Friday, October 31, 2008

Pablo Picasso's Songe et Mensonge de Franco

If Pablo Picasso was a Spaniard, although living in France, and I blog in English, why is the phrase Songe et Mensonge de Franco written above? Because the French title is an untranslatable Surrealist "jeux de mots" (a word play between "songe" - dream - and "mensonge" - lie).

Picasso's art was a barometer of Picasso's life. He was particularly sensitive to women around him (all great art is, in a certain measure, autobiographical). The art style that corresponded to his first wife, Russian dancer Olga Koklova, was Neoclassicism. Surrealism, especially the more politicized later one, was an antidote to him when their relationship soured in the late twenties, early thirties (his work from this period is full of vagina dentatta and mantislike figures). Even if Picasso wasn't a bonafide Surrealist he participated in the exhibition Vingt-cinq peintres contemporains (twenty five contemporary painters) in 1925 and other Surrealist activities like La Révolution surrealiste (issue # 1: December, 1924) and Minotaure magazine (issue # 1: June, 1933). In 1941 he wrote a Surrealist play: Le désir attrapé par la queue (desire caught by the tail). Before that, he wrote a Surrealist text that was meant to be published with the two Songe et Mensonge de Franco etchings (these, incidentally, would be sold, on behalf of the Spanish Republic, at the International Paris Exhibition in 1937; the images should be cut and sold as postcards, but Picasso saw the narrative flow that linked them and prevented the cutting):

"Dream and Lie of Franco
fandango of shivering owls souse of swords of evil-omened polyps I scouring brush of hairs from priests' tonsures standing naked in the middle of the frying-pan placed upon the ice cream cone of codfish fried in the scabs of his lead-ox heart - his mouth full of the chinch-bug jelly of his words - sleigh bells of the plate of snails braiding guts - little finger In erection neither grape nor fig - commedia dell'arte of poor weaving and dyeing of clouds - beauty creams from the garbage wagon - rape of maids in tears and in snivels - on his shoulder the shroud stuffed with sausages and mouths - rage distorting the outline of the shadow which flogs his teeth driven in the sand and the horse open wide to the sun which reads it to the flies that stitch to the knots of the net full of anchovies the sky-rocket of lilies - torch of lice where the dog is knot of rats and hiding-place of the palace of old rags - the banners which fry in the pan writhe in the black of the ink-sauce shed in the drops of blood which shoot him - the street rises to the clouds tied by its feet to the sea of wax which rots its entrails and the veil which covers it sings and dances wild with pain - the flight of fishing rods and the alhigui alhigui of the first-class burial of the moving van - the broken wings rolling upon the spider's web of dry bread and clear water of the paella of sugar and velvet which the lash paints upon his cheeks - the light covers its eyes before the mirror which apes it and the nougat bar of the flames bites its lips at the wound - cries of children cries of women cries of birds cries of flowers cries of timbers and of stones cries of bricks cries of furniture of beds of chairs of curtains of pots of cats and of papers cries of odors which claw at one another cries of smoke pricking the shoulder of the cries which stew in the cauldron and of the rain of birds which inundates the sea which gnaws the bone and breaks its teeth biting the cotton wool which the sun mops up from the plate which the purse and the pocket hide in the print which the foot leaves in the rock"

Here's a site with images from the Spanish pavilion in Paris' 1937 World Exhibition:

General Francisco Franco led a civil war against the Spanish Republic's Popular Front. I don't have many new things to say about Songe et Mensonge de Franco's meaning, so, I'll let Juan Antonio Ramírez (and a couple of others) do most of the job for me (Guernica, Electa, 1999: 27 - 33): "As some [scholars] already said, the title alludes to Goya ["The Sleep of Reason Creates Monsters"] and the Spanish literature of the Siglo de Oro [the golden century: the 16th][...]. This gives us ground to decipher the scene as an horrendous buffoonery, a nightmare peopled by the ridiculous and pathetic monsters that the military sublevation unleashed. All the panels seem to describe the devastating effects of the Francoist "crusade" against the Spanish people. The antihero in the first etching is a deformed being, a kind of tuberculoid-worm that rides on a disemboweled horse (as they were frequently seen in those days' corridas) carrying a religious banner. [...] [H]e also carries a sword upright (the Fascist Francoist field talked about the "sword of Christianity"), from which handle hangs a rope, and wears a crown with a crescent moon (an allusion to North African Francoist Moorish troops). The horse and the sun smile sardonically [the Fascist hymn was Cara al sol - facing the sun:]." The description continues, but I prefer Elisabeth Francesconi's interpretation of the second panel, here: She says: "Picasso’s depiction of Franco walking a tightrope in the second frame resembles a specific scene in Goya’s Disasters series entitled "When Will the Rope Break" [...] giving evidence of his exposure to Goya’s works. Goya had placed a religious figure with a high status in the Church on a fraying, suspended rope. Under the leader, he added a crowd that appears to be shouting at and angry with the man on the rope." Martínez views this as Franco's crossing from Africa into Europe to attack an idealized image of Spain in the next panel; he then continues: "The monster is (fourth panel) a travesty of the traditional Spanish maja [beaut] with her peineta [back comb], mantilla [shawl] and fan with the proverbial image of the Virgen del Pilar." (Franco's huge penis in the second panel is, according to Patricia Failing - cf. link above - a "sign [...] of sexual prowess as a symbol of military might.") In the fifth and sixth panels the monster attacks a bull (another symbol of Spain) and worships money (one duro was five pesetas). In the last strip of etching one the guts of the horse are transformed into serpents; Franco tries to (according to Martínez) sexually assault a winged horse (after loosing the serpents that were eating him up from the inside the horse became Pegasus, another symbol of Spain). In the end the monster is still facing the sun, but he now rides a not so noble animal: a pig (a piggy bank: those who pay him). Did Picasso imply that the Spanish people needed to be exorcised to expel Fascism? What seems to be true is that, according to Martínez again, the Pegasus' wings (freedom, of course) grew out from the wound inflicted by the monster on the horse's flank (it's the same wound that we'll see in Guernica). The second etching repeats some of the same topics that we analyzed until now (namely the fight between the bull - the Spanish people - and the aristocratic horse - metamorphosed into a negative symbol again: with the guts, spilled out by the bull, came the now familiar symbols of Fascism: the sword, the national banner, the religious standard). The last four panels show war's real victims: the civilians. Guernica's population was just the beginning. Millions would follow... all over the world...

Picasso didn't invert his drawings and writings when he etched the plates, but here, in these images bought at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, the etchings were reversed; that's why we can read Songe et Mensonge de Franco above as a western comic strip instead of an Asian or Arab one. The last four images of plate two were added a few months later (June 7), after Picasso finished Guernica (May, 1937). That's why they repeat some great details of the painting: the tongue / speer, the nostrils / tears, the nose / impotent penis, for instance.

PS To level things up (since I posted Cara al sol above), here's the great Mexican singer Lila Downs, singing El Quinto Regimiento (the fifth regiment):


Unknown said...

Great post! I was never exposed to this PP´s material. Indeed, the title alone is reminicent of Quevedo´s best word playing.

I can read "semi-retired" in your profile. I´m wondering if there is someway to contact you regarding the "semi-active" part. (In any case, I´m at

Isabelinho said...

Thanks a lot Santiago!
The "semi-retired" part of my profile is a bit tongue in cheek, I must admit :) But it is also a kind of protest because this economical crisis we are living in ended the rather precarious life of the specialized magazines (and I don't mean the ones that talk exclusively about commercial comics; those are very much alive and well, I suppose).

Unknown said...

Exactly about a "specialized magazine" of the type you mean is the motive of what I would like to contact you. (A little show off, wicht I learned just today:

Edorta said...

Hi! Please, can you tell me who did the translation from spanish into english of Sueño y mentira de Franco or Dream and Lie of Franco?
Thank you very much.
(I live in Mundaka, close to Gernika, or Guernica)

Isabelinho said...

Hi Edorta, glad to hear from you!

If I remember correctly I was careful enough to credit all translators (myself included). If I didn't do it in this occasion it's because I didn't know. It's one of those things that "float" around the Internet uncredited, I guess... Anyway, a quick search pointed me to Ellen C. Oppler, but I'm far from being sure...