on the right in front, all are connected to the same configuration. The European history to which the title of the painting alludes seems to be that of Greek and Roman civilization, if we take into account the amphora on the table, in the foreground. By connecting various objects, figures, architectural elements, and impressions through the form of their appearance, Dali divulges the inner essence of the paranoiac delirium and its creative force. The obsessive image that reiterates and repeats with insistence in paranoia and the effective investment of a paranoiac in his obsessions are not associated with any content of the image, but to a form, and as a form alone the image is given to its replication. The obsessive image of a paranoiac is rational on the one hand because of the consistency of its reappearance, and yet it is irrational on the other hand because of its total disregard for the materiality of an object, or figure, on which it leaves its mark. (cf. Polsani 2001: 171)

In 1938, Dali created a number of paintings with multiple simultaneous images, among them Invisible Afghan with the Apparition on the Beach of the Face of Garcia Lorca in the Form of a Fruit Dish with Three Figs, which he painted only a few years after the tragic death of Federico Garcia Lorca. It shows the face of the poet, with childlike features, in the form of a "paranoiac-critical" fruit-bowl. The Endless Enigma is perhaps the most elaborate of them. When displayed in New York in 1939, the catalogue of the exhibition contained six drawings which reduced the composite image to separate "readings": the beach at Cape de Creus, the sitting woman seen from the back, mending a sail, the boat; the reclining philosopher; the face of the Cyclopean figure; the greyhound lying down; the mandolin, the fruit bowl, and a mythological animal. In Impressions of Africa, with its impressive chiaroscuro effects and Baroque perspective, Dali paints himself sitting in front of the canvas, with the sagacious look of a clairvoyant who attempts to call in his imagination the spirits, such as that of Gala, whose eyes transform into the arches of a building behind her. Other images also invite to multiple readings, such as the monk's head which, unpredictably transforms into a donkey (an obvious anticlerical charge). The prancing horses in the battle scenes from Spain are modelled on Leonardo da Vinci. Their monochromatic combination with the brownish (hardly sketched) background and ambiguously placed strange horsemen, in natural landscape behind the Virgin with Jesus, remind of da Vinci's unfinished work, The Adoration of the Magi. The images invite the viewer to a double reading, because he can see either a face with red lips and huge melancholy eyes, or the figure of a person standing and a man on a horse.

The most successful illustration of the "double image" phenomenon seems to be Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire (1940), in which a sitting Gala gazes at a group of figures, including two women (nuns) dressed in black. Together with the arch that opens from the building in ruins, standing behind them, they form the bust of Voltaire, their faces become his eyes, their arms in gloves and their laced collars, his chin, while the sky, his high forehead.

After World War II, Dali distanced himself from Surrealism and renewed his working technique, yet, although he adopted a more eclectic style, he never abandoned the paranoiac-critical method entirely. A spectacular work, The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1970) is a complex synopsis for the whole creation of Salvador Dali, a supreme example of the method, and a visual autobiography. A series of quasi-hypnotic images and forms populate the canvas, offering a panorama of reminiscences and visual associations. The shadows of the evening stretch over a bullfight arena, flooded with red and yellow tones (an allusion to the Spanish flag), over which the gadflies of Saint Narciso (patron of Cataluna) - forming the cap, the hairnet and the cape of the toreador--march in straight, parallel lines. Other elements make the hidden image of the toreador gradually visible. The body of the second statue of Venus reveals his face and torso, its breasts, his right eye and his nose, while its arms transform into his mouth. The white area reveals a tear dripping from the bullfighter's eye. Their long dresses make up the toreador's red and white scarf. His green tie pairs visually with the shadows on Venus's dress. Down, in the left hand corner, a visible rectangular structure of multicoloured circles draws the viewer's attention toward the head of a moribund bull, saliva and blood dripping from his mouth that unawares transform into a laguna, with a human figure lying in the sun, on an air mattress; the trash in the lower part of the beach take the form of a Dalmatian dog, gazing at the pond. The slain bull seem to rise and turn his head to the protective mountainous landscape of the Cap de Creus, a region near Port Lligat, where the canvas was painted. A rock, with a rose growing on its top, reminds of the abrupt crests near Rosas, the town where Dali's studio was located. The whole spectacle is watched by an infant Dali, dressed in a sailor's uniform. It is a more or less exact echo of the child in the Spectre of Sex Appeal. The standing child looks distressed and holds a circle in his hand. By figuring himself as a child and not as an adult, Dali may have portrayed his own childhood and his newly awakened sexuality. In the top left corner, a serious Gala, to whom the painting is dedicated, disapprovingly watches the corrida scene--which could be interpreted as a pictorial presentation of the fact that she did not like bull fighting--, and returns the look of the young Dali. Their eyes meet in the middle of the canvas, fixed on the button, obsessively painted, of the toreador's collar.

