Jack’s Naughty Bits: Salvador Dali, La Femme Visible

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Jack's Naughty Bits

first grenade blast of absurdity in European literature is often thought to be
Lautrémont’s nineteenth-century description of a boy’s beauty being like a chance
encounter, on an operating table, of an umbrella and a sewing machine. The simile is
marked, outrageous, dizzying and virtually unprecedented (for long had Europe forgotten
Alain de Lille’s twelfth-century flights of fancy, or the outlandishness of Hildegard’s
reveries). Intellectual history is both made and unmade by eruptions such as these. For
empirical analysis is based on the belief that nothing arises out of nowhere, so how is one
to account for sudden change, for the seemingly radical rupture? There is no answer to this
question, only the endless search for influences. We are thus left to wonder how these
words — “a chance encounter, on an operating table, of an umbrella and a sewing machine”
— could enter, in 1873, into the mind of Lautrémont? How could he conceive of a
boy’s beauty being like that?


One answer would be to say that modernity was ripe in the belly of Europe.
Weltgeist had become ready for Manet, for a rebuilt Paris, for the birth of
Schoenberg and the automobile. But industrial revolution aside, I don’t believe that our era
is any more absurd than previous ones; it is only that our forms of expressing it make more
sense to us than any others’. It is with this in mind that we have to approach both
Lautrémont and his great admirer, Salvador Dalí. For the paradox that clear
expression facilitates the clear expression of the baffling is nowhere more tangible than in
these figures. In Dalí’s art, we are accustomed to the intersection of the absurd and
the sexual — my favorite is his mid-’50s Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by Her Own
— and in his writing this confluence is also common. Dalí was
horrified by sex but fascinated by masturbation, and his writings slither down the seam
between sex and death. Shit, piss, orifices and onanism slip and mutate together in that
atonal harmony that unites all Dalí’s disparate image pieces. I can’t say that the
excerpt below makes sense, and I doubt that it will be sexy to all people, but it is certainly
Dalí, and a different kind of entrée into the mind of modernity’s foremost
renderer of the senseless.

* * *  

From La Femme Visible by Salvador Dalí

translated by Yvonne Shafir, collected in Oui: The Paranoid-Critical Revolution

The second face of the Grand Masturbator

was smaller in size than the first

but his expression was proud and softer.

Shaved five days before

he had a barely grown moustache

ravaged reddened

slightly besmirched

with real shit.

This face was placed



the first

but at the end of the path.

Between the two Grand Masturbators

on a feathered pillow rested

an enormous frame


from an infinity

of miniscule sculptures

of vivid and varied colors

representing the William Tells.

Further away

beyond the second face of the Grand Masturbator


two large sculptures of William Tell

one made

of real chocolate

the other of fake shit

both with effaced mouths



one opposite the other.

The two faces of the Grand Masturbators, the enormous frame and the sculptures of William Tell, had the sort of relationship and were distributed in such as a way as to provoke a mental crisis similar to the one that can be produced in the mind by asymmetry, bringing about a false confusion with the topaz which replaces the eye in the sculpted faces, representing the moment of pleasure and an excremental heap.

Beneath the strange lukewarm


of two great William Tells

they were seeking pleasure

pissing over each other

at the same time

both of them.

Urine was boiling

on his chin

was still hot

under his armpits

was becoming lukewarm

at the origin

of the cunt

and was turning cold again

at the extremity of the thighs.

She was pissing

right in his face

urine was bubbling

in the middle of his chest

and only began to cool off

beneath the soles of his feet.

Their expressions were full

of the cold throng

of images


famous fountains


to the death principle

and fixed

from childhood

in the tide

of their unconscious


Behind the shoulders

of the simulacrum

under the apparent display

of two William Tells

a short

lane of fountains


the clear


of rotting donkeys

of rotting horses

of rotting cats

of rotting horses

of rotting mouths

of rotting chickens

of horrible rotting roosters

of rotting grasshoppers

of rotting birds

of rotting dead women

of anguishing rotting grasshoppers

of rotting horses

of rotting donkeys

of rotting sea urchins

of rotting hermit crabs

and in particular

of rotting chickens

and rotting donkeys

as well as rotting grasshoppers

and also a sort of fish

whose head bears a poignant resemblance

to that of a grasshopper.

© Yvonne Shafir