The Persistence of Memory and the Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory

"It needs to be said that as soon as and for all art critics, artists ... that they need to expect nothing from the brand-new surrealist images however frustration, distaste, and repulsion ... the brand-new images of surrealism need to come increasingly more to take the types and colours of demoralization and confusion ... the desperate activity of these brand-new images ... will come to follow the totally free bent of desire at the exact same time as they are strongly repressed."
- Salvador Dali


Understanding Salvador Dali's artworks would require a different set of abilities in order to check out both the kind and material of his works.

Probably, art criticism is faced with difficulty when the art critic anticipates something from the images from the very start. As Dali himself mentioned, the images would take on a various significance and is capable of representing both expression and repression.

This essay looks for to present two of Dali's paintings: (a) the Perseverance of Memory; and (b) the Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory After presenting the type and material of both artworks, the paper tries to understand Dali in a manufactured type by comparing and contrasting his 2 works.

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Moreover, each painting is described in specific categories such as proportion, area, significance and symbolisms.

Checking out the Determination of Memory.

One just needs to take a glimpse at this artwork and it will definitely be indelibly engraved into the person's memory. It can be stated that the title explains the experience of having a look of the painting.

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The painting is like a dreamscape or a various world completely, a world where ants are drawn in to a metal item and watches are soft and practically fluid. In the middle of the painting, is an indistinguishable figure which requires to be closely scrutinized and therefore becomes a face of a person emerging from the ground. The painting graphically shows the fluidity of time and the perseverance of human brainpower.

The Museum of Modern art describes time and decay themes of the artwork: “Permanence goes with it: ants, a common theme in Dali's work, represent decay, particularly when they attack a gold watch, and become grotesquely organic. The monstrous fleshy creature draped across the painting's center is at once alien and familiar: an approximation of Dali's own face in profile, its long eyelashes seem disturbingly insectlike or even sexual, as does what may or may not be a tongue oozing from its nose like a fat snail.”

If we are to look into the painting with traditional eyes, one can deduce that the elements and the figures in the artwork are completely unrelated. However, the surrealism embedded in Dali’s painting enables it to have seemingly incongruous elements that become surprisingly harmonious—three timepieces, an ubiquitous portrait, the metal-eating ants—with the rocky cliffs and the ocean landscape. While the portrait is peculiar in its representations, the different interrelationships of the elements are fitting. Thus, the open form of the Persistence of Memory presents the interaction of elements with the surrounding space.

Another important aspect of Dali’s unprecedented representation in the Persistence of Memory is in the textures applied. The attention on the fluidity and thawed-ness of watches presents a very light-textured presence of time. Limping watches show the fluidity and continuity of time itself and challenges the viewer to juxtapose the hardness with the softness of the elements in Dali’s work.

The hard surface interacts with the limping watch insofar as showing that time is bent. The vastness of the landscape is represented as a rough and solid surface giving the impression that the persistence of memory, while timepieces are melting, is still founded on something stable, uniform and orderly. Furthermore, the landscape and the lighting are the only symmetrical elements within the painting, although both the landscape and the lighting are subtly hidden to give emphasis on asymmetrical elements that are focal points in Dali’s work.

The Persistence of Memory has, within it, a mélange of different images and representations in one artwork. While the artwork boasts of its multiplicity—a landscape, an abstract, a self-portrait—much emphasis has been given to the timelessness of the soft watches. The artist deliberately attacks viewers with discomfort while looking into the artwork.

The human mind looks for clues or contexts in understanding the world we move in and since understanding is experiential and contextual, the viewer is challenged by the artwork’s divorce from common notions of normality. “The viewer’s anxiety is fermented precisely through the lack of clues of distance, of recognizable landmark, of time of day, of temperature—it could equally be as hot, or as cold, as an unknown planet.”

Aside from the ‘normal’ landscape, the only other recognizable entity in the Persistence of Memory is the watches. And even these timepieces themselves carry elements of discomfort and disgust with their soft and limping characteristic. The watches presents both rhythm and variety since it helps us move into the focal point of represented by time and yet shows the variety of possibilities with time’s omnipresence itself. The melted-ness of watches is also different and almost showing us time’s continuum of past, present and future in one.

Barely recognizable and sporting an eerie feeling, the portrait within the dreamscape makes it a nightmare for viewers. The self-portrait in the image makes use of subordination, and yet its presence remains a distraction in the middle of the artwork. It is the least recognizable entity given the limited experiential and contextual clues it present the viewer.

To recapitulate, the painting Persistence of Memory has is a mélange of different images and representations in one artwork. The approach used to signify the content of the imageries is one of asymmetry in such a way that it challenges, asks and reaffirms the persistence of memory in the minds of the viewer and the society.

Looking into the Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory

The Persistence of Memory depicts Dali’s critique of memory during the time it was created. After 20 years, Dali re-invented the Persistence of Memory in his creation the Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory. In this work, Dali built on the ideas of his prior painting and added elements to form another critique of his milieu.

The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory espouses objects found on the first artwork namely: the soft watches, the cliffs at the horizon, the self-portrait at the middle of the painting, the confusing alliance of day and night, among others. Yet, it is an entirely new painting built on social evolutionary changes during that time. In this new work, Dali presented the ideas of the old and that the imageries he previously construed were flooded and that some of the objects are submerged underwater.

