Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

Was Garcia Lorca Dyslexic (like W.B.Yeats)?

Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

Was Garcia Lorca Dyslexic (like W.B.Yeats)?

Article excerpt

To my knowledge, the suggestion that Federico Garcia Lorca was dyslexic has never been made before. I first suspected that he might have had some kind of reading and writing disability when I was working with a set of original autograph manuscripts for a new critical edition of one of his many unfinished collections of poetry, the Sonetos (forthcoming). While deciphering all the crossings-out on the manuscripts, I noticed that a good number of them did not represent substantive revisions in the process of composition, but rather simply misspellings that Lorca often, though not always, caught in mid-word. One of the salient characteristics of these misspellings was the transposition of two consonants. The most obvious example appears in a number of the titles of these poems, where Lorca wrote 'sot' or 'soteno' [sic] before catching himself, crossing it out, and inserting 'soneto'. (1) This repeated error of metathesis caught my attention; (2) further research on the topic led me to believe that Lorca had in all likelihood suffered from dyslexia, though this is a necessarily provisional conclusion, given both the elusive nature of the condition and the inevitable difficulties inherent in retroactive diagnosis.

This essay is therefore concerned with exploring the proposition that Lorca was dyslexic, though not severely so, and, secondly, with showing how his case offers a number of points of comparison with that of William Butler Yeats. Of the various authors who have been convincingly documented as suffering from dyslexia (Hans Christian Andersen, Balzac, Flaubert, Winston Churchill, and John Irving among them), Yeats is the nearest to Lorca in terms of chronology, genre, and, in some measure, spirit. Thus the Irish poet and dramatist will be used as a kind of 'control', in the scientific sense of the word, as a yardstick against which the evidence regarding Lorca may be measured and evaluated. In broad terms, the approach adopted is primarily biographical, looking at what is known about Lorca's (and Yeats's) infancy and youth, at the performance of each in school, and their intellectual development over these years. At the end, in line with the exploratory nature of this inquiry, some tentative suggestions are made regarding the possible repercussions of this condition on Lorca's literary work.

Four general points need to be made before looking in detail at the evidence: first, there has been considerable debate over the term 'dyslexia', and I use it here, as is commonly the case nowadays, in a fairly broad sense to cover a good deal more than simply its etymological meaning, 'dys'-'lexia', difficulty with the reading of words; (3) second, experts are agreed that dyslexia exists on a continuum, from the barely perceptible through to the extremely severe; third, there are a large and diverse number of traits that may be indicators of the condition (West, p. 93); fourth, in any particular case only a certain selection of these traits may be observable, with each of them again varying along that continuum from mild to virtually incapacitating. (4) In other words, the symptomology is always slightly different, and there is no one fixed, defined template that can be held up to determine the presence (or, indeed, absence) of dyslexia.

Traits indicating the presence of dyslexia fall into various categories. Beyond the most obvious ones having to do with learning disabilities in the areas of reading and writing, there are also those that cover in more general terms performance and attitudes at school, physical and mental maturation, some physical and organizational skills (or lack of them), and difficulties with direction and sequential order. The immediate signs of dyslexia are cognitive problems with direction, sequence, and spatial orientation, (5) while underlying these problems and the root cause of dyslexia is a variation in the lateralization of brain functions. As one writer explains it:

The view of the two hemispheres now commonly accepted is that certain skills and abilities are specialized in one hemisphere while other skills and abilities are specialized in the other. …

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