Thursday, July 14, 2011

"Thought Through My Eyes": Epilogue, Part 2

"If you like the epilogue look long on it"
- Ulysses, pg 213

One of the important facets of my paper that I really didn't get to delve into as much as I would've liked is Dali's paranoiac-critical method. This is also probably the most complex part of the whole paper and the part I found most difficult to write (and talk) about. Here I would like to expand on Dali's philosophies and percepts with regard to paranoia and also delve into how this relates to the title for my essay.

In Part 2 of my paper, the paranoiac-critical method is first described in what I think is the simplest and most understandable manner: looking at a cloud and clearly observing a rabbit. We do this kind of thing all the time. Recently, I was sitting outside having lunch with my lady at one of Austin's many great food trucks, and we were looking at an enormous conglomeration of what turned out to be thunderhead clouds. They were in motion, morphing into different shapes so that first we could clearly see a wolf, then a woman's face, and so on. One of us would perceive something and point out each little wrinkle to the other and they would see the same image too.

The Paranoiac Visage (1935)
In 1929, when he was about my age (25), Dali started to realize something special about this phenomenon of perception. He became aware of an exceptional ability to look at an arrangement and perceive something altogether different. His mind could look at objects and create its own interpretation. He once looked down at a pile of envelopes and papers on a desk and saw a perfect reproduction of one of Picasso's faces. Turns out it was just a photograph angled a certain way. He later painted this same scene in The Paranoiac Visage. As he delved deeper into this process of perceptive organization, it became clear to him that this was a crack on the supposedly smooth surface of objective reality. If one can systematically and thoroughly outline one's own unique subjective obsessions or unconscious material onto the outside world, then the concept of an objective reality starts to melt down (this image of soft, melting, or amorphous objects is probably Dali's most well-known motif). During this time he published his first essay on the subject of paranoia entitled The Rotten Donkey and laid out the basics of this his theory (which, he would later admit, he still was only beginning to comprehend himself): 
As far removed as possible from the sensory phenomena that can be thought of as more or less connected to hallucination, paranoid activity always makes use of verifiable, recognizable materials. It is enough for someone in the grip of an interpretive delirium to link the meanings of heterogeneous paintings that happen to hang on the same wall for the real existence of such a link to become undeniable. Paranoia uses the external world to validate an obsessive idea, with the troubling result of validating its reality to others. The reality of the external world serves as illustration and proof of the paranoid idea and is subservient to the reality in our minds.(emphasis mine)
Before quantum physics asserted to us that nothing really "exists" without an observer, here is Dali hinting at the fact that the external world is "subservient to the reality in our minds."  What we are getting at here is a realization that what we see before us and perceive as reality is actually an ambiguous, amorphous flux upon which we project our own being, our own inner symbols and organizing principles.* Under normal conscious circumstances, this fact is suppressed and denied as irrational. But, in a state of delirium when irrational phenomena dominates one's view of everything, suddenly the whole outside world can be seen to mesh with one's own subjective thoughts (i.e., paranoia). What Dali was trying to show is that the irrational perspective presents a more accurate picture of reality and this became a conquest for him, "The Conquest of the Irrational," an attempt to discredit ordinary reality and free humanity from its collective madness, declared "in the service of Revolution" in The Rotten Donkey essay.

*As described by Stephen in the Proteus chapter, "veil of space with coloured emblems hatched on its field." (Ulysses pg 48)

Battle in the Clouds (1974)
Returning to the example of clouds, the cloud is a big puffy, soft, shapeless form as in a thought cloud, the image most often used in comic books to denote the workings of a character's mind. When staring at a cloud, this fluffy ambiguous form can be organized by our minds into a familiar shape, symbol, signifier. Dali explains: "Paranoiac systematization influences the real and orients it, predisposes it, and implies lines of force that coincide with the most exact of truths." We can see Dali's fascination with the anamorphic softness of clouds in many of his paintings including those which I posted in Part 1 of this epilogue. Morphing clouds are essentially the most eye-grabbing and important aspect of The Temptation of St. Anthony, the painting analyzed in the original essay.

The Temptation of St. Anthony (1946)

We see the scene from the perspective of St. Anthony, the ascetic who's been fasting in the desert and now perceives the clouds morphing into enormous and nightmarish temptations (notice how closely the horse's chest resembles the clouds on the right). In Flaubert's novel The Temptation of St. Anthony, the scenes Anthony sees often involved people from his life. This image is thus an exemplary scene of paranoia because this is all emanating from the character's own mind. We will come back to this shortly.

*   *   *

"He seeks fluid, wavelike forms that will express
immutable laws through infinite mutations,
the clarity of eternal forms through their
opaque but ineluctable modalities."

