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4— On the Interstices of Art and Life: Theatrical Workouts in Critical Perception
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On the Interstices of Art and Life:
Theatrical Workouts in Critical Perception

The theater still remains the most active and efficient site of passage for those immense analogical disturbances in which ideas are arrested in flight at some point in their transmutation into the abstract.
—Antonia Artaud, The Theater and Its Double

We inhabit a city without direct light—the theater.
—Oswald de Andrade, A morta

In the opening scene of Vicente Huidobro's 1934 play En la luna, the implied spectator is confronted by a theater door. Maese López, a carnival barker-style master of ceremonies, addresses the onstage passersby as well as the play's live audience, successfully convincing an occasional stroller to stop, buy a ticket, and enter. What they are about to witness, Maese López proclaims, is different from anything they have ever seen before, a "unique spectacle in its genre, in its content, and in its form" (OC 2: 1566). Forty years after this play was written, the contemporary theater worker and performance theorist Richard Schechner has noted that while Western post-Renaissance mimetic drama sought to reactualize onstage what had occurred elsewhere, traditional theater, a category in which Schechner includes the experiments of the avant-gardes, is transformational, "creating or incarnating in a theatre place what cannot take place anywhere else" (Perfor -


mance Theory 166). Despite the Huidobrian carnival barker's ironic promise of novelty (the play is as much about crippling repetition as about positive change), Latin American vanguardists assigned performative and theatrical activity a unique place on their agenda, seeking to express through theater what they could not demonstrate as effectively elsewhere. Particularly in Argentina and Mexico, contemporary Latin American theatrical achievements can be traced directly to the vanguardist period.[1] But in other countries as well, vanguardist groups engaged in performative activities and addressed theatrical issues in their little magazines, while individual writers composed a variety of theatrical exercises and plays.

Theater and Performance in the Vanguardist Project

In addition to the multigeneric audience-engaging events that I examine in the chapter on manifestos, some vanguardist groups organized more explicitly theatrical projects that have been more extensively documented in Latin America's dramatic history. In 1926, for example, Leónidas Barletta, Alvaro Yunque, and Elias Castelnuovo, members of the Buenos Aires Boedo group, and theatrical director Octavio Palazzolo founded the Teatro Libre for the avowed purpose of creating a theater of art. After losing its director, this group reassembled in 1927 as the Teatro Experimental Argentino, an enterprise that lasted for one year. In 1930, Barletta and members of both groups established the Teatro del Pueblo dedicated to developing a modern Argentine theater. In keeping with the Boedo group's social goals, initial objectives were to construct a new relationship between theater and its public and to bring theater and art into ordinary people's lives. To this end, the group brought performances to city neighborhoods. The Teatro del Pueblo endured into the 1940s and made a fundamental contribution to modern Argentine theater, staging innovative plays by both international and young Argentine writers. In the early 1930s, Barletta's encouragement was instrumental in the turn from narrative to dramaturgy by Roberto Arlt, whose early work constitutes the best example of Argentine vanguardist theater.[2]

In Mexico, short-lived but significant efforts at theatrical renovation were undertaken by Mexico's estridentistas . In 1924, Luis Quintanilla organized the Teatro del Murciélago project dedicated to developing


Mexican cultural life. The theatrical endeavors of the later Contemporáneos group had a more lasting impact, however.[3] Group members Celestino Gorostiza, Xavier Villaurrutia, and Salvador Novo organized the 1928 Teatro Ulíses experiment, followed by the more enduring Teatro Orientación (1931–34). On a modest scale and in a private salon under the patronage of Antonieta Rivas Mercado, the Teatro Ulíses performed contemporary European plays in translation, including works by Jean Cocteau, Charles Vildrac, and Claude Roger-Mark. As a more formal, public, and enduring enterprise, the Teatro Orientación was supported by the Secretaría de Educación Pública y Bellas Artes. While its members continued to stage selected European plays, they also performed experimental work by Mexican writers, including pieces by Gorostiza, Villaurrutia, Carlos Díaz Dufóo, and Alfonso Reyes. Like the Teatro del Pueblo in Argentina, Orientación's activity posed more direct relationships between performer and audience—but a very different kind of audience. One contemporary spectator described the scene as a play ended: "The actors maintained their positions and nobody moved forward to receive the public's applause. The spectators were friends among themselves and intellectuals.... The communication between actor and public was evident" (Mendoza-López 31).

The founding members of Nicaragua's vanguardist Anti-Academy affirmed in their 1931 inaugural manifesto their intentions to overhaul every aspect of Nicaragua's cultural life, a project that would include a little theater. Here they would perform every kind of play: Hispanic and European, traditional and experimental, popular and high art. Although this ambitious project was not realized in all of its detail, the group's theatrical efforts did include the establishment of the Teatrito Lope in 1936. Here, the dramatic version of the Chinfonía burguesa, written earlier by Anti-Academy members Joaquín Pasos and José Coronel Urtecho, was staged three times.[4]

Although vanguardist drama was more limited elsewhere, a concern with theatrical renewal was expressed in many little magazines, including Mexico's Contemporáneos, Havana's Revista de Avance, Lima's Amauta, and São Paulo's Klaxon and Revista de Antropofagia . Some of these published critical articles on theater, and others published new dramatic pieces. In addition, during the 1920s and 1930s, several vanguardist writers created their own experimental theatrical exercises and plays: Huidobro in Chile, Mário and Oswald de Andrade in Brazil, Roberto Arlt in Argentina, Villaurrutia, Novo, Bernardo Ortiz de Montellano, and Xavier Icaza in Mexico, Pasos and Coronel Urtecho in Nica-


ragua, Pablo Palacio in Ecuador, Alejo Carpentier in Cuba, and Miguel Angel Asturias in Guatemala. While drama is only one element in these writers' creative endeavors, this work constitutes a significant component of the vanguardist project's critical inquiry into artistic practice, as artists drew on theater's singular qualities to examine specific aesthetic problems.

For the vanguardist artist, the most evident appealing features of theater and performance are the temporal immediacy and spatial palpability they bring to the relationship between performer and spectator. As I have demonstrated in the chapter on performance manifestos, vanguardist writers exploited this relationship to construct an ideal audience for their work and to focus that imagined audience's attention on the "doing" of aesthetic activity. The same concern with work in progress characterized vanguardist theatrical texts. But in vanguardist plays, the examination of aesthetic concerns became far more intricate through abstract dramatic texts that investigated the theoretical implications of dramatic activity itself. Even in its most highly codified forms, theater as a genre has always inclined more toward a process than a finished-work conception of art. Both in conception and execution, theater constitutes a work in progress, for the dramatic text is a prescription for a performance, a plan for something to be done. This quality in particular attracted vanguardist artists. Because it focuses on its own construction and materials, the vanguardist artwork, as I have noted, can aptly be called nonorganic in the terms of Bürger's Theory of the Avant-Garde . But by these terms, theater is already virtually nonorganic, not only because as a "'doing ' code" (Turner 33; emphasis in original) or as an "actualizing activity" (Schechner 35–67) it calls attention to process over product but also because of the lengthy tradition Herbert Blau has fittingly called "theatre's profoundest mixed metaphor" (Blooded Thought 32), that is, the play within the play that employs theater's own mechanisms to expose itself. Always potentially metatheatrical, theater poses the means for art to talk about art, not as an isolated curiosity but in its constant interplay with that which is not art: a posited real world or life.

Vanguardist nonorganic works posed questions about the category art and its relationship to experience. This concern with the interaction between art and life, I have argued, was manifested precisely in those features Ortega y Gasset had called "dehumanized," that is, in the antimimetic impulse and the self-reflexive focus on the process of representation. Theater's palpable connection with that process offered singular


possibilities for vanguardist inquiries. Theater in performance fuels antimimetic yearnings for immediacy and presence, but it is simultaneously a reminder of separation and deferral. As Jacques Derrida affirms in his exegesis of Artaud, theater presents the possible "primordial and privileged site" for a destruction of imitation, an alluring opportunity for that "closure of representation" that Artaud imagined (and Derrida put into words) (234). But in performance, as Blau insists, theater is always a reminder of an "initiatory breach, " a constant "testament to what separates" (The Eye of Prey 174, 183; emphasis in original). Theater is a deliberate act of play, a conscious pretense about something that might have or will perhaps have happened at another time, before or after. It functions, as Victor Turner argued time and again, in the subjunctive or "liminal" mode. Any performative act requires a framing, a setting apart in time and space from ordinary reality. But in the execution, there is always the potential and temptation to abolish theater, to step out of the frame, discard the mask, and cross over the boundary. Theater and performance operate, in Blau's words, in that "interstitial moment crossing art and life" (Blooded Thought 78), a crossing in which the spectator's role is complicitous. Thus theatrical experiments offered vanguardists the opportunity not only to explore the mimetic boundaries but also to make evident the spectator's complicity in the performance and to provoke that spectator to question the representations constituting both theater and ordinary life.

Experimental plays produced by Latin America's vanguardists probed deeply into the nature and substance of art itself and examined how what are conventionally designated artistic experience, on the one hand, and life experience, on the other, interact with and shape one another. The desired reengagement between art and life was manifested in works that, through divergent theatrical strategies, examined the aesthetic process and explored its relationship to the activity of living and its potential for transforming both perception and experience. Latin American vanguardist writers were drawn to the transformational potential in theater we have subsequently come to associate, in different ways, with Bertolt Brecht and Antonin Artaud. Both saw theater as a means for a structural alteration of experience and as a path toward a qualitative reengagement with life. Both perceived the possibility of a liberation through theater's transformative powers, though Brecht sought social liberation through the transformation of perception and Artaud sought a metaphysical liberation through the alteration of experience and being. In the vanguards' utopian spirit, Latin American


writers turned to theater because, like Brecht and Artaud, they were interested in change—social, ontological, or both—as well as in comprehending the nature and mechanisms of change itself. Specifically, plays such as Arlt's Trescientos millones, Villaurrutia's Parece mentire, Huidobro's En la luna, and Oswald's A morta scrutinize connections between artistic invention and the representational practices of ordinary life. These works also openly address the spectator's or recipient's role in the workings of theater and art as well as that spectator's critical position in art's transformational promise both for the ways that we see and for the ways that we live.

