Monday, January 21, 2013

Mayhew's Duende, and Mine

Last night I left a somewhat unhinged comment on Jonathan's post about the duende. This post is just a slightly cleaned up version of that.

I was struck by Jonathan's description of me as a "Danish reader". I don't think there's anything very Danish about my reading of Apocryphal Lorca, and I've never really liked the idea of national literatures. (Pound says that we should no more speak of "American literature" than we should speak of "American chemistry".) In fact, much of the "apocrypha", the kitsch, surrounding the duende derives from tying it essentially to Andalusia. Still, there is of course a way to understand the duende by way of the socratic daimon, which inspired, if you will, much of Kierkegaard's work. In particular, we can distinguish between the "genius" and the "apostle". And we can note that too many readings of both Lorca and Heidegger do not proceed from the reader's own particular genius, but the desire to be an apostle.

Jonathan writes that the duende "is a name for Lorca’s own exceptional poetics, universalizable, in principle, but also irreducibly his own." I think that exactly captures the nature of the interpretative problem, and the problem of translation. He goes on: "In Apocryphal Lorca I suggested the duende—an untranslatable term—was at the same time a master trope for translation itself." Yes, but he also questioned its untranslatability, and suggested (at least to me) that its misreading, and reduction to kitsch, is a function, precisely, of the insistence of translators and followers not to find an equivalent notion in their own language. The whole point of the duende (if we take it "as master trope for translation itself") is that you must appropriate the translated work. The duende is not about Lorca or Spain. It is about you, dear reader.

Kierkegaard says somewhere that if you have to ask how and when sin came into the world, you haven't understood the question. It's sort of like that. "It took eighteen centuries of Christendom," writes Norman Mailer, "before Kierkegaard could come back alive with the knowledge that ... the characteristic way modern man found knowledge of his soul [was] ... by the act of perceiving that he was most certainly losing it." (From the preface to Deaths for the Ladies, reprinted in Existential Errands.) That is, we learn about existence for ourselves, because existence simply is the mystery of self in the world.

The duende is universal and therefore translatable into the name of the ineffable breath of genius in all languages and traditions (daimon, muse, genii, what have you). The idea of Mayhew's duende is jarring (a much needed jolt) for the same reason that, say, Basbøll's Dasein would be jarring. We think these concepts, if they mean anything at all, can only mean what Lorca and Heidegger meant by them. But that misses what Heidegger calls the "in each case mine". Or as Pound said: metaphysics is that about which we can only know what we find out for ourselves. This, I guess, is "what Lorca knew".

By invoking his own duende, or Dasein for that matter, Jonathan is merely (and rightly) insisting on the universal (primordial) meaning of the term. We can go further (via Saint Teresa, perhaps): when Jesus said he was God's son he didn't mean that he, alone, was God's son, he meant we all are. The kitsch of Christianity, then, comes from granting this claim to only one man, who "walked the earth", etc. It was an attempt to stave off a general emancipation with talk of a miracle, an exception. The good news, meanwhile, was meant to be universal. And that was why Kierkegaard ultimately could not call himself a "Christian".

I'm no expert on Lorca's duende. (Nor, for that matter, on Heidegger's Dasein.) But the issue here is what kind of "expertise" is required. Mayhew's approach teaches us (or at least me) to think outside the frame of Spanish, and indeed Lorquian, "exceptionalism" (a frame within which I'm in any case unqualified to think) and try instead to understand, in my own case, "the subtle link that joins the five senses to the living flesh". Likewise, we cannot continue to think of an expert on Dasein as necessarily an apostle of Heidegger. We must, finally, find our own genius.

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