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April 11, 2007

Revolutionary pustules

I run into some of the damnedest things, and in a book which arrived in the mail today (Dali's The Tragic Myth of Millet's Angelus) I found this:


Do not stupidly shrug your shoulders, those of my readers who consider the extraction of the blackheads in question a matter requiring little talent. Understand that this apparent ultra-prosaic cleaning is nothing other than the ultra-concrete personalization of that which is most vital and lyrical in contemporary scientific and artistic moral thought. Think, if not about this soft actuality, then about that super-gelatinous, nutritive modern style of compressibility about which Dali is speaking to you. Indefatigably, he is instructing you with the precise apparatus of the paranoiac-critical method in his hand every time the occasion presents itself.

With words of encouragement like that, I began my search for appropriate artwork, and by some cosmic process I really can't explain, I soon found -- here -- a comedone which seemed to have burst forth from the hyper-paranoid imagination of Dali -- whether the authors knew it or not!


Not only are the colors Dalinian, but if you look closely, you'll see that the "skin" is made from two very Dalinian crutches, pressing inward against the comedone. Normally, we think of crutches as aids, as devices used to support lame of injured people to keep them from falling. It would be just like Dali to use his famous crutches to hold in a comedone!

No, seriously. In 1933, for example, ("The Enigma of William Tell") Dali even used one of his crutches to hold up Vladimir Lenin's elongated butt cheek:


So why not a comedone?

No, I am not making a moral comparison between Lenin and blackheads. The above painting got Dali in plenty of trouble as it offended Andre Breton and the Surrealists (who were mostly Marxists), and led to Dali being expelled from the group. He was accused of favoring Hitler, which was a preposterous charge, but a typical one for Marxists to make. (Anyone who attacks Lenin must love Hitler, right?)

From Robert Descharnes' account of Dali's "trial":

I saw Hitler as a masochist obsessed with the idee fixe of starting a war and losing it in heroic style. In a word, he was preparing for one of those actes gratuits which were then highly approved of by our group. My persistence in seeing the mystique of Hitler from a Surrealist point of view and my obstinacy in trying to endow the sadistic element in Surrealism with a religious meaning (both exacerbated by my method of paranoiac-critical analysis, which threatened to destroy automatism and its inherent narcissism) led to a number of wrangles and occasional rows with Breton and his friends. The latter, incidentally, began to waver between the boss and me in a way that alarmed him."

In fact they had long gone beyond mere dispute. Contrary to Dali's wishes, the Surrealists remained devoted to Breton, their iron-fisted leader whose every order had to be obeyed. When required to appear before the group, Dali showed up with a thermometer in his mouth, claiming he felt ill. He was supposedly suffering from a bout of 'flu, and was well wrapped up in a pullover and scarf. While Breton reeled off his accusations, Dali kept checking his temperature. When it was his turn for a counter-attack, he began to remove his clothing article by article. To the accompaniment of this striptease, he read out an address he had composed previously, in which he urged his friends to understand that his obsession with Hitler was strictly paranoiac and at heart apolitical, and that he could not be a Nazi "because if Hitler were ever to conquer Europe, he would do away with hysterics of my kind, as had already happened in Germany, where they were treated as Entartete (degenerates). In any case, the effeminate and manifestly crackpot part I had cast Hitler in would suffice for the Nazis to damn me as an iconoclast. Similarly, my increased fanaticism, which had been heightened by Hitler's chasing Freud and Linste in out of Germany, showed that Hitler interested me purely as a locus tor my own mania and because he struck me as having an unequalled diaster value. " Was it his fault if he dreamt about Hitler or Millet's Angelus? When Dali came to the passage where he announced, "In my opinion, Hitler has four testicles and six foreskins," Breton shouted: "Are you going to keep getting on our nerves much longer with your Hitler!" And Dali, to general amusement, replied: "... if I dream tonight that you and I are making love, I shall paint our best positions in the greatest of detail first thing in the morning." Breton froze and, pipe clenched between his teeth, murmured angrily: "I wouldn't advise it, my friend." It was a confrontation that once again pointed up the two men's rivalry and power struggle. Which of them was going to come out on top?

