Posted by Jim Lindgren:
Roman Polanski, George Orwell, and Salvador Dali.
http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2009_09_27-2009_10_03.shtml#1254195548


   When I was running university film societies in the 1970s and early
   1980s, I considered Roman Polanski's Chinatown the best film made in
   the 1970s. I don't know what I would think today because I haven't
   seen it since. And I still consider Rosemary's Baby one of the best
   horror movies ever made.

   Good artists are not necessarily good people and bad people are not
   necessarily bad artists. The first writer I saw who explored this
   issue was George Orwell in his [1]essay on Dali. Also, the essay's
   second sentence contains one of Orwell's most resonant ideas: "any
   life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats."

     [2]Notes on Dali

     George Orwell

     Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something
     disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably
     lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a
     series of defeats. However, even the most flagrantly dishonest book
     (Frank Harris�s autobiographical writings are an example) can
     without intending it give a true picture of its author. Dali�s
     recently published Life [The Secret Life of Salvador Dali (The Dial
     Press, 1942)] comes under this heading. Some of the incidents in it
     are flatly incredible, others have been rearranged and
     romanticised, and not merely the humiliation but the persistent
     ordinariness of everyday life has been cut out. Dali is even by his
     own diagnosis narcissistic, and his autobiography is simply a
     strip-tease act conducted in pink limelight. But as a record of
     fantasy, of the perversion of instinct that has been made possible
     by the machine age, it has great value.

     Here, then, are some of the episodes in Dali�s life, from his
     earliest years onward. Which of them are true and which are
     imaginary hardly matters: the point is that this is the kind of
     thing that Dali would have liked to do.

     When he is six years old there is some excitement over the
     appearance of Halley�s comet:

     * Suddenly one of my father�s office clerks appeared in the
     drawing-room doorway and announced that the comet could be seen
     from the terrace.... While crossing the hall I caught sight of my
     little three-year-old sister crawling unobtrusively through a
     doorway. I stopped, hesitated a second, then gave her a terrible
     kick in the head as though it had been a ball, and continued
     running, carried away with a �delirious joy� induced by this savage
     act. But my father, who was behind me, caught me and led me down in
     to his office, where I remained as a punishment till dinner-time.�

     A year earlier than this Dali had �suddenly, as most of my ideas
     occur,� flung another little boy off a suspension bridge. Several
     other incidents of the same kind are recorded, including (this was
     when he was twenty-nine years old) knocking down and trampling on a
     girl �until they had to tear her, bleeding, out of my reach.�

     When he is about five he gets hold of a wounded bat which he puts
     into a tin pail. Next morning he finds that the bat is almost dead
     and is covered with ants which are devouring it. He puts it in his
     mouth, ants and all, and bites it almost in half.

     When he is an adolescent a girl falls desperately in love with him.
     He kisses and caresses her so as to excite her as much as possible,
     but refuses to go further. He resolves to keep this up for five
     years (he calls it his �five-year plan�), enjoying her humiliation
     and the sense of power it gives him. He frequently tells her that
     at the end of the five years he will desert her, and when the time
     comes he does so.

     Till well into adult life he keeps up the practice of masturbation,
     and likes to do this, apparently, in front of a looking-glass. For
     ordinary purposes he is impotent, it appears, till the age of
     thirty or so. When he first meets his future wife, Gala, he is
     greatly tempted to push her off a precipice. He is aware that there
     is something that she wants him to do to her, and after their first
     kiss the confession is made:

     * I threw back Gala�s head, pulling it by the hair, and trembling
     with complete hysteria, I commanded: �Now tell me what you want me
     to do with you! But tell me slowly, looking me in the eye, with the
     crudest, the most ferociously erotic words that can make both of us
     feel the greatest shame!�

     * Then Gala, transforming the last glimmer of her expression of
     pleasure into the hard light of her own tyranny, answered: �I want
     you to kill me!�

     He is somewhat disappointed by this demand, since it is merely what
     he wanted to do already. He contemplates throwing her off the
     bell-tower of the Cathedral of Toledo, but refrains from doing so.

