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The lute lies rusted in its green case odor of pines is synthetic; sweeteners artificial; even salt!  our tongues crave something dif...

Friday, May 31, 2013

"Aesthetic Politics"

That phrase occurs in the subtitle of Javier Sanjinés's 2004 book Mestizaje Upside Down, a book about Bolivian cultural politics.* Cultural nationalism is a literary, aestheticized discourse. From the title of this book I also got the idea of "flipping" exceptionalism. I had already come up with the reversibility of the inferiority and superiority complex, and of progressive and reactionary versions of cultural exceptionalism.

Walter Benjamin famously said that Fascism aestheticized politics, and Marxism politicized art. Something like that, I believe in "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." That's true enough. So chiasmus is another master trope for cultural exceptionalism. Unamuno loved that trope, so he said instead of Europeanizing Spain, we should Hispanize Europe (for example). Now I'm remembering an essay by Thomas Mermall on Unamuno and chiasmus, in PMLA I think. Too late at night to look it up.



*I found this book first from a reference on Profacero's blog. It is a very good book and it is very good for me to read something so outside of my normal Peninsular expertise.


Exceptionalism is atavistic. People who should know better, sophisticated postmodern intellectuals, love it.

It is also atavistic in its direct appeal to the ancestors.

It is not that I am particularly immune to this rhetoric. I just think it is advantageous to step outside it. I am not interested in developing my own version or refining the best existing version of it even further.


I propose another test: you might describe an exceptionalism without identifying it, pseudonymously. Then evaluate it. Only then, "lift the veil" to see what you have. In other words, you would have to evaluate it without knowing whether it is a progressive or Fascist form of cultural nationalism.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

La increíble hazaña de ser mexicano (2010)

I read this book (whose title is equivalent to "the incredible feat of being Mexican) because I have always enjoyed Heriberto Yépez's writing. We've never met in person but have had friendly conversations on the internet. This book shows his habitual brilliance and is a classic example of exceptionalist / anti-exceptionalist thinking. In other words, the rejection of old versions of identity in favor of the "New Mexican" who will take inspiration from Vasconelos (raza cósmica). It has some psychoanalysis, psychohistory. Some acute cultural analysis. It does repeat the commonplaces from other writers on Mexican identity, in an effort at going beyond them.

His point about humor as repressive mechanism is very good. According to him, humor (like laughing at corrupt politicians) is not transgressive, but pretty much leaves things in their place.

I don't know enough to take issue with anything he writes here, not being a Mexicanist or even close. I don't even know enough to agree with him! Some points are more convincing than others, prima facie, but I will let people who know better sort that out.

I will use the book, though, as a classic example of many of the points I am making in "13 Ways of Looking at the Poetics of Cultural Exceptionalism." Especially my axiom that says: "exceptionalism draws strength from weakness." The devastating dissection of the classic Mexican character has, as its aim, the triumphant emergence of a new subject.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Flipping exceptionalism

Citizens of Exceptionstan believe they have achieved a coherent identity, but what they really need to do is realize their country is decadent: to achieve true excepcionistanidad,they need to recover their indigenous roots.

That is the argument of a book I'm reading. By someone whom I admire and have corresponded with quite a bit. I had thought the title of his book was ironic, but no, he is putting forth earnest arguments. I'll blog a bit more and not be so coy about the title when I'm in a position to say more.

I'm interested in all these metaphors of flipping, reversibility, turning upside down, deriving strength from weakness, leverage. We know how cultural nationalism derives strength from grievances, from the exploitation of psychic wounds.

Introduction -- almost free of signposting

Cultural Exceptionalism involves the claim that a particular people, nation, or region of the world possesses an especially distinctive cultural identity or unique historical destiny. In the most trivial sense, all cultures are different from one another, and from this perspective exceptionalism might be merely a default position. The idea of culture itself, in fact, might be exceptionalist in this broader sense. The same might be said of the idea of the nation, but not all nationalism finds expression in this characteristically literary discourse. The Spanish poet and critic Dámaso Alonso, for example, speaks of Spain’s “necesidad dramática de una expresión diferenciada, nacional” (758; dramatic necessity for a differentiated, national expression). His contention is not just that Spain is unique among nations, but that its difference necessitates a dramatically differentiated cultural expression.

