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Contrafactum

I wrote a contrafactum to rhythm changes today. Or I should say that one just occurred to the fingers of my right hand as I was playing, aft...

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A piano tinkling in the next apartment

I'm learning the harmonization of one song each month. For January it will be "These Foolish Things." I've got through the first few measure already. Anyway, the rhyme "apartment" / "heart meant" is wonderful. "A piano tinkling in the next apartment / Those stumbling words that told you what my heart meant."

A simple test

Does your religion claim to have the truth (THE truth)?

Does it stigmatize non-believers?

Does it have a long tradition of religious war? Conquest and forced conversions? Patriarchy? Anti-semitism? Slavery? Resistance to science? Torture and burning at the stake? Corruption?

If it is a relatively "liberal" religion, or a "moderate" or "tolerant" version of a traditional religion, how long has that been the case? For how many generations, for example?



Friday, December 26, 2014

Why go to graduate school?

Here is one answer.

This is pretty simple and dramatic. More money, less chance of being unemployed, with a PhD or Professional degree. This is true at any level of educational attainment, with the least employable, the least well-remunerated being those without high school diplomas.

Those with professional or PhD level education enjoy what is basically full employment. Even the bad academic job market in some fields does not make a statistical dent here. This being said, should you ge a PhD in a field with abysmal job placement at a mediocre state school, if your only dream is tenure at Princeton? Probably not.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

What is more effective, praise or criticism? (neither)

A good post from bulletproof musician.

Neither praise nor criticism is at the center of effective instruction, but rather instruction itself. Lessons from basketball coach John Wooden.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Mission Creep of Peer review

Composer / musicologist Kyle Gann on Peer Review
A quotation is an ornament to a piece of writing when the quoted phrase is so striking and memorable that the author couldn’t have come up with anything as evocative himself. But if I can state an idea clearly (and little academic writing is as readable as mine), why would it carry more authority if put into a sentence I stole from another writer? If what I say is false, and its falsity has been demonstrated in a previous publication, then I should be told to do my homework. But if what I say is demonstrably true, what does it matter whether someone else has said it before? We are not medieval monks, that we fear to record the fact in front of us unless we can find a citation for it in Aristotle.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Quiero laurearme, pero me encebollo

Here is a line from a sonnet by Vallejo. Laurel branches are the crown of the poet, hence "poet laureate." He wants to crown himself with this traditional award, but instead he "onions himself." He creates a reflexive verb out of the word "cebolla" following morphological rules of Spanish word formation. There is the rhetorical figure of antithesis, obviously, the verbal wit that comes with the creation of neologisms. It is worthy of Quevedo.

An old discussion of

logopoeia.

Logopoeia and semantic prosody

The concept of semantic prosody in John Sinclair is similar to that of Pound's logopoeia:

"that is to say, it employs words not only for their direct meaning, but it takes count in a special way of habits of usage, of the context we expect to find with the word... It holds the æsthetic content which is peculiarly the domain of verbal manifestation and can not possibly be contained in plastic or in music."

--EP

Semantic prosody, for Sinclair, results from the statistical probability of finding a word close to other words. Take the word "pulular" in Spanish. It refers, often, to the swarming of insects. If we find it with people, instead of with insects, we might envision those people as insects. I guess the word swarm in English works the same way.

[pulular

intr. 1. Moverse de un lado para otro, bullir en algún lugar personas, animales o cosas.

2. Abundar,multiplicarse insectos y animales semejantes:
las moscas pululaban entre la basura.]

A similar example is "enjambre," a colony or swarm of insects. If used outside of this context, it still suggests insects.

An example Sinclair uses is "budge." The word means to move a slight bit, but the semantic prosody is that of intransigence. It is almost always found in contexts in which someone refuses to budge.

But I think semantic prosody is only one device within the greater category of logopoeia. It seems that it should also encompass other kinds of verbal play, the entire "dance of the intellect among words," not merely one device of using a word against the backdrop of its normal usage. By the same token, semantic prosody itself ought to be reconceived more broadly as the linguistic study of logopoeia in its natural settings (not merely in poetry).






Friday, December 12, 2014

The Translation Book

There is a section of my translation book that will talk about melopeia. Basically, prosody meets translation.

Then there is will be a section about logopeia. The idea here, what happens to it in translation. How the prevalence of non-logopedic translation affects our perception of language.

The idea starts with Appiah ("Thick Translation.") He suggests a translation that would useful in the teaching of literature. That is a very basic idea, too basic, in some sense. But once we examine it, we realize that many standard practices of translation are not useful for the teaching of literature. For example, a translation of a very verbal poet like Quevedo or Vallejo that almost completely erases the verbalness, the languageness of the original. Call it what you want.

Even people very much into poetry do not perceive language as language. Logopeia is often a mystery to them.

There are those two sections, then, and the book will be more or less one seamless argument (with myself.) The idea is to see what an academically adequate translation would look like, and what a poetically adequate translation would look like, if we took both academia and poetry seriously enough.

