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NotesThe Theatre of Garcia Lorca by Robert Lima; Las Americas Publishing, 1963
After a year stint in New York (1929-1930), Federico Garcia Lorca makes a dash for Havana, Cuba, where he reworks his "Ode to Walt Whitman" and writes his play El Publico. John K. Walsh speculates in his essay "Lorca's Ode to Walt Whitman" that Lorca's Cuban hiatus marked his "open passage into a homosexual mien, and the acknowledgment of his proclivities" (Walsh, 258). This would seem to be the case, considering how much Lorca gives over to los marfcas in these works. However, I would add that Havana acts as the imaginative site where Lorca's poetics begins to dissolve not only sexual boundaries based on heterosexist characterological types, but also national borders that, as Octavio Paz puts it, cause us not to "live in a continent but in islands, so terribly isolated" (Paz, 274). So, Lorca's Ode to Walt Whitman not only introduces us to a poetic most, say, in its sexual element, but it also provides us with the bridge between North and South American literary imagination. The homosexual as theme, here, throws Lorca's "Ode to Walt Whitman" into what literary comparativist Claudio GuillQn calls, a "supranational assemblage"--a systematic look at a theme that rejects the limitations imposed by dividing literature up by national boundaries (GuillQn, 3).
Homosexual thematics not only provides us with the necessary supranational apparatus, it also leads us to question the role of nation-building--the creation of a "pure" national identity and voice--in twisting up discourses of sexuality. In interrogating boundaries, sexual (heterosexual and homosexual) and national (imperialist, colonialist, capitalist) we can begin to understand how nation and body intertwine. By investigating the theme of heterosexist codes of nationalism that convey on the one hand a fear of homosexuality and on the other hot desire for homosexuality, we can see how borders, sexual and national, exist in a fragile state.
Heterosexist codes that repress and suppress this fear-desire dynamic shake on the edge of a chaotic abyss. The supranational assemblage can only take place in this in-between space where borders that demarcate the aberrant from the normal, in terms of body and nation, are confused. Ironically, this type of border collapse occurs at the extremes of the heterosexist conquest, where we see most aggressively how power functions to keep difference intact. At first glance, the homographic thematic elements reverse the heterographic (nationalist discursive forces that codify the body as either deviant or normal) by turning the heterosexist codes upside down. This is too easy, and an academic cliche. In fact, after taking a closer look at not only Federico Garcia Lorca but also poets RubQn Darfo of Nicaragua and Pablo Neruda of Chile (those directly involved in literary nation-building agendas) we see a less straight-forward resistance to national and heterosexual hegemonic landscapes. Rather, we see how these poets break with certain hegemonic codes only to find themselves embroiled in other dialectic systems of dominance and submission.
Namely, their call to a homographic thematic doesn't offer a clear-cut rupture of the heterosexist, nationalist powers that be. Darfo and Neruda set up two different models for unleashing homosexual desire:
Darfo's poet-narrator requires apocalypse while Neruda's sees homosexuality as part of an everyday, even "normalizing" art--not to be equated with wild bohemianism, but rather an art that seeks a stay-at-home bourgeois idealism. Both poets, intentionally or not, set up the same range of possibilities that Lorca negotiates. But even Lorca's rupture is complicated. He comes into an identification of a "pure" sexual (polymorphous perverse) rupture, but only when he, a European, lands in Cuba. His act of creating holes in the hegemonic codes of sexual containment, ironically, makes them interplay with other controlling codes, those of colonialism. Darfo's, Neruda's, and Lorca's poetics exist within a modernist frame--a frame, in Oscar Montero's words, "nurtured on the one hand by the decadent, and often implicitly homoerotic literatures of Europe and North America, and fueled on the other by the none too subtle homophobia of various discourses of national affirmation" (Montero, 92). In 1933, Lorca and Neruda gave a joint in memoriam to Ruben Darfo in Buenos Aires, where a queer, two-headed monster of modernismo lifted its head: Neruda:
Ladies . . . Garcfa Lorca: And gentlemen. There is a pass in bullfighting called al alimún, in which two bullfighters cite the bull while grasping either side of the same cape.