Following his confrontation, Dali was given a short-lived reprieve, but then notified of his expulsion. "Since Dali had repeatedly been guilty of counter-revolutionary activity involving the celebration of fascism under Hitler, the undersigned propose ... that he be considered a fascist element and excluded from the Surrealist movement and opposed with all possible means."

Even today, Dali is criticized by leftists for disrespecting Lenin, and for insufficiently disrespecting Hitler.

The irony is that Rockefeller crutches propped up the modernism which Dali was trying to undermine:

After the war, Dali became the number one enemy of the North American art establishment thanks to his constant attacks on modernism. The irony is that Picasso, who belonged to the Communist Party, was loved by the American Art Establishment, while Dali, who had begun as a Communist sympathizer ended up expelled from the Surrealist Movement at the suspicion that he was a fascist sympathizer. The painter had painted "The Enigma of Hitler" in 1937 with a small print of Hitler's face on a dish with some beans. He explained that he wanted to understand the phenomena of fascism and besides, he had a dream that compel him to represent it.

Most modern artists are progressive and have leftist leanings. By the 50's the Rockefeller forces and the artistic communist forces united against any art that said something because the anti-Stalinist American left did not want any representational art to back Soviet Stalinism. In one of history's greatest ironies the American left backed Rockefeller, one of the world's greatest capitalist and robber barons, in the establishment of modernism as THE only art, banishing any art that resembles classicism from the walls of established art circles, with the exception of pop art and photographic realism, which emphasize the glories of North American production and assembly line.

The greater glories of understanding the mind were put aside by the American and world modernist establishment. Dali's work has been dismissed with the accusation that he was a fascist. But the real war was against his style of thought-provoking, mystical classical work and the science of painting to which Dali contributed to all his life. Modern critics never understood that Dali's use of the double, triple and quintuple image in his canvasses are not just "optical trickery" as they dismissed it for, they are important additions to the science of art.

Here's an early example (from 1931) of a double image, Dali's "Le surrealisme au service de la revolution":


(I didn't want to rotate it to the right, so you'll have to tilt your head to the left.)

"Surrealism in the service of the revolution"?

What if Dali meant it, and the Marxists didn't?

What happens when modern is not modern, and revolution is not revolution?

(The contents can be hard to express.)

April 9, 2007

The topological abduction of my unfinished post!
("The Shape of things to come?")

Because of a technical error compounded by the blog's software design, a few incomplete unpublished posts were accidentally published earlier.

My apologies to anyone who might have been confused. One of the posts -- a long one about the topological abduction of Europe -- was especially incoherent, as I was engaged in creative writing, and it might never have been finished -- like the hundreds of unpublished posts which have accumulated over the years.

All who might have read the post about the topological abduction of Europe and tried to make sense of it, please be warned that it did not make sense to me yet, and might not have ever made sense. That's why I never published it, and never intended anyone to see it. Please strike that post from your mind! I refuse to accept responsibility for spontaneously written unfinished and unpublished thoughts.

Unless and until the post is published, I must therefore retract what I never said, but which might nonetheless have been seen.

Please, all who saw, erase from your minds what your eyes saw.

The irony here is that this dealt with an issue which, though I try to understand it, evades my ability to be logical, and that is the conversion of states -- especially understanding how Salvador Dali might have seen it:

From art as a mathematical structure said the Swiss Max Bill, where he was expressing how it was possible using a mathematical framework to develop art in far-reaching ways and to connect nature and art in mathematics.


In 1972, a book appeared written by the French mathematician René Thom, Stability and Morphogenesis. Thom investigated in his book the mathematical relationships which describe the sudden conversion of one state into another state, for instance, when water suddenly freezes to ice or when water evaporates. René Thom describes the conversion through mathematical equations that may be represented as surfaces. One he calls, for example, Swallowtail, and another Butterfly. Thom's book is filled with an abundance of interesting pictures. Thom, with his investigated state conversions, coined the term "catastrophe," catastrophe elementaire, etc. The phrase "Catastrophe Theory" from Thom's book circulated through the media like a released seismic wave. Thom was not very pleased about that since his "catastrophes" had little to do with our "everyday catastrophes."

