Gravity’s Rainbow

 

Gravity’s Rainbow is a 1973 novel by American writer Thomas Pynchon. The plot  is complex, containing over 400 characters and involving many different threads of narrative which intersect and weave around one another. The recurring themes throughout the plot are the V-2 rocket, interplay between free will and Calvinistic predestination, breaking the cycle of nature, behavioral psychology, sexuality, paranoia and conspiracy theories such as the Phoebus cartel and the Illuminati.

The novel’s title declares its ambition and sets into resonance the oscillation between doom and freedom expressed throughout the book. An example of the superfluity of meanings characteristic of Pynchon’s work during his early years, Gravity’s Rainbow refers to:

*the parabolic trajectory of a V-2 rocket: the “rainbow-shaped” path created by the missile as it moves under the influence of gravity, subsequent to the engine’s deactivation;
the arc of the plot. Critics such as Weisenburger have found this trajectory to be cyclical or circular, like the true shape of a rainbow. This follows in the literary tradition of James Joyce‘s Finnegans Wake and Herman Melville‘s The Confidence-Man.

*The statistical pattern of impacts from rocket-bombs, invoked frequently in the novel by reference to the Poisson distribution.

*The introduction of randomness into the science of physics through the development of quantum mechanics, breaking the assumption of a deterministic universe.

*The animating effect of mortality on the human imagination.

Pynchon has brilliantly combined German political and cultural history with the mechanisms of paranoia to create an exceedingly complex work of art. The most important cultural figure in Gravity’s Rainbow is not Johann Wolfgang von Goethe or Richard Wagner, however, but Rainer Maria Rilke, Captain Blicero’s favorite poet. In a way, the book could be read as a serio-comic variation on Rilke’s Duino Elegies and their German Romantic echoes in Nazi culture. The “Elegies” begin with a cry: “Who, if I screamed, would hear me among the angelic orders? And even if one of them suddenly pressed me against his heart, I would fade in the strength of his stronger existence. For Beauty is nothing but the beginning of Terror that we’re still just able to bear, and why we adore it is because it serenely disdains to destroy us.”

These lines are hideously amplified in the first words of Pynchon’s novel: “A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.” This sound is the scream of a V-2 rocket hitting London in 1944; it is also the screams of its victims and of those who have launched it. It is a scream of sado-masochistic orgasm, a coming together in death, and this too is an echo and development of the exalted and deathly imagery of Rilke’s poem.

Pynchon’s novel is strung between these first lines of the Duino Elegies and the last: “And we, who have always thought of happiness as climbing or ascending would feel the emotion that almost startles when a happy thing falls.” In Rilke, the “happy thing” is a sign of rebirth amidst the dead calm of winter: a “catkin” hanging from an empty hazel tree or the “rain that falls on the dark earth in early spring.” In Gravity’s Rainbow the “happy thing” that falls is a rocket like the one Blicero has launched toward London in the first pages of the book or the one also launched by Blicero that falls on the reader in the last words of the last page.

The arc of a rocket’s flight is Gravity’s Rainbow–a symbol not of God’s covenant with Noah that He will never again destroy all living things, nor of the inner instinctual wellsprings of life that will rise above the dark satanic mills in D.H. Lawrence‘s novel The Rainbow. Gravity’s Rainbow is a symbol of death: Pynchon’s characters “move forever under [the rocket]. . .as if it were the Rainbow, and they its children.”

 

Little Girl in the Big Ten, twentieth episode of The Simpsons‘ season 13 (May 12, 2002)

Lisa: You’re reading Gravity’s Rainbow?

Brownie: Re-reading it.

