The Secret Life of Salvador Dali (4 page)

BOOK: The Secret Life of Salvador Dali
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It was very late as we were finishing the meal, and the sun was already low on the horizon. I was barefoot, and one of the girls in our group, who had been an admirer of mine for some time, kept remarking shrilly how beautiful my feet were. This was so true that I found her insistence on this matter stupid. She was sitting on the ground, with her head lightly resting against my knees. Suddenly she put her hand on one of my feet and ventured an almost imperceptible caress with her trembling fingers. I jumped up, my mind clouded by an odd feeling of jealousy toward myself, as though all at once I had become Gala. I pushed away my admirer, knocked her down and trampled on her with all my might, until they had to tear her, bleeding, out of my reach.

IX

I seem destined to a truculent eccentricity, whether I wish it or no.

I was thirty-three. One day in Paris I received a telephone call from a brilliant young psychiatrist. He had just read an article of mine in the review
Le Minotaure
on
The Inner Mechanism of Paranoiac Activity.
He congratulated me and expressed his astonishment at the accuracy of my scientific knowledge of this subject, which was so generally misunderstood. He wished to see me to talk over this whole question. We agreed
to meet late that very afternoon in my studio on Rue Gauguet. I spent the whole afternoon in a state of extreme agitation at the prospect of our interview, and I tried to plan in advance the course of our conversation. My ideas were so often regarded even by my closest friends in the surrealist group as paradoxical whims–tinged with genius, to be sure–that I was flattered finally to be considered seriously in strictly scientific circles. Hence I was anxious that everything about our first exchange of ideas should be perfectly normal and serious. While waiting for the young psychiatrist’s arrival I continued working from memory on the portrait of the Vicomtesse de Noailles on which I was then engaged. This painting was executed directly on copper. The highly burnished metal cast mirror-like reflections which made it difficult for me to see my drawing clearly. I noticed as I had before that it was easier to see what I was doing where the reflections were brightest. At once I stuck a piece of white paper half an inch square on the end of my nose. Its reflection made perfectly visible the drawing of the parts on which I was working.

At six o’clock sharp–the appointed time of our meeting–the doorbell rang. I hurriedly put away my copper, Jacques Lacan entered, and we immediately launched into a highly technical discussion. We were surprised to discover that our views were equally opposed, and for the same reasons, to the constitutionalist theories then almost unanimously accepted. We conversed for two hours in a constant dialectical tumult. He left with the promise that we would keep in constant touch with each other and meet periodically. After he had gone I paced up and down my studio, trying to reconstruct the course of our conversation and to weigh more objectively the points on which our rare disagreements might have a real significance. But I grew increasingly puzzled over the rather alarming manner in which the young psychiatrist had scrutinized my face from time to time. It was almost as if the germ of a strange, curious smile would then pierce through his expression.

Was he intently studying the convulsive effects upon my facial morphology of the ideas that stirred my soul?

I found the answer to the enigma when I presently went to wash my hands (this, incidentally, is the moment when one usually sees every kind of question with the greatest lucidity). But this time the answer was given me by my image in the mirror. I had forgotten to remove the square of white paper from the tip of my nose! For two hours I had discussed questions of the most transcendental nature in the most precise, objective and grave tone of voice without being aware of the disconcerting adornment of my nose. What cynic could consciously have played this rôle through to the end?

X

I was twenty-three, living at my parents’ house in Figueras. I was inspired, working on a large cubist painting in my studio, I had lost the belt to my dressing gown, which kept hampering my movements. Reaching
for the nearest thing to hand I picked up an electric cord lying on the floor and impatiently wound it round my waist. At the end of the cord, however, there was a small lamp. Not wanting to waste time by looking further, and as the lamp was not very heavy, I used it as a buckle to knot the ends of my improvised belt together.

I was deeply immersed again in my work when my sister came to announce that there were some important people in the living-room who wanted to meet me. At this time I had considerable notoriety in Catalonia, less because of my paintings than because of several cataclysms that I had unwittingly precipitated. I tore myself ill-humoredly from my work and went into the living-room. I was immediately aware of my parents’ disapproving glance at my paint-spattered dressing-gown, but no one yet noticed the lamp which dangled behind me, right against my buttocks. After a polite introduction I sat down, crushing the lamp against the chair and causing the bulb to burst like a bomb. An unpredictable, faithful and objective hazard seems to have systematically singled out my life to make what are normally uneventful incidents violent, phenomenal and memorable.