Any appeal to the exceptional, distinctive, differentiated, distinctive, particular, or unique, associated with a nation or people, is likely to be exceptionalist. Such appeals are often essentialist, even when they appear to be based on history rather than on nature. (Other varieties of identity politics, based on gender, sexual identity, or other differential factors apart from ethnicity and nationality, follow a similar logic.) The rhetorical structure of any particular set of such claims—whether made on behalf of Spain, Ireland, Cuba, Mexico, Brazil, the United States, or Japan—will fall into predictable patterns. These patterns comprise a poetics, or a system of tropes that gives structure to a particular discourse. This term, of course, also refers to the theory of poetry itself, and modern poets from Yeats and Williams to Cavafy, Lorca, Lezama Lima, and Paz have often linked their own poetics to cultural nationalism.

A comparative approach encourages a skeptical view of exceptionalism generally: the mere existence of more than one cultural nationalism of this type casts doubt on all of them. The assumption that cultures (and the claims made on their behalf) are inherently incommensurable prevents meaningful comparisons and hence reinforces the logic of this discourse. There is a danger, then, in debating exceptionalist claims one by one or in getting mired down in an overly nuanced analysis of any given version. Too much detail or nuance—while desirable in other contexts—might detract from the overarching goal of defining the characteristics shared by exceptionalist narratives as a general category. This refusal of nuance seems counterintuitive, given the immense value accorded to the distinctive and the unique in humanistic research. Nevertheless, there is also value in seeing how claims for uniqueness follow predictable patterns.

The thirteen axioms that follow outline a general theory of exceptionalism. These axioms take the form of “prophecy after the event” in that they make predictions based on the shape that this discourse has already taken. Cultural projects that deviate too sharply from these predictions will probably not be classified as exceptionalist in any significant sense. The first four axioms concern the literariness of exceptionalist rhetoric. The next three have to do with its ideological causes and effects. The remainder explore the curiously paradoxical nature of the beast, including its reversals of negative and positive poles of value, its tensions with univeralism or the ideology of “normality,” and its peculiar status within discourses of modernity.

Since this essay had its origin as part of a book-chapter on a lecture by Federico García Lorca, Juego y teoría del duende, it is grounded in the study of Spanish exceptionalism, and in the specific example of Lorca himself. A general theory of the poetics of cultural exceptionalism can be grounded in Lorca’s lecture because it is a typical example a kind of discourse found elsewhere in Spanish literature and intellectual history, and in other formulations of this variety of poetics found elsewhere. (A close reading of Lorca’s essay in terms of his own poetics is a complementary task. ) The aim here, then, is to predict what Lorca’s duende might look like from the point of view of a “comparative exceptionalism.” American cultural and literary exceptionalism, both in the United States and in Latin America, forms part of this comparative framework. Needless to say, other projects of cultural exceptionalism on the Iberian peninsular itself (Basque, Catalan, Galician, Portuguese, etc...), also bear a direct relation to similar discourses in Spain and Latin America. Cultural exceptionalism is also strong on the periphery of Europe: Greece, Ireland... Taken together, these varieties of cultural nationalism might describe the way that exceptionalism would look like in the fictional nation of Exceptionstan or Exceptionlandia.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

New York School

I have been heavily invested in the New York School. Here is a blog devoted to these poets and painters. I have a collection of several dozen books by Ashbery, Schuyler, Koch, Guest, and O'Hara, plus second generation poets like David Shapiro and Ted Berrigan. I own books by Berrigan's sons too.

This is strange to me, now. To be so heavily invested in a world that is not mine, that has nothing to do with me. At some point I could have said, I know enough about it, and moved on. It's kind of like a fantasy life.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Gracie Allen

There was a classic joke. Gracie says "The people in the movie theater wanted me to talk louder." George Burns says, "Why do you think that?" She says: "Because they said, 'Lady, don't whisper.'"

