You know that feeling in the morning when you’re still exhausted and just can’t BEAR to get of bed? The alarm is pinging in your ears, thoughts of work are swirling in your imagination (oh no! The presentation is today!) and then suddenly you remember with a feeling of ecstatic, er, ecstasy….I HAVE A SNOOZE BUTTON!!!
Well, I don’t know when the snooze button was invented- although whoever invented it is surely one of the unsung heroes of the 20th century- but with his usual uncanny prescience I believe Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory” might contain a hidden message for snooze-button-aficianados everywhere. Here’s the painting, which you will recognize from museum gift shop teatowels worldwide:
As the MOMA website helpfully reminds us, this painting is indubitably about time. Note the melty clocks. But how come no one has suggested that this painting isn’t REALLY about time, it’s about sleep: how lovely it is, and how we really, really don’t want to wake up and go to work?
Firstly, look how happy Dali is! Yes, that weird squidgy figure with one eye is supposedly Dali himself. And I love how perfectly Dali captures that blissful feeling of sleep, whilst at the same time showing in a concrete way the weird detachment we have from our bodies when we doze. You know how sometimes our legs twitch or kick up? We’re not feeling part of ourselves. And here, Dali’s tongue dribbles out of his nose as he snoozes away.
Draped over his form is a blanket, but it’s not a blanket – it’s a clock. Ugh, that ever present reminder that we will have to get up soon. Similarly, a tree is holding out- like a butler I can’t help but think- another clock, draped like a towel (shower-time?) And then two more clocks: one draped over the edge of the table (perhaps representing an alarm clock) and the other, face down, appears to be a wind-up pocket watch of some sort – the portable watch we take to work (now called an I-phone). It’s swarming with ants, as if it’s a crumb of food. There’s a weird irony to ants being attracted to something so clean and shiny, but that just goes to show how much Dali hates clocks in the morning. To him, they’re crumb-like annoyances he’d like to brush off. And why is it face down? Maybe because Dali can’t bear to think about….work, or life!
It makes sense that these clocks are melting…in a half-asleep state time is humming round the edges of our consciousness, and their softness here crystallizes this idea in visual form.
But if we are in any doubt as to the ‘hidden’ meaning of this painting, look at the time on the clocks: five minutes to seven! Yes, folks, just like you and me, Dali only has five minutes to sleep until that alarm goes off! If snooze buttons had been invented back when Dali was around (HAD THEY?) he’d definitely be using it methinks.
Am I reading into this too much? Am I bonkers? I literally can’t read this painting in any other way, and yet I’ve never read a similar analysis. Let me know what you think!