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Make Art Great Again:
The Good Optics of Salvador Dalí, Part 2


Salvador Dalí, The Persistence of Memory

5,672 words

Part 2 of 3 (Part 1 here [2], Part 3 here [3])

This excursus has prematurely broached The Gala Situation, so let’s go back to where we started, with Dalí beginning to apply his method: “For the next few years Dalí’s paranoiac process remained preoccupied with fetishist obsessions, including masturbation and his fear of heterosexual sex.”[1] [4]

This climaxed, as it were, in a “disturbing work” entitled The Lugubrious Game [5], a “floating portrait” of the artist, tormented by “a veritable anthology” of fetishes and obsessions. And yet, “despite its shocking attributes, the scene is depicted with a conventional realism and perspective that echoes the work of Giorgio de Chirico”:

Though the figures may have an awkward, rubbery quality, they are nevertheless fully realized, three-dimensional beings, with none of the fragile abstractions of Miró or Braque. It is perhaps the first example of the figurative Surrealist style that would rule Dalí’s work from this time forward.

At this point of maximal sexual tension and fantasy, in walks fellow Surrealist Paul Eluard, and “his comely wife,” Elena Ivanovna Diakonova, aka Gala:

Ten years older than Dalí, Gala was perhaps not beautiful in a conventional sense, but she did have a strong charisma, with striking, deep-set eyes that radiated sensuality (and, as time would tell, a healthy interest in sex).

Like characters from Thomas Mann’s recently published novel, The Magic Mountain, Paul and Gala had met while being treated for tuberculosis at a Swiss sanitarium (Davos, perhaps?) Married in 1918, by 1921 she had begun to seduce, or at least charm, one Surrealist after another, finally setting up a menage a trois with Max Ernst. After some years as a “Surrealist groupie,” they decided to visit Dalí in Spain; another bad move for the hapless Eluard:

The encounter with Gala marked the principal turning point in Dalí’s life and career as an artist. He finally had met the woman who, he believed, had been a constant presence in his erotic fantasies . . . In Dalí’s mind, her arrival was simply ordained.

For Dalí, Gala was quite simply a godsend — not only as a model[2] [6] but also as his business partner and constant companion.[3] [7]

It seems very au courant, does it not? Like a modern incel seeking a dream Eastern European tradwife, Dalí was redeemed by a Russian woman who brought order to his life, supported his career, and soon, after inspiring some iconic works of Surrealism, would redirect him towards full-on Classicism. [4] [8] Indeed, Gala seems to have been adept at what the manosphere would call “shit testing” — a term Dalí would have appreciated.

Dragging Dalí away from what might well have been the most important event in his career was her way of testing his utter devotion to her whims.

Dalí discovered that Gala had moved into her apartment that she had shared with Paul, while ordering her former husband to move into a nearby hotel — which he meekly did.

Those who think academia is boring should note that “the question if, and when, Gala and Dalí actually consummated their relationship is still a hotly debated topic in art historical circles today.” Due to the disturbing factors noted above, “masturbation remained Dalí’s preferred method of sexual release.”

In any event, the first major work following their epochal encounter is 1929’s Face of the Great Masturbator [9].[5] [10] The titular face — another anthropomorphic homage to the landscape of Dalí’s home — already appeared in The Lugubrious Game and will reappear several more times. Now, however, a woman’s face emerges from the back of the head in a rather compromising juxtaposition to a man’s crotch who, in turn, seems to have forgotten to wear his kneepads. The usual phobias and fetishes swirl around. Yet traditionalists and conservatives should be delighted:

The painting marks the beginning of Dalí’s mature style. People and objects are shaped as classical, three-dimensional forms, even though the scale is deliberately inconsistent.

