When The Surrealists Expelled Salvador Dalí for “the Glorification of Hitlerian Fascism” (1934)

Image by Carl Van Vechten, via Library of Congress and Wikimedia Commons

We may be conditioned to offering an opinion at the push of a button, but before venturing on the question of whether we can, or should, separate the art from the artist, it seems ever prudent to ask, “Which art and which artist?” There are the usual case studies, in addition to the recent crop of disgraced celebrities: Ezra Pound, P.G. Wodehouse, and, in philosophy, Martin Heidegger. One case of a very troubling artist, Salvador Dalí, gets less attention, but offers us much material for consideration, especially alongside an essay by George Orwell, who ruminated on the question and called Dalí both “a disgusting human being” and an artist of undeniably “exceptional gifts.”

Like these other figures, Dalí has long been alleged to have had fascist sympathies, a charge that goes back to the 1930’s and perhaps originated with his fellow Surrealists, especially André Breton, who put Dalí on “trial” in 1934 for “the glorification of Hitlerian fascism” and expelled him from the movement. The Surrealists, most of whom were communists, were provoked by Dalí’s disdain for their politics, expressed in the likeness of Lenin in The Enigma of William Tell (view here). It’s also true that Dalí seemed to publicly profess an admiration for Hitler. But as with everything he did, it’s impossible to tell how seriously we can take any of his pronouncements.

Another painting, 1939’s The Enigma of Hitler (view here) is even more ambiguous than The Enigma of William Tell, a collection of dream images, with the recurring melting objects, crutches, mollusk shells, and food images, set around a tiny portrait of the German dictator. Kamila Kocialkowska suggests that psychoanalytic motifs in the painting, some rather obvious, reflect Hitler's "fear of impotence, and certain commentators have noted that Hitler's enthusiastic promotion of nationalistic breeding can further explain the innuendo present in this image."

The Hitler obsession began years earlier. “I often dreamed of Hitler as a woman,” Dalí supposedly said,

His flesh, which I imagined as whiter than white, ravished me. I painted a Hitlerian wet nurse sitting kneeling in a puddle of water….

There was no reason for me to stop telling one and all that to me Hitler embodied the perfect image of the great masochist who would unleash a world war solely for the pleasure of losing and burying himself beneath the rubble.

The painting Dalí alludes to, The Weaning of Furniture-Nutrition (view here), is the work that first raised Breton’s ire, since “Dalí had originally painted a swastika on the nurse’s armband,” notes art historian Robin Adèle Greeley, “which the Surrealists later forced him to paint out.” Dalí later claimed that his Hitler paintings “subvert fascist ideologies," Greeley writes: "Breton and company appear not to have appreciated a fellow Surrealist suggesting that there were connections to be made between bourgeois childhoods such as their own and the family life of the Nazi dictator.” Likewise, his creepy dream-language above is hardly more straightforward than the paintings, though he did write in The Unspeakable Confessions of Salvador Dalí, “Hitler turned me on in the highest.”

Other pieces of evidence for Dalí’s politics are also compelling but still circumstantial, such as his friendship with the proudly professed Nazi-sympathizer, Wallis Simpson, the American Duchess of Windsor, and his admiration for Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, whom he called, as Lauren Oyler points out at Broadly, “the greatest hero of Spain.” (Dalí painted a portrait of Franco’s daughter). Oyler points out that Dalí’s “wickedness,” as Orwell put it in his scathing review of the artist’s “autobiography” (a spurious category in the case of serial fabricator Dalí), matters even if it were pure provocation rather than genuine commitment.

The claim carries more weight when applied to the artist’s attested sadism in general. Dalí spends a good part of his Confessions delighting in stories of brutal physical and sexual assault and cruelty to animals. (The famous Dalí Atomicus photo, his collaboration with Philippe Halsman, required 28 attempts, Oyler notes, and “each of those attempts involved throwing three cats in the air and flinging buckets of water at them.”) Whether or not Dalí was a genuine Nazi sympathizer or an amoral right-wing troll, Orwell is completely unwilling to give him a pass for generally cruel, abusive behavior.

“In his outlook,” writes Orwell, “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 perhaps Dalí means to say exactly that. Allowing for the possibility, Orwell is also unwilling to toss aside Dalí’s work. The artist, he writes “has fifty times more talent than most of the people who would denounce his morals and jeer at his paintings.”

