Friday, September 24, 2010

A Production History of “Buster Keaton’s Stroll” and “The Maiden, the Sailor and the Student”

Buster Keaton’s Stroll and The Maiden, the Sailor and the Student are two of Lorca’s best-known “impossible plays,” which first appeared in his avant-garde magazine gallo in 1928 (Stainton 177-8). Buster Keaton’s Stroll was written sometime around 1925 while Lorca was living in the Residencia in Madrid. There, Lorca was introduced to Buster Keaton’s films by Buñuel and he and Dalí began thinking about this iconic celebrity and how he could relate to surrealist cinema as well as homosexuality and reversed gender roles (Sawyer-Lauçanno 8). Although these were originally left out of his Obras Completas, the Buster Keaton’s Stroll appeared in a collection entitled Tres Farsas in 1959 (Dardis 281). The Maiden, the Sailor and the Student was written later, in late 1927 to 1928, and moves towards Lorca’s “more highly developed drama,” perhaps taking inspiration for its narrative from a poem in Gypsy Ballads called “the Gypsy Nun” (Sawyer-Lauçanno 9).

It was not until after the 1970s, when Lorca’s plays came within the public domain, that these avant-garde works were rediscovered and Lorca’s lesser-known or unpublished plays began to be performed in Spain and abroad, and both plays premiered in Spain in 1986 as a “5 Lorca 5” season (Delgado 121, 127). Also in 1986, Lindsay Kemp staged Buster Keaton Takes a Walk for Madrid’s Centro Dramático Nacional that fully embraced the many challenges that this play presents its production team. For example, the sense of Keaton’s “dislocation” from his surroundings and himself was expressed by making him a sort of cycling trapeze artist suspended over the stage. This production played with the movement of other characters as well, putting some on roller skates and including dance, emphasizing the imaginative, dream quality of the show (125).

More recent productions of these works include Impossible Lorca: A Theatrical Hat-Trick produced by New York’s Milk Can Theatre Company in its 2006 Scene Herd Uddered seven-week workshop. Under the direction of Melissa Fendell, this workshop culminated in staged readings of Buster Keaton Takes a Walk, Chimera, and The Maiden, the Sailor, and the Student. Based on Caridad Svich’s translation Lorca’s Impossible Plays, these productions focused on the experimental and surrealist quality of the plays and grappled with interpreting the physical and visual challenges presented by these works. It began with a two-day workshop using Viewpoints technique in order to emphasize the importance of physicality and awareness of the body needed by the six actors performing these works and then it grew into a collaborative, movement-oriented piece over the course of the workshop. While there was a sound and a set/costume designer attached to the production, the design elements remained minimal, mainly involving fabric used for both draped costumes and props, and movement was instead the most important storytelling tool (Scene).

In 2005, Buster Keaton’s Stroll was featured at the International Toy Theatre Festival at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, NY by the Chicago puppeteer Blair Thomas. This show was part of one of Thomas’ larger works entitled Cabaret of Desire that is based on Lorca’s writing and includes, Chimera, The Maiden, the Sailor and the Student, and Buster Keaton’s Stroll, as well as some poems and letters. The Toy Theatre was made of up doll-sized puppets and used objects likea motorized scroll, multiple tubas, and bicycle wheels” (Great). Thomas has produced this work with the help of four other puppeteers and musicians at the Blacksheep Puppet Festival in Pittsburgh in 2002, the Puppeteers of America Southwest Regional Festival in 2008, and the Storefront Theatre in Chicago in 2008 (Touring).

In June 2009, the company Imaginary Beasts premiered “Dream of Life: the Impossible Theatre of Garcia Lorca” at the Boston Center for the Arts. Performed in the Plaza Black Box Theatre, Buster Keaton Takes a Walk appears in the second half of the show, after the audience has been shaken by the direct call for revolutionary action by the poet-playwright persona Lorenzo in Play Without a Title. Described as “action-rich,” Buster Keaton includes an energetic clown cyclist, gracefully maneuvered sun and moon props, and birds vividly evoked through sound. The actors wear full, colorful costumes except for shoes, and the action appears to take place before a plastic shower-curtain-like backdrop (Beckner).

