“I Am the Drug”:
James J. O'Meara
A Guided Tour to the World of Salvador Dalí
Masters of Art: Dalí
Munich: Prestel, 2023
Take me. I am the drug; take me, I am the hallucinogenic. — Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, 1st Marqués de Dalí de Pubol
Most, if not all, of the great culture-makers of the twentieth century were men (and some women) of the Right; arguably the greatest painter — although he worked in many media — was the man born as Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, later created 1st Marqués de Dalí de Pubol by King Juan Carlos, but usually known to his millions of fans simply as Dalí. This new book by Alexander Adams is a relatively inexpensive paperback that will allow Counter-Currents readers to quickly but thoroughly delve into Dalí, his works, and his times; even those who consider themselves already up to speed will enjoy getting reacquainted and likely will find some new insights.
The book has three sections. The first, “Introduction,” provides an ultra-brief — two page — overview of Dalí’s life and artistic career. Adams notes the paradox of a man who started as a Communist and “anti-theist” but became a Francoist, monarchist, and traditional Catholic; who “went too far and delved too deeply” for the Surrealists to tolerate, but came to become “the quintessential surrealist” in the public eye; and who filled canvases with archetypal and oneiric images of “masturbation, sodomy, coprophilia, incest, impotence, cannibalism, putrefaction, blasphemy, disfigurement, death,” yet forged a new religious art for the twentieth century. Above all, he was “an extreme egoist who felt shame and also devoted his life and art to glorifying his wife, Gala.”
Adams suggests that while Dalí was an anarchist, he was no egalitarian, but rather “an imperious aristocrat,” and later “a radical, not an egalitarian.” One might suggest a phrase Russell Kirk coined: a Bohemian Tory.
The next section devotes a further 27 pages to the life of this eccentric fellow, and the additional length gives Adams a chance to expound on the themes glanced at in the Introduction. We learn of his life-long ties to his native Catalonia and the region of Empordà (near the Pyrenees), especially his birthplace, Figueres, and his vacation home at Cadaqués, all of which would recur in various transformations throughout his works. Classes at the Figueres Instituto would instill “a love of the Old Masters and respect for academic technique”; then his education at the elite Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid, where he easily mastered all the academic and “avant garde” styles, while forming life-long friendships with future collaborators Federico García Lorca and Luis Buñuel. By the time of his second and final expulsion for misconduct, Dalí was already exhibiting in Madrid and Paris.
We can already see what is perhaps the key to the paradox of Dalí: He was a lover of tradition: his homeland, the great masters, eventually monarchy and Catholicism as well — yet he realized that “[i]f we want everything to stay the same, everything must change.”
In Paris Dalí would meet Pablo Picasso and fellow Catalonian Joan Miró, but most importantly, for himself and the world, he would meet André Breton and the Surrealists. Whatever their influence, Dalí would soon be expelled again — not only for rejecting their adherence to Communism, which Dalí quickly perceived to be at variance with their demands for total artistic freedom, as well as for his support of Franco, but also because these would-be disciples of Freud were terrified and repulsed by Dalí’s frank explorations of unconscious material.
The Surrealist Paul Éluard’s wife, Gala, would leave him in 1929 to provide Dalí with “a lover, muse, publicist and business manager” until her death in 1982; henceforth, his works would be signed “Gala-Salvador Dalí.”
While waiting out the Second World War in the United States, the atomic bombing of Japan was a flash of inspiration for Dalí: “a nuclear age would herald a Christian revival,” and he would supply it with “art in a new atomic style,” featuring “floating, atomized elements.” With the discovery of DNA in 1953, Dalí added “spiral ribbons of molecules” as well; these may perhaps have in turn inspired Op Art — at least Dalí thought so — while Dalí’s use of photographic transcription in the 1950s may also have presaged Photorealism. In any event, Dalí would continue to combine science and art in the service of religion, including with his creation of holographs in collaboration with the inventor, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Dennis Gabor.
This brief biography is followed by the largest section, 35 plates of Dalí’s paintings, arranged chronologically, in the usual art book format of a full-page reproduction with text on the facing page. The chronological arrangement allows Adams to return to the biographical mode, expanding on it to provide the context of each painting in Dalí’s life and artistic development.
Some examples of interest from the commentaries:
View of Cadaqués from the Creus Tower (c. 1923): “Cadaques, Portlligat and Cape Creus would be profoundly important for Dalí all his life.” Art critic and friend Brian Sewell recalls that
[t]he beach always had an astonishing effect on him, as though he had never seen it before. I was at first dismayed by this Alzheimer effect, but I think now that he was invariably overwhelmed by so dense a rush of memories that he could not speak.
On Pierrot Playing the Guitar (1925), Adams quotes a later letter to Lorca: “Until the invention of the machine there were no perfect things, and mankind had never seen anything beautiful or poetic as a nickel-plated engine.”
The Persistence of Memory (1931) is “the most famous product of the paranoiac-critical method” in which “[l]osing inhibitions permitted a person’s subconscious to emerge and allowed him to perceive connections not apparent to others — effectively, harnessing paranoia.”
The True Painting of “The Isle of the Dead” by Arnold Bocklin at the Hour of the Angelus (1932): “Merely existing in this strange yet familiar private imaginative landscape is one of the greatest pleasures in art.” Adams observes that Dalí associated Hitler with the Bocklin original and believed Hitler himself was familiar with it. He was right: Hitler bought one of Bocklin’s original versions in 1932. “The power of Dalí’s Surrealism in large part comes from the portrayal of objects dwarfed by open landscapes and seascapes,” which sounds like a more positive version of what critics have said of Hitler’s paintings.
