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Smoke & Surrealism:
Don Salvadore Dalí, the Original Mad Man

3,306 words

DalisbookCarlos Lozano and Clifford Thurlow
Sex, Surrealism, Dali and Me: The Memoirs of Carlos Lozano
2nd ed., 2011

“In the next century, when children ask ‘Who was Franco? They will answer: he was a dictator in the time of Dalí.” — Don Salvador Dalí

“The only difference between Dalí and a mad man is that Dalí is not mad.” — Don Salvador Dalí 

Having just published a book[1] that makes extensive use of the “paranoiac-critical method” of Don Salvatore Dalí,[2] I was pleased as Punch[3] when this item appeared on my Kindle radar.

Surely the only contribution made by that insufferable poseur, André Breton, with his “surrealist” movement[4] was as what we used to call in grad school a “reliable anti-authority;” anyone deemed by this self-proclaimed Pope of Surrealism as traitor and purged was, ipso facto, worthy of interest — most notably, Artaud[5] and Dalí.[6]

Our memoirist is in some ways a typical child of the ’60s, at least the way the ’60s are supposed to have been; hitchhiking around like Kerouac, reading Hermann Hesse. Born in Colombia, the family moves to America, he loses his father (of course) and eventually makes his way to San Francisco. After a plentiful course of drugs, he’s taken up by the Living Theatre — and in particular an older woman calling herself Gypsy — and brought to Europe, where he is abandoned by the troop. A reading of the Tarot (a legacy of Gypsy) leaves him “resolved to shed all fears and doubts and be myself.” He “had been left, not to starve, I realized, not to fail, not to fall beneath the wheel,[7] but to flow with the turning of the wheel.”[8]

San Francisco was fading from my memory. America was an alien planet floating in the void of wild uncharted waters.

Europe was different. Europeans seemed to have been born with a feeling for art and literature, poetry and beauty. Old men in bars read Camus.[9]

Salvador Dali with a painting of Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera

Salvador Dalí with a portrait of José Antonio Primo de Rivera

As we have often pointed out before, one needs to carefully distinguish the wheel, or circle, from the spiral; the former is the pattern of futile repetition (such as the Wheel of Fortuna or the Wheel of Rebirth) while the latter is the pattern of escape from the wheel and rising to a higher level (the Turn of the Screw). Carlos does not return to America, or Colombia, nor does he merely take up residence in Europe, like so many “artistic” Americans. Rather, he undergoes a metamorphosis, an archeofuturistic return of the Pagan to modern day Europe.

My earliest desire as a young adult had been to work as a teacher, to be a pillar of society. But LSD had allowed me to decode my DNA and, through its foggy mysterious influence, I had reprogrammed myself.

I had arrived home. Five days in Paris and the pagan darkness of the New World[10] was melting from my genes.

It comes as no surprise that Carlos is a dancer, “Isadora Duncan relived.”[11] As such, he understands and responds as he “moved in the spiraling patterns of savage nature.”

But to be complete, more than just drugs are needed.[12]

But then, the inexplicable happens, and he meets, and is taken up by Salvatore Dalí. The relationship is formally pederastic, of course, but that shouldn’t put you off, as Dalí is old enough to be more interested in pedagogy, so little here would shock, say, Jerry Falwell.[13] Besides,

Dalí, I would learn, was only a voyeur, the great masturbator, but his inclination was decidedly pederast. He liked inexperienced boys, androgynes particularly, transsexuals explicitly.[14] He bathed in the bizarre, the unnatural, the surreal; he had orgasms over the outrageous, the lascivious and lewd. He was enthralled by Le Pétomane, the French music hall performer whose act consisted of nothing but farting and he loved farting himself. “The French live to eat. I eat to fart.”