The two ideals (academic and poetic) are not as far away as one might think, although they are not identical either. The first is

--translation useful in the teaching of literature

--translation that works as poetry for the reader of poetry, without any excuses

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What makes Vallejo Vallejo

One idea for translation is that the translation should convey "what makes x x." In other words, if a poet has a certain number of distinguishing characteristics, and these are on display in the source text, then these same characteristics should be on play in the translation.

Me moriré en París con aguacero,
un día del cual tengo ya el recuerdo.
Me moriré en París —y no me corro
tal vez un jueves, como es hoy, de otoño.

Jueves será, porque hoy, jueves, que proso
estos versos
, los húmeros me he puesto
a la mala y, jamás como hoy, me he vuelto,
con todo mi camino, a verme solo.

César Vallejo ha muerto, le pegaban
todos sin que él les haga nada;
le daban duro con un palo y duro

también con una soga; son testigos
los días jueves y los huesos húmeros,
la soledad, la lluvia, los caminos...

So, without even translating this, let's look for some characteristics.

The name of a specific bone (húmeros), where most poets would talk about bones or limbs in general. Vallejo liked very precise scientific names for things.

There's a colloquialism running through the poem, but it's not simply an imitation of how people talk, but a sort of "twisting motion." The reflexive verb of "me corro" for example. It means not, "I run" but "I accelerate." It can also mean ejaculate. "I'm in no hurry to shoot my load." ??

The grammar we taught in school would prescribe "le pegagan / todos sin que él les hiciera nada." He's mixing up the verbal tenses. (The poet already has memory of the future, in the second line.) The syntax is deliberately "roughed up."

There is a linguistic patterning: a use of six reflexive verbs in the quatrains.

The deictic situation, the here and now, is very front-and-center in this poem. The particular kind of staging of the poetic "I."

The rhythms scan, but are jerky. Enjambment is prominent. There are many pauses within a verse. It is a sonnet, but the rhymes are assonantal and irregular: AABB BAAB CCD EDD.

There is neologism and verbal play: "I prose / these verses." Soga is a rope, but also a whip and a noose. There's a verbal parallelism with two redundant noun modifiers: "los días jueves y los huesos húmeros" the Thursday days and the humeri bones.

So those are some features of this poem that make it Vallejo-like. We don't even know this unless we've read other poems by him. A good rule to follow is if there is a figure of diction, like asyndeton in the final line, that the poet has used it not accidentally.

Eshleman gets most of it right. He keeps the roughness but misses a lot of small details:

I will die in Paris, with hard dirty rain [with downpour]
one day I now remember. [why not already? That's the whole point]
I will die in Paris — and I don't run — [difference in meaning with reflexive verb?]
maybe a Thursday, like today, in autumn.

Thurday, because today, Thursday, when I prose
these lines, I have forced my humeri on [by saying "these lines" you miss the prose / verse antithesis. Why not "I prose / this verse"?]
unwillingly and, never like today have I again, [unwillingly for "a la mala": not as direct or foreful]
with all my road, seen myself alone. [missing parallelism between "me he puesto" / "me he vuelto"]

Cesar Vallejo is dead, they beat him [has died; the perfective aspect. Don't you think Vallejo used a particular aspect of the verb deliberately? Also, "they used to beat him"]
everyone, without him doing anything to them;
they hit him hard with a stick and hard

likewise with a rope; witnesses are [noose?]
the Thursdays and the humerus bones, [the Thursday days...]
the loneliness, the rain, the roads...


Is this too picky? There is no such thing, unless you think that what gives x its characteristic xness doesn't matter.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Stats

I was looking at some numbers. Suicides in this country are about 39,000 a year. Homicides, about 16,000. But actually, we used to have about twice as many murders, in 1992.

We lack the basic perspective to even understand this reality. A country like Spain has less than 1 homicide per 100,000. We have almost 5. (For perspective, there are 800 deaths per 100,000 by any cause.) I heard about an epidemic of women being killed by their partners in Spain, but the numbers do not bear that out. Spain has 47 million people. Fewer than 400 people die by murder every year, and not all of these are women, not all the women are victims of "violencia de género."



Aestheticism?

If you asked Dante or Spenser, or any other poet before 1800, whether it was more important to write good poetry or to put across a certain message, you would be met with incomprehension-- the question itself would not make sense. I think the whole dichotomy is the product of the late 19th century, and has done immeasurable damage. Even to my own thinking, at times.

There's an insidious logic here that the worse a poem is, the more effective it is at communication. We are given a choice between aesthetics and politics. The political advocates are worse formalists than the pure formalists, because they use poetic crappiness as a badge of honor. The formalists / aestheticists, on the other hand, have an allergy to only one kind of subject matter, the political. Political poems worked fine before, somehow, but at a certain point they stopped working.

There are a series of reactions and counter-reactions. It is all very mysterious and I haven't figured out yet how it works.

Fagoot

An adjunct at FSU resigned over a face-book comment calling someone an "elitist fagoot" [sic] among other things. (The exact quote, as reported, is "“Take your Northern fagoot [sic] elitism and shove it up your ass.”]