When it comes to the question of Dalí as fascist, some less-than-nuanced views of his work (“Marxist criticism has a short way with such phenomena as Surrealism,” writes Orwell) might miss the mark. The Weaning of Furniture-Nutrition, writes Greeley, seems to reveal “a secret about his own middle-class background” as a nursery for fascism, especially given the “disturbing” fact that “the nurse is a portrait of Dalí’s own, and that she droops hollowly on the shore near the painter’s Catalan childhood home, suggesting that Dalí himself might have had a ‘hitlerian’ upbringing.”

Greeley's further elaboration on Dalí's conflict with Breton further weakens the charges against him. "Ten days before the February meeting, he had defended himself to Breton," she writes, "claiming, 'I am hitlerian neither in fact nor in intention.'" He pointed out that the Nazis would likely burn his work, and chastised leftists for "their lack of insight into fascism."

The question of Dalí's fascist sympathies is incoherent without the biography, and the biographical evidence against Dalí seems fairly thin. Nonetheless, he has emerged from history as a violent, vicious, opportunistic person. How much this should matter to our appreciation of his art is a matter you’ll have to decide for yourself.

Related Content:

George Orwell Reviews Salvador Dali’s Autobiography: “Dali is a Good Draughtsman and a Disgusting Human Being” (1944)

Ernest Hemingway Writes of His Fascist Friend Ezra Pound: “He Deserves Punishment and Disgrace” (1943)

Heidegger’s “Black Notebooks” Suggest He Was a Serious Anti-Semite, Not Just a Naive Nazi

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

150 Courses Starting at Stanford Continuing Studies Next Week: Explore the Catalogue of Campus and Online Courses

Quick fyi: I spend my days at Stanford Continuing Studies, where we've developed a rich lineup of online courses, many of which will get started next week. The courses aren't free. But they're first rate, giving adult students--no matter where they live--the chance to work with dedicated teachers and students.

The catalogue includes a large number of online Creative Writing courses, covering the Novel, the Memoir, Creative Nonfiction, Travel Writing, Poetry and more. For the professional, the program offers online business courses in subjects like Product Management for the Internet of ThingsThe Business of Self-Driving CarsValue Investing: An Introduction, Visual Thinking: Working with Pictures, and Mergers and AcquisitionsAnd there's a growing number of online Liberal Arts courses too. Take for example The History and Geography of Current Global EventsRevolution: The Beatles’ Innovative Studio Years (1965–1967)Ethics for Artificially Intelligent Robots, Byzantine Art, and The Great Discoveries That Changed Modern Medicine.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, check out the larger catalogue. Stanford Continuing Studies has 150+ courses getting started this Spring quarter (next week), many taking place in Stanford's classrooms. For anyone living outside of California, check out the program's list of online courses here.

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Behold the MusicMap: The Ultimate Interactive Genealogy of Music Created Between 1870 and 2016

A Pandora for the adventurous antiquarian, the highly underrated site Radiooooo gives users streaming music from all over the world and every decade since 1900. While it offers an aural feast, its limited interface leaves much to be desired from an educational standpoint. On the other end of the audio-visual spectrum, clever diagrams like those we’ve featured here on electronic music, alternative, and hip hop show the detailed connections between all the major acts in these genres, but all they do so in silence.

Now a new interactive infographic built by Belgian architect Kwinten Crauwels brings together an encyclopedic visual reference with an exhaustive musical archive. Though it’s missing some of the features of the resources above, the Musicmap far surpasses anything of its kind online—“both a 23and me-style ancestral tree and a thorough disambiguation of just about every extant genre of music,” writes Fast Company.

Or as Frank Jacobs explains at Big Think, Crauwels’ goal is “to provide the ultimate genealogy of popular music genres, including their relations and history.”

With over 230 genres in all—linked together in intricate webs of influence, mapped in a zoomable visual interface that organizes them all at macro and micro levels of description, and linked to explanatory articles and representative playlists (drawn from YouTube)—the project is almost too comprehensive to believe, and its degree of sophistication almost too complex to summarize concisely (though Jacobs does a good job of it). The Musicmap spans the years 1870-2016 and covers 22 major categories (with Rock further broken into six and “World” into three).

