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Salvador Dalí: The Genius of the Peacock

By Christopher Scott Zavrel


The beauty of the peacock is two-fold: When the gaze chances to land upon a peacock, it is struck first by the glare of a beauty, then by the apprehension of a sublimity.



The peacock has a special place in the history of the theory of evolution. Originating in the Himalayas, the peacock had few natural predators and a favorable environment. It is for this reason that it is believed that the evolution of the peacock was predominately directed by exigencies exerted within the species. The evolutionary forces dwelling within the Peacock were thus predominately directed towards reproduction, the result being the magnificent efflorescence with which we associate the peacock today.

Few are those with access to the unqualified Beauty--they are the saints and sages. Many are those with access to the multitudinous qualified beauties of this largely material plane of existence.

The beauty of the peacock is two-fold: When the gaze chances to land upon a peacock, it is struck first by the glare of a beauty, then by the apprehension of a sublimity.

The glare of beauty quickly fades, the work being tarnished by the ostentatious arrogance of egoism--"What beauty is this that gluts the eye, this beauty that betrays the arrogance of the creator's hand, the indulgence of the creator's mind?"

Such is the lower echelon of criticism of Salvador Dalí.

The sublimity of the beauty is the drunken "Why?" The essential beauty of the peacock is that its audacious beauty strikes us as incredibly extraneous.

When the peacock is beheld, contemplation is drawn as by hooked nose into the realization of one of the sublime secrets of Art: The greatest beauty is purposeless--it evades the stigma of pragmatism.

What of this stigma of pragmatism? Is there no such possibility for a pragmatist aesthetics? Antonin Artaud wrote in Theater and Its Double: "In Mexico there is no art--everything is made for use, and the world is in perpetual exaltation!" Artaud's hyper-idealized conception of Mexican society reflects the promise of a pragmatic aesthetics, not the stigma of pragmatism. Pragmatism is material purpose. Pragmatist aesthetics is the merging of the exigencies of the finite material aspect of the human condition into the infinite spiritual aspect of the human condition. "My purpose to live, thrive, and strive is to know the Divine--to know the Divine, I need give no purpose."

It need not be questioned whether humanity has risen or fallen--what matters is that the within each individual exists both ascending and descending forces and tendencies. Yoga philosophy refers to the "four primitive fountains"--food, sex, sleep, and self-preservation. These are the exigencies which we must address as the conditions of material existence. Yet as Jesus knew, when tempted in the desert, "Human beings live not by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." Satiety of the four fountains merely constitutes living--it is beyond bread that one begins to encounter life. This presents us with one possible understanding of asceticism - when one discerns the four fountains, and through the faculty of discrimination identifies the four fountains as being those tendencies which constitute the animality of the human condition--then one can undertake the task of unconditioning oneself of the conditions carnality. By consciously paring back from that excess which satisfies to that sufficiency which sustains, the space of interaction between the carnal and the divine once again becomes dynamic and perpetually renegotiated. By examining the degree of identification with material existence which is necessary in order to continue living, one confronts the bounds and consequences of this peculiar notion of living--dying.



Dalí and the Eye of Knowledge.


No, we live not by bread alone. It is for this reason that Art is essential to Humanity, as it is one of those rare practices by which an individual may pass into a deeper contemplation and finally taste of that nectar awakened, known only by most in their sleep. To those who gaze upon the peacock and see either a whore or dinner, Art is extraneous. To those who gaze upon the peacock and glimpse for a moment at the self through the eyes of iridescent plume, Art is revelation.

Those who look upon the art of Salvador Dalí with contemptuous disdain for his bombastic indulgence in technique, for his exulted arrogance, for his rampant egoism--even they concede that they look upon artistic genius. Those who look upon the Art of Salvador Dalí--they revel in the Genius of the Peacock.



Copyright 2005 Museum of European Art

PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin for Art, News, Politics and Science, Nr. 100, OCTOBER 2005