Everyone at KU seemed always to assume that the social media policy would only apply to left-wing opinions. I think it just as likely that such policies might be used to squash this kind of racist, homophobic rhetoric.

Once again, the first amendment issue is the same whatever the content of the speech. There is no freedom unless the freedom swings every which way.

What a deeply stupid woman was doing teaching college classes in business communications is another matter. (I believe that vile freakazoid is the technical term here.) You shouldn't be punished for your obscenely uninformed opinions, expressed outside the context of your job.

***

There really ought be an alternative to facebook called trollbook. The trolls could just troll one another, accusing one another of being too enthralled with Obama and calling one another fagoots and kwiers. (Actually, this already exists, more or less. Some would call it "the internet." I'm suggesting organizing it better and giving everyone free reign.)

Eldridge

I started to read this novel and it is crap. I can't believe someone could write this badly.

Late

My Lorca seminar was being held in the library. I didn't have much prepared so I found some art books and passed them out to my students, without looking at them, and gave them half an hour. I felt a bit guilty about starting late. In half an hour's time, I found them at a long seminar table. They took turns explicating art works they had chosen. Some were actual paintings rather than reproductions, unframed canvases. The students seemed quite knowledgeable about painters I had never heard of. The paintings were hard to see. The last student was explicating something in a neo-classical style out of a book. At the end I didn't really know what to think. I didn't think the class had really accomplished very much, but it was clear that our first meetings had focused on visual art, with no connection to Lorca himself.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

As one put drunk into a packet boat

I remember reading something by Ashbery, when I was very young, about reading poetry of the past. Poets who read only contemporary poetry do not have the same degree of historical depth, he seemed to be saying. You can't even imitate the poetry of the past, so you can remain more original. That one line struck me: it is a line by the 17th century poet Marvell, but Ashbery uses it for his own purposes. There is defamiliarization. What the hell is a "packet boat" and why would you put a drunk in one? The line means something different in Marvell than in Ashbery. (The Pierre Menard effect?)

Lorca uses a line by Guillén: "Sí, tu niñez, ya fábula de fuentes." It is the last line of a poem by Guillén, and the first line of a poem by Lorca. I would say that the line means something very different in Guillén than in Lorca. These two poets, unlike Marvell and Ashbery, are contemporaries, yet the distance between them is immense.

Generative Device

I am more interested in writing poems that are ideas for poems,and that could have come out differently. Some are variations on a theme, or a them without variations. In some cases, I begin the poem and include instructions for the reader to finish it: "repeat, with variations." The poem should have its implicit set of rules of instructions, or these can be implicit. Either way works.

So the instructions might say: start with a poem you remember the beginning of, write that down, then once you start forgetting, fill in your own substitute lines.

Contra Lorca / A favor de los maricas

I'm one of the only critics who takes the side of the "maricas" against Lorca. Critics and translators refer to Lorca's maricas as queers, perverts, sissies, cocksuckers, faggots, freaks and frauds, and pansies, among other choice terms.

Territory

There was a kind of territory, a map perhaps. To make sense of it we had to treat one part of it as though it did not belong to the whole. Later, an homage to someone. There were four participants, including myself, who had to come up with different approaches to rendering homage. Lastly, a small square or cube of words, some of which were legible, others not. One could look at the cube and extract words, not always the same ones.

Shaving brush (ii)

The shaving brush is designed to make shaving soap into lather, and also to prepare the face for shaving, by spreading the lather onto the face and moistening and exfoliating the skin. The same quality of the bristles that makes it a good instrument for forming lather also serves this second purpose. I'm not sure what this is metaphor for, maybe for the scholar's brain in which the same qualities serve both to do research and also write up the results. It seems like two processes but it is really one. You read with an eye to writing later, and write with the knowledge gained from reading.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Whitman / Borges


WHEN I read the book, the biography famous,
And is this, then, (said I,) what the author calls a man’s life?
And so will some one, when I am dead and gone, write my life?
(As if any man really knew aught of my life;
Why, even I myself, I often think, know little or nothing of my real life;
Only a few hints—a few diffused, faint clues and indirections,
I seek, for my own use, to trace out here.)

Borges's translation

Cuando leí el libro, la biografía famosa,
Y esto es entonces (dije yo), lo que el escritor llama la vida de un hombre,
¿Y así piensa escribir alguno de mi cuando yo esté muerto?
(Como si alguien pudiera saber algo de mi vida;
yo mismo suelo pensar que sé poco o nada sobre mi vida real.
Sólo unas cuantas señas, unas cuantas borrosas claves e indicaciones
Intento, para mi propia información, resolver aquí.)

Borges says there are two Whitmans: "el 'amistoso y elocuente salvaje' de Leaves of Grass y el pobre literato que lo inventó." [the friendly and eloquent savage of LOG and the meager man of letters who invented him.]

Poetry in Transit

When will the grown-ups come home?
The flesh is tired and I've read all the books,
Fleeing, rushing down--how steady the gait of the mule down the abyss!
And who, if I screamed, could hear me from those angelic
orders? At five o'clock in the afternoon.
At five o'clock on the dot in the afternoon?

