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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Chapter 4, final intro / sans signposting

Chapter 4

The Grain of the Voice: Performance, Pragmatism, and Orality

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 peculiarly Spanish version of the muse. Lorca himself, while emphasizing live performance, is purposefully expansive in defining the reach of the duende, applying the term to a copious number of examples in the visual arts, and to the composition (and not exclusively the performance) of music and poetry. Moreover, by presenting his theory as an explicit alternative to the muse and the angel, he inscribes it within familiar narratives of poetic inspiration. Still, he does indicate that the duende is most duende-like in the live performance of art-forms that 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 that interprets them, since they are forms that are born and die perpetually and erect their shapes in an exact present).

It is striking to conceive the dramatic struggle of all artistic creation—as in the painter’s struggle with the blank canvas or the poet’s with the blank page—in its performative dimension. To read the duende as another theory of artistic creation, however, is to lose sight of performance itself in its more immediate and literal sense. This seemingly more literal-minded approach, needless to say, should not exclude metaphorical displacements: in fact, it turns out to be extremely difficult to look at performance in itself, without displacing it or making it stand in for other values. An emphasis on performance and orality, then, could serve as a heuristic device—designed to bring a particular aspect of Lorca’s poetics into sharper focus—rather than as the definitive interpretation of Lorca’s duende.
Apart from studies of the oral poetry of traditional societies, like Paul Zumthor’s Oral Poetics, there are still relatively few texts of contemporary literary theory that directly address the poetics of performance. Roland Barthes’s “The Grain of the Voice” provides a convenient point of departure for a consideration of Lorca’s “Juego y teoría del duende” as a meditation on the performative dimension of poetry and song. Barthes’s essay, not coincidentally, also links the performance of song to cultural exceptionalism. Claudio Rodríguez’s thesis on the children’s songs, likewise, might be profitably compared to Lorca’s lecture on Spanish lullabies. Read together, such prose texts form the basis of a pragmatist poetics, rooted in the immediate circumstances of the performance and reception of poetry and other forms of vocal art. This performative and pragmatic bias in Lorca’s poetics, in turn, reveals a new way of thinking about Lorca’s presence in contemporary Spanish poetry: perhaps his strongest influence is more musical than philosphical, more attuned to the body of the performer than to the mind of the interpreter.


Vance Maverick said...

+1. I'd only urge you to restrain the use of "might" and "perhaps".

Jonathan said...

Good catch. I've taken out 2 out of the 3 "mights." Two in one sentence doesn't sound too good.

Thomas said...

Just read this in Guide to Kulchur, which seems to struggle with a similar distinction:

Pound is talking about eudaimonia: "This is not 'well-being' in any ordinary sense, or well-doing or doing well, or happiness as in any current use of the word. ... it is not even 'to be in good spirits'. ... It is not to be among good angels. It is to be possessed of one's good DAEMON." (GK, p.307)

Likewise Lorca assures us the duende is not the muse, and you must explain that it's not just about inspiration and creativity (at least not "in any current use" of these words). I must say I like the idea that its true meaning is to be found in the actual performance of the art. (Just as eudaimonia is probably best understood as a kind of practical happiness, happiness in practice.)

I've been thinking about what we mean when we say something is "well-written". It's an adjective, modifying the text. But really it gestures at the way the text was written, the performance of writing. Not just well-writing, if you will, or writing well. Something in the grain.

Thomas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas said...

Got curious and searched around a bit more. Found this: "Daimon does not designate a specific class of divine beings, but a peculiar mode of activity." (Walter Burkert, Greek Religion, p. 180)

Jibes nicely with Lorca's tracing of the duende's lineage back to Socrates' daimon, and this performative interpretation of yours.

Andrew Shields said...

That "It is striking" bothers me, as an attempt to make something worth paying attention by claiming that it is worth paying attention to rather than by making it worth paying attention to in itself.

"could serve": maybe "an emphasis on ... serves as a heuristic device designed to ..."?

Our Basel emeritus in English Lit wrote a book awhile back called "Reading and Listening" that may be of interest. You can check sample chapters here: http://www.balzengler.ch/reading-and-listening.html

Jonathan said...

You're tough, Andrew. That's a good thing because otherwise I could have gotten away with saying something is striking without explaining why.

Thanks for the references, Th. B. Nice to see you out of hibernation.

Andrew Shields said...

I often find it hard to explain what the problems are to students, but their extensive use of crutches has made me hypersensitive to them.