The reader, of course, is less interested in Carlos’s schooling than in Dali’s antics. Dali sits at a café casually twisting tin foil and wax into sculptures he will sell for thousands; “I was a sheet of tinfoil ready to be turned and twisted. Soft wax in the hands of the perverter.”[15]

It was a continuous show. You were with an unconventional, singular personality. A star. Anything could happen. And it always did. I never tired of being with Dalí. Even when he was nasty I still adored him. He was like a lobster: masses of shell, tough on the outside, hard on the inside, and just a morsel of soft sweet meat.[16]

Dali’s acts and words seem illogical, absurd, unmotivated, only because we, unlike Dali, cannot follow the subliminal, sublime, surrealistic chord that unites them all.

“We spend one third of our lives on an oneiric treasure island. You must build bridges to the mainland and follow me through the invisible passages that join the waking and dream states and lead to the realm where all contradictions reach a hyper-lucidity of irrationality.”

What we said was forgettably brilliant, all nonsense and all so meaningful I knew intuitively it was far better talking foolishly with a genius than talking seriously with a fool.

A good example of Dali’s paranoiac mode of living and discoursing (to the extent that they can be distinguished) occurs when Carlos debuts in the Paris production of Hair. Dali of course arrives to congratulate him, and immediately the discourse becomes pagan:

“Hermes is the God of riches and good fortune. He is the messenger, a dancer, a trickster and the Patron Saint of Thieves, something Jesus the Fish acknowledged on the Cross. He was the son of Zeus, you know.”

Par for the course, just some mythological fluff for flattering his protégé, right? Later, at dinner, a guest makes the mistake of asking Carlos “his sign,” and Dalí is set off:

“What is the sign of Jesus?’ he roared. Dado shrugged like a good Italian. “Capricorn,” he said. “The early Christians changed the birthdate of Jesus to comply with the mid-winter celebrations they discovered among the savages of northern Europe. The Christian era and the Age of Pisces are contemporaneous. The very name, Jesus, transliterates as the word fish in Aramaic, his own tongue. As man or myth, he chose fishermen as disciples. Not goats.”

I sat there amazed by his theme [dancing, Hermes, thief, Jesus], amazed that it had begun before our arrival at Maxims’s.[17]

“He was a fisher of men,” he continued. “He performed miracles on the sea and with the fishes. The Gnostics sketched a fish in the dust, not a cross, to identify themselves. Jesus possessed all the qualities of Pisces, the last sign of the Zodiac and its completion of all human potentials. He was humble, emotional, unworldly and vague, unlike those who arrive in December under the sign of Capricorn, with their money worries and dreams of ruling the world. Jesus was born in the spring, a Pisces for the Age of Pisces. Violetera [Carlos] is a Scorpion, the same as Amanda [Lear, Dali’s transsexual favorite]. They will both sting me in the balls . . .” He paused.

Paused, indeed.

Dali’s main teaching is to inculcate the traditional, and Traditional, virtues of patience and repetition: “Dalí was dedicating his life to the battle against unrelenting time and decay.” The company of Hair gets an earful:

“All success comes from hard work. Hard work and patience and more hard work,” he roared, menacing the company with his walking stick. “Never trust in inspiration. You must work every day, every day, every day. Inspiration arrives through your work. It arrives through your involvement. I am a worker. A peasant. I work seventeen hours a day.”

As does Carlos:

“A Hindu once told me you find God by digging in the same hole. He was mad.[18] The substance of success is scandal and patience. Are you patient, Carlitos?”

“It is the obsession of repetition the Gods take note of.”[19]

Despite his “far-out” art and aberrant — but very public — lifestyle, Dalí, like most of the Great Artists of the 20th century, was at least temperamentally a man of the Right.[20] Thus, even if you have no interest, or an active dislike, of “modern art”[21] or weirdoes, you will likely enjoy this tour through this little-known world of post-War anti-Leftists, a sort of avant-garde version of the circles of the Windsors or Mosleys.[22]

Take this chap, “The Spanish Ambassador to France, a famous fascist,” who

was one of the richest men in Spain, . . . had helped to finance Franco’s uprising in the Spanish Civil War, El Caudillo had rewarded him with a diplomatic post, [and] was setting up a meeting between Don Salvador and the Conde de Barcelona, Spain’s exiled monarch and father of King Juan Carlos.

The famous fascist is confused by Carlos’ waist-length hair and patchouli scent:

[He] kissed my hand as he left the gathering. “Au revoir, Mademoiselle,” he said with a bow and Dalí was delighted. “Angels are androgynes,” he explained. “I will inspect your back. You will have scars where they cut off your wings. You have the most glorious navel. It is the privilege of princes to show their navel. I will decorate it with a ruby . . .”

Dali, of course, is dangerous to know, as the Ambassador discovers:

“They will think I’m a pederast . . .” he had said in confidence and Dalí had announced these noble doubts to the ears of the world . . .

And You-Know-Who is a distinct presence; as Dalí accepts some French literary award,

He threw out his chest, gripped his hands behind his back and only those who had sat watching old newsreels of Hitler knew who had inspired his act.

Even the waiters are fascistically suggestive:

[A] waiter . . . bore a distinct resemblance to Hitler. He had one of those awful moustaches and a wave of hair plastered to his forehead. “C’est colossal,” Dalí said. “I will put him in a film. I will show him as a kind man, a music lover, a marvelous painter. Hitler had the most wonderful sense of humour.”[23]

Parisian students, searching for a Third Way, recognize an ally:

The previous year during the Paris riots, Dalí had been driven to the Sorbonne to give a lecture on the relationship between DNA and the spiral stalks in vegetables in a Cadillac filled to the roof with cauliflowers. The students had been overturning expensive cars but when they saw Dalí they cheered.

It’s also a chance to revisit that Mad Men era of free smoking:[24]

The smoke had become thicker, hanging like dense clouds around the chandeliers.

He lit a Gauloise and the smell mingled with the street smells and Paris was everything I had imagined it was going to be.

Can you imagine the smell inside a French police station? All those Gauloises.[25]

Is it any surprise that Sterling Cooper’s art director is a closeted homosexual named . . . Salvatore?[26]

It’s unfortunate that Dalí is here well into his ’60s, so there’s no opportunity to really see genius at work. On the plus side, the book benefits from being written not by the memoirist nor by some art “expert” but by what would seem to be an old school journalist, one Clifford Thurlow, (not, fortunately, Clifford Irving[27]) who gives us a colorful and straightforward text that is a pleasure to read and, when combined with the paranoiac-surrealist acts and utterances of Dalí, produces a unique mixture, a kind of Magical New Journalist style.[28]

Highly recommended for anyone interested in that most fascinating and (deliberately) obscure area, the post-War avant-garde Right, though tolerance for a certain amount of nonsense is required.


1. End of an Era: Mad Men and the Ordeal of Civility (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2015). An Amazon reviewer of the text under discussion here notes that “like the keenest FaceBook digital networkers of today, [Dalí] knew how to promote himself, an innate skill practised long before the Mad Men of Madison Avenue.”

2. “The paranoiac critical method of Dalí is an attempt to systematize irrational thought. . . . When asked why the centaurs in his painting, Marsupial Centaurs, were riddled with holes, he replied, ‘The holes are like parachutes, only safer.’ This response is often used as an example of Dalí being Dalí, purposefully obscure, self-absorbed, and downright snotty. The reader might interpret this comment as a nose thumbing, coupled with an ‘If you don’t know why the holes are there, you Philistine, I will never tell you.’ The fact is, however, that Dalí is simply stating the reason for the holes, which upon examination, becomes unmistakable, true to its Paranoiac Critical ancestry.” “THE PARANOIAC CRITICAL METHOD” by Josh Sonnier, here. As an example of the transition from irrational to inevitable, consider my discussion of Clifton Webb’s Mr. Belvedere as an incarnation of Krishna in “The Babysitting Bachelor as Aryan Avatar: Clifton Webb in Sitting Pretty,” here. For more on parachutes, holes, and safety, see The Skydivers by Bad Filmmaker and accidental Traditionalist Coleman Francis, as discussed in my upcoming essay “Flag on the Moon — How’d IT Get There?” Both essays will appear in the forthcoming collection Passing the Buck: A Traditionalist Goes to The Movies (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2016).