Theater in the Subjunctive Mode: Arlt's Trescientos millones

Conceived in 1927 and first staged in 1932 by Leónidas Barletta's Teatro del Pueblo, Roberto Arlt's Trescientos millones (Three Hundred Million) in a prologue and three acts uses the metatheatrical metaphor to investigate human creative activity and the continuities and disjunctions between a creator's represented and lived realities. Spanish immigration for low-paying work was a common feature of Buenos Aires life in the 1920s, and, according to Arlt, the play was inspired by an impoverished Spanish immigrant maid whose real-life suicide the writer had documented as a police reporter. The play reconstructs the elaborate daydream created by the Sirvienta (servant woman) during a solitary vigil in her empty room the night before she dies. Her intricate fantasy assumes the structure of a play performed by phantom actors and draws on her readings of pulp fiction, in particular, the eighteenth-century writer Ponson du Terrail's forty volumes starring the roguish Rocambole. Through her dream-play performance, the Sirvienta seeks a life more palatable than her servitude to the Patrona (employer) and her son. In the opening scene of act 1, the Sirvienta contemplates herself in a mirror and expresses distress at what she sees. Declaring that if only she were rich her life would change, she worries that in her present state even death will not want her. Death, the first phantom character, enters on this cue. A composite of female picaresque literary types, she reassures the Sirvienta that people die only when they are ready. The Sirvienta then enacts her will to live through a dream-play melodrama reflecting its creator's readings: Rocambole brings news that she is the rightful heir to trescientos millones; the Sirvienta takes an ocean voyage and meets the noble Galán; their child is kidnapped and put to work in a Buenos Aires slum; with Rocambole's


help, the Sirvienta rescues her grown daughter, who in turn seeks her mother's blessing in a marriage to the Galancito. The "real-life" Patrona's calls for service periodically interrupt the dream-play's action, and the fantasy is brought to a halt when the son, seeking sexual favors, repeatedly knocks on the Sirvienta's door. To escape his demands, the Sirvienta shoots herself, and her dream-play's phantom actors celebrate their emancipation from her service. Only Rocambole grieves her death. Dispersing the other phantoms with a crack of his whip, he kneels before the dead Sirvienta, sadly kisses her forehead, and begs God's mercy for the suffering servant. As the Patrona's son continues to bang on the door, the curtain falls.

The melodramatic action of the Sirvienta's dream is not Trescientos millones ' central concern, and the dream itself actually constitutes a play within the play. The play without the play that frames the Sirvienta's dream and is also enacted during its "intermissions" includes the preparations for and the process of staging that event. The piece's preface shows a secret gathering of the phantom actors who are traditionally summoned by human dreamers to portray individual creations like the Sirvienta's dream-play performance. Here, these "protagonists of dreams," including Rocambole, the Cubic Man, the Byzantine Queen, the Galán, and the Devil, assemble in the "astral zone" of human dreams to discuss the rigors of their work. At the mercy of their creators' whims, they must often play roles beneath their artistic dignity. Of this group, only Rocambole and the Galán are slated for roles in the Sirvienta's dream-play. The others will be summoned by diverse human creators, and the Sirvienta's own dream will include additional phantom actors. But those in the initial gathering spell out their theatrical callings. "Actually," the Galán explains, "one plays all the parts." "Just like actors," the Byzantine Queen adds (OC 3: 243). This self-conscious exchange ceases when the actors are summoned by their respective human dreamers, but it resumes during the Sirvienta's dream-play intermissions when her mistress calls and the actors use the break to talk. In addition, throughout the dream-play, both the Sirvienta and her actors step out of their roles to comment on the performance in progress.

Critics have aptly noted this work's Pirandellian quality, its Freudian allusions to the theatrical nature of dreams, and the pathos and social critique implicit in its opposition of a "happy-ending" dream world with the impoverished "real world" of the Sirvienta's tragic life.[5] The work's metatheatrical structure and deployment of explicitly theatrical strategies, however, foreground a concern with the process of human


invention and its interaction with actual experience. The theatrical texture of the Sirvienta's dream-play permeates the demeanor and performances of those who enact it. The actors assembled in the preface are not only the phantoms of individual dreamer-playwrights but also the products of diverse traditions in human artistic creation, many with performative or theatrical qualities. The protean Rocambole appears in the same elaborately stylized outfit with which he is represented in woodcuts and chromolithographs illustrating early Barcelona editions of Ponson du Terrail's work. The Byzantine Queen resembles a carnival queen, the Galán has the air of a strolling player, and the Devil, with his caricaturesque Mephistophelian cape, looks like a circus devil. A parody of cubism's dehumanized representations, the Cubic Man resembles the homunculi and mechanical men of assorted human inventors. Regardless of the parts they will enact in individual dream-plays, therefore, the phantom actors are themselves already representational, the progeny of human creation, including popular fiction, chromolithography, carnival and circus dramatics, cubist art, and the Frankensteinian and Promethean humanoids of romanticism's mad inventors.

But the dream-play's theatricality goes beyond the representational substance of its actors or the artistic sources of its plot. The Sirvienta is portrayed as the work's spectator, actor, and, above all, director, and her role shifts intensify the sense of a work in progress. In her role as spectator, the Sirvienta sits on her bed and watches the visions unfolding before her. She becomes an active performer in her own drama when Rocambole delivers the money that transforms her from servant girl to orphan-heiress. In the following scene, the Sirvienta enacts the transformation. As the lights dim in her tiny room, a greenish hue permeates the scene, and one end of the room grows, "its wall prolonging itself into the bridge of a transatlantic ship, with an oblique, yellow smokestack and the winches' feathers opened in a fan. Orange clarity rolls over the ship and the silvery and bright green perspective of the chimerical ocean " (OC 3: 255). In a scene that blurs the play's boundaries between the mimetic space the audience sees and the diegetic space the characters imagine, representing a crossing from life to art, the Sirvienta moves from her bed to the ship and becomes somebody else. "The maid, timid and sad, " the stage directions indicatc, "has been transformed into a voluptuous and elastic creature who smiles with delectation at the scene that surrounds her " (OC 3: 255).[6]

But the Sirvienta's role as author-director is the most critical for the dream-play's theatrical structure. Acknowledging the authorship of hu-


man dream builders, the phantom actors critique the play in progress. Although they denigrate her artistic sensibility, they grudgingly acknowledge the Sirvienta's status as the work's creator: they are the actors, she the author. The Sirvienta's involvement is instrumental, however, not only for the dream-play's conception but also for its performance. Her physical presence and mental attention trigger the play's action, and her absence, in body or spirit, brings it to a halt. As the author, she gives birth to its characters and shapes its plot, and as the director, she oversees the creation of its sets from the extension of her bare room and instructs the actors in executing their roles, for example, in her first meeting with the Galán. As the dream-play's central love scene, this encounter alternates between attempts to perform a lovers' assignation and arguments as to how it ought to be played. James Troiano has noted that this Pirandellian procedure gives the scene the quality of a dramatic rehearsal, intensifying the experience of a work in progress (38). As the Galán declaims his lines, the Sirvienta affirms her directorship, calling for more expressiveness. She explains to the Galán how she would play his role, as each draws on prior artistic experience for interpreting the scene. He volunteers the procedure of a German novel, but, explaining that she has read only the forty volumes of Rocambole, the Sirvienta demonstrates the interpretations she desires. This directorial exchange continues in the final scene with her daughter Cenicienta (Cinderella), an episode marked by an impoverishment of the Sirvienta's imagination. In contrast to the elaborate fairy-tale settings for the dream-play's prior scenes, this set's golden porticos and red curtains give it a conventional theatrical ambience, and, in contrast to the multicolored, ethereal lighting of prior scenes, this one is bathed in a "sad clarity." "You don't like to dream," the daughter, who yearns to fly, tells her mother (OC 3: 283). But even as she faces a diminution of creative energy, the Sirvienta maintains control of her play, for example, when the daughter steps out of her role to ask how it should be performed.

David William Foster argues that Trescientos millones dramatizes the striking differences between the Sirvienta's represented world of escapist dreams, which evolves from the pulp fiction she reads, and the real world of her poverty, an interpretation in which neither her dreaming nor the money of the play's title can solve the protagonist's dilemmas. It is up to the spectator, Foster continues, to think of viable solutions to the problems of people like the Sirvienta (16–17). But although the work's social commentary is indeed profound, the interaction of the


play without the play and the play within the play as well as the sometimes ironic distance between them focus attention on the process, not the content or validity, of the dream and point as much to the continuities as to the disjunctions between represented reality and lived reality. Trescientos millones is not so much about the possible concrete solutions to the Sirvienta's difficult life as it is an enactment of the will to change manifested in the problematic representational inventiveness with which she lives it. This focus simultaneously exposes and obscures divisions between art and life as well as between high art and popular culture.

