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philosophy of the Jaw
Pondering the Surrealistic Appetite of Salvador Dali
by John C. Welchman

Editor's Introduction
“The jaw,” wrote Salvador Dali, “is the best tool to grasp philosophical knowledge.” And indeed, as John C. Welchman explains in this essay The Philosophy of the Jaw, throughout his enthusiastic life Dali was to pursue food and drink as deliriously, and with as much relish, as he did surrealist painting. Yet he wasn’t simply ravenous. Rather, in Welchman’s opinion, Dali’s sensitivity to the endless allusions to food that garnished the avant-garde art world of the early twentieth century actually revealed the emergence of an “alternative esthetic” — one in which the optical appreciation of art was supplanted by the oral. Perhaps Dali himself phrased it best when he explained: “We find suddenly that it does not seem enough to devour things with our eyes…our anxiety to join actively and effectively in their existence brings us to want to eat them.”

John C. Welchman is Professor of art history and theory in the Visual Arts department at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of such books as Modernism Relocated: Towards a Cultural Studies of Visual Modernity (Allen & Unwin, 1995, and Art After Appropriation: Essays on Art in the 1990s (Routledge, 2001). In his spare time, John also travels the world and writes about culinary history. His award-winning cookbooks include Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook (Workman, 1989) and Terrific Pacific (1995), both co-authored with Anya von Bremzen.

Philosophy of the Jaw
Welchman’s delicious essay The Philosophy of the Jaw is excerpted here from a longer work on art, food, and architecture, entitled Dalí’s Edible Splits: Faces, Tastes and Spaces in Delirium. The full text is forthcoming in Eating Architecture, edited by Jamie Hortwitz and Paulette Singley (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003). Printed here with permission of the author, editors and MIT Press.

If only to bear witness to its uncanny scale and promiscuous metaphorical extension, I want to start closest to the mouth. At six, as he famously pronounced, Salvador Dalí wanted to be a cook, and in his early years he ate and drank himself around his native Catalan acres with the same delirious relish that drove his fascination for its fragrant landscape. From the beginning, his culinary dreams were often lined with Gallic nostalgia — as in his reverie of French gourmands serving seasoned woodcock flamed in brandy, or his vision (as crisp as a Manet still-life) of a glass of Pernod taken with a lump of sugar. But when his tongue found its groove, Dalí was a passionate advocate of the Catalan table. At Cadaques, where his fastidiously middle-class family spent their summers, he mused on the epic quality of the regional delicacies, those Homeric dishes (as he nicely termed them) like riz de langouste (lobster rice), dentos a la marinesca, rubellons a la llana (fresh mushrooms fried on thin sheets of metal), and beans with batifura (the Catalan blood sausage) mixed to disturbingly brilliant effect with chocolate and laurel leaves. In the winter, he would take brief leave from a feverish stint at the easel to down three dozen sea urchins, or “five or six chops fried on a fire of vinestalks”. For supper he recalls “a fish soup and cod with tomato, or else a good big fried sea-perch with fennel.” At Port Lligat, where he established his own bay-side summer house in the late 1920s, his truest friends were the fishermen sons of his surrogate mother, Lydia of Cadaques, whose feasts of freshly fried sardines he and Gala sometimes shared when they returned from a nighttime trawl.1

In later life — as his manner of living, tastes of all kinds, and pecuniary instincts became more self-consciously flamboyant — Dalí aligned himself with the culinary internationalism of French haute-cuisine. His cookbook, Les dîners de Gala (1973) is the final testament of this entente, combining the bombastic legacy of named dishes (“Salade composée selon Alexandre Dumas”), feasts, special galas and anniversaries (the menu for a “Dinner given by their Imperial Majesties, the Shah Aryamehr and the Empress of Iran in honor of their illustrious guests participating in the Celebration of the 2500th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Persian Empire by Cyrus the Great” [Persépolis, le 14 Octobre 1971] appears as a kind of frontispiece), gaudy 1970s color food photography, and promo opportunities for Maxims’ and other pillars of the aristocratic table.

By 1973, of course, Dalí’s work and persona had long been caught up in the dandified endgame of Surrealism. But traces of the radical disturbance he suggested some 40 years earlier between the economies of consumption, construction and representation still remain in Les dîners de Gala. This is most apparent in the first section, “les caprices pincés princiers”, which begins with a meditation on the ‘sado-masochistic pleasure’ of eating “cooked and living beings” (ascribed, significantly to “the Neapolitan, of Catalan descent, Giambattista della Porta”). Here Dalí finds a gastronomic confirmation “of our Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Rumanian Religion, i.e; to swallow the living God as is done in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.” 2 Cannibalistic consumption, the ingestion of one’s own kind, functions almost continuously for Dalí as the inevitable death-driven obverse to the notion of eating as healthy consumption. Alongside, and in competition with, the normative itinerary of food — starting with natural display and confected culinary reordering (preparation, recipes, menus), using the face as its entryway, the stomach as a locus of digestive incorporation and the bowels as an exit for the recipitation of surplus — Dalí sets up a logic of putrefaction, cannibalism and death. Even in a coffee table cookbook. Dalí was as scrupulous a connoisseur of drink as he was of food. His early temperance — “ half a tiny glass of chartreuse”, gingerly imbibed under his father’s watchful eye at Sunday lunches in Cadaques — gave way to the manic consumption of his student days and a number of alcoholic predilections that he never recanted. During his art school years in Madrid he took his first dry Martini at the Palace Hotel, downed brown German beers, accompanied by dozens of miniscule boiled crabs, and caroused around sundry champagne bottles in most of the hoteleries of note. As for the robust wines of Emporda, these for Dalí were so earthily vivid that he imagined in them “the sentimental prickling taste of tears.”3