While this somewhat shallow production history tells us little about the history of these two lesser-known plays, it is also exciting because it means that there is plenty of room for imagination and exploration in our own production. The production history also helps us think about these plays not as impossible, but as works ready to be brought to life in the theatre in new and surprising ways.

Works Cited:

Beckner, Jules. “García Lorca’s ‘Dream’ Lives on at the BCA.” My South End News. 17 June 2009. Web. 9-22-10. <>.

Dardis, Thomas A. Keaton, the man who couldn’t lie down. New York, NY: Proscenium Publishers, Inc. 1979. Print. 281.

Delgado, Maria M. Federico García Lorca. New York, NY: Routledge. 2008. Print.

“Great Small Works 7th International Toy Theatre Festival 2005,” Advertisement. Web. 9-22-10. <>.

Sawyer-Lauçanno, Christopher. “Introduction.” Barbarous nights: legends and plays from the Little theater/Federico Garcia Lorca, Trans. Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books. 1991. Print.

“Scene Herd Uddered Workshops 2005-2006 Season.” Milk Can Theatre Company. Web. 4-9-10. <>.

Stainton, Leslie. Lorca: A Dream of Life. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1999. Print.

“Touring Repertoire,” Blair Thomas. 2009. Web. 9-22-10. <>.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

“Play and the Theory of the Duende”

What is Play and the Theory of the Duende?

In 1933, Lorca gave a lecture in Buenos Aires entitled “Play and the Theory of the Duende” in which he described this elusive concept of artistic inspiration that is just one facet of Lorca’s profound fascination with the mystery of art and life. Composed after his time spent in New York City in 1929, Cuba in 1930, and when he had been immersed in the work of the traveling theatre troupe La Barraca since 1931, a group that brought classic plays to the uneducated people of rural Spain, Lorca turned once again to folk tradition in order to think about what gave life to the great art and culture of Spain. The word duende comes from “duen de casa,” a phrase meaning “master of the house” that refers to a “playful hobgoblin” from Spanish popular culture who haunts the house causing trouble (ix). Lorca was also thinking about another popular usage of the term to describe a performer with an “inextricable power of attatraction” who can “send waves of emotion through the audience” (ix). It is this earthy spirit that Lorca chose to embody the sense of inspiration that “climbs up inside” the artist to bring passion and power to the site of artistic creation (57, 59).

What is the duende?

Neither Muse nor Angel, the duende is a struggle that happens within the individual artist to give life to their creative work. A force that comes from within “the remotest mansions of the blood,” the duende is not something that can be found like other exterior influences on art but rather must be fought with inside of the artist at the moment of creation, bringing with it a kind of purity of emotion that “shakes the body” (62). The four elements associated with duende are earthiness, irrationality, a heightened awareness of death, and the diabolical (ix).

For example, Lorca describes a performance given by the revolutionary flamenco singer Pastora Pavón in which she did not exhibit just talent but “[robbed] herself of skill and security” in a kind of helpless struggle with the song and the duende inside of her (62). Vulnerability, such as that which is symbolized by St. Sebastian, is a central part of the experience of duende, and Lorca describes duende as a force that “changes a girl into a lunar paralytic” (xi, 69). The duende however is not limited to the performer and affects both the artist and her audience (x).

The duende is transient, fleeting, never to repeat itself, and it also relies on risk taking. Lorca tells us that “duende does not come at all unless he sees that death is possible,” and that the duende is fought “on the edge of the well” and inside the “open wounds where creation happens” (67). This is why duende is connected to the bullfight, an art that relies on the possibility of death and thus the duende comes at “the point of danger” where “artistic truth” can be achieved (69). The connection between the duende and the bullfight offers an interesting insight into the way death functions in Spanish culture, highlighting the way in which death is associated with celebration and feeling alive. Lorca’s suggestion that in Spain death is the “national spectacle” takes on another macabre layer of meaning when one thinks ahead to the gruesome Civil War that would take this poet’s life along with thousands of others.

