Salvador Dali, Moving Audiences to Chaos with his Words

Dali’s talent to invoke utter chaos and general confusion preserved in his own words.


To say he “believed in surrealism” is so far understated that it would be like saying, “eagles enjoy hunting” Dali was surreal with authority, his confidence in himself and his convictions, however bizarre, never shaken by the life events that would normally uproot another’s life. For example, Dali was expelled from almost every school he attended, once and for all, from the San Fernando Academy by a royal decree. After multiple episodes of “surreal” speeches” he declared that the professors of the academy were not worthy of his presence.

Expulsion for declarations and speeches? Was his statement about their worth really enough to insight outrage? To describe the manor of Dali’s speaking style is best justified in his own words. After headlining a lecture at an anarchist convention in Barcelona, Dali has a loaf of bread strapped to his head with leather straps.

He describes his logic and the experience in his book “The Secret Life of Salvador Dali” –

“On the evening of the lecture I arrived ten minutes early to give instructions about the props I had asked for. In the small office adjoining the lecture hall a large loaf of bread lay on the desk, and with it some leather straps. They asked me if this is what I wanted. “It’s perfect. Now listen to me carefully. At a certain point in my speech shall make a gesture with my hand and say, ‘Bring it!’ Then two of you must come up on stage while I am talking and tie the loaf of bread to my head with the straps, which are to be passed under each arm. Be sure to keep the loaf horizontal. This operation must be performed with utmost seriousness, and even with a touch of sinister.”

I was dressed with provocative elegance, and when I appeared I was given a stormy reception. Nevertheless the catcalls and jeers were gradually drowned out by an “organized” applause, and then by a voice shouting, “Let him speak first!”

I spoke.

… simply a speech of the irrational and poetic type, in which the crudest obscenities occasionally flashed. These enormities which no one had ever heard uttered in public I delivered in the most matter-of-fact and casual way, which only augmented their truculent and disconcertingly pornographic character. An insurmountable uneasiness took hold of the audience… most of whom had brought their wives and daughters having said to themselves today we’re going to amuse ourselves by listening to the eccentricities of Dali…

…..a string of fresh obscenities, this time enhanced by my own type of realism, and which were blasphematory to boot, made the hall roar like a lion, and I could not make out whether it was with pleasure or with fury.

I now judged that the moment was psychologically ripe,

and making an impatient movement with my hand I gave the pre-arranged signal to “have it brought to me.” All eyes turned in the direction in which I had waved my hand, and the surprise at the apparition of two persons carrying the bread and straps exceeded all my hopes. While the bread was being fastened to my head the tumult increased, showing all the preliminary symptoms of a general fracas. When the bread was finally secured on my head I suddenly felt myself infected by the general hysteria, and with all the strength of my lungs I began to shout my famous poem on the “Rotten Donkey.”

At this moment an anarchist doctor with a face as red as if it had been boiled, and a white beard which made him look for all the world like a Boecklinian allegory, was seized with a real fit of madness…. Everyone tried, unsuccessfully to control him. One man would clutch his legs while others would hold his head and arms. It was of no avail… sweating anarchists struggling to reestablish order. After the tirade of my obscenities, which still rang in everyone’s ears, the apparition of the leaf of bread on my head, and the fit of delirium tremens of the old doctor, the evening ended in an unimaginable general confusion.”

Invoking hysteria, drama, and confusion was Dali’s aim. These intentions translate over into his paintings as well. To understand the artist would be a fool’s errand, Dali worked to never be understood. From being disowned by his father due to the affair and eventual marriage to Gala, his wife, muse, model, obsession. To his extreme fear of grasshoppers and his pet anteater; Dali’s life seemed to be most comfortable in a constant stream of chaos.

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