Dalí loved Thom's book; again and again he had it read to him. (There is Dalí in the photograph with the Spanish poet García Lorca.) Dalí painted then only Thom's pictures. One of his last ones had the title Topological Separation of Europe, in homage to René Thom, where underneath are the mathematical formulas for the Swallowtail, mathematical abstractions in Dalí's artistic world. (Emphasis added.)

I've discussed both of the last two paintings in a previous post, but only very superficially. Naturally, my trip to Barcelona and the area where Dali lived near the French border heightened my interest in the subject, especially because in his last years, Dali became paranoically obsessed with his hallucinations about what he saw as the catastrophic future of Europe. My goal is to explore the possibility that Dali might have been onto something.

I don't even know whether I'm up to the job, because analyzing the last hallucinations of Dali is an exercise in defiance of logic touching on Arthurian legend, the Holy Grail, Nazi excavations, the European Union, and Catalonian independence.

Let's start with the fact that a cup is like a donut. Artists are of course fascinated by shapes, and if we return to Max Bill's thoughts about art as a mathematical structure, and the possibility of using a mathematical framework to develop art in far-reaching ways and to connect nature and art in mathematics, why, the fact that a cup is like a donut is of primary importance. In the Wikipedia entry on topology, this image appears:


It is at once art and math.

Back to Dali's notion that some kind of catastrophe would befall Europe. Bearing in mind that the man was not in his right mind, despite his deteriorating nervous system, and a hand so shaky that much of the time he couldn't sign his name, he was able to paint this -- "The Topological Abduction of Europe."


But what does it mean?

Dali was convinced that the catastrophe -- the abduction, if you will -- would arise in a couple of places in the Catalonian Spain/France border area. He believed Perpignan, France, was the center of Europe and the world (and as it happens, on the outskirts of Perpignan is the ancient and abandoned town of Perillos.)

The painting was dismissed by critics as paranoid nonsense, but a group called Societe Perillos has taken it very seriously:

The enigmatic statement of Dali came to the attention of Roger Michel Erasmy, who began to explore Dali's strange world of hallucinations - an area where few had dared to go. Dali's perception as a madman was augmented in 1984, when he apparently tried to commit suicide by setting his bed on fire. But all events surrounding Dali's visions occurred before - and might have, together with the love for his dead wife, have contributed to an unsuccessful suicide attempt.

The theme of an enveloping catastrophe came to the forefront. There is the enigmatic "catastrophic writing", written in a booklet on September 16, 1982, while he was at his castle Pubol.

His final "prophetic testament" was dictated to Antonio Pixtot, his most if perhaps only trusted ally at the time, on October 31, 1983. It contained catastrophic revelations, centred around four hallucinations Dali had experienced, apparently after the death of Gala, at the end of 1982.

In these hallucinations, the French mathematician René Thom appeared. Though he had only ever met the mathematician once, in his hallucinations, Thom apparently convinced Dali of an upcoming catastrophe. Intriguingly, Dali stated that the centre of this catastrophe, which he linked with the disappearance - or abduction - of Europe, would begin between Salses and Narbonne.

The historical importance of this place is hardly the product of Dali's imagination.

The Nazis are reported to have done some serious digging there during World War II, but it's never been explained why:

just before and also during the second World War, the Nazi high command carried out systematic searches in this area surrounding the village. Anecdotal references state that the Nazi high command arrived at the large concentration camp located near Rivesaltes where they rounded up a large number of interned Jews. They were apparently given very comfortable accommodation which even had hot water laid on. They were well fed, treated politely and with respect but each they were obliged to accompany a large group of heavily armed German soldiers. Together they went in to the remote country side near to the present day village of Perillos where they carried out excavations. It was reported that at the end of the day the men would be seen returning covered from head to foot in mud. The work went on for some considerable time and then quite suddenly the men were released from captivity and allowed to go on their way. Some days later a large convoy of military vehicle was seen traversing the inhospitable interior region near Perillos. Maquis harassed the convoy to such an extent that they were forced to split up and all head in different directions. The Maquis reported that the convoy was made up of one large truck and numerous armored vehicles that appeared to be guarding it. It is believed the truck did not manage to leave the region but what became of it or indeed what it was carrying has never been established.
Assuming the report of a Nazi dig is correct, what ever might they have been looking for?