Much of her humor is based on taking things literally or missing pragmatic cues. George asks her if she wants to read a magazine by saying, "Have you seen the new Variety?" She answers, "are you blind, it's right there on the table." There, with two pragmatic meanings of the same question, she goes for the less appropriate one. "Have you seen it" means "where is it."
A hard to get in to, prestigious journal called Science is likely to publish articles that are "risibly wrong," according to some of the commentators to this language log post. Flashy results that make headlines in science (or Science) are likely to be false.

Friday, May 24, 2013


According to my dictionary philosophical means, among other things:

"2 having or showing a calm attitude toward disappointments or difficulties : he was philosophical about losing the contract."

Here is Zambrano on the stoicism of the Spaniard:
Cuando en España se dice o le dicen a alguien, que hay que ser filósofo, hay que entender que es preciso soportar serenamente y con un tanto de sorna, algo muy difícil. Para el pueblo español, filosofía es algo que tiene mucho que ver con los reveses y tropiezos de la vida; en un mundo feliz no sería menester ser filósofo.
When in Spain people say, or somoeone is told, you have to be a philosopher, it is understood that it is necessary to bear something difficult with serenity and a bit of scorn. For the Spanish people, philosophy has to do with the setbacks and stumbles of life; in a happy world nobody would have to be a philosopher.
So a perfectly ordinary definition of the word, found in English, Spanish, and probably many other languages as well, becomes evidence about the Spanish character itself.

Is Preparing for Class Before the Semester Begins "Unpaid Labor"??

I guess it is, if you have a certain conception of your job.

A tenure-track scholar should not think that way, though. You are hired because of your competence in teaching certain classes. This competence is based on your scholarly expertise and training. You should have classes you already know how to teach, and then the intellectual wherewithal to develop new courses. If you feel the compulsion to prepare every single aspect of the course (each lecture, each assignment) before the semester starts, then you will free up an enormous amount of time during the semester. All you will have to do is show up and do the grading, with the rest of your time free for research or service, or for developing next semester's courses. If you just want to do a basic syllabus and prepare every week, then you will have less time during the semester for other things, but you won't have to spend as much time before. If you've been teaching for a while, you will have a combination of updating existing courses and developing new ones.

You probably won your first t-t job in competition with other people. One thing that got you the job was the idea that you had a certain number of courses "in you" already. A survey in your own field; a composition class, etc... You might have to present a sample syllabus or two.


Stoicism works well an exceptionalist discourse (Zambrano, Pensamiento y poesía en la vida española). Rhetorically, it takes for granted a negative element (suffering) and then prescribes an attitude toward it. Hence a synthesis of contraries. Think of how Kenneth Burke would have analyzed it.

"Quixotism" is another one. It attempts to reconcile opposing tendencies: a delusional view of reality, and an admirable idealism.

The rhetorical structure of Christianity also involves a kind of reversal of perspectives. A triumph through victimhood and sacrifice.
Compare two possible blurbs on books of poetry: one says: “This book is a typical example of the excellent poetry of contemporary Spain.” The other says, “X is an exceptional figure in the desolate landscape of modern Spain.” Which is more rhetorically effective? Why?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Pound the Romantic

Here is a free idea for you. It would be a good dissertation, if it hasn't been used already. If you choose to use it, all I ask is that you acknowledge me at some point and sign over your first-born child.

Typically, the discourse around Pound is "neo-classicist," emphasizing rationality, etc... In contrast, most of the deconstructionist and Yale-school theorists have championed a neo-Romantic lineage based on Wallace Stevens. See Perloff's "Pound / Stevens: Whose Era?" Your task would be to read Pound against the grain by uncovering his Romantic lineage, which come in the form of his longing for an organic order and in the eccentricity of his cultural syncretism.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Maxims of Adaptation

1. Context matters. The context in which the adaptation (translation, song setting, theatrical performance, film adaption) occurs is never that of the original work. But we can never receive the original work again originally (if it is from another epoch).

