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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, June 28, 2013

Emotional Prosody

This is, more or less, the ability to perceive emotion in someone else's speech, in tones of voice, etc... I am learning a lot from writing this article. Most articles on this have to do with brain injuries which impede the processing of emotional prosody. So everything would sound like Siri to you. You wouldn't get anger, sarcasm, reserve, and a thousand other shades of vocal emotion. I suppose that neuro-typical people have a different way of processing emotional prosody than those who aren't.

I invented a term today called "pragmatic prosody." (Well, I didn't really invent it, I guess, because a search reveals that the term is already in use.) My idea is to link emotional, pragmatic, and other dimensions of prosody to poetic prosody itself, rather than some dumb syllable-counting exercise. "La conciencia prosódica en Olvido García Valdés." It's fun to come up with new ideas.


I remember a talk by someone in Spanish, about poetry, by a distinguished professor at a 3rd rate place, who read poetry out loud in Spanish without realizing that a diphthong should not be pronounced as two separate syllables. So this professor would fail Spanish prosody 101.

Yet these phenomena are most noticeable in their failure.

Why I'm out of Advice Business, Thomas

1. Fundamentally, I have already laid out my system. I have nothing more to say. You can consult the archives.

2. The advice might work for a few people, but it is really predicated on my own highly privileged professional situation. It is advice to myself. If you've benefited too, that's great, send me a check. I think my system of working works for people like me and I stand behind it, but I don't wish to argue any more for my particular positions about the management of academic work.

3. My own priorities have shifted a bit. What I really want to do now is continue with my research projects but also win a teaching award or two. Since I am not a great pedagogue this will be an enormous challenge. I might not win an award at all, so the real goal is simply to be a much better professor. I am also interested in faculty governance, having backed quasi-accidentally into being president-elect of university senate. I feel I always need to put myself into positions in which my weaknesses are exposed and I can experience growth.

4. I think I am a good mentor in private, and can keep that aspect of the advice business going. I am now more interested in collaborative work, where two people help each other by reading work. I could also give professional development workshops to faculty, but I think I also need to listen to what faculty at a variety of institutions are saying, rather than simply laying down my own ideas.

Still here

I'm still here. I decided to give my self a break from exceptionalism, and start a commissioned article on the poetry of Olvido García Valdés, an article I'm writing in Spanish.

Once July 1 comes I will work on Barcelona course for study abroad and return to cultural exceptionalism.

I decided that OGV's poetry exemplifies something highly valued in the humanities: the toleration of a high degree of ambiguity. I say tolerance because this does not come naturally. Students tend to want clear-cut answers to things, while humanities professors tend to emphasize fuzzier ways of thinking. This can be frustrating, because, what does this professor want? Not his answer, but the student's answer. It is difficult because not everything goes: there is a requirement for precision in writing. Yet it is easy to see how the student will just say, if everything is subjective, why is not my answer acceptable? Olvido's poetry is a very precise description of a very ambiguous and difficult to define set of subjective experiences. Of course, how do you know it's precise if you don't know what the original experience is? That's the paradox.

I'm approaching it through prosody, in the first place. The prosody avoids easy rhetorical effects, symmetrical rhythms. Also, there is a heightened attention to the prosody of the world, both the social world and nature. It would be like listening to a conversation in a foreign language in which you can't hear the semantics or syntax, only the pragmatic dimension of the tone of voice, the power relations.

Friday, June 14, 2013

"The sharing of original insights based on current research is the dull practice of 'writing one's own lectures'"

Here's a good example of what happens when words mean the opposite of what they are supposed to mean:

The defense of face­to­face teaching is reinterpreted as a lack of care for students “shut out” of traditional courses. The sharing of original insights based on current research is the dull practice of “writing one's own lectures” or “one­way delivery of content,” while the use of class time to administer a commercial educational product is “student centered” and modern.

Read the whole thing. Leslie Bary's article on the value of faculty governance is an extremely important statement, one that I will be sharing with my colleagues on faculty senate here. The paragraph I saw here is also cited on Clarissa's blog, but I had noticed it before on earlier drafts of Leslie's article.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Spanish racism lives on.

Two Ideas for Today

1. Exceptionalism is a form of poeisis in the etymological sense of making or creation. It uses language to create a reality that does not yet exist. This is really why what I am working on is the poetics of exceptionalism.

2. It is thus a creatively dynamic process.

We can admire its poetic, dynamic nature while still being suspicious of its ideological effects.

Let's take Castro's idea of the "morada vital de los españoles." It is a theory of how Spanish identity was formed through a convivencia among three religions (castes) in medieval times. Interestingly, he doesn't claim that Spanish people are actually aware of how their identity was formed. Thus it is not a description of a self-conception that Spaniards possess, but rather an invitation to identify with a particular theory of history that would explain them to themselves. It is an exhortation, a piece of rhetoric, a rallying cry.

It is forged linguistically, through an existentialist vocabulary, with roots in Ortega and Heiddeger. The vital dwelling-place of the Spaniards. It is dynamic because it is based on a contact among several groups, rather than an essentialist notion of unchanging national character. It is historical (seemingly) but one might expect the effects of this historical convivencia to diminish over time. For AC, however, the effects of this history set a pattern that still repeats itself into the 20th century.