This is Dalí breathing new — albeit rather bizarre — life into his beloved Old Masters.[6] [11]

Face of the Great Masturbator firmly marks the end of Dalí’s frenetic wandering through the chaotic vocabulary of early twentieth-century art, and the beginning of his unfettered embrace of traditional realism, based not only on Spanish Baroque art but also twentieth-century academic realism. Or perhaps “magic realism” is a better term, for Dalí’s use of the classicist grammar always went hand in hand with the emotional charge of Symbolism. “Salvador Dalí is at once the Lalique and Gustave Moreau of oneirocriticism.”

As I have observed before, a relentless pursuit of realism will likely lead one to surrealism, and vice versa; the path is open in both directions.[7] [12]

While all of his contemporaries moved forward into the mists of an uncertain abstract future, Dalí remained wedded to realism, to the palette and technique of the Old Masters as well as nineteenth-century academic artists, so as to better explore Surrealist ideas. This perhaps explains his famous dictum: “The difference between the Surrealists and me is that I am a Surrealist.”

That is to say: Only I have the freedom and talent to achieve their supposed goals.[8] [13]


You can buy James O’Meara’s book The Eldritch Evola here. [15]

Dalí then embarked on a series of paintings that would define his unique style. Using Invisible Sleeping Woman, Horse, Lion [16] (1930) as an exemplar, the authors define this style as “highly realistic modeling of a woman’s body” — almost inevitably Gala –; “sharply delineated features of her hair and other objects, drawn with photographic precision”; “deep, infinite vistas blending with the orange sky; and above all, a new sense of monumentality” that replaces “cluttered and chaotic compositions.” Or as Dalí put it himself: “hand-painted color photography of super-fine images of concrete irrationality.”[9] [17]

Other motifs include the crutch, which a Belgian psychiatrist believed to “symbolize first and foremost reality, an earthbound relation to the real, which checks and balances the hyper-development of an intellectualized sexuality and of an imaginative and sexually-laden intellect.”

Another Dalínian motif is “the juxtaposition of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ objects”; Dalí was “fascinated” by “the contrast of these properties, and our expectations of them.”

With this, we finally come to the most iconic of Dalí’s paintings. You will recall from our excursus on method, above, Dalí “stewing” over the “problem of the ‘supersoft’” presented by some “very strong Camembert” left over from dinner. The result, two hours later, was The Persistence of Memory [18] (1931):

I said, “Do you think that in three years you will have forgotten this image?” Gala replied, “No one can forget it once he has seen it.”

As the authors describe it:

At the center is the soft, anthropomorphic shape that we recognize as Dalí’s profile self-portrait from Face of the Great Masturbator . . . The face is furthermore adorned with a melting pocket watch, similar to the watches draped over the bare olive tree and the table in the left foreground. At the far left is another watch, face down, shown with a cluster of ants that serves as a Dalínian motif of decay. The background is a vista of the rocks of Cap de Creus that appeared in his previous works.

It’s all here except, oddly enough, the usual autoeroticism, which perhaps is what makes it so difficult to figure out. What are the melting watches? The authors discuss several common approaches: the watches are symbols of space and time; the value of time being eroded by the pace of modern life; the loss of control by the elites, symbolized by the bourgeois pocket watch (remember the cultural impact of the First World War); the technical problem of rendering a hard, mechanical object as soft and melting.

One of the authors, Christopher Brown, offers his own interpretation in an essay appearing here as an appendix: He recalls Dalí’s “secret” link to the Old Masters; notes that the watches can be interpreted as a timeline (5:58, 6:00, 6:02); and discusses the “vantitas” motif in the Old Masters, especially Dalí’s beloved Leonardo. Is this Dalí’s homage to Leonardo’s Adoration of the Magi?

Why not ask Dalí, then? His “rather laconic response” to such questions was: “I myself don’t understand what it means either.”

In any event, the biographical significance of the work is that it would prove to be his ticket into the United States. Purchased by a 25-year-old American art dealer, Julien Levy,[10] [19] he would use it in a 1932 exhibition intended to introduce surrealism to Americans. It was bought in 1934 and donated to the newly-established Museum of Modern Art. This new-found familiarity on the American scene would be helpful — and very, very profitable — as the Second World War began ramping up.