Considering that Perillos has been linked to King Arthur, the Round Table, and the Holy Grail, (more here) the report of the Nazi dig takes on an Indiana Jones flavor. Clearly, Dali knew about the importance of this place in history. He lived nearby and thought the area was the center of the world, so it's little wonder that it would preoccupy him in hallucinations in his later days.

So it's not surprising that the subject would preoccupy him in his last artistic efforts. I think there is some sort of religious dimension to this as well, and it was typical of Dali to paint things that can be seen more than one way. Geographic, topological, and even religious.

If you look at it the right way (you might need to tilt your head to see it), the "abduction" image looks like a crucified man -- not unlike the Rikers Island crucifixion I posted about last month:


Oddly enough, it appears that the figure in Dali's "Topological Abduction" painting might be wearing an octagonal crown shaped like the early crowns of the pre-medieval period.

How religion might factor into a topological abduction I do not know. Why the medieval crown, and why the critics haven't discussed it, who knows? I admit, logic escapes me here.

But what about the "conversion of one state into another state"? Considering the intersection between politics geographical maps, is there any reason not to interpret that literally?

What I couldn't ignore when I was in Dali's "abduction" area area was the fervency of the Catalonian nationist movement. Bearing in mind that Barcelona is a very left wing area, and that the E.U. has pretty much swallowed up Spain, I was quite shocked to see the order on the menus in most restaurants and on most official signs, there are translations into three languages into the following order:

  • Catalan
  • English
  • Spanish
  • The last thing I expected to see was English ahead of Spanish -- in SPAIN! I am not so naive as to imagine that this is because of any pro-American or pro-English bias. Far from being that, it's clearly anti-Spanish. I could feel the Catalonian nationalism; it was palpable.

    What are the implications about the "conversion of one state into another state"?

    Catalonian nationalism has become too powerful a force to ignore. As the Washington Post pointed out recently, the campaign for Catalonian independence is gaining strength. (Wikipedia has an entry, with a picture of the flag.)

    Where might statehood for Catalonia leave the European Union? While I'm not an expert on the complexities and I don't know whether breakaway states have the right to secede, Catalonian nationalists don't appear to be especially fond of the EU. Here's David Bassa, of the Newsroom of Televisió de Catalunya (TV3-TVC)

    most important European debates revolve around the amount of power that this or that state should have, and never go further. Consequently, if for Spanish, German or French people the European Union is something abstract, Catalan people see the European Union as a hostile structure. In a nutshell, although Catalonia has traditionally been a Europeanist country geographically situated as a wedge between France and the Iberian Peninsula, and although Catalonia has always been open to the sea and its past is intrinsically Mediterranean, Catalans still don't feel that the European Union is something really positive. We could also say that if Spain as a state is a member of the Union that is partly thanks to Catalan political will. Castella has never been pro-European, usually the opposite.
    But, in spite of all of this good-will towards Europe, Catalonia has no role in the "Europe of the states" because it is not a state. That's the reason why young Catalans with political and national consciousness who are ignored as a part of a nation by the Union, don't sense that they have any link with European institutions. Consequently, Catalan voting in the European elections has been lower than Spain's, and also, I would suggest, the new Treaty won't be easily accepted or supported in Catalonia. This is absolutely logical.
    Citing this Brussels Journal piece, Daniel Drezner discussed another possible breakaway nation -- a tiny place called "Aland." The question of secession from the EU is discussed in the comments, but again, I'm unfamiliar with the complexities.

    Again, it's just a thought. An attempt to explain what Dali might have meant.

    I'm not convinced Dali was right about the topological abduction of Europe, mind you. It's just that I felt compelled to finish an unfinished post which was abducted earlier, and I'd hate it if my favorite artist turned out to be a prophet while I was asleep at the keyboard.

    Much as I like his art, that does not incline me to regard Dali's hallucinations as prophetic (any more than I'd regard an LSD hallucination as prophetic) so color me skeptical. But the man was an artistic genius with an excellent education and a knowledge of the area, and he did rise to the occasion to come up with a very interesting painting despite his failing physical and mental health.

    (I guess it's fair to say my thoughts remain in an unconverted topological state.)