A soothsayer has placed a paternity claim against the great surrealist, who has been exhumed for DNA tests. Would Dalí enjoy the spectacle? More importantly: do we?by AN Devers / July 19, 2017 / Leave a comment
It’s no secret that Salvador Dalí had a kink for death.
“Dead faces, skulls, corpses of animals occur fairly frequently in his pictures, and the ants which devoured the dying bat make countless reappearances. One photograph shows an exhumed corpse, far gone in decomposition. Another shows the dead donkeys putrefying on top of grand pianos which formed part of the Surrealist film, Le Chien Andalou.”
So writes George Orwell, with upturned nose, in his essay, “Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dalí”—a famous take-down of Dalí’s bloviated, incendiary, genre-busting autobiography The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, in which the artist takes great pleasure casting himself as an antihero.
Orwell was nauseated by Dalí’s exuberant embrace of the grotesque, and he wasn’t exaggerating in his description of The Secret Life as “a strip-tease act conducted in pink limelight.” The book romps through Dalí’s addiction to provocation, particularly when it comes to describing his fixation with masturbation and his disinterest in actual sex. Dalí delights in his own necrophagic obsessions, dwelling on the possibility of eating decayed flesh—an interest he also classifies as perverse, but tameable. He then demonstrates his so-called controlled appetite by recounting a story of a king who cures his erotic obsession with death by consuming a female mannequin’s sugar nose—a stand-in for the king’s desire to consume a real woman.
After he symbolically “kills” her, he finds ecstasy in the sweetness of death, but also in the sweetness of life. He then immediately regrets the act of killing her—she would have been just as sweet living, he determines. Sacre bleu! What a realisation.
This tale is also meant as an allegory about Dalí’s marriage to his wife, Gala—a woman who, by all accounts, had as much flair for drama and cruelty as Dalí himself. He was deeply committed to her, sex aside. She was equally enraptured by her husband, his work, and his money—fulfilling her desire for sex elsewhere.
For Orwell, it is exactly Dalí’s braggadocio about such things that make his autobiography odious. “It is a book that stinks.” Orwell insisted. “If it were possible for a book to give a physical stink off its pages, this one would—a thought that might please Dalí, who before wooing his future wife for…