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Dark Like Blood

The Evolution of Ecstasy

"His face seemed to reflect the entire distance across the clearing and on beyond,
the entire distance that extended from his eyes to the blank gray sky
that went on, depth after depth, into space" (118).

Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood (1952)


Points of Reflection

The Bible: Ecclesiastes 1-2

1. in what various ways does the author of Ecclesiastes, self-identified as the Jewish king Solomon, believe life to be vain or meaningless?

2. King Solomon, renowned for his wisdom, here questions the intrinsic value of that for which he is known (see 2 Chronicles 1:7-13). Is he suggesting that wisdom does not deserve its high place, that the faithful should pursue ignorance--avoiding education, observation, and meditation alike?

3. what sorts of "crooked" things in human experience might a wise person admit are, ultimately, incapable of being straightened (1:15)?

4. why might Solomon include "madness and folly" alongside "wisdom and knowledge" in his listing of the things he has studied (2:12-13)?

5. the movement of logic can be likened to the progress of a car with no gas in the tank, pointed along a street running down a steep hill. Once the car gets going, it can still slow and steer a bit, but there's an inevitability to its final destination given the pull of gravity. In other words, much has to do with the hill and direction one initially chooses. What was the initial, now discarded direction chosen by Solomon in his quest for meaning?

6. in recommending that one find enjoyment in work and one's daily meals (2:24-26), is Solomon recommending a fixation on pleasure--a kind of hedonism--or something else?

7. what role does God play in all this, from Solomon's point of view (2:26)?


Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood (1952), chp. 14 (119-31)

1. why is Hazel's landlady so uncomfortable thinking about blindness (119)?

2. what is Hazel's landlady after--why does she stick so closely to Haze? Does her motivation change over time?

3. by what kind of life philosophy does Hazel's landlady live (123 mid, 124-25)?

4. what act of penance does Haze take, an act which resembles what he did as a kid after attending a carnival peep show?

10. what does Hazel Motes mean when he maintains that the barbed wire's current location is "natural" (127)?

1. by what kind of life philosophy does Hazel's landlady live (123 mid, 124-25), and why does she stick so closely to Haze?  What is she after, and does her motivation change over time?

2. the landlady imagines the inside of Hazel’s head as radically different from her own, and laughs at what she is able to conjure concerning his cranium’s interior (123). Why?

3. why does Hazel wish to be blind once he’s dead, and what does he mean by the cryptic observation that, “‘If there’s no bottom in your eyes, they hold more’” (125-26).

4. what does Hazel mean when he tells his landlady that she’s “better” than those who believe in Jesus (124-25)?

5. what does Hazel Motes mean when he maintains that the barbed wire's current location is "natural" (127)?


Salvador Dalí's essay "Mystical Manifesto" (1951)

1. this essay elaborates Dalí's proclamation the year earlier that he has now fully embraced both Catholicism and classicism. In it, he declares himself a mystic born out of science's new interest in and recognition of the unknowable, one influenced by what scientific discoveries of the twentieth century (363, 365)?

2. Dalí identifies himself as one dedicated to "ecstasy" and hostile to academicism (363). He is apparently intent on achieving "mystical ecstasy" (364)--a "paroxysm of joy in the ultra-individualist affirmation of all man's heterogenous tendencies within the absolute unity of ecstasy" (365)--and on seeing the "immaculately corpuscular" (364), Does he provide any tangible idea of what he might mean by these enigmatic phrases?

3. Dalí looks at an art world filled with experimental modernism unconcerned with precision and preoccupied with abstraction (he salutes only the abstract art of Mathieu), and extols a precise talent like his own--one influenced by Renaissance artisans. Consider the paintings you studied for today's class--do they evince an enviable precision and polish?

4. what do Dalí's complementary claims that "Beauty is always the ultimate spasm of a long and rigorous inquisitorial process" and that "each rose springs up in a prison" suggest about his attitude towards self-discipline and effort?

5. does Dalí appear to be speaking to politicians, art critics, painters, or museum curators in this essay?

5. according to Dalí, the modern art of his peers is decadent due to what (365)?

6. in what ways does Dalí wish his Christ of St. John of the Cross (1951) to differ from Grünewald's Isenheim Altarpiece (1512-16)? See 365-66.


Salvador Dalí's My Wife, Nude, Contemplating Her Own Flesh Becoming Stairs, Three Vertebrae of a Column, Sky and Architecture (1945)

1. for many, this painting telegraphs Dalí's return to classical themes and styles. What elements of the painting suggest a Greco-Roman influence?

2. does this depiction of Dalí's wife (Gala) appear to celebrate her beauty? How does the recreation of her body as a piece of architecture in the background comment on her actual body's form in the foreground?

3. how does this painting compare, in terms of both content and aesthetics, with Gala, Nude from Behind (1960)?


Salvador Dalí's The Madonna of Port Lligat (1950-51, 2nd version of the painting, not the 1949 version)

1. does Gala serve as an apt model for the Virgin Mary? Do you think Dalí should have chosen someone else?

2. what lies within young Jesus' chest cavity, and upon what objects has he placed his hands?

3. recall that the white, perfectly shaped egg is a common motif in Dalí's work: what role does it play in this painting?

4. do any of the various objects placed around the central figures have symbolic significance traceable to the Bible?


Salvador Dalí's Christ of St. John of the Cross (1951)

1. prior to unveiling this painting, Dalí proclaimed in writing that he wished his "next Christ to be a painting containing more beauty and joy than anything that will have been painted up to the present. I want to paint a Christ that will be the absolute contrary in every respect to the material and savagely antimystical Christ of Grünewald!" (Mystical Manifesto, 1951). Do you believe Dalí succeeded in this aim?

2. given how freely Dalí inserts simulacrum like blood into some of his earlier, psychoanalytic paintings, what do you make of its conspicuous absence from this painting?

3. why might Dalí place Christ mid-air, against a space-like darkness instead of, say, hanging in space between the heavens (sky) and the earth?

4. does Christ's body appear alive or dead?

5. how many different sources of light can you identify?

6. what emotions do you think this painting is intended to provoke in the viewer?


Salvador Dalí's The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory (1952-54)

1. which elements of this painting originate in the Persistence of Memory (1931), and which have been added?

2. which objects in this painting have not been transformed into simple geometric shapes?

3. is the Great Masturbator motif, present in the original Persistence of Memory (1931), similarly prominent in this new iteration of the original painting?

4. if the theory of relativity helped shape "Persistence of Memory," can you identify a different scientific breakthrough that appears to shape this new version of the painting?



Christ of St. John of the Cross (1951)
Salvador Dalí



Dr. Paul Marchbanks
pmarchba@calpoly.edu