Excrement is the thread of life

Salvador Dalí with his pet ocelot, Babou, in 1965
Photo by Roger Higgins, via LoC

Salvador Dalí, born in Spain in 1904, was the mustachioed maestro of surrealism, with a flair for the fantastical in both his life and art. His paintings, like The Persistence of Memory with its melting clocks, are playful explorations of the dream world, but this love of the surreal wasn’t confined to his canvases; it spilled over into his writings as well. In 1964, he published Diary of a Genius, a journal as unconventional and curious as the man himself. Like his art, Dalí’s diary offers an often baffling journey into his mind, filled with wit, imagination, and the unapologetic quirkiness that made him one of the most memorable artists of his time.

The Diary Entry

Again this morning, while I was on the toilet, I had a truly remarkable piece of insight. My bowel movement, by the way, was perfectly exceptional this morning, smooth and odourless. I was thinking about the problem of human longevity, because of an octogenarian who works at this problem and who has just parachuted over the Seine, using a red-silk parachute. My intuition is that if it were possible to make human excrement as fluid as liquid honey, man’s life would be extended, because excrement (according to Paracelsus) is the thread of life, and each interruption or fart is but a moment of life flying away.

It is the equivalent in time of the Fates’ snip of the scissors, who in the same way cut the thread of existence, divide it up and use it. Temporal immortality must be looked for in refuse, in excrement and nowhere else… And since man’s highest mission on earth is to spiritualise everything, it is his excrement in particular that needs it most. As a result, I increasingly dislike all scatological jokes and all forms of frivolity on this subject. Indeed, I am dumbfounded at how little philosophical and metaphysical importance the human mind has attached to the vital subject of excrement. And how distressing it is to note that among so many lofty minds there are quite a few who give vent to their needs like everybody else. The day I write a general treatise on this subject, it is quite certain that I will astonish the whole world. For that matter, that treatise will be the exact opposite of Swift’s essay on latrines.

Further Reading

Salvador Dali’s diary (“the first diary written by a genius,” or so he claims in its prologue) was first published in English in 1964, translated by Richard Howard. A fifth edition was published this year, still titled Diary of a Genius. Baffling, hilarious, pompous, profound, disturbing, loving—this diary has it all, and I adore it.


Diary entry excerpted from Diary of a Genius (Deicide Press, 2023: ISBN 9781840686845) © Éditions de La Table Ronde, 1964. Used with permission.

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