When I was running university film societies in the 1970s and early 1980s, I considered Roman Polanski’s Chinatown the best film made in the 1970s. I don’t know what I would think today because I haven’t seen it for three decades. And I still consider Rosemary’s Baby one of the best horror movies ever made.
I mention this because good artists are not necessarily good people and bad people are not necessarily bad artists.
The first writer I encountered who explored this issue was George Orwell in his essay on Dali. The essay is also memorable because its second sentence contains one of Orwell’s most resonant ideas: “any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.”
Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats. However, even the most flagrantly dishonest book (Frank Harris’s autobiographical writings are an example) can without intending it give a true picture of its author. Dali’s recently published Life [The Secret Life of Salvador Dali (The Dial Press, 1942)] comes under this heading. Some of the incidents in it are flatly incredible, others have been rearranged and romanticised, and not merely the humiliation but the persistent ordinariness of everyday life has been cut out. Dali is even by his own diagnosis narcissistic, and his autobiography is simply a strip-tease act conducted in pink limelight. But as a record of fantasy, of the perversion of instinct that has been made possible by the machine age, it has great value.
Here, then, are some of the episodes in Dali’s life, from his earliest years onward. Which of them