Part II here
The Illuminated Plain
Democratic governments are not suited to the publication of the thunderous revelations I am in the habit of making. The unpublished parts will appear later . . . when Europe will have restored its traditional monarchies.
–Salvador Dalí, Diary of a Genius (1964)
Love him or hate him, it is difficult to remain indifferent to Salvador Dalí. In his Freudian-inspired paranoiac-critical daubings, the self-promoting clown of Surrealism has left not only one of the most troubling and discussed artistic portfolios of the modern era, but he also left an original and indelible mark on the twentieth century Kali Yuga through his ostentatious and chameleon-like ubiquity.
On the very first page of his Diary of a Genius, he extemporizes:
Ever since the French Revolution there has developed a vicious cretinizing tendency to consider a genius (apart from his work) as a human being more or less the same in every sense as other ordinary mortals. This is wrong. And if this is wrong for me, the genius of the greatest spiritual order of our day, a true modern genius, it is even more wrong when applied to those who incarnated the almost divine genius of the Renaissance, such as Raphael.
In the opinion of many experts and critics, the Catalan-born Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech – who was in his later years to become the 1st Marquis of Dalí de Púbol at the royal discretion of his long-time admirer, King Juan Carlos of Spain – was a highly skilled painter, sculptor, draughtsman, and photographer. Besides being an egotistical, hedonistic provocateur, of course.
His creative force produced canvases like The Great Masturbator (1929), The Persistence of Memory (1931), and Melting Watch (1954); crafted jewels like The Royal Heart; embossed porcelain for Rosenthal and tableware for Suomi; developied logos for Chupa-chups children’s sweets; worked in fashion with illustrious patrons such as Elsa Schiaparelli and Christian Dior; produced bronze sculptures like Profile of Time and Homage to Newton; and created a range of photographic series with the technical input and expertise of Man Ray, Brassai, Cecil Beaton, and Philippe Halsman, with grand titles like Dali Atomicus (1949) and La Limite (1959). Dalí stated emphatically, “I categorically refused to consider the Surrealists as just another literary and artistic group. I believed they were capable of liberating man from the tyranny of the practical and rational world.”
His extensive repertoire – which includes writing a libretto for an opera entitled Etre Dieu (To Be God) and stage designs such as those he created for Bacchanale, a ballet based on Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser in 1939 – was to grow even further with the collaboration of Luis Buñuel, when he set sail like the buccaneer he was into the uncharted realms of fantastical cinematography. This celluloid excursion resulted in the production of the silent Surrealist classic Un chien andalou in 1929 and the subsequent L’Age d’Or in 1930. This fired up Dalí’s lifelong passion for screenwriting, concocting stories with such unlikely titles as Giraffes on Horseback Salads in 1937; assisting in planning the nightmare sequences for what was expected to have been a Fritz Lang-directed production called Moontide and starring Jean Gabin in 1941; storyboarding Spellbound in Hollywood, with Alfred Hitchcock’s help, in 1945, as well as for Walt Disney in Destino (which commenced production in 1946 and was posthumously completed by Baker Bloodworth and Walt Disney’s nephew, Roy E. Disney, in 2003); narrating a documentary called Impressions of Upper Mongolia in 1975; and appearing as an actor in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s aborted adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune in the 1970s. Dalí also dabbled in avant-garde literature with the encouragement of his close friend, the much-lauded and famously martyred poet Federico García Lorca, resulting in his highly eccentric and bucolic baroque attempt at writing the first “pure-novel”: Hidden Faces in 1944.
It is in the latter work – a flawed classic – that Descartes’ maxim Larvatus prodeo (I advanced masked) appeared on its frontispiece. It was reverently translated by Haakon Chevalier and is written in a somewhat exuberant, luscious, verbose manner, sometimes shot through with a lugubrious melancholy, echoing the disquieting texts of Comte de Lautréamont, Charles Baudelaire, and Joséphin Péladan. I will focus on this work for the purpose of my argument, for it is here, more than in any of his other works, that the almost schizophrenic duality of this famed iconoclast’s desire to shock and his simultaneous, obsequious need to conform become most strikingly apparent.
Dalí consistently applied this oscillating tendency, as evinced by his overtly ambiguous approach to art, politics, and life; so much so that that when it was added to a narcissistic personality and a showman’s compulsion to court publicity and flirt with extremes, it inevitably led to a rapidly-convened Surrealist high court in André Breton’s Parisian flat in 1934. Given that Communism was the Surrealist fashion of the day, Dalí was tried for counter-revolutionary tendencies and for defending what he said were the “new” and “original” elements in Adolf Hitler. Ironically, at the same time this was happening, screenings of L’Age d’Or at Studio 28 were being attacked with ink and stink bombs by fascist and anti-Semitic groups. Dalí declared that “I am Hitlerian neither in fact nor intention,” insisting instead that Surrealism should exist in an apolitical context, and he steadfastly refused to explicitly denounce or celebrate fascism. He defiantly claimed the moral high ground: “The difference between me and the Surrealists is that I am a Surrealist!”