- J. Mitchell Morse discussing
the Proteus episode in
James Joyce's Ulysses: Critical Essays, pg. 31

If you take a look at most books of Dali's paintings (and there are tons of them), they usually bring up Dali's paranoiac theory in reference to some of his works that feature visual tricks or trompe l'oeil ("trick the eye" in French) techniques. During the decades of his deepest paranoiac explorations (1930s-40s) Dali produced about thirty sketches and paintings that invoke this technique, here is one of the most famous examples:
Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire (1940)
There are many more images like this from Dali including this one which is one of my favorites:
The Three Ages (1940)
The culmination of this trick-of-the-eye technique is probably The Endless Enigma, in which the image can take on any number of forms depending on the observer.
The Endless Enigma (1938)
This multiple-image effect, which Dali calls "anamorphic hysteria," is just one example of the paranoiac method. Dali's inquiry into paranoia certainly goes much deeper than this. As he discusses in the book The Unspeakable Confessions of Salvador Dali (pg. 140-144), the word "paranoia" is defined not in the way we commonly think of the word now---fear that the universe is plotting against you--- but in a much broader and more scientific sense as "the phenomenon of delirium manifested in a series of systematic interpretive associations." The "critical" part of paranoiac-critical is, as he says, for the artist to "play the part of a photographic developer" and Dali would self-induce a hallucinatory paranoid state (without drugs, "I don't take drugs, I am drugs" as Dali used to say) and spontaneously record the delirious associations, witnessing the "clash of systematization with the real" and the inevitable "evolution and production" that occurs in the exchange between subjective and objective. There is supposed to be a veil or a wall between these two (subjective and objective, psychological and physical, etc) but they are actually shaping each other. As Eugene de Klerk puts it in his excellent essay on this subject, "If one is able to remain critically aware while inducing paranoia, one can open up the play of representations which shape perceptual reality."

We start to see the importance of this tool for Dali; he's not simply trying to play visual tricks on you, he's going toe to toe with the accepted principles of our very existence. "It is time for us, in the history of thought, to see that the real as given to us by rational science is not all of the real," he states.
The world of logical and allegedly experimental reason, as nineteenth-century science bequeathed it to us, is in immense disrepute. The very method of knowledge is suspect...In the end, it will finally be officially recognized that reality as we have baptized it is a greater illusion than the dream world. Following through on my thought, I would say that the dream we speak of exists as such only because our minds are in suspended animation; the real is an epiphenomenon of thought, a result of non-thought, a phenomenon of amnesia.
The true real is within us and we project it when we systematically exploit our paranoia, which is a response and action due to the pressure---or depression---of cosmic void.
The same paranoiac phenomenon that systematically organizes ambiguous images into meaningful associations through our eyes is also the way we create our subjective individual selves, seemingly separate from all that we see. The space that we see and occupy is also being unconsciously created in this same manner. As Joyce writes: "We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love. But always meeting ourselves." I was recently listening to an old interview with Marshall McLuhan who touched on this as well, he said that primitive non-literate man doesn't think of the eye as a receptor but as a creator; it is creating that which it sees. The same idea comes from the observations of modern physics, which state that a particle is in a state of unsure probabilistic flux until it is observed and then takes on a certain form.

Reflecting Glass Sphere (1935) by M.C. Escher
It occurred to me during my studies on this stuff that another image I have hanging on my wall is actually a perfect representation of this idea. If reality itself is a sort of fluid, morphing substance emanating and reflecting our own selves, then M.C. Escher's glass sphere can be seen as a proverbial droplet of this substance, reflecting and staring right back at us.
It is through all these considerations that I came to think about "Proteus," the third episode of Ulysses. It's the episode where readers usually gives up on the book because we get a firsthand look at Stephen's inner attempt to transcend the "limits of the diaphane," the veil of existence. This is perhaps my favorite episode in the book and one of my favorite pieces from Joyce. It is from the opening sentence that my title is derived:

Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes.

By the very act of perception we are stuck in this modality of visible space, inescapable or "ineluctable" as it is (the word "ineluctable" derives from Latin and literally means "not to struggle against"). The "ineluctable modality of the ineluctable visuality" he says later on. On page 48 he ruminates, "I throw this ended shadow from me, manshape ineluctable, call it back. Endless, would it be mine, form of my form?"