The pictorial space of The Hallucinogenic Toreador also achieves a sort of essential unity of Dali's artistic history. The double image of the hound and the molecular diagram of the bull's head remind of his interest in optics, and of his fascination for the atomic science, respectively. The shadows on the small plaster statuettes representing Venus, which seem to float, may be an allusion to the silhouettes of Millet's Angelus. Voltaire's bust evokes the famous image form the Slave Market, while the floating rose reminds of Gradiva, the muse of the surrealists, and the sobriquet of Gala. In the opposite side of the artist's easel, a cubist vision of Venus of Milo, combining the classical symbol of beauty with subtle eroticism, recalls Dali's first attempts at modeling in plaster, at the school of art. While the line of goddesses gradually disappear from the bull ring, Venus transforms into a toreador's face. Above the bay, a bull head is agonizing, its eyes half-open. The image of Venus is reiterated in several other elements in the painting. One can distinguish replicas of it in some small statues on the beach, as well as in the Cubist representation, near the bull, which makes possible the hybrid transubstantiation of the two specters into one image, namely the hallucinogenic toreador. The goddess continues to live in the toreador, without losing her identity and beauty. "I believe that the moment is near when by a procedure of active paranoiac thought, it will be possible to systematize confusion and contribute to the total discrediting of the world of reality." (Dali 1998g: 223)

Salvador Dali imagined a world controlled by a mysterious order, and ubiquitous symmetry, which only the paranoiac-critical method could reveal. It allowed him to free his most hidden thoughts and concentrate on his own inner world. In his paintings, the Spanish artist blends startling images with conventional ones to make the viewer aware of his/her own emotional states and subconscious thoughts. He invites us to alter the way in which we perceive reality, and carries it into new, unknown realms of which he is the undisputed Master.


Ades D (1995) Dali. London: Thames & Hudson.

Amossy R (1995) Dali, ou le fillon de la paranoia. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Anes F (2007) Salvador Dali. The construction of the image, 1925-1930. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Breton A (1969a) Manifesto of surrealism. Manifestoes of surrealism, pp 1-48. Searver R, Lane HR, trans. Minnesota: University of Michigan University Press.

Breton A (1969b) Situation of the surrealist object. Manifestoes of surrealism, pp 255-278. Searver R, Lane HR, trans. Minnesota: University of Michigan University Press.

Breton A (1978) What is surrealism? What is surrealism? Selected writings, pp 151-187. Rosemond F, ed. Atlanta: Pathfinder Press.

Breton A, Eluard P (1990) The immaculate conception. Graham J, trans. Melville A, pref. London: Atlas Press.

Carrouges M (1974) Andre Breton and the basic concepts of surrealism. Prendergast: University of Alabama Press.

Dali S (1930) La femme visible. Paris: Editions surrealistes.

Dali S. (1976) The unspeakable confessions of Salvador Dali as told to Andre Parinaud. Salemsom HJ, trans. New York: William Morrow.

Dali S (1993) The secret life of Salvador Dali. Chevalier HM, trans. New York: Dover Publications.

