Salvador Dalí’s Literary Self-Portrait: Approaches to a Surrealist Autobiography (Book Title)


Program Description:

Carmen García de la Rasilla’s Salvador Dalí’s Literary Self-Portrait: Approaches to a Surrealist Autobiography seeks to remedy the critical neglect that has affected Dalí’s The Secret Life since its publication in 1942 despite its popularity and its importance in the painter’s Surrealist outlook and oeuvre. Conceived by Dalí as an aesthetic manifesto and a grand explanation of his personality and life, it constitutes an encyclopedia of the themes, symbols, myths and obsessions that populate his writings and paintings. The Secret Life collects and arranges a web of literary texts in the formulation of its vision of the self and may be regarded accordingly as a late compendium of the Western autobiographical tradition. The book appears as a massive and encyclopedic exposition of the expressive possibilities of autobiography in contemporary culture; thus it can stand beside other twentieth-century creations that explore the limits and possibilities of major Western genres at a moment of profound transformation. Furthermore, The Secret Life constitutes another episode in Dalí’s lifelong presentation of a slippery and almost unreachable “convulsive” personality and it is designed to generate a labyrinth of contradictory interpretive options, to provoke a “paroxysmal reading” and to thwart traditional critical analysis. García de la Rasilla reveals the referential importance of the book’s major topics and motifs and locates them within the context of the Western discourse on the self. She analyzes its complex and intricate illustrations and examines the literary adaptation of Dalí’s pictorial devices. Her study also scrutinizes the process of production of the text and discloses the mechanisms that the artist employed to discourage close critical examination of his autobiography and frustrate readers and critics wishing to handle the story as a direct narrative of his life or a psychoanalytical confession. In addition, García de la Rasilla proposes a parodic interpretation that endows the reader with the ironic distance and perspective necessary to manage the apparent chaos of the text and to avoid the naïve, psychoanalytical and scandalized reactions of past critics from George Orwell to Ian Gibson. Salvador Dalí’s Literary Self-Portrait is a major contribution to the study of Dalí and Surrealism that will appeal to art historians, literary critics and Freudian scholars interested in autobiography and parody, in the Surrealist mechanics of creativity and in the connections among art, literature, and psychoanalysis. In addition, its clear exposition and accessible style open this study to a wider public interested in the mythical artist, his personality and his work.


Carmen Garcia de la Rasilla

Carmen García de la Rasilla is Associate Professor of Spanish language and culture at the University of New Hampshire. She has a Ph.D in history from the University of Valladolid and a Ph.D. in literature from The Johns Hopkins University and researches and publishes in both fields. Author of Salvador Dalí’s Literary Self-Portrait: Approaches to a Surrealist Autobiography (2009), her other publications include a study of twentieth century Spanish urban history and articles and book chapters on this subject as well as on comparative literature and Spanish Surrealism. She is currently editing a book on the Spanish historical novel and preparing a second monograph on the work of Dalí.

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