Applause Fills the Air as Stephen Hawking Gets Laid to Rest in Cambridge, England

Earlier today, they laid Stephen Hawking to rest in a private funeral held at University Church of St. Mary the Great in Cambridge, England. Although the funeral itself was attended by only 500 guests, the streets of Cambridge swelled with onlookers who broke into applause as the coffin holding the physicist made its way into the church, leaving us with some proof that there’s still something right in a world tilting toward the wrong, that we can still appreciate someone who overcame so much, and left us with even more.

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Hear Beowulf and Gawain and the Green Knight Read in Their Original Old and Middle English by an MIT Medievalist

Many a mocking critique floats around pointing out that some people who tell their multilingual neighbors to “speak English” seem to have a lot of trouble with the language themselves. I must confess, I find the observation more sad than funny. I’ve met many English speakers who struggle with understanding the peculiarities of the language and do not know its history. Increasingly, such things are not taught to those who don’t devote themselves to language study.

When people do learn how the language evolved, they can be shocked that for much of its history, English was unrecognizable to modern ears. Indeed, the study of Old English—or Anglo-Saxon, the language of Beowulf—satisfies foreign language requirements in many English departments. Originally written in runic before it incorporated the Latin alphabet (and retaining some of those early symbols afterward), this Germanic language slowly became more Latinate, and gave way among the reading classes in Britain to Anglo-Norman, a Germanic-French cousin, for a few centuries after 1066.

That’s the very short version. These strains and more eventually commingled to form Middle English, the language of Chaucer, which also sounds to modern ears like another tongue, though we recognize more of it. In the video above, Medievalist and MIT professor Arthur Bahr gives us demonstrations of both Old and Middle English in readings of Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as part of his 2014 course, “Major Authors: Old English and Beowulf.” (You can still visit the course site, read the syllabus and download course materials.)

Bahr reads the first 20 lines of the ancient epic poem, which begins:

Hwæt. We Gardena in geardagum, 
þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon, 
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon. 

“Besides being the language of Rohan in the novels of Tolkien,” he writes, “Old English is a language of long, cold, and lonely winters; of haunting beauty found in unexpected places; and of unshakable resolve in the face of insurmountable odds.” For all its distance from us, we can still recognize quite a lot in Old English if we listen closely. Much of its vocabulary and inflections survive, unchanged but for pronunciation and spelling, in modern English, including many of the language’s most basic words, like “the,” “in” and “are,” and most common, like “god,” “name,” “me,” “hand,” and even “old.”

After the Viking and Norman invasions, Old English became “the third language in its own country,” notes Luke Mastin at his History of English site. More spoken than written, it “effectively sank to the level of a patois or creole,” with several distinct regional variants. English seemed at one time “in dire peril” of dying out but “showed its resilience once again, and, two hundred years after the Norman Conquest, it was English not French that emerged as the language of England,” though it remained a diffuse collection of dialects. As you’ll hear in Bahr’s Middle English reading, it was also an English entirely transformed by the languages around it, as it would be once again a few hundred years later, when we get to the English of Shakespeare.

via Laughing Squid

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

A Shazam for Nature: A New Free App Helps You Identify Plants, Animals & Other Denizens of the Natural World

Do you ever long for those not-so-long-ago days when you skipped through the world, breathless with the anticipation of catching Pokémon on your phone screen?

If so, you might enjoy bagging some of the Pokeverse’s real world counterparts using Seek, iNaturalist’s new photo-identification app. It does for the natural world what Shazam does for music.

Aim your phone’s camera at a nondescript leaf or the grasshopper-ish-looking creature who’s camped on your porch light. With a bit of luck, Seek will pull up the relevant Wikipedia entry to help the two of you get better acquainted.

Registered users can pin their finds to their personal collections, provided the app’s recognition technology produces a match.

(Several early adopters suggest it’s still a few houseplants shy of true functionality…)

Seek’s protective stance with regard to privacy settings is well suited to junior specimen collectors, as are the virtual badges with which it rewards energetic uploaders.

While it doesn’t hang onto user data, Seek is building a photo library, composed in part of user submissions.