Neruda: Federico and I, tied together by an electric wire, are going to act together in response to this very impressive reception. Garcfa Lorca: It is customary, at meetings like this, for a poet to offer his living words, whether silver or wooden, and to greet his friends and colleagues with his own voice. Neruda: But we are going to set up a dead man among you, a widower companion, obscure in the darkness of a death greater than other deaths; life's widower, who in his day was a dazzling husband. We are going to hide under his fiery shadow, we are going to repeat his name until the power leaps out of forgetfulness.
Garcia Lorca: [. . .] we are going to fling a great name onto the table, with the assurance that [. . .] a crash of the sea will stain the tablecloth. We are going to name the poet of America and Spain:
RubQn. Neruda : Darfo (Pen Club, Buenos Aires, 1933) So, between the lines of a seemingly straightforward male-bonding moment we see how nationalism, with its heterosexist codes of conduct ("dazzling husband"), veils the homoerotic bond between, at the least, two of the three poets. The bullfighting imagery, even the climactic structure of the speech, sets the homoerotic tone: First, in an intoxicating moment Neruda and Lorca participate in the Whitmanian "body electric," tying themselves together "by an electric wire." Second, self-figured as toreros, Neruda and Lorca work together to bring the bull out: touching as they cross arms, they "grasp either side of the cape."
Linguistically speaking--the word "queer" itself derives from the Indo-European root -twerkw which means across--they enter into queer-ness. (See Sedgwick's Gender Trouble for a full account of this etymology.) Here, they begin to tease the bull out into the open where they can do the bullfighting thing and become one. Once out, and after a series of flingings and stainings on tables, Neruda and Lorca jointly release the name. Darfo as the voice of nation and the homoerotic come together. Incidentally, Darfo, voice of Spain and America, is also hyper-heterosexualized. He's not just any old widower, he's "life's widower" ; he's not just a decent husband, he's a "dazzling husband." Darfo as voice of nations is thus firmly configured within the heterosexual matrix; he's straighter than straight, leaving Neruda and Lorca to fend for themselves behind Darfo's "fiery shadow." All of this talk of heterosexual prowess, set against the homoerotics, can only mean one thing: it's a smokescreen of sorts, suppressing, and not so well at that, the same-sex desire-fear dynamic caught up within any discourses of national affirmation. The sodomistic act must take the back seat for a unified sense of nationalism to adhere. Once the anal encounter begins to take shape textually, heterosexist constructed nations might dissolve into the unknown. In sum: Suppress the same-sex desire at all costs ("dazzling husband et al), or else, and we'll see later, chaos will ensue. Nationalism moves simultaneously back and forth between fear of and desire for the rectum. The net result: nationalism as an aesthetic movement, represented by poets like Darfo, Neruda, and Lorca, ends up, in this conflictual process of self-sodomization. Nationalism, in its anal suppression, then, becomes a self-sodomized aesthetic form; it has a voice through its, at the very least latent, queerness. Darfo gives us not only a glimpse of the ideology of sodomy as it is played out in imperialist moves, but also a picture of what might happen if boundaries of nationalism dissolve. When national borders begin to blur, we have sexual mayhem. In Darfo's "Agency" the poet-narrator's vision of a world where the traditionally centralized discourses can no longer hold are displaced by those traditionally marginalized.
"Deviant" sexuality (sadomasochism, prostitution, etc.) takes over the dominant space, that which is usually occupied by straight, "normal," sexuality: The whole world smells rotten. There is no balm in Gilead.
