First Year Writing Seminar
22 February 2012
The Persistence of Memory
Salvador Dali’s 1931 painting The Persistence of Memory is a hallmark of the surrealist movement. Dali famously described his paintings as “hand-painted dream photographs” and The Persistence of Memory is a prime example of that description. The Persistence of Memory depicts striking and confusing images of melting pocket watches and a mysterious fetus-like structure all sprawled over the dreamscape representation of Dali’s home of Port Lligat, Spain. Dali uses strange images, color, and shadows in The Persistence of Memory to convey an abstract view on dreams, time, and reality.
Beginning in the 1920s the surrealist movement sought to present unreal and abstract representations of life by using elements of surprise and non-sequiturs. Dali’s The Persistence of Memory does just that. Perhaps the most recognizable and enigmatic aspect of Dali’s iconic painting is the assortment of melting, oversized pocket-watches. The first pocket-watch is draped over what appears to be a table. Growing out of that table is a barren tree trunk with a single protruding branch over which the second melting pocket-watch is draped. The final melting pocket-watch is draped over a strange, amorphous figure that appears to have an eye. The melting or “soft” character of the pocket-watches provokes much shock and confusion. The melting pocket-watches represent the uncertainty and irrelevance of human perception, specifically time. Similar to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Dali’s pocket-watches illustrate the superfluous nature of time in that although we as humans attempt to quantify it and understand it, time is actually a malleable function of surrounding phenomenon.
Dali uses ambiguity in The Persistence of Memory to evoke feelings of anxiety in the audience. The foreground of the painting shows an amorphous creature with a liquefying pocket-watch draped over it. The figure...