To begin with, the trescientos millones of the play's title calls for more than a literal reading. No actual money ever changes hands (it is only a dream), and the issue of how real money might actually improve the Sirvienta's life is never posed by the work. In their preplay exchange, in fact, the phantom actors note the arbitrary, nature of the amount, as one says it will be thirty million and another asks why it could not simply be thirty thousand. In the context of the dream-play's theatrical structure, the trescientos millones functions as a kind of preperformance deus ex machina that sets off the Sirvienta's fantasy. Signing for the money, as I have noted, converts the servant girl into the orphanheiress protagonist of her dream-play. But when the Sirvienta first appears onstage, even before that exchange with Rocambole, the money incarnates the will to transformation that sets the performance in motion. Thus, reclining on her bed in the dark, she observes, "If I were rich, this wouldn't be happening to me." Sitting up, she insists, "I say that if I were rich, this wouldn't be happening to me." Then moving toward the mirror, she turns on the light and observes, "I'm thin and ugly, . . . even death wouldn't want me" (OC 3: 249).

This scene forecasts the theatrical function of the trescientos millones . It is while standing before the mirror, the most literal representation of herself, that the Sirvienta expresses her wish for a different life. Like the actor in a play, she seeks a self-portrayal different from the one reflected before her. More important, the key statements in this scene are expressed in the subjunctive mode. "If I were rich, this wouldn't be happening to me," grammatically encompassing both the condition contrary to fact that she desires and the potential of its fulfillment, is a fundamentally theatrical construction that provokes the creation of a virtual scenario. Dramatic activity, as Turner pointed out, operates in the subjunctive mode, or in what Herbert Blau calls, invoking Turner, the "as if " condition of performance (The Eye of Prey 164; emphasis in


original). Thus theater simultaneously denotes the separation (of fact from fiction) in the conditions contrary to fact it enacts and the possibility of actualization (of uniting fact and fiction) implied in its subjunctive mode. In Trescientos millones, the money is a theatrical mechanism pointing both to the fiction of the Sirvienta's desire and to the possibility of its transformation into fact. Her pcrformance is the potential "site of passage, " to use Artaud's term (109; emphasis in original), between the reality of her lived experience and the fiction of her dream-play, the site of "marking and merging" of horizons posed by Austin Quigley (22 ff.), or that "interstitial moment crossing art and life" of which Blau speaks (Blooded Thought 78).

As the work's title suggests a possible site of passage between the two worlds, so does the piece's interplay between them obscure the boundaries of that site. The dream-play's scenarios present the most visible example. The ocean liner deck, a mountain scene, a carbon shop, and an opulent room are all extensions of the Sirvienta's tiny quarters, visible diegetic theatrical spaces emerging from the mimetic, and her movement between the edge of her bed and the imagined scene reminds the spectator of Trescientos millones that the dream-play is at once separate from her real life and a part of it. Although certain theatrical devices (the Patrona's bell, the pauses when the phantom actors freeze, the ethereal play of lights over the dream scene) indicate transitions from a theatrical mode to a "reality" mode, the Sirvienta's selfawareness and that of her actors underscore the continuity between the two spheres. Always aware that the dream-play is make-believe, its participants are simultaneously their "real" selves and their performed selves. In an intermission scene, for example, while the phantom actors exchange disparaging remarks and knowing glances about the Sirvienta's artistic tastes, they abruptly return to their dream-play roles, and it becomes "impossible to discern if they are comrades or enemies " (OC 3: 263). Thus they are at once (and indistinguishably) the adversarial actors who disdain their director and the comrades enacted in her fantasy. The Sirvienta makes similar willful choices, as when the Galán enters for their love scene and she "resolves to follow the game of the amorous comedy " (OC 3: 259). But like the phantom actors, she plays it with awareness, "always with her little ironic mode " (OC 3: 259). This ironic distance points to the Sirvienta's simultaneous existence in both worlds, a dual identity made palpable by the "laborer's duster" she wears throughout the performance, even as she is transformed in demeanor and expression.


In the same vein, the dream-play actors' Pirandellian independence, while ostensibly denoting art's autonomy from life, in fact emphasizes the mutual contamination of the two realms. Drawn from the discourses of theater, circus performance, cubist art, and pulp fiction, the actors' physical demeanors, gestures, costumes, and language embody multilayered references to accumulated repertoires of human invention. The site of the play's opening secret meeting is described as an "astral zone where human beings' imaginations fabricate with force lines the phantoms that pursue them or that they re-create in their dreams " (OC 3:241). This astral zone constitutes a repository of human representations, a storehouse of surplus intertextuality that humanity has collectively produced and from which individual dreamers unconsciously draw in their creations. Just as the Sirvienta's tiny room unfolds into the set of her dream-play, accentuating the contiguity of the two worlds, so is the astral zone of accumulated artistic artifacts created by human beings in the process of living. More important, the work's "real" protagonist and her immediate surroundings are cut from the same intertextual cloth as the "smoke characters," or her phantom actors. The Sirvienta's room is described by an ostensibly objective authorial voice as imbued with "the desolate polychromatic perspective of a serial novel by Luis de Val " (OC 3: 249). Although designated a "real character," when she first appears, the Sirvienta is in the act of representing herself, a process that draws from her readings of pulp fiction: "A hard and insolent expression that is suddenly tempered in a voluptuous childishness of a cheap fantasy. It is reminiscent of Rina, the Angel of the Alps, or any other harlot destined to endear the burlap hearts of the female readers of Carolina Invernizio or Pérez Escrich " (OC 3: 249).

Like a Don Quixote or a Madame Bovary, the Sirvienta seeks to reinvent herself in keeping with what she reads, forging a lived identity out of a fictitious mold. But as a hyperbolically fictitious character (his exploits fill forty volumes), Rocambole inverts this process: "Whenever I play the character of some drama, I like to suffer and dream as if I were a man of flesh and blood instead of a phantom" (OC 3: 247; my emphasis). Thus the phantom actor approaches the theatrical event as if he were real, and the "real" character, the Sirvienta, approaches it as if her life were make-believe. What unites Rocambole and the Sirvienta in the subjunctive theatrical space on the interstices of art and life is the desire for transformation, an inventive impulse to create a different self—and a different life—from the ones they must represent at the beck and call of others. The Sirvienta's struggle to free herself from the roles


assigned by her masters is repeated and reflected in the phantom actors' autonomous gestures, seeking to loosen the representational bonds securing them to human dreamers. The process of representation made palpable by the theatrical event is thus portrayed, like theater, as an ambivalent force. Although it promotes a liberating impulse for transformation, it also makes manifest the power plays at stake in the representations that, as if from the prompter's box, we impose on one another. Significantly, neither the Sirvienta nor Rocambole achieves the desired representational autonomy. Rocambole is always Rocambole, no matter how many volumes of his exploits are produced, "always the same character through different names" (OC 3: 245). Similarly, notwithstanding her elaborate production, the Sirvienta fails abysmally to transform her life.

Foster suggests, as I have noted, that the Sirvienta's failure to change is attributable to the paucity of her lowbrow literary sources, a reading that would ascribe to Arlt himself the phantom actors' disdain for the Sirvienta's tastes in art (16–17). But I would argue for the need to consider the work's ironic distance from all of its characters, the origins in popular culture of the phantom actors themselves, and the blurring of divisions between high art and popular culture that characterizes much of Arlt's fictional world. While it is certainly true that the Sirvienta's creative sources lie in the realm traditionally labeled low art, the actors' profound social snobbery embeds their aesthetic critiques within an ironic frame. Complaining that the Sirvienta as orphan-heiress has the audacity to address them as "tú," they decry, in terms recalling Walter Benjamin's account of art's loss of aura, the harm they have suffered from art's reproduction through film and disparage the lower classes' creative pretensions: "The next thing you know, the lowliest dishwasher will think he has the right to an imagination" (OC 3: 265).[7]

But in Arlt's artistic world, the lowliest dishwasher does indeed presume to dream, and creative self-representation is a feature of human existence not limited to a particular class. This is true, for example, of Silvio Astier, the protagonist of Arlt's first novel, El juguete rabioso (1926), which I have examined in the chapter on artists. Silvio's models for the transformation he seeks (Rocambole, Baudelaire, Edison, and Napoleon) are drawn from a range of aesthetic and cultural contexts. In Arlt's subsequent and more radically experimental novels, Los siete locos (1929) and Los lanzallamas (1931 ), characters from lower echelons of Buenos Aires society seek to transform themselves and their world by acting out elaborate fantasy games.[8] In the same spirit, regard-


less of their aesthetic class origins, all of Trescientos millones ' phantom actors are described as "puerile and ingenuous" products of human imagination.

What Trescientos millones suggests is that the impoverishment of imagination paralleling the Sirvienta's loss of the will to live derives not from her scant artistic background but from the nature of human invention itself and its relationship to lived experience. In its prefatory scene, Arlt's piece calls on its implicit spectator to see what the work's characters, "real" or phantom, cannot: the exposed, connecting tissue between Trescientos millones ' actual reality and its dream-play reality. The Sirvienta does not perceive the phantom actors' astral zone when they are not performing in her play, and they cannot see her when she retreats "offstage" to serve her real-life Patrona. But in its opening secret meeting, the play suggests these things ought to be seen, not only by individual dreamers who construct them but by all people: "If peopie had more sensitive vision, they would see us ... like they see the birds and the clouds" (OC 3: 247).

