Monday, April 28, 2008

Conversations with Dali, Alain Bosquest

Salvador Dali, Spain | 1904-1989
Conversations with Dali, Alain Bosquet

Translated from the French by Joachim Neugroschel.
(Editions Pierre Belfond, 1966; E.P. Dutton & Co., 1969)


from the dust jacket:

The antic genius of "the divine Dali" has never been better displayed than in these sprightly conversations with his old friend, Alain Bosquet, a novelist, poet, and critic. The setting for all ten conversations is Dali's luxurious Paris apartment. "From time to time a charming and formidable ocelot wearing a muzzle came strolling in from the next room, making the intruders tremble." But there are no muzzles on Dali and Bosquet.

Everything is grist for the talk, and the subjects change rapidly as the obiter dicta fall: politics and painting, France and the U.S.A., Luis Buñel, Popes John and Paul, Sophia Loren. Alain Bosquet is no mere "straight man" and has strong views of his own that he does not hesitate to oppose to Dali's. Bosquet especially pursues Dali's relationship to Spain and France, to Catholicism, and to the history of Surrealism.

There are hilarities here and opinions quotable by the page. However, running throughout this dazzling talk are the expectably shrewd and knowing observations on the history and craft of painting, both Dali's and that of past and present masters. Rounding out the ten conversations is a new translation of Dali's complete essay "The Conquest of the Irrational," a tour de force on the place of Surrealism in twentieth century culture. This is a primary document of the movement, in which Dali analyzes the significance of the unconscious forces of modern art over against modern science and technology.

[The First of Ten Conversations]

A luxury apartment in the Hotel Meurice on Rue de Rivoli above the Tuileries. Salvador Dali, wearing a navy-blue suit with broad stripes, his moustache glossy, with neither part longer than an inch and a half. The furniture is of the neutral and comfortable sort found in sumptuous international hotels. A copper mask on the mantel bears the profiles of the last sovereigns of Spain: Alphonse XIII appears amazingly young; below the effigies, the dates of their visits in the hotel. Elsewhere, the skeleton of a spoonbill together with a realistic drawing of Dali’s near a mirror. The skeleton of a rattlesnake on the other side of the same mirror. Scattered about on the furniture are pieces of plastic material reflecting the superimposed shapes obtained by electronic machines, forms producing unusual optical illusions: thus, one has the impression of standing before a very deep mirror with faraway circles and oval forms. Further along, there are egg-like shapes which are projected in front, and at first sight, seem to be almost in the center of the room, whereas in both cases we actually have surface planes. Dali is signing engravings handed to him by Peter Moore, a young man, thirtyish, whose exact title is Attaché Militaire. From time to time a charming and formidable ocelot wearing a muzzle comes strolling in from the next room, making the intruders tremble. One enters Dali’s home as one engages a windmill in Cervantes. Before the interview, Dali prefers to have a few semi-public conversations, hoping that the hubbub will provide him with material for verbal explosions. He adds that he is expecting “atomic scientists, physicists, ballerinas, and, some high-quality bores.”

ALAIN BOSQUET: Dali, we’ve known each other for twenty-three years. You’re a holy terror, a monstre sacré.1 You’re probably a monster. And yet you call yourself “the divine Dali.”

SALVADOR DALI: I was dubbed that by one of the greatest writers in modern Spain. He said that Dali would have to be compared to Raymond Lull,2 and he added that I was the incarnation of Lull. Now Lull was known as Doctor Illuminatus and as the archangelical scholar. But since the latter epithet is too complicated, they finally settled on calling me le Divin.

A. B.: Who did?

S. D.: The Daliists.

A. B.: Who are they?

S. D.: The people who latch on to me, ostensibly because I can get them married to princes, or star them in a movie, or simply have my picture taken with them. They’re climbers; what the French call arrivistes.

A. B.: Arrivistes who exploit your divinity? How can you consent so readily to other people’s granting you this would-be divinity?

