Everything I know about Lorca I'm learning by reading Jonathan Mayhew's new book. It's the first time in recent memory that I'm reading a book about a writer that I've never read for myself. I come to Jonathan's book knowing essentially nothing about the subject. For example, I hadn't heard of the duende before (Jonathan has blogged about it, but mostly it just went over my head), which, it seems, is a bit like thinking you know something about philosophy but drawing a blank on Dasein. In fact, as I understand it, Jonathan's take on Lorca's signature concept resembles my take on Heidegger's.
To the extent that the duende names a universal phenomenon, it loses its cultural specificity and hence its raison d'etre: we could just as easily designate it with another label: inspiration, muse, angel, demon, soul, genius. For the duende to play a role in American poetics, it must remain untranslatable, even though it serves as the tutelary spirit of the American translation of Lorca. (51)
Look how easy it is to construct the same observation about "the American Heidegger":
To the extent that the Dasein names a universal phenomenon, it loses its cultural specificity and hence its raison d'etre: we could just as easily designate it with another label: existence, subject, human being, soul, self. For the Dasein to play a role in American philosophy, it must remain untranslatable, even though it serves as the tutelary spirit of the American translation of Heidegger.
Now, in fact "subject, human being, soul, self" would involve way too much interpretation to pass as translation, at least for my tastes. But the same argument could be made for Lorca's duende. Just as Heidegger uses the German word for "existence" to denote the specific "being there" of we humans, so Lorca uses the Spanish word for "hobgoblin" (that's what the dictionary tells me) to denote "the muse", inspiration.
In both cases, however, we can ask whether it would not be stronger to translate the writer as addressing a universal theme (like existence or inspiration), putting his particular spin on it, than to let the untranslated word hold a place for an overinterpreted notion. With this as a hook, I'm sure it would be possible to write a book on "the apocryphal Heidegger".