Saturday, October 18, 2014

Contra Guernica

I found a book today called Contra el Guernica by the Spanish painter Antonio Saura (1930-1998)(brother to Carlos the film director.) It's not really an attack on Picasso's painting or on Picasso himself, though sometimes it is disguised as that, as much as on the use of the painting as political and cultural capital. It was first published in 1982.

It is an amazing book. Every sentence starts with a verb meaning "I hate": detesto, odio, desprecio... It admits of at least three readings: an attack on a sacred cow, an attack on those who made it a sacred cow, an ironical and ambivalent homage to Picasso.

This is pretty much what I want to say about misuses of Lorca. The preface by Félix de Azúa is also brilliant. I was thinking I could cite this book and transpose the analysis to the sacralization of Lorca.

After all, Guernica and Lorca are the two major symbols of THE TRAGEDY OF 20TH CENTURY SPAIN. They are sacred cows in a very similar way. This I think should be the conclusion to my book.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Science Fiction

My idea for a science-fiction novel is very simple. An old person walks by a group of young people talking and realizes that they are speaking an inhuman, alien language. How did this occur?

The infiltration of the aliens has been very slow and subtle. Almost unobjectionable. All this begins in a small town in a wooded area. The human survivors of the first contact never speak about their experience, but begin to notice incremental changes over the years. The influence spreads through the surrounding towns and the city is largely indifferent, until enough of the younger townfolk move to the provincial capital. And so on. There is no resistance, since only the very elderly can notice what is happening. Even the middle-aged become complacent (even!) since they have developed a degree of tolerance. In one or two generations, the bloodless conquest is complete.

Only a traveller returning home after many years will notice that something is amiss. Perhaps this traveller could narrate the events?

The novel admits of two interpretations: as a science fiction novel in which the aliens are an invisible presence, or as an allegory of the passage of time.

I realized I blogged before about this novel here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


I'm in ORD, having left from MCI, and will arrive tomorrow morning in MAD. I hope my luggage will arrive there too.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Wikipedia page?

I've noticed that some of my colleagues and friends at KU have wikipedia pages about them. Some of them are less distinguished than I am, or about the same; some, of course, are much more so. In short, it is fairly typical of someone to have an article on wikipedia as an academic, sometimes as just an Associate Professor with a single book at a Great Plains University. It's still a minority, but I am going to keep watching this.

I don't have one about me, and I'm certainly not going to write one about myself, though I imagine someone with a vested interest has to have taken the effort to write articles about relatively obscure academics like some of my colleagues. (There is only one from my own dept. and it is not necessarily who you would expect.) It seems clear that the "notability" criterion has become quite relaxed of late.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Quiz

How well do you know Jonathan?

1. What specific thing does Jonathan have in common with the baseball player Cal Ripken, Jr?

2. What type of headgear would you see him wearing?

3. Who is he writing a book about?

4. Define "Mayhew's fallacy."

5. What is a "Mayhewianism"?

5 answers correct: you are Jonathan! Or someone who knows a lot about him.

4: you know him very well.

2-3: not so much

0-1: who are you again?

The Talk Concludes!


In both Lorca scholarship and in theatrical homages to Lorca’s legacy, then, there is a tension between the proliferation of multiple “Lorcas” and the centrality of a relatively monolithic Lorca myth. My own approach to Lorca—and to the problem of romantic / modernist individuality that is the topic of this symposium—remains in continual negotiation between these two forces. It is all well and good to question the Lorca myth itself, but without this myth, and the romantic paradigm that underlies it, we wouldn’t be talking about Lorca in the first place, and the we would not have witnessed the marvelously creative proliferation of individuated Lorcas. I have often attempted to call attention to the over-simplifications of Lorquian kitsch, to the grotesque interpretations of his martyrdom and necrology, to the sentimentalities of elegy. In the larger picture, however, it becomes difficult if not impossible to police the boundaries of his legacy, or to have a Lorquian legacy free from sentimentality or kitsch. I have suggested that we remain open to a plurality of perspectives while being wary of oversimplifications, overspecialized approaches, and alibis that move us away from the distinctiveness of his artistic accomplishments.

