Madness, love and mysticism. Perhaps everything you always wanted to know about Dali, Freud, Psychoanalysis and Pictorial Surrealism. Salvador Dali was immersed in the conquest of the irrational, infinite and likely futile search for the unconscious and its meaning. His contribution to surrealism is linked to the framework of Freudian psychoanalysis through Dali’s unique and sometimes unsettling pictorial symbolism and narrative language. An obsession with the representation of the fourth dimension within a two dimensional painting.
Surrealism, which is credited to Andre Breton, was a style of painting, sculpture and literature that grew out of a fusion between art and psychoanalysis. Call it a marriage of convenience consummated after WWI. Its predecessor was the Dada movement which involved a systematization of confusion. Intentional ruptures and disturbances to linearity through juxtapositions of context, form and style, that took shape as free association; indeed one of the Zurich and later Berlin Dada’s founders, Richard Huelsenbeck, became a Jungian Psychoanalysist in New York after fleeing from Germany. Certainly, Breton was not above opportunism, and he theorized and appropriated Freud in a completely different manner. Breton wrote the Surrealist Manifesto to describe how he wanted to combine the conscious and subconscious into a new ” absolute reality”
”Surrealism emerged in the aftermath of WWI. Along with the Dadaism that prepared the way for it, it was a rejection of bourgeois values, especially the rationalism that supposedly accounted for the wholesale destruction of life and property just concluded. It attacked the pretensions of high art, while retaining many of the painterly flourishes of earlier generations. When Marcel Duchamp painted a moustache on the Mona Lisa in the Dadaist “L.H.O.O.Q” in 1919, he captured the spirit of this movement. In many ways, it was to the radicalization of the 1920s as people like Abby Hoffman and the Fugs were to the 1960s radicalization.”…Freud’s “insights” informed nearly everything that both the writers and painters produced. It is important to understand that surrealism did not take a literal-minded and clinical approach to Freud’s theories. For the most part, it did not look at psychoanalysis as a means to achieving mental health, something largely unattainable in bourgeois society in any case. Instead, they saw it as a way of tapping into the deep psychic reservoirs that can produce memorable art. More to the point, mental illness–and hysteria in particular–was a normal response to the insanity of capitalist society. Their notions on this relationship anticipated not only R.D. Laing but the postmodernism of Deleuze-Guattari and Lacan.”
With Freud, the status of dreams changed. They were still seen as sources of knowledge, but this time they were more about one’s past than future, and the messages delivered were sometimes difficult to absorb. They were often carnal and murderous, bringing to light aspects of ourselves that were obscure. They showed humans not as autonomous agents but as divided, split between what they wished for at a conscious level and the echoes of their unconscious desire.What Wittgenstein would refer to as Rules and Private Language. Surrealists like Dali explored not the rational goals of human activity but what blocks these pursuits, the impediments that give human life its deep variations . By taking these dark threads and magnifying them, they are faithful to the mysterious world of desires and defences Freud mapped out in The Interpretation of Dreams.
The interface between Freudian dream theory and literary and artistic production is not complex. What counts is less what is said than how it is said. It has nothing to do with content: it is not about sex or the Oedipus complex or murderous wishes. If these are universals of human life, what matters is how they are articulated. And, as Freud showed, the key lies in censorship.The surrealists provide the best example. Surrealists were a group of writers and artists who, for the most part, were keen readers of Freud and who had paid careful attention to his theory of dreams. They knew about the sexual drives, about Oedipal desires, about the castration complex etc.
The unconscious desires Freud brought to light are, in fact, no more present than in any other art movement. But what we do find are the mechanisms of the dreamwork, the ways desire slips through the nets of censorship. When a desire cannot be represented consciously, Freud showed, it will take on the form of some absurdity. Two objects that could never be juxtaposed in reality become so in the dream: an artichoke and a human head, a fish and a bicycle. They are condensed into one, as a way of disguising desire.These juxtapositions could not happen in real life, just as in Dalí’s work we continually see things next to each other that couldn’t be so empirically: bodily fragments next to landscapes and rocks, strange creatures part-human part-animal, machines with flesh, living bodies and objects improbably enlarged and reduced in scale. Psychoanalysis is not a playful as art can be, with its mechanisms of binding and distortion.
These implausible creations are the results of the dreamwork described by Freud: where desire cannot be represented directly, it takes the form of a distortion of reality, a strange convergence of the elements of our everyday life in bizarre and impossible configurations.
In 1929, Dali met psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Lacan’s treatsie suggested to Dali the paranoiac-critical method by means of which the passivity of the automatism of symbols is replaced by the dynamism of the delusion of interpretation. Dali’s interpretation and application lead to a severe critique by the surrealists …”In Breton’s mind, Dalí’s fascination with Hitler threatened to bring about the ‘ruin of Surrealism’ by exposing the ideological flaws in existing Surrealist attempts to distinguish between right-wing and left-wing politics in relation to aesthetic production. To Breton’s dismay, Dalí seemed to take literally Breton’s call in the First Surrealist Manifesto to produce works ‘outside all aesthetic or moral preoccupations‘. Yet in directing Surrealist attention to Hitler, I argue, Dalí analysed the ‘hitlerian phenomenon‘ as an apocalyptic symptom of the alienation and auto-aggression afflicting bourgeois society. In so doing, he relied heavily upon a dialogue he had struck up with Jacques Lacan concerning paranoia – what Lacan termed ‘autopunition‘, and their relationship to the fascist persona.”
