The paranoiac critical method of Dali is an attempt to systematize irrational thought. The average person works arduously, from childhood, to construct a system of symbols to serve as a buffer between naked experience and complete abstraction. Events occur, ideas pondered, and the filter helps to decide which items in this “heavy and monotonous rain” of stimuli are necessary for directed, purposeful behavior. This filter is a library of archetypes that may be consulted in order to conserve time and effort during a given perception. As before, “sitting on thing = chair.” Given this, we may likewise examine stimuli in an attempt to negate. For example, if the archetypes we have developed pronounce a series of arguments sound or a particular response rational, these same archetypes help to sniff out that which is unsound or irrational. Dali wished to develop a system of inquiry which would account for the irrational independent of what was thought rational—a means by which an irrational notion might be identified without benefit of an archetype for “rationality.”
A more general formalism was necessary. The Paranoiac Critical Method was an attempt to draw attention to weakness in the notions of Perception, Conception, and Understanding. As is often the case, a more general model may be constructed by first exploiting specific weaknesses in a previous model. This is how Reimann defeated Euclid and so helped Einstein upstage Newton.
Paranoia is a “personality disorder characterized by systematic delusions.” What are our archetypes, in all their artificial and affected glory, if not delusions? The reason a person encountering a chair may function without being exhausted by questions of chairish nature, That Which is Chair, and that more chairish than which none can be imagined, is that the chair template has been fully accepted and incorporated into the library of functional archetypes. The fact that a person may be incorrect in a perception indicates that the templates are incomplete (if they were wholly correct in all contexts, they would, of course, no longer be symbols).
The Paranoiac Critical Method is remarkably successful as a perceptive tool. This may not be recognized or appreciated by the casual reader or viewer of Dali’s work. Again, it is very easy to dismiss a single comment, taken out of context, as the nonsensical spurting of an idiot. However, Dali most often wrote in painfully explicit terms. In light of the Paranoiac Critical nature of the writings, their meaning becomes clear. (This will be examined in greater detail later.) Often , in his diaries, he would explicate earlier pieces.
When asked why the centaurs in his painting, Marsupial Centaurs, were riddled with holes, he replied, “The holes are like parachutes, only safer.” This response is often used as an example of Dali being Dali, purposefully obscure, self-absorbed, and downright snotty. The reader might interpret this comment as a nose thumbing, coupled with an “If you don’t know why the holes are there, you Philistine, I will never tell you.” The fact is, however, that Dali is simply stating the reason for the holes, which upon examination, becomes unmistakable, true to its Paranoiac Critical ancestry.
The need for the holes stems from Dali’s fixation on the “intrauterine paradise.” This notion was prevalent in many of his paintings, writings, sculptures, etc. He claimed to be able to recall colors and images from his career in the womb and drew, from that prenatal, but apparently not pre-artistic, period, his famous “eggs without pan” images. The eggs without pans are most likely simply oneiric images, which the reader may reproduce by rubbing the eyes and observing the various plays of light and shadow. The lucky reader may chance upon the combination of pressure and motion which causes the eyes to erupt into showers of color, concentric rings of light, and the like.
A fundamental desire in Man, according to Dali, is to return to the womb, with its safety and utter lack of affectation. When bellybound, ,the fetus has no choice but to experience completely. The path that the fetus takes to enter the world, an ignoble and abrupt descent through the birth canal, is responsible for a mass of human discomfort and unhappiness. How can one be expected to function with complete ease in any environment with which one is unfamiliar, and into which one is simply ejected?
Man, seeking to regain the composure of the intrauterine paradise, endeavors to recreate the experiences therein in a number of ways. Those germane to this discussion mimic the actual descent into the maelstrom. The most common is sleep. When dreaming, one may operate relatively free of the stresses imposed by the actual environment. Sleep is, in this way, an analog of the womb. This notion is not new, of course. It is treated visually by Dali in his painting “Mask of Sleep.” The figure in the picture is a woefully distorted and distended human face, attached to a vanishingly small body. The dozing head is held aloft by a series of crutches, another of Dali’s fetish objects. We recognize then, that the comfort of sleep is imperfect, for the danger of the fall is still present, and perhaps unavoidable.
Some mimic the fall more literally. Dali considered the popularity of skydiving, particularly the fascination with W.W.I paratroopers, a result of the desire to address the nature of falling. By falling from a high place, one might not only examine the fall, but face the consequences impact, generally resulting in the big sleep. (This is also a womb analog, albeit a more permanent and gruesome one.) These activities, however dangerous and confusing, were a means by which the individual could learn to cope with the world into which he had been cast. In the best of all possible worlds, the womb would be a more gracious host, allowing entry and exit at will, such that the child might return in times of confusion or trouble, until complete acclimation had been attained. The child, completely capable of interacting seamlessly with this new terrain would be spared the stress of the abrupt birth. The holes in the centaurs are these open wombs. Through them the young centaurs are able to learn about the world without having to live there full-time, and without the threat of impact—like parachutes, only safer.