Lorca subjectivity should not defined by a single explanatory key, such “the conflict between homoexuality and traditional Catholicism.” The problem is not that this view is wholly mistaken, but that it is artificially limiting. Lorca himself, we should remember, rejects monolithic conceptions of his own poetics:
es imprescindible ser uno y ser mil para sentir las cosas en todos sus matices. Hay que ser religioso y profano. Reunir el misticismo de una severa catedral gótica con la maravilla de la Grecia pagana. Verlo todo, sentirlo todo. En la eternidad tendremos el premio de no haber tenido horizontes.
[It is indispensable to be one and to be a thousand so as to feel things in all their nuances. To be religious and profane. To join the mysticism of a severe Gothic cathedral to the marvels of pagan Greece. To see, to feel it all. In eternity we will reap the reward of not having had horizons.]
This conception of Lorca, while authorized by his own words, might be self-serving, in that it simply makes the author over into our own image: a plural, multivocal postmodern subject, the heir to the visionary company of great romantic and modernist poets but uniquely open to multiple readings. In this sense, I may have fallen prey to the same idealizing impulse I have criticized elsewhere.

By the same token, my critique of the “alibis” and displacements of Lorca studies might be subject to a parallel critique. Doesn’t Lorca’s own work invite us to read it “elsewhere,” to interpret it through a series of slippages and displacements? Do we really ever read Lorca for what the texts seem to be saying on the literal level? My final thought, then, is that it impossible to purify the study of Lorca by excluding approaches that displace the meaning of his work onto extraneous concerns. The best we can do is to honor Lorca’s memory by approaching him with the best version of our own subjective experience. In this sense, our postmodern culture will get the Lorca that its deserves.

Fourth Section

Plays devoted to Lorca (of which I have found several) depict scenes from his life and death while quoting amply from his own words, and thus provide abundant examples of the four most common ingredients of American Lorquismo: (1) the sacralization and political exploitation of the author’s biography and execution; (2) the folkloric or Spanish Lorca (3); the exaltation of his genius, and in particular his own theory of the romantic genius exemplified by the duende lecture; (4) the evocation of surrealism, often linked to Lorca’s frienship with Salvador Dalí. Of course, these same elements also pervade Lorca’s legacy within Spain and elsewhere.

These four elements are found in different measures in different plays. Norman Rosten’s radio play Prometheus in Granada (1940) is the earliest example I have located. Rosten, a new obscure left-wing poet, treats Lorca as neo-popularist kitsch. His prologue describes Lorca’s work in well-intentioned but highly inaccurate terms:
Federico Garcia Lorca was loved with a pride and intensity of adoration typical of the Spanish people. He was their great citizen, singer and musician, the troubadour whose poems and songs were spread by word of mouth; gypsies danced to his colorful music, singers improvised upon his more simple metrical ballads. Often they were unaware as to the actual identity of the author; more often than not they could not read his lines but their poems were written in their hearts. He gave the people songs to sing in the fields, and fine stories for the evening, he gave them a hatred for their enemies.
This is to confuse Lorca’s sophisticated poetry with some of the sources of his inspiration and to misstate his relationship to the reading public. A few strands of his legacy large and complex legacy—the popularity he gained from Romancero gitano, his musical setting of popular songs—come to stand in for his entire work.

Rosten has Lorca reciting iconic lines from Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías as he is about to be exectuted: “At five in the afternoon.” A subsequent playwright, the poet Kenneth Koch, also uses this poem in his play “El nacimiento de Federico García Lorca in Seville.” In this one-page piece, part of a book published in the late 80s, 1,000 Avant-Garde Plays, Baby Lorca is born in Seville and rises to his feet to recite his most famous elegy. Men and women dressed in horse costumes recite other poems by Lorca. Koch’s play relies on a stereotypical image of Lorca (Andalusia, horses, bullfighting, neopopularism, elegy) but repurposes these motifs toward a comic purpose. He presents a nativity scene (rather than a passion and crucification) and indulges in anachronism and misdirection. Needless to say, Lorca was not born in Seville, but in the province of Granada.
Koch introduces a comic element, perhaps saving himself from kitsch. A more recent play by Pulitzer-prize winning Nilo Cruz, Lorca in a Green Dress, presents Lorca from multiple angles, evoking familiar elements like Lorca’s death and execution, his connection to Dalí, and his homosexuality. The multiple characters in the play are mostly versions of Lorca himself (Lorca in Bicycle Pants, Lorca as a Woman, Lorca in a Green Dress), or, more accurately, actors hired in a kind of purgatory (the Lorca room) to act out scenes from the author’s life. Cruz follows the example of Carlos Rojas, who in his 1980 novel El ingenioso hidalgo y poeta Federico García Lorca asciende a los infiernos also situates Lorca in a metatheatrical purgatory where he watches scenes from his life. I don’t know whether Cruz has read Rojas’s novel, but the similarities are striking.
Cruz’s metatheatrical homage to Lorca is multi-layered, avoiding easy reductions of Lorca to a unitary image. We might call it a performative version of Lorca, in which the identity of the author is fragmented into multiple selves. Lorca with Blood represents his tragic execution, the Flamenco Dancer represents the cante jondo and the duende, Lorca in Bicycle Pants represents his childhood, Lorca as a Woman and Lorca in a Green Dress represents his gender and sexuality, and Lorca in a White Suit represents his mature artistry. In a way Cruz has found the perfect balance between centripetal and centrifugal impulses: he evokes the central tropes of Lorca’s legacy while avoiding any easy resolution.

