The great merit of Mayhew's study is his sustained effort to document and interrogate Lorca's reception, unique among American encounters with foreign literatures in its nature and extent. For Mayhew, the American Lorca is largely an apocryphal figure, a cultural stereotype that was fully assimilated into the American idiom. Like all stereotypes, the Americanized Lorca is reductive: the poet's life is equated with his homosexuality and his murder by Franco's forces, and his oeuvre, whittled down to his essay "Play and Theory of the Duende" and a small group of poems from Gypsy Balladbook and Poet in New York, becomes indistinguishable from a romantic image of Andalusian folk song and so-called Spanish surrealism.
"Lorquismo", in Mayhew's coinage, serves an ideological function, enabling American poets to resist the repressiveness and conformism of the Cold War era. It is pressed into the service of anti-Fascist and anti-capitalist politics, African American and gay male identities, ethnopoetics, urban working-class experience, and the Jungian-inspired deep image. Mayhew's critique is most revealing when addressing Lorquismo in its historical moment. He points out that its agenda, although opposed to McCarthyism, likewise expresses an "American exceptionalism", the nationalistic view that the US can best deploy the cultural imports needed to revitalize Western nations. His evidence includes Bob Kaufman's anti-racist yet patriotic poem "The Ancient Rain", where Lorca is invoked among American historical figures from Crispus Attucks, Washington and Lincoln to John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
The defects of Mayhew's study hinge on his method. His choice of the word "apocryphal" is the first ominous sign: it implies a canonical interpretation of Lorca, and for Mayhew, a professor of Spanish literature, that can only be found in the academy. He complains of the "American popularizers" that "Their aim is not the scholarly one of understanding Lorca as he really is, or Lorca in the context of the larger Hispanic literary tradition". That phrase, "as he really is", is telling.
Mayhew's opening chapter brilliantly clears away the stereotypical notions of Lorca, but it also registers a sophisticated awareness that his own interpretation is a personal preference informed by an academic critical orthodoxy, at once post-structuralist and postcolonial. Thus he asserts that "'Lorca' is a complex author-function", whose "own vision of the gypsies is already that of an orientalist". Yet to expect this sort of interpretation from US poets during the Cold War is anachronistic at best.
I agree completely with that last sentence. In fact, my aim (I thought) was to show how we couldn't have expected that kind of interpretation. I realize now that my own agenda gets in the way of a strictly historicist vision, so that I appear to be criticizing the reception from an anachronistic perspective. Yet in a certain way I needed my own agenda as "leverage" in the first place in order to come up with the insights that I did.
All in all, it's a nicely balanced review that I'm quite delighted with. We always say that we want to have a serious debate about our ideas, but this rarely happens. You need someone smart enough to tell you why (he or she thinks) you are wrong, in a way that can be taken seriously. I often have the sense of having "gotten off easy."