The play's implied spectator, possessing a "more sensitive vision," does indeed see the astral zone phantoms as clearly as the birds and the clouds, an analogy drawing attention to the duplicitous reciprocity of the real and the fictitious. This perspective undermines turn-of-thecentury aestheticist notions of art's autonomy from life and, in the Sirvienta's specific story, exposes a dynamic interaction between a work in progress and a life in progress. In the play's dramatic world, life and art are intertwined by the process of human invention. The phantom actors rely for their existence on the activity of human dreamers, but the dreamers' creative powers, in turn, are inextricably tied to their will to live, as the depletion of one parallels a loss of the other. But in addition, here both art and life are representational, intertextually prone to repeat what has been said and done before. Thus human dreamer-playwrights like the Sirvienta forge their work from lived experience, but that living in turn is shaped by art, not only by the specific pulp fiction constituting the Sirvienta's artistic training but also by the cadre of phantoms inhabiting the astral zone repository of prior representations. But even as human creative activity, like theater, is weighted down by a persistence of the mimetic, it is also motivated by a desire for liberation. In employing the metatheatrical metaphor to enact the dream-play's performance, Arlt's work exposes theater's mechanisms to display a tension in human invention between the previously said and the urge toward the new. As Blau has aptly noted, there is something in the nature of


performance (in this case, a dramatic dream-play re presentation) that requires "doing it as it has always been done ... even when it appears to be done as if for the first time" (The Eye of Prey 164). Weighted down by what has always been done, the limits on her life and her art, the Sirvienta fails to transform her world. But even in the face of her failure, Trescientos millones privileges the "as if" implicit in its title, encompassing, in the vanguardist spirit, the human impulse in even the "lowliest dishwasher" to transform reality through invention, to alter life through art.

Theater of the Threshold: Villaurrutia's Parece mentira

A comparable tension between the actual and the virtual shapes Xavier Villaurrutia's Parece mentira (That's Incredible), first staged in 1933.[9] In the Teatro Ulíses (1928) and the Teatro Orientación (1931–34), Villaurrutia did extensive work as a director, translator, and promoter of theatrical experiment. But Parece mentira is his first staged play and the first of five one-act pieces written during the Orientación years and published in 1943 as the Autos profanos (Profane Autos). The play's deceptively simple dramatic action harbors a conceptual complexity of aesthetic problems posed and explored.

Parece mentira strips the dramatic situation down to its primary elements. Subtitled an "enigma in one act," the six-scene play takes place "today" in the minimally furnished waiting room of a lawyer's office. Characters include the Empleado (employee), the Marido (husband), the Curioso (curious one), a lawyer, and three apparently identical women. The careful use of light and limited sound effects (a doorbell and a telephone) manipulates the limited, visible theatrical space. In the opening of the first scene, a ringing doorbell announces the nervous Marido's arrival. He is formally received by the Empleado who, with "mechanical courtesy," summons him to a scat. The ringing bell signals the Curioso's arrival at the beginning of the second scene. Although the Empleado is initially equally businesslike, the Curioso's constant questions alter the direction and the nature of the conversation. As the Empleado opens up, the Curioso suggests he is more of a poet than a secretary, and the two briefly discuss creative activity, the multiple nature of the human personality, and the importance of an examined existence. Excluded until now from what stage directions describe as a pact between the other two characters, the Marido anxiously intervenes and


hints that the unrevealed motive for his presence in the office has made him painfully aware of his existence.

The ringing doorbell leads into a third scene, punctuated by the Empleado's confession to the Marido: "I know situations like yours, and, although fortune has not given me the opportunity to experience them firsthand, I have lived those situations intensely ... through others" (25). Three identical sequences follow: a young woman, veiled and dressed in black, enters the room, hands the Empleado a business card, and enters the inner office to which he directs her. The Curioso watches intently as the sequence is enacted three times, activated each time by the ranging bell and the Empleado's statement ("I know situations like yours ..."). Responding to the Empleado's directions, the third woman instructs him, "Don't trouble yourself, I know the way" (27), a remark that elicits an anguished moan from the Marido, frozen in his tracks. In a fourth scene, the distressed Marido pumps the Empleado for information about the woman and her visits. As a secretary, the Empleado reveals nothing, but, shifting into his poet role, he intimates knowledge of the situation. When the Marido confesses he has been summoned to the lawyer's office by an anonymous letter suggesting infidelity, the Empleado successfully guesses the letter's contents, explaining that his knowledge derives from contact with similar situations and from similar texts he has written. When the Curioso exclaims that this all seems incredible ("parece mentira"), the Empleado explains that these enigmatic events have given the Marido the opportunity to realize a new self-awareness: "You find yourself on the threshold of an existence that you will be able to discuss, to correct, and construct as you please, in the same way that the artist discusses, corrects, and constructs his work in progress" (38). With the Marido now ready to "construct his work in progress," the Curioso departs.

As a fifth scene opens, the Empleado and the Marido seem frozen in time, hesitant about how to proceed. In this static, theatrical moment, once again the doorbell sets the scene in motion: "One has the impression that this will continue indefinitely unless something distant, indifferent, casual arrives to break up this immobility, to put into motion the scene of a wind-up theater. Finally one hears the bell of the inner office " (40). Urging the Marido to be "the creator, the actor, and the spectator" of the following scene, the Empleado adjusts the lights to an "opaque aquarium light," removes the phone from the hook, and quietly departs.


A final scene reverses the third one, with the Marido now in an active role. Three times a veiled woman emerges from the inner office into the dark waiting room, tries unsuccessfully to respond to the Marido's picas, muffles a scream, and exits. In each case, the Marido responds differently, asking for an explanation of her presence, urging her to come with him, expressing his anguish. As the third woman exits, the Marido remains immobile until the lawyer enters, turns up the lights, and hangs up the phone. In the final brief scene, the lawyer urges the Marido to enter, and although the latter indicates that he will, instead he departs quickly, much to the lawyer's surprise.

Critics have noted this work's existential and artistic themes, its Pirandellian qualities, and its manifestations of the French influences in Villaurrutia's theater.[10] But my interest here is in the two distinct but intertwined levels that constitute this play as well as in the artistic issues they pose. On one level, the work presents ingredients for a somewhat traditional and banal dramatic action, the story of the Marido and his wife. A vague outline is traced for this scenario that never actually unfolds, a process similar to what Gustavo Pérez Firmat has identified as a feature of the Hispanic vanguard novel (Idle Fictions 57–58). Contributing elements for this possible action include an anxious husband, a mysterious veiled woman resembling his wife, an anonymous letter hinting at betrayal, and a problematic encounter in a lawyer's office. Interwoven with this level of potential action is the scenario of an abstract conversation about life and art primarily between the Empleado and the Curioso and later incorporating the Marido. Although the work opens and closes with the husband-wife story, the metatheatrical level quickly takes over with the Curioso's arrival in the second scene. At the level of artistic and philosophical discussion, the Empleado and the Curioso dominate; at the level of a potential dramatic action that would tell a story, the Marido, that story's virtual protagonist, takes center stage. But the two levels are tightly intertwined. In contrast to the somewhat abstract concerns explored by the Empleado and the Curioso, the Marido's situation, though verging on melodrama, presents the work's possible mimetic connection. The Marido is, after all, the only principal character possessed of a "real" life, diegetically constructed offstage. But Parece mentira enacts, as the Empleado takes pains to tell us, the analogy between a life in progress and a work in progress, linked, it should be added, through the theatrical metaphor that poses a desire for transformation.


At the level of artistic discussion, the three principal characters are defined by their active participation in a theatrical event and, by extension, in a work of art: the Empleado assumes an authorial role, the Marido becomes a potential self-conscious protagonist, and the Curioso becomes an impertinently active spectator. The Curioso notes a sharp difference between the Empleado's secretarial role and the more expansive, open-ended quality of his poetic mode. In both roles, however, the Empleado possesses the authorial quality of one with information and authority the others lack and one who somehow controls the action. The Empleado reveals his artistic proclivities and power to the Marido: "I have the knack, the secret, or the ability, sometimes very painful, for making things and beings speak. From their words I make my poetry, from their confessions my novels" (33). Identified by his inquiring attitude toward the events that unfold before him, the Curioso assumes a spectatorly role. But at the metatheatrical level, he becomes an active and involved spectator, one who, the stage directions emphasize, establishes a "pact" with his interlocutor, the authorly Empleado (22). Like the work's implied spectator, the Curioso struggles to resolve the work's posited "enigma," asks the obvious questions about what is going on, and voyeuristically "devours" the Marido's anonymous letter, seeking to determine its author's identity. Reinforcing his spectator role, it is the Curioso who reacts with surprise ("It's marvelous!") and incredulity ("It's incredible!") to the perplexing events and ideas exchanged.

Through the interaction of the work's two levels, the Marido's possible story, on the one hand, and the artistic discussions, on the other, Pareca mentira poses more open-ended roles for authors and spectators as well as an interactive conception of art's relationship to life. In contrast to the opening scene's mechanically scripted Empleado role, the play presents an author who talks directly to his potential spectator (the Curioso) about art. Stage directions emphasize that this author behaves in an increasingly more "humanized" fashion toward his protagonist, that is, toward his human subject matter, and, having set the stage by lowering the lights and disconnecting the phone at the end of the fifth scene, he disappears from the scene to allow the work in progress to unfold. In the same spirit, the Curioso spectator constitutes an active, onstage presence. And the authorial Empleado's knack for making others speak notwithstanding, he will not, he explains reassuringly, write the Marido's novel. The Marido protagonist, moreover, is constructed


not as a stable dramatic figure with identifiable characteristics but as a being on the "threshold," with the potential for unfolding in a variety of possible situations.

This play's concentration on the threshold, in fact, constitutes its most important theatrical metaphor. Like Trescientos millones, Parece mentira enacts a tension embodied in the theatrical impulse between what has already ended and what is about to begin. The work presents multiple images allusive to a theatrical tradition and to theater's mimetic claims to re present what has occurred before: the Empleado's (pre)scripted behavior in the opening scene; the Marido's melodramatic situation; the Empleado's ability on the basis of prior texts to discern the anonymous letter's contents; and, most notably, the repetition of the three almost identical veiled woman scenes as the Marido and the Curioso look on. On one level, this has all somehow happened before, and the Empleado author has written about it so many times that he knows the hackneyed scenario by heart, just as the veiled woman in the three identical scenes already "know[s] the way." But this play concentrates not on what has been done before but rather on what might yet unfold, on the Marido's possible selves, on the possible interactions with the veiled woman, on the works the Empleado may write. In contrast to these prior representations, Parece mentira creates a Marido "on the threshold" of a new existence, ready to undertake theatrically the doing of his lifework in progress. Significantly, although the Marido engages in three "rehearsals," the repetitions with variations of the veiled woman's exit scene, his work is never completed but, like a curtain ready to rise, remains poised on the boundaries of possibility.