S. D.: I am a supreme swine. The symbol of perfection is a pig. Charles V himself adopted it to replace all other symbols of perfection. The pig makes his way with Jesuit cunning, but he never balks in the middle of the crap in our era. I feed my crap to the Daliists. Everybody’s satisfied. And everything’s just hunky-dory. Actually, those climbers are the finest imaginable.

A. B.: You’re willing to be an arriviste yourself, aren’t you?

S. D.: An arriviste with a vengeance.

A. B.: What about your parasites?

S. D.: I’m horribly stingy, and I get more out of them than they get out of me. They give and they give. And I profit immensely. So that the satisfaction is mutual.

A. B.: Let me be brutally honest with you, Salvador, and tell you what you represent to certain intellectuals in my generation. For us, you’re the man who invented critical paranoia at a time when Surrealism was skidding toward academicism. You invented the metamorphosis: the erotic metamorphosis of an object gradually changing into another object and of a person turning into another person.

S. D.: Go on.

A. B.: And then came Dali’s fall (as far as we were concerned). During the war, for example, you were accused of having Francoist leanings. I think it’s essential that I tell you. Later on, right after the war, you had a huge number of enemies in Paris. Today, we are witnessing a return to most of the Surrealists, especially Tanguy and yourself. Youth is shifting from gestural painting toward a new order. Young people of twenty or twenty-two are going back to you with friendlier feelings—and sometimes in terror as well.

S. D.: You’re right; but in the most recent outbreaks of the avant-garde, painters have come close to me ideologically, whereas Paul Cézanne’s mountains and apples no longer interest them. Even during the Surrealist era, I felt that the great painter was Meissonier and not Cézanne .... I’ve always been impressed by what Auguste Comte wrote when he founded his positivist religion. He felt that we cannot build the world without bankers. I myself decided that for my personal and absolute power, the essential thing was to have lots of money. And I hold on to this money because I shall probably have to spend it to make the swine that I am hibernate. I am a swine par excellence: General Franco bestowed on me the highest honor that can be given to a living artist: the Cross of Isabella the Catholic.

A. B.: And you accepted it with no reservations?

S. D.: I would have taken two of them!

A. B.: You love your faults.

S. D.: In my case, they’re not faults. Let’s clarify our political positions. I’ve always been against any sort of affiliation. You know very well that I’m the only Surrealist who ever refused to belong to any organization whatsoever. I was never a Stalinist or a cat’s-paw of any association. Illustrious members of the Falanga tried to get me interested; but I’ve never committed myself.

A. B.: Wasn’t the Spanish order an act of defiance, and didn’t it embarrass you terribly?

S. D.: On the contrary! Its smallest benefit was the trouble it created for me. Only people with a servant’s mentality commit themselves. I prefer being a nobleman, and so I couldn’t ask for anything better than being covered with all kinds of medals.

A. B.: Including two-bit hardware from a general who won a civil war against certain Spanish intellectuals such as your friend Federico Garcia Lorca .... Isn’t that an act of treason toward Lorca? ubuclassics

S. D.: Excuse me, but I’ve got to let you in on a congenital trait of mine. As the bourgeois son of an attorney in Figueras, I began life with a spectacular betrayal of the class I come from, the bourgeoisie; and ever since, I’ve always touted the virtues of aristocracy and monarchy. I’m a monarchist in the most absolute sense of the word. At the same time, I’m an anarchist; anarchy and monarchy are poles apart and yet they’re two of a kind, for both aim at absolute power. I accepted the Cross of Isabella the Catholic from Franco’s hands, simply because Soviet Russia never offered me the Lenin Prize. I would have accepted it. I’d even consent to a badge of honor from Mao Tse-tung.

A. B.: Does your glory lack Mao Tse-tung?

S. D.: Especially Mao Tse-tung.

A. B.: You study certain writings of his?

S. D.: At the moment, I am meditating upon one of his poems that is going to permit the
introduction of a new dance for young people of today. What’s most important now is this rising-generation, and a new style ... Just look at Mademoiselle Onda on the couch over there, she represents the younger generation. I hope that by the end of the week she’ll be hung up like a sublime swine on a ceiling where she’ll perform super-exhibitionist contortions during a new dance accompanied by poems of Mao Tse-tung’s.