Lorca makes several other explicitly Spanish cultural connections with the duende, suggesting that this artistic struggle is particular to the collective Spanish psyche and performance tradition. For example, Lorca assigns the duende a regional representation in Castille, while the muse rests in Catalonia and the angel in Galicia (71). He also explains that while “each art has a duende different in form and style,…their roots meet in the place where the black sounds…come from—the essential, uncontrollable, quivering, common base of wood, sound, canvas and word” (71).

“Where is the duende,” Lorca asks? His answer: “through the empty arch [representing the duende] comes a wind, a mental wind blowing relentlessly over the heads of the dead, in search of new landscapes and unknown accents…announcing the constant baptism of newly created things” (72).

Works Cited:

Maurer, Christopher. In Search of Duende. New York, NY: New Directions Books. 1998. Print.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

“Performative Acts and Gender Construction” in "Barbarous Nights"

Judith Butler’s theory of how performance defines gender identity is key to understanding our own exploration of identity, performance and gender in Barbarous Nights. Butler’s essay from her book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity raises many of the same universal questions as our text does about how identity is created, understood and performed by the individual, how identity is fragmented, fluid, and un-unfixed, and to what extent we have any power over both the social forces that repress and control our expressions of self and how our gender identity is established in the first place.

What is Gender?

Gender is a “stylized repetition of acts” that are performed by the body as it “actively embodies certain cultural and historical possibilities.” It is not predetermined by an “essence,” but continually materialized when we reproduce and reify the historical and social conventions that give the body meaning. In other words, gender is not an expression of biology or a concrete identity, but created by our individual everyday actions. These performances disappear because they are naturalized and seem grounded in our physical bodies.

Example: The Maiden’s constant work on her embroidery can be conceived not as an expression of her gender identity, but rather as an act that she performs in order to portray femininity that in turn defines her as female based on the cultural values attributed to the act.

How do we know what to perform?

Simone de Beauvoir said that, “the body is a historical situation.” Though each performative gender act is unique, it is based on historical “corporeal styles” that determine how gender is performed again. We are not just performing but “dramatizing and reproducing a historical situation.” We operate according to a “tacit collective agreement to perform,” meaning that while we each perform our gender individually, our behavior is limited by a set of cultural values and social rules that decide what each gender is embodied according to previous performances. “The personal is political” because we are conditioned by the social and culture structures around us, even when we act individually. These acts are rehearsed and have a ritualistic, public dimension because there are consequences when you do not comply with your given gender identity.

How is the performance of gender different than actual theatre?

When we perform our gender, the line between the performance and reality becomes indistinguishable, naturalizing the gender performance while also calling reality into question altogether. There is nothing to delineate the “act” that is performed from real life.

Example: When the Mother blinds her daughter, she alters her physical existence so that she will properly embody her female gender identity according to social custom (not looking at men). While the Maiden is performing her gender through various acts, she is irreversibly blind so that her performance is now her reality. What does it mean when the body is permanently changed to embody a particular gender identity? Does this border on essentialism by presupposing a biological or physical definition of gender? This example exposes not only the violence and pain that results from extremely repressive social conventions that dictate how one performs one’s identity but also the tragic possibility that one’s identity might be permanently constrained by one’s own inability to perform beyond the body’s limitations, once again blurring the line between performance and reality.

So what?

Performance theory destabilizes our notion of gender because it asserts that gender does not express any sort of interior “self.” Instead, the self becomes “irretrievably outside,” negating the presence of an true core identity or self. While the elimination of any interior self or predetermined identity can be problematic and disheartening, it is also an incredibly liberating concept that gives a great amount of agency to the individual in his or her everyday life. If gender only exists in so far as we perform it, than we have the potential to change our identity with each new act and expression. Next to the sorrow, fear, emptiness and uncertainty of an identity that is not based on an essential or interior self there is also hope, power and opportunity.

Central Questions:

Is there an “essential self”? Is there a difference between our physical self and our “performative self”? Are we ever not performing our identity? How does this performed identity relate to our unconscious, our ego and our superego?

If our “acts” do not solely constitute our identities, what does? What about emotions, instincts, beliefs, desires, fears, dreams, etc. that pre-exist our expressions of them? What relationship do these play to our performances, the social conventions that define them, and our identities in general?

