CASA QUE ARDE (Publicación)
EDICIONES DOCUMENTA/ESCÉNICAS, 2015, 144 PAGES.
Emilio García Wehbi makes a literary appropriation of García Lorca’s famous piece "The House of Bernarda Alba" to address home as a micro-fascist enclosed space in which women are subjected to a phallo-logocentric and religious structure that suppresses their self-determination and will. "Burning House" offers a contemporary access to a society dominated by men that takes the female body hostage. The text is sealed by an overwhelming verbal force where, beside Lorca, stand with equal importance lists of pharmaceutical drugs, Greek myths, Levi-Strauss, Faust, texts from "Male Fantasies" by German sociologist Klaus Theweleit, or "The Invention of Hysteria" by art historian Michel Didi-Huberman, as well as the visual and textual universe of American artist Henry Darger, Gustav Mahler’s music, or American reality show "Little Miss Perfect", among others. These materials are part of the formal and conceptual guidelines that focus their strategy on the oppressive structure of male discourse, building a poetic reflection on gender issues. True to his own style, Wehbi applies himself to re-writing, proposing a game where texts lose their context, while composing a new landscape where the source never ceases to echo.
Book foreword by Federico Irazábal:
THE AUTHOR AS PRODUCER, THE AUTHOR AS INTERPRETER...
My first reaction was surprise, after learning that Emilio Garcia Wehbi was preparing a version of (later adjusted to "based on themes by") Federico Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba. Two different aesthetic universes in an unpredictable encounter. What could result of that mix? Is there a possible dialogue between the representative author par excellence of Spanish modernity and Garcia Wehbi, who is positioned at a critical reaction to postmodern discourse without becoming himself modern? Questions could multiply endlessly, but as it can be judged from the publication of this book, ‘Burning House’ is a perfect document of its time, as The House of Bernarda Alba was to its own.
Details, fragments of Lorca's theater lands in Wehbi’s in a rather singular way, to be explicitly found in this violent appropriation of Bernarda Alba's character and her related imaginary. Lorca, as part of his own modernity, was an expert in the construction of poetic figures related to fertility, with associations (comparisons, metaphors) to phenomena from the realm of nature, preferably from botany. Seeds and sprouts appear in his work, poetic and dramatic, dramatic and poetic, without distinction. Such literary figures are constantly created as a way, perhaps, to naturalize the offspring, and thus making evident the brutality and ruthlessness of the institution that, throughout Christianity, wraps it and legitimates it: Family. ‘Blood Wedding’ is perhaps one of those examples where the world of plants explains part of the conflict. And Wehbi -someone who in his private space is very much related to the world of flora- benefits from these figures and, in "The Song of resistant wombs", repeats we were not born to seed. This is how the girl choir opens, practicing resistance from their wombs.
This resistance allows us to figure out the artifice on which Wehbi builds this aesthetic-ideological device called Burning House. If in Lorca, Bernarda Alba is a result of culture, in Wehbi Bernarda Alba is culture itself. Therefore, that’s where part of the artifice sits. Here, Alba is Literature, because that's what it is: an iconic character of Hispanic culture. That is how Wehbi releases himself from realism and its codes, and becomes able to play with symbolic representations that make Alba the result of social imaginary: "Bernarda walks in very slowly, like a black ghost. She seems not to move, but she does. You can tell by the dent her claws leave on the floor. She takes her place in the center of the house. Throughout her monologue she is definitely transformed into a crow". Ghost, displacement, claws, crow... Literary characterization of a narrator who does not hide himself. But as soon as a narrator is mentioned, the inevitable question arises: Is there a story to tell in Theater? The Academy and the critics have always held that one of the features of dramatic texts was precisely the absence of a story. However this assertion could be strongly challenged and found as a trace, or as remain, or as a self-aware assertion of the narrative aspect of the proposal. How much literature is there in non-auratic / postdramatic Theater? Undoubtedly, today Alba is literature. Alba can only be the representation of Alba. Time and its tremors (in social, political, artistic history) have made Bernarda Alba a puppet of herself: all she can do is represent herself, wrapped in a clear awareness of what she embodies. Making a realistic / dramatic representation of Alba is to deny her own inscription in culture. Wehbi understands this perfectly and therefore dresses her in these clothes and places her on the scene for her to be what it is expected of her once she is stripped of the mask of cruelty that characterizes her and she becomes simply a result of the Social. And the first thing Alba says, imposes, is silence. Lorca’s and Wehbi’s Alba agree on this. Only that in one, the Spanish, silence is possibility. In Wehbi’s it is lacking. "But for her, silence does not achieve silence. / Because the noise in her head", says Wehbi. The narrator allows himself a comment on Alba’s mental state. But what is the specific noise she hears? What is its sense? And even more: What is its source?
