In fact, I only meant to pick up Perloff's article and make sure it was in the bibliography, and maybe do some other reading. Once I started, though, the sentences formed in my mind with almost no effort. They will need revision, but they are complete and say more or less what they need to say.
As Clarissa notes in a recent post on her Seinfeld chain, the first month is not going to be the easiest or most productive. The real results come when you have been doing it for a while.
It didn't hurt to get encouraging email from a critic I admire in Spain, very recently.I also have the opportunity to talk about Lorca at "Nerd Night."
LORCA / ORTEGA: WHOSE ERA?
Marjorie Perloff’s now classic essay “Pound/Stevens: whose era?” notes the widely divergent aesthetic assumptions of those who view Ezra Pound or Wallace Stevens, respectively, as the paradigmatic poet of literary modernism in the English-speaking world. It turns out that a critic like Hugh Kenner (the author of The Pound Era) and Harold Bloom (the champion of the post-romantic poetics of Stevens) share almost no common ideas about poetry. A similar exercise would pose the question of whom to place at the center of Spanish modernism: Ortega y Gasset—the most prestigious Spanish intellectual of the Silver Age—or Federico García Lorca—the most canonical playwright and poet of the same epoch. How does our view of Spanish modernism change if Lorca displaces Ortega at the center of this movement?
Some might conclude that the modernism of Ortega and that of Lorca are not so far apart in the first place, since Lorca’s work exemplifies the theories of modernism put forward by the philosopher. Both writers, as we have seen, are theorists of Spanish exceptionalism. More generally, the poetry of Lorca’s “Generation of 1927” is often thought to illustrate the Orteguian idea of the “dehumanization of art.” Lorca published his signature book, Primer romancero gitano, with Ortega’s Revista de Occidente. Yet viewing Lorca as a figure antithetical to Ortega will bring his status as modernist intellectual into sharper focus.
To the best of my knowledge, Lorca was uninterested in Ortega’s writing. Ortega, in turn, took little or no discernible interest in Lorca. It is hard to see how the philospher could have advanced his central intellectual projects by making active use of Lorca’s experimental theater, his neo-popularism (in Canciones or Poema del cante jondo) or his anguished reaction to modernity of Poeta en Nueva York. Even poets seemingly closer to the Orteguian notion of “dehumanization,” like Jorge Guillén, distanced themselves from Ortega’s aesthetics. Lorca’s tragic consciousness, so different from that of Guillén, was even further from this idea. Ortega famously saw dehumanization as a detachment from any affective reaction associated with the “subject matter” of art. While some avant-garde fiction of the 1920s by other Spanish modernists seems to illustrate this idea, Lorca’s work moves in the opposite direction: toward a greater, not a lesser emotional engagement.
The idea of using modernist techniques as a means to separate the massses from the élites—central to Ortega’s idea of dehumanization—is equally antithetical to Lorquian poetics. Sociologically speaking, Lorca often sought to fuse popular and élite art, bringing classic Spanish theater to small villages through his student theater company (La Barraca). He gained popularity by revitalizing popular genres (songs and ballads) with avant-garde metaphors and elisions. Although he wrote avant-garde works not directed toward a popular audience, he ultimately sought a synthesis of his own deeply personal modernist poetics and folk traditions. The duende lecture, I would argue, is itself such a synthesis. He first gave this lecture after writing the avant-garde poetry of Poeta en Nueva York. The lecture is not a justification for a facile neo-popularism, but for the radically modernist poetics of his mature work.
Geographically, Lorca’s imaginative vision of the Andalusian landscape is also at the opposite pole from Ortega’s distrust of this same region, voiced in his 1927 Teoría de Andalucía:
Durante todo el siglo XIX, España ha vivido sometida a la influencia hegemónica de Andalucía . . . España entera siente justificada su existencia por el honor de incluir en sus flancos el trozo andaluz del planeta. Hacia 1900, como tantas otras cosas, cambia ésta. El Norte se incorpora . . . Enmudecen las letras y las artes del Sur. Mengua el poder político de personajes andaluces . . . No hay probabilidad de que nos vuelva a conmover el cante hondo, ni el contrabandista, ni la presunta alegría del andaluz. Toda esa quincalla meridional nos enoja y fastidia.
Ortega here is following the intellectuals of the Generation of 1898, who saw Castile as both the past and future of the Spanish nation. Yet the most canonical poets of Lorca’s generation, with the exception of Salinas and Guillén, are predominantly Andalusian.