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Alexei Taylor, Author
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Dali once declared;

“…My whole ambition in the pictorial domain is to
materialize the images of my concrete irrationality”

And in my opinion, in no other work of his is this goal so clearly defined, if not accomplished, as in La Persistencia De La Memoria. Customarily, Dali offered little help in the interpretation of this work, perhaps encouraging the observer to glean his/her own meaning from the painting and to mentally explore its multiple potential interpretations, with no forced restrictions from his own logic. Yet certain art critics have made attempts at reading meaning into this masterpiece, this icon of the Surrealist ideology, some less fruitfully than others.Art Professor, Dawn Ades’ suggestion that the drooping clocks in the painting were a contemplation on the Relativity of Time and Space, (a Scientific theory proposed by Einstein), which had become the subject of much interest at the time, especially with its metonymic relationship to the re-evaluation of the concept of temporality and space that modern technology had brought on, was summarily pushed aside by Dali who attributed the semi-solid superficiality of the clocks to melting Camembert cheese. However, numerous critics maintain that this work is, at least, a depiction of the unconscious, an argument that largely resonates with the Surrealist obsession with the unconscious. According to the information on the gallery label text on the painting at the Museum of Modern Art, the drooping clocks may symbolize the irrelevance of time in the dreamscape, and the ants attacking one of the clocks, often symbolizing decay in Dali’s other works, reinforce this point. The juxtaposition of the hard, solid rocks in the background, and the nebulous expanse of space, epitomizes the characteristic Surrealist ‘shock-effect’; by abandoning uniformity and juxtaposing contrasting entities in their work, surrealists hoped to inspire surprise or a disequilibrium in the mind of the observer, and to incite him/her to perceive the world in a new way. 

Yet, more noticeably foregrounded, in exquisite, meticulous and realistic detail in this painting is Dali’s depiction of his unconscious, long eye lashes draped below the closed eye, in a state of tranquility. Thrusting this form, close-up to the observer in the painting, Dali seems to illuminate the unconscious, and materialize its intangible features. This symbolically assigns the unconscious a measure of accessibility, a theme of interest to the Surrealists who variously employed the paranoiac critical method and automatism to access the unconscious. The surrealistic atmosphere in this painting, marked by forms that could be so readily associated with equivalents in real life, (or the conscious world) and yet seem out of context to any accurate definition of the physical world, frames the painting in the visage of a dreamscape. Perhaps, this is Dali’s dreamscape rendered in such detail as to leave the works of the Classic Masters in envious admiration.

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