The eminent dramatist Edward Albee, the author of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, has also written a Lorca play, with the title The Lorca Play. Since the title of this conference is an hommage to Albee’s play, I would be remiss in not mentioning it. I have been unable to locate a complete copy of the script, which does not figure in Albee’s Complete Plays. First produced in 1992 at the University of Houston, this play was then withdrawn by the author. In 2002 it was announced that the play would be produced off-broadway, but this production failed to take place. According to a new report: “Lorca has been looming just off the Off-Broadway horizon for some time now. Previous reports had it arriving in 2001, 2002 and 2003” Albee himself has confessed to some misgivings about his work in this genre: “It’s not the sort of play I should write [...] Other people are better at that kind of docu-drama.” Albee’s usually laudatory biographer, Gussow, describes the play as “long and rambling” and quotes some lines that make Albee’s Lorca sound like a contemporary American adolescent with narcissistic tendencies: “Do you know what it’s like to fall in love with people who don’t want you? Do you know what it’s like to be completely misunderstood? Do you know what it’s like to know how special and dangerous your talent is?” In Bloomian terms, Albee is a weak misreader of Lorca. Strikingly, he does not share the Lorquian lineage of other American dramatists like Tennessee Williams or Adrienne Kennedy.

Sam Creely’s Barbarous Nights is unique among these Lorca plays in that it does not depict Lorca himself, substituting Buster Keaton—the protagonist of a short play by Lorca—for the author. Creely, a great-nephew of the poet Robert Creeley, read my own book Apocryphal Lorca in college and hence is conscious of the multi-faceted American reception of the Spanish poet and dramatist. Creely quotes amply from Lorca’s poetry and plays and seems mostly interested in the “surrealist” Lorca. His play, with the subtitle “a play in four shades and a prologue, grapefruit tumbleweed & the great green moon,” explores issues of “iconic” identity, using Buster Keaton’s face as an example of an identity frozen into a mask, thus joining Cruz in exploring the vicissitudes of selfhood in a postmodern context.

My final example is the opera Ainadamar by the Argentine composer Oswaldo Golijov, with a libretto by the Chinese-American playwright David Henry Hwang, the author of the gender-bending play M. Butterfly. In this opera Lorca is “trouser role,” sung by a female singer dressed and made up to look like Lorca [image]. Golijov’s opera makes frequent use of flamenco, with allusions to Latin American popular music as well. In this respect he is following the tradition of Lorca’s close friend and collaborator, Manuel de Falla, and other modern composers interested in folk traditions. The part of Ruiz Alonso, Lorca’s executioner, is played a flamenco cantaor rather than by an opera singer. Ainadamar, then, forms part of the rich musical legacy of Lorca’s afterlife, alongside of Billy Strayhorn’s setting of Don Perlimplín and Enrique Morente’s interpretations of Lorca poems.

These five plays (and one opera) contain several overlapping elements, including an emphasis Lorca’s death and legacy and the use Flamenco music on the stage. Yet stylistically and emotionally, these versions of Lorca on the stage, ranging from the 1940s to the early twenty-first century, are dissimilar to one another in multiple ways, with very few points of contact aside from references to Lorca’s tragic execution. Both Rosten and Golijov / Hwang present Lorca as a political martyr to the Spanish Republic, but the similarities end there: Rosten’s Lorca is a simple folk poet, while Golijov’s is the dramatist of Mariana Pineda and a gay man killed for his sexuality. Cruz and Creely share elements common to a twenty-first century sensibility, like a performative view of identity and an adaptation of Lorquian metatheater, but their plays take divergent approaches. Edward Albee opts for a realist theatrical language at odds with Lorca’s poetic sensibility and risks banality. Koch evokes Lorquian stereotypes in a comic mode. Is the centrifugal force stronger in these dramatic homages to Lorca, then? Perhaps. But standing behind them all is the romantic myth of Lorca himself. Only this myth explains the persistent attraction of other creators, over so many decades, to Lorca’s legacy.