From the mouth to the palette is a miniscule journey of epic proportions, beginning in literal transfer and ending with a profound recalibration of edibility. Dalí was the most sensitive of all the Surrealists to the number and nature of the transcriptions, reproductions, and allusions to food in the avant-garde art practice of the early twentieth century. A key passage in his essay on Surrealist ‘objects’ attends to the iconographic concentration of food-related elements in the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico:

The persistent appearance of eatables in the first surrealist things painted by de Chirico — crescents, macaroons, and biscuits finding a place among complex constructions of T squares and other utensils not to be catalogued — is not more striking in this respect that the appearance in the public squares, which his pictures are, of certain pairs of artichokes or clusters of bananas which, thanks to the exceptional cooperation of circumstances, form on their own, and without any apparent modification, actual surrealist articles.4

De Chirico’s work, then, announces the object-like modality of isolated depictions of food that appear in, but are also constitutive of, the communal social space of the ‘public square’. But Dalí bears witness to another representational register of food: “the predominance of eatables or things that can be ingested is disclosed to analysis in almost all the present surrealist articles (sugared almonds, tobacco, and coarse salt in Breton’s; medical tablets in Gala’s; milk, bread, chocolate, excrement and fried eggs in mine; sausage in Man Ray’s; light lager in Crevel’s).” 5 The object-like public presentation of food joins with its metaphorical annexation in Surrealist writing, revealing that for Dalí comestibles were clearly not just for tasting, or painting, they were also key elements in his creative process, and an integral part of his vision of the non-edible world that spun around him. Dalí’s Mediterranean nights were presided over by the “‘dying silver’ garlic clove of the incipient crescent moon”, and in a delicious Dalían metaphor, he even likened the work of his imagination to frying up the “mushrooms, the chops and the sardines of my thought.”6 “The jaw,“ he wrote, “is the best tool to grasp philosophical knowledge.”7

Formed at the conjunction of his experience as consumer, painter, object-maker and writer, by the early 1930s Dalí had worked up his own analytic relation among these functions, predicated on a “sudden consciousness of a new hunger we are suffering from.”8 Edibility becomes the cornerstone of an alternative esthetic in which optical contemplation is supplanted by oral consumption: “As we think it over, we find suddenly that it does not seem enough to devour things with our eyes and our anxiety to join actively and effectively in their existence brings us to want to eat them.”9 The elevated status accorded by Dalí to edibility and ingestion is underlined by their association with the last of his four quasi-evolutionary stages in the development of the Surrealist object. Succeeding objects that function ‘anthropomorphically’, “dream-state articles”, and “articles operating symbolically”, the forth and most interactive phase is one in which “the object tends to bring about our fusion with it and makes us pursue the formation of a unity with it (hunger for an article and edible articles).” 10


1. These and other details of Dalí’s food obsessions can be found in Salvador Dalí, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí trans. Haakon M. Chevalier (New York: Dover, 1993), see pp. 132, 267, 270, 306 etc.

2. Ibid., p. 31

3. The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, pp. 184, 17.

4. Salvador Dalí “The Object As Revealed in Surrealist Experiment” trans. David Gascoyne (1932), reprinted in Lucy Lippard, ed. Surrealists on Art (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970), p. 97. Outlining the several stages through which de Chirico’s paintings passed — “the period of arcades and towers”; “the period of ghosts and omens”; the “mannequin period”; “the disappearance of structures and their replacement by “inanimate objects related to the role [man] played (as a king, a general, a sailor, etc.)” — André Breton concludes with another observation about the presence of food in the artist’s work: “Finally, these symbolic objects entered into the composition along with instruments of measurement — bearing an obvious relationship to human life except through the medium of dehydrated food, such as hardtack — and the great de Chirico cycle closed with the period of ‘metaphysical interiors’.” André Breton, “Genesis and Perspective of Surrealism in the Plastic Arts”, in André Breton, What is Surrealism?: Selected Writings ed. Franklin Rosemont (London: Pluto Press, 1978), pp. 221-22.

5. Ibid.

6. The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, pp. 243, 176.

7. Salvador Dalí, cited in Les dîners de Gala, p. 10.

8. Salvador Dalí, “The Object As Revealed in Surrealist Experiment”, p. 95.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid., p. 96.

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