How does Butler’s theory relate to the way gender functions in the script? Does is make this a feminist or anti-feminist text? How does this theory relate to heterosexuality and homosexuality and their respective functions in the play?

How does this theory help us understand the meaning of props, costumes, images, symbols, colors, etc. throughout the play? In general, how does the play call attention to itself as a performance and what does this do?

How do we highlight the perfomative nature of identity and challenge the notion of “reality” when reality only exists in so far as the individual is performing a series of acts?

How might Lorca respond to Butler’s theory? In what ways does Butler's theory challenge Lorca's notions of a dual identity made up of an inner and outer self?

How does Butler’s theory relate to the “fragmented” identity of Buster Keaton in the film? Is there a “real” Keaton besides the public persona as portrayed in his films? Is this suggested by his inability to comprehend life beyond the screen?

What about death? What does it mean to this theory that Buster Keaton realizes death is not a performance while at the same time he draws attention to the end of the actual theatre performance? How does the play overall challenge the difference between performance and reality or challenge the notion of performance as reality?

How might technology alter the way in which Butler’s theory relates to our text?

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.

The Dual Identity of Buster Keaton

The Marriage of Buster Keaton, a collage by Dalí sent to Lorca in a letter in early 1926

In their article “Dreaming in Pictures: The Childhood Origins of Buster Keaton’s Creativity,” Judith Sanders and Daniel Lieberfeld argue that Buster Keaton’s signature “stone face” as well as the prominent characters and themes in his films are related to a traumatic childhood. Not only does this article offer insight into the life of Buster Keaton, but it also highlights the ways in which performance and identity become blurred for this celebrity chosen by Lorca to explore the nature of dual identity.

Joseph Keaton had an incredibly unconventional childhood that exposed him to the both the amusements and hardships of vaudeville and was overshadowed by the physical abuse by his father both on and off-stage. Born on the road in 1895, Keaton was put on stage by age three and quickly rose to stardom. Rather than attend school, Keaton spent his youth practicing slapstick physical comedy routines with his father, that is, when he wasn’t getting into accidents: he got his nickname “Buster” falling down a flight of stairs (16). The injuries only grew worse as Keaton spent more time onstage participating in dangerous and abusive stunts about a father punishing his son. Keaton became known as “the Human Mop,” was thrown into walls and beaton with heavy objects (16). Though some were concerned for his safety, mostly the public just found Keaton and his father hilarious.

Keaton was already performing by age 3.

Keaton with his parents, age 4

Keaton’s alcoholic father did not limit his violent behavior to the stage, however, and during this time Keaton developed his signature “blank” face at the insistence of his father, a look which these critics believe was a representation of Keaton’s interior emotions and not simply a “blank pan or the puzzled puss” put on to get a bigger laugh (16). This question of how Keaton adopted this expression for the rest of his career suggests why Lorca was thinking about the comedian, like the mask, as a symbol of dual identity.

Other details about Keaton’s life and career also relate to this question of his identity, such as the way in which Keaton himself performs his own biography. While some critics believed that, “the [characters he played] took hold of Buster Keaton himself,” the authors of this article suggest that it was in fact the other way around and that Keaton’s characters and films became a creative outlet for his own troubling life experiences. For example, reflected in Keaton’s autobiography is the way in which he and his mother lived in constant denial of his father’s violent cruelty until Keaton was 21 when the two left their father and went to Los Angeles, suggesting that Keaton invented a much happier childhood for himself in his interviews and autobiography than he actually experienced (17). Another interesting overlap between Keaton’s life and work is the way in which the films he created and starred in himself possibly served as a way for Keaton to cope with his trauma by “[recreating] the physical dangers of his childhood, this time under circumstances of his own choosing” through his incredible stunts (18).