The sound of water... Sing, muse, the wrath--
Hypocrite reader, among twenty snowy mountains.
I will go to Santiago de Cuba,
With "Romeo y Julieta,"
with ashes, with self-populating seas,
At five in the afternoon.

From rivers north of intention,
In the middle of the the road of my life,
I will go to Santiago--
Exhausted by talk / of the only happy life.
This hill was always so dear to me
At five in the afternoon.

I never winked back at fireflies,
Drinking with disgust the water of prostitution.
The barbarians are due here today.
You must change your life.
I will go to Santiago!
At five in the afternoon.












Sunday, December 7, 2014

Faux PN

Among unraked leaves, with attic dust,
in the inchoate, from great heaves of entrails,
or else something also unsafe, mulled wine, a damsel's distress,
I muck out this sexual nightfall, with an astronomer's rusted tools, with salt.
Underneath there are bells, redundantly declaiming, prophecies of phlegm.
Escaping arrows, in truth, we enter the piranha's cave,
the fry-pan's maleficent redemption, among other things...

Losing my Fear

I used to be afraid / nervous of not writing well in Spanish. What if I made a grammatical mistake? Recently, I've decided that I can just write in Spanish with the same confidence that I do in English. Spanish requires a certain rhetoric that I would never use in English, almost more Victorian. It is much more fun (for me) to write in Spanish.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

As I near completion...

As I near completion of book 5 I wonder what is next. Ideally I should just spend a year reading Latin American poetry. That was my plan at one point. I could write a third Lorca book, but that's not appealing right now. I do want to, but I need to put some space between it and the other two, so that it will have its own identity. I have another article / book started on poetry translation. It will be the definitive book on this subject if I do it right. I don't know... This is definitely a problem that is not really a problem at all. I have absolute freedom.

The idea of reading Latin American poetry for a year will lead to other things I can't foresee now. I feel like I could be a legit scholar in this field simply by reading for a year and then starting to write articles the following year. I know the canon of Paz, Borges, Neruda, Vallejo, Lezama, Parra, and some major national figures like Varela, Milán, Montejo, Bracho, Gelman... and some personal favorites. I could just fill in the gaps. In fact, I seem to remember already doing some of this. Before Lorca sucked me in again.



Friday, December 5, 2014

Comb / coffee / asthma

This is not a dream, but it could have been. Shortly before the senate meeting, I walked down to the coffee bar in my building to get coffee. Shortly before, I went into the convenience story right there and bought a comb. I have been without one for a while. About to order coffee, I see Jim, my co-president. I ask him if he wants coffee. He say yes but first ducks into the convenience store. When he emerges he says he has just purchased a comb. We have coffee, then drive down to the law school, where the meeting will be held, in his car. On the way to his car, he talks about his asthma and I take out my asthma inhaler to show him. None of these coincidences is very significant, but the chain of them seemed remarkable.

Shaving Brush



Things like this are not hard to depict. You can see a shaving brush, a nail clipper, a folding knife, a computer accessory. (I drew a thumb too as a point of comparison.) Once again, the drawings are quite crude, and it is easy to see what's wrong. With a minimum of effort I could probably do drawings of these objects that are about twice as good.

All children (apart from those with specific disabilities or conditions than prevent them from doing one or more of these things) sing, draw, and use spoken language. Drawing and singing become more specialized activities for adults, who will tell you they can't carry a tune or draw a picture. (What they usually mean by not being able to draw is that they draw about like I do.) Adults continue to use language too. The written language is accessed through academic training, beginning with learning to read and write. Being a good writer is like being able to draw or sing adequately, not in a childlike way. We expect a competence in written language consonant with one's level of academic achievement.

People who are not good writers often think they are. I don't think people who draw as well as I do think they are competent, but people are deluded about their ability to write well. I think it is because they cannot see writing as writing. They think of mechanics (punctuation); avoiding zombie rules (no split infinitives); ideals of concision & clarity (often badly understood), but they don't think beyond those elements.

I am somewhat ashamed of how badly I draw, because I think that everyone should have "college level drawing." What I mean by this is not being a great artist, or even having the level of competence of an average art student, but simply being able to pass an exam in which you had to draw a good three-dimensional depiction of a shaving brush.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Magical Negro

We all know the trope of the "magical negro." It is the wise old black guy, usually played by Morgan Freeman, who will help out the white protagonist of the film.

We know the judge will be a black woman, or an old ugly quirky, cranky, white guy, in a television series in which everyone else is an attractive 30 or 40 something ("The Good Wife"), and mostly white. You get to have it both ways: the protagonists are the attractive white people, but the authority figures are represented in politically correct, ethnically balanced way.

We all know that anti-racism (anti-ageism, etc...) takes these racist forms.

(The misogynist still loves his mother and his sisters, his nieces.)

Walt Whitman, for Lorca, can serve as the magical gay predecessor. He can condemn the gay men he sees in New York, because Whitman.

