This study examines the tensions and variations of the surrealist aesthetic in Spain, specifically in the late poetic, dramatic, and graphic works of the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. While many intellectuals recognize that the application of surrealist precepts in Spain is problematic on many levels, my research investigates what contemporary art critics have called “dissident,” “ethnographic,” or “undercover” surrealism—variations of surrealism rooted in the theories of the renegade French intellectual Georges Bataille. In the Spanish context, Bataille’s early writings (which appeared in the dissident surrealist review Documents), including his exposition on formlessness, base matter, putrefaction, and mutilation, offer a de-sublimated reading of surrealism and succinctly capture the emptiness and anguish that are evident in many strands of Spanish poetic expression in the second and third decades of the twentieth century.
Initially, I focus on the performative nature of Bataillean formlessness [informe] and the manner in which aesthetic, thematic, and structural manifestations of the formless in Lorca’s work critique and undermine social, cultural, and artistic conventions. Reading Lorca’s “surrealist” texts (including Poeta en Nueva York, Viaje a la luna, El público, and others) through the Bataillean lens offers an innovative and relevant approach to surrealist variations in Spain which focus on the base and more primal drives that, in addition to the sublimatory goals of Bretonian surrealism, were also evident in the Spanish avant-garde. As such, the reworking of the surreal which I propose rethinks the avant-garde in Spain and reconsiders Lorca’s involvement therein. Additionally, my reading of Lorca and Bataille focuses on the ethical implications that are recognized in their interest in poetry and in their use of spaces of informe. In essence, the poetic utterance is treated as a site open to otherness and to the expression of concerns both social and aesthetic.