Magazine

Feature: García Lorca

Date posted: 7 Jul 2011Author: STC

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García Lorca was a master of Spanish drama, and he was all about the Duende. In this except from his seminal essay Theory and Play of The Duende, originally presented as a lecture in Buenos Aires in 1933, the playwright explains this powerful force that permeated all of his work including Blood Wedding...

"Ladies and Gentlemen,

Between 1918 when I entered the Residencia de Estudiantesin Madrid, and 1928 when I left, having completed my study of Philosophy and Letters, I listened to around a thousand lectures, in that elegant salon where the old Spanish aristocracy went to do penance for its frivolity on French beaches.

Longing for air and sunlight, I was so bored I used to feel as though I was covered in fine ash, on the point of changing into peppery sneezes.

So, no, I don't want that terrible blowfly of boredom to enter this room, threading all your heads together on the slender necklace of sleep, and setting a tiny cluster of sharp needles in your, my listeners', eyes.

In a simple way, in the register that, in my poetic voice, holds neither the gleams of wood, nor the angles of hemlock, nor those sheep that suddenly become knives of irony, I want to see if I can give you a simple lesson on the buried spirit of saddened Spain.

Whoever travels the bull's hide that stretches between the Júcar, Guadalfeo, Sil and Pisuerga rivers (not to mention the tributaries that meet those waves, the colour of a lion's mane, that stir the Plata) frequently hears people say: 'This has much duende'. Manuel Torre, great artist of the Andalusian people, said to someone who sang for him: 'You have a voice, you understand style, but you'll never ever succeed because you have no duende.'

All through Andalusia, from the rock of Jaén to the snail's-shell of Cadiz, people constantly talk about the duendeand recognise it wherever it appears with a fine instinct. That wonderful singer El Lebrijano, creator of the Debla, said: 'On days when I sing with duendeno one can touch me.': the old Gypsy dancer La Malena once heard Brailowsky play a fragment of Bach, and exclaimed: 'Olé! That has duende!' but was bored by Gluck, Brahms and Milhaud. And Manuel Torre, a man who had more culture in his veins than anyone I've known, on hearing Falla play his own Nocturno del Generalifespoke this splendid sentence: 'All that has dark sounds has duende.' And there's no deeper truth than that.

Those dark sounds are the mystery, the roots that cling to the mire that we all know, that we all ignore, but from which comes the very substance of art. 'Dark sounds' said the man of the Spanish people, agreeing with Goethe, who in speaking of Paganini hit on a definition of the duende: 'A mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained.'

So, then, the duendeis a force not a labour, a struggle not a thought. I heard an old maestro of the guitar say: 'The duendeis not in the throat: the duendesurges up, inside, from the soles of the feet.' Meaning, it's not a question of skill, but of a style that's truly alive: meaning, it's in the veins: meaning, it's of the most ancient culture of immediate creation.

This 'mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained' is, in sum, the spirit of the earth, the same duendethat scorched Nietzche's heart as he searched for its outer form on the Rialto Bridge and in Bizet's music, without finding it, and without seeing that the duendehe pursued had leapt from the Greek mysteries to the dancers of Cadiz and the headless Dionysiac scream of Silverio's siguiriya.

So, then, I don't want anyone to confuse the duendewith the theological demon of doubt at whom Luther, with Bacchic feeling, hurled a pot of ink in Eisenach, nor the Catholic devil, destructive and of low intelligence, who disguised himself as a bitch to enter convents, nor the talking monkey carried by Cervantes' Malgesi in his comedy of jealousies in the Andalusian woods.

No. The duendeI mean, secret and shuddering, is descended from that blithe daemon, all marble and salt, of Socrates, whom it scratched at indignantly on the day when he drank the hemlock, and that other melancholy demon of Descartes, diminutive as a green almond, that, tired of lines and circles, fled along the canals to listen to the singing of drunken sailors.

For every man, every artist called Nietzsche or Cézanne, every step that he climbs in the tower of his perfection is at the expense of the struggle that he undergoes with his duende, not with an angel, as is often said, nor with his Muse. This is a precise and fundamental distinction at the root of their work. The angel guides and grants, like St. Raphael: defends and spares, like St. Michael: proclaims and forewarns, like St. Gabriel.

The angel dazzles, but flies over a man's head, high above, shedding its grace, and the man realises his work, or his charm, or his dance effortlessly. The angel on the road to Damascus, and that which entered through the cracks in the little balcony at Assisi, or the one that followed in Heinrich Suso's footsteps, create order, and there is no way to oppose their light, since they beat their wings of steel in an atmosphere of predestination.

The Muse dictates, and occasionally prompts. She can do relatively little since she's distant and so tired (I've seen her twice) that you'd think her heart half marble. Muse poets hear voices and don't know where they're from, but they're from the Muse who inspires them and sometimes makes her meal of them, as in the case of Apollinaire, a great poet destroyed by the terrifying Muse, next to whom the divine angelic Rousseau once painted him.

The Muse stirs the intellect, bringing a landscape of columns and an illusory taste of laurel, and intellect is often poetry's enemy, since it limits too much, since it lifts the poet into the bondage of aristocratic fineness, where he forgets that he might be eaten, suddenly, by ants, or that a huge arsenical lobster might fall on his head - things against which the Muses who inhabit monocles, or the roses of lukewarm lacquer in a tiny salon, have no power.

Angel and Muse come from outside us: the angel brings light, the Muse form (Hesiod learnt from her). Golden bread or fold of tunic, it is her norm that the poet receives in his laurel grove. While the duendehas to be roused from the furthest habitations of the blood.

Reject the angel, and give the Muse a kick, and forget our fear of the scent of violets that eighteenth century poetry breathes out, and of the great telescope in whose lenses the Muse, made ill by limitatiom, sleeps.

The true struggle is with the duende."

The full text is at: http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Spanish/LorcaDuende.htm

Translated by A. S. Kline © 2007 All Rights Reserved.

Blood Wedding, Wharf 1 Theatre, 1 August - 11 September, 2011.