Towards a Foucauldian Exegesis of Act V of Garcia Lorca's 'El Publico'

By Jerez-Farran, Carlos | The Modern Language Review, July 2000 | Go to article overview

Towards a Foucauldian Exegesis of Act V of Garcia Lorca's 'El Publico'


Jerez-Farran, Carlos, The Modern Language Review


Of all of Federico Garcia Lorca's works, El publico is the one that has suffered the greatest adversities. The fact that the play is the first text by Lorca, and also the first in modern theatre, that deals with homosexuality directly, without the periphrastic tactics so frequently used in his more conventional theatre, is the principle reason for the difficulties it has faced since its composition. The play, which was written during Lorca's stay in New York in 1929, has come down to us in an incomplete state, the only existing copy being the manuscript that Rafael Martinez Nadal edited in 1974. (1) Although it is known that Lorca read the play to a circle of close friends in 1930, it was never performed until 1979, ironically fulfilling the author's prophecy that the play was 'for the theatre years from now'. (2) Besides the manuscript's many vicissitudes, El publico is one of the most complex and hermetic of Lorca's 'lost' works. Its difficulties are mainly due to the play's structural fragmentation, to the apparent illogicality of the scene sequences, and to the abrupt arbitrary manner in which the characters make their appearance. Different planes of reality intermix to become confused with historical or dreamlike sequences. The play's verbal density is often a serious impediment to the reader's understanding of the action, and whereas in Lorca's more popular theatre words are used as vehicles of communication and comprehension, in El publico they are used to obscure meaning.

There is no doubt that El publico's semiotic obfuscation and peculiar structure are direct consequences of Lorca's interest in the avant-garde experimentations of the time, both in the visual arts and in the theatre. The theory that Poeta en Nueva York was, among other things, a pretext for Lorca to prove to his friends, especially Dali and Bunuel, how far he could go with modernist aesthetics, could equally apply to this play. It can also be argued that the fragmentation and impenetrability of the play serve to articulate a number of important aspects about the dominant ideology under which the play was written. It is my conviction that El publico should be read not only as an example of the modernist literary discourse Lorca was developing so adeptly but also as a dramatization of the author's personal frustration within a social system that reacted to homosexual subjectivity with a bizarre mixture of censure, ignorance, and denial. The incoherence of the play, its incompleteness, and its lack of the aesthetic harmony so typical of his better-known plays, should be read as signs of the dialectical tensions the homosexual subject experiences in a system that is bent on preventing the existence and authentic articulation of homosexuality. It is from this perspective that the play's failed attempt at constructing harmony should be interpreted. The text, after all, is inspired, among other things, by the ostracism Lorca himself experienced as a homosexual, the prejudice and injustice society levelled at him, and the unresolved inner conflicts that these created in the author. Traditional criticism has tended to attenuate the play's homoerotic content, and thereby its political content. Yet the play becomes much more intelligible once the problems that beset Lorca and the ideology of his times are recognized. As Paul Julian Smith has demonstrated in his recent analysis of Lluis Pasqual's 1986 production of El publico in Madrid, one of the successes of the play's staging was the way in which 'the play's conceptual complexities' were made to disappear, thanks to the adroitness of the production and to the way it communicated 'Garcia Lorca's ideas on both homosexuality and theatre [...] without either apology or apologetics'. (3)

Among the five acts that comprise the work in its present form, it is perhaps the fifth that best exemplifies the complex dialectic created as alternative sexual ideologies attempt to become visible and legitimate. …

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