Apocryphal Lorca: Translation, Parody, Kitsch (2009) is “not a book about the Spanish poet and dramatist Federico García Lorca” but, rather, an exploration of Lorca’s problematic reception among poets in the US, including Jack Spicer, Robert Creeley, and Frank O’Hara (xi). In this sequel, What Lorca Knew: Fragments of a Late Modernity, the subject is, once again, the poetic afterlife of one of the great poets of European modernism. In this case, I have written a book that is more directly about Lorca, but my focus remains on his lasting presence in literary culture rather than the interpretation of his works. Instead of limiting my scope to American poetry, I have chosen a set of critical problems relating to his critical and poetic reception in his native Spain, and to the academic industry devoted to his work around the world.
Unlike many other books on Lorca, What Lorca Knew does not consist of interpretations or explications of individual plays or books of poetry. I have not put forward new interpretations of Romancero gitano, Bodas de sangre, or Poeta en Nueva York—although I cannot rule out the possibility of doing this kind of work on Lorca in the future. Instead, I have examined various dimensions of his ongoing cultural legacy, with particular attention to the ways in which his poetry is re-imagined in “hermeneutical situations” of multiple kinds.
These situations are, in principle, endlessly varied, but I have chosen three main areas of concentration. My primary interest is in Lorca’s poetics, especially as they take shape in his lectures on Flamenco music, Spanish folklore, and the duende. My aim here is to treat Lorquian poetics as the self-conscious construction of a poet who knew what he was doing, rather than as an anti-intellectual and naïve genius. Having defined “what Lorca knew,” my second aim is to study the ongoing influence of Lorquian poetics in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, with particular attention to his influence on two rival schools of contemporary Spanish poetry, whose uses of Lorca are diametrically opposed. I also remain interested in the larger cultural uses of Lorquian poetics, both in Spain and in the United States. Finally, I am interested in the academic reception of Lorca in relation to this poetic and cultural legacy: my hermeneutic construction of Lorca’s self-conscious poetics requires that I, too, remain self-conscious of my own position as an academic specialist in the field.
Together with Apocryphal Lorca, What Lorca Knew forms part of an ongoing larger project that I am calling Lorca / modelo para armar [Lorca / model kit]. (A projected third volume will be devoted to his major poetic works.) This title comes from a novel by Julio Cortázar, 62 / modelo para armar, which in turn is derived from Chapter 62 of Rayuela [Hopscotch]. The point of seeing Lorca in this way, quite simply, is that an author of this type is a construction rather than a truth or essence to be discovered. This assertion should hardly be controversial, but it leads to some unexpected conclusions. The hermeneutical enterprise does not engender a better understanding of who Lorca “really was,” but to an open-ended exploration of what he might mean for us. I agree with the assertion of Luis Fernández Cifuentes, who finds more convincing those studies of Lorca those “que han preferido rastrear los caminos de la ambivalencia, los puntos de resistencia al análisis, los equívocos, diferencias y contradicciones en el modo específico de producir significados que distingue a su obra” (Estudios 10) (that have preferred to trace the routes of ambivalence, the points of resistance to analysis, the mistakes, differences, and contradictions in the specific mode of producing meanings that makes his work distinctive).
I have taken the title What Lorca Knew from What Maisie Knew, a novel by Henry James. This novel is focalized through the perspective of a sensitive and perceptive child who only gradually comes to understand the relations among the corrupt adults in her life, following her parents’ divorce and remarriages. Lorca’s authorial persona has often appeared to be child-like and naïve. The question of what Lorca knew, then, is the question of whether he develops a self-conscious poetics that can be place on the same level as that of other modernist poets like Wallace Stevens or José Ángel Valente.
The first stage in this exploration of Lorca’s poetic legacy is a “Hermeneutical Introduction” that uses theorists from Gadamer to Bloom and Borges in order to define an approach to his work that is grounded in the romantic tradition to which he himself belongs.
Chapter 1, “Was Lorca a Poetic Thinker,” tackles the question of the relation between Lorca’s thought and the specifically “hermeneutic” poetics identified with the concept “pensamiento,” developed by José Ángel Valente and other poets of his school. Valente only recognizes a few Spanish precursors of his poetry of thought—Antonio Machado, Juan Ramón Jiménez, and Luis Cernuda—along with the philosopher María Zambrano. Lorca’s poetic thought is strangely absent from this lineage, so my task is to restore him to his rightful place through a reading of his lectures, including his pioneering text on Flamenco music.
This chapter will culminate in a re-reading of Lorca’s lecture “Play and Theory of The Duende.” The duende has been at the center of Lorca’s hermeneutic reception, both in the US and in Spain. Instead of seeing it as a mere alibi for an anti-intellectual poetics, I argue that it is a complex theoretical concept in need of careful explication. Chapter 2, “The Poetics of Spanish Cultural Exceptionalism,” will re-situate the duende lecture in the context of other attempts, before and after Lorca, to define what is distinctive about Spanish culture and history.
Chapter 3, “Lorca in Contemporary Spanish Poetry: The Anatomy of Influence,” continues to explore the extent to which Lorca remains an influential figure for three poets whose work defines the late modernist poetry of the later part of the twentieth century, José Ángel Valente, Claudio Rodríguez, and Antonio Gamoneda. Valente’s debt to Lorca is largely a concealed one: he echoes Lorca’s duende lecture even as he continues to dismiss Lorca’s entire generation as lacking in poetic “thought.” Gamoneda echoes Lorca by transposing an imaginative vision from Andalusia to the snowy landscape of León. Rodríguez, finally, is a Lorquian poet because of his pragmatic knowlege, the way in which his poetics relates to lived experience or Aristotelian phronesis.
Unlike Apocryphal Lorca, What Lorca Knew is not primarily devoted to the presence of the Spanish poet and playwright in North-American culture. Nevertheless, Chapter 4, “Postmodern Lorca: From Motherwell to Strayhorn,” returns to the scene of the crime in order to discuss the problems raised by the reception of Lorca, a classic modernist author, in the postmodern period. My case studies here are the rise of a camp aesthetic in the work of Frank O’Hara; “Elegy for the Spanish Republic”—a series of canvasses by the Abstract Expressionist painter Robert Motherwell—; and some incidental music written by the American composer Billy Strayhorn for the production of a Lorca play. These examples exemplify some of the unpredictable ways in which the reception of Lorca in the late twentieth and early twentieth centuries is conditioned by a postmodern compulsion for the repetition and re-purposing of modernist motifs.
The subject of Chapter 5 is the biographical and critical “construction” of Lorca’s homosexuality. This remains an unresolved question for Lorca studies. Despite the best efforts of critics like Paul Julian Smith and Enrique Álvarez, Lorca’s status as a sacralized, hypercanonical author has been an obstacle to approaches informed by the queer theory of the 1990s and beyond. An “epistemological” approach, following the model of Eve Kosofky Segwick’s deconstruction of binary oppositions in Epistemology of the Closet, produces very different conclusion from an approach that takes its cues from a naïve reading of Lorca’s biography.
The concluding chapter of What Lorca Knew, “Elegy for Modernism,” brings together several thematic strands running through the book: the elegiac strain in Lorca’s own poetry, the nostalgia for modernism in Valente, Gamoneda, and Motherwell, and the ways in which the genre of elegy enacts the late-modern fracturing of subjectivity. The central question posed in this book is the continuing survival of modernist poetics after the end of historical modernism--from 1939 to the present day. Because of Lorca’s centrality in twentieth-century Spanish poetry, it is his work that provides us with the best interpretative material to decipher our own “fragments of late modernity.”