It was time to leave Europe, anyway. Despite the lack of autoeroticism in Persistence, the Surrealists were still clutching their pearls over Dalí’s supposed use of “l’automatisme” to merely project his sexual frustration rather than in an “authentic” and “truthful” way (i.e., their way). And there was Dalí’s decision to follow Magritte in developing a “more narrative approach” using “flawless realism” and abjuring abstractions, as well as his continuing reverence for the Old Masters.

As if flouting the sacred dogma of “l’automatisme[11] [20] wasn’t bad enough, Dalí — despite the usual youthful anarchist provocations — was also refusing to go along with Pope André’s drafting of Surrealism “in service of the [Communist] revolution.”[12] [21] And, of course, we’ve seen his “paranoiac-critical” appreciation of Hitler.

Anyway, translations of rave reviews from the US “revealed a comprehension a hundred times more objective and better informed of my intentions . . . than most of the commentaries that had appeared in Europe about my work,” said Dalí:

Though in Paris everything and everyone was seen through the prism of the writer’s own agenda, Dalí continued, no such bias was as yet evident in America. “Far from the battle” of modernisms that had raged in Europe, Dalí believed, Americans could be trusted to “be lucid and see spontaneously what made the most impression on them.” And that, of course, was “precisely myself — the most partisan, the most violent, the most imperialistic, the most delirious, the most fanatical of all.”

Alas, Dalí was “simultaneously at the height of [his] reputation and influence, and at the low point of [his] financial resources.” Picasso, however, loaned him the money,[13] [22] and Dalí and Gala, like so many impecunious Europeans before them, took sail for fame and fortune in New York (which loomed out of the misty harbor “like an immense Gothic Roquefort cheese”).

Excursus on Psychogeography (Blood and Soil is Sweeter than Honey)

Let us take another easeful break from the spatio-temporally conventional narrative and meditate on two themes that will prove to be interrelated: Dalí’s relation to his birthplace, and his support for Franco.


You can buy James O’Meara’s book Green Nazis in Space! here. [24]

As a loyal Catalonian, it was almost inevitable that his earliest political impulses were towards separatism, anarchism, and even Communism. The mature Dalí, however, saw himself as rooted in a broader tradition, both artistic (the Old Masters) and spiritual (Catholicism); more particularly, a child of Spain — and the protector of that was Franco.

We can see this in his reverence for the painters of the Spanish Baroque (even his famous moustache was a homage to Velázquez); his constant return to Catalonia from the US, Italy (where he finally encountered the works of the Renaissance first-hand), and even Paris, the headquarters of the Modernist movements he assimilated and left behind; and above all in the “ubiquitous” use in his paintings of the “region that had always been his primary inspiration,” the landscape of Cadaqués , Port Lligat, and Cap de Creus, even when rendering homage to works of other artists:

During his American exile . . . Dalí must have come to the conclusion that his future lay in Spain, not only in terms of resuming his residency in Port Lligat but also in securing fertile ground for the new phase in his art, away from American and European art circles whose hostility toward figurative painting was growing.

After the victory of Franco in the Civil War, however, a return to Spain would inevitably have been seen by the “good thinking” art world as an endorsement of the hated “fascists.” As noted above, the authors, though clearly at home in the standard history, are less interested in scoring Dalí on a scale of political correctness and more interested in understanding him:

The problem was, Dalí needed Spain. He could not function as an artist without being surrounded by the Catalan world that had nurtured and inspired him.

Dalí was the quintessential Spaniard who thrived on Spanish culture, language, and cuisine. The only place where that could be obtained was Spain itself. Ergo, back to Spain he went.

