Help me understand El Duende.
October 25, 2011 10:07 AM   Subscribe

Latin American people and/or people who have studied Latin American lore/mythology and/or art: I need to know all about the phrase "El duende", or "duende".

So far I have the wikipedia pages for both the Latin American art term and the creature in Latin American mythology. I can't find much else. Please help me understand what these mean to the deepest core of themselves, all the ins and outs, various subtle meanings, and hopefully more info on the mythological creature and more info on the "invocation of the spirit of being moved by art" - that last part is the part I need info on most, particularly as pertains to music. Is there any expansion of this thought? Is this phrase any deeper than what I've already found?
posted by jitterbug perfume to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Federico García Lorca: La Teoria y Juego del Duende
So, then, the duende is a force not a labour, a struggle not a thought. 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: 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 duende that 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 duende he 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 duende with 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 duende I 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.
posted by jammy at 10:16 AM on October 25, 2011

Last year I stumbled across this article on about Duende being the hardest word to translate in Spanish.

I asked a good friend of mine who is an artist in Monterrey, Mexico about it and she replied: "That's crazy. I don't think I ever heard the word duende used for anything else besides a dwarf or an elf."

Who knows. She is in her 20s. Maybe it is used more frequently in Spain and/or amongst older people.
posted by kongg at 11:11 AM on October 25, 2011

The main context where I've heard it used, basically associated with Garcia Lorca's writings, is from Spanish lore (Roma, specifically) and related to flamenco music in particular, which is traditionally based in southern Spain. So looking for roots in Latin America is sort of barking up the wrong tree.
posted by LionIndex at 2:38 PM on October 25, 2011

Good thing I previewed, I was just about to say what LionIndex said. Apart from the Garcia Lorca connection, keywords here would be Spain, Andalucia and Flamenco.
posted by ob at 2:40 PM on October 25, 2011

Oh dear, el duende was several things in my childhood

a leprechaun sort of creature that would eat you and leave your bones under the crib if you aren't baptised, and lives by fig trees, which are supposedly the kind of tree from which Judas hanged himself.

a very ambiguous kind of energy/spirit/luck/bad luck that responsible for anything unusual happening. The TV doesn't work!...Tiene duende!

In music, mostly flamenco music, duende is a spirit. Check out this video from Tony Gatlif's Vengo, where they are walking by happily and find a tree"con duende", which is like a tree with a sort of "bad mood" so they start singing it to it to calm it down. You can also watch the whole movie, it's amazing.

So duende can be a creature, a very strong mood, or a spirit.
posted by Tarumba at 2:50 PM on October 25, 2011

meant to link to minute 25:08 for some reason it jumps.
posted by Tarumba at 2:54 PM on October 25, 2011

The other posters have answered this much better than I could regarding what the term IS in the context of art and performance. As a Latin American, I will just add that, while the term is not unknown among us in the sense already explained, it's not a common one and might get you some puzzled looks from people that aren't deep into art and its metaphores. While others yet may ignore all the Spanish meanings and think of it vaguely as something similar as "muse" as it's used in common English (this in my personal experience, people raised in other parts of Latin America and/or other particular subcultures of it may differ and will probably do, of course).
posted by Iosephus at 3:00 PM on October 25, 2011

LionIndex - Thanks for pointing that out. I had been led to believe it represented either a fairy in Latin American folklore or something in Flamenco guitaring, which I suppose is done much more in Spain than Latin America?

Tarumba - I've never heard it spun so negatively, but thanks for your perspective as well, I didn't know this connotation existed!

Kongg - I think her not having heard of it except as an elf is because the other side of the word is a highly conceptualized philosophical thing, sort of like if an American 20-something-year-old hadn't heard of Quantum Entanglement or The Double-Slit Theory or didn't know what a coda is in music, no one would be shocked, see what I mean? I'm in my 20's, btw.

Thanks everyone so far. If anyone has anything else to add or has just seen this, please keep it coming. If not, this info is awesome.
posted by jitterbug perfume at 6:32 PM on October 25, 2011

*Double-slit EXPERIMENT
posted by jitterbug perfume at 6:32 PM on October 25, 2011

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