I am not immune from it. I will condemn my idiot colleagues who give a bad name to all humanists.

***

The backhanded compliment. In Spain I have gotten this: oh, you are not like the other American Hispanists who come to Spain to do research and don't know anything. Thanks a lot. (Your wife is an elegant woman, not like those other American women...)

I used this joke with a (white) American professor of English I met tonight. "Your English is so good!" It would be like saying, "for a white person, you are very articulate."

***

At the faculty senate, an outspoken colleague began by complimenting me. I knew it was a set-up from the very beginning. I said: "Thanks for those kind words, I knew it was a set-up... for the difficult question you would ask." I got a laugh out of that.

***

We teach our students the difference between two prepositions, por and para, both of which are translated as for. One use of para is in comparisons. Big for his age.T That is comparison against expectations. For an American Hispanist, you speak Spanish well / know what you're talking about. "You are tall for a basketball player" makes no sense.











You took advantage of me

Lorenz Hart was one of the greatest lyricists of the "Great American Songbook," especially in his collaborations with Richard Rodgers. Take the song "You took advantage of me."
I'm a sentimental sap that's all
What's the use of trying not to fall
I have no will
You've made your kill
Cause you took advantage of me.
A love song that's not sentimental. Hart really wasn't a sentimental guy. So the first line is about how the protagonist is a "sentimental sap." There's self awarareness here. Making a kill, or a killing and taking advantage of someone are not good things.
I'm just like an apple on a bough
and you're going to shake me down somehow
so what's the use
you've cooked my goose
cause you took advantage of me.
Having one's goose cooked is not a good thing either. It's an idiom that means you've had it, you're done for. Of course, there's a tradition of love poetry in which the lover is basically done for. Love is a destructive force that kills one's will. Hart was up on his courtly love tropes.
I'm so hot and bothered that I don't know
my elbow from my ear
I suffer something awful each time you go
and much worse when you go.
He gets a lot of mileage from idioms like "hot and bothered," which means sexually aroused. I'm putting all the idioms in bold face. Another courtly love, Petrarchan trope: both the presence and the absence of the beloved are troublesome. Back to the final A section of the song:
Here I am I with all my bridges burned
Just a babe in arms where you're concerned
So lock the doors
and call me yours
cause you took advantage of me
.
Two more clichés / idioms. Burning bridges is cutting off connections with other people. A babe in arms is an innocent, defenseless person. You don't describe yourself that way, so once again, there is an ironic self-awareness here.

Prosodically, it's perfect, with the long couplet / short couplet / refrain structure.

The best love songs are not "you're wonderful," but "I fell for you even though you're not so wonderful, and I'm pretty much screwed." All the negativity here works wonders. All the cynical clichés.

Finding really good quotes

Many quotes you will find in scholarly articles are there just to provide information or to cover bases. That is fine, but these often have a perfunctory feel. I remember being cited like that myself, and feeling disappointed. They are citing me for background, for an obvious point that anyone could have made! Thanks a lot. Why not quote Mayhew at his best?

The second category of quotes are there to add something significant. These are value-added quotes, and make YOUR article or book more, not less, interesting to read.

The third category is what I call the "smoking gun." A smoking gun has been fired recently; it is a good clue for the detective. A smoking gun citation or quote is one that proves your own point better than even you could. Your talent is not only writing articles that others will cite, but finding the best of what others have said. If you are scholar of literature, you have the advantage of being able to quote from the best plays, novels, and poems ever written.

Dullness will result from having a lot of perfunctory quotes, a few of the second category, and none of the third. I try to use mostly 2, with a few background information citations, and one or two smoking guns per article or chapter. You'll want to put the perfunctory stuff in notes, mostly.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Nonsensical Literary History

I dreamed I had cut myself symmetrically on both side of my face while shaving: right on the sideburns part. There were red horizontal gashes. I noticed one side first, then looked the other, thinking that I had made the same mistake on each side. This seemed to make sense. I do cut myself in waking life, but never in that spot. Later, I awoke with a phrase of nonsensical literary history in my head: "La epopeya en prosa la creó Espina."

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Hand



Following Thomas's suggestions, I have looked at my hand a bit. Now the first thing that is obvious is that, even though I can't draw worth beans, I can easily see what mistakes I've made. In other words, I have the ability to look analytically and see what I've done wrong. The flatter hand drawn underneath the one with the prominent thumb has a ring finger thicker than the middle finger, when my hand is not like that at all. The sleeve of my shirt and sport-coat is all wrong, etc...

I could obviously practice until I got to where the errors were not so blatant. I could use a pencil and erase and re-redraw. I could study books on drawing or take lessons. A lot of this is straightforward.

It seems to me, though, that my perception that the drawing is not how I want it to be is primary. Everything else, all other efforts to improve, depend on that. It is said you can't edit your own writing, and it is true that another set of eyes might see something I don't, or correct errors invisible to my own eyes. But suppose I were an expert draughtsman: then I would also be even better at seeing and correcting what I've done wrong. An editor who is a much worse writer than I am is not likely to help me much, because I've already seen obvious things and corrected them. My first "sketch" is also going to be better with more practice.

