- In the Light of Contradiction. Desire in the Poetry of Federico García Lorca
Between García Lorca’s early Libro de poemas (1921) and the mature Romancero gitano (1928) lies the poetic world of Suites, Poema del cante jondo, and Canciones, three books with a large measure of overlap, both chronological and textual in nature. The last was published in 1927, the second in 1931, and the first never in Lorca’s lifetime, giving the impression of greater separation and difference than is actually the case. Of the three, Poema del cante jondo has received the most attention and commentary, with three substantial books devoted to it (Miller, Stanton, Karageorgou-Bastea) as well as critical editions and articles. Canciones comes in second place, with just one book (Walters). Understandably, Suites is the Cinderella of the group, because there was no edition at all until 1983 (Belamich), with significantly better ones following in 1991 and 2002 (Maurer), but still no comprehensive critical edition.
One of the strengths, therefore, of Quance’s book, is that it takes full cognizance of these facts and adopts an appropriate critical stance: the study defines as its subject all three collections, devoting substantial coverage to each one in turn, and the treatment is well balanced, offering both an estimate of them as self-contained units as well as due recognition and exploration of their complex interconnectedness. Reflecting inversely the attention that they have received to date, the three main chapters here range in length from Suites (76 pp.) to Canciones (50 pp.) to Poema del cante jondo (26 pp.). Broadly speaking, the author’s critical method is firmly based on scrupulous close reading, this judiciously informed by historical contextualization, biographical material, textual and editorial documentation, with some use of modern theory.
After examining the corpus of poetry carefully, Quance concludes that at its core is the theme of desire, though each of the collections presents or treats this theme rather differently, in term of the poetic subject’s attitude toward desire, the presence and handling of the lyric I (all but elided in Canciones), and the way in which desire is rendered poetically (6, 32). Broadly speaking, the subject is caught in a temporal conundrum: happiness and the ideal, if located anywhere, appear to lie in the past, but to strive towards them inevitably implies moving into the future [End Page 158] (42). Love and romance, likewise, offer their obvious attractions but at the same time the subject perceives multiple threats and danger (52). Not surprisingly, then, desire (in all its forms) is generally frustrated (it is impossible, it is thwarted, or the subject shies away) (99), but the resulting poetry is not just a representation of the experience of that frustration but also an inherent part in the creation of the poetry itself (18–19). Allied to this principal focus of attention is a sophisticated analysis of how Lorca’s own emerging sexuality and the problems and difficulties he encountered might—or might not—have impacted his compositions; this is handled with a light touch and a level of complexity rarely found in studies that deal with the poet’s homosexuality. Suites certainly seems to refract some of these issues surrounding sexuality; by Canciones, though, the ironic distancing and depersonalization is a good deal stronger and the reader or critic is on less firm ground (28, 32).
It is hard to do justice to the intricacy and the multiple facets of Quance’s argument in brief summary form, but for most of the time it is finely nuanced and very compelling. As already mentioned, it is founded in close readings of a good number of the poems appearing in the three collections, and these readings are, similarly, consistently thoughtful, delving, and convincing. I thought the very best were to be found in the chapter on the Suites. Inevitably, with interpretation of this sort, there will be minor, local disagreements of detail, but even then the critic provides a...