The play's most powerful sign of the theatrical tension between repetition and transformation is the doorbell. As it functions in Parece mentira, moreover, this sign also points to the interaction of art with life. An auditory cue that is literally activated from a position on the threshold, the doorbell repeatedly functions as a prime mover of the dramatic action, not only because it initiates most of the play's scenes but also because it continually marks transitions from the actual to the virtual and back, from the Empleado's aesthetic discussions to the Marido's lifework in progress. The Empleado himself underscores the bell's ambivalent quality: "The same bell that reminds me of my quotidian death calls you to a new life" (40–41). The bell assumes additional connotations if one recalls the traditional use of bells (true in Mexican theater) to call spectators back to the performance at the end of an intermission.[11] The association suggests that the doorbell in Parece mentira


functions also as a self-referential theatrical sign that insistently beckons its spectator to that "interstitial moment crossing art and life," in which, as Blau would have it, all performances emerge. The play's focus on possibility is accentuated by its title, Parece mentira, which translates as "that's incredible" in idiomatic English, or, more literally, "it seems like a lie." This highly colloquial, almost banal expression highlights the extraordinary perceived from within the ordinary, a perspective that blurs boundaries between fiction and life. Notably, it is the Curioso, the work's metatheatrical spectator, who emits this remark and directs attention to the transformation of the ordinary through theater, on the threshold of the possible self, the possible work, the possible life.

A Theater of Critical Mimicry: Huidobro's En la luna

The potential of artistic experiment to disrupt the quotidian and the ordinary and transform human experience also marks the work of Vicente Huidobro. His 1934 play En la luna (On the Moon) recasts this issue in a theatrical context. Huidobro's early poetic work was shaped by the aestheticist tradition of the poète maudit, and his first creacionismo manifestos posed the most militant Latin American manifestation of the "art for art's sake" stance. But although his 1914 "Non serviam" manifesto urges young poets to create an autonomous artistic world, Huidobro's own creative work gradually directs attention to the interaction of art with life.[12] A provocative example is the mordantly satirical and linguistically rich four-act En la luna; this is one of Huidobro's most engaged works, both in its openly political theme and in its examination of the connections between representation and experience. Like Arlt's Trescientos millones, En la luna explores the theatrical impulse for transformation. But while Trescientos millones, notwithstanding its broad societal critique, focuses on an individual's desire to change her life, Huidobro's play, written when its author's political engagement had intensified, speaks more openly about the transformation of society. In addition, as it uses the play within the play to expose the dynamics between art and life, En la luna addresses more directly the relationship of theatrical performance to language and to the spectator-recipient role in shaping theatrical and artistic events.

Subtitled a "small guignol," En la luna dramatizes political change on a fictitious planet, Luna, from a superficially participatory democracy to a totalitarian monarchy. Following a polemical introductory address by Maese López, the sideshow barker who presents himself to the audi-


ence as the creator of the performance they are about to witness, a multitude of stylized and verbose puppetlike characters engage in rigged elections and undergo a vertiginous sequence of political coups, by the military, the firemen, the dentists, the secretaries, and the tailors. These changes of government culminate in the tyrannical rule of Rey Nadir and Reina Zenit. The pomp, empty proclamations, and overt greed marking the changes of leadership and the inane solutions to national problems that characterize each leader's rule are interrupted by increasingly intense offstage demands for bread and work. The piece culminates with a play within the play. Rey Nadir and Reina Zenit witness the performance of a puppet show, En la tierra (On the Earth), representing a world with language and leaders that, to the amazement and delight of the lunar monarchs, strongly resemble their own. As the mirror images of moon and earth blend, the performances of both plays are interrupted by the intensified demands for bread and work and the invasion of both scenes by the collectivists: workers, students, and an artist. When the puppet monarchs of En la tierra are captured, Luna's Rey Nadir and Reina Zenit attempt a futile escape beyond the curtain and into the audience of En la luna . Following the offstage execution of all four, there is a radical shift in the play's satirical tone, as a voice, more of a poet than of a revolutionary, proclaims the utopian dream of a changed world: "the great smile of a new world, of a newborn landscape" (OC 2: 1640). In the final scene, Maese López reappears and asks Colorín Colorado, the proverbial concluder of Hispanic children's stories, to bring the play to an end. Declaring that the story has now ended, Colorín fires a shot into the air as the curtain falls (OC 2: 1640).

On a literal level, this play parodies Chilean political events of the 1920s, which included a series of short-lived governments. But, in keeping with Huidobro's concerns by the time it was written with both aesthetic and political activism, the piece skillfully intertwines the questions of change through politics and change through art. Like Trescientos millones and Parece mentira, En la luna draws attention to its own character as a work in progress, not only through the obvious metatheatrical metaphor of the En la tierra play within the play but also through devices that create an ambience of aesthetic inquiry characteristic of Huidobro's previous work. The astronomical-terrestrial imagery of the title and character names is reminiscent of the interplay of motifs that shaped Huidobro's poetic universe.[13] This imagery, as George Yúdice demonstrates, establishes a correlation between scientific investigation and artistic creation (102), and although the


astronomical-terrestrial motifs in En la luna unfold in a satirical vein, their use situates the play in a familiar Huidobrian cosmos of literary adventure and experiment. In addition, the play's guignolesque theatricality, with an acknowledged debt to Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi, destroys mimetic convention through blatant acts of making believe.[14] These include the use as a model of the guignol or puppet show; the exaggerated stylization of characters through costume, movement, gesture, and voice; the simplified hand-painted sets and ingenuous props such as toy weaponry (the head tailor carries a giant pair of scissors); and character references to the curtain and the ultimate transgression of its borders by a fleeing king and queen.

The most important element in the play's development as a work in progress, however, is its overt obsession with performance, with the "doing" of its script and the process of creative activity. The carnival barker Maese López calls attention to the execution of the show. Standing before the door of a theater, he urges passersby to enter, directing the spectators' attention, as in a circus sideshow, to the dexterity of the performers and promising a spectacle of spectacles. The performance metaphor is sustained throughout the piece, not only in the final play within a play but also in the successive appearances of heads of state whose assumptions of power are portrayed as exhibitionist displays of their persons and prowess. "I will go out on the balcony to show myself to my people" (OC 2: 1614) declares one leader of the tailors' revolt. Although on the most obvious level this explicit concern with performance constitutes the play's portrayal of political life as a repetitive and farcical grand guignol, the piece's sustaining performative metaphor is also tied to Huidobro's continuing aesthetic concerns. The puppets of En la luna are performers of a special kind, as Maese López explains, because they are endowed with words. The spectacle the audience will witness is, above all, a display of linguistic dexterity, a manifestation of Huidobro's ongoing interest in the power and limits of language, recast here in their performative mode.[15]

In En la luna, words and voice become concrete material of the performance with Maese López's insistence on his puppets' verbal facility as well as his allusions to previous sideshow stars, assorted jugglers of the word, including a ventriloquist who "removed the voice from the most distant spectator's pocket" (OC 2: 1566). The disorienting sequence of political coups that follows is marked by an endless parade of public acts of linguistic dexterity—proclamations, declarations, public announcements, and acceptance speeches—and each section of the


play is introduced by a speaker preparing an audience for the verbal display to follow. Similarly, there are constant references to each new ruler's exhibitionist desire to "offer a word," "have a word," or "make use of the word." But in Huidobro's lunar world, the reception of these verbal performances is as significant as their execution, as the play draws more insistent attention than Trescientos millones to the spectator's part in the performances in progress, and groups of onstage spectators are represented in En la luna 's enactment. Maese López's opening speech ("Ladies and Gentlemen and all the passersby") is directed both to the play's real-life audience and to the onstage stroller. In addition, each of the play's subsequent flights of linguistic virtuosity is punctuated with an enthusiastic reception by a pliable onstage audience. This performerspectator dynamic is reinforced visually through a scenic backdrop silhouette of an orator and his public.

This relationship between the work's endless parade of performers and the audiences they address is marked by an ironic tension between the promise of originality with which the performances are billed and the redundancy shaping their execution. The virtuosity of individual performers, in fact, derives not from their generation of something new but from their dexterity in the arts of illusion. Although Maese López insists on the radical novelty of his show, his promise is undercut by the literal and figurative duplicity of his puppet's names (Fifí Fofó, Lulú Lalá, Memé Mumú) and by his own repetitive discourse: "All of these magnificent magnificences, all of these marvelous marvels, that I am going to present to you are only the delirious delirium of an imaginative imagination" (OC 2: 1567). In addition, Maese López's allusions to his previous sideshow stars, like the able ventriloquist, point to both their verbal skill and their talents for deception. The carnival barker's own capacity for deceit is hinted at in the allusion through his name to his literary predecessor, the puppeteer Maese Pedro who employed a prognosticating monkey to swindle Don Quixote and his companions. But in En la luna, the legerdemain is linguistic, and each exhibitionist "use of the word" that accompanies an assumption of power is an act of verbal prestidigitation designed to create the impression that something new has been done to address Luna's pressing problems. President Juan Juanes's acceptance speech, a parody of the paradigmatic political address, is the most creative example, a Huidobrian invented language:

Señores y conciudadanos: La patria en solemífados momentos me elijusna para directar sus dcstídalos y salvantiscar sus princimientos y legicipios sacropanzos. No me ofuspantan los bochingarios que parlantrigan y especusafian con el ham-


brurio de los hambrípedos. No me ofuspantan los revoltarios, los infiternos discontifechos que amotibomban al poputracio. No me ofuspantan los sesandigos, los miserpientos, los complotudios. La patria me clamacita y yo acucorro a su servitidio cual buen patrófago, porque la patria es el prinmístino sentimestable de un coramento bien nastingado. (OC 2: 1578)[16]

