The painting that I chose to compare to the novel Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka, was painted in 1937 by Salvatore Dali. Dali is an established Surrealist painter, who, like Kafka, explored his own psyche and dreams in his work. Dali invented a process, called the “paranoiac critical method”, which is used in this painting, to assist his creative process.
As Dali described it, his aim in painting was “to materialize the images of concrete irrationality with the most imperialistic fury of precision… order that the world of imagination and of concrete irrationality may be as objectively evident… as that of the exterior world of phenomenal reality. “1 The rich landscape, seems to be limitless in detail. Dali rendered every detail of this landscape with precise accuracy, striving to make his paintings as realistic as possible. In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a beautiful young youth, who fell in love with his own reflection, and then drowned while trying to embrace himself. His body was never recovered, but a flower, which was named after him was.
The left side of this painting shows the kneeling Narcissus, outlined by the craggy rocks of what could only be Cape Creus’s. On the right side of the painting, the scene has morphed into a more idyllic and classical scene, in which the kneeling Narcissus has become the statue of a hand, holding a cracked egg, from which emerges The Narcissus flower. This painting reminded me of the first chapter of Metamorphosis, where the main character, Gregor Samsa, first realizes that he is confronted with a ludicrous fate in the form of a gigantic insect.
In both Kafka’s and Dali’s work, I noticed that they both implement a certain “receding” technique. Dali tends to put an object (In this case, Narcissus) In the foreground, and the background of the painting tends to be very crisp and detailed, yet unimportant, compared to Narcissus. I feel the same way about Gregor, I see Kafka writing this story with mainly Gregor in mind, as the main character and narrator. Kafka puts this puzzled victim in the story as a clerk, yet that element of the story tends to receded in to the plot of the story.
In a way, this technique seems to intensify the scene, which later leads up to Gregor’s rejection by his family, and himself. Another similarity between this scene and the painting, is the fact that main character’s’ in the foreground, do not move, they only grow. Gregor did not get out of bed the first morning of his metamorphosis, yet he did change. In both halves of Dali’s painting, Narcissus’s position does not move, yet he also grows. What is interesting about both works is that they can both be perceived differently each time I see them.
When I first read Metamorphosis, I did not realize that Gregor was laying motionless in bed, until a second reading. I had a similar experience with Dali’s “The Metamorphosis of Narcissus”. I first saw this painting when I was on vacation in London four years ago, at a Dali art exhibit. My first impression of this was simply a man kneeling down in the water, who in the other half of the painting had a flower growing out of his skull, and there were people living around this huge statue’.
My second viewing of this painting, in the book Dali, by Robert Descharnes, allowed me to notice many more things. On the left panel of the painting, Narcissus looks more human, with long flowing hair, and a solid body. On the right panel, Narcissus can be viewed as either a human figure, or a hand growing out of the soil, which is grasping a blossoming egg. I also now notice that the civilization’ in the background of the painting has seemed to have advanced during Narcissus’es metamorphosis.
On the left, Narcissus kneel’s alone in the water, only surrounded by wilderness, as the painting progresses narratively from the left side to the right side, civilization seems to have advanced, human beings are present, there is a house at the base of the mountain in the distance, a statue in a courtyard, and there is a cow grazing in the field. With this description of the painting, the reader can hopefully grasp the most important similarity between both Kafka’s and Dali’s work, both objects, or persons, (Gregor and Narcissus) however you perceive them, go unnoticed, yet life continues to go on around them.
Both Gregor and Narcissus, in my opinion, are important because the are the center of attention of each piece of work, yet the world around them seems to go on without them, and improve. Both of these works insist that the audience take time to interpret and understand them. This is perhaps one of the most important reasons for my selection of these two works. Both stimulate controversy in their interpretations, and make the audience look deeply to find what they believe to be their purpose, or meaning.
Franz Kafka and Salvatore Dali were both great artists of their time, who consequently have both been said to greatly revolutionize their field, especially the latter. The difference between them as thinkers only lies in the implementation of their thoughts. Kafka chose to write about his thoughts and dreams, and Dali chose to visualize them on canvas. My comparison of Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Dali’s “The Metamorphosis of Narcissus” are important to Surrealism , because they are clearly both surrealist works which significantly took surrealism in a new direction.
Both were completed in the first half of the century, when the modernist movement began to progress, and both are symbolic of surrealism because they make the audience develop their own interpretation of the work. According to the Random House College Dictionary, Surrealism is a style of art and literature developed principally in the 20th century, stressing the subconscious or nonrational significance of imagery arrived at by automatism or the exploitation of chance effects…
I find that Kafka’s surrealistic style, although descriptive, is more blunt than Dali’s. Dali has an advantage over Kafka in this argument, since the audience is directly looking at what is in Dali’s mind, whereas we must visualize on our own what Kafka believes to be true of Gregor. Another advantage of Dali’s surrealism is that his color usage allows for a much easier depiction of Dali’s mood, as well as the narcissist portrayed.