XI

In 1928 I was giving a lecture on modern art in my native town of Figueras, with the mayor acting as chairman and a number of local notables in attendance. An unusual crowd had gathered to hear me. I had come to the end of my speech, which had apparently been followed with polite puzzlement, and there was no indication from the audience that the conclusive nature of my last paragraph had been grasped. In a sudden hysterical rage, I shouted, at the top of my lungs:

“Ladies and gentlemen, the Lecture is FINISHED!”

At this moment the mayor, who was very popular, who was indeed loved by the whole town, fell dead at my feet. The emotion was indescribable and the event had considerable repercussions. The comic papers claimed that the enormities expressed in the course of my lecture had killed him. It was in fact simply a case of sudden death–angina pectoris, I believe–fortuitously occurring exactly at the end of my speech.

XII

In 1937 I was to give a lecture in Barcelona on the subject: “The Surrealist and Phenomenal Mystery of the Bedside Table”. On the very day scheduled for the lecture an anarchist revolt broke out. A part of the public which had come to hear me in spite of this was kept prisoner in the building, for the metal doors to the street had to be hastily lowered in case of shooting. Intermittently could be heard the bursting bombs of the F. A. L.
4

XIII

When I arrived in Turin on my first trip to Italy the sky was blackened by a spectacular aerial display. Through the streets marched torchlight parades: war had just been declared on Abyssinia.

XIV

Another lecture in Barcelona. The theatre in which I was to talk caught fire that same morning. It was quickly put out, but the conflagration was more than enough to give a light of immediacy to the evening lecture.

XV

At still another lecture, also in Barcelona, a doctor with a white beard was seized with a kind of mad fit and tried to kill me. It took several people to subdue him and drag him out of the hall.

XVI

In 1931, in Paris, in the course of the showing of the surrealist film
L’Age d’Or,
on which I had collaborated with Bunuel, the
Camelots du Roi
(King’s Henchmen) threw ink-bottles at the screen, fired revolvers in the air, assaulted the public with bludgeons and wrecked the exhibition of surrealist paintings on display in the theatre lobby. As this was one of the greatest Parisian events of the period I shall relate it in full detail in its proper place in this book.

XVII

At the age of six, again, I was on the way to Barcelona with my parents. Midway there was a long stop, at the station of El Empalme. We got out. My father said to me: “You see, over there, they’re selling rolls–let’s see if you’re smart enough to buy one. Run along, but don’t get any of the ones with an omelet inside; I just want the roll.”

I went off and came back with a roll. My father turned pale when he saw it.

“But there was an omelet inside!” he exclaimed, highly aggravated.

“Yes, but you told me you only wanted the roll. So I threw away the omelet.”

“Where did you throw it?”

“On the ground.”

XVIII

In 1936 in Paris in our apartment at number 7 Rue Becquerel, near the Sacre-Coeur. Gala was to undergo an operation the following morning and had to spend the night at the hospital for preparatory treatments. The operation was considered very serious. Nevertheless, Gala, with her unfailing courage and vitality, seemed not at all worried, and we spent
that whole afternoon constructing two surrealist objects. She was happy as a child: with graceful arched movements, reminiscent of Carpaccio’s figures, she was assembling an astounding collection of items which she subjected to the little catacylsms of certain mechanical actions. Later I realized that this object was full of unconscious allusions to her impending operation. Its eminently biological character was obvious: membranes ready to be torn by the rhythmic movement of metal antennae, delicate as surgical instruments, a bowl full of flour serving as a shock-absorber for a pair of woman’s breasts so placed as to bump against it...The breasts had rooster-feathers budding out of the nipples, so that by brushing against the flour the feathers softened the impact of the breasts, which thus barely grazed the surface and left only an infinitely soft, almost imperceptible imprint of their contours upon the immaculate flour.