Brown Eyes and Friendless

The plots of Keaton’s films also address many of the issues he himself struggled with growing up, such as feeling unfairly and inexplicably punished as in Convict 13, proving his masculine identity to a cruel father in Steamboat Bill, Jr. and a psychological battle with “insecurity, inadequacy, and isolation” in The General and The Cameraman. (26). Keaton’s own favorite film and his biggest box-office success, Battling Butler, is also one of many films that enact a sort of “fantasy of revenge on a bullying parent” (26). In this way Buster Keaton serves as an appropriate case study for the tension between the identity of the performer and his character.

A sad looking Keaton surrounded by ladies.

Keaton in College, the film referenced by the Man with the White Feather Duster in Babarous Nights.

This article highlights several other interesting overlaps between Keaton’s life and work and our text. For example, in light of his traumatic childhood abuse, Keaton becomes an interesting example of another type of painful parent-child relationship that might mirror the relationship of the Maiden and the Mother in Barbarous Nights. It also becomes clear how many of the qualities of Lorca’s imagined Keaton character relate to his own performances. For example, many of Keaton’s films take place in the context dream or a nightmarish world, suggesting a surreal quality to Keaton’s own films. In addition, many critics suggest that it is Keaton’s technique for distancing himself from the audience and becoming emotionless and flat as he first appears in our play that makes his work comedic.

A forlorn Keaton in The Navigator

From his earliest performances, Keaton relied on the “mechanical quality of his rigidly controlled face” along with literally becoming objectified to his audience so that he no longer seemed human (26). Keaton also makes himself puppet-like in order to “limit the possibility of empathy” from the audience and create the amount of “insensitivity” necessary to invoke laughter (26). Ultimately this article offers unique insight into why Lorca may have been thinking about the figure of Buster Keaton in the way that he did, imagining him in terms of a dual identity that provokes serious questions about the relationship between the actor and his role as well as performance and identity and how the theatre can shed light on exactly what it means to be human.

Keaton in In the Good Old Summertime, 1949 (left) and The Railrodder, 1965 (right)

Works Cited:

Sanders, Judith and Daniel Lieberfeld. Film Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 4. Summer, 1994. JSTOR. Web. 8-31-2010.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Symbolism in Barbarous Nights

Animals and Birds:
Bull: The national symbol of Spain with the bullfight as Spain's national sport. Children are even taught in school to recognize the shape of Spain because it looks like a bull (In Search of Duende 95). Lorca himself greatly admired the bullfight because it is where "the duende is most impressive" because the fighter battles both death and "geometry" (Play and the Theory of Duende 69).
Horse: The horse is often a sexual image in Lorca, associated with gypsy drums and music in a way that relates to gypsy moon imagery as well (Allen).
Partridge: Commonly a symbol of the devil, but can also symbolize the church or Christ.
Rooster: This is the animal chosen to symbolize Lorca's avant-garde magazine gallo, released i 1928 in Granada. As a "rooster of resistance," it symbolizes the liberation from the "conservative tradition" in Granada that his magazine embodied (Sawyer-Lauçanno 3).

Red: First and foremost red is blood and is related to both life and death, the life-cycle and menstrual cycle, libido and Dionysus (Allen 7).
White: Virginity and purity at the same time as it suggests coldness, sterility and death (Havard 819).
Green: See "Verde."
Yellow/Gold: In Lorca's poetry, yellow often seems to signify childhood and warm colors are used to describe the landscape of Granada where he grew up (Allen). Also, executioners in Spain traditionally wore yellow or red (Brewer 1317).
Blue: In his essay, "Play and the Theory of the Duende," Lorca describes an Andalucian night as blue (15).
Gray/Silver: Associated with Lorca's New York poetry and also his use of "veiled tones" to evoke poverty and differentiate man-made objects from things found in nature.
Orange: Warm colors are typically associated with Andalusian imagery in Lorca's poetry.