 

My Mother the Carjacker, second episode of The Simpson’s season 15 (November 9, 2003)

Mona Simpson read Homer Gravity’s Rainbow as a good night story. After Homer started to sleep Mona said “Thomas Pynchon you are a tough read”, before she also started to sleep

 

Gravity’s Rainbow is a song by the British band Klaxons, from the album Myths of the Near Future (2007). Pat Benatar also released an album called Gravity’s Rainbow after reading Thomas Pynchon’s novel

 

The novel inspired the 1984 song Gravity’s Angel by Laurie Anderson. In her 2004 autobiographical performance The End of the Moon, Anderson said she once contacted Pynchon asking permission to adapt Gravity’s Rainbow as an opera. Pynchon replied that he would allow her to do so only if the opera was written for a single instrument: the banjo. Anderson said she took that as a polite “no.”

 

New York artist Zak Smith created a series of 760 drawings entitled, “One Picture for Every Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Gravity’s Rainbow” (also known by the title Pictures of What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Gravity’s Rainbow)

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A Key Motif in Dior’s Fashions

Monsieur Christian Dior and his gardener, date unknown

 
 

The story began in 1906 in the hills above Granville in Normandy within the gardens on the property where the Dior family had recently settled. Around the villa, Christian Dior‘s mother built a lush garden from the ground up combining rare species of plants. It was young Christian who created and designed the rose garden. Throughout his life, the rose remained his favourite flower. It was key motif in his fashions (featured in prints, embroidery, brocades, etc.) and an essential note in his fragrances. Furthermore, the very name of his childhood home – les Rhumbs – is also a subtle reference to the rose: it defines the cardinal divisions of space, which in French is called ‘la rose des vents’, or windrose. Therefore, the rose, which was so vital to the life and work of the designer, has also become essential to Dior Jewellery collections such as Rose Dior Bagatelle.

Ever since, each designer at Masion Dior (Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano and Raf Simons) had followed the tradition of including roses in the collections for this iconic French brand, whether in prints, accesories or even on a showstopping stage.

 
 

Rose de France afternoon dress in taffeta with colored rose print, Spring-Summer 1956 Haute Couture collection, Ligne Flèche (Arrow Line)

 
 

Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Roses Mousseuses influenced the rose print

 
 

Carmen Dell’Orefice wearing Dior by Yves Saint Laurent. Photo: Richard Avedon, 1957

 
 

Madrileña Dress of floating pale gray faille, Dior by Marc Bohan. Alexandre of Paris coiffure. Photo by Richard Avedon for Harper’s Bazaar, December 1960

Venus in Furs and Gregor Samsa

Illustration by Rohan Daniel Eason

 
 

The name “Gregor Samsa” appears to derive partly from literary works Franz Kafka had read. The hero of The Story of Young Renate Fuchs, by German-Jewish novelist Jakob Wassermann (1873–1934), is a certain Gregor Samsa. The Viennese author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose sexual imagination gave rise to the idea of masochism, is also an influence. Sacher-Masoch (note the letters Sa-Mas) wrote Venus in Furs (1870), a novel whose hero assumes the name Gregor at one point. A “Venus in furs” literally recurs in The Metamorphosis in the picture that Gregor Samsa has hung on his bedroom wall. The name Samsa is similar to “Kafka” in its play of vowels and consonants: “Five letters in each word. The S in the word Samsa has the same position as the K in the word Kafka. The A is in the second and fifth positions in both words.”

It might make sense since Gregor Samsa appears to be based upon Kafka himself. As when Kafka suffered from insomnia, he feared he was repulsive and a burden to his family, during which time his sister was his caretaker.

A Miraculous Part of the Natural World

Stag Beetle, Albrecht Dürer, 1505

 
 

“It is indeed true,” wrote Albrecht Dürer, “that art is omnipresent in nature, and the true artist is he who can bring it out.” The Stag Beetle is one of Dürer’s most influential and most copied nature studies.

 
 

Stag Beetle, Hans Hoffmann after Albrecht Dürer, 1574

 
 

Georg Hoefnagel appropriate the Stag Beetle on not fewer than three occasions. Archetype studiaque patris Georgii Hoefnagelii shows close-up portraits of plants, insects, and small animals. It initiated at the time of its publishing in 1592 (Frankfurt) an immediate admiration of the art and nature lovers. The designs were created by Georg Hoefnagel and engraved by his son, Jacob who was said to be 17-years old at the time of the publishing (in reality he was 19-years old).