Dali S (1998a) Anti-matter manifesto. The collected writings of Salvador Dali, pp 366-367. Finkelstein H, ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Dali S (1998b) The tragic myth of Millet's L'angelus: Paranoic-critical interpretation. The collected writings of Salvador Dali, pp 282-297. Dali S, Feinklestein H, eds. Feinklestein H, trans. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Dali S (1998c) Daydream. The collected writings of Salvador Dali, pp 150-161. Finkelstein H, ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Dali S (1998d) New general considerations regarding the mechanism of the paranoiac phenomenon from the surrealist point of view. The collected writings of Salvador Dali, pp 256-262. Finkelstein H, ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Dali S (1998e) Psycho-atmospheric-anamorphic objects. The collected writings of Salvador Dali, pp 244-248. Finkelstein H, ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Dali S (1998f) The conquest of the irrational. The collected writings of Salvador Dali, pp 262-272. Finkelstein H, ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Dali S (1998g) The rotting donkey. The collected writings of Salvador Dali, pp 223-226. Finkelstein H, ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Dali S (1998h) Metamorphosis of Narcissus. A paranoiac poem. The collected writings of Salvador Dali, pp 324-329. Finkelstein H, ed. Scarpe F, trans. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Dali, S. (1998i). Surrealist objects. The collected writings of Salvador Dali, pp 231-233. Finkelstein H, ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Dali S (2007) Diary of a genius. Ballard JG, pref. Washington, DC: Solar Books.

Dromard G, Antheaume A (1908) Poesie et folie: essai de psychologie et de critique. Paris: Octave Doin.

Freud S (1976) The interpretation of dreams. Strachey J, ed. London: Penguin.

Freud S (2001a) Three essays on sexuality. The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud 7: 125-243. Strachey J, ed. London: Vintage.

Freud S (2001b) Beyond the pleasure principle. The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud 18: 7-66. Strachey J, ed. London: Vintage.

Freud S (2001c) Formulations regarding the two principles in mental functioning. The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud 12: 218-226. Strachey J, ed. London: Vintage.

Freud S (2001d) Leonardo da Vinci and a memory of his childhood. The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud 11: 220-225. Strachey J, ed. London: Vintage.

Freud S (2001e) Psycho-analytic notes upon an autobiographical account of a case of paranoia (dementia paranoides). The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud 12: 3-84. Strachey J, ed. London: Vintage.

Kraepelin E (1912) Lectures on clinical psychiatry. Authorized translation from the second German edition. Johnstone T, ed. New York: William Wood.

Lacan J (1966) Ecrits, vol 1. Paris: Seuil.

Lacan J (1975a) Le probleme du style et la conception psychiatrique des formes paranoi'aques de l'experience. De la psychose paranoiaque dans ses rapports avec la personnalite, pp 68-69. Paris: Seuil.

Lacan J (1975b) De la psychose paranoiaque dans ses rapports avec la personnalite. Paris: Seuil.

LaFountain MJ (1997) Dali and postmodernism. This is not an essence. New York: State University of New York Press.

Lautreamont (1920) Les chants de Maldoror. Paris: Syrene.

Polsani PR (2001) The image in a fatal kiss: Dali, Lacan and the paranoiac representation. Lorca, Bunuel, Dali: art and theory, pp 159-174. Morales MD, Poust AJ, eds. Cranbury: Associated University Press.

Radford R (1997) Dali. London: Phaidon. Serieux P, Capgras J (1909) Les folies raisonnantes, le delire d'interpretation. Paris: Alcan.

Remus Bejan

Ovidius University

Correspondence concerning this article may be addressed to
COPYRIGHT 2013 Addleton Academic Publishers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2013 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Mental disorders
Author:Bejan, Remus
Publication:Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity
Date:Jun 22, 2013
Previous Article:EMI-stressed CIED patients.
Next Article:Unequal to the Napoleon code.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters