I believe, above all, in the real and unfathomable force of the philosophic Catholicism of France and in the militant Catholicism of Spain.
It is noticeable that Haakon Chevalier, who spent significant time with Dalí and his wife Gala on the New Hampshire estate of the Marquis de Cuevas, walking amidst the burnished autumn leaves of late 1943, offers the following very insightful anecdote into his Translator’s Foreword to Dalí’s only novel, Hidden Faces:
Sometimes, exhausted from hours of ploughing through the lush jungle of his prose, I would turn to him in exasperation and say, you never use one word where two will do. You are a master of the mixed metaphor, of the superfluous epithet; you weave elaborate festoons of redundancy round your subject to illuminate it with glittering fireworks of hyperbole . . . To this he would smile with apologetic self-assurance, a diabolical glint would come into his eyes and balance on the waxed tips of his moustache, and with great gentleness he would improvise a little piece on the violence of his Spanish temperament and the volcanic excesses of his imagination. . . .
There is in Dalí a fascination with magic, necromancy, spells, incantations, superstition, ritual and pageantry . . . The basic theme of Hidden Faces is love-in-death. We here have a treatment in modern dress of the ancient and perennial Tristan and Isolde myth. Nothing gives greater intensity to love than the imminence of death, and nothing gives greater poignancy to death than its irremediable severing of the bonds of love. The motif of death, however, is balanced by its counterpart: resurrection. This secondary but pervasive theme of new life emerging out of decay and destruction runs through the whole novel and it is symbolised from the first page to the last by the forest of cork-oaks which pushes forth tender yellow-green shoots every spring in the plain of Creux de Libreux.
The novel opens with the following memorable lines:
For a long time the Count of Grandsailles had been sitting with his head resting on his hand, under the spell of an obsessing reverie. He looked up and let his gaze roam over the plain of Creux de Libreux. This plain meant more to him than anything in the world. There was beauty in its landscape, prosperity in its tilled fields. And of these fields, the best was the earth, of this earth and most precious was the humidity, and of this humidity the rarest product was a certain mud . . . His notary and most devoted friend, Maitre Pierre Girardin, who had a weakness for literary language, liked to say of Grandsailles, “The Count is the living incarnation of one of those rare phenomena of the soil that elude the skill and resources of agronomy – a soil moulded of earth and blood of an untraceable source, a magic clay of which the spirit of our native land is formed.”
These are descriptions a sensitive reader could discern as being very much in sympathy with Walther Darré’s vision of a Blood and Soil communality, that greatly influenced the ecological movements of the post-war era and assumed an almost mystical link between man in his natural state and the environment. Yet Dalí, a proponent of the ancien régime and a class-obsessed reactionary, saw in National Socialism – if one takes his novel at face value – only “sky blue eyes stained by the absence of mud, eyes sterilized and castrated by the savage cleanliness of fascist motor highways.”
His main protagonist exalts in the image of the invader’s “conglomerate of ignoble matter of the five factories – cement, rubber, tripes of cables, skeletons of rails, whirls of wheels and constipations of cast-iron being blown up in the flash of a single dynamite explosion. Sabotage! So that at last the myrtles and honeysuckle might grow again on the spot they had bloomed for three thousand years.” The author was clearly either ignorant of or, most likely, purposely ignoring the Green policies emanating from the German administration of the time, such as the Reich Animal Protection Act; the Reich Nature Protection Act, which facilitated the expropriation of land for the suitable habitation of wildlife; and the Reich Forestry Office, which ensured that foresters planted a wide variety of trees. These were sentiments very much in tune with his own, which are so clearly embedded in a text that includes passages such as, “There was nothing that could so lyrically arouse the fervor of Grandsailles’ patriotic feelings as the unwearying sight constantly offered him by the changing aspect of this fertile plain,” and:
Only a detailed study of the very special topography of this region, however, could satisfactorily make clear why these three elements of the landscape, so linked and constant, achieved such a poignant emotional and elegiac effect of luminous contrast in the plain of Libreux. From early afternoon the descending shadows of the mountains behind the Chateau would begin progressively to invade the wood of cork-oaks, plunging it suddenly into a kind of premature and pre-twilight darkness, and while the very foreground of the landscape lay obscured by a velvet and uniform shadow, the sun, beginning to set in the centre of a deep depression in the terrain, would pour its fire across the plain, its slanting rays giving an increasing objectivity to the tiniest geological details and accidents – an objectivity which was heightened even more paroxysmally by the proverbial limpidity of the atmosphere. It was as though one could have taken the entire plain of Libreux in the hollow of one’s hand, as though one might have distinguished a slumbering lizard in the old wall of a house situated several miles away. It was only at the very end of twilight and almost on the threshold of night that the residues of the reflections of the setting sun regretfully relaxed their grip on the ultimate empurpled heights, thus seeming to attempt, in defiance of the laws of nature, to perpetuate a chimerical survival of day . . . he would see the ancestral hope of perennial and fertile life rising from the deep black forest of the spiny cork-oaks . . . How many times, after long periods spent in Paris, when Grandsailles’ spirit would sink into the idle skepticism of his emotional life, the mere memory of a fugitive glimpse of his plain would revive him in a new and sparkling love of life!
Dalí evokes an almost Evolian-like disposition through Grandsailles’ views, thoughts, and actions. He is a man who reads the Annales de Démonologie, whose bible is said to be Beroalde’s Réve de Polyphile, and who uses love philtres from Laporta’s Natural Magic. The Count is a literary masquerade who is quite clearly a thinly-disguised fictional doppelganger of the Magus himself. Possessing a horror of all the rationalist and positive tendencies of the eighteenth century, the Count, Dalí writes, “had studied deeply the works of Albertus Magnus, Paracelsus and Ramon Lull, seeking their grandiose intentions everywhere in nature.” A would-be magician, the author, like his main character, is influenced by the old herbalist Guimet, and conjures Gilles de Rais-style spellcastings in descriptive passages such as:
The rigid chest rested on four little human feet with long, slender toes in the Egyptian style, sculptured in very shiny bronze. Grandsailles opened the two doors of the chest, the interior of which was empty except that one of its central shelves and within easy reach of the hand there lay a series of objects: at the left, a tiny child’s skull crowned with a delicate gold aureole, attributed to Saint Blondine . . .
. . . this whole collection of drugs and disparate objects of unknown usage appeared to her to give off a demoniac odour of sulphur, especially since on a certain morning while doing the Count’s room she had by come by chance upon an open book exposing an abominable engraving of a succubus scene that illustrated the treatise written by Durtal (an imaginary writer, the hero of Huysman’s novel, La-bas) on Gilles de Rais’ satanic practices . . .
Indeed, upon his return to Europe at the end of the war, it is widely rumored that Dalí himself underwent an exorcism at the hands of Friar Gabriele Maria Berardi in a secret ceremony in southern France, along with the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset.
Then, once safely ensconced again in the bosom of his beloved Catalonia, he became closely aligned with Francisco Franco’s regime. He met the Generalissimo on several occasions, receiving the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Isabella the Catholic in 1964; painted a portrait of his granddaughter Carmen Bordiu Franco in 1972; sent telegrams of support for the Spanish leader’s issuing of death warrants against political dissidents; and praised El Caudillo for “clearing Spain of destructive forces,” which was widely interpreted as an apologia for the regime’s taking revenge on those former members of the Communist, anarchist, and International brigades who had committed atrocities against priests during the course of the very bitter Civil War. His utterances clearly offended their Left-wing successors, who continued to carry out terrorist attacks well into the 1970s.
Dalí no doubt delighted in the fact that Franco was basing his centralized administration on the models set forth by the House of Bourbon, a royal line directly descended from the Capetian dynasty that had ruled France and Navarre in the sixteenth century, as well as the General Primo de Rivera y Orbaneja. Like the Italian architect laureate Paolo Soleri, the French painter Alfred Manessier, and British composer Edmund Rubbra, he became increasingly fascinated with a French philosopher and Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, author of The Phenomenon of Man (1955), where he postulated his Omega Point theory. The grandee of Port Lligat spent the following years luxuriating in the sumptuous wealth created by the Opus Dei technocrats who had devised the “Spanish Miracle,” which lasted until the mid-1970s. This was an economic system that patronized leading Falangist theorists such as Ernesto Giménez Caballero, author of Art and State (1935), who identified the Monastery of El Escorial as a symbol of what fascist art should be; the Franquismo familias and the Azul nacional-Catolica art and culture movement that supported writers like José María Pemán (The Minstrel of the Crusade), Agustín de Foxá, Luis Rosales, Manuel Machado (The Sword of the Caudillo), Eduardo Marquina, Vincente Risco, and Rafael Sanchez Mazas; social scientists like Ramón Carande and Luis Suárez Fernández; art theorists like Eugenio d’Ors; painters such as Carlos Saenz de Tejada and Fernando Álvarez de Sotomayor; and numerous architects and sculptors who would later design the Valle de los Caídos, where Franco is buried.
At the same time, Spain’s National Research Council (CSIC), along with the Supreme Council – whose spiritual patron was Saint Isidore, Archbishop of Seville – was adopting the Llullian tradition, an arbor scientiae, in its attempt to lead a cultural resurgence by implementing a policy of menendezpelayano. This literally meant identification with Catholic Spain, codified in the aphorism philosophia ancilla theologia, a term etched into the friezes above the porticos of its schools and universities. These were centers of learning that were being cleansed of the poisonous influences of faculty members like Eliseo Gómez Serrano and Amos Steel, and whose whole ethos was to recapture the momentum of the Reconquista, celebrating as it did the splendors of Spanish Imperialism through state-run media like the Prensa del Movimiento, newspapers like El Español, and Julián Pemartín’s Instituto Nacional el Libro (National Institute of Newspapers).
During this period, Dalí openly associated with the monarchists of Acción Española; figures like Pedro Sainz Rodriguez, Justo Pérez de Urbel, and Cardinal Goma, Primate of Spain, as well as Angel Herrera Oria, leader of the National Catholic Association of Propagandists; traditionalists like Romualdo de Toledo; and the Carlists and Juanists, who supported Juan de Borbón, the Count of Barcelona. As per his contradictory personality, he nevertheless continued to extol the merits of his old friend Lorca, from his days at the Regina Café back in Madrid – a homosexual whose advances Dalí always maintained he rejected – and avowed enemy of the Franco regime, attributing his sinful weakness for finery and extravagance to his supposed Moorish ancestry.
Indeed, it is clear that Dalí’s politics and personality had become so intertwined with the Franco regime by this point that he considered fleeing Spain after the fall of the government following Franco’s death in 1975. Only when the “Pact of Forgetting” was announced did he feel sufficiently reassured to commit to remaining in his native land, rather than deserting Spain for a second time. God only knows what he would have thought about the subsequent attacks on Franco’s legacy in the country, culminating in the government’s decision to exhume the General’s body from its resting place in September 2018.
Ironically, this was a fate Dalí shared when, in June 2017, a judge in Madrid ordered that his own remains were to be exhumed in order to establish whether or not he was the father of María Pilar Abel Martínez, who claimed her mother had been having an affair with Dalí while she was his maid. Needless to say, the comic opera that ensued would no doubt have given the depraved master jester some sense of sublime satisfaction from beyond the grave. And if one listens carefully, I am sure you can hear the familiar cackle of his mischievous laughter carried on the warm breeze from the Gulf of Roses, circulating over the red brickwork and giant eggs atop his mausoleum in Figueres.