Monthly Marvel: Duende

On the first Saturday of each month for at least the next little while I intend to share here one of the Weekly Wonders from that previous project. The first is duende, an artistic principle I find intriguing but hard to emulate.


DUENDE

This week’s idea is duende. It can be roughly translated as “soul”; the phrase tener duende means “having soul.” It is a heightened state of emotion, expression, and authenticity in art, especially flamenco. Duende is a spirit of artistic evocation like (but in many ways unlike) a muse. When art gives you chills, or makes you cry, or makes you grin, that art has duende. Duende is especially likely in art informed by vox populi, the human condition of joy and sorrow.

Image source: Flavio~ at https://flic.kr/p/aBpfyr

Image source: Flavio~ at https://flic.kr/p/aBpfyr

Federico García Lorca first developed the aesthetics of duende in a 1933 lecture he gave in Buenos Aires. Lorca’s sense of duende has four crucial elements: irrationality, earthiness, a heightened awareness of death, and “a dash of the diabolical.” Duende makes an artist see the limits of intelligence, brings the artist face-to-face with death, and helps the artist create and communicate powerful art. Lorca contrasts duende with style, virtuosity, innate grace and charm (often rendered “the angel”), or the classical and normative muse; duende differs from all of these. Jan Zwicky of the University of Victoria contasts duende with Apollo’s bright art. An artist must grapple with the duende, and not just submit; at the same time, the duende “seizes” the artist and, through the art, the audience. Duende indicates spontaneity, authenticity, the physical body in its particular moment, and an awareness of darkness and death in life. As such, it tends to create new forms, the ones which more classical artists eventually adopt. Zwicky notes that Hermes had to kill the tortoise to make the first lyre, which Apollo then played.

John Drury’s The Poetry Dictionary defines duende like this:

Federico Garcia Lorca’s term for “the roots that probe through the mire that we all know of and do not understand, but which furnishes us with whatever is sustaining in art.”

Nick Cave mentions Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen as especially tener duende. I would mention Lorde, these days, and also Guillermo del Toro’s El laberinto del fauno (better known as Pan’s Labyrinth).

Image source: Wikimedia Commons; Adoration of the Shepherds by El Greco (with thanks the Natalie M for the recommendation). I am no Art Major, but I feel like this has some duende to it.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons; Adoration of the Shepherds by El Greco (with thanks the Natalie M for the recommendation). I am no Art Major, but I feel like this has some duende to it.

The term derives from the duende, an earthy fairy or goblin in Spanish mythology. In Latin America, duendes help those lost in the forest find their way home, or live in the walls of houses to care for young children: they might clip a child’s toenails, sometimes cutting off the whole toe by accident; they might also barter with a mother for her young children, with the intent of eating said children.

Posted by Christian H.

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