The Archetype of Inspiration

"Duende" - Charcoal drawing by Judith Reeve
“Duende” – Work in Progress

Late in this cruel season when the sun

scourges alike the city and the fields,

parching the stubble and sinking into slums

where shuttered hovels hide vile appetites,

I venture out alone to drill myself

in what must seem  an eerie fencing-match,

dueling in dark corners for a rhyme

and stumbling over words like cobblestones

where now and then realities collide

with lines I dreamed of writing long ago.

(Baudelaire, “Tableaux Parisiens”)

This poem of Baudelaire’s speaks so much about the need for reverie as an open source from which creative inspiration will flow. Baudelaire ventures out into the world but allows his unconscious mind to take over. He duels with another part of himself that lies hidden until called forth through reverie. This other part of himself presents itself in many forms in his poetry- sometimes a phantom, sometimes a seductive woman, sometimes a malformed dwarf. But in all cases, it is his guide. It is combative and does not always concerns itself with his ultimate good. But it is a passionate relationship that reveals Baudelaire for who he is. He could not write without it because it presents before the poet, not just things on his mind, but things he had yet to imagine.

It is this spontaneity that we recognize as genius. It is not rational but surprisingly irrational. And as Edward Hirsch states,” Duende, then, becomes a name for a radically accelerated process of creation in which everything is at stake.” (Edward Hirsch,”The Demon and the Angel”,  p. 54)  One gets this feeling in Baudelaire’s poetry as well as Dostoyevsky’s main characters. In “The Gambler”, one cannot help but feel the rapid pulse, the sweat and anxiety of  Alexei Ivanovich as he risks everything to tap into his own version of duende or diamon– a dark force that will allow him to see the right moves in order to become a “big” winner where all is on the line. His flaw is his desire to control this “other” instead of allowing it its own space to speak and inspire. Once one calls up this diamon, one must live with the consequences.

In a sense, all the work one produces as an artist is an image of this “other” self. It is this alternative self- portrait, that in a way, reveals more about oneself than one at first recognizes. In a way, one can only produce one story, one myth in which both oneself and the “other” dwell. This archetype is at the core of our being and it takes a lifetime to uncover it. Yeats believed,”… that for each of us there existed one archetypal story, a single explanatory myth, which, if we but understood it, would clarify all that we said and did and thought.”(Ibid, p. 65) It sounds a bit like Fate but one can think of it more like a parallel universe that we have a window into and can draw from to produce work that is more powerful and surprising than if we rationally developed an image. This irrational aspect of ourselves reveals to oneself what we fail to see. This “other” self is like the jester or fool who shows the king the true state of himself and his affairs.

As Baudelaire found out through his own quest for images, once that daimon is out, it must be attended to. It will pursue one until its will is done. Many times when I am working on an image that reaches into that space, the muse or diamon of that piece will not let me rest until I have a grasp of the form it wishes to take. It pursues me in my thoughts and dreams until I make it real, as it wishes to be known. I have to say that in most cases I gladly accept this “possession” but there are many times when I am having difficulty with an image that I wish it would let go of its hold on me. But alternatively, it is only when I am in the battle that I feel myself alive and intensely engaged in the world.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

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