Flowers and Trees According to Kate Greenaway's
Language of Flowers:
Camellias: Red--unpretending excellence; White--perfected loveliness
Cypress: Death and mourning
Iris: Message
Lily: Day--coquetry; White--purity, sweetness; yellow--falsehood, gaiety; of the Valley--return of happiness. Lorca also described himself as having within him a "white lily impossible to water," while the rest of the world saw him as a red rose, suggesting a profound fear or passion and sex (Stainton 65).
Myrtle: Love
Narcissus: Egotism
Oleander: Beware
Orange Blossom: Your purity equals your loveliness
Pine: Pity
Poplar: Black--courage; White--time
Red Rose: Love; Deep red--bashful shame
White Rose: I am worthy of you; Withered--transient impressions
Sunflower: Haughtiness
Spikenards: Also known as muskroot, this flowering plant from the Himilayas was traditionally made into an essential oil used as a perfume or medicinal oinment. This is the oil with which Mary Magdalene anoints Jesus.
Tulip: Fame; Red--declaration of love; Variegated--Beautiful eyes; Yellow--Hopeless love

Fruits and Food:
Apples: The symbol of temptation and the Fall of Man from the Garden of Eden. Also, "hard apples" are used to describe the work of the "popular school" of embroidery in Granada in "History of this Rooster."
Lemon: Childhood.
Lorca's drawing of lemons.
Olives: One at a café with friends, Lorca told his company that he was going to Mass that afternoon because he was intoxicated by the ritual and the aroma of the incense. Dalí pointed at the table replied that he was more interested in this olive.
Shaddock: A south asian citrus fruit like a pomelo or a grapefruit.

Other References:
Boletos: Spanish for "tickets."
Boreal auroras: an inversion of the name for the colorful northern light phenomenon "aurora borealis," named after the Roman goddess of the dawn Aurora and the Greek word for wind.
Crepuscular: Of or relating to twilight (dawn or dusk).
Crinoline: A type of many-layered women's petticoat.
Dante: Author of the Divine Comedy, including the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, written in the 14th century.
"Great Stone Face": Buster Keaton was known for keeping a straight face while performing slapstick routines and ridiculous stunts. Some scholars believe this was related to traumatic childhood abuse by his father, who taught him to play it straight.
Hermetic song: As in songs sung in solitude.
Magnesium lights:
Megatherium: A pre-historic genus of giant sloths that lived in Central and South America, referring to their enormous, elephant-like size.
Meningitis: This disease affecting the brain and spinal cord caused by either bacterial or viral infection was a major problem around the world at the turn of the 20th century without much treatment. The line about "masks of meningitis" inverts one of the common treatment that calls for patients to wear masks so as to limit their contagion.
A Midsummer Night's Dream:
Miss Eleonora:
Moiré tie: A fabric with a wave pattern woven into it, such as "watered silk," so called for its appearance like water ripples.
Narcissus: The beautiful Greek mythological hero described by Ovid in book three of Metamorphosis who died starring at his own reflection with which he had fallen in love as punishment for his pride and vanity.
Natalia: Natalia Talmadge was Buster Keaton's first wife (1921-32), the sister-in-law of his boss in Hollywood, and a silent film actress with whom he had two sons.
"The Navigator": Buster Keaton's 1924 film in which he and his love interest are stranded on a ship adrift on the Pacific Ocean.
Polyphemus: The name of the cyclopse in Homer's Odyssey and one of the sea-god Poseidon's sons. His Greek counter part is Chronus, who became a god associated with time during the Renaissance.
Saetas: A song of traditional Andalusian flamenco music, related to Catholicism.
San Lazáro: Mystery, inner self, depth of feeling.
San Lucía: Associated with blindness and sickness; the surface, the superficial.
San Sebastían: The artist and his creation; homoeroticism; Lorca's relationship with Dalí.
Saturn: The Roman god of agriculture and harvest.