However, his fame, and Gala’s eccentric but effective management of his affairs, had given him some degree of financial stability; and the “Modernists” were increasingly hostile and irrelevant to his work, anyway, so Dalí could in both senses “afford” to turn his back on them. Moreover — and more to our own interests here at Counter-Currents — it was precisely Franco’s “fascism” that jibed with Dalí’s needs and beliefs:

His goal was not so much to endorse the Franco regime as to secure for himself a home where he could pursue his interest in classicist mysticism without fear of being castigated by an unrestrained press corps of art critics, as would have been the case if he had returned to Paris.

Dalí was well aware of the situation, and gives a rather Dissident Rightist metapolitical analysis:

“Against me are ranged all the extreme left-wing intellectuals, of course. But, with me are the intuitive public, the new current of the epoch, the leading intelligences.”

Dalí prophesized that “the war would eventually produce a rediscovery of the ‘authentic Catholic tradition peculiar to Spain,’” and the authors admit that “in that sense he was certainly correct”:

The repressive Franco regime with its extensive press censorship and close ties to the Spanish Catholic establishment suited Dalí perfectly.

With the regime’s full support the artist could now wholeheartedly dedicate himself to his ambition to reconcile the rapid advances in modern science[14] [25] with his reverence for Spanish Catholicism.

He was “going to be as always and until I died, Dalínian and only Dalínian!” What did that mean? A man, he added, who “believed only in the supreme reality of tradition.”

*  *  *

Dalí would begin doing some globetrotting, returning to Paris to soak up the latest developments, and –- again angering the “antifascistas[15] [26] –- finally visiting Italy and encountering the Renaissance at first hand:

Seeing the work of the Renaissance masters up close, in full color, must have made a deep impression on Dalí, though the full impact from this and subsequent visits to Italy would not be felt in full until well after the war. [16] [27]

But America, with its elegant hotels, ritzy restaurants, and “swanky” apartment buildings,[17] [28] was a constant return destination, especially as a place of exile when the Second World War put Paris and Rome off limits.

America was not entirely dreamy; on his first trip, gossip columnists tried to rope him and Gala into the ongoing Lindbergh trial, and on a later trip, he was arrested after smashing a display window at Bonwit Teller (both incidents adequately covered here). Dalí discovered that “there was a limit to what audiences in the US would tolerate from the paranoiac-critical method.” Still, “In many ways, Dalí and 1930s America were made for each other,” and in particular “the American media was fascinated with the European archetype of the nonconformista.”

Dalí between Catalonia and the US, a recapitulation of Dalí’s rootedness in the Old Masters combined with his fascination with the new, both in art and, as we’ll see, technology.

Not so happy were the muscular progenitors of so-called “Action Painting” such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko.[18] [29] These hard-drinking, resolutely heterosexual future superstars “feared that the influx of foreign talent would strain the still-fragile network of modern art patronage in New York, with more artists now vying for the same sources of private funding and gallery space”:

They also remained staunchly devoted to Abstract Expressionism and therefore looked upon Dalí with deep suspicion. While they could find much to admire in the abstract Surrealism of Miró, they thought of Dalí as little more than an illustrator, a purveyor of cloyingly pleasing commercial pictures that had no place in the ongoing development of twentieth-century art.

The authors fail to note that the boys at the Cedar Bar needn’t have worried: In the post-war world, the CIA was happy to pick up their bar tabs and Hamptons rentals as part of the Cold War, where what was now branded as Abstract Expressionism (quite unlike the German Expressionism that influence Dalí himself) would face off against the lumbering weapon of Soviet Realism.[19] [30]

Despite Dalí and America seeming to be soul mates, wartime spending collapsed the market for surrealist paintings. Dalí, ever the true Renaissance man, diversified himself: writing a novel (Hidden Faces, 1944), painting portraits of socialites (as did Wyndham Lewis at the same time), and designing sets for ballets and operas.[20] [31]

Perhaps his most important, or at least most interesting, work was done for the newest art form: film, designing Gregory Peck’s dream sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 Spellbound, and then collaborating with Walt Disney on Destino, based on the myth of Chronos and Dahlia.

