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I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Two Dreams of My Book

 I was in a bookstore; I picked up a book that seemed to be mine and put it under my arm. Then it wasn't there anymore. I picked it up again, and it looked like it was in Italian, not by me, but had cited me in the index. 


I got my book in the mail. It had no cover, or a brown cover (dust jacket) without any words or images on it. I thought it would be ok since libraries would throw out the dust jacket anyway. But I was going through the hall in my department showing this non-cover to everyone. 

Friday, October 23, 2020


 Predictably enough, my colleague in Italian dept tells me that Ferrante is low brow and has me reading Svevo and other things from the higher echelons. I'm reading Zeno now.  I must say it is more difficult but more rewarding. The first chapter seems to be about quitting smoking. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020


I went back and finished The Lying Life of the Adults.  I don't think it is a good novel. A lot of it hinges on the circulation of a bracelet that was supposedly a gift from the narrator's aunt to her, but ends up being given to other people in a way that is difficult to follow. After a while, I got sick of the damned bracelet as a narrative device. Is there a word for this? Is it Maguffin?  

The narrator accompanies her friend to Milan to visit Roberto, the friend's fiancé. The friend now has the bracelet, but leaves it behind in Roberto's apartment. So the narrator gets back on the train to Milan to fetch it. She is in love with Roberto, so that is the real motive. Roberto offers to sleep with her, but she doesn't. Then, in order to lose her virginity, at age 16, she calls another male friend. There ensues some of the most awkward sex and sex writing conceivable, and then the novel ends. 

Unlike in My Brilliant Friend,, the narrator/protagonist belongs to the Italian-speaking educated part of Naples, so there isn't the idea of escaping the rione. We can see that Roberto is the equivalent of a figure that appears in other Ferrante novels: the young, brilliant, handsome intellectual. 

I will go and read the other novels of the Brilliant Friend tetralogy, but I need a break now while I read something else.   


  I blurbed Daniel Aguirre's book from Toronto this year, and another Daniel in Tennessee (Daniel Nappo), asked me blurb a forthcoming book on Joaquín Sabina; I read it and provided the blurb. I've blurbed books I don't even remember anymore, usually just because someone asks me. Once I even had a very lukewarm comment of praise in a reader's report and the publisher wanted to use it. That's fine. I'm rarely effusive, so when I am you have to know I mean it. The strangest one was an author who said I didn't need to read the whole book. 

Sunday, October 18, 2020


 I read a book of essays by Kay Ryan, in one day. She likes Larkin, Stevie Smith, Frost, Moore, Williams, Dickinson, Bronk, Pessoa, Borges. I couldn't imagine her being into Rilke. There is a commonality in what she likes, but you couldn't necessarily predict it if you didn't know her work. It isn't exactly a narrow taste, more like something well defined: things that are precise, unpretentious, surprising. Her observations are insightful and always perfectly phrased. 

If I'm reading her criticism, I sympathize with her point view, see the poets from her vantage point. Since I like some of what she likes for similar reasons, I can get caught up in it. Of course, there are other things I like that she might not appreciate, and I don't share the Larkin enthusiasm.  That is kind of what you want: sharing a nice 30% of someone's else preferences.  

Friday, October 16, 2020

L'amica geniale

 Things are eventful in My Brilliant Friend. Elena goes not to the next level of schooling, a school specializing in classical education, Latin and Greek. Lila stops studying; she matures and all the men are after her. She rejects Enzo, then Marcello gets very aggressive, showering her family with gifts, including a television, which is a novelty in this neighborhood. Elena goes with the teacher's cousin to summer vacation on Ischia, sees Nino, and is sexually approached by Nino's father Donato, who will take her virginity in the second volume. She goes back to Naples to escape Donato. Lila turns to Stefano, the proud owner of a new convertible, to avoid Marcello. Stefano gets interested in the shoe business of Lila's family. 

Generally, there is economic growth in this period, with small business owners getting relatively wealthy. The Solara family with their bar (Michele and Marcello), The Carracis with their salami (Stefano), and Lila's family can cash in this with their shoes with the help of Stefano. We see he wants both Lila and her family's shoe business. He is renting the space next to the cobbler's shop to expand, and hiring employees, something which Fernandro and Nunzia, Lil'as parents, have never had. 

I should have read this before the 2nd volume, because now I am understanding who these characters are. My attention and patience waxes and wanes.

A scene: the ragazzi and ragazze from the neighborhood go to another posher neighborhood. They insult a woman wearing a silly-looking dress. Her boyfriend gets mad, one of the ragazzi hits him. They leave, but then run into the boyfriend again with a larger group a little while later; these richer kids have sticks and begin to take their revenge; but then a car with the Solara brothers, Michele and Marcello, drives up: Michele and Marcello get out and beat the rich kids with a metal rod. The poorer kids of the neighborhood don't like the Solaras, but they all join forces against the people from another neighborhood. So there are the poor people in the neighborhood, the small business owner-camorrista people, and then the world beyond.  The relatively wealthy, mafioso type people, have dirty money, from the black market days. They don't hesitate to use violence. 

Robert Arlt can use a Buenos Aires variant of Spanish to write his novels, but Ferrante cannot use Neopolitan, because it is actually a different language entirely from Italian. We only call it a dialect because it is not an official government / school / literature language. When it is important to know, she will tell us whether someone says something in Italian or in dialetto, but the languages have very different functions in this world. 


I have taught Gil de Biedma's "Apología y petición" in graduate courses. Invariably, they will say that it is "repetitive." Well, yes, it is, because it is a sestina, something that few students have ever noticed. They usually don't even now what sestina is in the first place. If you don't read the poem through its form, so to speak, then you won't get it: the language of the poem is flat and prosaic, its message is a straightforward denunciation of a political situation. So why do this in a sestina? That is the question that you have to answer in order to read the poem at all. There are varying answers to this question, but it seems to be that if you don't ask the question in the first place you are reading the poem as though it were just a political statement in verse. The end-words for the sestina generate the poem, they are words that are heavily charged: España, demonios, gobierno, historia, pobreza, hombre.  This is formally clever, but also could be read as a parody of Marxist discourse. Remember that the Communist Party didn't let Gil de Biedma join because he was gay, and that he defined himself as a "compañero de viaje" and someone whose politics stem from bourgeois guilt or "mala conciencia."   

In a book I blurbed recently, and which arrived in the mail two days ago,  The Ghostly Poetry: History and Memory of Exiled Spanish Republican Poets, by Daniel Aguirre Oteiza of Harvard, I saw that Daniel cites my discussion of Gil de Biedma from my 1994 book The Poetics of Self-Consciousness. I did not even remember my discussion until I read Ghostly Poetry  in manuscript form for U of Toronto P a few years ago. Now I am reminded of it yet again. Daniel notes that the "straight" reading of the poem is still prevalent. One example he cites is from Almudena Grandes--one of my least favorite writers for reasons other than this. 

Anyway, it is odd to think that, while my book is 25 years old and I don't think about it very often, it contains insights that hold up well and are still as relevant now as they ever were. The content-mining approach to literature, if anything, is more prevalent than it was when I was first approaching GdBiedma in the early 90s. I could go out today and give this chapter as a talk and change nothing.  

This book of mine rode the metaliterary mode of the early 90s in Hispanism. In this sense it might seem dated. But really, this is still the best of way of reading Gil de Biedma, ¿no es cierto? As far as I know, nobody else has cited my reading of Gil de Biedma, either. It took a Harvard professor who has translated Ashbery and Stevens into Spanish to even see the value of what I have done.