Duende (“having duende”) loosely means having soul, a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity that originates in the Southern Spanish folk-music and dance of flamenco. The artistic and especially musical term was derived from the Duende, an elf or goblin-like magic creature in Spanish mythology.
El Duende is the spirit of enchantment. We often experience a creative work such as a piece of writing, music, or visual art, and appreciate it. We understand that it is ‘worthy’ of appreciation. Perhaps a teacher has explained why it is worthy, or maybe because having studied the qualities that make good works of art, we can begin to search for those particular qualities in other works and tell whether they are worthy or not. There is a whole science devoted to art appreciation. There are books on how to read poets such as TS Eliot, and books on how to look at the paintings of Cezanne.
El Duende is not the spirit of appreciation. El Duende is not the spirit of worthiness.
El Duende is the spirit of reacting with your innermost being.
El Duende wells up from your core as a physiological response to art.
First year medical students study Anatomy and Physiology. Anatomy details the parts of the body. Physiology details how the parts work together to give life to the body: breathing, circulation, skin tone, temperature, nerves, electrical synapses, and so forth.
When you stand before a truly great work of art it is the spirit of El Duende who makes your breath quicken, your pulse race, and your skin tingle. Perhaps even makes you weep, or laugh, or terrifies you.
Folk Music is music of the homeless. For those who are constantly forced to move on, either by climate or by governments, there can be no pianos or orchestras. Flamenco originate with Spanish gypsies. Their instruments were light, easy to make, and easy to repair; guitars and violins, and most significantly, the human voice. Flamenco embodies an authenticity that can only come from diaspora: those who are dispersed, who must constantly move on again.
This is where I would like to lead you as you progress through this class.
I want you to start to be able to write in a way that moves your readers in the deepest part of their souls. Together we will try to figure out how to write in a way that forces our readers weep or laugh.
Perhaps, like me, you have lived in comfortable homes all your life, with regular meals, with central heating, refrigerators and hygienic washing facilities.
Do not despair. It has often been said that those have survived a normal upbringing have more than enough experience to write volumes of literature.
It’s true that libraries and bookstores have shelf-loads of books by authors who have experienced amazing things in their lives.
But most books are written by authors who have had rather dull lives. The difference is that they have looked deeply into the ordinary and discovered the extraordinary.
This, for me, is the secret of Creative Writing––if there is a secret.
We will read, write, and analyze poetry to develop a personal writing style.
We will read, write, and analyze memoir to try to understand what really happened in our lives.
We will read, write, and analyze fiction, in order to learn how to structure compelling narratives.
And El Duende will be just below the surface the whole time.
So, why do I like the idea of El Duende?
For me it’s a little neutral in terms of belief. As a group we have a variety of belief systems that range from the deeply religious (and across a variety of religions and philosophies) to atheism, and duende hopefully shouldn’t interfere with any of those systems of belief.
Are there really elves? Or are they merely something psychological? Even neurological?
Whatever you believe about the universe, embrace this moment of the blank page.
Wait a minute before you pick up your pen––or scissors––or glue stick.
There might be a billion civilizations in our galaxy alone. In terms of science and technology every single one of those worlds might be progressing along similar paths to our own, but no being in any of of those worlds will ever create what you are are about to create.
You are about to add something to the history of the universe that would never exist from the beginning to the end of time if you were not about to put it there––and that is true regardless of your beliefs.
According to Christopher Maurer, editor of “In Search of Duende”, at least four elements can be isolated in Lorca’s vision of duende: irrationality, earthiness, a heightened awareness of death, and a dash of the diabolical.
The duende is an earth spirit who helps the artist see the limitations of intelligence, reminding them that “ants could eat him or that a great arsenic lobster could fall suddenly on his head.”
“The duende is a force, not a labour, a struggle, not a thought,” said Lorca. “I heard an old maestro of the guitar say: ‘The duende is not in the throat: the duende surges 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.” Lorca identified its presence, particularly, in cante jondo, a kind of Andalusian folk music. “Behind these poems,” he wrote, “lurks a terrible question that has no answer.”
The lobster who brings the artist face-to-face with death, and who helps them create and communicate memorable, spine-chilling art.
Nick Cave has described as “the eerie and inexplicable sadness that lives at the heart of certain works of art”. It was nice, I felt, to put a name to a face.
Many other songwriters, who are poets at heart, also elicit duende. They include Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and Leonard Cohen.
The Guitar: Federico García Lorca, 1898 – 1936
The weeping of the guitar begins.
The goblets of dawn
The weeping of the guitar
to silence it.
to silence it.
It weeps monotonously
as water weeps
as the wind weeps
to silence it.
It weeps for distant
Hot southern sands
yearning for white camellias.
Weeps arrow without target
evening without morning
and the first dead bird
on the branch.
Heart mortally wounded
by five swords.
For me, a good place to look for El Duende is in some of the better Country music. This is the song Choctaw Bingo by James McMurtry.
James McMurtry is the sone of Larry McMurtry who wrote what is acknowledged to be the greatest cowboy novel of all time: Lonesome Dove.
I will try to play the song here
Here are the lyrics:
Strap them kids in
He’s not much on talking and he’s just too mean to die
And they’ll be comin’ down from Kansas
And from west Arkansas
Uncle Slayton’s got his Texan pride
You know he had to leave Texas but he won’t say why
He owns a quarter section up by Lake Eufala
Caught a great big ol’ blue cat on a driftin’ jug line
Where they do things different
Thought he’d just come on down
Across the Will Rogers Turnpike
Bob and Mae come up from little town
But he says they won’t be this year no they won’t be this year
Soon as it gets dark we’re gonna have us a time
We’re gonna have us a time
Ruth Ann and Lynn come down from Baxter Springs
That’s one hell raisin’ town way up in Southeastern Kansas
And they’re second cousins to me
Man I don’t care I want to get between ’em
You could hang a pipe rail gait from
Do some twisted sisters ’til the cows come home
And we’d be havin’ us a time
Uncle Slayton’s got his Texan pride
He’s cut that corner pasture into acre lots’
When they miss that payment
Then he takes it back
Drinks that Johnny Walker at that Club 69