That project was abandoned in 1946. Apart from the usual “artistic differences,” the authors note that “the studio was in deep financial trouble following the war years, when it was compelled to produce a great number of training films for the American armed forces [32] at a small profit margin.” A fully revisionist history might look into how FDR “compelled” the recalcitrant Disney to join the war effort, and perhaps detail how the company eventually morphed into the fully “woke” Disney Corporation of today.

In any event, Destino was finally completed in 2003, and can be seen here [33].

Returning to Europe after the war, somewhat more financially secure, “a new phase in Dalí’s work was emerging — a phase in which the artist moved away from the bizarre and often incomprehensible collages of people and objects to a more cohesive narrative form” through a more consistent sense of scale and increased monumentality, “as if Dalí was searching for a more accessible way of framing his story, even if the story itself was not always entirely clear.”

In short, Dalí announced that he would “become classic”: Now at forty-five, I want to paint a masterpiece and to save Modern Art from chaos and laziness”:[21] [34]

In a sense, Dalí was returning to the Baroque models of his youth, though such models were now executed with a far superior command of the brush, of color and tone, and of light and shadow.

There was a notable decline in the role of fetishist erotic material, no doubt because of the stabilizing influence that Gala brought to his life as both his lover and manager of his chaotic household.

The irrational clash of different period motifs, one of the unifying principles of Surrealism, is still in evidence, but the visualization of these motifs is entirely classical, in a clear break with the abstractions that the rest of the French Surrealist movement was pursuing.

What, are the Surrealists still around?

It is the narrative quality of Dalí’s work, the desire to tell an often autobiographical story in a conventional artistic vocabulary that audiences could understand, that offended his Surrealist colleagues, precisely because such constructs violated the principle of l’automatisme.

Blasphemy! Like all Leftists, then and now, the Surrealists demanded total freedom, but only on their terms. Though mocked by Breton with the anagram “Avida Dollars,” Breton, like a mediaeval pope dependent on the sale of indulgences to finance his operations, “knew all too well that Dalí had become a celebrity and that the movement needed his brand if its exhibits were to have commercial success.”

And he knew why — as we do by now:

Even Breton could see that the reason for Dalí’s growing popularity was his instant accessibility for a public that had grown weary of modernist experiments. The blend of provocative erotic material with a realism that defiantly harked back to France’s beloved Pompiers . . . endowed his works with an irresistibility that other Surrealists could only dream of.[22] [35]

After Dalí returned to Spain, he declared that he would “recommit his art to spirituality and the reconciliation of science and mysticism” — at least, as Dalí understood them. The impetus was the advent of the atomic bomb, and Dalí’s reaction was quite different from the “ban the bomb” mentality we associate with “artists”:

Though this is perhaps difficult to imagine, given our deep aversion toward nuclear weapons today, in 1945 the atom bomb was also the subject of awe and pride, and not incidentally a symbol of complete American military hegemony.


You can buy James O’Meara’s End of an Era here [37].

Thus, his 1947 Three Sphinxes of Bikini [38], which seems to exemplify what people today mean when they say “that’s really surrealistic, man!”: three mushroom clouds reimagined as objects in a “pastoral, parklike setting,” For Dalí, atomic explosions, as he wrote, evoked “idyllic, mossy, and mushroomy trees of terrestrial paradise, after all the hells of the heaven of the war just ended.”[23] [39]

Even more than mere relief over the end of the war, Dalí was “enamored, not with weapons of mass destruction, but with the idea that atomic power could suspend the principles of physics and allow matter to arrange itself according to an entirely new set of laws.”

This “theme of atomic dissolution and rearrangement” can be seen in the Leda Atomica [40] of 1947-49. Taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, there is a long Renaissance tradition that “probed the motif,” especially Leonardo, and the authors a thorough discussion of his various treatments. Dalí’s version is based on Leonardo’s first version, though Leda — Gala, of course — is nude, and the pastoral background is now the familiar Cap Noreu. Moreover,

[n]ot only the two principal characters but also a square, a book, and two stepping stones seem to hover as if suspended in gravity [41]. This mysterious levitation reflects Dalí’s view that the atomic age had upended the earth’s natural harmony. The painting, he wrote, reveals a “libidinous emotion, suspended and as though hanging in midair, in accordance with the modern ‘nothing touches’ theory of intra-atomic physics.”