A. B.: Shall we totally exhaust our political conversation?

S. D.: Fine.

A. B.: You feel perfectly at ease in the role of a traitor. What is your goal?

S. D.: The very opposite of Picasso’s. For Dali, politics, like everything else, has to be resolved by a visceral image. If you look at the eyes of people on the Left, especially the Far Left, you’ll notice a kind of white blur on the edges, the so-called rheum. People on the Right, monarchists, and cruel men like Phillip II, stand up straight instead of crawling about and have no physical sign of human sympathy—a totally useless trait. Radical Socialists, Communists, and all Left-Wingers have a continuous secretion that forms in the eye and comes from their love of humanity. Oh, how they love humanity! They harp on it and dwell on it constantly. I do respect them because in a monarch’s court there have to be a lot of Sartre’s. And an occasional bomb thrown at the king is desirable from time to time as a stimulus for him.

A. B: Assuming that you are a Rightist and a partisan of monarchy, I find it contradictory of you to spend half the year in a democracy like the United States—whether or not it’s a failure. I knew you there at the very beginning, and you’re still at the same address, a posh hotel on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-fifth Street.

S. D.: My exceptional ethic is unerring. I always live where the most money is.

A. B.: But is that reason enough to live in America? You wound up there almost by chance, didn’t you?

S. D.: That was thirty-five years ago. I live there now because I’m always in the middle of a cascade of checks that keep pouring in like diarrhea. In addition, America is the only country in the world making enormous advances in the technology of science. Cybernetics is close by. And at this very moment in New York, people are working on my earthly immortality. Hibernation specialists are preparing complicated cylinders to lengthen my life expectancy greatly. I’m only human.

A. B.: To what extent are you really involved in life in New York?

S. D.: I see a large number of bankers, interesting homosexuals that I’ve never come across in other countries, and enthusiastic Daliists.

A. B.: Do you ever do any paintings on commission there?

S. D.: Never.

A. B.: But you have in the past.

S. D.: Perhaps.

A. B.: Are you proud that you did?

S. D.: Not at all.

A. B.: You do admit that those paintings are inferior to the others.

S. D.: All I’m interested in is the money I get for them.

A. B.: Well, then why does the “Divine Dali” agree to put his name on things that are less than divine? I have a specific painting in mind, one I personally don’t care for: your Last Supper at the National Gallery in Washington, D. C.

S. D.: According to statistics, that painting you personally don’t care for is the best seller of all modern paintings. There are more post-card reproductions of it than any da Vinci or Raphael. My strategy worked: At a certain point I decided to do paintings that would be more popular than anything else in the world. My performance was marvelous. I would even go so far as to say that that painting is a thousand times better than all of Picasso’s works put together. That one single painting!

A. B.: Do you really feel that surpassing Picasso is a distinction?

S. D.: Scarcely, scarcely. I consider myself a very mediocre painter. I have always affirmed that I’m a very mediocre painter. I simply believe that I’m a better painter than my contemporaries. If you prefer, they’re much worse than I am.

A. B.: Let’s get back to politics .... Your policy on the American check doesn’t quite satisfy me.

S. D.: There are two things: the check, and the technology leading to hibernation.

A. B.: What are you like when you find yourself face to face with Dali in a moment of solitude?

S. D.: Let me take advantage of what you’re saying and do a bit of PR work for another book that will make cuckolds of you all. Albin Michel has just commissioned me to do a book entitled: A Letter from Salvador Dali to Salvador Dali. There won’t be any Alain Bosquet monopolizing me; the book will be much more intimate, and I’ll say what I have to say to Dali himself.

A. B.: What does the France of the Fifth Republic represent to you? Does it seem viable? Do you regard Moscow as an example of total wisdom, prudence, and flexibility? Does China impress you as being a dangerous and exciting state? Is America merely a commercial undertaking that succeeds without an ideology? I’m asking all these questions in bulk. What is your situation in the modern-day world?

