Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Symbolic World of Lorca and "Barbarous Nights"

In the introduction to The Symbolic World of Federico Garcìa Lorca, Rupert C. Allen asserts that the psyche is “simultaneously the source and goal of Lorca’s poetry” (3). Throughout this book, Allen not only interprets the symbolism found in Lorca’s poetry, but also argues the importance of the poet’s unconscious to understanding his use of symbolism and the way in which this ultimately allows readers and critics to take a biographical approach to the Lorca’s work. This essay is an important tool for understanding the theoretical aspects of Lorca’s writing, whether this is Freudian or biographical analysis, and also for establishing a vocabulary of symbolism and imagery that is necessary for understanding the meaning of individual words and images in the world of Lorca’s poetry and plays.

Allen speaks primarily in the introduction of the “vital energy of symbol” that is not only significant to the individual, in this case the author, but also bears archetypal importance and represents the creative drive of the unconscious, in which Lorca strongly believed (4). In Freudian terms, the unconscious is suppressed by the individual ego, so that conscious life is in fact a fragmentation of the unconscious. Allen establishes a three-fold relationship between the unconscious and the conscious within Lorca’s symbolism: the mythic level, the esthetic level and the psychological level. According to Allen, the mythic level is distinguished by collectiveness, the symbols that emerge from conscious lived experience and the “biosphere,” found in world and culture of the Gypsy (6). The esthetic level on the other hand has to do with the interplay between the conscious and the unconscious and the inspiration that arises from this interaction. Allen suggests that this interaction is normally one of frustration and repression of the unconscious. As his example of a release of the unconscious to mix with the conscious he cites the “shock poetry” written by Lorca while in New York while he remained in a “dissociated state” (6). The psychological level is then to Allen about reestablishing the lost connection between the psyche and the natural world, a vital connection broken in childhood (7). It becomes clear that Freudian theory and psychoanalysis are crucial to understanding these different aspects of Lorca’s symbolic world and to understanding how the author’s own unconscious and its creative powers might be influencing the symbolism in his work.

Later in the book, Allen goes on to outline some of the predominant symbolism in Lorca’s writing, which can be categorized as it relates to nature, culture and the lifecycle. For example, Allen begins by describing Lorquian birth symbolism by explaining how the ocean represents “the womb of all life” and that the child is “the promise of continual renewal” (7). Another example of lifecycle symbolism is the connection created between blood and the libido, the Sun God, and even Dionysus. Cultural symbols are people, places or objects in Spanish life that gain archetypal significance and symbolism, such as the liminality encompassed in the carabineer border guards. The glorieta is another important cultural symbol, which functions as a layering of meanings. It’s symbolic significance comes from the layering of its literal meaning, “little glory” and “radiant center,” with its social meanings, a public square or meeting place, that allow this word to be connected to the “circle of silence” associated in Lorca’s beloved canto jondo. Often several of these aspects are combined in one symbol, such as Allen’s description of gypsy lunar symbolism. The moon is connected to the tambourine, the Basque drum, horses and hypnosis by its importance in gypsy fertility spells that thus link all of these both natural and cultural symbols and images to the essence of traditional womanhood (17). Many of the nature symbolism is also related to fertility, such as the recurrence of the laurel plant and its connection to Apollo or the “generative powers” associated with wind and water, becoming libidinal symbols (18, 25). Snow, on the other hand, is “symbolically opposite to vitality,” and death, freezing, paralysis, madness, ego-consciousness and the moon all become intertwined in a sort of symbolic system (26). While these explanations of the symbolism in Lorca’s work are by no means the only way to interpret these frequent images and words, but they do begin to illuminate some of the multiple and complex meanings behind Lorca’s use of symbolism and can help us better think about the interaction between symbols, images and overarching themes in the play.

Works Cited:

Allen, Rupert C. The Symbolic World of Federico García Lorca. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press. 1972. Print.

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