Reality or "space: what you damn well have to see" (Ulysses pg 186) is created by our looking at it through those bulbous organs of ours, eyes, which Dali eloquently considers:
What is the eye? A glob of humors, a knot of muscles, a film of flesh and nerves irrigated by a flow of acid? Beneath that appearance lurk galaxies of microscopic electrons, agitated by an impalpable wave, itself the fluid of a quasi-immaterial energy. At what level then, the real? The truth to me, to Dali, is in the magnifying-glass I aim at the world, called my eye, through which there takes place an exchange that for that moment is known as real. (pg. 144 Unspeakable Confessions)
This whole emphasis on the eye and visual perception is interesting also because Joyce actually suffered from terrible eye problems throughout his adult life. As his friend Louis Gillet gruesomely described it in an obituarial essay:
For twenty years, the great poet was half-blind; the left eye was lost and in the other remained only a flap of retina. Reading and writing was torture. The wretched man retained a gleam of light thanks only to twenty operations---each time a very cruel martyrdom. I still see him, in order to decipher a text, placing the paper sideways and bringing it into the narrow angle where a ray of his ruined sight still subsisted. (Portraits of the Artist in Exile, pg. 168)
*   *   *

"guide them through the labyrinth of 
their samilikes and the alteregoases
of their pseudoselves...
from loss of bearings deliver them"
- Finnegans Wake, pg. 576

Going back to that first line of Proteus again, the "ineluctable modality" also feels to me like a good description of a labyrinth as well and, of course, Joyce bestowed the name Dedalus upon his hero so as to invoke the symbolism of the architect Daedalus who, himself, built the labyrinth on the island of Crete and was also trapped in it because of its complexity. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the metaphor has to do with Stephen Dedalus trying to escape the oppressive atmosphere of Ireland to fly to mainland Europe just as Daedalus seeks to fly from the island of Crete to mainland Greece. Here in Proteus, this most metaphysical of chapters in the sequel to Portrait, Stephen is trying to escape the very labyrinth of space and existence.

This ties back to Dali again as he composed a number of essays on paranoia (including a piece alongside Jacques Lacan) in the surrealist art review called Minotaure, a title that conjures the beastly creature that was housed inside the labyrinth on Crete to keep people from escaping. He did clearly think of this paranoiac creation of existence in the sense of a labyrinth we've created and trapped ourselves in, indeed, he states in the aforementioned Unspeakable Confessions book: "We are at the heart of a labyrinth and can find our way while becoming labyrinths ourselves." Like many of Dali's profundities, that sounds like nonsense, but what he is referring to (intuitively, I assume) is that our souls are labyrinths. We exist in a labyrinth and we ourselves are also labyrinthine, this latter fact has been explored for centuries in the symbolic usage of mandalas to represent the soul and this symbol is still used in many modern psychotherapeutic practices to help people bring their psyches into balance. The labyrinth is essentially a mandala and vice-versa.

Now, to finally get us out of this labyrinth of an essay, let us conclude by once again considering the original point of the entire paper (if you haven't read it yet, contact me and I will send you a copy). What got this all started was a rather peculiar interpretation I made of Dali's painting The Temptation of St. Anthony in which I systematically compared it to the material in Joyce's Portrait of the Artist. The paper has elicited a positive reaction from those that have encountered it and on a few occasions folks have commented to me that it would really solidify the whole thing if I could identify a "smoking gun" that proves once and for all that Dali painted St. Anthony with Joyce on his mind. I would argue that such a thing isn't necessary. The piece-by-piece interpretation of connections/resonances with Portrait is interesting in its own right because it was initially a natural, organic, unwitting example of the paranoiac-critical method in action. 

Not in the sense of a simple trick of the eye, no, I didn't stare at the painting and realize it formed a picture of Joyce's face or anything like that (though the Martello Tower does appear to be there in the background). Instead, under a spell of thoughts and speculations on the symbols and motifs of Joyce's work, I suddenly was able to look at the painting of a tempted desert monk and associate all of the characters and objects with the object of my obsession at that moment. The resonances and connections I made can, I believe, probably stand up on their own but even beyond that, the paranoiac analysis led to two new ideas on the painting: that it is largely autobiographical in scope, and that it exemplifies the artist's famous paranoiac-critical method.


  1. Wow. A terrific further essay. It's funny, I think, that it's only by my group's reading of the Wake that I can relate to so much of what you're saying, but on the other hand, that might just be my own paranoic projection!

  2. I think the Wake completely embodies the same type of principles. As I said at the end of the original essay, there's just so much more of this stuff to study and analyze---the Wake in relation to Dali's work, especially.

    I read recently one of Joyce's friends describing his years working on the Wake as though he were actively engaged in a hallucinatory excavation of some sort, a mining of the unconscious (both personal and collective). This is certainly what Dali is doing as well with the paranoiac method, bringing to the fore material from deep inside the mind. Material from regions so deep that they contain the power to communicate with an unknown but universal part of anyone's psyche/soul.

    This is definitely all very Wakean stuff, I think it is a paranoaic projection for you but that projection intuitively matches with the reality.


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