In an oval around the colorful skyscraper-like "super-genres" are decades, moving from past to present from top to bottom. Zoom into the "super-genres" and find “a spider’s web of links within and between the different houses” of subgenres. “Those links can indicate parentage or influence, but also a backlash (i.e. as ‘anti-links’).” Clicking on the name of each subgenre reveals “a short synopsis and a playlist of representative songs.” These two functions, in turn, link to each other, allowing users to click through in a more Wikipedia-like way once they’ve entered the minutiae of the Musicmap’s contents.

The map not only draws connections between subgenres but also between their relatives in other "super-genres" (learn about the relationship, for example, between folk rock and classic metal). On the left side of the screen is a series of buttons that reveal an introduction, methodology, abstract, several navigational functions, a glossary of musical terms, and a bibliography (called "Acknowledgments"). Aside from visually reducing all the way down to the level of individual bands within each subgenre, which could become a little dizzying, it's hard to think of anything seriously lacking here.

Anything we might find fault with might be changed in the near future. Although Crauwels spent almost ten years on research and development, first conceiving of the project in 2008, the current site “is still version 1.0 of Music map. In later versions, the playlists will be expanded, perhaps even community-generated.” Crauwels also wants to sync up with Spotify. Although not a musician himself, he is as passionate about music as he is about design and education, making him very likely the perfect person to take on this task, which he admits can never be completed.

Crauwels does not currently seem to have plans to monetize his map. His stated motives are altruistic, in the same public service spirit as Radiooooo. “Musicmap,” he says, “believes that knowledge about music genres is a universal right and should be part of basic education.” At the moment, the education here only applies to popular music, although enough of it to acquire a graduate-level historical knowledge base.

The four categories at the top of the map—the strangely named “Utility” (which includes hymns, military marches, musicals, and soundtracks), Folk, Classical, and World—are zoomable but do not have clickable links or playlists. Given Crauwels’ completist instincts, this may well change in future updates. In the TED talk above, see him tell the story of how he created Musicmap, a DIY effort that came out of his frustration that nothing like it existed, so he had to create it himself.

Enter the Musicmap here and try not to get lost for several hours.

via Big Think

Related Content:

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hear 48 Hours of Lectures by Joseph Campbell on Comparative Mythology and the Hero’s Journey

What does it mean to “grow up”? Every culture has its way of defining adulthood, whether it’s surviving an initiation ritual or filing your first tax return. I’m only being a little facetious—people in the U.S. have long felt dissatisfaction with the ways we are ushered into adulthood, from learning how to fill out IRS forms to learning how to fill out student loan and credit card applications, our culture wants us to understand our place in the great machine. All other pressing life concerns are secondary.

It’s little wonder, then, that gurus and cultural father figures of all types have found ready audiences among America’s youth. Such figures have left lasting legacies for decades, and not all of them positive. But one public intellectual from the recent past is still seen as a wise old master whose far-reaching influence remains with us and will for the foreseeable future. Joseph Campbell’s obsessive, erudite books and lectures on world mythologies and traditions have made certain that ancient adulthood rituals have entered our narrative DNA.

When Campbell was awarded the National Arts Club Gold Medal in Literature in 1985, psychologist James Hillman stated that “no one in our century—not Freud, not Thomas Mann, not Levi-Strauss—has so brought the mythical sense of the world and its eternal figures back into our everyday consciousness.” Whatever examples Hillman may have had in mind, we might rest our case on the fact that without Campbell there would likely be no Star Wars. For all its success as a megamarketing phenomenon, the sci-fi franchise has also produced enduringly relatable role models, examples of achieving independence and standing up to imperialists, even if they be your own family members in masks.

In the video interviews above from 1987, Campbell professes himself no more than an “underliner” who learned everything he knows from books. Like the contemporary comparative mythologist Mircea Eliade, Campbell did not conduct his own anthropological research—he acquired a vast amount of knowledge by studying the sacred texts, artifacts, and rituals of world cultures. This study gave him insight into stories and images that continue to shape our world and feature centrally in huge pop cultural productions like The Last Jedi and Black Panther.

Campbell describes ritual entries into adulthood that viewers of these films will instantly recognize: Defeating idols in masks and taking on their power; burial enactments that kill the “infantile ego” (academics, he says with a straight face, sometimes never leave this stage). These kinds of edge experiences are at the very heart of the classic hero’s journey, an archetype Campbell wrote about in his bestselling The Hero with a Thousand Faces and popularized on PBS in The Power of Myth, a series of conversations with Bill Moyers.