 
 

Singling out a beetle as the focal point of a work of art was unprecedented in 1505, when most of Dürer’s contemporaries believed that insects were the lowest of creatures. Dürer’s keen interest in nature, however, was a typical manifestation of the Renaissance. This beetle, rendered with such care and respect, seems almost heroic as he looms above the page.

Seen up close, the creature’s legs and spiky mandibles suggest its kinship to imaginary beasts in late Gothic depictions of Hell or the temptation of Saint Anthony Abbott.

 
 

Madonna and Child with a Multitude of Animals, Albrecht Dürer, 1503

 
 
Landscape with the Virgin and child seated at centre, several animals in foreground (e.g. dog, beetle, slug, butterfly, dragonfly, fox on a leash, frog, owl in tree trunk, spider crab), an angel addressing a group of shepherds in background at right, a bay with a city in background at left

In antiquity, insects had been included in trompe l’oeil and memento mori paintings to demonstrate technical virtuosity and as symbols of evil and death, while butterflies represented transformation and resurrection. Insects in themselves were considered unworthy of consideration as subjects for painting.

By the 17th century, the obsession with natural history —and with insects as a miraculous part of the natural world— took precedence, and symbolism was left behind. Insects became subjects of study and fascination. Dürer, as always, ahead of his time, brings his masterful draughtsmanship to his watercolor, of a beetle—which he considered a finished work of art, not a study. Durer’s realistic rendering of this humble bug is a tribute to the minutest in nature, that which is often overlooked or summarily destroyed, its importance lost to ignorance or neglect.

Fascinated by the Shape of Butterflies

“….I was practically born holding a pen between my fingers, I started tracing shapes which recalled women’s legs at an age when female anatomy was not at all interesting to me. Probably I was not more than five or six years old. I think that it all came from the fact that when I was a child I loved to leaf through the Paris fashion magazines my mother left scattered around the house: of course they had illustrations of women sometimes wearing lingerie or see-through negligées (…) I was fascinated by shapes, lines, graphic signs which lured my observing and precocious eye…”

Renè Gruau
1994

 
 

Undated Gruau’s illustrations

 
 

Eisenberg Originals Butterfly-Printed Tulle Stole, Evening Gown, 1951

 
 

Crescendoe Gloves Advertisement, circa 1954

 
 

Advertising for Cori, 1959

 
 

“A butterfly surrounded with a thick tissue of the Maison Givenchy, thus creating a beautiful costume especially for Audrey Hepburn.” International Textiles, edition of December 1966. The actress Audrey Hepburn portrayed by René Gruau in Paris (France), after the filming of How to Steal a Million (William Wyler, 1966), in November 1965. This illustration is also known as Lady Butterfly

The Personification of Human Soul

Woodblock prints by Mori Shunkei

 
 

According to Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, a book by Lafcadio Hearn that features several Japanese ghost stories and a brief non-fiction study on insects, a butterfly was seen in Japan as the personification of a person’s soul; whether they be living, dying, or already dead. One Japanese superstition says that if a butterfly enters your guestroom and perches behind the bamboo screen, the person whom you most love is coming to see you. However, large numbers of butterflies are viewed as bad omens. When samurai Taira no Masakado was secretly preparing for his famous revolt, there appeared in Kyoto so vast a swarm of butterflies that the people were frightened — thinking the apparition to be a portent of coming evil.

The Japanese director Masaki Kobayashi adapted four Hearn tales into his 1965 film, Kwaidan.