2. Medium matters. It makes a difference whether it is film, music, a poem-to-poem translation, etc...

3. The adaptation adds and subtracts. It never transmits the same information. It always leaves something out and adds something new.

I know there should be about five or six maxims, but I don't know what the other ones are yet.

[UPDATE / May 21]:

4. There should be something about some of the information given by the adaptation is trivial. In other words, it is perfectly possible to do a reception / adaptation study and find nothing at all interesting. Put another way, it takes imagination to see the possibilities of this kind of work.

5. The comparison is never two-way, between the original and the adaptation. It is always four way:

The relation between the original work and the original audience

The relation between the adaptation / translation and the audience for this.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


I decided that for next few weeks I need to do the following things every day.

1) Exercise.

2) Write Lorca

3) Clean, organize

4) Play drums or dance or sing

5) Work on Barcelona Lorca course.

If I do an hour of each of these things, then I will be ok. Even four out of five every day, as long as I don't skip the same thing every day.

Notice how two of these things are work and three are things that allows for healthy work to happen.


I feel like an asshole. I can't be casually ironic about the value of the academic work I do. I really feel that what we do is more valuable than the things society holds in high esteem, like hitting balls with sticks and getting people to buy shiny things. I could be wrong about this, of course, but I don't think so.

Anatomy of a solo

Usually a solo will start out by "making a statement." The idea won't be too difficult to understand or too far out. The next phrase, the one that answers this statement, will complicate things just a little bit. The next phase is "digging in," getting more comfortable and showing a few more things. This might lead to "settling down." At some point there will be a phase of "reaching a climax": more inventive ideas, faster, higher, louder playing. This could occur on the bridge of the third or fourth chorus, depending on how long the solo is. After that, come "winding up," where the musical ideas are often more repetitive and formulaic. The concluding statement might be, once again, a "statement," but sometimes a more ornamental one.

This is not a fixed structure, but a tendency. A very long solo will have a longer settling in or digging in period, or several mini-climaxes. Of course, the structure of the solo can also be described as a series of x number of choruses in a particular for, like ABAC or AABA.

A good solo usually won't be inventive idea after idea, but will have a certain shape to it. Lester Young called it "telling a story." It is a narrative arc. A good player will leave some spaces in there somewhere, too.


An unrelenting wall of sound, like in some of Coltrane's playing, is another option. The song form just opens and shuts very rapidly, and everything is climax. I love that too, but most of what I love is the story-telling.

Friday, May 17, 2013


Here is someone so alienated from her own work that instead of writing an article for CHE about why we should care about Kafka and Wittgenstein, talks like this
My tenured colleagues sometimes get offended when I compare academe to a cult—of course they would, they're in the cult! Still, they must recognize the similarities. In literary studies, for example, we have our own lingo—French-theory jargon, which is nearly impossible for outsiders to parse. We have quasi-scriptures from worshiped nondeities—Derrida, Foucault, Merleau-Ponty—which we recite, from memory, to win arguments.
I guess since I haven't read or quoted M-P in 25-years I must be not be a member of good standing in the organization... yet I am.

Note how the metaphor of the "cult" allows her to evade responsibility for her own ideas. She was brainwashed! What alienated her from her work was simply that she couldn't get a tenure-track job. Otherwise, I surmise, she would be perfectly happy doing intellectual work she doesn't care about. Maybe she worked in a grad program so intellectually isolated that nobody knew that jargon has not been fashionable for at least 10 years. Everyone I know hates it. That Derrida peaked about 1990 (in American academia), and Merleau-P. about 1975.

Here is here in Slate making a similar argument:
There is unquantifiable intellectual reward from the exploration of scholarly problems and the expansion of every discipline—yes, even the literary ones, and even if that means doing bat-shit analysis like using the rule of “false elimination” to determine that Josef K. is simultaneously guilty and not guilty in The Trial. But there is one sort of reward you will never get: monetary compensation from a stable, non-penurious position at a decent university.

