Out of the Wings

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Generation of 1898 (Generación del 98)

A group of philosophers, artists and writers working at a time when Spain was undergoing considerable cultural and political change (having lost, for example, its colonies after losing the Spanish-American War of 1898). Put in very general terms, this generation was keen to engage its public in a reconsideration of Spain and Spanishness through their work. Notable playwrights of this generation include Miguel de Unamuno, Ramón María del Valle-Inclán and Jacinto Benavente.

Generation of 1927 (Generación del 1927)

A group of poets, artists, and writers – including playwrights such as Federico García Lorca – whose work defined the main artistic currents of Spain in the 1920s and early 1930s before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Although classified together, the individuals grouped together under the term ‘Generation of 1927’ were diverse in terms of their artistic influences and interests – ranging from the avant-garde and surrealism, to Spain’s past literary tradition. One of the most memorable events held by some members of this group was a celebration in 1927 to mark the 300th anniversary of the death of the Spanish Baroque poet, Luis de Góngora (1561-1627).

Género chico

A nineteenth-century style of one-act play. Género chico plays are typically comic, featuring dance, parody and satire. They are often seen as realist counter-images of heroic drama, featuring down to earth local people.

grotesco criollo

The genre of the grotesco criollo took root in the Buenos Aires (and to some degree in Montevideo) in the early part of the twentieth century, especially in the 1920s and 1930s. Thematically it deals with the experience of the immigrant to the region, characterised by the experience of the Italian immigrant, Italians being by far the most numerous of the vertiginous wave of immigration to Argentina, encouraged by the policies of the liberal governments of the mid-nineteenth century. The immigrants were, on the whole, seeking a new life away from increasing rural poverty as well as unrest in Europe, and Argentina promised land, religious freedom, citizenship. The reality, unsurprisingly, was very different. The immigrants rarely moved beyond the port areas, they lived in ghettos, servicing the meat packing industries, the port, on the periphery of Argentine society and were viewed with suspicion and hostility by the criollo population.

The plays of the grotesco criollo dramatise the reality of immigrant experience at its most harsh: melancholic longing to return to the now idealised homeland; marginalisation in ill-paid difficult manual labour; family breakdown in financial misery; crisis of ‘traditional’ values; generational conflict; moral duty; anxiety about the future; failure of dreams and expectations; prostitution, sacrifice, tension. Underpinning these overarching themes is the lack of access to the language of the host nation. The plays are written in a form of ‘cocoliche’ – a stage language that mimics the Italianised Spanish of the immigrant, including also the port slang of lunfardo, ‘un español macarrónico’.  It is a language that infantilises the protagonists in their attempts to communicate beyond their immediate community, underlining their lack of power and authority in the receiving culture. The grotesco criollo ultimately grotesques the modernising liberal policy of mass immigration, revealing it as an ugly set of truths and realities that distort and unveil the limitations, misconceptions and failures at the heart of policies that shaped modern Argentina.

The dramatists of the grostesco criollo – notably Armando Discepolo, Florencio Sánchez and Francisco Defilippis Nova - were conscious of the ways in which they were carrying Italian traditions of the grotesque into Argentine drama. The themes, dramatic structures, scenarios of these plays are apparent in the Italian grotesque, as practised by Cavacchioli, Antonelli, Chiarella and, most notably, Pirandello, and are seen being developed in theatre in Italy between about 1916 – 1920. As in Argentina, the site of the drama is the family, which is in perpetual breakdown through a failure of the parents, through the inability to understand the nature of their reality and to go beyond it. Reality is then distorted and deformed, and is presented to the audience in this way, a grotesquing of the bourgeois that is mirrored back to the audience.

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