Friday, March 13, 2015

Joan Koenig - El Duende, the pharmakon, et les imperméables

El Duende, the pharmakon, et les imperméables
Reflexions on the Salzburg 547 Seminar

Julie Burstein’s presentation of Duende, juxtaposed with Arne Dietrich’s exposé of explicit and implicit memory systems was a wonderful way to begin the Salzburg seminar. The world was young, our hearts were light, and our Pre-Frontal Cortexes were fresh.

Once in our subgroup, Nigel Osborne brought to our attention the « duo » in duende. Etymology is often an inspiration, I love looking at the origins of words, and I like to think that etymology can shed light on our understanding of the human condition.

So our Duende is not a solo phenomenon. Although I have not found corroboration in etymological dictionaries, I will trust the noble Nigel’s wisdom, or perhaps simply his intuition.
In bullfighting, duende is the moment when the matador literally enchants the bull, encouraging him to lower his head, slowing and shortening his charge, making him follow the muleta with mysterious mastery, or duende.
The two are engaged in a mesmerizing, silent, slow “dance macabre".

Duende is something that can never be experienced alone; it is the interaction between a being, and an exterior stimulation. Dr. Johnson included “dead councilors” as possible partners. Is not a great book and our reading of it a magnificent form of duende?

Leaving the Latin debate for a moment, let’s look at another form of trance, transgression or transmutation, this time from ancient Greece: φάρμακον
The pharmakon is the poison and the antidote; I find the pharmakon an analogy for the human condition. It seems that most everything that mankind has invented has been used for progress and annihilation. The wheel became a tank, fire became a weapon, and the pharmaceutical and agricultural industries are shameful examples of careless greed.

Is music an exception? Plato said  “to control a society, you must control it’s music. “ And yet, music has for the major part, not taken this path. Used for propaganda, yes sometimes, but this is not and has never been the dominant role of music.

Will Neuroscience prove to be an exception? What was striking to me in our conference was the number of fellows using neuroscience with the objective of healing. The coupling of music and neuroscience is a natural partnership: partners in healing, not in crime. 

Permeability was a concept that we spoke about in our focus group on education. I was trying to explain that in music and language acquisition, a lack of permeability is a significant hindrance. The problem was that the word is rarely used outside of biology in English.  I just couldn’t seem to explain that the word in French is just part of everyday vocabulary.  It was finally at the airport that I realized that if I had only explained the word for raincoat, everyone would have understood. In French a raincoat is an imperméable. So if we are impermeable, we are waterproof; rain, tears, joy or despair will roll off of us with no effect.

I did not find many fellows at the Salzburg 547 wearing raincoats!  You are a wonderful group, zestful and zany, eccentric and brainy. Many of you wear your amygdalae on your sleeves.

Duende is a necessity, the pharmakon not a fatality. We can accomplish many things by pooling our resources, ideas, talents and our permeability.
Let’s take off our raincoats and push up our amygdalae clad sleeves, there is work to be done!

Joan Koenig
Paris 13 March 2015

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