Class project

I had a great idea for a class project, but couldn't execute it in time. The results are acceptable but not great. I will repeat the experiment next semester.

Here is the idea: the final project is a class project, an anthology of some sort. Students are graded by their individual contributions to it.

Instead of each student working in isolation, and nobody seeing anyone's work, we have a process in which students get edited by other students, and everyone knows who is pulling their weight.

So the project for next semester will be:

Contemporary Literature in Spanish: An Experiment in Translation

The topic of the course is translation, so the students will translate. The classroom will be flipped, except for a few days when I will lecture very formally.

Each student will have an author being translated. I suggest poetry and very short short-short stories.

The students not translating will be writing an introduction.

Three students will be editors. One student will be general editor directly under my supervision.

I want the weaker and the mediocre students to see what good work looks like. The best role model is a student who is at the same level course-wise but superior. I want the strong students to see what I have to go through in reading student work.

It is awkward that the introduction has to be in Spanish, since the target of translation is someone who doesn't know Spanish. So I am conceiving of the implicit audience as other Spanish majors. The next time the course is given there will be a model of what is expected.

Lyotard was wrong

... about the weakening of metanarratives in postmodernism. The weakening of some of them unleashes the strongest possible version of all sorts of essentialist, identity-based metanarratives. The master narrative behind them all is cultural exceptionalism.

Other forms of exceptionalism

We talk about cultural and national exceptionalism (I do, a lot) but other forms of thought are also exceptionalist. Any form of feminism that think women are "different" is exceptionalist.

Now what I mean here by different is: different in some mystical, mysterious way. A difference susceptible to romanticization.

Now for me, this is not really feminism at all. It is the exact same mechanism that gives a positive, magical value to a region of the world that is underdeveloped. They are closer to nature, more intuitive, and more mystical, etc... I just don't want to go there. It is just as imperialist to have a condescending (but naively admiring) attitude than a dismissive one.

I was surprised when my graduate students talked about an "incorrect" interpretation of an indigenous culture. as if it were so easy to be "correct"!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Among the Frogs: Chapter 4

Frogs do not appreciate wasted motion.

Public Radio

I once heard a public radio story about change falling into the shower. I think it was "This American Life." The person in the story could not figure out why change was appearing in the shower. It turned out that he was taking naps on the coach, and change was sticking to his back (the change having fallen out of his pockets before that). There was a debate about whether this was a common event or not. It was a very funny story.

Anyway, this morning, in the shower, I heard a clink, clink. Two nickels fell into the bathtub. Of course, I had taken a nap on the couch the day before, so I know exactly what had happened.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Piel de toro

El que está en la piel de toro extendida entre los Júcar, Guadalfeo, Sil o Pisuerga (no quiero citar a los caudales junto a las ondas color melena de león que agita el Plata), oye decir con media frecuencia: "Esto tiene mucho duende."

For the image you can look here.

Poet's Novel

Poet's Novel is a work of fiction I've been working on for a while very sporadically. It includes

Among the Frogs
The Beaches of Northern California
The Complete Sentence Game

and a few other sections, some of which I don't have good titles for yet. Although I am a good writer of prose all my fiction comes out as cliché postmodern self-reflexivity.

It is not a novel, but a collection of things that, taken together, fail to add up to a novel. The idea is that "poet's" negates "novel."

Among the Frogs: Chapter 3

Any approach to writing about my experience would be wrong: knowing irony, faux-naiveté, deadpan allegory. No "attitude," no calibration of arrogance or humility, sentimentality or cruelty, no matter how precise it might seem, is working for me so far. Imagine a man organizing his narrative material in the shower every morning. The longer the showers, the more organized his recollections will be. Yet the cost in hot water heating cannot possibly be justified.