I, meanwhile, was putting together a “thing” which I called the “hypnagogic clock.” This clock consisted of an enormous loaf of French bread posed on a luxurious pedestal. On the back of this loaf I fastened a dozen ink-bottles in a row, filled with “Pelican” ink, and each bottle held a pen of a different color. I was highly enthusiastic over the effect which this produced. At nightfall Gala had completely finished her object, and we decided to take it to Andre Breton to show to him before going to the hospital. (The making of this kind of object had become an epidemic and was then at its height in surrealist circles.) We hurriedly carried Gala’s object into a taxi, but no sooner had we got under way than a sudden stop caused the object, which we were cautiously carrying on our laps, to fall apart, and the pieces scattered all over the floor and seat of the taxi. Worst of all, the bowl containing two pounds of flour was upset along with the rest. We were entirely covered with it. We tried to gather up some of the spilt flour, but it had already become dirty. From time to time the taxi-driver glanced back at us in our agitation with an expression of profound pity and bewilderment. We stopped at a grocery store to buy another two pounds of fresh flour.

All these incidents almost made us forget the hospital, where we arrived very late. Our appearance in the courtyard, which was steeped in a mauve May twilight, must have seemed strange and alarming, to judge from the effect we produced on the nurses who came out to meet us. We kept dusting ourselves, each time raising clouds of flour, especially I, who was covered with it even to my hair. What was one to make of a husband stepping out of a perfectly conventional taxi and bringing in his wife for a serious operation, with his clothes saturated with flour, and seeming to take it all as a lark? This is probably still an unfathomed mystery to those nurses of the clinic on Rue Michel-Ange who witnessed our bizarre appearance, which only the chance reading of these lines is likely to clear up.

I left Gala at the hospital and hurried back home. From time to time and at increasing intervals I continued absentmindedly to dust off
the stubborn flour sticking to my clothes. I dined on a few oysters and a roast pigeon, which I ate with an excellent appetite. After three coffees I went back to work on the object I had begun in the afternoon. As a matter of fact I had cherished this moment the whole time I was gone, and the interruption of taking Gala to the hospital had only heightened the anticipation and increased its delight. I was a little surprised at my almost complete indifference to my wife’s operation, which was to be performed the following morning at ten. But I found myself unable, even with a little effort, to bring myself to feel the slightest anxiety or emotion. This complete indifference toward the being whom I believed I adored presented to my intelligence a very interesting philosophical and moral problem to which, however, I found it impossible to give my attention immediately.

Indeed I felt myself inspired, inspired like a musician: new ideas sparkled in the depth of my imagination. To my loaf of bread I added sixty pictures of ink-bottles with their pens respectively painted in watercolor on little squares of paper which I hung by sixty strings under the loaf. A warm breeze blowing in from the street set all these pictures swinging back and forth. I contemplated the absurd and terribly real appearance of my object with genuine ecstacy. Still engrossed in the importance of the object I had just constructed, I finally went to bed at about two in the morning. With the innocence of an angel I fell immediately into deep, peaceful slumber. At five I awoke like a demon. The greatest anguish I had ever felt held me riveted to my bed.

With painfully slow movements which seemed to me to last two thousand years, I threw back the blankets that were choking me. I was covered with that cold perspiration of remorse which is like the dew that has formed on the landscapes of the human soul since the first gleams of the dawn of morality. Day needled the sky, the shrill and frenzied song of birds, suddenly awakened, pecked, as it were, at the very pupils of my eyes opening to misfortune, deafening my ears, and constricting my heart with the tense and growing web of all the buds bursting with the sap of springtime.

Gala, Galuchka, Galuchkineta! Burning tears welled up one by one into my eyes, awkwardly at first, with spasms and the pangs of childbirth. Presently they flowed–with the sureness and impetuosity of a rushing cavalcade–with sorrow for the beloved one, seen in profile seated in the pearl-studded chariot of despair, swept along triumphantly Each time the flow of my tears began to subside there would immediately arise before me an instantaneous vision of Gala–Gala leaning against an olive-tree in Cadaques, beckoning to me; Gala in late summer stooping to pick up a gleaming mica pebble amid the rocks of Cape Creus; Gala swimming out so far that I can distinguish only the smile of her little face–and these fleeting images sufficed to provoke by their painful pressure a fresh jet of tears, as though the hard mechanism of feeling were compressing the muscular diaphragm of my orbits, squeezing and pressing
out to the last drop each one of those luminous visions of my love, contained in the acid and livid lemon of memory.

BOOK: The Secret Life of Salvador Dali
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