(Your cat is ready for her close up, Mr. DeMille…)

(Ditto your Portobello Mushroom burger…)

Download Seek for free on iTunes or Google Play.

via Earther/My Modern Met

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Japanese Designer Creates Incredibly Detailed & Realistic Maps of a City That Doesn’t Exist

When he first spent time in Japanese cities, urban design and history professor Barrie Shelton “was baffled, irritated, and even intimidated by what I saw. Yet at the same time I found myself energized, animated, and indeed inspired by them. The effect was liberating and my intuition was quick to suggest that further exploration of their chaotic vitality might be extremely rewarding.” That exploration involved visits to “alleys, shrine and temple precincts, highways, railway stations (and their ‘magnetic’ fields), roof-tops, observation decks, arcades, underground streets, bars, gardens,” and so on, and no less essentially included “almost compulsive poring over city maps (old and new).”

It all culminated in Shelton’s book Learning from the Japanese City, a study that can help any Westerner better understand the likes of Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Kanazawa, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, or indeed Nagomuru City. You won’t find that last, however, on any map of Japan, nor will you find it in the country itself. It exists in the land of Naira, which itself exists in the mind of Japanese graphic designer and cartographer Imaizumi Takayuki. Imaizumi’s painstaking, ongoing work has produced maps of Nagomuru City that look at it in different ways in different eras, which you can browse on Let’s Go to the Imaginary Cities! On this page you can explore scrollable maps of the city by first selecting one of its thirty regions; just below that, you can also download a large PDF map of the entire metropolis.

Imaizumi’s urban cartographic vision is so richly realized that it has produced art exhibitions, a book, and even a variety of physical artifacts. On one page, for instance, you’ll find photographs of the contents of several imaginary wallets lost on the imaginary streets of Nagomuru City by its imaginary citizens. On another appear the imaginary cash cards issued by the imaginary Nagomuru Bank, complete with a pair of imaginary mascots without which, as anyone with any experience of Japan knows, no card would be complete. These artifacts and others have all come as a result of the project Imaizumi began at just ten years old, a brief history of which Japanese-readers can take in here.

“If I can imagine a fictive nation,” writes Roland Barthes in Empire of Signs, “I can give it an invented name, treat it declaratively as a novelistic object,” then “isolate somewhere in the world (faraway) a certain number of features (a term employed in linguistics), and out of all these features deliberately form a system. It is this system which I call: Japan.” Imaizumi chose to call his system Nagomuru City, but one imagines that all its carefully created and positioned features and details — the train lines and stations, the shrines and temples, the housing developments, the convenience stores, all the things celebrated in both Empire of Signs and Learning from the Japanese City — would have fired up Barthes’ imagination just as much as did the real Japan.

via Metafilter

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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.

This Is Your Brain on Exercise: Why Physical Exercise (Not Mental Games) Might Be the Best Way to Keep Your Mind Sharp

brain exercise

In the United States and the UK, we’ve seen the emergence of a multibillion-dollar brain training industry, premised on the idea that you can improve your memory, attention and powers of reasoning through the right mental exercises. You’ve likely seen software companies and web sites that market games designed to increase your cognitive abilities. And if you’re part of an older demographic, worried about your aging brain, you’ve perhaps been inclined to give those brain training programs a try. Whether these programs can deliver on their promises remains an open question–especially seeing that a 2010 scientific study from Cambridge University and the BBC concluded that there’s “no evidence to support the widely held belief that the regular use of computerised brain trainers improves general cognitive functioning in healthy participants…”

And yet we shouldn’t lose hope. A number of other scientific studies suggest that physical exercise–as opposed to mental exercise–can meaningfully improve our cognitive abilities, from childhood through old age. One study led by Charles Hillman, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois, found that children who regularly exercise, writes The New York Times:

displayed substantial improvements in … executive function. They were better at “attentional inhibition,” which is the ability to block out irrelevant information and concentrate on the task at hand … and had heightened abilities to toggle between cognitive tasks. Tellingly, the children who had attended the most exercise sessions showed the greatest improvements in their cognitive scores.

And, hearteningly, exercise seems to confer benefits on adults too. A study focusing on older adults already experiencing a mild degree of cognitive impairment found that resistance and aerobic training improved their spatial memory and verbal memory. Another study found that weight training can decrease brain shrinkage, a process that occurs naturally with age.

If you’re looking to get the gist of how exercise promotes brain health, it comes down to this:

Exercise triggers the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which helps support the growth of existing brain cells and the development of new ones.

With age, BDNF levels fall; this decline is one reason brain function deteriorates in the elderly. Certain types of exercise, namely aerobic, are thought to counteract these age-related drops in BDNF and can restore young levels of BDNF in the age brain.

