Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Lorca bout

In the moist recesses of my romantic youthful imagination, I harbored regrets for not having been able to do a couple of things because they were before my time. One was to have fought in the Spanish Civil War, the other was to have been able to see Nijinski dance.

I was reminded of these wistful & wishful thoughts by a paragraph in a fairly lengthy review by Scott Hamilton in the Scoop Review of Books of Kiwi Compañeros: New Zealand and the Spanish Civil War.
"The Spanish Civil war may have been a marginal feature of highbrow New Zealand literature at the time when the conflict was actually being waged, but what about its influence on the work of a later generation of writers? In the 1960s a number of iconoclastic young Kiwi writers proclaimed their admiration for Federico Garcia Lorca, the modernist poet who became the great literary martyr of the Civil War when he was shot in cold blood by Franco’s supporters. Mark Young, who was perhaps the most innovative writer operating in this country in the early ‘60s, paid homage to Lorca in an early poem and included references to the Spanish Civil War in several other early pieces. Did the failure of the literary establishment of the ‘30s to do justice to Spain and the writers of the Republic lead to a sort of backlash amongst the following generation? Did some of the exiles from Spain and America who settled in New Zealand after the war help to introduce the work of Lorca and other great Spanish-language modernists to this country?"
To the youthful me, the Spanish Civil War seemed to be the last pure struggle against Fascism. A just war, one that even a pacifist like myself could justify participating in. Then I read George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. The descriptions contained in it of the lengths the various leftist groups went to to gain supremacy over the other leftist groups, the bitter squabbling between them that reduced the defeating of Franco to a secondary driver, were enough to make me glad I hadn't been around to take part in it.

But Nijinski still leaps through my imagination, &, even though I invented a time machine,
I Never Did Get To See Nijinski Dance
I hurry through the streets
of the Principality, towards the
theatre where the Ballet Russe
is performing, refusing
the entreaties of the dealers &
street whores who are as
prevalent here as in any other
time. I dodge the Ducattis & the
occasional Hispano Souza on
the roads, the Gatsbys & Grimaldis
on the sidewalks. Looking around
I see that my research has not been
all it should have been, hope that the
synthetic fibre of my tuxedo will not
be noticed. I stay in the background,
sidle into the theatre, take my seat
as unobtrusively as possible. The
lights go up just before going down
again & I see several well-known faces
in the loges. Diaghilev is in the
audience tonight, hosting a party
of his friends, amongst them Cocteau
who will reprise the structure of this
scene twenty-five years later in his
Testament of Orpheus. Then the
overture starts, the Bakst curtain
rises, the dancers enter. I do not
recognise the soloist. “Where is
Nijinski?” I ask. “Sshh!” says
the person on my right. The one
on my left tells me Nijinski quit
the company ten years ago, is now
hopelessly insane. “Such a shame”
she adds. I am forced to agree.

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