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Wednesday, October 29, 2014


As James Shapiro shows in Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, the biographical subject to whom Shakespeare's works are attributed seems woefully inadequate under modern (romantic) theories of authorship in which literature is seen to be the expression of a self. There is probably no human "self" adequate to Cordelia, Lear, Hamlet, Ophelia, Prospero, Ariel, Othello, Juliet, and Rosalind. In other words, any authorial subject would be inadequate.

With Lorca, the situation is reversed: we know who wrote Lorca's works, and the biographical self is seen to be wholly adequate for explaining these works. It is not anachronistic to apply modern / romantic notions of literature to Lorca. Almost all Lorca critics see his works as an expression of his self, his ideology, his personality, his experiences. Why not?

The literal-mindedness that makes people hunt for Shakespeare's experience (he writes about Italy, so he must have been to Italy!) does enter in Lorquian criticism. For example, Lorca is not permitted to be the author of fictional works. His plays have to derive from "real life."

Even my graduate students know that biographical explanations are out of bounds, but somehow this is the dominant approach in Lorca studies. There is no question of going back to a pre-modern or early modern notion of authorship, but at least we can have one that has learned the lessons of postmodernism.


el curioso impertinente said...

All this is true. But, at the most basic level, if Fernando de los Rios had dropped him off in Paris or London, rather than New York, Poeta en Nueva York would not exist, or the book he would have written would be different, perhaps quite different (and have a different title!). And if he had been born and grown up in Santander, rather than Granada, it's hard to imagine that Divan del Tamarit would have been written. So there is, at least sometimes, some kind of biographical genesis, though that, of course, does not then serve to "explain" the resulting work in any meaningful way. I think that's the error that's made all too frequently, confusing genesis with interpretation.

(BTW, a related question. When towards the end of "A Jose Maria Palacio" Machado includes the name of the cemetery in Soria where Leonor is buried, how can we *not* give the poem a biographical reading?)

Jonathan said...

I actually had this argument with my grad students a few years back.

I said: you accept any kind of contextualization, any kind of historical explanation, but you say that biography is out of bounds. Why?

They came back at me with the standard explanations of why you can't use biography, that we all know about.

Then I came back with "but you accept any other kind of explanation or contextualization." They weren't able to come up with a coherent reason why biography was any different.

And we all know what the impertinent curious guy got for his curiosity.

Anonymous said...

Actually this Vallejo paper I am currently suffering over is about this. There are several interlocking issues and perhaps I should start blogging about them. I mean, I guess I will start blogging about them.