In the many lectures just above—48 hours of audio in which Campbell expounds his theories of the mythological—the engaging, accessible writer and teacher lays out the patterns and symbols of mythologies worldwide, with special focus on the hero’s journey, as important to his project as dying and rising god myths to James Frazer's The Golden Bough, the inspiration for so many modernist writers. Campbell himself is more apt to reference James Joyce, Carl Jung, Pablo Picasso, or Richard Wagner than science fiction, fantasy, or comic books (though he did break down Star Wars in his Moyers interviews). Nonetheless, we have him to thank for inspiring the likes of George Lucas and becoming a “patron saint of superheroes” and space operas.

We will find some of Campbell’s methods flawed and terminology outdated (no one uses “Orient” and “Occident” anymore)—and modern heroes can just as well be women as men, passing through the same kinds of symbolic trials in their origin stories. But Campbell’s ideas are as resonant as ever, offering to the wider culture a coherent means of understanding the archetypal stages of coming of age. As Hollywood executive Christopher Vogler said in 1985, after recommending The Hero with a Thousand Faces as a guide for screenwriters, Campbell’s work “can be used to tell the simplest comic story or the most sophisticated drama”—a sweeping vision of human cultural history and its meaning for our individual journeys.

You can access the 48 hours of Joseph Campbell lectures above, or directly on Spotify.

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The Complete Star Wars “Filmumentary”: A 6-Hour, Fan-Made Star Wars Documentary, with Behind-the-Scenes Footage & Commentary

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Periodic Table Visualizing the Year & Country in Which Each Element Was Discovered

On the "Data is Beautiful" subreddit, a user named Udzu posted a visualisation of the Periodic Table of Elements that highlights the year and country in which each element was discovered. You can view it in a larger format here. Elaborating on how the graphic was made, he adds (his words, not mine, follow):

  • The year and country of discovery are taken from Wikipedia and are based on when the element was first observed or predicted rather than when it was first isolated.
  • The priority for the discoveries is often contentious. The visualisation uses the listings currently in the Wikipedia article, with no claim as to their accuracy.
  • The country is typically both the citizenship of the discoverer and the location of discovery. Exceptions include Hafnium (discovered by a Dutch and Hungarian duo in Copenhagen) and Radon (discovered by a British and American duo in Montreal); these are listed under location.
  • Countries and flags are of the modern equivalents when appropriate: e.g. Russia rather than the USSR, UK rather than England/Scotland, and Mexico rather than New Spain.
  • The etymologies are also taken from Wikipedia.
  • The legends contain summary counts of the data. Good work, Sweden.

Ranked in order, the UK could lay claim to 19 elements, Sweden and Germany to 18 each, France to 16, and Russia and the United States to 11 each.

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Read and Hear Tristan Tzara’s “Dada Manifesto,” the Avant-Garde Document Published 100 Years Ago (March 23, 1918)

Dada demands explanation, yet it somehow also demands not to be explained. In the nearly 102 years since its inception, many attempts at summary and analysis of that early 20th-century European avant-garde movement have emerged; as you can see in the related links at the bottom of the post, we've featured a fair few of them here on Open Culture. But to truly understand Dada, you must, to the extent possible, get inside the heads of its founders, and one shortcut to that artistically rich destination takes the form of something any movement worth its salt — especially any early 20th-century European avant-garde movement — will have drawn up: its manifesto.

"The magic of a word – Dada – which has brought journalists to the gates of a world unforeseen, is of no importance to us," wrote Romanian-French essayist, poet, and performance artist Tristan Tzara almost exactly a century ago.

To put out a manifesto you must want: ABC

to fulminate against 1, 2, 3

to fly into a rage and sharpen your wings to conquer and disseminate little abcs and big ABCs, to sign, shout, swear, to organize prose into a form of absolute and irrefutable evidence, to prove your non plus ultra and maintain that novelty resembles life just as the latest-appearance of some whore proves the essence of God. His existence was previously proved by the accordion, the landscape, the wheedling word. To impose your ABC is a natural thing — hence deplorable.