It seems, too, that you should be able to sketch out in words what you want to say even if you know you will change them later, and that your sketching will be useful to yourself.

Wordmoss


Sockworm
necksalt
handmoss

ankleberry
barkweb
peatpepper

wallleaf
dirttwig
worddirge

beardwound
stubblefish
themebait

Monday, December 1, 2014

Birmingham, Vietnam

If you were raised in the 1950s or 1960s, and grasped how scary the world could be, in Birmingham, Vietnam and the house on the corner where the daddy drank, you were diagnosed as being the overly sensitive child.
I was thinking, hey, Birmingham is not in Vietnam. Then I realized that what the writer meant to say was
If you were raised in the 1950s or 1960s, and grasped how scary the world could be, in Birmingham, Vietnam, and the house on the corner where the daddy drank, you were diagnosed as being the overly sensitive child.
Yes, the Oxford comma comes to the rescue.

Out of the cradle endlessly rocking

Out of steel apothecary jars sealed against the cold;
out of razor blades (I must go to the drugstore to get some);
out of the capacious digestive systems of ants, the remorse of wasps;
out of the tiny hairs of large men; the thick, remorseless stubble;
out of milk;

out of salted wounds, the fireman's carry;
out of candle-wax and walking bass-lines, the brittles of yule; imperious clicks;
never mind Quevedo's itch: out of bad surrealism and the other kind; out of bombast and bile;
out of arks and arches, arms, arrows, and horrors; out of all this;
out of what has not been mentioned: the sparrow's supercilious escape--
comes this new day...
This is part of my series "popular songs." The idea is to come up with generative devices and give examples of what they might look like. Here, obviously, the device is to improvise on the pattern of Walt Whitman's "Out of the cradle endlessly rocking." I was trying to remember it when I was still in bed:

Out of the cradle endlessly rocking, out of the mocking-bird's song, the musical shuttle;
out of the ninth-month moonlight...

That's as far as I got, and even that is probably wrong, so I just continued the poem in my own poetic voice. I got through the phrase "tiny hairs" by the time I was in the shower. I was thinking of the surprisingly small hairs of elephants, but that seemed off so I changed it.

Then I wrote it down just now and added another stanza. What I like about the form (not necessarily my use of it here, though I try) is the ability to improvise rhythmically. You can repeat any rhythmic pattern you want, like "the fireman's carry" has the same pattern as "the musical shuttle." But you don't have to. Lines can be any length. You can use polysyndeton or asyndeton as you like. Whitman's peculiar mixture of bombast and down-to-earthness provides ample material for parodic play.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Outrunning the Bear

There's that old joke about two guys running away from the grizzly bear in the woods. One says, why are we running, there's no way we can outrun this bear! The other guy says, I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you.

***

So it is. Your book doesn't have to be the perfect book about its subject matter. You don't have to out-Lorca Lorca, just compete with other equally imperfect scholars.

To do that, you just have to see what needs to be done. What is the task that you need to accomplish? What do you need to do to accomplish it? What steps are needed?

I know I'm making it seem easier than it is. The point is that the talent and intelligence in scholarship is in figuring out what needs to be done and how you're going to do it. After that, it's just sitting down to do that.



Knowing what you're talking about

In the shower today I was thinking: I don't know Arabic, have never travelled to the Middle East or North Africa.

I am an American, with a pretty fine-toothed knowledge of American poetry, culture, and jazz.

So when I talk about Lorca's influence in the US, I still miss things if I don't research well enough, or if something simply never comes to my attention.

If I find in 20 minutes on the internet that Lorca is a big deal in modern Arabic poetry, and gather a few references, I pretty much don't know what I'm talking about. Everything comes to me in translation, and even someone with an in-depth knowledge of those milieus could miss a lot, the same way I might in my own milieu.

Jorge Riechmann, the Spanish poet who translates Char, says that you should know the exact way in which Char uses a certain word in order to translate. So "humidité" might have a particular connotation for Char that is particular to him. The language within the language, or idiolect of a poet, Riechmann calls it. A lot of French readers of Char don't probably have that level of intimacy with his language, so it goes deep than "native speaker" knowledge.

I think it is important to simply say: you have to know what you're talking about. These are just examples of that.

***

Where I am going with this is a talk about Celan I have to give in Spain in May. I guess I am going after that "translation as deep reading" theory that I found implicit (and explicit) in the book of translation essays I am reading. I have to start my talk by saying I'm not a Germanist, but that Celan is a poet that can only be approached from a Comparative Literature perspective. I might look a bit at his Rumanian poems.

***

The deep knowledge goes both ways. You have to know the literary language & traditions into which you're translating as well as the literary language and traditions of the source. Just like, to write my books on Lorca that deal with American culture, I have to know both Lorca and American culture.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Goosebumps

I was reading a book by Spanish poet-translators talking about their work, editing by my friend Jordi Doce. I was profoundly moved by their devotion to the poets they translated and toward translation itself. Jorge Riechmann toward René Char, for example. Andrés Sánchez Robayna with Wallace Stevens. Many statements in this book moved me almost to tears or made the hairs on my forearms stand on end. What gives me this response usually is not a great poem by itself, but a moment in which I become conscious once again of the depth and beauty of the poetic tradition itself. I always know this, but having it become so clear to me again is very moving.