The stable and solid landscape is deconstructed and now composed of geometrically perfect bricks that are uniformly distanced and levitating without any support holding them. Interestingly, the three soft watches are depicted in different areas such that one is above the water, the second one is floating on water and the third watch is submerged under water. The tree, present in the Persistence of Memory, is also now disintegrating and fragmented.

In the Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, the interaction of the elements is in a more closed form. Here the mélange of elements interact albeit more disjointed than united. The variety of objects are still coherently the same—softness and hardness, natural and man-made objects, ethereal and normally occurring objects are all juxtaposed against each other to create the message of time’s presence.

Although the artwork as a whole is asymmetrical, certain elements are symmetric such as the presence of floating geometric figures such as bricks and cylindrical objects that are lined up and hovering on the landscape. The parallel formation of these geometric figures gives off the impression of symmetry to the viewer in such a way that the contextual and experiential understanding of the viewer can be anchored on something comprehensible (i.e. bricks) in a painting barely gripping sanity and normative art.

The bricks shown in a perspective view turn the viewer’s attention away from it, like an arrow pointing to a direction. The bricks perform an auto-subordination of itself, and invites the viewer to look closely to the focal point, dream-like elements in the artwork. Rather than becoming fixated to the normal geometric shapes, they point to the clashing elements that are un-normal. The symmetrical elements emphasize on the oddities of the asymmetrical. By employing a repetitive approach on symmetrical and geometric components, the flow and emphasis is highlighting the irregular, asymmetrical and ethereal objects that are of greater importance.

The soft watches are reminders on the pliability of time, yet at the outset, the presence of watches in different areas of the painting show that time can exist in three forms. The submerged watch aptly represents the past; it is distant and partly hidden under the disintegrated, geometric landscape. The floating soft watch represents the present where the person’s memory is clear and nascent. Yet the future remains floating above ground, beyond any person’s experiential reach since it has yet to transpire.

This linear principle of time—past, present, future—becomes insignificant in the overall representation of Dali. The critique implies that time is not of the essence in the disintegration itself. The orderly chaos of the geometrically fragmented land downplays the importance of time during Dali’s milieu. Essentially, time and space exist but the human experience, and the human persona per se, are all succumbing to death and decay. The disintegration points out a strong message that memory persists only to disintegrate into oblivion.

Compare and Contrast

The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory has double meanings. On the one hand, it symbolizes the disintegration in content, of Dali’s previous painting, namely, The Persistence of Memory. On the other hand, it refers to a disintegration of the way Dali conceptualizes memory, it is an updated representation of Dali’s previous idea of persistence of memory. While memory persists, it is not entirely grounded on the stable ground of the landscape but it is rather disintegrating with time and space.

From espousing a psychological worldview--where the human is at the core of the universe’s existence and his experiences and understanding are what makes reality itself, Dali’s critique of the person, time and space evolved into a materialistic paradigm of time and space. In the Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, the central image of the self-portrait takes on a more translucent form which represents that there is a shift from the importance of the personal, subconscious and psychological interpretation of the person towards a more material interpretation that signify the connections between time and space.

In the newly emerging paradigm of the time, Dali recognized that the psychological ramifications of the artwork is now irrelevant compared to the scientific and technological advancements that point out to the overarching importance of material reality in such a way that the subconscious and surreal are all subsumed under it. The subjective-experiential memory is connected to the objective-material-empirical disintegration.


The Persistence of Memory and the Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory are two of a kind artworks by Dali. The forms are almost identical and the surreal presentation adds enigma to an already tormenting idea of memory. While the forms are seemingly identical, the meanings and symbolisms have taken on a completely new meaning in the newer artwork. Here, the changes are not only personal to Dali, but are significant transformations of ideas, concepts and societies themselves.

While the surrealist tradition of Dali presents anxiety and confusion in the Persistence of Memory, it finds solace and resolve in the self-critiquing work in the Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory. The shifts seen in the two artwork transfigured Dali’s understanding from psychological-personal to a macro-level understanding of memory and reality.

Fanes writes: “We surrealists constantly discover in our systematic exploration of the new and sensational land of treasures that the totally unknown and vast terrain of the subconscious world and ‘concrete irrationality’ constitute for us.” This aptly describes the self-critiquing, evolutionary approach seen from Persistence of Memory and the Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, such that the subconscious world is incessantly explored to uncover truths about human and society.

Memory persists that an experience such as viewing both artworks become part of the viewer himself although it becomes volatile and is not uniformly nor orderly represented in the human mind. In the end, the experience and the memory that is registered within a person are entirely different concepts. Memory has its ants and flies, its own catalysts for death and decay and yet this memory is only a parcel of the human experience. Moreover, the persistence of the memory is subsumed in a larger phenomenon of disintegration, the death and decay of a memory is only one of the principles in a larger disintegration of its persistence.

Aksu, E. The Idea of Global Collective Memory: A Critique. Collective Memory and Collective Knowledge in a Global Age. Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. June 2007.
Dali, S. “The Stinking Ass,” in This Quarter: Surrealist Numbers, ed. A. Breton [New York: Arno Press, 1969], pp. 53-54.
Fanes, Felix. Salvador Dali: The Construction of the Image, 1925-1930. Yale University Press, p.101.
Museum of Modern Art. MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999.
Radford, Robert. Dali. Phaidon Press, Limited, 1997, p. 146.

Updated: Mar 15, 2022
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The Persistence of Memory and the Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory. (2017, Mar 28). Retrieved from

The Persistence of Memory and the Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory essay
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