Just so, my initial attempt to live among them amounted to little more than a series of errors. My attempt to introduce gunpowder and fermented spirits to the community is just one example. I had initially taken my frog-name to mean "Self-explanatory." It was made known to me, at some point, though, that a truer translation would be "Unfroglike Guy." Yes, it is true that the concept of the self-explanatory explains almost everything among the frogs. For me to take that to be my own name was presumptuous. The only justification that occurs to me now is my lack of knowledge of the language. One day, I awoke and realized I understood everything and could even produce rudimentary utterances myself. At that point, many other things also became clear to me.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Reception, contact, translation

There should be one overarching theory of cultural interchange, that includes within it all studies of reception, contact, translation, adaptation, influence, etc... I thought those reception theory studies were dumb, like "Balzac in Russia." Who wants to read that? Then I did one myself. I still think it's boring when most people do it, frankly, just like most studies of influence are dull.

Among the Frogs: Chap 2

Logically, I should tell you how came to live among the frogs, and how I returned to live among men. Perhaps you want ethnography, an account of the language and customs of the tribe? You are interested in the frogs because of the "subject matter" itself. Ha! You were looking for a book about from, something exotic. But this is not anthropology or, even less, a fucking allegory. Jesus Christ does not live among the frogs, nor is "the god of the frogs" a slimy, fly-eating deity. This is not an animal fable for children or an edifying parable involving changes of perspective. You will not leave the tale with a heart-warming message. You won't even find soul-cleansing abjection, catharsis, or martyrdom. You see, the frogs, if they taught me anything, taught me to despise all that, if I didn't already.

No, this is a literal account of what occurred when I happened to be among them for a time. No magical realism here. No hard-boiled, sardonic knowingness. You see, I saw you coming with your expectations when you [were] still a small speck on the horizon.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Among the Frogs: Chapter 1

I lived for a time among the frogs. There, I might have distinguished myself, as a man among frogs. I fully expected to. Yet I was never able to master the finer points of intonation and etiquette. A man trapped (for a time) in a frog's body, but without the advantage of having grown up among that peculiar people. I cannot say that they treated me with condescension, since such an attitude is foreign to them. In fact, their relative indifference to hierarchy might have been what prevented them from recognizing my own superiority. I couldn't even aspire to be a mediocre frog, since such a category did not exist for them. My lapses of taste (from their perspective, of course) did not inspire pity or disdain, only a kind of stolid complacency, not very divergent from their habitual attitude toward almost anything else.

I wish I could say that I learned something from my time among them. Humility? That doesn't seem quite right. I have never been a humble man and a sojourn among them was not going to change that. Patience? I was not anxious to leave them. Nothing I learned among the frogs is applicable to my subsequent life as a man, nor did my human superiority give me any particular advantage among them.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What use electrolytic pickling

from Language Log

The Birth of Anthropology

From the Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy:
Franz Boas, the father of American anthropology, was German by birth and education, and had his intellectual roots in the German tradition, including not only Herder himself (whom he sometimes mentions by name) but also other Germans who were either directly or indirectly influenced by Herder in profound ways, such as W. von Humboldt, Steinthal, Bastian, Dilthey, and W. Wundt. Through Boas, this intellectual inheritance was passed on to his students in American anthropology (including Sapir, Lowie, Kroeber, Benedict, and Mead), and then to their students. On the other side of the Atlantic, Bronislaw Malinowski, the father of modern British anthropology as a discipline grounded in intensive fieldwork, had deep German intellectual roots that lead back to Herder as well. Malinowski sometimes explicitly mentions Herder and Herder's follower W. von Humboldt in a positive way. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. Malinowski's father, who held the chair in Slavonic philology at the same university Malinowski attended in Poland, was a German-trained expert in philology and comparative grammar with a special interest in collecting folksongs and folklore — an intellectual profile which immediately places him under Herder's sphere of influence.


Dámaso Alonso writes: "Salió España más agria y más suya, más cerrada, más trágica, más obsesionante que las otras naciones."

"una necesidad dramática de expresión diferenciada, nacional."

[Spain turned out more sour and more its own, more tragic, more obsessive than other nations... A dramatic necessity for differentiated, national expression]

"Federico García Lorca y la expresión de lo español" (1937).

I could write a paragraph on the neuter definite article "lo" here. "The Spanish" in the sense of "what is Spanish." Barea, in one of the first books about Lorca published in English, calls Lorca "an intensely Spanish Spaniard."