That’s how The Chicago Tribune summarized the findings of a 1995 study conducted by researchers at the University of California-Irvine. You can get more of the nuts and bolts by reading The Tribune’s recent article, The Best Brain Exercise May be Physical. (Also see Can You Get Smarter?)

You’re perhaps left wondering what’s the right dose of exercise for the brain? And guess what, Gretchen Reynolds, the phys ed columnist for The Times’ Well blog, wrote a column on just that this summer. Although the science is still far from conclusive, a new study conducted by The University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center found that small doses of exercise could lead to cognitive improvements. Writes Reynolds, “the encouraging takeaway from the new study … is that briskly walking for 20 or 25 minutes several times a week — a dose of exercise achievable by almost all of us — may help to keep our brains sharp as the years pass.”

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

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via New York Times

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The Fall’s Mark E. Smith’s (RIP) Creates a List of His Favorite Books, Films & Music, Circa 1981

Some of us are still reeling from the death this last January of Mark E. Smith, the frontman and acerbic brains behind The Fall, surely one of post-punk’s finest groups, and definitely its longest lasting. The band might not have scored that many Top 40 singles, but Britain’s music press loved and feared Smith in equal amounts. He was always good for a belligerent quote, or a beer-fueled interview down the pub. To paraphrase DJ John Peel, Smith was the yardstick against which other musicians were measured.

And his death has also brought out a treasure trove of clippings, including this one from the August 15, 1981 edition of NME. “Portrait of the Artist as a Consumer” was an occasional series, asking musicians for their favorite books, art, writers, comedians, films, and even other music. We’ve pasted the original scan above, but just in case, we’ve transcribed his lists with a little bit of commentary.

Gulcher – Richard Meltzer
A Small Town in Germany – John Le Carré
A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick
The Sirens of Titan – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
The Deer Park – Norman Mailer
The Black Room – Colin Wilson
Ritual in the Dark – Colin Wilson
Cogan’s Trade – George V. Higgins
At the Mountains of Madness – H.P. Lovecraft
Beyond Good and Evil – Frederich Nietzsche

U.S. Civil War Handbook – William H. Price
How I Created Modern Music – D. McCulloch (a weekly serial)
True Crime Monthly
Private Eye
Fibs About M.E. Smith by J. Cope (a pamphlet)

Okay, for longtime fans of The Fall, the appearance of Philip K. Dick and H.P. Lovecraft should come as no surprise, as Smith referenced them often in his lyrics. Gulcher (subtitled Post-Rock Cultural Pluralism in America) was one of the first ever collections of serious rock criticism from one of the first ever rock critics. The blurb on Colin Wilson over at Amazon says he “wrote widely on true crime, mysticism and the paranormal” which sounds pretty much like Smith’s CV. George V. Higgins was also a crime writer, with a gift for mafioso gab. And as for The Deer Park by Mailer, Smith took the title for an early Fall song:

Of Smith’s fascination with the U.S. Civil War, I can think of his own visualizing between the North and South in his own beleaguered Britain, and the lyric from “The N.W.R.A.”:

“The streets of Soho did reverberate
With drunken Highland men
Revenge for Culloden dead
The North had rose again
But it would turn out wrong”

Don’t go looking for the McCulloch and Cope writings—they’re both jokes at the expense of fellow Mancunians Ian McCulloch (Echo and the Bunnymen) and Julian Cope, who Smith gigged with back in the day and went on to—as Smith no doubt saw it—sell out to the mainstream

[UPDATE: As one commenter has noted D. Culloch is actually Dave McCulloch, Ian’s brother and once the editor and writer for Sounds. However, he is a man that has dropped off the face of the Internet, and we’ll need some more digging to see if his serial even exists. Help us in the comments.]


Claude Bessy

Of William S. Burroughs much has been written, but Claude Bessy was a French writer who started and/or wrote for several punk fanzines, including Angeleno Dread and Slash, was the resident VJ at Manchester’s Hacienda Club, and directed—supposedly—music videos for The Fall (which ones, I can’t discern).

Wyndham Lewis
Malcolm Allison
Virgin Prunes
The Worst live, Marchester Dec. ’77

Those who have seen Lewis’ writings for BLAST, the magazine of the vorticist movement in Britain, circa 1914, might be mistaken that they were looking at a M.E.S. lyric sheet.