This is an excellent example of how Dalí managed to be ultra-Modern while adhering to Tradition, using modern ideas to continue the Old Masters’ explorations of new ways to depict or manipulate space: “I invented quantum realism in order to master gravity.”[24] [42] Rather than a goofy postmodern gimmick, “the suggestion of weightlessness gives the painting a unique sense of gravitas, the sense that something important is happening”:

[Quantum realism] introduced a new approach to space in Dalí’s art, just as the illusion of space in early Renaissance art had been transformed by the discovery of linear perspective. Now, Dalí believed he had found another way to suggest optical depth: by dissolving the bonds of gravity that tethered objects to their earthly domain. The purpose of nuclear mysticism was exactly that: to create the illusion of metaphysical beauty and grace in the service of a spiritual idea, a sacred motif.

In declaring his intent to wage a ‘classical, realist, and mystical battle,’ Dalí had effectively summarized a stylistic approach that would govern much of his postwar oeuvre.” Dalí’s enthusiasm for his “quantum realism” or “nuclear mysticism” was short-lived; while never fading away entirely, the mystical or religious element grew and gradually overshadowed his scientific preoccupations, while “the search for religious themes moved him into closer contact than ever before with the Old Masters of the Renaissance and Baroque.”

The first great work of this religio-mystical period is the Madonna of Port Lligat [43] (1949). The “pedigree,” as the authors call it, is impeccable: “the motif of the Madonna Enthroned had been a fixture of Italian art since the Byzantine period”; though the model is as usual Gala, she is “depicted with delicacy reminiscent of Raphael”; the composition — a sacra conversazione, as it’s known to historians — derives from Piero della Francesca, with “Mary and her child seated in the apse of a Renaissance church.”

So far, so traditional. Then Dalí steps forward:

In Dalí’s treatment, however, the apse is compressed into an alcove, which is broken up in free-floating pieces according to Dalí’s sense of “nuclear mysticism” — the idea that matter is made of atoms that do not touch each other. All the other elements in the painting are suspended as well, undisturbed by the laws of gravity.

To this is added “such familiar Dalínian motifs as seashells, an egg, lemons and fish. The location is once again the Bay of Cadques.”

Here we see how Dalí was both classical and avant garde, in a manner that itself was itself thoroughly traditional: “The Baroque [had been] the first to explore the dissolution of boundaries between actual and simulated reality.” Both shared the same goal: “to create the illusion of metaphysical beauty and grace in the service of a spiritual idea, a sacred motif.” Indeed, the painting received the blessing of Pope Pius XII, to whom Dalí had sent a smaller version.[25] [44]

“Dalí’s pivot from the paranoiac-critical process to nuclear mysticism,” which he described as “his change from a ‘profane’ self to a rebirth as a Christ-like ‘sacred self,’” had been influenced by the works of St. John of the Cross, and in 1951 Dalí produced another famous work, The Christ of Saint John of the Cross [45]. Again, the subject is “eminently familiar” while “the vantage point is not”: a view from far above the cross, looking down, and the inevitable view of Port Lligat (inspired by a French Baroque painter, Louis Le Nain) is at eye level; the sharp detail is reminiscent of Velaquez’s own version of the crucifixion,[26] [46] and again, the composition is determined by “sacred geometry.”

Although the painting was not well received at first, its history is almost symbolic of Dalí’s own reputation:

When the director of Glasgow Museums, Tom Honeyman, purchased the painting, a petition was filed by the students of the Glasgow School of Art to protest the acquisition. Nine years after it went on view at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery in 1952, a visitor attacked the work and caused considerable damage. Forty-five years later, however, public attitudes toward the painting had changed. A 2006 poll asking the public to name Scotland’s favorite painting resulted in a win for The Christ.