3. See Jonathan Bowden, “The Real Meaning of Punch and Judy,” here. For another view, see Count Eric Stenbock, The Myth of Punch, edited by David Tibet (London: Durtro Press, 1999).

4. “Surrealism is not a movement. It is a latent state of mind perceivable through the powers of dream and nightmare. It is a human predisposition. People ask me: What is the difference between the irrational and the surreal and I tell them: the Divine Dalí.” — Dalí.

5. See Stephen Barber, Antoine Artuad: Blows and Bombs (London: Faber, 1993) and Jeremy Reed, Chasing Black Rainbows: A Novel About Antonin Artaud (London: Peter Owen, 1994).

6. See Dalí by J. G. Ballard, with an Introduction by Dalí (New York: Ballantine, 1974), and Diary of a Genius by Dalí, with an Introduction by J. G. Ballard (London: Solar Books, 2007). Ballard discusses surrealism on YouTube here.

7. A reference to Hesse’s novel of schoolboys, their crushes, and their being crushed by the System, Beneath the Wheel. The ’60s figure of Hesse crops up from time to time; Carlos meets a actor (not Max von Sydow) who will supposedly star in a (I guess never produced) film of Steppenwolf, and will talk of making a “journey to the east.”

8. Not impressed? Neither was Dalí. As for astrology: “People are no different from wine. We are born at a given moment, in a given place. There are good years and bad, from good valleys and inauspicious ones. Some bottles are shaken and the sediment fouls the taste. Some are dropped and smash into a thousand million pieces. That is astrology. Never, never speak of it again. . . . God despises astrology and prefers a well told lie to a tedious truth.”

9. Of course, some are more European than others. “I once knew an Englishman I also liked.” “Never trust the English.”

10. Unlike the repetitive circle, in the spiral things reverse, and America is “dark” and “pagan.” Burroughs also perceived the so-called “New World” as old and evil, “groveling worship of the food source” (Naked Lunch).

11. Like Krishna, or Mr. Belvedere, or indeed Clifton Webb himself; see note 2 above.

12. “He never touched drugs and barely took more than a sip of wine. ‘I am already in that place where you all want to be. Satori is in here,’ he bragged, rubbing his temples.” Elsewhere, Dali’s coterie “hopped around the room like devotees in a heathen temple.”

13. “‘Is it Hermes or Aphrodite? Is Dalí a pederast or a dirty old man? Let their tongues wag, Violetera [Carlos].”

14. As for women, “He liked the form not the touch. But there were exceptions.” Dalí would have been revolted by today’s negroid fashion in femininity: “Big breasts are the base element of the bovine principle. Women with small breasts are for pleasure. Women with big breasts are cows and cows are bred to eat and procreate.” Dalí’s inclinations seem to recall the Persian Sufi method of inducing poetic inspiration or mystical reverie by the contemplation (only) of the Beautiful Boy; see Peter Lamborn Wilson’s Scandal: Studies in Islamic Heresy (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1988). Need I cite Plato’s Symposium?

15. As Alan Watts pointed out, to be perverse means to move by poetry.

16. Frederic Rolfe (“Baron Corvo”) liked to compare himself to a crab. See his roman a clef Nicolas Crabbe.

17. Using Dalí’s methods, we can see that the embezzling little weasel Pryce (thief!) is really Wotan, and the Irish Catholic ad men of McCann Erikson are revealed as Judaic interlopers by their shirtsleeves; see End of an Era, op. cit.

18. Dalí has no reverence for the non-European: “It was divine wisdom to place them [Virgin and Mother] in one being. We do not need a pantheon like the Hindus and Aztecs.”

