The Phenomenon of Ecstasy

Phenomene de l’extase -Salvador Dali 1933
Salvador Dali’s arresting photo-montage The Phenomenon of Ecstasy which features the photographic studies of Charcot’s female hysterics, originally accompanied the artist’s essay on the irrational aspects of art nouveau architecture; in particular the buildings of fellow Catalan Antoni Gaudi, in the magazine Minotaure. His contention that “the repugnant can be transformed into the beautiful” through an ecstasy achieved by continuous erotic activity and that the sexual abandon resulting from hysteria leads to a transformation of perception in art, architecture and indeed modern life markedly shows the influence of the Symbolist and Decadent movements of the latter 19th century upon the Surrealists.

65 thoughts on “The Phenomenon of Ecstasy

  1. The kind of montage that grabs your attention. I had thought “hysterics” had a bad connotation, but I just Googled the definition, and it’s “exhibiting excessive or uncontrollable emotion.” So, ecstasy. I can imagine showing multiple photos of female pleasure in 1933 would’ve caused quite the controversy among viewers.

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    1. The decadents in France at the end of the last century were obsessed with the hysterics and were unbelievably misogynistic, so I tied that up with Dali’s montage which is both shocking and beautiful. Have a look at my posts under symbolism where I go into further detail on the decadents

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  2. I just read an article in the Independent UK, that “estacy” experienced by our male ancestors is an evolutionary incentive to keep a male attached/loyal to the same female to support their offspring. Since estacy is not essential to reproduction it has to have some other function. In this study which is about female expression, via the male’s rational gaze I think it’s classic psychological projection. Of course, I say this because of the use of the words “hysteria” and “repugnant” with “beautiful” female subjects. Men have always dominated sexual discourse so it makes sense that they would describe the female subject as irrational. I should also point out the implicit assumption that a woman enjoys intercourse. Anthropological studies have concluded that the female orgasm is completely irrelevant to reproduction or the formation of lasting interpersonal or familial bonds. Again, classical psychology and classical projection.

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    1. A lot of good points here. You have a certain divide because the Surrealists aimed for the irrational yet had a fear of it. In the Decadent imagination women are more natural, more instinctive and therefore more irrational. This was seen by the Decadents as both a source of strength and weakness. The experiments performed on female patients by Charcot are absolutely bizarre. Dali views are of course completely mad cap. The virulent misogyny of the late 19th century is a feature of not only the Decadents but also Strindberg and Nietzsche (least we forget his whip

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      1. Exactly. Are you put that was a belly full of laughs. Of course, I knew you were fully aware that there was some undertone of misogyny going on. I just couldn’t phrase it that way because my brain is right now still enjoying the snow pecan latte I just had at Starbucks.

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      2. The misogyny of the Decadents is very hard to ignore, though that doesn’t discredit their work in my opinion, it definitely has to be factored into account. That is a very fancy coffee, Decadent in a different way.

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      3. Error correction – Sorry, I meant “how you put that” was funny. I’m still trying to get Siri to behave himself. He is totally hysterical. I might have to whip him, Decadent style. Have a great Wednesday.

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      1. I want to preface this by saying, “for me”, I believe you can dislike an individual/artist, does that diminish the quality of their art? No, especially if you are able to take it in for the pure sake of art, in doing so it may even change your initial feelings about that particular individual/artist, example my buddy André Breton. When I look at the great artists, I believe they are one in the same, they are their greatest artwork, just as we spoke of Warhol, he himself was his greatest creation. But what do I know, I’m just a lowly artist.

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  3. I have this idea in the far reaches of my memory that the shape of one’s ears was once thought to be an indicator of intelligence. I’d have to go look that up. The 19th century while known for Victorian prudishness certainly produced some wild new ideas.

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    1. I think Dali was primarily referencing wars for the Freudian sexual symbolism, plus ears as the seat for balance, hysterics were unbalanced. A lot of similarities with today and the Victorian era, a cult of rationality and an inverse flight from reason. Rapid technological advancements and unprecedented social changes. A cruel and dogmatic upholding of laissez faire economics policy at the expense of people, most famously the British governments indifference in the Irish Potato Famine, all to adhere to the policy. The rise of extremism, both on the right and left. Thanks for the comment

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      1. Likewise. Come say hi when you have time. As for the ecstasy face…I think we all know how it feels, but to see a collage of it does highlight it as a very universal human moment, even as it feels very singular and personal.

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  4. You have made me look at Dali in a completely different way, certainly about the body parts, was aware in high art with regard hidden symbols not an expert on Dali, will do some research.

    Thank you

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      1. Excellent. Mine is mainly art, particularly Surrealism, Modernism and Symbolism and erotic art. Also books and movies. I also have my own stories and poems here as well, with great header image of nothing else. Thanks for the follow and hope you look around. I will visit you site tomorrow, it’s very late over here.


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