Sunday, November 27, 2011

Alain Bosquet's Conversations with Dali


UbuClassics, part of Kenneth Goldsmith’s UbuWeb project that facilitates the distribution of avant-garde educational materials, electronically publishes Conversations with Dali in 2003.  Alain Bosquet originally publishes his interview with the artist in 1969 with E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., of New York.  Joachim Neugroschel translates the book from French into English.  Bosquet interviews Salvador Dalí (or, to put it exactly, Salvador Domènec Felip Jacint Dalí i Domènec, Marquis de Púbol) during ten conversations at the Hôtel Meurice in Paris, France.  The “Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Conversations” are consolidated into one chapter and include the subtitle “100 Questions for Salvador Dali.”  The book also includes Dalí’s essay “The Conquest of the Irrational,” also translated by Neugroschel.  You can obtain a copy of this digital edition by going to http://www.ubu.com/historical/dali/index.html.

Salvador Dalí is an odd man; to call him an eccentric would be an understatement.  He wasn’t just part of the Surrealist movement; he was Surrealism.  “Without my surrealism, Surrealism would never have been what it is” (26, emphasis in original).  He knew members of—and can be considered a part of—the Generation of 1927.  I find him to be an artist that divides everyone into two camps: those that love his work and those that hate it.  His grotesque yet fluid images jolt onlookers with oneiric hallucinations, visions, and optical illusions.  His art provokes and taunts.  When reading these conversations, I am never sure when he is serious or when he is joking.  He sometimes comes off as offensively ridiculous or inspiringly talented, depending upon his mood at the moment.  He is unquestionably confident in his elitism, his conceit, and lickspittle attitude, but I can’t wait to see what he says or does next.  Even with his idiosyncrasies, I get the impression that he knows that he is cocky, toady, and flamboyant.  On top of that, he knows that you know that he knows it.  It is a sort of twisted humility that gives him license to be a clown and you the satisfaction of laughing at him with scornful pleasure.  But I can’t be sure, “For one thing is certain: I hate any form of simplicity whatsoever,” says Dalí (59).  There is never a dull moment with him.

This book is packed full of quotable material.  In the following, I reflect upon the concepts that have stood out to me the most.

“I live there now because I’m always in the middle of a cascade of checks that keep pouring in like diarrhea” (7).  This is one area where I think Dalí is a genius.  Out of all the artists and authors of his generation, he is the one who is able to profit most from his work.  He has this talent of crossing a proverbial minefield unharmed when it comes to adulating authority figures and commercial interests.  While many of his colleagues become exiles, he stays in Spain by verbally supporting the Franco regime (although he is a type of Mad Hatter, no one really knows what he believes in his heart of hearts).  However, other colleagues like Luis Buñuel think Dalí sold his artistic integrity for lucre.  In any case, Dalí does anything for his financial security as long as it gives him the freedom to act the way he wants.

Regarding art, he searches for ways to reinvent art in his individual pursuits and as a whole.  During the time of the interviews, he is investigating the development of op art.  Advantageously resourceful in this field, he knows and understands the history and movements of previous artists.  He explains his motive for researching op art: “The spectator will feel as if he could plunge his hands through those dots” (14).  Whether he realizes or not, he is thinking phenomenologically.  Had he lived long enough and been capable, he would have loved the digital age, the nature of digital pixels, and the new high definition technology of three-dimensional media.

An understanding of Sigmund Freud also helps in understanding Dalí.  A good book to read is Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams.  Dalí and Bosquet have this exchange:
     “A. B.: But what about the subject of the painting?
     “S. D.: The subject will remain Surrealist.
     “A. B.: What does that mean today?
     “S. D.: Any paranoic [sic] or subconscious situation” (14).
Paranoia.  That may be what makes Dalí tick.  This would explain this answer: “When I had the honor of first meeting Sigmund Freud in London, he explained to me in a few words that superstitions have an erotic and effective foundation in regard to dark forces.  Ever since, I’ve been immersing myself deeper and deeper in superstition” (43).  Dalí’s concept of paranoia recalls the documented studies of patients that Freud helps in interpreting their dreams.  Freud guides his patients to find the meaning of their own dream imagery, usually revealing the patient’s anxiety toward certain people, situations, or things.  Dalí gives his own definitions of paranoia and its conclusive creational end: “Paranoia: delirium of interpretative association involving a systematic structure—paranoid-critical activity: spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the interpretative-critical associate of delirium phenomena” (61, emphasis in original).  If the image is ambiguous enough, the observers can individually interpret it in different ways according to their particular intentionalities.  In a Freudian sense, these subjective points of view indicate some sort of repressed or subconscious sexual urge.  Dalí may have wanted to explore the oral stage of psychosexual development: “Man’s first philosophical instrument par excellence is his awareness of the real by his jaws” (31).  A good example of this is Dalí’s performance in a commercial for Lanvin Chocolate.

Dalí is also ahead of his time.  At various points in the conversations, he anticipates postmodern principles.  At one point he says, “I always encourage people to reproduce my paintings because I find the reproductions much better than the originals” (22).  A copy of an original, or even a copy of a copy, produces a simulacrum that becomes better than the real thing itself.  Jean Baudrillard does not discuss this principle of simulacra until the 1980s.

In another instance, Dalí discusses the fetishistic superficiality of images that Fredric Jameson does not discuss until the 1980s:
     “A. B.: If you were obliged to worship an everyday object as a relic, what would it be. [Sic]
     “S. D.: A pair of shoes” (32).
Andy Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shoes would have enthralled Dalí.  I wonder if there is a shrine of ladies pumps at El Teatre-Museu Dalí in Figueres, Spain.

This book will interest any person wanting to learn about Surrealism or Dalí.  This edition is not a perfect copy; there are quite a few typos.  However, given the fact that this electronic book is free, one can excuse the mistakes and gain valuable insight.  I give caution to some readers that may be offended by sexual and scatological references to tread this book with care.  Otherwise, you may be impressed with Dalí’s madness and genius.

Andrew

2 comments:

  1. I love Dalí's art and am fascinated by him as a person. Thanks for reviewing this. Also, I don't remember there being any ladies shoes at the museum in Figueres. There is, however, a lobster telephone and a Mae West room. :)

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  2. You're welcome, rantipoler. Oh yes, the lobster telephone and the Mae West room. I would love to visit that museum if I get the chance. I would also like to see the car that rains inside the cabin on the passengers.

    There is one quote I didn't use in the review. Dalí refers to the melting watches as cheese. He says, “Take my word for it, Salvador Dali’s famous melted watches are nothing but tender paranoid-critical Camembert, the extravagant and solitary Camembert of time and space” (65).

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