Dalí also stated in an interview with Alain Bosquet’s Entretiens avec Salvador Dalí (1966) – and later cited extensively in Ian Gibson’s The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí (1997):
I have always been against any affiliation. I am the only Surrealist who always refused to be part of any organization whatsoever. I was never a Stalinist, nor fooled by any association with illustrious members of the Falange.
Nevertheless, Hidden Faces includes passages such as the following:
It was the Sixth of February, as it was already being called, which had just brought about the resignation of the Daladier cabinet . . . The women especially appeared to be really overwhelmed by what had happened, for to the forty killed and several hundred wounded was added the blatant and romantic truculence of the organizations involved. The Croix de Feu, the communists, the Cagoulards, the Acacia conspirators, the Camelots du Roi were such melodramatic names that by themselves alone they were enough to bring goose-flesh to the most delicate skins exposed above the low-necked dresses. The Count of Grandsailles observed all his friends, among whom there were in fact Croix de Feu, Cagoulards, Acacia conspirators, King’s Hench-men, members of the resigned cabinet, even communists . . .
With his back lightly resting against the marble fire-place, the Count began to see rising before him, as in a cinema montage, the disorderly succession of striking images of everything that he had just learned. He saw the setting sun disappear behind the Arc de Triomphe, while the Croix de Feu demonstrators came down the Champs Elysees in serried ranks of twelve, with unfurled banners in the lead; saw the motionless, black expectant barrages of the police ordered to hold them back yield one after another at the last moment, without even appreciably slowing the intrepid march of the demonstrators; now the latter were heading straight towards the Pont de la Concorde, cluttered with army trucks and troops protecting access to the Chamber of Deputies. Suddenly the chief of the municipal police advances a dozen yards to meet the demonstrators. He parleys with the banner-carriers and then the procession, first hesitating, then changing its direction, heads towards the Madeleine and there is a re-doubling of the cries. “Daladier to the gallows! Daladier to the gallows!” In a flash the iron castings that form protective gratings around the trees are torn up, violently hurled on the cobble stones and broken in pieces, which become fearful weapons; with iron bars the gas conduits of the street lamps are smashed and, as they begin to burn, project furious whistling flames that rise obliquely like long-contained geysers to a height of ten feet toward the sky in which the twilight deepens . . . “Long live France!” . . . And the crowd surges on . . .
Grandsailles smiled bitterly, puckering up his eyes which became edged with a multitude of tiny and almost invisible wrinkles. He remembered the Hitlerian hordes, the Congress of Nuremberg, on the occasion of his last sojourn in Germany, and from the light of each of the syllables and of the candles that illuminated his table with a fanatically witty and Socratic atmosphere he saw emerging the spectre of the defeat of 1940.
The novel garnered a favorable review in the New York-based Kirkus Review:
Much as it pains one to say it, this re-issue of Dalí’s prophetic novel written in 1943 about Hitler and Europe and love and death only makes one wish that the idiosyncratically annoying painter of oozing watches and dripping telephones had permanently traded in his paintbrush for a typewriter.
The book features a colorful cast of dazzling and eccentric aristocrats. The central characters –the Comte de Grandsailles and Solange de Cleda – conduct a fetishistic love affair which ends in a catastrophic denouement involving hereditary property, inter-war political machinations, and resistance to alien occupation. All of this is set against a backdrop that flits tantalizingly between Paris, rural France, Casablanca, and Palm Springs, California. Their adventures are vividly described in visual terms, almost like stage sets, incorporating seductive secondary personages such as the aging widow Barbara Rogers; the bisexual Veronica, and her lover Betka; Baba, the badly-burnt US fighter pilot; and Grandsailles’ loyal notary, Maitre Pierre Girardin.
All of these are ciphers for the actual personages with whom Dalí was mixing at the time, including Coco Chanel and Caresse Crosby – of the American underwear empire – with whom he and his wife Gala stayed in Caroline County, Virginia. As Haakon Chevalier explains in his translator’s foreword:
The novel was written in 1943 when the world was still plunged in the most destructive and lethal war in history, with battles raging on many fronts, from Russia, across Europe and North Africa to the Far East. It is, in the perspective of Dalí’s own development, an epitaph of pre-war Europe and reads like a period piece, its stylised characters reliving scenes that are bathed in an aura of decadent romanticism reminiscent of Barbey d’Aurevilly, Villiers de L’Isle Adam and of Husymans, taking the English reader back to Disraeli, Bulwer-Lytton and Ouida with its ringing aristocratic names, its men and women of resplendent beauty, its luxury and extravagance. The action of the novel, with the scene shifting from France, to North Africa, Malta, the United States and back to France, roughly covers the period of the war, anticipating its end with the inclusion of an hallucinatory scene in which we see Hitler, against a background of Wagnerian music, awaiting his imminent doom with mingled fascination and horror.
