Continuity, Transformation and Change: The “Creole Grotesque” in the Plays of Armando Discépolo

Continuidad, transformación y cambio: El grotesco criollo de Armando Discépolo. Buenos Aires: Nueva Generación, 2004

Ma. Teresa Sanhueza

Monographic study on some plays written by Armando Discépolo. The plays I worked with El movimiento continuo (1916), Mustafá (1921), Mateo (1923), Stéfano (1928) and Relojero (1934) cover eighteen years of the life of Argentina at the beginning of the twentieth century. The grotesque is seen as a socio-historical and aesthetic category that illustrates Discépolo’s ideology. It goes from an aesthetic category combining two opposite characteristics in El movimiento continuo (1916), to a feature that permeates every single part of the structure and the world vision of the play in Relojero (1934). The grotesque in Discépolo is never a gratuitous mixing together of incompatible elements for its own sake or for no other purpose than to amuse the reader. For Discépolo, the grotesque is a way to show the reality of thousands of people fighting with themselves and others to adjust to the new land. The gringo, the foreigner, the ‘other’, is a character in a land that he wants to see as his own and be part of while he tries at the same time to keep his identity from the distant land that he left behind. It is easy to see then that the grotesque involves rationalization and defense mechanisms, two aspects that somewhat oppose each other. This suggests that the effect of the grotesque is as strongly emotional as it is intellectual.

In these five plays, Discépolo resorts to the grotesque as a fundamental organizing principle depicting the process of immigration in early twentieth-century Argentina. As a result, his plays can be read as a commentary on Italian immigrants’ everyday life conditions of poverty and suffering. People who came to Argentina expecting to conquer the New World and, in the process of adaptation to a new urban life they found, instead, misery, pain and frustration that deeply affected their lives and those of their families. Discépolo’s plays depict life in a realistic manner in contrast to “official rhetoric”, which idealized the immigrant experience.