The list is Smith’s joke over what is considered art: Malcolm Allison was an English football player and manager; the Virgin Prunes were an Irish post-punk band; The Worst was a little known punk band that shared the bill with The Fall and John Cooper Clark at the Electric Circus gig—the recording of which was the Fall’s first release.

Lenny Bruce
Alan Pellay
Bernard Manning
All Ian Curtis derivatives

Lenny Bruce and Bernard Manning are opposite ends of a very odd spectrum. More interesting is Alan Pellay aka Al Pellay aka Lana Pellay, who fronted a group I Scream Pleasures that often opened for The Fall, and whose angry declarations over dub tracks by Adrian Sherwood are sonic cousins to Smith.

Polanski’s Macbeth
Mel Brook’s (sic) High Anxiety
Fellini’s Rome
The Man with X-Ray Eyes and The Lost Weekend starring Ray Milland
Visconti’s The Damned
Days of Wine and Roses with Jack Lemmon
Charlie Bubbles with Albert Finney

The most personal selection here is the last one, a 1968 film that starred Finney as a desperate but successful writer who returns to his childhood home…Salford, near Manchester, Smith’s own hometown.

John Cleese adverts

Of the two, Bluey is the rare one, a cult Australian cop drama from 1976 created by Jock Blair and Ian Jones. We also have no idea why he liked it.


Take No Prisoners – Lou Reed
Peter Hammill
Johnny Cash
The Panther Burns
God Save the Queen – The Sex Pistols
Raw and Alive – The Seeds
Pebbles Vol. 3 – Various
16 Greatest Truck Driver Hits cassette
Radio City – Philip Johnson (cassette)
Der Plan
Alternative TV
Land of the Homo Jews and Hank Williams Was Queer, live – Fear (L.A. Group)
We’re Only In It for the Money – Mothers of Invention

So, at last, the music list. No surprises seeing Lou Reed, Johnny Cash, The Pistols, or Zappa on here. The Panther Burns was a favorite group of Claude Bessy; The Seeds was a great garage rock band of the ‘60s; Pebbles is a compilation of American psyche rock; Alternative TV, Fear, and Der Plan had varying degrees of success in the punk and electronic genres.

Of note, two things: the 16 Greatest Truck Driver Hits cassette, which the band must have picked up somewhere on tour. A baffling release, it has songs not credited to any artist, so perhaps this is a studio band concoction of country covers. But it might have inspired Smith to write his own version of the American trucker song, “Container Drivers”:

Also Philip Johnson. Radio City was one of a dozen self-released cassettes by an early electronic artist, which DieorDIY described as “A fantastic cut up of various current affairs radio broadcasts, with the classic AM radio sound quality, made good by that cosily depressing ferric oxide degradation technique.” For those looking for the various influences on the genius of Mark E. Smith, this entire list gives you a good place to start.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

Martin Scorsese Creates a List of 38 Essential Films About American Democracy

Image by “Siebbi,” Wikimedia Commons

So many of us, throughout so much of the 20th century, saw the nature of American-style democracy as more or less etched in stone. But the events of recent years, certainly on the national level but also on the global one, have thrown our assumptions about a political system that once looked destined for universality — indeed, the much-discussed “end” toward which history itself has been working — into question. Whatever our personal views, we’ve all had to remember that the United States, approaching a quarter-millennium of history, remains an experimental country, one more subject to re-evaluation and revision than we might have thought.

The same holds true for the art form that has done more than any other to spread visions of America: the movies. Martin Scorsese surely knows this, just as deeply as he knows that a full understanding of any society demands immersion into that society’s dreams of itself. The fact that so many of America’s dreams have taken cinematic form makes Scorsese well-placed to approach the subject, given that he’s dreamed a fair few of them himself. Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Gangs of New YorkThe Wolf of Wall Street: most of his best-known films tell thoroughly American stories, rooted in not just his country’s distinctive history but the equally distinctive politics, society, and culture that have resulted from it.