Although superficially unique, however, Juan Juanes's language is roughly comprehensible to the theater audience, not only because it conforms to Spanish in syntax and morphology and in rhetorical device to the paradigmatic political address but also because of its recognizable constitutive elements. "No me ofuspantan," for example, a ritual statement of imperviousness to opponent pressure, links ofuscar (to obfuscate) and espantar (to scare away), an integrative procedure Huidobro had employed extensively in Altazor . Thus what is billed as a novel verbal display is actually a rearrangement of familiar patterns, as redundant as Maese López's "marvelous marvels." For the spectator of En la luna, however, the speech's productivity derives from its critical mimicry of the recognizable models it reflects. Juan Juanes's successors execute comparable acts of linguistic redundancy to tackle Luna's ills. "Problems are solved by solving them," affirms Grifoto, head of the firemen (OC 2: 1609). Thus Maese López's assurances of a unique spectacle notwithstanding, the play's action, characters, and language are strikingly deficient in originality and, like a moon that cannot generate its own light, marked by their reflective quality. Their interchangeability is skillfully represented in a scene depicting the simultaneous plotting of four coups. Here, a large structure is divided into four identical rooms, two above and two below. In each cubicle, a group of three conspirators plots the following day's events, and a light flashes on in the corresponding room as each group recites its nearly identical plan. The reflective quality of lunar life, moreover, is epitomized in the final production of its mirror image in the onstage enactment of the puppet show En la tierra . This specular relationship of the lunar and terrestrial theatrical sites is also played out on the linguistic level, not only in the doubling of character names but also in an explicit parody of verbal invention, as one character creates "so much poetry in so few words" simply by reversing his love's name from Fifí Fofó to Ofof Ifif (OC 2: 1600). The mirrored structure of this transformation is analogous to the mirror imaging of the play within and the play without, a comparison linking theater and language, in their proclivity for mimetic doublings as they enact the already-done and repeat the already-said.[17] The visual reproducibility of Luna and Tierra through duplications of scenarios, characters, and events is repeated in the mechanical reproduc-


tion of verbal invention. Thus, when a photographer records for posterity an agreement between military leaders, he is struck by the wit of a phrase and asks to take its picture. Holding the camera to the side of his mouth, the photographer simultaneously repeats the phrase and visually records it. The spectator's role in the play's endless doublings is comparably reproducible, for each of the endless verbal performances is greeted by the same approving "bravos" and "vivas."

Despite the specular redundancy of its verbal performances, however, En la luna is an enactment of the impulse to transform both the "real-life" circumstances dominating Luna's social scene and the artistic and social relationships organizing the theatrical event itself. Like Arlt's Treseientos millones, Huidobro's play employs theater's specific qualities to expose the interaction of performance and experience, linked, as in Arlt's play, by a propensity for representation. In Trescientos millones, the inventive desire to re-create the self permeates both life and art, as both astral zone phantoms and humans generate dream works designed to control their own lives. In En la luna, a performative proclivity links Maese López's sideshow actors with the "real-life" political leaders seeking to control Luna's fate. Maese López apologizes for the compulsive mimetic doubling and endless proliferation of Luna's exhibitionist leaders compromising the brevity of his show: "Yes, my ladies and gentlemen, they multiply themselves like rabbits and they lengthen my piece" (OC 2: 1567). The marionettes' multiplication recalls the accumulation of phantom actors in the astral zone of Trescientos millones or the repetitive veiled woman scenes in Parece mentira . In all three plays, these accumulated representations undermine the will to transform. Just as the Sirvienta's efforts to reinvent her life or the Empleado's urge to create a new work and the Marido's impulse toward an authentic existence are weighed down by prior representations, so the offstage demands for bread and work are drowned out by the endlessly reproductive power of Luna's rulers' performances.

Huidobro's play, however, foregrounds performance's narcissistic cast, establishing a bond between mimesis and self-contemplation that implicates the spectator. Just as Maese López's marionettes and the political leaders they represent yearn for public display, so does the puppet monarch of En la tierra thrive on the power of his own exhibition: "I present myself and everything is illuminated," or, as he contemplates his image, "Leave me alone, for I want to meditate on my greatness. Give me a mirror" (OC 2: 1632–33). On the most evident level, the king's specular self-admiration underscores the mirror relationships be-


tween the lunar and terrestrial monarchs and suggests that, in watching Tierra's puppet leaders, Luna's royalty basks in its own reflection. But as the monarchs do this, they become spectators of a play, onstage proxies for En la luna 's audience, whose implied presence suggests the artistic recipient's participation in the narcissism of mimesis. The dramatized spectators of En la luna, both the audiences who applaud political displays and the lunar monarchs who watch En la tierra, are so captivated by the virtuosity of those who perform that they fail to perceive the performance's specular substance and to recognize that as long as they participate in its terms, the scenario before them will reflect their own exhibitionist desires and projected fantasies of power.

Unlike Trescientos millones, however, En la luna does enact a transformation, but the change occurs both beyond the illusionist virtuosity of linguistic display and outside the theatrical event's mimetic frames. Significantly, Luna's leaders call those who revolt the "disassociators of the human order" (OC 2: 1582), and it is precisely their dis association that disrupts the play's social and aesthetic worlds. Just as each ruler's oral exhibition is interrupted (if only briefly) by offstage demands for bread and work, both dramatic representatims, En la tierra and En la luna, are disrupted with the invasion of a theatrically constructed space by nonparticipants in its deceits. In the process, the implied spectator of Maese López's production who is attentive, as directed, to the "doing" of the show will witness three interlocking levels of performance and reception: the display by Maese López for that implied spectator, the illusory verbal acts of Luna's politicians and the responses of the planet's citizens, and, finally, the enactment of En la tierra and its reception by Luna's king and queen. In the process, that primary spectator will also see the disruption of all levels of performance in which some of the actors (Maese López, Luna's king and queen) become the audience and the viewers of the "funniest spectacle in the world," the people who revolt, become the performers as the play careens between the "real" and the theatrical. For the principal spectator of En la luna, who must perform complex feats of auditory and visual perception, the invasion of all three performance centers by Luna's revolutionaries transforms more than the social scene of the imaginary planet. As an aesthetic event, the play breaks out of the physical frames and communicative relationships that have defined it to invade the audience's world, a disassociation of the aesthetic order and a literal engagement of art with life.

The play's exposure of the limits of verbal display and its exaggera-


tion of the performative impulse also implicitly address the vanguardist project, particularly its early fascination with linguistic pyrotechnics and its propensity for public display. Although Huidobro openly attacked the writers hawking their wares whom Maese López's character parodies,[18] his own Altazor (published only three years earlier) is one of Latin American vanguardism's most linguistically performative texts. The occasional jabs at Altazor in En la luna are evident in the similarity between the play's verbal strategies and the language games showcased by the poetic work's seven cantos. The play's critical mimicry of these moves and of the illusionists—theatrical or political—who deploy them suggests that radical change, the abolition of art that is "split off from the praxis of life," requires a rearrangement of the mimetic associations informing artistic and linguistic events and a critical perception of art's inner workings. On one level, the play's utopian vision for a new social order is cast in the discourse of origins that characterizes vanguardism's futuristic visions, "the great smile of a new world, of a newborn landscape" (OC 2: 1640). Interestingly, the securing of this inaugural world, the destruction of repetition and creation of a "first time," is cast not only outside the mimetic doublings of the theatrical frame but also as an implicit closure of linguistic representation. In contrast to the duplicitous verbiage of Luna's leaders, the collectivists are described as characters with a more unified relationship to language: "They believe what they say and say what they think" (OC 2: 1583).

Although the play portrays true change as contingent on a unity of thought and action, however, through its own parodic mimicry of mimetic drama and linguistic play, En la luna encourages spectators to maintain a critical disunity. The fictive status of the play's utopian conclusion is denoted both by the storybook quality of its visual presentation—a green field with trees, flowers, a rainbow, people dancing, and a banner depicting "socialized work"—and by Colorín Colorado's storyteller role in bringing this scene and the play to an end. This conclusion enjoins the spectator from subscribing uncritically to the fiction, and, although the play's collectivists include a participating artist, like the play's implied spectator, he too is cast in a special role. As an alternative to the writers who, like Maese López, are masters of illusion, the young poet Vatio who joins the collectivists in their quest for change provides a prophetic vision of a "harmonious life," a world without hunger or war, an artistic and cultural life shaped by "inexhaustible inventiveness" (OC 2: 1629). The myth of the poet as a small god had been dismantled in Huidobro's poetics through Altazor's parachute


journey, and, as I have demonstrated in chapter 2, this image was also widely undermined in vanguardist manifestos and novelistic portraits of the artist. But the ideal of the artist as an explorer with unique skills, in particular, a radical vision of reality, persists in Huidobro's work.[19] In En la luna, however, that unique vision is no longer the exclusive province of a privileged artistic being but is shared with the spectator, encouraged by the play's parodic structure to radicalize his or her perceptions. If change implies a unity of thought and action beyond the mimetic frames, it also, paradoxically, requires the disassociation necessary to keep the frames in view. In a scene shortly before the final collectivists' invasion, Luna's high priests celebrate a mass consecrating the monarch's reign. Lamenting the changes threatening the lunar status quo, one of them defines the problem: "It is the century's demolitionary spirit, the terrible critical spirit" (OC 1: 1622). It is precisely that critical spirit that informs En la luna, engaging the spectator through its critique of theatrical mimesis in an exposé not only of life on the fictitious planet but also of the inner workings of a performance in which that spectator has been conspiring.