“The Christ marks Dalí’s decisive return to the vernacular of the [Spanish Baroque],” but “was bound to have a favorable response in an age besotted with cinematic illusion and optical effects.”

There followed a series of variations on this theme, most notably Corpus Hypercubus [47](1954), in which the “unfathomable nature of Christ as the Son of God” is paralleled by “a cubic construct of four dimensions that is likewise well beyond human comprehension.”

Perhaps even more unfathomable is that after the Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired it, Ayn Rand spend “many hours in front of the painting”; according to biographer Jeff Britting, “Rand saw a link between Dalí’s portrayal of Christ and the defiance of her character John Galt in her novel Atlas Shrugged.” We once more see the confluence of Russian women and the American spirit on the traditionalist Dalí.

*  *  *

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[1] [49] As the authors note, there is no evidence of Dalí being homosexual. Fellow student and confirmed homosexual Federico García Lorca reported that he had tried but failed to seduce him; hearing that Dalí had fallen in love with a woman, “he exclaimed ‘It’s impossible! He can only get an erection when someone sticks a finger in his ass.’”

[2] [50] “Gala’s body would become the single most important constant in Dalí’s art from here onward.”

[3] [51] The authors seem gaga for Gala as well; note the stuttering repetition of “simply.”

[4] [52] See Nina-Sophia Miralles, “When Your Muse is Also a Demonic Dominatrix [53],” The Paris Review, July 10, 2018.

[5] [54] Some sources omit “Face,” but I’m going with the authors here.

[6] [55] While the face of the fellatrix is presumably Gala, the authors later suggest, as Dalí’s interest shifts from Surrealism to Christian mysticism, that it is perhaps a homage to Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa.

[7] [56] See my discussion of Lovecraft’s method of creating horror by the meticulous addition of detail in the essays collected in The Eldritch Evola . . . & Others: Traditionalist Meditations on Literature, Art, & Culture [57]; ed. Greg Johnson (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014). The classic example is Huysmans, who started as a disciple of Zola but whose own realism passed inexorably through Decadence (Au Rebours) through Diabolism to Catholic mysticism, in his pursuit of “supernatural realism.” His largely forgotten novella En Rade, which alternated realism with chapters of meticulously described dreamscapes, was rediscovered by Breton, who made dubbed Huysmans a “surrealist in pessimism” (Breton, “What is Surrealism [58]?”). Writing about the moment when his relationship with Gala led to his father expelling him from the family house, Dalí later wrote: “Thus began the period of my life which I consider the most romantic, the hardest, the most intense, the most breathless, and also the one that ‘surprised’ me the most now began the battle that I was to wage against life.” Cf. Michel Houllebecq, H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life (Believer Books, 2005).

[8] [59] With allowance for Dalí’s notorious egoism; as noted above, Giorgio de Chirico could make the same boast.

[9] [60] The suggestion of a kind of sentimental, or carnival, fun fair souvenir perhaps alludes to, and explains, his appeal to the general public: Dalí counseled them not to be afraid of Surrealism: “Within myself I said, addressing the public, ‘I’ll give it to you, I’ll give you reality and classicism. Wait, wait a little, don’t be afraid.’”

[10] [61] Of course; described by Dalí as “a bird with large black wings.”

[11] [62] It occurs to me there may be a relation between “automatism” and autism.

[12] [63] In 1930 Breton had attempted to curry favor with the Communist Party by retitling his flagship magazine, La Révolution surréaliste, as Le Surréalisme au service de la revolution. This attempt failed, as did an earlier attempt to rope in Freud himself; ironically, after being expelled from the Surrealists, Dalí met Freud and the two got along splendidly. In 1974, he illustrated Freud’s Moses and Monotheism.  

