Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Dictionary of The Inexpressible (part I)

In The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera devotes an entire chapter to the expression or idea of litost. Succinctly, litost can be defined as "a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery" But it is more than that, as Kundera goes on to explain. It is also a fallen state, a tumble after a realization. That is, he explains, the fallen are to some degree immune from litost:

"Anyone with wide experience of the common imperfection of mankind is relatively sheltered from the shocks of litost. For him, the sight of his own misery is ordinary and uninteresting. Litost, therefore, is characteristic of the age of inexperience. It is one of the ornaments of youth."

Like Kundera for the Czech, the poet Garcia Lorca famously went on about the Spanish concept of "Duende" in his essay The Duende: Theory and Divertissement writes:

"... people constantly speak of the duende and find it in everything that springs out of energetic instinct. That marvelous singer, "El Librijano," originator of the Debla, observed, "Whenever I am singing with duende, no one can come up to me"; and one day the old gypsy dancer, "La Malena," exclaimed while listening to Brailowski play a fragment of Bach: "Olé! That has duende !"- and remained bored by Gluck and Brahms and Darius Milhaud. And Manuel Torres, to my mind a man of exemplary blood culture, once uttered this splendid phrase while listening to Falla himself play his "Nocturno del Generalife": "Whatever has black sounds has duende." There is no greater truth."

This idea of the duende has been characterized succinctly too as that spirit of the sublime in art - but that darker aspect of the sublime, a baritone depth, a minor key rather than a major key. The duende lies near the realm of the fantastic and is so palpable and complex as to have a sense of physical embodiment. The Duende arrives, like a medieval spirit or like a Greek muse:

"The arrival of the Duende always presupposes a radical change in all the forms as they existed on the old plane. It gives a sense of refreshment unknown until then, together with that quality of the just-opening rose, of the miraculous, which comes and instils an almost religious transport."

It is in the nature of Arts to strive towards the duende, at least in Garcia Lorca's view.

Finally, there is that Portuguese state of mind known as Saudade. The article on Saudade from Wikipedia does a fine job and makes the following reference:

In his book In Portugal of 1912, A.F.G Bell writes: "The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness."

Saudade seems to sit at the intersection of solitude and longing. But perhaps more of a passive sense of dislocation: Of being "here" instead of "there" I will say no more about Saudade since I am still learning what it means.

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