At this point is where a major differential pattern is made evident between one character and the other. Lorca’s character talks, Wehbi’s quotes. Neither of them achieves full awareness about how the world speaks through them. Ideology succeeded in both of them and alienation is found in a pure state. The difference can be found in the external look (the narrator and narrated) that is casted on them both. Lorca’s Alba is a modern character, crossed by an ideological constitution that already then it was thoroughly studied: in what way the different social, cultural, religious, artistic institutions make the subject speak. Wehbi’s Alba chatters like a squawking crow. And her language -which Lorca’s Alba believed hers, absolutely hers in her tyranny- is reduced to pure quotation. But not a modern kind of quoting, where it may be clearly perceived what it is the quote, who quotes, who is the quoted part, and where does the quote starts and ends. This quotation responds rather to a dialogical conception of language, in Bakhtin terms. Alba speaks and, whenever she speaks, the only perception is that she is actually being spoken through. Every now and then the procedure becomes explicit: he said, my Agamemnon used to say. But where is it him speaking and where is it her? What is the beginning and what is the end of each quote? All this, which could be restricted to the realm of fiction, bursts and it traps us when she shows a procedure in which Culture, in hegemonic terms, does not hesitate. Moses said that God said, but did God, say? If the tablets are the result of a dictation, only trusting in Moses can turn his words into dogma. Lorca‘s Alba represents a set of rules which no one doubts (Alba, her daughters, maids and the other women inhabiting a world of great certainties, religion among them). Wehbi’s Alba inhabits a much weaker, more fragile, more cynical world. In it there is no certainty about any of this. The only certainty is that Alba’s words are made from remains of other words already said, and those are the same residues piling up as ruins, with no order, no hierarchies. And here is where the aesthetics of Wehbi connects with its own tradition: Wehbi theater is one made with ruins, waste, garbage. Wehbi’s theater, his playwriting and his scene, is the result of social leftovers. But, what is garbage other than what more accurately speaks about us? Bernarda Alba is the monster, the mother, Family, Catholicism. All this taken to paroxysm in a drama turned tragedy. This new Bernarda Alba is the parody of it all, as she can be nothing but pure representation of her own monstrosity, her own motherhood, her own family structure, her own Christianity. That is precisely the pigpen Bernarda refers to when she asserts that "this is my pigsty. And its limits are larger than those you wish to admit”. Bernarda -in her home, in her kingdom- explains a very basic, proportional question,: the pigpen expands, develops, grows. And with it, the trash, the debris, the waste. All of society’s excess becomes leftovers and therefore it occupies an ever increasing space. And it expands so, threateningly, that its limits become uncertain. What’s inside and what’s outside in the garbage dump? Who rules in this garbage dump, therefore being its legitimate speaker?: "Then I say: Do this and you will see you will be named king, as long as you do it discreetly, indoors. Do all this and I shall welcome you, and I will nest you on my lap and protect you forever, as the good shepherd that I am; only this I say, he said". By the time the text returns to the true speaker, the reader will stand far enough from its source to be able to know with certainty what was it that he said. Bernarda regurgitates, spits words of others not because she lacks of her own speech but because in Wehbi’s universe one’s own speech is meaningless, except for the ethical, responsible act of appropriating quotes.
Talking, babbling, moaning. The difference matters not. In every case it is about quoting without it becoming, as in modernity, an authority quote. "His afflicted ventriloquist puppet jaw" is how Bernarda closes her first long monologue. The reference to the jaw works as metonymic figure to restore the monster’s animality, while the monster is shown simply as a doll made of words of others (the ventriloquist’s). But where is the original speaker? Lost beneath the remains, the leftovers, the waste. And most probably, no matter how much we rummage around in the garbage dump, he will find a way to mutate, to always transfigure into another in order to avoid being discovered.