[13] [64] Our authors provide a quick, canned history of the Atlantic ocean-liner business, including an amusingly obtuse comment that “fare prices took a steep dive after the United States sharply reduced the annual quota of immigrants in 1926”; apparently “immigrants” were a vital engine of economic dynamism even then!

[14] [65] We’ll get to that in a moment.

[15] [66] Such as Breton, who “immediately criticized Dalí’s embrace of ‘the lesson of Cosimo and da Vinci.’”

[16] [67] “Indeed, the encounter with Italian art strengthened his conviction that after the war, he should devote himself to studying the great masters of the Italian Renaissance in-depth. ‘While my country was interrogating death and destruction,’ he wrote, ‘I was interrogating that other sphinx, of the imminent European “becoming,” that of the Renaissance.’”

[17] [68] “Dalí was stupefied to see the proliferation of period styles in these upper-crust places, with splashes of ‘Gothic, Persian, Spanish Renaissance, and Dalís.’”

[18] [69] “The main con is making the Modern market look real, but the lesser con is continuing to promote these talentless Jews like Rothko, Pollack, and all the rest as geniuses, thereby assuring real art remains in a shallow grave. It assures that real artists will remain undiscovered and unpromoted and unappreciated. Rothko was really a Rothkowitz from Latvia. His family came to Portland in 1913. He was a Marxist from early on, hanging out with Bill Haywood and Emma Goldman at the IWW. That is to say, he was an agent from the beginning. He dropped out of Yale and moved to New York, where he was immediately accepted at Parsons. He was quickly accepted into the inner Jewish circles of New York and his future was set. You may also be interested to know that Rothko believed he was illustrating Nietzsche in his paintings, ‘relieving modern man’s spiritual emptiness by providing it with a new mythology.’” Miles Mathis, “Made You Look [70].”

[19] [71] See Frances Stoner Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters (New York, The New Press, 2013). The authors, while recognizing that “realism was the sole form of artistic expression tolerated in Nazi Germany, as well as Fascist Italy and Communist Russia,” nevertheless assert that it was the “repulsive . . . socialist realism of Nazi-era artists” that led to the opinion of artists and critics that “any form of representative art in Western Europe was . . . ethically and aesthetically out of bounds.” In fact, I would suppose those same critics would have promoted Soviet Realism, the way they also promoted “folk” music, if the CIA hadn’t decided to turn on the money spigot to promote muscular “Action Painting” as the dynamic American answer to fuddy-duddy realism. Dalí of course was the true advance over — yet incorporating — realism. Tit for tat, Saunders never mentions Dalí, either.

[20] [72] We will return with Dalí to his setting for Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde further on.

[21] [73] Dalí, 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship (1948).

[22] [74] As George Carlin said somewhere, capitalism means anyone can become a millionaire by nailing together two things that had never been nailed together before.

[23] [75] Just as Kingsley Amis’ Jim Dixon thought — “The hydrogen bomb, the South African Government, Chiang Kai-shek, Senator McCarthy himself, would then seem a light price to pay for no longer being in the Middle Ages” (Lucky Jim, 1954) — many Americans would greet Hiroshima as a welcome relief, especially those who were about to be shipped out to invade Japan (see Paul Fussell, “Thank God for the Atom Bomb” published in The New Republic in 1981; here’s a link [76] to a PDF of the original).

[24] [77] The painting also pays “scrupulous attention” to “the triangular composition, which reveals the artist’s growing interest [another Leonardo influence] in geometry as the framework for his creative conceptions. . . . For Dalí, these geometric laws ‘proved’ the importance of a new discipline called quantum physics, though it is debatable whether Dalí fully grasped the ramifications of this theory.”

[25] [78] Dalí also received a papal license to marry Gala, whose first husband, Paul Eluard, had died three years earlier.

[26] [79] “In my parents’ bedroom . . . there was a majestic picture of Salvador, my dead brother, next to a reproduction of Christ crucified as painted by Velázquez; and this image of the cadaver of the Savior whom Salvador had without question gone to in his angelic ascension conditioned me.”