Interpretations of Lorca’s duende often treat it as though it were merely a variation on the familiar theme of poetic or artistic inspiration—the Spanish version of the muse. Lorca himself, as we have seen, is purposefully slippery, applying the term to the visual arts as well as to the composition (not exclusively the performance) of music and poetry, and presenting his theory as an alternative to the muse and the angel. Nevertheless, he does indicate that the duende is most duende-like in the live performance of music, poetry, and dance, since those art-forms require “un cuerpo vivo que interprete, porque son formas que nacen y mueren de modo perpetuo y alzan sus contornos sobre un presente exacto” (a live body to interpret, since they are forms that are born and die perpetually and erect their shapes over an exact present).
It is striking to conceive the dramatic struggle of artistic creation itself—as in the painter’s struggle with the blank canvas or the poet’s with the blank page—in its performative dimension. (Although poetry can be a performative art, many poets have adopted Lorca’s duende without relating it directly to performance.) To read the duende as yet another theory of inspiration, however, is to lose sight of performance in a more literal sense. The more literal-minded approach I am proposing, of course, does not exclude allegorical displacements: in fact, it turns out to be extremely difficult to look at performance in itself, without displacing it by making it stand in for other values. My emphasis on performance and orality, then, is a heuristic device designed to bring a particular aspect of Lorca’s poetics into sharper focus.