Glamouflage at Glastonbury

On 2013 Mick Jagger called on the help of his long-term partner L’Wren Scott to create his glittering outfits for The Rolling Stones’ Glastonbury and Hyde Park performances. Ensembles include a big gorilla coat covered in hand-embroidered ostrich feathers, and a black jacket decorated with colourful butterfly motifs, a reference to the hundreds of cabbage white butterflies that were released at the band’s first Hyde Park concert in 1969 – in memory of guitarist Brian Jones who died two days before the show. For Glastonbury, the annual music festival in the Somerset countryside, which the Stones played for the first time in June, Scott and Jagger took a more pastoral turn.

 
 

Sketch for Mick Jagger by L’Wren Scott

 
 

Jagger performing in the oak-leaf-inspired jacket

 
 

“We started to think about the Glastonbury show and I said to her that [I wanted] something very English — an oak leaf. That’s where we started from in the Glastonbury show, nobody [in the audience] realized they were really oak leaves [on the jacket] — but I did,” said Jagger.

Even if Glastonbury’s crowd of thousands didn’t (or couldn’t) notice every detail on the jacket, the design meant a lot to Jagger. “Yes, it’s important. Most people just think it’s a bright green jacket, but if you look you can see. Glastonbury is an essentially English event,” he said.

Scott said she had originally wanted to do something around a leaf motif for Glastonbury. “So I did some tests of embroidery of leaves and I showed [Mick] a drawing with an embroidery or visual attached,” she said. “He loved the leaf idea, and I said it’s kind of like a ‘glamouflage.’

“We were joking about the glamouflage at Glastonbury, and he said ‘Well I want it to be oak leaf.’ So if you look at it closely you see the oak leaves — it’s quite cool,” said Scott of the sequin-embroidered jacket in emerald green, khaki and black. “It just felt very right for Glasto, to open the show with a very outdoorsy feel — and the crowd was incredible.”

When There’s No Sign of Love in Sight

“The Heart is a lonely hunter with only one desire! To find some lasting comfort in the arms of another’s fire…driven by a desperate hunger to the arms of a neon light, the heart is a lonely hunter when there’s no sign of love in sight!”

Carson McCullers

 
 

Portrait of a Heart

 
 

Love is the Key

 
 

The Heartache

 
 

Set Your Heart Free

 
 

It Comes and It Goes

 
 

Digital artworks by Chilean artist Christian Schloe

From a Child’s and an Animal’s Point of View

“After The Sugarcubes, I guess I had a mixture of liberation and fear. It had been obvious for a while in the band that I had different tastes than the rest. That’s fair enough – there’s no such thing as correct taste. I wrote the melody for Human Behaviour as a kid. A lot of the melodies on Debut I wrote as a teenager and put aside because I was in punk bands and they weren’t punk. The lyric is almost like a child’s point of view and the video that I did with Michel Gondry was based on childhood memories.”
Björk
(Talking to David Hemingway about the song)

 
 

 
 

Human Behaviour was written by Nellee Hooper and Björk, and was produced by Hooper. The song was first written in 1988 when Björk was still the leading singer of the Sugarcubes, but she decided not to release it with the band. The song was inspired by David Attenborough documentaries and by the relation between humans and animals. Björk explained to Rolling Stone, talking about the inspiration for the song: “Human Behaviour is an animal’s point of view on humans. And the animals are definitely supposed to win in the end.So why, one might ask, is the conquering bear presented as a man-made toy? I don’t know. I guess I just didn’t think it would be fair to force an animal to act in a video. I mean, that would be an extension of what I’m against. I told him [Gondry], ‘I want a bear and textures like handmade wood and leaves and earth, and I want it to seem like animation.’ Then I backed out.” On a recent question and answer session with fans on The Guardian website, Björk revealed more information about the writing of the song: “I wrote it I was referring to my childhood and probably talking about how I felt more comfortable on my own walking outside singing and stuff than hanging out with humans…”

 
 

 
 

This is the first song on the “Isobel song cycle”, a transcendental cycle in Björk’s discography which goes from Human Behaviour to Wanderlust (2007). Human Behaviour bears influences from electronica, alternative rock and alternative dance. The melody-line of Human Behaviour was originally called Murder for Two and written by Björk for the Sugarcubes’ final album Stick Around for Joy. But The band didn’t know what music to play to the melody-line, so Björk used it for her debut album.

