An Analysis: Salvador Dali’s “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory”

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Wess Haubrich

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To thoroughly understand the brilliance of Salvador Dalí and “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory”, we must first briefly touch on the life of the artist himself, the thoughts and methods behind Surrealism, and develop an understanding of “The Persistence of Memory” (1931, oil on canvas, 9’5” x 1’1”), a work which really birthed “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory” (1954, oil on canvas, 25.4 cm x 33 cm).

“The Persistence of Memory”, 1931, oil on canvas, 9.5"x1'1" Source: MOMA
“The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory”, oil on canvas, 25.4 cm x 33 cm Source: The Dali Museum

Surrealism’s main goal is to bring into consciousness what was fundamentally unconscious. This material was accessible through dreams and psychoanalysis as pioneered by Sigmund Freud and (Freudian heretic) Carl Jung.

Dalí, however, was also profoundly influenced by the work of Viennese neurologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s seminal work on paraphilias and other forms of (largely) deviant sexuality entitled Psychopathia Sexualis. Written in the late 1800s by neurologist Krafft-Ebing, it includes a fiery chapter on making homosexuality legal.

These thinkers were pivotal in the development of Dalí’s famous “paranoiac critical method” of developing “photographs” of his dream states: a type of “voluntary hallucination”. Dali’s ultimate goal was making the irrational concrete.

Despite his fascist political leanings, Dalí was well-aware of the fertile ground his home country of Spain was for mystical and seemingly “irrational” art. These adjectives are high praise to the surrealist, and words Dalí heard in 1931 when he was just 28 years old when he released “The Persistence of Memory.” “I, Salvador Dalí, come from Spain, which is the most irrational country and most mystical country in the world.” Still, when “The Persistence of Memory was released in 1931, other surrealist artists did not consider Dalí “a surrealist” because of those inklings toward political fascism. Dalí responded, “I don’t care as I am Surrealism.”

Surrealism was, as the Comte de Lautréamont put it in his incredible 1870 novel…

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Wess Haubrich

Horror, crime, noir with a distinctly southwestern tinge. Staff writer, former contributing editor; occultist; anthropologist of symbols.