It was very humbling to see how these poets saw translation as a deep part of their own art form. I gathered many quotes and observations that I will use somewhere, somehow.

(One of the scholars who contributed to this book (not a translator or poet, afaik, but a scholar) noted that poets who saw the avant-garde as a living tradition translated more than those who saw it as a historical period that had come to an end.)

I remember the first two poems I tried to translate from Spanish when I was 17 or 18: "Mariposa de luz" by Juan Ramón Jiménez and "Casida de la rosa" by Lorca. I'm amazed that I still remember this. I also remember, somewhat earlier, trying to translate William Blake's poem "The Fly" into French and attempting to get the right number of syllables in each line. I couldn't make it work! It's even more amazing that I remember that, since I'm not in French nor a Blake scholar, and I was attempting this in High School. "Petite mouche..."

If I am sometimes critical of translation (and translators, and their translations) it is not for lack of respect. It is more from an excess of respect. A guy on Facebook I don't know objected to my judgment that Robert Bly was a disastrous translator. This is not just my "opinion." I actually know what I'm talking about and could quote you chapter and verse. I've been studying this since 1975 or so, in a serious way.

Themebait

After finishing my conclusion (yeah!) and while I was writing a poem I invented a new word: themebait. This must refer to the gravitational pull (to mix a metaphor) of certain subject matters.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Seminar

My seminar was in a cavernous room, with about 35 students; I was happy to have so many; I asked a question and got several responses simultaneously; the answers reverberated through the room so I couldn't hear anything; I got the room quieted, finally, but the same thing happened with the next question; I stood up on my chair and clapped my hands to get people to be quiet; finally, I thought it was fine for everyone to discuss Lorca loudly with people in their area of the room. Wasn't this the best kind of class participation?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Highbrow Monroe

Aside from a few gardening, travel and cookbooks, and odds and ends like a biography of herself, Marilyn's library had mostly serious literature (novels, plays, poetry) & and intellectually serious essays: Plato & Aristotle, Freud, Bertrand Russell, Edmund Wilson, Einstein; some popular science books. I'm gratified by not surprised. Despite worries in the 50s about the spread of middle-brow culture, even the middle-brow literary culture of then seems much more high-brow than our present day's, when some people with PhDs read mostly Young Adult fiction & detective novels. Leaving out the fact that it is Marilyn Monroe's library, and thus belies dumb "dumb blonde" clichés, it provides a glimpse into the cultural history of a particular time and place. Of course, she was married to one of the best-known playwrights of the period.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I hate voice-overs

Just saying. I hate voice-overs because they are insulting to your intelligence. Some voice off-screen telling you what you are seeing and adding superfluous narration and explanation. While at least one film I like, "Goodfellas," uses voice-over, this does not make the film any better than it would be without it.

There are these other gangster films that rip Scorsese's film. Those are doubly worse, because they are voice-overs and they are lame imitations of "Goodfellas." One of these lame imitations, I think, is by Scorsese himself. He should have used it only once.

BA

Just learned I will be director of Study Abroad in Buenos Aires this summer (winter there).

Marilyn Monroe & Lorca

Cuando Marilyn leía a Lorca.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Saura / Picasso / Unamuno / Lorca / Lope

“Detesto ‘las sangrientas entrañas aurorales’ del Guernica de Unamuno pintadas sobre ‘el muro blanco de España’ de Lorca, demostrando con Lope de Vega ‘que suele dar gritos la verdad en lienzos mudos’.”

This is just too good not to share with you. It is the "smoking gun" quote that you might find once per chapter at most in your research. I haven't chased down the Unamuno quote yet. It might be from "El Cristo de Velázquez" since it is a perfect hendecasyllable.

Saura (not Carlos but his brother the painter Antonio) complaining about the kitsch surrounding Picasso's Guernica, quoting Unamuno, Lorca, and Lope de Vega.

There ought to be a name for what Saura does here with the Lope quote: the quote seems a perfect way of talking about Picasso: "truth often screams out from mute canvases." But, of course, Lope was not taking about Picasso for obvious reasons. Maybe: "anachronistic de-contextualization."

Monday, November 24, 2014

Goytisolo

Juan Goytisolo has won the Cervantes prize, which is kind of the "Nobel" for Spanish language writers. It hasn't always been distinguished, but Borges, María Zambrano, and Juan Gelman have won it, Gamoneda, etc... Serious people. In any given year, the winner of the Cervantes can kick the ass of the Nobel prize winner. This year the Nobel was won by an obscure French novelist, and the Cervantes by ... Goytisolo.

He is one of the most prominent Spanish novelists and essayists of the 20th century, with few rivals in his heyday--the 60s through the present. If I had been a novel specialist, I would have written about him. Brad Epps cut his teeth by grappling with him.