The Marquis de Sade has landed, just in from Seboim. The Gulf Stream has changed course. Paris whips itself to delight. [. . .] The palace of the Antichrist is ready and waiting, somewhere. There are intercommunications between Lesbians and tramps. [. . .] (Darfo, 109) Here the ultimate diffusion of national boundaries, the Armageddon, makes room for sexual deviancy. National and sexual boundaries (dominant, authoritative and central vs. subjugated, marginal, inauthentic), hitherto held up by heterosexist civilizing strategies, collapse in this grand apocalypse. I would argue that the only possible outcome for national identities built on the suppression of, or abuse of, any deviant sexuality is to collapse. National, boundaries require panoptic surveillance in order for mayhem not to ensue; without a surveying presence, an effective nationalist--heterosexist-based ideology that immobilizes the human objects it surveys by codifying its sexual behavior into manipulatable characterological types--national and sexual boundaries turn upside down. In this poem deviant sexuality--sadomasochism, prostitution--mixes with social misfits--criminals, tramps, and other reprobates, like the Anti-Christ--as well as national cultural centers--Paris, etc. Now, Paris flogs itself "to delight." Namely, with the surveying system in disarray, the body and nation no longer adhere to the heterosexist codes of conduct, where "normal" and "deviant" modify behavior. The heterosexist codes that suppress the fear-desire sexual dynamic we saw previously with nation-building strategies no longer hold water. For Darfo, when national ideologies that create boundaries based on difference dissolve, a sexual free-for-all takes place. Reversing the discourse doesn't take place only at such extremes, the end of the world and all. Pablo Neruda's narrator of "Ode to Federico Garcfa Lorca" desires a more personalized, even stereotypically bourgeois, form of homosexuality.The narrator declares: Federico, you see the world, the streets, the vinegar, [. . .] There are so many people asking questions everywhere. There's the bleeding blindman, and the irate man, and the lifeless man, and the wretched man, the tree of fingernails, the outlaw carrying envy on his shoulders. (Neruda, 177) Here we also have the outlawed represented. However, Neruda gives us a first name, Federico. By identifying a personal relationship with a character in the poem, here Federico Garcfa Lorca, the narrator humanizes and, makes more tangible what becomes a celebration of deviancy: The narrator exclaims later, "Come, so I can crown you, youth of health/and of the butterfly." Neruda infuses his litany of deviant types; notably, "Federico" stands at the poem's typographic pinnacle. The narrator conflates Federico's experience of the "vinegar" of the street, deviant social types like the "bleeding blindman," with that which he can offer: "here you have/those things that my melancholic,/manly man's friendship can offer you." It's as if the grand romantic embrace, "manly man's friendship," humanizes any deviancy in the poem. Oddly, the narrator normalizes through a declaration of deviant sexual proclivity. Whereas with Darfo deviancy and sexuality play by the heterosexist rules, here we begin to see more of the reverse discourse. Through its articulation of self (personal pronoun "I") and other (the intimacy of "Federico" and "you") culminating in the narrator's offer of a "manly man's friendship" we begin to see how the "deviant" subject, in Foucault's words, "to speak in its own behalf, to demand that its legitimacy or naturality' be acknowledged, often in the same vocabulary, using the same categories by which it was medically disqualified" (Foucault, 101). For Neruda, there seems to be room for social and sexual misfits to exist within the everyday; these don't need an absolute apocalypse to exist. Recall "Come, so I can crown you, youth of health/and of the butterfly." Maybe reversing the discourse can work for Neruda because he doesn't complicate the articulation of the same-sex libido by thrusting nationalism into the picture? Darfo's sexual rupture requires apocalypse; Neruda's requires less a bending of the same-sex libido into "perverse" shapes and more the its normalization. Lorca's bending of national identities based on panoptic surveillance of sexual and national boundaries is further complicated in his poem "Ode to Walt Whitman." Like Whitman's poet-narrator in Leaves of Grass, whose presence causes national boundaries to stretch and disappear, Lorca's narrator in "Ode" is continually in a state of arriving and stretching in the hole between North and South America, between different nations, between different sexualities. Yet, in looking at Lorca's "Ode" we cannot sidestep Cuba's colonial history. Writing of sixteenth-century Spanish "heterosexist" conquest of the virgin territory, JosQ Piedra unveils the paradox: the [. . .] accounts would repudiate anal intercourse as the wrong' from of mediation for both the hole-makers and the holed ones. And yet, many chroniclers believed