 
 

 
 

The music video was directed by Michel Gondry, and this was the first time he and Björk collaborated. The video is a loose take on the children’s tale “Goldilocks and the Three Bears“, with visuals inspired by Yuri Norstein‘s animated film Hedgehog in the Fog. The video has several elements that are present in Gondry’s first feature film Human Nature.

Roseland Ballroom

“A stranger took this picture of me in 2008 on the LES in NY, before I was ever a star. We found him and used that same photo for my Roseland poster.”

 
 

Lady Gaga Live at Roseland Ballroom was the first residency show by American singer Lady Gaga. Performed at the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan, New York, the residency show began on March 28 and concluded on April 7, 2014, after completing seven shows. It was the final event hosted by the venue after it was announced that it was being closed down and being replaced with a 42-story skyscraper. Gaga revealed that Roseland was the only venue in New York City that she had never played, although she had visited there previously to watch shows. A poster announcing the event was released, showing an old image of Gaga taken before the time she became successful as a recording artist.

 
 

Roseland Ballroom exterior, indicating the sold out Lady Gaga concert

 
 

 
 

As an homage to the venue, the stage was decorated with roses. The multi-leveled set-up consisted of New York City fire escape routes. Other parts of the stage had a ladder reaching the mezzanine floors and a replica of an F train carriage. Gaga’s wardrobe was also rose themed, with leotards, hats and jackets, and instruments adorned with red roses. The main set list for the show encompassed songs from The Fame, The Fame Monster, Born This Way, and Artpop. Some tracks were performed in acoustic versions.

 
 

LLady Gaga giving proper goodbye to Roseland Ballroom with Rose Inspired See-Through Outfit, March 28, 2014. She celebrated turning 28 wearing this kind of updated “birthday-suit”

Transformed into a Goddess

Cover art for Kylie Minogue’s Aphrodite (2010). Photograph by William Baker (British fashion designer, stylist, and author and theatre director).

 
 

Outtake for the cover art. The ultimate artwork of the album captures Minogue “transformed into a goddess”

 
 

 
 

The dark blue, metal-adorned, silk muslin gown Minogue wears on the cover of the album was designed by French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier. It was taken from his Spring-Summer 2010 Haute Couture collection. Gaultier had previously designed the costumes for Minogue’s KylieX2008 and For You, For Me tours

 
 

To promote Aphrodite, Minogue embarked on the Aphrodite: Les Folies Tour, beginning in early 2011. The tour was staged by the creative team behind Disneyland Resort’s World of Color show, and the budget of the tour was reported to be around $25 million. Concert shows were held at Europe, North America, Asia, Australia and Africa. Minogue’s costumes and wardrobe was designed by her frequent collaborators Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, owners of the Italian luxury industry fashion house Dolce and Gabbana. The concert shows were spectacles “loosely based around Greek mythology”

Spread Love Around the World

Robert Indiana on coach with Andy Warhol in Warhol’s studio, Vogue, March 1965. Photo: Bruce Davidson

 
 

At the helm of the Pop art movement were Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana. The two artists exhibited work together at the same gallery and even posed together holding their cats in a Vogue photo spread. Indiana has been a theatrical set and costume designer, such as the 1976 production by the Santa Fe Opera of Virgil Thomson’s The Mother of Us All, based on the life of suffragist Susan B. Anthony. He was the star of Andy Warhol‘s film Eat (1964), which is a 45-minute film of Indiana eating a mushroom in his SoHo loft. But while Indiana embraced Pop, the movement didn’t suit him in many ways. He wasn’t interested in the personality cults or media attention that swirled around Warhol, and Indiana shied away from the sex, drugs, and fame.