Curiously, this Spanish essence only expresses itself every few centuries, according to Alonso. If it could be found in every Spanish writer it wouldn't be all that remarkable! But then, what about all the other Spanish writers?

The Organization Game

One game I play with myself is: "If only I were better organized, I would be much more productive / efficient." I find I sabotage myself a bit by not being organized. If I were, all my problems would be solved. So I have a built-in excuse for every failure! I am not well-organized.

Because really, everything is organization, from the planning of time to the structure of a book. A perfect outline of a book would be the book itself.

So now I am using a website called "workflowy" in the attempt to get everything in order. By the time I go to Barcelona for my summer abroad program everything will be in order.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

After the Fire

Found this Lorca-related link in my bookmarks.


So you have Latin American intellectuals contrasting nativism to "European" trends, without realizing that Europeans invented the idea of nativism. Importing German romanticism with its theory of Volkgeist and calling it something else?

"Assim, não foi a influênica européia, pela concepção de vida e pelo estilo estético, suficiente para deter a onda genuína de nativismo, mercê do qual a literatura brasileira, desde os primeiros tempos, viveu a luta pela conquista de auto-expressão e de diferenciacão."

[Thus European influence ... was not sufficent to stop the genuine wave of nativism, thanks to which Brazilian lit, from the very beginning, lived its struggle for self-expression and differentiation.]


This book I am reading on "o espirito de nacionalidade na critica brasileira" is full of undigested romanticism, statements like "romantic poets entered into the indigenous soul." I am going to read it along side of another book American Poets: From the Puritans to the Present, which, if I remember, puts forward an Emersonian genealogy for American poetry. Both of these books were published in 1968.

One of the epigraphs is:

"A literatura sempre foi a mais eloqüente fisiologia de un povo." [Literature has always been the most eloquent physiology of a people]

This is true, as long as you recognize that the idea of literature and people (in this sense) arise out of nineteenth-century nationalism.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Afrânio Coutinho

"There is not, therefore, a colonial and a national literature. There exists one single Brazilian literature from the beginning, with a 'particularist' or national sentiment gradually showing itself, differentiating itself day by day from the spirit of Portugal and its literature."

trans. JM

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Complete Sentence Game

I will now play the complete sentence game. I have played it many times before, though rarely in writing. The secret of the game is to think, speak, or write complete sentences. You only lose the game when the sentences come to an end. All games of the complete sentence game are destined to be lost, since failing to produce a sentence, or falling asleep, ends the game.

The content of the sentences should be the game itself. This is very important. You must think of sentences related to the playing of the game, or its history, or some other aspect having to do with its implications. The sentences do not have to be well-conceived, but they should be well-formed from the grammatical and syntactical perspective. You cannot go back and revise a sentence, in the written version of the game. Nor, in the vocal or silent thinking versions, can you go back and change anything. You will have thus stopped the flow of sentences.

I have played the game many times. The written version is simply a simulacrum of the more authentic, silent version, which is of extreme difficulty. There, I have demonstrated the way to play the game. I encourage you to play it as well.

On Not Flipping

If you already have a teaching method in which you basically engaging your students, then "flipping" the classroom is redundant and possibly a way of flipping it back. Notice how people want to smuggle in on-line elements and canned (videotaped) lecture in order to flip the classroom from a presumably lecture-based format that is not really the norm anyway. The strawman of bad, teacher-centered education is used to smuggle in even less progressive techniques. It almost makes me want to lecture now! It is easier to talk for an hour than to engage the students in activities. I love to talk I could talk for hours and hours.


Interestingly, the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics does not define poetics as the discourse of poets about poetry. The section on "Western Poetics" for example, when it gets to modernism, talks only about literary theory. Modern poetics goes from Croce to Russian formalism to Anglo-American New Criticism, with a brief detour through a series of writers taken to be critical of Croce's expressionism or of Western presumptions of universality generally. This is just bizarre. You would think Ezra Pound would be mentioned somewhere.