that this was the predominant form of sexual expression between natives and a privilege of the upper classes. After reading account after account of the "fear" of sodomy, I also suspect that the practice was tantalizing and threatening on both sides of the Atlantic. [. . .] many Spaniards secretly adopted sodomy to provide human contact and sexual release while skirting the dangers of miscegenation. Add to this equation sodomy as a form of domination provoked by elite natives who desperately needed to be brought under control. In the end, sodomy and homosexuality become transatlantic forms of birth control as well as metonymic expressions of male-centered elitism and imperialism on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as a unifying macho-saving feature of transatlantic colonialism (Piedra, 397-398). Although sodomy acted as birth control, biologically, it certainly didn't prevent insemination on ideological, cultural grounds. But, more to the point, sodomy in the Caribbean functions within the discourse of power. We see both the fear of and the desire for the asshole, but as it is explicitly caught up in colonial-based nation-building strategies. Not surprisingly, Lorca's poet-narrator of "Ode to Walt Whitman" (as mentioned earlier, the poem reworked during the Cuban hiatus) slips and slides in and out of states of repulsion and celebration of same-sex encounters--a friction caught up in colonialist discourse as the narrator moves between nations. The narrator cries:[ use Google to search my both, theatre (vtheatre.net) and film (filmplus.org) sites! subscribe to forums: dramlit, directing, acting and etc. ] ę2004 filmplus.org *
Contra vosotros siempre, Fairies de NorteamQrica, P▀jaros de La Habana, Jotos de MQjico, Sarasas de C▀diz Apios de Sevilla, Cancos de Madrid, Floras de Alicante, Adelaidas de Portugal ÝMarfcas de todo el mundo, asesinos de palomas! (Lorca, 162) Interestingly, the marfca here, unlike in Piedra's configuration, is the hole maker, the colonizer; the marfcas revile the narrator; they makes the holes; they sully that which is pure, "palomas" or "doves". The narrator's list of derogatory labels for los marfcas climaxes with "Marfcas de todo el mundo" then de-tumesces with "asesinos de palomas" ("palomas" also means "penis" in Spanish). Interestingly, a similar flow occurs in terms of national identification. We see the move from identifying specific countries, side-by-side with deviant sexual labels, to the conflation of all nations into "todo el mundo." We have, in the climactic moment, a move from specific, actively circumscribed identities, sexual and national, to the mixing of all into one. In sexual terms, we see the narrator's desire to move away from the clearly delineated, specifically sexualized erogenously mapped body back to a more infant-like, polymorphous perverse body. This process takes place at the level of sexuality and nation: "Marfcas de todo el mundo." So, the poem can only exist as an imaginary hole, the in-between "island bridge," when it reverts back to a human stage of sexual development before the body is mapped' before the world is mapped. The poet-narrator's return to an un-mapped state is a return to that pre-colonizer, -hole maker virgin territory. The repulsion, then, to the "Jotos", "Apios", "Floras," etc., is more a revulsion to societal, even colonial and heterosexist, processes that pre-map the body. Two modes operate: las maricas who function according to colonialist codes of making holes; the polymorphous perverse which disrupt sexual and colonial codes of containment in its return to a pre-mapped state. According to Herbert Marcuse, a sexual utopia can be found if we return to this polymorphously perverse stage of development. Eugene Goodheart summarizes Marcuse's argument, in "Desire and its Discontents" as follows: Heterosexual genital sexuality need not be the only permissible sexuality. In fact, it is, in the Marcusan view, gratuitously repressive of the full range of sexuality, which is by nature' polymorphously perverse and not exclusively genital. Perversions may threaten social or patriarchal domination but not survival. [. . .] Polymorphous perversity is an expression of the happiness of all, the promesse de bonheur (Goodheart, 391). Lorca's narrator detests el joto precisely because he flaunts his genitalia; he conforms to heterosexist codes of mapping sites, national and sexual. So, on the one hand, the poet-narrator labels the marfca sexually deviant; yet on the other hand the marfca is constructed in terms of heterosexist, colonialist limitations. Las maricas represent the antithesis to the Whitmanian polymorphous perverse where lines that identify specific shapes and landscapes exist in a pre-panoptic state of being: Not for a moment, Walt Whitman, lovely old man, have I failed to see your beard full of butterflies, nor your corduroy shoulders frayed by the moon, nor your thighs as pure as Apollo's, nor your voice like a column of ash; old man, beautiful as the mist, you moaned like a bird with its sex pierced by a needle. [. . .]