A Theater of Autopsy: Oswald de Andrade's A morta

Oswald de Andrade's A morta (1937; The Dead Woman) also openly engages those who watch in an inquiry into the interaction of theater with life and even, as the title suggests, with death. Oswald, like Huidobro, was far better known for work other than theater, including his experimental poetry, his virtuosity as a manifesto writer, and the experimental novels that I examine in the chapter on portraits of the artist. Like Huidobro's, his turn to theater in the 1930s coincided with the engagement of his radical ideals in politics as well as art. Theater became his medium for exploring art's potential role in social change, but his theatrical writing was as experimental as his prior work. While En la luna examines a bond between aesthetic and social change emerging from art's transformation of its recipient's perceptions, A morta looks more closely at the social implications in an artist's relationship to art. Specifically, Oswald described in the play's "Prefatory Letter of the Author" his project for the artist's emergence from the "lyrical catacombs" to which a century of aestheticism had condemned him and his return, still as an artist, to effective social involvement. Thus A morta was to present the drama of a poet, the "coordinator of all human action" (3).[20] Significantly, this work was


contemporaneous with Oswald's turn in the 1930s toward more direct political engagement and his critical reaction against his earlier aesthetic endeavors.

Subtitled a "lyric act," A morta, like En la luna, is framed by initial and final encounters with its own implicit audience. In a prefatory scene, the Hierophant, one initiated in art's sacred mysteries, urges the spectators, as they view the "mixed ruins" of their own expiring world, not to flee from their seats in horror (7). The following three scenes enact the ambivalent and highly abstract struggle of the Poet seeking more immediate involvement with the world to disengage from his lover Beatriz, a rebellious corpse who refuses to remain dead. With the allusion to Dante's beloved, Beatriz's character suggests the idealization of creative activity, forged, like the inspiration for Dante's La vita nova, from the subliminal recasting of earthly passion into aesthetic inspiration. In the ruinous modernity of Oswald's play, Beatriz constitutes the cadaverous object of the Poet's desire, a persistent presence he cannot shake even as he rejects the traditions and ideals of bourgeois aestheticism to return to the Agora of human activity.

Scene 1, "The Land of the Individual" and a "panorama of analysis," unfolds in an explicitly theatrical space, as the Hierophant and the Poet on one side, Beatriz and her "Other" on the other side sit in the audience's first row inside facing theatrical boxes. From here, they simultaneously deliver their lines and watch their own performances, executed onstage by four huge, spectral, and mute marionettes who sit on high thrones. As the offstage characters recite their lines "statically," without gestures, and in slow motion, their voices emerge from microphones above them, while the marionettes enact the words, "gesticulating exorbitantly" (13). The darkened theater is illumined only by spotlights over the offstage characters and a fire burning in the background of the onstage setting, a "marble cenacle." Here a "somnambulant Nurse," described as the scene's only character in "live action," sits on a metal bench, as if exhausted from an all-night vigil (13). In a fragmented and abstract exchange, the four main characters discuss the Poet's conflictive relationship with Beatriz, the latter's imminent demise, and the nature of the theatrical space they inhabit. The presence of the Nurse, who makes occasional remarks about the state of the patient or the progress of the performance, suggests a hospital vigil, while scattered character remarks intimate a wake, an autopsy, or the scene of a crime. "It is imperative to undo all signs of the drama," the Nurse states as the vigil ends. "There's no danger," the Hierophant reassures them, "we'll


recompose the cadaver, . . . we'll put together her scattered metubers" (21). These indications of her demise notwithstanding, Beatriz declares that it is only her Other who has expired and urges the Poet to flee with her as the scene ends.

Scene 2, "The Land of Grammar," presents a raucous linguistic battle between the dead—characters incarnating fixed phrases, grave interjections, lustrous adjectives, and seignorial archaisms—and the living—gallicisms, solecisms, and barbarisms. Advocates of both social and linguistic renewal, the living are supported by the cremators in a struggle against the rules, fossilized forms, and authority of cultural tradition encompassed in the dead. A policeman maintains order on behalf of the dead to preserve the "most dignified funerary enterprises" (31), including industries, the press, and politics, as well as powerful cultural cadavers: the "heavens of literature," the "stagnant waters of poetry" (30). A Salvation Army band marches by, led by the Hierophant whose signboard for God, Country, and Family situates this vanguardist struggle for linguistic renewal in the context of bourgeois traditions. Against this parodic scenario linking aesthetic renewal with the political avantgardes, the Poet's private conflict persists. Beatriz, resisting interment and with distant eyes and a wrinkled mouth, wears the "mask of a scattering being" (32). Accompanied by the Roman satirist Horace, the Poet has returned to renew his artistic language in the street and, like Huidobro's poet in En la luna, to participate in the utopian "world that is beginning" (38). But he is still pulled by the desire for Beatriz, needy of her warmth and adoration, and he urges her to join him in life where his "practical and heroic actions" will save her (37). Ignoring warnings from Horace that death will entrap him (39), the Poet vows to rescue his dearly departed.

Scene 3, "The Land of Anesthesia," presents a modern underworld, a landscape of aluminum and coal with an airport that serves as a morgue for arriving cadavers. The audience's first row remains vacant. Parodic characters from the bourgeois world (the Mother, the Father, the Enamel Kid, the Minister's Wife, and the Complete Athlete) converse from a center-stage family tomb, and a defoliated Tree of Life in the form of a cross alludes ironically to Western culture's sacred traditions. Edgar's Vulture, a parodic allusion to Poe's raven, and the Lady of the Camellias provide lingering reminders of romanticism's morbidities, and the Hierophant's comments implicate religion, private property, and family in the construction of Western life. When the mythological Charon arrives in a helicopter hearing Bcatriz's body, the Poet,


exalting action, follows him in a glider. Although he now seeks to speak "the language of life" (52), the Poet is still erotically drawn to Beatriz, who is now a disintegrating corpse. As the play's final erotic struggle unfolds, the voyeuristic cadavers follow a radio-patrolman into the audience's first row to watch the climactic "big scene" (52). In a life-anddeath struggle, the Poet recognizes the funereal nature of his liaison, and as the cadavers reassemble upstage and Edgar's Vulture spreads its wings over the Tree of Life, the Poet sets fire to this cemetery, the "nocturnal passage" (56) of his existence. Re approaching the audience, the Hierophant suggests a response more appropriate than applause. "If you wish to save your traditions and your morals, call the firemen or if you prefer the police. We are just like you," he adds, "an immense gangrenous cadaver. Salvage our rottenness and perhaps you will save yourselves from the blazing inferno of our world!" (56).

Although this play has received diverse critical readings, my interest here is in how A morta, like the theater of Arlt, Villaurrutia, and Huidobro, exploits theatrical metaphors for aesthetic investigation.[21] Specifically, the Poet's struggle with Beatriz unfolds in an explicitly theatrical space, as transformations in the theater event alter the relationships to art. The play's Dantesque allusions underscore Beatriz's role in the Poet's creative life. Contemporary interpretations have characterized Dante's Beatrice as "the source of his power of invention" and the "essence of his art" (Bloom 7), and her function in the Vita nova sonnets has been tied to the poetic persona's maturation and personality (Quinones 26–27). Similarly, the relationship between A morta 's Poet and Beatriz defines the Poet's isolated interiority and the subjective artistic identity he seeks to cast off. Scene one's "The Land of the Individual" most closely scrutinizes these connections. Based on the Hierophant's allusion to the play's enactment of the "individual in slices," this fragmented scene's characters have been seen by Fred Clark and Ana Lucía Gazolla de García as diverse components of the Poet's being ("A morta " 38–39). But because the play's dismembered character is not the Poet but Beatriz, I would argue that the subject of its analysis is that specific facet of the Poet, his artistic persona, embodied in the tie to Beatriz.

Throughout A morta, the Poet himself is characterized by images of social and physical isolation compromising his poetry's vitality. Expelled from effective action and forced to live "outside the social" (21), he is a "spurting cloistered soul" (19) living in a cave, and his life, "reduced, imprisoned, entombed" (21), is like a "closed abscess" (19),


ready to burst forth in the Agora of public life. Although he seeks a dialectical poetry with a combative idiom, in his current exile, the Poet can only emit "the nocturnal cry of the walled in" (22). This isolation is embodied in Beatriz, defined as the subjective space he inhabits: the "cavern of the individual" (31) and the mute world of stone to which the Poet has been exiled. Beatriz provides both refuge and incarceration: the Poet is reborn in her "motherly womb" (20), but the nurturing space that shelters him from hope and despair also immobilizes and enshrouds him. Like Dante's inspiration in the Vita nova, moreover, Beatriz is portrayed as the site of the Poet's psychodynamic formation and of the emergence of his culture's desires, values, and beliefs. "I began to palpitate with your childhood religion," she observes, "with your adolescent culture! I was the heraldic coffer of your traditions, the cradle of your people" (37). This association casts the Poet's struggle to emerge from Beatriz's cavernous interiority as a separation from childhood in which he is loath to discard his transitional object, his "dear toy" (38).

But the most productive element in Beatriz's characterization is her association with the play's explicitly theatrical metaphors. With the emphasis on its own execution realized through the spatial separation of actors and marionettes, the play's first scene presents a performance in the process of examining itself. The site of this analysis, theater, is repeatedly defined in terms analogous to those denoting the Poet's subjectivity embodied in Beatriz. Theater in A morta is described as a doorless and windowless room, a "marble cenacle" (13), a "washed out necroterium" (17), a subterranean and unhealthy place, like the closed abscess of the Poet's interiority, "encrusted with fevers" (15). This link between a moribund Beatriz and a theatrical huis clos is repeated through the Poet's references to his lover as "my drama" or a "dramatic interior" (21). "The construction of romanticism inhabits this room," the Poet declares, "the unrecognizable psyche" (20–21), a reference tying both theater and Beatriz to the hypersubjectivity of his poetic persona and echoed in the third scene's parodic, romantic allusions to Edgar's Vulture and the Lady of the Camellias.

