Lorca’s Duende and the Formation of Image


Periodically, I return again and again to things I have written about before in hopes of bringing to the surface a clearer idea of the subject for myself. Duende is just such an idea. Lorca, himself, spent years coming to terms with Duende beginning with Cante Jundo and Deep Song– Andalusian music- and later using it to describe all art, especially poetry. “These black sounds are the mystery, the roots fastened in the mire that gives us the substance of art… The duende, then, is a power, not a work; it is a struggle not a thought.”   ( Lorca, Deep Song and Other Prose, p.43)

Duende is tied to death. This knowledge is bound to the creative process by the artist’s awareness of the passage of time; the passage of earthly, material beauty; and the longing for perfection. Death grounds one to the earth- the immediacy of reality and the awareness of the power of life. Death tears away all of the blinders one has and firmly sets one in the here and now. There is an inherent  power and vitality surrounding this knowledge. It transforms a work into a surge of new life. Lorca acknowledges the pain in deep song, which the gypsies called pena pegra, “black pain”- “…which is far deeper than any personal pain, and it was this which undoubtedly opened Lorca’s psyche to the universality of suffering and the need to find a language which would get beyond the limitations of the personal. The poetic image is such a language.” ( Cobb, Archetypal Imagination, p.97)

The poetic image that is firmly grounded in death leads one to an awareness of something that goes beyond the personal into ” the interiority within all things… The fantasy of hidden depths ensouls the world and fosters imagining even deeper into things.”(Ibid., p.97) This ability or insight into the interior life of all things allows the artist a unique perspective that roots his imaginal life to the world. The Sufi’s referred to this as the isthmus that leads the artist from the world of objects to the world of images. And it is image that must be the source and wellspring for the artist. Noel Cobb beautifully describes this state,

It appears that when duende touches soul and soul touches death, it brings a new quality with it into living- a fuller, deeper resonance to experience and thought. With its roots deep in death and the underworld, duende nourishes the soul with life-giving images. (Ibid., p.102)

This play between the imaginal life of the artist and his experience in the world, where death lies, gives the artist a heightened attentiveness to even what appears ordinary and superimposes upon these common events the extraodinariness of living itself. But Lorca warns,

“… that there are neither maps nor discipline to help us find duende. We only know that… he exhausts, that he rejects all the sweet geometry that we have learned, that he smashes the styles… With idea, sound or gesture, the duende enjoys fighting the creator to the very rim of the well… the duende wounds. In the healing of that wound which never closes lies the invented strange qualities of a man’s work. ( Lorca, Obras Completas, Vol.1,p.10994)

In Search of Image

As an artist, one always tends to think in images. But it is important to step back and rethink what an image is.  Too many paintings are composed as conceptions based on a rational part of ourselves ( what one “ought” to paint) and are not true Images. Image is the soul of a piece deeply connected to the soul of the artist. It stands as a hallmark as well as a guide to the artist. The artist must have a deep connection to the world in order to craft images that speak on this level. In a letter to his brother, Keats wrote: “Call the world, if you please, ‘the vale of soulmaking.’ Then you will find out the use of the world.”In this very act of crafting the image, the artist partakes in his own crafting of soul through his deep feeling and participation in the world.

Noel Cobb states beautifully in his book on “The Archetypal Imagination”,

“We must remember that image is not just some object or other out there; it is not the same as a picture, not the same as an optical, visual thing…Nor is it an optical event, an afterimage, or even the same as memory. It is neither inside us, nor outside us, but somewhere in between. What I am reaching for is that sense of the image we can find among the ancient Greeks and again in the Florentine circles of the Renaissance- the image considered as the way in which the heart perceives. (p.30)

The perceptions of the heart create image. Being attuned to that delicate movement of the heart is the foundation of the artist’s journey. It becomes less about what one sees and more about how one sees. The material world, that inspires and which one renders with such devotion, becomes the isthmus that takes us to the world of images.  And the imagination is what gives one the wings to travel there. “Without this taking in of the world, there is no awakening in the heart, no poetry, no making, no craft or crafting. Events remain events, soulless occurrences; they do not become experiences. Pictures remain two-dimensional happenings of form and composition, unless through soul they become images.” (Ibid.p.30)

“Images are angels- or rather diamones”(Ibid.)  because they are living things, embodied and particular; They have a life of their own independent from oneself. Because of this independence, one cannot just call the image forth but must await for its appearance with attentiveness. And when it does appear, such as described by Lorca, one must wrestle with this being in crafting the poetic image. One must fully participate and allow oneself to be transformed by it. One must be ready to risk all. Rumi states, “there is born within… a spiritual Child having the breath of Christ which resuscitates the dead.” A resurrection within the heart of those that see and partake of the image is what the artist is called to facilitate. “When the heart is inspired a new life and new image is born.” (Ibid.p.29)