Not for a moment, virile beauty (Lorca, 157) Here, the poet-narrator sets meter against non-meter: The vitriolic descriptions of the modern city are without count; those that describe Whitman and the "pure" path of the homosexual are exact, made of perfect Alexandrines. Even though this precision, together with images of impotence ("lovely old man", "column of ash"), might suggest passivity and stagnation, it is here that the narrator brings together the traditionally polar opposed sexual types. Whitman doesn't just decay into nothing, he moans "like a bird with its sex pierced by a needle." Passive and active come together through Whitman's polymorphous perverse nature; he's everywhere, he's both top and bottom, holed and hole maker, marfca and bugarrún. The narrator re-maps the body, nations, in terms that no longer polarize that which is "pure" and that which is "dirty." The polymorphous perverse, where notions of clean and dirty do not exist, becomes clearer as we see the narrator identifying both los marfcas and Whitman with ideas of "pure" and "sullied". For example, the narrator on one occasion tell us, "marfcas de las ciudades/ de carne tumefacta y pensammiento inmundo; [. . .} urban faggots, /tumescent flesh and unclean thoughts" (Lorca, 160) are "saliendo en racimosde las alcantarillas"; "emerging in bunches from the sewers" (Lorca, 157); on another occasion, the narrator tells us, "Que los confundidos, los puros,/ los cl▀ssicos, los se▒aldos, los suplicantes/ os cierran las puertas de la bacanal"; ("Let the confused, the pure,/ the classical, the celebrated, the supplicants/close the doors of the bacchanal to you") (162-163). The narrator identifies the festival of the bacchanal--the celebration of traditionally coded transgressive sexuality--as that reserved for the "pure" class of homosexual, our "bello Walt Whitman, duerme a orillas del Hudson/con la barba hacia el polo y las manos abiertas"; "lovely Walt Whitman, stay asleep on the /Hudson's banks/with your beard toward the pole, openhanded" (Lorca 162-163). The narrator's re-drawing of boundaries between sullied and pure leads to the transgression not just of sexual boundaries, but also of national boundaries--a kind of carnival of body and space takes place. The narrator's remapping of the body--through the confusion of same-sex classifiers, "pure" vs. "dirty" by infusion within this polymorphously perverse Whitman figure--spills over into remapping of nation as the narrator identifies the machine behind the construction of repressive same-sex desire: Duerme: no queda nada. Una danza d muros agita las pradas y AmQrica se anega de m▀guinas y llanto. Quiero que el aire fuerte de la noche m▀s honda quite flores y letras del arco donde duermes y on ni▒o negro anuncie a los blancos del oro la llegada del reino de la espiga
Sleep on, nothing remains. Dancing walls stir the prairies and America drowns itself in machinery and lament. I want the powerful air from the deepest night to blow away flowers and inscriptions from the arch where you sleep, and a black child to inform the gold-craving whites that the kingdom of grain has arrived. (Lorca, 162-163) The equation is as follows: The "normal" body, a sleeping Whitman, is set against results of too much activity (like the marfcas earlier in the poem): the 1930 Wall Street crash, slavery, and colonialism. Contemporary Chicana poet and novelist Ana Castillo summarizes the social, cultural, and economic conversion of homosexuality within our capitalist driven system where "commodities to be given value by men and exchanged by men, but men themselves cannot enter into the present system as commodities. Overt homosexuality would disrupt the system in which men are not commodities but agents of commerce and is therefore made a social taboo" (Massacre, 80). Deleuze and Guattari take this theory a step