     During the Spanish Civil War he astutely avoids taking sides, and
     makes a trip to Italy. He feels himself more and more drawn towards
     the aristocracy, frequents smart salons, finds himself wealthy
     patrons, and is photographed with the plump Vicomte de Noailles,
     whom he describes as his �Maecenas.� When the European War
     approaches he has one preoccupation only: how to find a place which
     has good cookery and from which he can make a quick bolt if danger
     comes too near. He fixes on Bordeaux, and duly flees to Spain
     during the Battle of France. He stays in Spain long enough to pick
     up a few anti-red atrocity stories, then makes for America. The
     story ends in a blaze of respectability. Dali, at thirty-seven, has
     become a devoted husband, is cured of his aberrations, or some of
     them, and is completely reconciled to the Catholic Church. He is
     also, one gathers, making a good deal of money. . . .

     Of course, in this long book of 400 quarto pages there is more than
     I have indicated, but I do not think that I have given an unfair
     account of his moral atmosphere and mental scenery. It is a book
     that stinks. If it were possible for a book to give a physical
     stink off its pages, this one would -- a thought that might please
     Dali, who before wooing his future wife for the first time rubbed
     himself all over with an ointment made of goat�s dung boiled up in
     fish glue. But against this has to be set the fact that Dali is a
     draughtsman of very exceptional gifts. He is also, to judge by the
     minuteness and the sureness of his drawings, a very hard worker. He
     is an exhibitionist and a careerist, but he is not a fraud. He has
     fifty times more talent than most of the people who would denounce
     his morals and jeer at his paintings. And these two sets of facts,
     taken together, raise a question which for lack of any basis of
     agreement seldom gets a real discussion.

     The point is that you have here a direct, unmistakable assault on
     sanity and decency; and even -- since some of Dali�s pictures would
     tend to poison the imagination like a pornographic postcard -- on
     life itself. What Dali has done and what he has imagined is
     debatable, but in his outlook, his character, the bedrock decency
     of a human being does not exist. He is as anti-social as a flea.
     Clearly, such people are undesirable, and a society in which they
     can flourish has something wrong with it. . . .

     But if you talk to the kind of person who can see Dali�s merits,
     the response that you get is not as a rule very much better. If you
     say that Dali, though a brilliant draughtsman, is a dirty little
     scoundrel, you are looked upon as a savage. If you say that you
     don�t like rotting corpses, and that people who do like rotting
     corpses are mentally diseased, it is assumed that you lack the
     æsthetic sense. Since �Mannequin rotting in a taxicab� is a good
     composition. And between these two fallacies there is no middle
     position, but we seldom hear much about it. On the one side
     Kulturbolschewismus: on the other (though the phrase itself is out
     of fashion) �Art for Art�s sake.� Obscenity is a very difficult
     question to discuss honestly. People are too frightened either of
     seeming to be shocked or of seeming not to be shocked, to be able
     to define the relationship between art and morals.

     It will be seen that what the defenders of Dali are claiming is a
     kind of benefit of clergy. The artist is to be exempt from the
     moral laws that are binding on ordinary people. Just pronounce the
     magic word �Art,� and everything is O.K.: kicking little girls in
     the head is O.K. . . . It is also O.K. that Dali should batten on
     France for years and then scuttle off like rat as soon as France is
     in danger. So long as you can paint well enough to pass the test,
     all shall be forgiven you.

     One can see how false this is if one extends it to cover ordinary
     crime. In an age like our own, when the artist is an altogether
     exceptional person, he must be allowed a certain amount of
     irresponsibility, just as a pregnant woman is. Still, no one would
     say that a pregnant woman should be allowed to commit murder, nor
     would anyone make such a claim for the artist, however gifted. If
     Shakespeare returned to the earth to-morrow, and if it were found
     that his favourite recreation was raping little girls in railway
     carriages, we should not tell him to go ahead with it on the ground
     that he might write another King Lear.

   When Orwell says that even a reborn Shakespeare couldn't get away with
   "raping little girls," he was either reflecting the mores of the times
   (1944) -- or he forgot about Hollywood.

References

   1. http://www.k-1.com/Orwell/index.cgi/work/essays/dali.html
   2. http://www.k-1.com/Orwell/index.cgi/work/essays/dali.html

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