S. D.: I expressed my opinion in a confidential meeting at the École Polytechnique before the students, who wore white gloves and uniform. At this point in our world, Dali is becoming more and more of a Stalinist. And this happens to be an automatic reaction on my part; as soon as some one is insulted and trampled upon, I raise him up again. Stalin is my present passion, and I consider him the most important personality of our era. Stalin and perhaps Mao Tse-tung . . . but especially Stalin, for he is the truly great cuckold of modern times.

A. B.: Could you explain that?

S. D.: Stalin forged the Red Army and military power in Russia. He’s a blacksmith. Blacksmiths have always formed fraternities and sects. The moment a blacksmith of this kind comes to power, he creates male and female symbols: the hammer and sickle as emblems of an ideology. That’s what Vulcan did in ancient Greece. It was Vulcan who forged Achilles’ shield while his wife, Aphrodite, was being seduced by Apollo.

A. B.: What becomes of Stalin in this flood of inextricable explanations?

S. D.: He thought he was forging the shield of socialism and Communism, ideologies that no longer exist. Stalin furnished us with the best weapon to defend the European monarchies which are going to be restored in four or five years. He’ll do what Kaiser Wilhelm II thought he was doing against what he labeled the Yellow Peril. Personally, I’m extremely fond of the Yellow Peril. It’s going to be the stake in a war, and I just love wars.

A. B.: Then you believe there’ll be a sort of unification of the entire white race?

S. D.: Naturally. Karl Marx suffered from the same kind of illusions as poor Le Corbusier, whose recent death filled me with an immense joy. Both of them were architects. Le Corbusier was a pitiable creature working in reinforced concrete. Mankind will soon be landing on the moon, and just imagine: that buffoon claimed we’d be taking along sacks of reinforced concrete. His heaviness and the heaviness of the concrete deserve one another. Thanks to IBM machines, social classes are going to disappear, and the whole universe will be cuckolded. We are advancing far more heroically to a struggle of the races.

A. B.: You still haven’t told me what you think of present-day France. To what extent do you find the Fifth Republic rotten, slightly rotten, over-intellectual, etc. Whatever you do, don’t be too nice!

S. D.: The government doesn’t strike me as sufficiently rotten. I like a regime that’s so corrupt as to be ready for the reestablishment of a traditional monarchy. France has to be more rotten, much more rotten!

A. B.: Then you find France acceptable?

S. D.: General de Gaulle’s administration is a transitory regime on the way to monarchy. Monarchy will be restored first in Spain, the day that General Franco decides.

A. B.: Decides or deceases?

S. D.: Decides. You know it’s very difficult to decease.

A. B.: You’re evading my questions about France. You lived here before the war. Does anything seem different to you, or less free? France has become a second-class country. How does her art, her intellectual life, strike you? Hasn’t something fundamentally given way?

S. D.: No doubt about it: the avant-garde’s no longer in Paris, now it’s in New York. Of all the new painters doing Pop or Op Art, the furthest-out, the most unusual are in New York. A few months ago, I went to the annual exhibition at the Salon de Mai in Paris, and I couldn’t find a single Op artist. At that very moment in New York, there were ten shows of Op Art, and the Museum of Modern Art is filled with it.

A. B.: All the same, the idea originated in Paris. After all, Vasarely lives here.

S. D.: The New Yorkers’ approach to the problem was totally paranoid and absurd. Here, as you know, whatever a person may do, he is always under the sway of Monsieur Descartes’ intelligence. Everything instantly withers and grows dusty. What France really needs is a good kick in the ass from America. I’m obviously talking about art and painting. . . .

1 Monstre sacré, taken from the title of a play of Cocteau’s, is applied to any great actor.

2 Raymond Lull or Lully (Spanish: Ramon Liul, c. 1234-1316), Catelan author and lay missionary, was theh first great mystic of the Iberian peninusul. Revered by Franciscans as Doctor Illuminatus.

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