Phrases like "morada vital" have a poetic vitality. They sound cool. To come up with shit like this requires a literary sensibility, a way of making words cast a spell over the listener, tapping into really powerful veins of metaphors. Compare Vasconcelos's "raza cósmica."

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Critical Inquiry

I am thinking of this article I am writing as very short book of about 100 pages or a longish article for CI or PMLA. It's going to be hard to write in anonymously anymore so I don't know if I can send it to PMLA. I think it is very subversive of contemporary ideologies of uniqueness and difference. It could make a modest splash if published in the right place.


We've been taught that strong writing uses verbs in the active voice, and the avoidance of the verb to be. Actually, that is one part of the conventional wisdom that might improve some academic writing. I noticed a few paragraphs of mine in which there are a lot of verbs doing things, and not quite as many copulatives or passives. The next step would be to eliminate repetitions of verbs.

One form that exceptionalism takes is an interest in unique forms of life defined in essentialist ways. Cultural anthropology itself and the theory of national characters arise out of the idea that a nation of people has a more or less monolithic identity. Nevertheless, in practical terms most forms of exceptionalism have needed to take into account the non-homogeneity of modern nations, or the ways in which identity gets formed in situations of cultural contact and interchange. Américo Castro, for example, developed a theory that the “morada vital” or “dwelling place of life” of the Spanish people was forged in the medieval period through the convivencia among Jews, Moors, and Christians. In the 1940s, when Castro was developing his theories, Fernando Ortiz proposed the idea of of transculturación (transculturation) to account for the distinctiveness of Cuban identity.

Metaphors of mixing and crossing have a double advantage: they draw on the romantic allure of originality, while also trying to resolve potential contradictions through the rhetorical synthesis of opposing elements. Uniqueness can result from odd, syncretic combinations as easily as from a monolithic essence. Prefixes like inter, trans, meta, post, and syn, have been popular among literary intellectuals for many decades now. Trans and inter deploy the trope of crossing, while post and meta promise a kind of transcendence or going beyond. (Trans, of course, is the Latin equivalent of the Greek meta.) Syn expresses the aspiration for combinations, hybrids, and fusions. From the perspective of the poetics of cultural analysis, these tropes form a single group, despite the variety ideological purposes they might serve.

Not infrequently, a theorist will propose a neologism designed to improve upon older conceptualizations of hybrid identities, in an attempt to take the logic of hybridity one step further. Alberto Moreiras, tired of the prevalent discourse around hybridity and transculturation, puts forward the concept of “dirty atopics,” a densely articulated theoretical concept derived from a particular interpretation of the Spanish American neo-baroque and the trope of chiasmus. In La increíble hazaña de ser mexicano, Heriberto Yépez develops a project of “superación nacional” (national overcoming / improvement) that will produce a “post-Mexican” subject. He begins his book with the argument that pre-Columbian Mexican culture was engaged in an effort to create “un hombre superior” (a superior man). Yépez draws quite explicitly from José Vasconcelos’s notion of a “raza cósmica,” an idealization of Latin American mestizaje or racial mixing dating from the 1920s. Vasconcelos, for Yépez, was “el primer post-mexicano” (194; the first post-Mexican). These new coinages, predictably, will give way to future efforts to surpass the prevaling rhetorical climate. Because exceptionalism typically entails appeals to improvement and surpassing, leaving old identities and old combinations of identities behind, its new forms can be starkly opposed to older understandings of culture without fundamentally altering the base of its appeal.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Out of the Advice Business

For various reasons I'll explain later. I don't want to give any more public advice right now. I will glad to work with anyone who wants me to read their work. I can do substantive intellectual critiques, read for style, or help guide the organization of larger projects. I'll continue to talk about my own efforts to perfect my writing and get rid of pesky sign-posting.

At some point I'll come back and reflect on some of these issues and reframe my "advice" in a different way. I'm not ready to do this right now, though.


Here is a smart guy (originally, I think) made a little dumber by having a conservative agenda. He wrote one of those dumb "kids today" books. It's hard to sort out all this. I would oppose an English field segmented into various identity politics groups + environmentalism, but my experience in KU is that people do a variety of things, usually very well, from composition to medieval, and that there are many undergraduate students who love the department's dedicated teachers. You can get a good conversation going about Melville, Kerouac, or Shakespeare. Of course, what do I know: I only have a half dozen close friends in the department and know another half dozen more casually, and another 6 to say hi to.

Also, despite my reservations about identity / exceptionalist politics on some level, I actually don't see much choice. I don't see why studying James Baldwin is any worse than devoting oneself to Pynchon or Mailer. At this point, ruling out identity politics would bring us back to the white male canon. If I'm bored with that, as a white male, then I imagine everyone else would be too.

I see the same romanticism / exceptionalism in Harold Bloom as in the people Bloom calls the "school of resentment." The same mentality can skew right or left, but it's important to note the difference. If we have to have American exceptionalism let's have a left-wing version.