Academic journal article The Comparatist

Alberti and Mayakovski: Subverting the Mystery Play

Academic journal article The Comparatist

Alberti and Mayakovski: Subverting the Mystery Play

Article excerpt

This article examines the convergence of humor and modernist aesthetics in Rafael Alberti's Farsa de los reyes magos (1934) and Mayakovski's Mystery-Bouffe (1918; [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) as representatives of their respective fields of cultural production, and as benchmarks to gauge Spanish responses to Russian futurism during the 1930s. (1) Although not Mayakovski's most Futurist work, Vsevolod Meyerhold's production of "the first-ever Soviet play" gained international exposure when performed in German at the Third Congress of the Communist International in 1921 (Mayakovski, Sobranie sochinenii 9: 223; Meyerhold & Braun 160). Alberti wrote his avant-garde agitation and propaganda play in 1934 after returning from a second trip to the Soviet Union, in which his wife, the well-known theatrical figure Maria Teresa Leon, reported upon international drama for the Heraldo de Madrid. In their efforts to create an aesthetic variant of social theater, both plays engage questions of modernity by subverting the medieval mystery play, which had an analogous didactic intent.


A number of critics, notably Paul Ilie and Manfred Lentzen, have explored Spain's reception and connections with Italian futurism. (2) As these two critics have noted, Filippo Tomasso Marinetti and Italian Futurism were well received in Spain. The influence of Futurism spanned two periods, one beginning in 1909 and another towards the end of the 1920s, and gave rise to a number of connections with the Spanish Avant-Garde movement. Marinetti's "Proclama futurista a los espanoles" [Futurist Proclamation to the Spaniards] was translated by Ramon Gomez de la Serna and published in Prometeo 1910, as was his "Fundacion y manifiesto del futurismo" [Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism] a year earlier (Ilie 73; Lentzen 67; Marinetti, "Fundacion" 65-73; Marinetti, "Proclama" 517-31). Spaniards hailed the new aesthetic of the future, praising modernity's rebellion against the academy, its love of velocity, and bold images of the machine.

Yo he entrevisto el encanto de la ciudad industrial y he deseado que lo cantasen los artistas; he presentido la belleza de las estaciones de ferrocarril, de los sudexpresos rugientes y de las fabricas humeantes.... He dicho ... que estaba por cantar la belleza del automovil. Marinetti ha encontrado la frase justa y estetica al afirmar ... que "un automovil rugiente, que parece correr sobre la metralla, es mas bello que la Victoria de Samotracia" (Gonzalez Blanco 340)

(I have seen the enchantment of the industrial city and have desired that artists sing of it; I have witnessed the beauty of train stations, of southbound expresses, and of smoky factories.... I have said ... that I am in favor of singing of the automobile's beauty. Marinetti has found the just and aesthetic phrase in affirming ... that "a roaring car, that seems to run over grapeshot, is more beautiful than The Victory of Samothrace")

Nevertheless, some Spaniards were critical of certain aspects of futurism. Notwithstanding Marinetti's claims to the contrary, Diez-Canedo felt that Italian Futurism owed much to the past it sought to demolish, while Gonzalez Blanco considered it foolhardy to dismiss the canon entirely (Diez-Canedo 11; Gonzalez Blanco 348). J.G.O. expressed a similar opinion regarding Mayakovski's futurist drama, The Bedbug, declaring that it had more in common with the present than the future.

"Quiere ser" teatro revolucionario, mas aun, teatro de vanguardia que se anticipa a la vision teatral del futuro; pero no pasa de ser teatro de hoy.... El autor ... no puede ... desprenderse de su formacion burguesa. Y asi se da en esta obra suya la paradoja de que se intente crear la vida, la mentalidad, las costumbres de 1979, con un criterio y unos prejuicios ... de 1917-1936. (J.G.O. 8)

("It attempts" to be revolutionary theater, moreover, avant-garde theater that anticipates the future theatrical vision; put it is nothing more than today's theater. …

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