” The dream…a huge heavy head on a threadlike body supported by the prongs of reality…falling into space just as the dream is about to begin. ( S.Dali. 1945.) Dali’s childhood was marked by events that impacted the development of his personality and later his work in what could be termed a psychoanalytic way. He was named after his brother who had died before he was born, and was thus burdened by the existence of this alter ego, guilty, and somewhat feeling responsible, as well as struggling to prove his own existence and identity. He was worried about sexuality. His Father, a wealthy and respected notary, frequented prostitutes and conveyed the belief that Dali’s brother’s death was linked to his sexual promiscuity. His father gave Dali books containing pictures of lesions caused by syphilis. Dali was traumatized and came to associate his fears with sexuality as a whole, apparently leading him to avoid sexual contact and relying on onanism as his source of pleasure.
In Madrid,in 1921, Dali came into contact with poet Frederico Garcia Lorca and filmmaker Luis Bunuel from whom he discovered Freudian psychoanalysis and his subsequent obsession with the attraction of self-interpretation. After meeting the French surrealists in 1926, he began making his initial contributions to surrealism with work such as ”Le Grand Masturbateur”, which instinctually reflected Freuds ideas to reflect his personality,fears and sexual obsessions.
In general, this fetishistic model of desire corresponded to the surrealists’ trompe d’oeil visual images remembered from dreams and fantasies, and to their specifically constructed ‘objects with a symbolic function’.Keeping in mind that the surrealists had no intention of healing sexual obsessions but rather tended to nurture them, and manipulate them in order to make marketable artwork out of them. It should come as no surprise that some of the most famous surrealist paintings objectify and degrade women; all in the name of tapping into the lower levels of the consciousness enunciated by Freud.The inevitable objectification combined perverse love and blind hatred suggesting inherent and perhaps irreconcilable complexity on many levels. There is also a certain undeniable strand leading back to the to Marquis de Sade, who was a lesser patron saint; of the fallen variety, within the Surrealist movement.
The ambiguity in Dali’s work is somewhat obscured or unnoticed since there is an overpowering mask of forceful drawing and hyper-clarity of the images. The main figure in ”Le Grand Masturbateur is a stylized self-portrait of the artist himself. His mouth is replaced by a grasshopper whose stomach is covered in ants which symbolized sexual fears. The symbolic elements attached to the self portrait are a lion’s head, a hook, the figure of a woman whose face is held close to a man’s genitals, and shells and pebbles. The lion’s head is a recurring theme in Dali’s work and represents the repressive, threatening figure of the father. The abundance of soft structures expresses his singular anguish regarding time and space.
The 1932 painting, ”Espectro del Sex Appeal” is also an impactful representation of Dali’s fear of sex. However, the sexual issue for Dali was perhaps the manifestation of an even larger dilemma ; alienation and loneliness. Art that underlined the inability of men and women to communicate a deeper truth: all people are essentially alone; men cannot communicate with women, but they cannot communicate with each other, either. The so called battle between men and women being the most visible and straightforward demonstration of how isolated people are from one another.
” My whole ambition in the pictorial domain is to materialize the images of my concrete irrationality with the most imperialistic fury of precision… paranoiac critical activity organizes and objectifies in an exclusivist manner the limitless and unknown possibilitiesof the systematic association of subjective and objective ‘significance’ in the irrational” ( S. Dali ) Concealed or repressed relationships between states of dissociated memory was revealed in the light of the subconscious gaze and reflected in Dali’s double reading and dual interpretations such as ”El Grand Paranoico” and ”El Enigma Sin Fin ”, from 1938. Along with Bunuel, Dali pioneered the first surrealist films , ”Un Chien Andalou” and ”L’age D’or ”
Sigmund Freud maintained a general disdain for surrealists who had adopted him as a type of Boddishatva or Siddhartha figure from Herman Hesse. In a similar fashion that acid drenched hippies adopted Timothy Leary’s LSD as holding the keys to the gates of enlightment. However, on July 19, 1938, Dali met the then 82 year old psychoanalyst who had just fled Austria, at Freud’s London residence. Dali showed him his ”Metamorfosis de Narcisco” . According to Roy Behrens, Freud then asked Dali to name his favorite animal. The answer: filet of sole.
”As they talked, Dali began to sketch Freud, and the latter turned to author Stefan Zweig, who had arranged the get-together, and whispered, “That boy looks like a fanatic — small wonder that they have a civil war in Spain if they look like that. …The remark delighted Dali when he was told afterward. To Dali, Freud fretted, “In the paintings of the Old Masters one immediately tends to look for the unconscious, whereas, when one looks at a surrealist painting, one immediately has the urge to look for the conscious.”…They had a comic joust over a magazine that Dali had brought along, which contained a commentary he’d written on paranoia. But the bottom line, Behrens says, was that Freud did in fact enjoy the get-together. “In other words, Dali really was paranoid.”
This led to an adjustment of perception of Freud regarding Surrealism and Dali in particular. ” Up to now I have been inclined to consider surrealists who seem to have chosen me as their patron saint, as incurable nutcases; let us say 95%, as with alcohol. The young Spaniard however, with his candid, fanatical eyes and unquestionable technical skills has made me reconsider my opinion. In fact, it would be very interesting to investigate the way in which such a painting has been composed”