Imperial Violets (1938): “The paintings of 1938-40 . . . are the sultry twilight before the night of war.”
Christ of St. John of the Cross (1951): “In an age of scientific materialism, Dalí’s Christ presents salvation in the non-rational . . . now no longer aberrant and private (as it had been in the Surrealist period) . . . but divinely ordained and universal.”
The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1968–70): “a masterpiece summation of key subjects and approaches from his career — brought together in a psychedelic encounter between the classical world, modern life, and personal memory.”
The reader will note that by far most of the plates come from the pre-war years, and indeed Adams holds that Dalí suffered a decline from the American period onward, although was still capable of a masterpiece here and there:
Figures and objects in Dalí’s late art take on the floating quality of weightless matter. While this does create wonder, it diminishes the materiality of the subjects. The compositions become diffuse; the viewer loses a clear sense of the position of motifs in relation to one another. Pictorial space is ambiguous. Sensing that sizes and spatial relationships are indeterminate — indeed, deliberately unclear — viewers engage less with these untethered forms in imprecise space than they do with much of Dalí’s earlier work.
He also thinks that the general public agrees, preferring the works of his Surrealist period. I find his late works, grappling with traditional art, modern science, and perennial spirituality, in search of an interdisciplinary synthesis, to be the most interesting, and I’m glad to see him allow that the curators of the 2012 Paris retrospective agree. Judging from the sales of mugs, posters, and other gift shop items, the religious works seem to be holding their own against the melting watches. But the reader can make up his own mind. To help, there is a concise list of Further Reading at the end.
As an example of Dalí’s narcissism, Adams quotes him as saying that “[e]ach morning, as I awake, I experience again an extreme pleasure, that of being Salvador Dalí.” Narcissism, perhaps, but well-founded, and thanks to this little book, the reader can share in the delight of experiencing, if not being, Dalí. Take it!
 See Counter-Currents, passim, but most thematically Kerry Bolton, Artists of the Right: Resisting Decadence (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2012) and More Artists of the Right (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2017). Bolton does not discuss Dalí, however; for more on Dalí specifically, see Fenek Solère, “Salvador Dalí: Monarchist, Maniac, & Mage, and my review of Christopher Heath Brown and Jean-Pierre Isbouts, The Dalí Legacy: How an Eccentric Genius Changed the Art World and Created a Lasting Legacy (Apollo, 2021).
 “Dalí’s name varied over his life. His birth name was officially registered as Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí Doménech. His first names were in Spanish and his surnames castilianized despite being born in Catalonia, as at the time the Catalan language was banned from official acts. His complete name in Catalan is Salvador Domènec Felip Jacint Dalí i Domènech. In 1977 Catalan names were legalized, and he adopted the hybrid form (first names in Spanish, surnames in Catalan). This form and the purely Spanish and Catalan forms can all be seen in print today.” — Wikipedia.
 Alexander Adams is a British artist, poet, and critic. His art reviews have appeared in such periodicals as The British Art Journal and The Burlington Magazine. His debut novel, Legends of Domstria: Guards Vestige, appeared in 2009. He also recently published the book Blood, Soil, Paint: An Essay on Romanticism, Nationalism, and Art with Imperium Press; Greg Johnson interviewed him about it on Counter-Currents Radio, here. Also see him discuss the film Sideways with Fróði Midjord here.
 See Ian Gibson’s rather condescending but detailed biography The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí (London: Faber & Faber, 1997).
 “A Tory, according to Samuel Johnson, is a man attached to orthodoxy in church and state. A bohemian is a wandering and often impecunious man of letters or arts, indifferent to the demands of bourgeois fad and foible. Such a one has your servant been. Tory and bohemian go not ill together: it is quite possible to abide by the norms of civilized existence . . . and yet to set at defiance the soft securities and sham conventionalities of 20th-century sociability.” Confessions of a Bohemian Tory (1963). As for “impecunious,” Dalí was infamously greedy, leading André Breton to give him the anagrammed nickname “Avida Dollars,” but spent so lavishly that he was often in queer street.
 Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard. Regarding the 1963 film, John Morgan makes director Luchino Visconti sound much like Dalí: “although he professed Leftist sympathies politically, in looking at the entire body of his work it’s clear that he remained very sympathetic to and nostalgic for the old European aristocracies,” and adds that “[a]s Rightists, we should not be excessively nostalgic for the past; such pining for a bygone age is a feature of conservatism rather than of the vital radical Right tradition, which embraces change.” Such was Dalí’s attitude, as we will see.
 Ironically, Dalí was the only Surrealist who actually met and talked with Freud, and the two got along quite well, while Freud continued to regard the Surrealists as neurotics. Breton, as noted, tried to tie Surrealism to both Communism and Freudianism, but was rebuffed by both; he reminds me of “Alt Right” figures who go from movement to movement, publisher to publisher, conference to conference, seeking the alliance that recognizes his value and makes him their leader, or else find the right grift.
 Adams later quotes Dalí on the war: “After a long diet of nitro-glycerin, everything that did not explode went unperceived.”
 Dalí instinctively pursued unity, not separation; a proud Spaniard — to be a great artist, he said, it was necessary first to be Spanish, and then to be born Dalí — he was also a Catalan patriot, and even insisted on some vague Arab lineage as well. All of Spanish history was summarized in Dalí, and nothing less.
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