When Salvador Dalí Gave a Lecture at the Sorbonne & Arrived in a Rolls Royce Full of Cauliflower (1955)

Sal­vador Dalí led a long and event­ful life, so much so that cer­tain of its chap­ters out­landish enough to define any­one else’s exis­tence have by now been almost for­got­ten. “You’ve done some very mys­te­ri­ous things,” Dick Cavett says to Dalí on the 1971 broad­cast of his show above. “I don’t know if you like to be asked what they mean, but there was an inci­dent once where you appeared for a lec­ture in Paris, at the Sor­bonne, and you arrived in a Rolls-Royce filled with cau­li­flow­ers.” At that, the artist wastes no time launch­ing into an elab­o­rate, semi-intel­li­gi­ble expla­na­tion involv­ing rhi­noc­er­os horns and the gold­en ratio.

The inci­dent in ques­tion had occurred six­teen years ear­li­er, in 1955. “With bed­lam in his mind and a quaint pro­fu­sion of fresh cau­li­flower in his Rolls-Royce lim­ou­sine, Span­ish-born Sur­re­al­ist Painter Sal­vador Dalí arrived at Paris’ Sor­bonne Uni­ver­si­ty to unbur­den him­self of some gib­ber­ish,” says the con­tem­po­rary notice in Time. “His sub­ject: ‘Phe­nom­e­no­log­i­cal Aspects of the Crit­i­cal Para­noiac Method.’ Some 2,000 ecsta­t­ic lis­ten­ers were soon shar­ing Sal­vador’s Dalir­i­um.”

To them he announced his dis­cov­ery that “ ‘every­thing departs from the rhi­noc­er­os horn! Every­thing departs from [Dutch Mas­ter] Jan Ver­meer’s The Lace­mak­er! Every­thing ends up in the cau­li­flower!’ The rub, apol­o­gized Dali, is that cau­li­flow­ers are too small to prove this the­o­ry con­clu­sive­ly.”

Near­ly sev­en decades lat­er, Honi Soit’s Nicholas Osiowy takes these ideas rather more seri­ous­ly than did the sneer­ing cor­re­spon­dent from Time. “Beneath the sim­ple shock val­ue and easy sur­re­al­ism, it becomes clear Dalí was onto some­thing; the hum­ble cau­li­flower is con­sid­ered one of the best exam­ples of the leg­endary gold­en ratio,” Osiowy writes. “Cau­li­flow­ers, rhi­noc­er­os­es and anteaters’ tongues were to Dali essen­tial man­i­fes­ta­tions of a glo­ri­ous shape; deserv­ing of an explic­it depic­tion in his The Sacra­ment of the Last Sup­per,” paint­ed in the year of his Sor­bonne lec­ture. “Shape, the idea of geom­e­try itself, is the unsung mag­ic of not just art but our entire cul­tur­al con­scious­ness.” Not that Dalí him­self would have copped to com­mu­ni­cat­ing that: “I am against any kind of mes­sage,” he insists in response to a ques­tion from fel­low Dick Cavett Show guest, who hap­pened to be silent-film icon Lil­lian Gish. The sev­en­ties did­n’t need the sur­re­al; they were the sur­re­al.

Relat­ed con­tent:

When Sal­vador Dali Met Sig­mund Freud, and Changed Freud’s Mind About Sur­re­al­ism (1938)

When Sal­vador Dalí Dressed — and Angri­ly Demol­ished — a Depart­ment Store Win­dow in New York City (1939)

Sal­vador Dalí Reveals the Secrets of His Trade­mark Mous­tache (1954)

Q: Sal­vador Dalí, Are You a Crack­pot? A: No, I’m Just Almost Crazy (1969)

Sal­vador Dalí Strolls onto The Dick Cavett Show with an Anteater, Then Talks About Dreams & Sur­re­al­ism, the Gold­en Ratio & More (1970)

How Dick Cavett Brought Sophis­ti­ca­tion to Late Night Talk Shows: Watch 270 Clas­sic Inter­views Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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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