19. “If one does what God does enough times, one becomes as God is.” — Dr. Hannibal Lecter. On the other hand, Dalí is not himself insane (“I am not mad”). On his second trip to New York he smashes out of a window display, raining shards on startled Fifth Avenue passersby, just as Will Graham stops the Tooth Fairy by smashing into his kitchen via a plate glass window. Dalí is let go only when he promises “to never do it again.”

20. See Kerry Bolton’s Artists of the Right (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2012). Dalí shares with Dada-ist painter Julius Evola a grand contempt for the bourgeoisie: when Dalí’s favorite hotel replaces the wooden toilet seat he believes was used by King Alphonso with modern, plastic seat, he goes ballistic and forces them to find and re-install the original. Even this inspires an epic rant: “We are surrounded by moralists, hygienists and philistines. I have no confidence in my class. You can trust the aristocracy to be charming. You can trust the peasants to be vulgar. You can trust the true artist to be a madman. The bourgeois you can trust to steal the toilet from under you . . .’” This is the toilet set, over the admiration of which Dalí and Carlos bond.

21. “All art is political,” Dalí instructs his ward. “Once it is understood, it loses its power and becomes aesthetic, decorative, pedagogic.”

22. One can’t help but recall Hunter S. Thompson’s description of the Circus Circus hotel as “What the whole ‘hep’ world would be doing if the Nazis had won the war” (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas [New York: Random House, 1972]).

23. Again, one recalls or the subtitle of Franz Liebkind’s manuscript for Springtime for Hitler: “A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva.”

24. I discuss the Right’s obsession with tobacco in “Mad Manspreading?” here and reprinted in End of An Era, op. cit.

25. The police station crops up when Carlos’ female companion doffs her blouse as they walk along a Paris street and are promptly arrested. The police, however, are easily bought off with offers of free tickets to Hair. One can’t help but think of how this genial corruption contrasts with the Nanny State howls of New York’s de Blasio and Cuomo over the “scandal” of topless women in Times Square (yes, even Times Square! Is nothing sacred?)

26. I discuss the “gay liberationist” fantasy that art directors on Madison Avenue were unknown or closeted in End of an Era, which Margo Metroland picked up on in her excellent review, here. On the contrary, ad agency art departments were exactly where young men from the provinces would flock to; for example, Andy Warhol, whose career seems a kind of Americanized (i.e., trivialized) version of Dalí’s art-as-commodity.

27. Howard Hughes’ faux-biographer apparently lived among a similar colony of Spanish artists, divas and oddballs; see his contributions to Orson Welles’ F is For Fake (1975; Criterion, 2014)

28. There are a lot of odd spellings throughout, some perhaps British, some Colombian, some misprints; I have let Microsoft silently “correct” them in my quotations here.


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  1. rhondda
    Posted September 24, 2015 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    You are a brave man James. One of the reasons I do not like fascism like that in Spain was that they killed Lorca, their most important poet, just because he was a homosexual. (He also was fascinated by Dali)
    An interesting book I am reading is The Esoteric Secrets of Surrealism by Patrick Lepetit. Some of them were dissatisfied with the church and were looking for the sacred without priests. I find it interesting that you call Breton a poseur. I see him as a Freud figure. ‘ I cannot risk my authority.’ (coward) I recently watched the movie ‘A Dangerous Method’ which is about Freud and Jung. Pretty stupid and I do not recommend it unless you like scenery and lovely costumes with some s&m on the side. If you are going to transgress boundaries, just don’t get all moralistic about it. It really was anti-Jung with Freud being titillated by Jung’s forced confession. Sort of fits the rationalist’s method of conformity.

    • James O'Meara
      Posted September 27, 2015 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      Well, I guess ‘poseur’ is not the right word; I was trying to express my impatience with Breton’s combination of authoritarian rule with with a degrading obsession with trying to form “alliances” with whatever group just happened to be in fashion, from Communism to Freudianism to 60s astrology. I happened to be looking through a volume of David Gascoyne’s essays and found an obituary for Dali, but also an intro to an Italian ed. of Eliot where DG compares Eliot to Breton in his “need for authority” which I suppose is a more positive view of it.

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