But the status of theater and Beatriz as interactive metaphors for the Poet's subjectivity is founded not only on images of enclosure and romanticist references but also on the identification of both theater and the dead woman with fragmentation, disassociation, and division. If Beatriz is the disintegrating corpse whose fragments other characters seek to reassemble, theater is also cast as a dismembered land. This


quality is initially exposed through the graphic split in scene 1 between the human actor-characters and the marionettes that embody their lines, a deferral of utterance and gesture that exaggerates the artificiality of the actor-character connection and of theatrical mimesis. As with Huidobro's Luna-Tierra opposition, mimetic drama is portrayed in A morta as a closed, specular world. "We inhabit," Beatriz's reflective Other explains, "a city without direct light—the theater" (14). The spatial separation of a world with indirect light is reinforced by the temporal deferral implicit in repeating the already said: "Where are we, in what chapter?" (15) the Hierophant asks in the midst of scene one's execution, a question presupposing a performance of the scripted, an enactment of the already-done. But as a being initially divided, Beatriz and her Other in scene one incarnate the fragmented, specular quality of theater's representations. Like scene one's actor-marionette characters, Beatriz is the Poet's "fractured muse" (15), with a "gap" in her image (16), he notes. She is, as her Other points out, always "buried in [herself] before the mirror" (16), or, as described by the Poet, like a headless sculpture, her "eyes and hair imprisoned by a bottomless horizon" (17). Beatriz's fractured, reflective quality is a corporeal manifestation of the aesthetic persona the Poet seeks to abandon. Her dismembering demise is manifested in her "unity's decay" (52), she is the source of his "creative dissymmetry" (52), and the art she inspires is a "disconnected song" (22), beset by shadows and memories.

Beatriz is also, however, the quintessentially sexual, the substance of desire, or, as she repeatedly points out, "the want-because-I-want-of-life." As the voluntary projection of his own desires, Beatriz's wants reflect what the Poet wants. But what Beatriz wants, buried in herself before the mirror, is to be a "spectacle for myself" (18), a profoundly theatrical metaphor for the narcissism of mimesis and for the selfcontemplative psychodynamics shaping subjectivity in the Western tradition. The Poet struggles to escape this tradition, for as long as he resides within it, he will be marked like Beatriz by theater's infinite doublings, its shadows and remembrances, selling, through art, the fragments of his spectacle. But the play's disclosure of mimetic theater's projections of desire also implicates the spectator in its narcissistic project. While Beatriz and the Poet whose art she embodies remain spectacles for their own scrutiny, A morta 's spectator is constructed and unmasked in an analogous position of self-observation. They should not leave their chairs horrified by their own autopsy, the Hierophant initially warns the spectators, and the cadavers' departure from the stage


into the audience further implicates those who watch in the moribund tradition A morta critiques. The play portrays the act of watching as both voyeuristic (one cadaver eagerly expresses her curiosity) and narcissistic, as the spectators contemplate a scenario of which they form a part. In addition, the psychodynamic dimensions of the spectatorperformer construct are intimated during the cadavers' departure from the stage. In the precise moment that he crosses the proscenium boundary dividing stage and audience, the Hierophant asks, "What's the use here of the subconscious? Where do the two planes unite here, the latent and the manifest?" (53). Thus, just as Trescientos millones enacts the Sirvienta's dream-work wishes, Parece mentira plays out the Marido's possible scenarios while the voyeuristic Curioso looks on, and the puppet performance En la tierra displays the lunar monarchs' projected desires, so does A morta construct a complicitous spectatorvoyeur whose self-contemplative impulses are mirrored in the Poet's fascination with Beatriz.

But like the other three plays, A morta also employs theater's metaphors to enact a fundamental impulse toward change, specifically, the will to reengage art in the doings of everyday life. While theater is cast metaphorically as a moribund cultural tradition, an entombed, specular world of self-pondering mimesis, it is simultaneously recast as the instrument of its own transformation. Like the artist who joins En la luna 's collectivists, the Poet in A morta expresses his participation in "the world that is beginning" (38) through vanguardism's originary discourse. The Land of Grammar in scene 2 specifically associates the hypersubjectivity of the Poet-Beatriz connection with linguistic sterility and stagnation, as the Poet seeks a more productive art through renewal in the idiom of the streets. His companion in this enterprise is Horace, identified in the classical tradition with deliberately unmajestic language and with the satirist's critical approach. At the same time, the Poet seeks a language beyond the theatrical, more than a mere spectacle unto itself and more productively related to the action he would coordinate. Similarly, the cremators cleansing the world of its diseased traditions look beyond theater's subjectivist doublings. They are brought to the scene by hunger, they declare, "much more than the will to represent " (35; my emphasis).

On one level, the search for a new world manifesting more than the "will to represent" is marked by an impulse to abolish the theatrical, to wipe out the specular, interiorized expression separating the Poet from an activist life. In setting fire to the funereal enterprise Beatriz incar-


nates, the Poet seeks to heal the schisms of his dramatic interior and forge a more unified drama, "the development of the real universal being" (33). Similarly, the cremators' objective in the Land of Grammar is not simply to encourage the solecisms and barbarisms of linguistic production but to lay the foundation of Esperanto, the "language of one single humanity" (34). The Esperanto metaphor simultaneously suggests the expressive unity that combines roots of diverse languages, the maintenance of the very diversity this invented language blurs, and the creation of something new. Similarly, A morta 's theatrical metaphors express both the impulse to abolish the interior fragmentation that theater embodies and the contradictory urge to exploit the theatrical schism's critical edge in altering the relationship between life and art. And I quote again from the first scene: "It is imperative to undo all signs of the drama," the Nurse warns. "There's no danger," the Hierophant reassures her, "we'll recompose the cadaver.... We'll put together her scattered members" (21). Through the images of morbidity weaving its expressive webs and in the fragmented quality of its own form, A morta, as an alternative to the drama of subjective interiority, proposes a theater of autopsy that reconstructs the act of watching as a critical dismemberment. By engaging the spectator in the play's "panorama of analysis," theater, far from the unifying projects of the "universal self" or the "language of one humanity" the Poet openly espouses, is recast as a conceptual taking apart, an etymologically literal autopsy: a "seeing with one's own eyes."

This is precisely what the carnival barker urges spectators of En la luna to do: to see in person the wonders of the performance. As in En la luna, A morta 's implicit spectator is summoned to perform his or her own potentially unpleasant perceptual feat. In contrast to Beatriz's passive self-contemplation, A morta 's pathologist-spectators will actively participate in their own autopsy, a conceptual analysis of themselves and their institutions. While the Poet's utopian yearnings would abolish the theatrical schisms separating art from human action, A morta deploys these very schisms to develop its own aesthetic critique. Artaud's designation of theater as a "site of passage " for the "cartilaginous transformation of ideas" (The Theater and Its Double 109) evokes a space that both unifies and fragments, depending on how you view it. In its visible crossings between those who perform and those who watch, Oswald's play reveals that proscenial site of passage and positions the spectator within it. If the Poet who abandons the catacombs of self-reflection will seek to create an art that can, in André Breton's


words, "face the breadth of the street" ("What Is Surrealism?" 116), theater's spectator, conceptually resituated on the interstices of art and life, will be compelled to perceive new things, above all, his or her own position.


While vanguardist manifestos and performative events display and endorse specific types of art, plays such as Trescientos millones, Parece mentira, En la luna, and A morta explore art's potential for altering human experience. Specifically, these works tap theater's mimetic properties and transformational substance to thematize art's interaction with life. Each play enacts a situation calling for change: the Sirvienta's lonely life in Trescientos millones; the Marido's unexamined existence and the Empleado's prescripted art in Parece mentira; Luna's endless political corruption in En la luna; the Poet's isolation from the world in A morta . In dramatizing efforts to alter these conditions, the plays expose theater's bond with the mimetic to express a pervasive anxiety of repetition and of mimesis's power over both art and life, Thus the Sirvienta's theatrical dream-play is marked by prior representations; the search for change by both the Marido and the Empleado is weighted down by prescripted scenarios; the lunar leaders' performative dexterity creates the illusion of change from interminable duplications; and the self-contemplative doublings of the Poet-Beatriz connection unfold in a specular, theatrical space. Each of these plays denaturalizes the mimetic by unmasking its illusory mechanisms. In Trescientos millones, the dream-play is a blatant fabrication; in Parece mentira, doorbells, lights, repetitive character gestures, and the play's title signal shifts to the theatrical; both En la luna and En la tierra are billed as puppet performances; and A morta 's fragmented actor-marionettes disclose their own synthetic substance. Make-bclieve reality, announcing its own artifice, is revealed for what it is, and it is not life. But at the same time, each play manifests an antiaesthetic impulse, if not to seal completely the gap between art and life, to make evident the seams of their intersections in the "as if" condition of performance, that is, in the desire for transformation. Seeking to reinvent their worlds, like the vanguardist artists with their illusions of inauguration, the Sirvienta, the Marido and the Empleado, the collectivists, and A morta 's Poet are


trapped in theater's mimetic cycle, in repctitive representations, the inertia of human invention. As a means of breaking out of that cycle, these works tamper not with the lives of their characters, for they are only make-believe, but with the relationships and terms of the performance, exposing art's inner workings and radicalizing its real-life recipient's role. In the course of these works-in-progress, the lived experience of watching a play is reconstructed as an exercise in critical perception, a provocation to change the way we see and think and even, these artists would imagine, to alter the way we are.


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