Posted by: glue | June 24, 2009


In Spain I discovered the poetry of Lorca.

Federico Garcia Lorca’s lecture on duende is a precise statement of the virtue of “life” as the autonomous value to be institutionalized in electracy.  “Duende” is a survival of “daimon” that, as Lorca (and every other modern who used the term, including Heidegger) explained, had nothing to do with Christian “demons.”  “The duende I am talking about is the dark, shuddering descendant of the happy marble-and-salt demon of Socrates, whom he angrily scratched on the day Socrates swallowed the hemlock, and of that melancholy demon of Descartes, a demon who was small as a green almond and who sickened of circles and lines and escaped down the canals to listen to the songs of blurry sailors” (Lorca, 43).  Lorca lists Nietzsche as one of those scorched by this spirit of the earth, “who looked for its external forms on the Rialto Bridge and in the music of Bizet” (Nietzsche noted the change in his musical tastes, away from Wagner toward Bizet, that occurred as part of his insight into eternal recurrence).



Lorca’s identification of duende with the genius of a specific region (Andalucia) and the soul of its people manifests the modifications in this Ancient spirit passed along through Romanticism.  His description of the evening the Andalusian singer Pastora Pavon was performing in a little tavern in Cadiz is one of the best evocations of the peculiar nature of “genius” as conatus, in clarifying that this Kraft has nothing to do with craftsmanship or technical ability, but only with soul.  Pastora is a master of craft.  “For a while she played with her voice of shadow, of beaten tin, her moss-covered voice, braiding it  into her hair or soaking it in wine or letting it wander away to  the farthest, darkest bramble patches.  No use. Nothing” (45).  Lorca identifies by name and description several members of the legendary tough crowd.  A tiny man sarcastically murmured from somewhere “Viva Paris!” implying “here we care nothing about ability,   technique, skill.  Here we are after something else.”  “As though crazy, torn like a medieval weeper, La Nina de los Peines got to her feet, tossed off a big glass of firewater and began to sing with a scorched throat, without voice, without breath or color, but with duende.  She was able to kill all the scaffolding of the song and leave way for a furious, enslaving duende, friend of sand winds, who made the listeners rip their clothes with the same rhythm as do the blacks of the Antillis when,  in the ‘lucumi’ rite, they huddle in heaps before the statue of Santa Barbara” (45-6).

Lorca places “duende” in the family of terms for the bittersweet feeling of eros, in all the versions that spread through the Black Atlantic, the creole cultures that invented the musics of tango, samba, jazz –- each with its own mood (mufarse, saudade, blues).  A key element in the description is that duende may be invited, but it comes and goes on its own terms, but is most likely to appear when “death” is a possibility and its preference is for the rim of the wound.  No philosopher has ever been able to account for it, but Lorca as poet gathers a series of images to convey the sensory quality of the feeling:  “The hut and the cart wheel and the razor and the prickly beards of the shepherds and the peeled moon and the fly and moist pantry shelves and torn-down buildings and lace-covered saints and lime and the wounding line of eaves and miradors possess, in Spain, fine weeds of death, the allusions and murmurings (perceptible to any alert spirit) that fill our memory with  the stale air of our own passage” (48).

Lorca distinguishes duende from the muse and from angels, who have a different relationship with inspiration and external visitation.  Edward Hirsch in his study of artistic inspiration treats these three modes together, to account for the widest range of art examples (Hirsch, 2002).  Michel Serres’s Angels explicitly develops the idea of the angels and daimons as messengers between mortals and gods, whose function has been taken over in modernity by information technologies (Serres, 1995).  The connection with the Gateway, in the context of Trickster stories, is pointed out by Lewis Hyde.  “All tricksters like to hang around the doorway, that being one of the places where deep-change accidents occur.  Eshu is no exception.  He likes especially the doorway  between heaven and earth, which is why his face appears on the divination board.  The art of divination makes heaven and earth briefly coincident.  Eshu is a sort of slippery joint at the point of their contingency, revealing fate or reversing it depending on the disposition of things.  It may well be that fate is set in heaven, but it must be played out here on earth, and between heaven and earth there is a gap inhabited by this shifty mediator” (Hyde, 1998: 124).  Marcus Novak brings all these threads together in his discussion of liquid architecture when he suggests that cyberspace may be constructed in accord with the old dreams of magic.  Duende is the mood of dwelling in information, and poetry is its logic (Novak, 228).


  1. […] Internet Invention Chp 8 (227-43): “The Bar (Street)” — plus “Duende” entry (Ulmer’s blog). Due: Weekly Blog Entry (usual parameters, resume normal […]

  2. […] tip: reverse chrono., then “Duende” (current chapter concept), then chrono. review of these three […]

  3. […] is the mood of dwelling in information, and poetry is its logic (Novak, 228).” — Ulmer, “Duende” (blog entry) 24 June […]

  4. […] Ulmer’s blog entries: “Duende” & “Middle Voice” ← key for Exercise […]

  5. […] is the mood of dwelling in infor­ma­tion, and poetry is its logic (Novak, 228).“ — Ulmer (blog entry about duende) Focus/Activ­ity: “Ficelle” & […]

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