The Enigma of Desire: Salvador Dalí and the Conquest of the Irrational

By Kováry, Zoltán | PSYART, January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

The Enigma of Desire: Salvador Dalí and the Conquest of the Irrational


Kováry, Zoltán, PSYART


The life-work of Salvador Dalí is a great challenge for the psychology of art from a psychoanalytic point of view. According to my theory, the inner experiences that were expressed and concealed in his works were formed by family secrets and related mourning process. I try to approach this hypothesis using the ?crypt" theory of hungarian-french psychoanalysts Miklós Ábrahám and Mária Török. I also aim at associating Dalí's certain typical animal motifs, such as the maned lion's head, the crabs and the (praying) mantis with a universal symbol, the so called "vagina dentata". The symbol of aggressive female sexuality and predatory motherhood represents the emergence of feelings and anxiety related to the castration complex and to the related universal topics of birth, death, sexuality and individuation, and its appearance in Dalí's work reflects dramatic conflict solving mechanisms as the possible artistic elaborations of this developmental crisis.

keywords:surrealism, psychoanalysis, mourning process, vaina dentata, developmental crisis, elaboration

url: http://www.clas.ufl.edu/ipsa/journal/2009_kovary01.shtml

Introduction

The life-work of Salvador Dalí is a great challenge for the psychology of art from a psychoanalytic point of view. Complex interactions can be detected among the life events of the painter, the psychopathological aspects of his extravagant personality and the characteristic system of symbols present on his surrealistic paintings. The situation is further complicated by the great artist's intimate relationship with the contemporary psychoanalytic theory and his inclination to self disclosure that was often characterized by exhibitionist exaggerations. According to my theory, the inner experiences that were expressed and concealed in his works were formed by family secrets and the related mourning process. This hypothesis shall be hereinafter approached from a psychological point of view using the "crypt theory" of Miklós Ábrahám and Mária Török. I also aim at associating Dalí's certain typical animal motifs, such as the maned lion's head, the crabs and the (praying) mantis with a universal symbol, the so called "vagina dentata". The toothed female genitalia, as the symbol of aggressive female sexuality and the incorporating mother represents the emergence of feelings and anxiety related to the and to the related universal topics of birth, death, sexuality and individuation, both on individual (dreams, fantasies, works of art) and collective (myths, initiation rites) levels, and their appearance in Dalí's work reflects dramatic conflict solving mechanisms. While analyzing the vagina dentata's role in Dalí's oeuvre, I shall also investigate the painter's complex relationship with women and his own sexuality and present the possible artistic elaborations of this developmental crisis.

1. The "psychopathologic iconography"

Salvador Dalí, or "the Renaissance man converted to psychoanalysis" as was called by Sarane Alexandrian (Maddox, 1992) said the following about the possible interpretations of his works:"To describe my pictures in everyday language, to explain them, it is necessary to submit them to special analyses, and preferably with the most ambitiously objective scientific rigour possible." (as quoted by Maddox, op. cit. 64.). Dalí supposed that surrealistic art and science (more exactly psychoanalysis) are together capable of conquering the unconscious, the "irrational". Sigmund Freud, his idol of youth, did not entirely share the ardent optimism of Dalí and his contemporaries: he considered 95% of surrealists insane, although his meeting with Dalí in 1938 convinced the aged master to a certain extent (Bókay and Husz, 1997). The Hungarian Mihály Bálint was also skeptic about the perspectives of psychoanalytical interpretation of artistic creation. According to Bálint, from the three areas of the soul (Oedipus conflict, basic fault and creation) only the first two can be approached psychoanalytically, while we can only speculate about the psychological background of creation (Bálint, 1994). …

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