DALI’S PERSONAL VOCABULARY

Josh Sonnier

Every author uses language that, to the avid student of his work, is as unique as a fingerprint. Some analyses are so involved as to characterize relative frequencies of specific letters and phrases (the numerical investigations of the Shakespeare/Marlowe debate). Dali is no different form the average author, except that a great deal of the language is of his own invention. This is not to say that the words are not real. Except for the sort of ‘wordization’ described earlier (puns and compounds) the language Dali employs is constructed of words appearing in many other works, most notably Webster’s scathing expose, “The Dictionary.”

This idiosyncratic diction is most often a departure from expected context. Some of the most interesting members of Dali’s verbal fraternity have meaning which becomes clear only after reading the rest of Dali’s bibliography. “How like Dali.” quips the timid reader, “The only way to read Dali is to have already read Dali.” Reading Dali is an active navigation of the prose, rather than simple absorption of information. If a piece is written using exclusively the archetypes of the non-Dalinian hordes (i.e. the rest of humanity), it is thought concise and thoughtful. Dali’s writing requires the careful reader to address the clashing of comfortable archetypes. The painful sound of their impact is the voice of the uncanny response. He exploits the this response in order to cast into doubt the reader’s library of symbols, rather than his choice of words.

Most readers of Dali respond initially with prototypical uncanny reactions. They become frustrated, confused, and ‘creeped out’ by prose they feel is ‘just weird.’ However, familiarity with his personal vocabulary makes clear the connections used. Consider this excerpt from “Diary of a Genius.”

“September will September Gala’s smiles and corpuscles. Corpus Hypercubicus will October. But-and above all-the month of September will hypergalatate.”

Viewed as a poetic entry in a madman’s diary, the meaning is inescapable. Dali is describing his wife and his work using time-honored imagery of the seasons. September is the end of summer, with all the requisite ties to passion, life, and the physical. The table at which Summer and Autumn dine as friends is September, but October is the horizon of decline and decay. Insert the piece “Corpus Hypercubicus,” a crucifixion study, and we are rewarded with images of rebirth—victory over death, hell, and the grave. The invention of the term Hypergalatate places in the reader’s lap the image of Gala again, but a Gala transformed. In this way we are promised the return of spring. Therefore, the piece is a deification of Dali’s wife in the language of classical imagery. The progression through the seasons is as venerable as the interpretation is vivid. Sadly, the interpretation is also complete fiction—a paranoiac critical exercise.

Dali, when speaking of the physical act of painting, tended toward a concision and direction rivaled only in his letters to Gala. The above quote, read instead with the literal eye of a painter discussing painting, is quite different. Let us take Dali at his word, “The difference between myself and a madman is that I am not mad.” September and October are ‘verbifications’ of their noun forms, and are a useful shorthand to describe, collectively, activities that take place during those times. Gala, Dali’s “soft engine of inspiration” is the cart as well as the horse to a great portion of Dali’s work. She supplied his paints, oils, brushes, and canvasses, as well as tended to his animal necessities, like food, shelter, etc. Dali, in her company, was not only fuel to greater heights of artistic reverie, but was given the luxury of focussing solely on his work. The piece Dali was painting at the time was Corpus Hypercubicus, and it had been frustrating him. September passed without incident, but progress was made, thanks to Gala’s vigilance. The painting would be completed by the end of October, but only if Dali was fully attentive to Gala’s powers of inspiration. The reader is led by the nose into the pastures of overanalyzes and wanton poeticism by the assumption that Dali is saying more than is written. This assumption is aided immensely by Dali’s perdition on common archetypes, and should not be considered an accident.

More dynamic examples of this may be found in Dali’s speeches. Dali stated, during a presentation at the Sorbonne, that

“…the first time I saw a photograph of [Vermeer’s] Lacemaker and a live rhinoceros together, I realized that if there should be a battle, the Lacemaker would win, because the Lacemaker is morphologically a rhinoceros horn.”

Encountering Dali’s discussion of the rhino and his free use of the modifier ‘rhinocerontic’ throughout his career, one is tempted to apply well established rhino archetypes to decipher the statement. However, Dali, direct as always, is simply referring to his earlier essays on the fundamental forms. Raphael, he says, used the egg. Leonardo was a proponent of the cylinder. Dali, in “50 Secrets of Magical Craftsmanship,” discusses the discovery of the form that is actually the most fundamental in nature, the logarithmic curve, as in a rhinoceros horn. He is fascinated by his own ability to express any form as an arrangement of rhino horns. Dali uses the term rhinocerontic to describe things that are fundamental and logical, such as the undeniable presence of Voltaire in the market, as opposed to the normal rhino image, which usually implies large things barreling towards other, smaller, things. Dali's use of the term is not opposed to , or even conceptually linked with the more common imagery of the rhino. Now the quote becomes clear, even with no familiarity with the Lacemaker (a reading of his thoughts on Vermeer and the Lacemaker, present in one form or another in most of his writings, renders the quote helplessly transparent). The rhino cannot defeat the Lacemaker, because he has only one horn, while the Lacemaker is composed, at the most elementary level, of countless horns.

So, Dali’s language either bores the reader into a hazy-eyed stupor or initiates a retooling of the archetypes. The Paranoiac Critical archetypes of Dali are still archetypes, but they invoke the uncanny response. Dali is attempting to convince the observer to question the nature of his perceptive assumptions, or to at least acknowledge their existence as assumptions. Dali’s contribution to the notions of Perception and Inquiry is more than the PCM. The Paranoiac Critical Method is an arquebus, into which Dali packs the moist clay of the uncanny, borne of the unconscious doubt each person possesses concerning the reality of perception. His images, visual or verbal, fire the weapon, and the wounds are obvious. The observer can ignore the attacks, and think Dali mad, or accept them and seek treatment by expanding the library of archetypes to include the library itself. Dali is consciously placing a mote in the viewer’s eye, so the beam in the other is not missed.

“Let those who wish, cast stones. I will kneel and be hit squarely in the chest. With these stones I will build Truth.”

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