 
 

 
 

Indiana first public commission—a 20-ft.-tall, light-studded “EAT” sign for the 1964 New York World’s Fair—referenced his mother’s years working in roadside diners, as well as her last words to him, “Did you have something to eat?” But the flashing EAT sign so resembled familiar cafe signage that people flocked to it, assuming it was a restaurant. It wasn’t the last time Indiana’s work would become simultaneously popular and misunderstood.

 
 

Book of Love Poems, printed in 1996

 
 

Robert Indiana’s experiment with LOVE started in 1958, when he began playing with poetry, placing the letters “LO” above “VE.” He translated the idea into paintings, and in 1965, he hit pay dirt when the Museum of Modern Art commissioned him to do a version of LOVE for a Christmas card. His simple composition of vibrant red letters against a green and blue background became one of the museum’s most popular items.

The first serigraph/silk screen of Love was printed as part of an exhibition poster for Stable Gallery in 1966. A few examples of the rare image, in bold blue and green with a red bottom announcing “Stable May 66” are known to exist. Twenty-five of these, without the red announcement, were signed and dated on the reverse by Indiana. Sculptural versions of the image have been installed at numerous American and international locations. In 1977 he created a Hebrew version with the four letter word Ahava (אהבה “love” in Hebrew) using COR-TEN steel, for the Israel Museum Art Garden in Jerusalem, Israel.

 
 

In time for the holidays, the O of the famous love sculpture by Robert Indiana was lowered. November 29, 1971.

 
 

Although it wasn’t a critical success, LOVE was so popular with the general public that NBC televised the exhibition. In an era of love-ins and peace protests, the image struck a nerve with the spirit of the 1960s. Hippies were all about love, and for the next decade, so was Robert Indiana.

As Indiana’s LOVE spread, his name didn’t. “Everybody knows my LOVE,” he told an interviewer in 1976, “but they don’t have the slightest idea what I look like. I’m practically anonymous.” Because Indiana hadn’t wanted to disrupt his initial design with his signature or a copyright notice, he had no legal protection against imitators. He also enjoyed little financial gain as his image was ripped off in countless ways. One company sold a line of cheap cast aluminum LOVE paperweights in bookstores on college campuses; another offered LOVE and HATE cufflinks. As the number of parodies increased, Indiana eventually copyrighted some variants of his creation. But by that time, it was too late to file suit against the flood of false LOVEs on the market.

Indiana’s best known image is the word love in upper-case letters, arranged in a square with a tilted letter O. The iconography first appeared in a series of poems originally written in 1958, in which Indiana stacked LO and VE on top of one another. Then in a painting with the words “Love is God”.

LOVE is an iconic Pop Art image by American artist Robert Indiana. It consists of the letters LO over the letters VE; the O is canted sideways so that its oblong negative space creates a line leading to the V. Its original rendering in sculpture was made in 1970 and is displayed in Indiana at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The material is COR-TEN steel Indiana’s LOVE design has since been reproduced in a variety of formats for rendering in displays around the world. Versions of the sculpture now exist in Hebrew, Chinese, Italian and Spanish as well as the original English.

MoMA historian Deborah Wye describes Indiana’s image as “full of erotic, religious, autobiographical, and political underpinnings” that make it “both accessible and complex in meaning. Megan Wilde offered more detail about the autobiographical origins in an article for Mental Floss magazine, “The word love was connected to [the artist’s] childhood experiences attending a Christian Science church, where the only decoration was the wall inscription God is Love. The colors were an homage to his father, who worked at a Phillips 66 gas station during the Depression.” She quotes Robert Indiana as describing the original colors as “the red and green of that sign against the blue Hoosier sky.”

