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Aforismos / Unheard Melodies

Dios aborrece las apuestas, sobre todo las apuestas sobre su propia existencia. En Cuba mi condición de turista me impedía escribir. Toda ...

Thursday, June 30, 2016


I was a little puzzled by this statement from the infamous Herlihy-Mera article: "Overloading the faculty, canons, and curricula toward Spain has occurred for 500 years..." Is it possible to be that stupid?

There was no such thing as a Spanish department 500 years ago--not even in Spain. The canon of Spanish literature as it exists now had not yet been written. There were works of medieval literature written in various peninsular languages, but the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon had only recently been united.

There was no such thing as the United States, and English-speaking people had not yet begun to colonize North America. So there could not have been a US university with a Spanish department unfairly balanced in favor of Spain. There wasn't even, yet, a "Latin America" as we know it today.

Another deeply puzzling passage:
These outdated practices tend to rely on several myths: The colonizer is the “root” of the cultural system (a hierarchy that continues after political independence); the language, art, literature, and aesthetics of the subaltern have been profoundly influenced by imperial directives; and the existence of European languages and cultures in the Americas is generally positive.
Isn't it actually true that literature in Spanish has been profoundly influenced by other literature in the same language? I don't even know what to do with the notion that "the existence of European languages and cultures in the Americas is generally positive." We are talking about departments of Spanish, so the very premise of such a department is the use of the Spanish language. Whether positive or negative, the existence of Spanish, Portuguese, English, and French in the New World is a fact that makes possible the very existence of American, Canadian, Mexican, Chilean, Brazilian literatures.

It is also quite factual that the colonizer does establish the cultural hierarchy. We might not like that, but it is true. The criollo then continues in that role for quite a while, still establishing hierarchies... There is a confusion here between reality itself and what we'd like reality to be. The study of Latin American literature includes the study of these colonial and criollo elites.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Peninsular studies in the US

Peninsular studies in the US has a rich and vibrant tradition stretching back to the 19th century. The only rivals for American Hispanism are Spain itself and perhaps the British Isles. I am proud to be part of this tradition. In more recent years, American hispanism has partly been eclipsed by Latin American studies, for obvious and justifiable reasons. The proximity of Latin America itself, and the historical ties (including historical conflicts) between the states and our Spanish speaking neighbors. The largest minority group (latinos) in the US, that is defined by the Spanish language itself.

So why do peninsular studies at all? There could be tipping point at which the study of peninsular literature and culture were seen as unnecessary or superfluous. The best argument I can come up with is that we kick ass. What a good university needs is people who can do good work in many fields of inquiry. If we have a vibrant tradition of kick-ass scholarship, we shouldn't give it up, just because someone comes along and says we should be doing something different instead.

Latin Americanism in the US is also excellent, but the presence of peninsular studies does not come at its expense. In fact, these fields are mutually beneficial to each other. An all Latin American department of Spanish would be less diverse, from an intellectual standpoint.

What would happen if the US were no longer at the forefront of peninsular studies? To me, personally, it would be a great loss, but I think it would also be a loss to American intellectual life. Maybe a small one, but a loss nonetheless.

I think a couple of people might agree with me: Lezama Lima, Borges, Eduardo Milán, Carlos Fuentes, Vargas Llosa, Juan Gelman, and Octavio Paz, for example.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


I think of myself as able to do a NYT crossword on line with 5 minutes added per day, so the Monday I would finish in 5 minutes, the Tuesday in 10, etc... But if I look at my stats, I find that the Monday actually takes me nearly 9, the Tuesday 16, the Wed. a little over 16, the Thursday 34, the Friday 42, and the the Saturday an hour. So I am really confusing my average times with my best ones. This means that there is a cognitive distortion at work that clouds my clear conception of my abilities.


I am thinking of doing a rebuttal for the CHE piece about the Eurocentrism of Spanish Departments. Give me your ideas if you haven't already.

I think the article is anti-intellectual and inaccurate.

Developing ideas

It is obvious now that what I thought of as a frustrating weakness in my songwriting--the reputation of ideas from one song to the next--is actually just a natural way of teaching oneself anything. You should have an idea and then work out variations of it. I see now that I have been teaching myself to write by writing using various chord changes and forms: AABA. ABAB, twelve-bar blues. I realize, too, that my limitations do not prevent me from coming up with songs that are satisfying to me. More possibilities would not change my basic style very much or make my songs any better. It's nice that I can work out more complex changes, or play what I write with more ease, but some of the best ones are the earliest and simplest.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Stitching a Bridge

A bridge (part B of a song in AABA form) should have these elements:

*It should be contrastive in some way with the A sections. A different key, a different rhythmic pattern? Some difference, let's say.

*It should follow logically from the A section too. It is not some unrelated piece of music thrown in there. It might follow logically in harmonic, melodic, or rhythmic ways, or in some combination.

*It has to lead back in to the A section, making you want to return there happily.

For a while I've been working on a song whose bridge will not work for me very well. It is fine but I can't sew it back at the end to the A section.


I wrote a song with the chords from Bemsha Swing. That was a lot of fun. You can't copyright a chord progression or a drum beat.