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SPAIN: Salvador Dali

There are few people I dislike, but among them are García Lorca, Buñuel, and Salvador Dali. I knew them all. They misused their great talents and represented the idiotic strain which was one of the causes of the collapse of the Spanish Republic in 1936. Their aim was "ëpater le bourgeois", and they succeeded. Salvador Dali has been used by all kinds of commercial enterprises preying on stupid people who wish to prove that they are familiar with, or better still owners of, modern art. Dali (1904-1989) was born in Figueres, Catalonia in the foothills of the Pyrenees, only sixteen miles from the French border. The son of a prosperous notary, he spent his youth in Figueres and at the family's summer home in the coastal fishing village of Cadaques, where his parents built his first studio. Later he made his home in nearby Port Lligat.

Dali attended the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid. Early recognition of Dali's talent came with his first one-man show, held in Barcelona in 1925. He became internationally known when three of his paintings were shown in the third annual Carnegie International Exhibition in Pittsburgh in 1928. The following year he held his first one-man show in Paris. He also joined the Paris Surrealist Group, led by former Dadaist, Andre Breton. That year Dali met Gala Eluard when she visited him in Cadaques with her husband, poet Paul Eluard. She became Dali's lover, business manager, and inspiration. Dali soon became a leader of the Surrealist Movement. His painting, "Persistence of Memory" (1931), is one of the best known surrealist works. But, as war approached, he clashed with the Surrealists and was expelled from the Surrealist movement during a "trial" in 1934. He did, however, continue to exhibit works in international surrealist exhibitions. By 1940 he was moving into his "classic" period, demonstrating a preoccupation with science and religion. He and Gala escaped from Europe during World War II, spending 1940-48 in the United States. The Museum of Modern Art in New York staged his first major retrospective exhibit in 1941. This was followed in 1942 by the publication of hia autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali.

When he moved away from Surrealism into his classic period, he painted a series of 18 large canvases, many concerning scientific, historical or religious themes. Among the best-known of these works are "The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus", and "The Sacrament of the Last Supper" in the National Gallery in Washington D.C. In 1974 he opened the Teatro Museo Dali in his native town Figueres. This was followed by retrospectives in Paris and London. After the death of Gala in 1982, Dali's health failed. It worsened after he was burned in a fire in his home in Pubol in 1984. Two years later, a pacemaker was implanted in his heart. Much of this part of his life was spent in seclusion, first in Pubol and later in his apartments at the Torre Galatea, adjacent to the Teatro Museo. He died in 1989, a sad man.

Dali's immense talent was perverted by the -ísms which the Paris art world produced during his life. Christopher Jones has sent me a passage in French in which he explained his views on the history of Spain, clearly borrowed from Américo Castro: "For me, Spain is the miraculous fusion of three races which are completely contradictory: the Jews, whose supreme aristocracy are the Sephardim, the Arabs because of Grenada, and the Iberians who are Celts. These three contradictory races, melted into one, have made Spain.

In Madrid, when I was young, I felt strongly the difference between Catalonia and Castile. I reacted in just the opposite way from the other Catalans, who were all opposed to Castile. I was the only ant-Catalanist. I was a traitor once more, just as I had been a traitor to the affluent bourgeois class in which I was born. I thought it was a disaster to speak Catalan and that we should become assimilated to Gongora and all Castilian culture. Nevertheless, I speak Castilian very badly and Catalan very well. There are many things which I can express only in Catalan. Yet I was right. My teacher Pujol at the end of his life said "Because of my mania for writing in Catalan, no one reads me. True Catalanists should write in Castilian if they wish to convince others, since their Catalan audience is too small. I have always been against Catalan autonomy. We Catalans should become integrated into Spanish diversity with its tragic sense of life, which is just the opposite of ours".

This passage is quite revealing. Dali, like Picasso, became a pseudo-Frenchman. French was the only foreign language he spoke, as it was of Garcia Lorca, who did not learn English even though he once lived in New York, which he hated. I remember that in the Paris of that period it was almost required of us that we despise the bourgeois, the middle class which is really the backbone of any society. As for Spain and its history, Dali picked up the ideas which were floating around the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid at that time. We mentioned Américo Castro above. One odd aspect of the literary life of the period was the cult of Góngora, which I attribute to Dámaso Alonso, who was one of my teachers at Oxford and later became president o te Royal Spanish Academy. Luis de Góngora y Argote (1561-1621) was a baroque writer, so for a republican to exalt him would be like a British leftist becoming a devotee of Euphuism. Góngora was an elitist, neoclassical poet who, unlike Dali, had no interest in the public; all of his major works were published posthumously. He was almost forgotten until the 1921 tercentennial of his death provided an opportunity to resuscitate him. Dámao Alonso flourished in Franco Spain (I saw him there), and he never had much interest in the Republic, so Dali's mention of Gongora is an anomaly. Dali's reference to Spain's tragic sense of life is a reference to Miguel de Unamuno and his Sentimiento trágico de la vida. In sum, Dali picked up all kinds of ideas in the Paris and Madrid of his time, but he was essentially a talented, mixed up individual. I really do not know what his politics were.

His teacher was right when he said that he had few readers because he wrote in Catalan. Those who insist on writing in a local language like Catalan must realize that their readership will be small. There are really only two international languages in the world today; English and Spanish, with French hanging on in Franch Canada and Africa. We may regret it, but it is a fact of life. Similarly, the position of Barcelona as a center for publishing books in Spanish will be endangered if Catalan is pushed too hard. Do Basque nationalists insist on speaking, writing, and publishing in Basque? Only those who are crazy, which many Basque nationalists are.

In the Madrid of the republican period, "Europeanization" involved three foreign countries. Traditionally France had the dominating influence. Blasco Ibañez represented the sensible side of that influence, Dali the crazy side. Although he, García Lorca, and Buñuel was all associated with the Residencia de Estudiantes, the British influence predominated there. Ortega y Gasset led a small group which looked to Germany. The US was still very distant, and its influence ws scarcely felt. Things have changed.

Ronald Hilton - 5/15/03