USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Salvador Dali

Like Woolf, the painter Salvador Dali wanted to peel off the surface layer of bourgeois society and peer into people's and society's psychological mechanisms. His artistic style, surrealism, was an attempt at creating, according to him, a far more realistic portrait of what was happening inside the world of the mind than any notion of realism or naturalism had been. While painting had captured the visible world, or even the impressions the visual world made on the eye, Dali’s work sought to present the hidden imagery of the subconscious. What do people really desire? What do they crave? What do they fear? Themes of repressed sexuality, perversions, and latent violence permeate Dali’s work. Dali attempts to rip down what he sees as convenient bourgeois, middle class, capitalist conventions. Time, for example, had become for Dali a mechanism to enslave people’s labor, but time itself was subjective. Time was only made to seem objective by the collective obedience to the artificial workings of a clock. Likewise, for Dali sexual longings were kept in check by a bourgeois ethos. Instead of being expressed naturally, they were transformed into other energies, including violence, what Freud would call the process of "sublimation." In fact, society had the power to accumulate many individual frustrations and to project this pent up energy into socially approved targets. War, of course, was the ultimate projection of social violence and the ultimate expression of a repressive bourgeois world. Surrealism, like many of the other experimental art forms of the era, was a product of the postwar culture – attempts to understand the most catastrophic social failure in all of known history. Dali’s method of dissecting society was to turn, like Woolf, to the psychological level.

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