It is only at the end that poetics is defined as "the compositional principles that poets themselves discover and apply during the writing process" (1064). This seems only the case for "Postmodernism and Beyond," though (according to this article). This seems like a very narrow definition, too. Poetics is not just discovered and applied "during the writing process." As I see it, it is a kind of "poetry by other means." It could be the internal poetics inferred from reading poetry, an explicitly metapoetic "ars poetica," prose writing set apart from poetry, or hybrid works of prose and poetry like Spring & All.

Poetics, in the preface to the entire volume, is defined as "the theoretical and practical study of poetry."

From one point of view it doesn't matter whether Charles Olson or Roman Jakobson is doing poetics. It is still a theoretical and or discourse around poetry. There is, however, a specific tradition of poets doing poetics, and this tradition does have a certain continuity that is lost by subsuming poetics to literary theory ("about" poetry).


What would my ideal work conditions be?

*I would teach the students I want to teach. They would have to apply to work with me. There would be many applying to work with me and I would teach the best ones. I can fire a student whenever I want. A student can fire me too with no repercussions.

*We would meet in small groups whenever they wanted to. We could have several on-going working groups devoted to particular topics. There would maybe be four groups at a time, with no more than 10 students in each. Each would meet whenever there was a scheduled meeting, of no fixed length. I would have 10 hours of teaching a week, during which these meetings could take place.

*All the work would be for publication. Each student would work on his or her publications, or we could all collaborate on group publications / articles. A student or group of students might want to learn something that would not lead to an immediate publication. That would be fine too. Undergrads and grads alike would do meaningful research leading to publication.

*Lectures would be presentations, in the style conference papers. I could do some and the students could do some. They would be infrequent.

*No grades. No degrees.

So you can see that those are not my current conditions. I am not complaining about my current conditions, either. In many ways they are quite wonderful. What I want to do is to imagine what I think my ideal would be. Now that I've done that, I need to think of ways of moving my current conditions 1/4 of the way there.

My first thought is that independent studies don't work very well, even though they tend to be more "ideal" in the way I've conceived of things. Directing dissertations is not ideal either. I'm going to have to think of this a bit more.
4. The poetics of poetry itself shares many of the romantics suppositions of the poetics of cultural exceptionalism.

The cluster of concerns that to which we give the label poetics, as exemplified by collections of short essays written by poets like The Poetics of the New American Poetry, is fundamentally romantic in its ideology. The assumption that every poet should have his or her own individual poetics, distinct from that of any other creator, is quite foreign to the neo-classical understanding of “poetics” as a set of rules, recommendations, or general principles guiding all imaginative literature. Several poets might, in fact, share comparable versions of romantic poetics, but these will acquire an idiosyncratic shape and linguistic expression in each individual case, or be expressed in a unique set of terms, seemingly sui generis and locked into its particular vocabulary.

As a consequence, the poetics of an individual poet might also take the form of a theory of cultural identity applicable, in theory, to an entire people, nation, or region of the world. Lezama Lima’s sistema poético del mudno, for example, is undoubtedly his own personal “Lezamian” poetics, but also as a theory of cubanidad (Cubanness), of the Carribean region, or of Latin American identity. Insofar as it situates Cuba (and Latin America) in relation to other world cultures (European, Egyptian, etc...) it is also potentially universalist in scope. A similar set of concentric circles are also evident in Lorca’s theory of the duende.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Bad Advice

I figured out something. My advice is not very good if you are not a person like me. I know my field and have abundant ideas; I love to write and take pride in my prose. I am not particularly great with people unlike myself, though. People who don't seem to get what scholarship is all about in the first place. I always plan my courses as though everyone were like me. That's the presumption I make, but of course that is false.

If you are like me, you might not even need my tricks.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Pièce de résistance

I think the best part of the new Lorca book will the part of the chapter on "13 Ways of Looking at the Poetics of Cultural Exceptionalism." This chapter, in turn, will be a kind of tour de force. I don't care if all the rest of the book is not as good as this.