We have already said it on other occasions but it is worthwhile repeating: ideology theater. That is also Wehbi’s theater and literature. He observes the phenomenon of the ideological and he finds an aesthetic form to it. So, if faithful to the knowledge of his time, Lorca’s Bernarda Alba is the embodiment of ideology, Wehbi’s, on the contrary, is simply another link in an infinite chain, and therefore unchangeable, eternal. This is why I say that, when Wehbi presents ‘The House of Bernarda Alba’ as "based on themes by", he is showing himself as reader, as an hermeneutic performer: On one side stands the work’s value in its uniqueness; but on the other, there is an excess, a residue, corresponding to the ability of recognizing the way Wehbi, as a contemporary artist, is reading this Spanish classic.
He does something similar with the marble-like presence of the man, the male, the father (Pater). In Lorca, his presence works by exclusion. The absence of men in that universe makes them more present. In Burning House, resourcing to the Pater, the Roman statue (as in the empire that gives rise to what we now call "Western culture"), Wehbi points out the explicitness of ideology, reflects about law and its religious and civil interweaving. If the law is always seen as the way in which men are organized to live in society, here the law is widening the difference, the gap, the fracture. Because the law is the inscription of the other, the construction of the other: of the culprit. This Pater / God roams in paradise lost critically reflecting on his own writing -the Old Testament- and more specifically, on the Genesis. What was there in the beginning? The verb, the action, the thought? He knows he must analyze it very well because depending on what he says, he will trigger an infinite number of consequences that will shape human life for at least millennia. The other, Eva, the female. The one, Adam, the male. That gender crack, saving and oppressing at the same time, is not translatable to a biological generic question. Here it is not about men and women, it is about Others pretending to be Ones. Bernarda Alba might as well occupy Pater’s pedestal if she would not remember, as an involuntary memory reflex, that she also used to be a young girl, an Other. Her claim for unity (to amalgamate differences, making the world a manipulable object) is what provides her tyrannical character, which does not depend on being male or female, but on the strictly ideological.
Because Bernarda is not the issue here. It is, in any case, what she represents: the gap, the fracture, the elimination of all forms of otherness to ensure unity. That's the law. Homogenization of the individual in the name of the collective (Leviathan, both Job’s or Hobbes’, could easily appear in any of the scenes). But in this homogenizing process a remain lies. And that is actually the garbage dump on which Wehbi places himself to stage this piece (in the neat, white, balanced, proportional space).
Law and Education are the normalizing fields par excellence, and the most financially efficient way of reducing remains (but they will never lead to a complete elimination). Adela is aware of it and she makes it evident. To raise for equality means to reduce uniqueness. Irretrievably. And that Law and that Education are what ejects us into the logic of private property (the house is Bernarda Alba’s). That verb omitted in Lorca, is recovered in Wehbi, and every time a father recurs to the property title to claim obedience from his child, he is bringing back a Bernarda (Lorca’s), successfully squirming in her grave.
And as property, the house is nothing more and nothing less than the very existence of order. Private property is what guarantees the sedentary, and the sedentary is what allows the State to control (nomadic life, says Nina, tends to remain outside of the panopticon’s control). For this reason, when we talk about space (the city, home, church, theater) we speak of habitability, of habitability sources. And every time we inhabit a space (the city, home, church, theater) obeying these sources, we are accepting both Law and Property. And we become meek lambs, satisfied for having escaped the chaotic forest that children's tales warned us so much about. The forest -and the Middle Ages knew it- was the realm of the chaotic, of the aleatory, of barbarism. The forest is a guarantee of anarchism, and that’s why it is so scary. But that forest figure, is it still valid? Wehbi warns us through Adela’s voice: "The problem is that we no longer know which is the forest and which is the house. The inside is more lethal than the outside". In the face of this new context, what would Little Red Riding Hood’s mother do with her advice about the forest? Normality as search, as a process. Applied to the outside and to the inside to ensure no surplus. Adela is that surplus, the excess, the rest. And it’s Adela the only incendiary with power, because she assumes herself as rest and not as standard. Adela, the house, the theater, everything burns to enlighten, to scorch, to purify. But also to remove the remaining surplus. Only as such it is never reducible to zero, something is left, something remains, and therefore something always threatens to stay and, thus, become a part of the next outbreak.