Other Symbols:
Arrows/target: San Sebastían was killed by arrows and the arrow became a motif in the work of Lorca and Dalí; both the symbol of King Ferdinand who expelled the Moors from Granada and one of the symbols of the Falange, a radical Right-wing group that took power during the Civil War in Spain.
Country of the Dead: Lorca may be referring to his own beloved Spain and not the underworld, and in his essay Play and the Theory of Duende he notes how Spaniards welcome death, celebrate it as "a national spectacle" in the bullfight, and that a "dead man is more alive in Spain as a dead man than anyplace else in the world" (64).
Jasper: A speckled or striped stone with religious meaning that is generally red, yellow, brown or sometimes green. In Revelation 21, jasper is used to describe the "shining" city of New Jerusalem and makes up the first layer of the city's foundation. It is also one of the twelve stones in the High Priest Aaron's breastplate, described in Exodus 28. Its symbolism includes "blood atonement" via the sacrifice of Christ, prosperity, protection from spirits, and the "perfection of saints" (Gaylord).
Moon and stars: Eternity and romance (Maurer). The moon is also 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 (Allen 17).
Neuter moon: Latin for "neither," as in neither male or female, stripping the moon of its typical gendered image and symbolism.
Ocean/wave/tide: "Sexual and emotional freedom" associated with Cadaqués where he spent his spring with Dalí in 1925 in contrast to the "repressed desires" represented by "landlocked Granada" where he missed his friend and love; the Mediterranean as a "life-giving force" (Stainton 136-7). Wind too becomes associated with libido (Allen).
Thread/embroidery: In "The History of This Rooster," a prose piece written to launch his avant-garde magazine gallo in 1928 and to "attack...the conservative tradition in Granada," there is a rivalry between "two great schools of embroidery" in town (Sawyer-Lauçanno 3, 29). The first school is the Sacred Convent of Santo Domingo, associated with purity, tradition, and wealth, while the second is the "more popular, more art" of Paquita Raya (29). It is the latter embroiderer to which Don Alhambro, the magazines fictional founder, goes to have his rooster emblem realized. At the end of the story, the rooster resurrects himself after Don Alhambra has been martyred in order to return and take his place as the title of the magazine, "four bright yellow hens" are embroidered onto silk (33).

Works Cited:

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

Brewer, Ebeneezer Cobham. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott Co. 1905.

Gaylord, Harry A. "Christian Symbolism in the Breastplate of Judgement--Chapter 12." Web. 10-6-10. <>.

Havard, Robert G. “The Symbolic Ambivalence of ‘Green’ in García Lorca and Dylan Thomas.” JSTOR. 1972. 6/10/2010. Web.

Lorca, Federico Garcìa. In Search of Duende. Ed. Christopher Maurer. New Directions. 2010. Print.

Maurer, Christopher. Sebastian’s Arrows: Letters and Mementos of Salvador Dalì and Federico Garcìa Lorca. Swan Isle Press. 2005. Print.

Sawyer-Lauçanno, Christopher. “Introduction.” Barbarous nights: legends and plays from the Little theater/Federico Garcia Lorca, Trans. Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books. 1991. Print.

Stainton, Leslie. Lorca: A Dream of Life. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1999. Print.


A necessary disclaimer:
Lorca did not identify himself as a Surealist poet. In fact, when talking about a series of his poems influenced by Salvador Dalí’s paintings made in 1927 and 1928, Lorca insisted that his work represented his “new spiritualist manner, pure, raw emotion, unleashed from the control of logic, but—careful! careful!—with a tremendous poetic logic. They are not surrealism, careful! The clearest consciousness illuminates them” (Maurer 14). Even so, it is undeniable that Lorca was thinking about surrealism and was very much a part of the context from which Spanish Surrealism emerged, especially as he began to diverge even further from the aesthetic of artists like Dalí and Luis Buñuel and define his own “hecho poético” beyond traditional metaphor (Maurer 14). It is perhaps for each of us to judge for ourselves whether or not Lorca’s work is “hopelessly traditional” and a form of “false” Surrealism as Buñuel firmly believed (Maurer 15).

Lorca, Bosque Sexual, 1933.

From “Towards a History of Surrealism” by Scott M. Silsbe, Nidus, Summer 2005:

In his essay, Silsbe offers a brief history of Surrealism, beginning with Andre Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism (1924) with its origins in the Dada movement. At the heart of Surrealism are the Freudian unconscious and the dream state. Surrealism abandons ordinary logic, challenging the limits of the real and the imagined, the conscious and the unconscious.
While Silsbe does not directly address Lorca’s contribution to the Surrealist movement, many aspects of his description of Surrealism can be seen throughout Lorca’s poetry and plays. This essay helps to place Lorca’s work within the context of his contemporaries and their approach to art and poetry, particularly in light of his relationship with Salvador Dalí, who became a prominent Surrealist painter after traveling to France, while also offering insight into the world of our play.

