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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Mayhew's Duende

Here is the conclusion to a chapter:
Lorca, indeed, is a poetic thinker. Not only does he think, in a profound way, about poetry and poetics, but he advocates a mode of discourse that is both poetic and performative, giving it the name of duende. He opposes this principle, a manifestation of Spanish cultural exceptionalism, to other European aesthetic modes, German or Italian, but the duende seems irrelevant even to Lorca’s Spanish contemporaries: critics don’t deploy this concept when explicating the poetry of Emilio Prados, Jorge Guillén, or Vicente Aleixandre. In this sense, it is a name for Lorca’s own exceptional poetics, universalizable, in principle, but also irreducibly his own.

In Apocryphal Lorca I suggested the duende—an untranslatable term—was was at the same time a master trope for translation itself. “Mayhew’s duende,” in other words, would be a kind of meta-metaphor—since the Latin trans-latere and the Greek meta-pherein both refer to a process of “bringing across.” Duende, in this reading, would a kind of inspired “performance” of the interpretation of Lorquian poetics in an alien hermeneutic context. The model for this kind of sort of performative translation is Lorca’s own evocation of figures like Socrates, Nietzsche, and Saint Teresa of Avila in “Juego y teoría del duende.” By making them precursors of his own aesthetics, he resituates them in a new and unrecognizable landscape.

It may seem presumptuous of me to associate my own proper name with this most hallowed concept in Lorca studies. At the same time, my particular hermeneutic peformance of the duende will not necessarily be shared by other readers, so my motivation here is actually a kind of hermeneutical modesty: the popular use of the duende as the alibi for anti-intellectual poetics is likely to persist, despite my best efforts: the duende, paradoxically, names both the idea of a mysterious force beyond intellectual understanding, locked into an exotic culture, and at the same time the reduction of Lorca’s complex poetics to a simple-minded cliché.

If my interpretation of “Juego y teoría del duende” has a “hallucinated” quality to it (like Barthes’s libinal hallucinations of French phonetics?) I believe that I am following the example of Lorca own metaphorical leaps. That being said, “Mayhew’s duende” is not mine alone, since it builds on Roberta Quance close attention to the duende as a performative concept, on Christopher Maurer’s astute definition of the duende as a kind of ultimate metaphor, in which x = y porque sí, and on Carlos Piera’s re-imagining of the duende as a poetics of contradiction and the limits of representation.

With this hallucinatory quality in mind, then, I conceive of the duende as a word for a radical principle of “receptivity,” or hermeneutic openness to contradiction, similar to Keats’s “negative capability.” In Lorca’s version of romantic hermeneutics, the reader, the interpreter, the peformer, or the spectator feels intimately connected, in the present moment, to a new imagining of an artistic spirit arising out of an ongoing tradition. What makes the duende particularly slippery is that is seems to invite both positive interpretations (the absence of fixed horizons, an infinite openness to aesthetic contradictions) and deconstructive views like that of Piera, that link it to a hermeneutics of suspicion or negativity. From my perspective, however, the via negativa of the duende is precisely what allows for this openness.

I have compared Lorca’s duende to Barthes’s “grain of the voice”-- another culture-bound and idiosyncratic concept belonging to the discourse of “literary theory.” A Danish reader of Apocyphal Lorca, Thomas Basbøll, has suggested that the duende is also comparable to Heidegger’s Dasein, standing in relation to poetics in much the same way as the Dasein does to philosophy. Following Basbøll’s lead, I would suggest that the duende could be a trope for a particular kind of existential “thrownness”or “facticity,” a bringing forth into presence of artistic energy in the here and now. http://pangrammaticon.blogspot.com/2011/07/daring.html
Dasein seems culturally specific to the extent that it is tied to the particular language of Heidegger’s thought. As Basbøll points out, both duende and Dasein are usually left untranslated and hence give rise to “a particular affectation about philosophy and poetry. A romanticism.” (http://pangrammaticon.blogspot.com/2009/09/topos-eidon.html). It is true that both concepts lend themselves both the mystification and kitsch, yet both are, in principle at least, universalizable concepts as well. To see Lorca’s “Juego y teoría” as a work of “literary theory” requires that we transpose it into other theoretical languages, testing the limits of translation itself. Such comparisons, while speculative by necessity, allow for a hermeneutic use of Lorca’s poetics beyond what Lorca himself may have imagined.

Leaving aside any direct comparison between duende and Dasein, it should be noted that Heidegger’s late work on poetry is also a form of poetics, in Duncan’s sense of a reflection on “the inner nature and process of poetry itself.” Poetics, then, merges with literary theory. The point, then, is not to peform a Heideggerian reading of Lorca, but to see the two writers as belonging to a single tradition of postromantic hermeneutics. Of course, to make this comparison is to detach Lorca from the poetics of Spanish cultural exceptionalism in which he inscribes himself in “Arquitectura del cante jondo” and “Juego y teoría del duende.”

The possible link between Lorca and Heidegger allows for a Lorquian interpretation of the Heideggerian poetics of late modernist Spanish poetry, as manifested in the philosophy of María Zambrano and the poetry of Valente, Gamoneda, and Rodríguez. By the same token, the full significance of Lorca’s duende will only come into view in a reinterpretation of Lorca’s influence on the strongest poets of the late 20th century.


Thomas said...

I'm not sure there's anything very Danish about my reading of AL, but I guess I could patch it through Kierkegaard's ideas about "genius" & the socratic daimon.

I like Mailer's reading of Kierkegaard: ""It took eighteen centuries of Christendom before Kierkegaard could come back alive with the knowledge that ... the characteristic way modern man found knowledge of his soul [was] ... by the act of perceiving that he was most certainly losing it."

But in the end isn't the whole point precisely that the duende IS universal and therefore translatable into the name of the ineffable breath of genius in all languages and traditions. The idea of Mayhew's duende is jarring (a much needed jolt) for the same reason that, say, Basbøll Dasein would be jarring. We think these concepts, if they mean anything at all, meant what Lorca and Heidegger meant by them. But that misses the "in each case mine" dimension. As Pound said, metaphysics is that about which we can only know what we find out for ourselves, which, I guess, is "what Lorca knew".

By invoking your duende, or Dasein, you are merely (and rightly) insisting on the universal (primordial) meaning of the term. We can go all out on this (via Saint Teresa, perhaps): When Jesus said he was God's son he didn't mean he alone was God's son, he meant we all are.

The kitsch of Christianity was to grant this claim to only one man, who "walked the earth", etc. To stave off a general emancipation with a miracle. The good news, meanwhile, was meant to be universal.

PS. Instead of meta-meta, I recommend going "infra". Instead bringing it over, pull it down. ("Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down.") Infratrabo.

PPS. Greetings from Barcelona!

Thomas said...

I've cleaned these ideas up a little here.

Jonathan said...

I was using "Danish" as an identifier, but without any particular implication--or any one that a reader might draw. It was mainly to show that I am big in Denmark.