Volume 73, Number 46 | March 17 -23, 2004

Talking Point

For Spain, for Dali

By Andrei Codrescu

Now that all the clocks have melted, let us salute Salvador Dali. The Catalan-born painter escaped the carnage of the Spanish Civil War and, after returning to his native region in the 1950s, was roundly hated by radical leftist separatists. Dali’s elder landsman, Picasso, stayed politically on the left, but his painting “Guernica” was such a powerful anti-slaughter statement that it remains to this day one of the best expressions of outrage against terror. Spanish artists, from Goya to El Greco to Picasso to Dali, have made vivid and unabashed art from their blood-soaked history. The bloodletting goes on, unfortunately. Spain has enjoyed a few years of unaccustomed lassitude and leisure after the death of Franco, a period best described in the films of Pedro Almodovar in which tragedy is only the background for farcical sexual dilemmas. What’s good for the people is not always good for art, as one can see by comparing the films of Luis Bunuel (and Dali) with those of Almodovar. In the period before the Civil War, young geniuses like the poet Federico Garcia Lorca (assassinated during that war), film visionary Bunuel and neo-Gongorian gargoyle Dali were engorged with the creative blood of upcoming world tragedies. They transformed and spurted out that visionary substance in works that get better and better every time we feel the urge to look at them. After 9/11 in New York and 3/11 in Madrid we ought to feel just such a need. Specifically, all decent art makes us feel more human, and artists have, at any time in history, provided images to this purpose. But Dali’s melting clock, like the razor blade slicing an eye in the Bunuel/Dali film “The Andalusian Dog,” is an image of extreme distress that make us feel the inhuman thing inside us, the thing that kills, terrorizes and acts out destruction. Art that makes nightmares conscious is therapeutic because it displays the grotesque results of carnage stripped of its hollow justifications, whether they be ideological, religious or tribal. One might object that Dali’s work, like that of other vivid inner-realists, makes nightmares sexy, that they communicate a morbid fascination, much like descriptions of delirium tremens tend to induce a desire for alcohol in ex-drinkers. In Spain now, among the soul searching and the anguish, the art of the great apocalypticians glows with a dark light.




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