The relativity of time is beyond our ken; the concept is too vast. But the subjectivity of time is apprehensible to every child who has ever counted down the days till Christmas.
And it only gets worse as we age. The years lose their character and permanence once we've stopped growing. How is it possible that today begins a new year and yet another decade?
Salvador Dali's The Persistence of Memory has evoked much analysis, including some by the artist himself. Freud and Einstein are noted as influences, but so are Bellini, Chirico, Proust, Adler, masturbation, camembert cheese, and the Spanish Civil War. Every part of this small canvas is scrutinized for meaning: the sand and the hourglass shaped ants, the amorphous mass washed upon the beach which may be a self portrait, the dead olive tree, the plinth and the platform, the sea and the rocks of Port Lligat. But most of all, we look at the watches: three are limp like dead fish, and soft but pointed like tongues; one is closed up like a clam.
It is to Dali's credit, however, that this painting needs no analysis at all. Everyone gets it. The title alone tells us all we need to know: time is not fixed and hard, but mutable and soft. Memory conquers it, but death conquers memory.
So why analyze it? And why disagree? I suppose it's because the artist, that rascally showman and tireless self promoter, wanted us to interpret his symbolism. His aim was to create, in his own words, wonder, astonishment, and enigma.
Dali is nothing if not grand entertainment. So, party on and have a happy new year.
The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali; 1931. Click on the picture for a closer look.