Now, along with his nonprofit The Film Foundation, Scorsese passes his understanding of America along to all of us with their curriculum, “Portraits of America: Democracy on Film.” It comes as part of their larger project “The Story of Film,” described by its official site as “an interdisciplinary curriculum introducing students to classic cinema and the cultural, historical, and artistic significance of film.” Scorsese and The Film Foundation offer its materials free to schools, but students of all ages and nationalities can learn a great deal about American democracy from the pictures it includes, the sequence of which runs as follows:

Module 1: The Immigrant Experience
Introductory Lesson: From Penny Claptrap to Movie Palaces—the First Three Decades
Chapter 1: “The Immigrant” (1917, d. Charlie Chaplin)
Chapter 2: “The Godfather, Part II” (1974, d. Francis Ford Coppola)
Chapter 3: “America, America” (1963, d. Elia Kazan)
Chapter 4: “El Norte” (1983, d. Gregory Nava)
Chapter 5: “The Namesake” (2006, d. Mira Nair)

Module 2: The American Laborer
Introductory Lesson: The Common Good
Chapter 1: “Black Fury” (1935, d. Michael Curtiz)
Chapter 2: “Harlan County U.S.A.” (1976, d. Barbara Kopple)
Chapter 3: “At the River I Stand” (1993, d. David Appleby, Allison Graham and Steven Ross)
Chapter 4: “Salt of the Earth” (1954, d. Herbert J. Biberman)
Chapter 5: “Norma Rae” (1979, d. Martin Ritt)

Module 3: Civil Rights
Introductory Lesson: The Camera as Witness
Chapter 1: King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis (1970, conceived & created by
Ely Landau; guest appearances filmed by Sidney Lumet and Joseph L.
Chapter 2: “Intruder in the Dust” (1949, d. Clarence Brown)
Chapter 3: “The Times of Harvey Milk” (1984, d. Robert Epstein)
Chapter 4: “Smoke Signals” (1998, d. Chris Eyre)

Module 4: The American Woman
Introductory Lesson: Ways of Seeing Women
Chapter 1: Through a Woman’s Lens: Directors Lois Weber (focusing on “Suspense,” 1913 and
“Where Are My Children,” 1916) and Dorothy Arzner (“Dance, Girl, Dance,” 1940)
Chapter 2: “Imitation of Life” (1934, d. John M. Stahl)
Chapter 3: “Woman of the Year” (1942, d. George Stevens)
Chapter 4: “Alien” (1979, d. Ridley Scott)
Chapter 5: “The Age of Innocence” (1993, d. Martin Scorsese)

Module 5: Politicians and Demagogues
Introductory Lesson: Checks and Balances
Chapter 1: “Gabriel Over the White House” (1933, d. Gregory La Cava)
Chapter 2: “A Lion is in the Streets” (1953, d. Raoul Walsh)
Chapter 3: “Advise and Consent” (1962, d. Otto Preminger)
Chapter 4: “A Face in the Crowd” (1957, d. Elia Kazan)

Module 6: Soldiers and Patriots
Introductory Lesson: Movies and Homefront Morale
Chapter 1: “Sergeant York (1941, d. Howard Hawks)
Chapter 2: Private Snafu’s Private War—three Snafu Shorts from WWII
Chapter 3: “Three Came Home” (1950, d. Jean Negulesco)
Chapter 4: “Glory” (1989, Edward Zwick)
Chapter 5: “Saving Private Ryan” (1998, d. Steven Spielberg)

Module 7: The Press
Introductory Lesson: Degrees of Truth
Chapter 1: “Meet John Doe” (1941, d. Frank Capra)
Chapter 2: “All the President’s Men” (1976, d. Alan J. Pakula)
Chapter 3: “Good Night, and Good Luck” (2005, d. George Clooney)
Chapter 4: “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006, d. Davis Guggenheim)
Chapter 5: “Ace in the Hole” (1951, d. Billy Wilder)

Module 8: The Auteurs
Introductory Lesson: Film as an Art Form
Chapter 1: “Modern Times” (1936, Charlie Chaplin)
Chapter 2: “The Grapes of Wrath”(1940, d. John Ford)
Chapter 3: “Citizen Kane” (1941, d. Orson Welles)
Chapter 4: “An American in Paris” (1951, d. Vincente Minnelli)
Chapter 5: “The Aviator” (2004, d. Martin Scorsese)

“Division, conflict and anger seem to be defining this moment in culture,” says Scorsese, quoted in Film Journal International article about the curriculum. “I learned a lot about citizenship and American ideals from the movies I saw. Movies that look squarely at the struggles, violent disagreements and the tragedies in history, not to mention hypocrisies, false promises. But they also embody the best in America, our great hopes and ideals.” Few could watch all 38 of the films on his curriculum without feeling that the experiments of democracy and cinema are still on to something – and hold out the promise of more possibilities than we’d imagined before.

via Indiewire

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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.

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

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