This consummate encomium on the part of editor, critic, and biographer Franciso Torres Monreal is hardly gratuitous. It is the culmination of a punctilious study of the man and his work in the context of his critics and his contemporaries, recorded in a comprehensive and insightful Introduction and biographic Appendix, which could well exist independently as a monograph and appeal to the expert and aficionado alike.
Torres Monreal's Introduction is a solid piece of (meta)criticism, incorporating fresh readings and recent (i.e., 1996) analyses, at the same time that it performs a socio-historical function in probing Arrabal's dramatic corpus vis a vis other European movements and tendencies, past and present, in theatre and in the arts (e.g., Ionesco, Beckett, Breton, Jodorovsky, Goya, Bosch, Brueghel). Three ways of viewing the whole of Arrabal's dramatic opus are sketched initially and then meticulously fleshed out with specific reference to each of the fifty texts adapted for inclusion in the Teatro completo (a task for which Isabel Maria Diaz Martinez and Matilde Navarro are credited along with Torres Monreal).
The first approach, the so-called Aproximacion psicocritica, stresses the strong autobiographical element (e.g., recurring images of love-hatred for la Madre and identification with el Padre as martyr and victim of la Madre) that dominates the dramatic content into the 1970s. The second methodological avenue, labeled the Aproximacion psico-sociogenetica following Goldmann, extends the personal to the collective in indicting the military, religious, educational, economic, and judicial institutions that function as handmaidens of totalitarian force primordially incarnate in la Madre. Torres Monreal is careful not to privilege the perspective of those who criticized the Franco regime from within Spain over those who did so from without, arguing that Arrabal's exile has enabled him to reach a wider audience, with the result that he continues to be "el autor de vanguardia mas representado en el mundo democratico (con excepcion de su propio pais)" (7). The third window into Arrabal's theatre, the so-termed Aproximacion poetica, is meant to emphasize the eclectic use of dramatic forms--sainete, drama realista, melodrama, psicodrama, auto-sacramental, esperpento, tragedia, ceremonia, circo, revista, opera--; aesthetic styles--barroco, realista, romantico, naturalista, superrealista, expresionista, dadaista, absurdo, hiperrealista, abstracto--; and stage languages--objetos, mascaras, vestuario; poesia, pintura, musica de las epocas mas diversas (11). This "eclecticismo arrabaliano," the editor avows, is not due to lack of originality or simplistic (ab)use of technique, but it is rather the outgrowth of "una exigencia panica" (11) based on "la conciliacion de contrarios, humor y terror" and sanctioning "cualquier actitud estetica o ideologica, exceptuando las formas dictatoriales de opresion del hombre y de la libertad" (2126), ultimately with the intention of provoking and confounding the spectator.
More particularly from the above-cited psycho-social perspective, Arrabal's theatrical trajectory can be said to comprise--broadly--the following phases and subdivisions:
a) Primera etapa: teatro ingenuo, los dramas sin esperanza.
b) Segunda etapa: el Yo prepanico y panico: los dramas de la esperanza lejana e incierta.
c) Tercera etapa: el Yo y los otros. Esta tercera etapa la subdividire en tres fases: 1.a El panico-revolucionario: los dramas de la esperanza inmediata; 2.a El bufo: los titanes desmitificados por la irrision, y 3.a Del desencanto de los titanes a la seduccion de los dioses. (9)
In detailing this last phase "hacia la serenidad de los dioses," Torres Monreal attempts to dispel facile critical commentary, to the effect that Arrabal "en el mejor de los casos, propone soluciones ambiguas, ilusionistas, al tiempo que falaces y utopicas" (106), positing instead that his theatre taken in its totality has been a perennial thorn ("provocacion temaria" ), hardly gratuitous, in the power structure of other totalitarian titans such as Pinochet and Castro who had his works banned. The ultimate hope according to this reading is that such titans might tumble from their pedestals and, in this most utopian of inverted Arrabalian finales, render themselves prostrate in the name of amor rather than odio. In symbolic terms, as Torres Monreal suggests, the aforementioned serenidad comes to signify "gozo del conocimiento de la ignorancia, reconciliacion del ser consigo mismo, paz interior, armonia con el universo" (107). And finally in the seductive game of erotic equivocation, homosexual love presents itself "como una forma expansiva de la libertad del individuo, como una transgresion y desafio a los dogmatismos sociales y, lo que es evidente, como una forma peculiar de actuacion amorosa" (109).
The Appendix, entitled "Apuntes para una vida de Fernando Arrabal," avoids the pitfalls of biographic intentionalism by deftly proffering an intertextuality of life and art. It complements the textual analysis of the Introduction, creating a virtual intrahistoria based on first-hand interviews and data gleaned sur place that extends beyond references to theatre. The radical nexus between fact and fiction convincingly detailed in the volume's final pages is underscored in a quotation attributed to Arrabal which, even if pronounced with tongue-in-cheek, has more than a kernel of truth: "Buscan los criticos las influencias de mi teatro en todos los rincones del mundo donde se representa. En realidad, las fuentes de mi teatro y de mi obra toda estan en Ciudad Rodrigo" (2114).
The extensive Bibliography is again not limited to Arrabal's theatre. Besides cataloguing the plays published in Spanish, French, English, and other languages as well as critical commentary on them, it furnishes bibliographic data on the rest of his creative output (e.g., narrative pieces and letters, films, books on chess, essays on painting, literature and theatre). Other types of studies (e.g., interviews, monographs, and doctoral dissertations) are also included.
The opportune publication of Arrabal's Teatro completo affords the specialist and non-specialist alike handy access to a significant vanguard theatre of this century, if not of this millennium, as well as to a plethora of critical and cultural material that cannot but contextualize both specifically and generally the man, the times, and the plays.