Man Ray, A l'heure de l'observation.

‘Breton defined Surrealism as "pure psychic automatism whose intention is to express verbally, in writing, or by other means, the real process of thought and thought’s diction, in the absence of all control exercised by reason and outside all aesthetic and moral preoccupations" (Breton 26). Surrealism, then, in its original manifestation, attempted to come as close to a documentation of the unconscious mind through works of art.’

Salvador Dalí, Autumn Canabalism, 1936-7.

‘Surrealism can be seen as a reactionary movement to both Romanticism and French Symbolism… [T]he Surrealists advocated for a great liberation in poetry. Surrealist poetry relished spontaneity, the unpredictable, the startling, the never-seen-before.”

‘In Surrealism, it is believed true poetry is that which comes from the unconscious mind.’

Andre Kertesz, Distortion, 1933.

‘Literary scholar Anna Balakian clearly articulates Breton's end aim of Surrealism: "He foresaw as the ultimate achievement . . . the marriage of the two states, in appearance so contradictory, of dream and reality, into one sort of absolute reality which he called surreality" (Balakian126).’

Dalí, Little Ashes, 1927-8.

‘Breton and his fellow Surrealists developed several ways at getting at this surreality to create poetry. The most frequent way was what they called automatic writing, which basically meant writing in a near-trance state, or as close as one could get to writing while dreaming. It was through this kind of method that the Surrealists developed a poetry based almost entirely on intuition and association.’

‘The early Surrealists, then, relied heavily on the image in their poems, and the more startling -- the unpredictable the image -- the better.’

Jose Caballero, Yerma, 1939.

‘Probably the most striking difference between the French and Spanish Surrealists is the manner in which each group carried out Surrealist activity. In his book The Surrealist Mode in Spanish Literature, Paul Ilie notes that "there were no self-proclaimed exponents of Surrealism [for the Spanish Surrealists]…no manifestoes or statements of purpose" (Ilie 1). Also unlike the French, the Spanish Surrealists were not inclined to collective efforts.’

Joan Miro, Femme en Revolte, 1938. Both Dalí and Lorca greatly admired Miro.

From Andre Breton’s 1934 Lecture “What is Surrealism?” and it’s political implications:

‘Surrealism rests in the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of association neglected heretofore; in the omnipotence of the dream and in the disinterested play of thought. It tends definitely to do away with all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in the solution of the principal problems of life.’

‘Surrealism, starting fifteen years ago with a discovery that seemed only to involve poetic language, has spread like wildfire, on pursuing its course, not only in art but in life. It has provoked new states of consciousness and overthrown the walls beyond which it was immemorially supposed to be impossible to see; it has—as is being more and more generally recognized—modified the sensibility, and taken a decisive step towards the unification of the personality, which it found threatened by an ever more profound dissociation.’

Jose Caballero, Sweet Pleasures of Sadism, 1934.

In response to rising fascism:
‘Let it be clearly understood that for us, surrealists, the interests of thought can not cease to go hand in hand with the interests of the working class, and that all attacks on liberty, all fetters on the emancipation of the working class and all armed attacks on it cannot fail to be considered by us as attacks on thought likewise.’

Lorca, Sueno del marino, 1927.

Online Surrealism Resources:

Breton, Andre. Manifesto of Surrealism. <>.

Breton, Andre. “What is Surrealism?” <>.

Espace Dalí Monmartre. <>.

Silsbe, Scott M. “Towards a History of Surrealism.” Nidus No. 9. Summer 2005. <>.

“Surrealist Art.” Centre Pompidou. <>.

*Best Surrealist resource on the web!

Works Cited:

Breton, Andre. Manifesto of Surrealism. <>.

Breton, Andre. “What is Surrealism?” <>.

Maurer, Christopher. Sebastian’s Arrows: Letters and Mementos of Salvador Dalì and Federico Garcìa Lorca. Swan Isle Press. 2005. Print.

Silsbe, Scott M. “Towards a History of Surrealism.” Nidus No. 9. Summer 2005. <>.