Hidden Faces’ Epilogue does indeed contain the following dreams of the Furor Teutonicus:
Nothing surpasses the honour and supreme glory of blood . . . Why did not destiny allow Jesus to live in my time of domination, so that I might have strangled him with my own hands . . . The dirty, snivelling Jew, the cowardly masochist, the disgrace and shame of strong men . . . You would have deprived the world of the sole thing that is capable of making man resplendent – blood . . . You would have spared man the sacred treasures of the blood that was given us by God to shed . . . Only the cringing race of Jewish curs could have invented that degrading incarnation of the idea of God and steeped it in the degenerate blood of the sickly body of that lackey of pity, of that prophet of remorse, Jesus Christ . . . All that is unstable, dishonouring, infamous and sullying I include in that name, Jesus Christ . . . Ah, he who should come, sword in hand, to open a breach of fresh, pure and regenerative blood in the virgin heart of paganism, in the depth of grottoes of live rocks of the race, of the Olympian mountain of Venusberg, and kill the vile dragon of Christianity . . .
Such a powerful summary of what Dalí interpreted as National Socialist convictions is, however, immediately undercut by the following:
For some time he had been voluptuously inhaling a warm redolence that emanated from the somewhat rustic tanned calf-skin of his Tyrolian boots. Suddenly his heart received the shock of a frightful doubt: had he washed his feet again in the course of the day, as was his habit? For it did indeed seem to him that, mingled with the effluvia from his boots, he caught a faint suggestion of an odour from his feet. He tore off one boot and sock; the moment his very white foot, slightly moist with perspiration, was liberated from its sheath, he pushed his fore-finger between two toes, lifted it to his nose and inhaled: his face turned purple with rage and hate. Yes, it smelled! He rushed to the bathroom and, not wanting to lose a second by running water into the bath-tub, immediately plunged his foot into the wash-stand under the faucet in an uncomfortable and strained position. He washed his foot ten times, a hundred times, the interstices between his toes were becoming red, but always there remained an offensive residue of odour that would make him begin all over again, tirelessly and obstinately. When one of the feet was thus washed, he unshod the other one and washed it in turn with the same care . . . Having completed this operation he went back into the large room which he had just left and sat down again in the armchair. Then one saw that this character was Adolf Hitler. Likewise, by the long rectangular window looking into space one recognised that he was here in his retreat in Berchtesgaden. Before sitting down again Adolf Hitler stopped in front of the large Vermeer abducted from Count Chernin’s collection, that he had kept here since the occupation of Vienna . . . One perceived then that this armchair was surrounded by the greatest treasures in the world. Raphael’s Betrothal of the Virgin from the Museum of Milan, Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks . . . Piles of the rarest and most priceless manuscripts . . . Behind him, in the half-light in the centre of the room, the Victory of Samothrace . . .
Yes, we have lost another war! I shall win the next one! For I am indestructible and invulnerable. They can tear me from my people, uproot me, but never destroy me, for like a cancer I am in the blood of the German people, and the blood of the German people is indestructible and eternal, and like a cancer l shall sooner or later end by reproducing myself inexorably in the soul of the entire German people!
However, the aforementioned almost Chaplinesque scene, along with Girardin’s execution for attempting to sabotage German attempts to industrialize Grandsailles’ beloved Illuminated Plain, the Creux de Libreux in Vaucluse, as well as the Count’s misunderstanding of Solange de Cleda’s apparent collaboration with the German occupiers and the peasant Martin brothers’ acts of resistance, seem somewhat contrived and as shallow plot devices serving to doubly virtue-signal, given the turning of the tide of the war and Dalí’s need to curry favor with his new hosts while living in exile in America. There, naturally, the ever-opportunistic artist, though privately becoming ever more devoutly Catholic in a manner that Barbey D’Aurevilly describes in his short story “The Greatest Love of Don Juan” as being of the “gloomy, medieval, and superstitious Spanish kind,” was living up to Breton’s nickname for him: Avida dollars, “eager for dollars,” while enjoying the high life amongst the glitterati of California and New York. Dalí swaggered through up-market galleries in a long, flowing cape, silver-tipped cane in hand, his waxed moustache partially masking a haughty expression as he extolled his numerous virtues to all – and there were many who gave him their ear.
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