useful words




Remembering that SPONTANEITY is often a mark of AUTHENTICITY, some terms in the Spanish tradition provide some selective emphasis on the interplay of artistic expression with seemingly transcendent forces.

(As noted often in A&O notes, words from other cultural traditions are often invoked for their embodiment of alternative ways of thinking about a phenomenon that places emphasis on dimensions that English cannot easily accommodate.)

ESPONTANEO [1]Spontaneous, voluntary, willing behavior…

Cousineau quotes George Plimpton’s observation (in Out of League) as an example: “…between a jig and a reel at O’Conner’s pub in Doolin, Ireland, I thought of the espontaneos when a young lass stood up in the middle of the hubbub, hands at he side, an age-old signal that she wanted to sing sean nos, unaccompanied. The pub went silent as she sang a heartrending verson of the “The Lass of Aughrim.”   “Companion words include impulsive, unprompted, instinctive.”  (p114)   Also fits “spontaneous applause” or “an impromptu speech” or “sincere and natural” (in, e.g., posing for a photograph)  Someone exhibiting such behavior is an espontáneo or espontánea.   Cheering a remarkable action might be espontaneo, as in Olé  at a moment of unusual grace in the bullring, duende.   (but Espontáneo is also famously manifest is a young “bullfighter apprentice, alert for an opportunity to show off or intervene in a performance to draw attention to himself and a message he wants to communicate.”—(https://fr.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Espontáneo).

Olé as a spontaneous exclamation in Spanish of enthusiastic approval for a particularly moving performance is part of the legacy of the Moors. Elizabeth Gilbert[2] (Eat, Love Pray in 2007) explained in a 2009 TED talk on creativity that Before the modern humanist era, creative genius was not attributed to individual people, but to inspiration from the spirit world: daemons in ancient Greece, muses, genies, and, as is made evident in the etymology of the Spanish word Olé, even Allah. … As, there existed an ancient tradition among many Moors to have great celebrations that included dancing. When a dancer performed at the highest levels of grace and intensity, for that moment, they were believed to be vessels through which Allah was acting, and the moment allowed the witnesses to see a glimpse of Allah’s power through the artist. So, it was customary for the Moors of Northern Africa centuries ago to exclaim Allah! when a dancer was performing in such an inspired and moving way.”   (https://www.altalang.com/beyond-words/the-story-of-ole/)  So now, “Allah!” has become “Olé” and is applied to all extraordinary performances in which we might suspect are inspired by transcendent–even divine–forces.

Gilbert’s position was that there is an unfortunate psychological pressure on creative people when the responsibility for an inspiring performance or act of creation was shifted from an apparently external locus of control (daemons (Greek) or geniuses (Latin)) to a quality of the individual—from acting through a person to something within them.  The idea is persistent insofar as many creative people feel their ideas somehow originate outside of them—see https://neilgreenberg.com/ao-extraordinary-experiences-of-creative-artists/.



So, speaking of transcendent grace expressed in a creative performance, brings me to “DUENDE.” This is a Spanish word meaning a fairy creature and people use the word with that meaning: “A house full of duendes”, for instance.

But it also has another meaning for Spanish folklore: it is the spirit, the soul an artist must have, especially a music artist; in the case of flamenco dance, tener duende (to have duende) means to have true emotion, expression and authenticity to feel and transmit the power of flamenco.

In 1933, in a lecture he gave in Buenos Aires, Federico Garcia Lorca explained the elements Duende had for him: irrationality, a bit of the diabolical, an acute sense of death and love of worldly things. The Duende is then, according to Lorca, an alternative to style, to natural virtuosity and charm given by God and is, instead, a kind of force that seizes the artist and makes him give the best of his performance; when the Duende is in action, that same force traps the audience, thus creating conditions to understand spontaneously art with no conscious effort. If you are interested in learning more on the subject, Garcia Lorca’s lecture name is “Juego y Teoría del Duende”. “  ( Daniel Ricardo Yagolkowski, English teacher, Especially for El Duende Bilingüe, 2009 — http://elduendebilingue.blogspot.com/2009/09/hemingway-and-garcia-lorcas-duende.html )


[1] in Phil Cousineau’s (2012) The Painted Word (Berkeley, Viva)