 
 

Rage_Against_The_Machine-Renegades-Frontal

oasis she is love

 
 

The image has been rendered and parodied in countless forms. The original book cover for Erich Segal‘s novel Love Story alluded to the design, and the TV series Bridget Loves Bernie included a shot of the Sixth Avenue sculpture in its opening credits. The United States Post Office issued an eight-cent stamp in 1973 featuring the image. Parodies of the image appeared on covers of records by Rage Against the Machine (Renegades), Oasis (Little by Little single) and Acen (75 Minutes). Evan Greenfield’s sculpture “I’m Lovin’ It” alludes to Indiana’s image.

The first serigraph/silk screen of Love was printed as part of an exhibition poster for Stable Gallery in 1966. A few examples of the rare image, in bold blue and green with a red bottom announcing “Stable May 66” are known to exist. Twenty-five of these, without the red announcement, were signed and dated on the reverse by Indiana. Sculptural versions of the image have been installed at numerous American and international locations. In 1977 he created a Hebrew version with the four letter word Ahava (אהבה “love” in Hebrew) using COR-TEN steel, for the Israel Museum Art Garden in Jerusalem, Israel.

 
 

In 1995, Indiana created a “Heliotherapy Love” series of 300 silk screen prints signed and numbered by the artist, which surrounds the iconic love image in a bright yellow border. These prints are the largest official printed version of the Love image.

The Spilling Seed on Dali’s Kingdom

In that privileged place, reality and the sublime dimension almost come together. My mystical paradise begins in the plains of the Empordà, is surrounded by the Alberes hills, and reaches plenitude in the bay of Cadaqués. This land is my permanent inspiration. The only place in the world, too, where I feel loved. When I painted that rock that I entitled The Great Masturbator, I did nothing more than render homage to one of the promontories of my kingdom, and my painting was a hymn to one of the jewels of my crown.”

Salvador Dalí

 
 

The Great Masturbator, Salvador Dalí, (1929). He painted it just before meeting Gala. His needs in Paris by that time became his grief. It’s a self-portrait where their sexual desires and fears are reflected. By then Dalí was still a virgin.

 
 

The center of the painting has a distorted human face in profile looking downwards, based on the shape of a natural rock formation at Cap de Creus along the sea-shore of Catalonia. A similar profile is seen in Dalí’s more famous painting of two years later, The Persistence of Memory and other works from that period.

 
 

Portrait of Paul Eluard (1929)

 
 

The Lugubrious Game (1929)

 
 

The Enigma of Desire (1929)

 
 

The Persistence of Memory (1931)

 
 

Section of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights

 
 

Comparisons have been made to Hieronymus Bosch‘s The Garden of Earthly Delights. The Great Masturbator is similar to an image on the right side of the left panel of the The Garden of Earthly Delights composed of rocks, bushes and little animals resembling a face with a prominent nose and long eyelashes.

 
 

Section of The Great Masturbator

 
 

A nude female figure (resembling Dalí’s then new muse, Gala) rises from the back of the head; this may be the masturbatory fantasy suggested by the title. The woman’s mouth is near a thinly clad male crotch, a suggestion that fellatio may take place. The male figure seen only from the waist down has bleeding fresh cuts on his knees. Below the central profile head, on its mouth, is a locust, an insect of which Dalí had an irrational fear. (The insect has sometimes been misidentified as a grasshopper due to poor translations of Dalí’s early writings.) A swarm of ants (a popular motif in Dalí’s work) gather on the locust’s abdomen, as well as on the prone face. In the landscape below, three other figures are arranged, along with an egg (commonly used as a symbol of fertility) and sparse other features. Two of the characters in the landscape are arranged in such a way as to cast a long single shadow, while the other character is seen hurriedly walking into the distance on the peripheries of the canvas.

The painting represents Dalí’s severely conflicted attitudes towards sexual intercourse. In Dalí’s youth, his father had left out a book with explicit photos of people suffering from advanced untreated venereal diseases to “educate” the boy. The photos of grotesquely damaged diseased genitalia fascinated and horrified young Dalí, and he continued to associate sex with putrefaction and decay into his adulthood.