further, writing of capital as a machine that privatizes the body by removing through a process of containing and sanitizing, our organs from the public sphere. The first organ to undergo privatization was "the anus." According to their theory, "it was the anus that offered itself as a model for privatization, at the same time as money came to express the flows' new state of abstraction" (Deleuze and Guattari, para. 143). We can read this moment as the inscription not so much of the poet-narrator within the capitalist machinery, that which constructs difference, but of the narrator who foregrounds the process that maps normal/abnormal onto the body; the machine that identifies nation and non-nation. Through the eyes of the narrator we witness how the machine maps difference to maintain control of the flow of commodity: urban vs. agrarian; buggerer vs. buggered; white vs. black; good vs. evil. In the poet-narrator's process of re-inscribing difference within an in-between space--the polymorphous perverse, the Lorcan hole--he resists giving a defining shape to the rectum; he resists heterosexist codes that map the body and nation according to restrictive, characterological types. John K. Walsh suggests that this process of making present through the violence of absenting reflects on the biographical Lorca, who could only "tolerate his own homosexuality" by disconnecting himself "from the grotesquerie of visible categories" (Walsh, 271). I would add that the Lorca's narrator of "Ode to Walt Whitman" resists using the discourse of nationalism, that which codifies homosexuality according to heterosexist codes. Instead, Lorca presents us with a meta reversal, a reversing of the reverse discourse, with the encoding of the polymorphously perverse that destabilizes the heterosexist codes that circumscribe bodies and countries. Finally, then, Lorca's "Ode to Walt Whitman," can be seen in light of Deleuze and Guattari's concept of a "schizoid work of art." Lorca's poet-narrator pushes fragments of reverse-discourse, active and passive homosexuality/sodomy, into the seemingly tightly sealed gaps of a heterosexist hegemony; the poet-narrator forces fragmented images, like the schizoid artist, "into a certain place where they may or may not belong, their unmatched edges violently bent out of shape, forcibly made to fit together, to interlock with a number of pieces always left over" (Deleuze and Guattari, 43). ReferencesBersani, Leo. Homos. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995. Darfo, RubQn. Selected Poems of RubQn Darfo. Trans. Lysander Kemp. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1988. Delueze, Giles and Guattari, FQlix. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983. Goodheart, Eugene. "Desire and its Discontents." Partisan Review. Summer, 1988. Guillen, Claudio. The Challenge of Comparative Literature. Trans. Cola Franzen. Cambridge: Harvard Studies in Comparative Literature, 1993. Montero, Oscar. "Juli▀n del Casal and the Queers of Havana." Entiendes: Queer Readings, Hispanic Writings. Ed. Emilie L. Bergmann and Paul Julian Smith. Durham: Duke University Press, 1995. Neruda, Pablo. Residencia En La Tierra. New York: New Directions Pub. Corp.,1973 Paz, Octavio. "+AmQrica es un continente?" The Bow and the Lyre . Trans. Ruth L. C Simms. Austin: Univeristy of Texas Press, 1973. Saldfvar, JosQ. "The Dialectics of Our America." Do the Americas Have a Common Literature?. Ed. PQrez Firmat. Durham: Duke University Press, 1990. Walsh, John K. "Lorca's Ode to Walt Whitman." Entiendes: Queer Readings, HIspanic Writings. Ed. Emilie L. Bergmann and Paul Julian Smith. Durham: Duke University Press, 1995. Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. Ed. Sculley Bradley and Harold W. Blodgett. New York: Norton Critical Edition, 1973.
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