In this Dada Manifesto of March 23, 1918 (read it online here), Tzara goes on to define "Dada" as "a word that throws up ideas so that they can be shot down; every bourgeois is a little playwright, who invents different subjects and who, instead of situating suitable characters on the level of his own intelligence, like chrysalises on chairs, tries to find causes or objects (according to whichever psychoanalytic method he practices) to give weight to his plot, a talking and self-defining story." And further down, just in case you haven't quite got the picture: "DADA DOES NOT MEAN ANYTHING."

Different translations of Tzara's words, of which you can hear readings in the videos at the top of the post and just above, put it somewhat differently: "Dada means nothing," says another. But whatever it means, exactly — or doesn't mean, exactly — Dada burned brightly enough during its brief heyday to produce not just one manifesto, but two. "As in every human endeavor when two strong personalities meet, opinions may clash and an argument often ensues," writes Eli Anapur at Widewalls. The German writer Hugo Ball actually wrote his own Dada manifesto before Tzara did, in 1916. "Both Manifestos are explanations of the Dada movement and its goals, but the content differs as long as the modes of spreading the movement throughout Europe and ultimately world, were concerned."

Ball begins by describing Dada as "a new tendency in art. One can tell this from the fact that until now nobody knew anything about it, and tomorrow everyone in Zurich will be talking about it." For the word itself he cites several dictionary definitions: "In French it means 'hobby horse.' In German it means 'good-by,' 'Get off my back,' 'Be seeing you sometime.' In Romanian: 'Yes, indeed, you are right, that’s it. But of course, yes, definitely, right.'" Yet what a useful word it can be:

How does one achieve eternal bliss? By saying dada. How does one become famous? By saying dada. With a noble gesture and delicate propriety. Till one goes crazy. Till one loses consciousness. How can one get rid of everything that smacks of journalism, worms, everything nice and right, blinkered, moralistic, europeanized, enervated? By saying dada. Dada is the world soul, dada is the pawnshop. Dada is the world’s best lily-milk soap. Dada Mr. Rubiner, dada Mr. Korrodi. Dada Mr. Anastasius Lilienstein.

One hundred years on, the tenets of Dada may not look like an obvious route to eternal bliss, fame, or the excision of bothersome elements of life. But something about the notion at the movement's core — of moving radically beyond sense as a response to the state of the world — still resonates today. The Europe of 1918 found itself in a bad spot, to put it mildly, but most of us in the early 21st century also feel, at least occasionally, surrounded by a reality that has lost its own sense. How much could it hurt to heed Ball and Tzara's words and just say dada?

You can read Tzara's manifesto at this University of Pennsylvania website.

Related Content:

Download All 8 Issues of Dada, the Arts Journal That Publicized the Avant-Garde Movement a Century Ago (1917-21)

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Museum of Failure: A Living Shrine to New Coke, the Ford Edsel, Google Glass & Other Epic Corporate Fails

All successful products are alike; every unsuccessful product is unsuccessful in its own way. Or so a modern-day Tolstoy might find himself inspired to write after a visit to the Museum of Failure, a movable feast of flops which began last year in Helsingborg, Sweden and has now opened its doors on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. The Donald Trump board game, Apple's Newton, Nokia's N-Gage, Ford's Edsel, Colgate Beef Lasagne, Harley-Davidson Cologne, New Coke, Google Glass: these and other shining examples of failure appear in the videos about the museum at the top of the post and just below.

Considered today, many of these products, whether well-known or thoroughly obscure, look hilariously ill-conceived. But the Museum of Failure's founder, a psychologist named Samuel West, does have high praise for some of the products he's collected in his institution.

As you'll find out on a visit there, though, they've all got at least one fatal flaw — a design problem, bad timing, misjudgment of the market, falling into the cracks of existing offerings — that drove consumers away. You can't say that any of them didn't take a risk, but risks, by their very nature, burn out more often than they pay off.

"Why do I have all these failures?" asks West in his TED Talk just above. "The point of having the museum is that we can learn from these failures. I want us to start to admit our failures as companies, as individuals, so we can learn from it." America's relative lack of cultural stigmatization of failure often gets cited among the reasons for the country's reputation for innovation and economic dynamism, but there, as anywhere else, an increased willingness not just to fail but to better understand the nature of individual failures wouldn't go amiss. Nothing succeeds like success, so the saying goes, but the fascination that has built around the Museum of Failure so far suggests that we have much to gain from its opposite as well.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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