When I first read Señas de identidad I wasn't too impressed. But now I think I was wrong. He is the same generation as the Latin American Boom of García Márquez and Vargas Llosa (Nobel prize winners) and I think he can hold his own with the best of them. He'll never be popular, but that's a good thing.

One of the things Goytisolo did, as a public intellectual, was to turn against Communism and the Cuban revolution. Being gay probably gave him a head start in this regard. He has been one of the only prominent writers to recognize the Muslim contribution to Spanish culture.

His two brothers were also prominent writers: Luis and José Agustín. He was friends with Gil de Biedma and Valente.

Laws of Composition

A chapter cannot have two disparate elements. It can have two sections, if the point is to compare the two things head to head or to a third thing, but it needs to have either one central focus, or at least three. You can have one-act plays, or three to five; or string quartets with any number of movements, but not two. A painting can have three panels or one, but two is more awkward. (There are exceptions. Don't be giving me 100 examples of musical pieces with two movements. I know they also exist but I feel they aren't as typical.)

The reason is that two elements seem to demand two separate chapters, one for each element. So I could have a chapter on Lope, Tirso, and Calderón, or a chapter on just Lope, but not one on Lope and Tirso.

Twins & Wedding

Now that I am writing down my dreams I am remembering them more.

Last night, two twin men, one apparently a clone of the other, needed the same knee operation. The clone graciously allowed the original man to have the operation. He would be married immediately afterwards, the surgeon, a man with short-red hair, rushing downtown, downhill toward a kind of bay to perform the ceremony himself. In this religion, the groom had to be exactly eleven years older than his bride.

This summary cannot do justice to the length and confusion of the dream itself. I don't know whether this is one dream or two, for example. Adding details, up to a certain point, makes the summary more accurate; beyond that, it is pure falsification.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Crime Doesn't Pay

Ok, so I am almost done with the conclusion of the book, so here's something completely irrelevant (to that).

The fictional motorcycle gang depicted on "Son of Anarchy" are gun-runners. They have a highly lucrative business distributing guns from the IRA to other criminal organizations.

Yet they drink Miller Lite, not single-malt scotch. They live in ordinary-looking California ranch houses. They don't take European vacations or drive elegant cars. They don't have nice clothes, wearing instead their leather and denim motorcycle gear. Most of the time, they just ride around on Harleys in order to intimidate or kill people from other gangs. They have power and money, but these are only relevant in relation to their criminality. For example, their power is relative power, in relation to that of the black gang, the Mexican gang, other white gangs (neo-nazis, etc...), and the IRA itself. If they were to stop being criminals, they would not need this power. They have power by bribing local law enforcement, but they only need to bribe the police because they are criminals.

Their possibility of meeting a violent death is quite high. They are also frequently kidnapped, as are their family members. They derive no enjoyment from their supposed wealth, living instead the perfect lower-middle class life-style when they aren't killing or getting killed. Sometime they can't even sleep at home because they have to lock themselves in the clubhouse for protection. They get to ride their motorcycles around, which might be fun, sure, but they could do that in the same exact way if they simply ran their "front" organization, which is an automobile and motorcycle repair shop. I suppose they could do their other hobbies on the cheap too, like getting into fist fights with one another or getting tattoos.

***

The leader of the gang has the noble ambition of getting it out of serious crime, or at least making its "legitimate" businesses semi-legal escort services and pornography, instead of arms trafficking. It turns out that getting out of crime is just as dangerous, because it upsets the balance of power, so the plan to go straight leads to further violent deaths and dismemberments. Members of his MC are killed, and they have to kill others as well. The conceit is that one last massacre is needed in order for the Sons to go legit. Of course, the violence just gets worse.

The show has you identify with the leader of the gang because he is "nobler" than anyone else in a similar position, and because the other gangs are more brutal than his own. He is modeled after Prince Hamlet, in a pretty obvious way, and like Hamlet leaves carnage in his wake.

"This is a book which complains about bad writing in the Social Sciences."

That, not unexpectedly, is the first sentence in a book about bad writing in the social sciences. (H/t to Leslie.) It is itself an example of execrable writing, although the author was probably proud of it, since he avoids the passive voice and is clear in his ideas.

What is hideous about it is its utter tone-deafness. It sounds robotic and unidiomatic, and the third person verb weirdly places the authorial voice off to one side. It is his book after all! The author is probably the victim of Orwellian advice about avoiding extra words and forms of the verb to be.

The rest of the first paragraph is just as bad. He switches from "the author" to "I" to "somebody," to "anybody," back to "the author" with no rhyme nor reason:
The author is not someone who is offering criticisms as an outsider looking in upon a strange world. I am an insider, a social scientist, and I am publically criticising my fellows for their ways of writing. Anyone, who does this, can expect to have their motives questioned. Readers may wonder whether the author is embittered, having seen younger colleagues overtake him in the race for academic honours...
The "anyone" with singular "their" is ok, I guess. Pullum and Liberman have convinced me so. Still, it seems infelicitous in this context, with all the other shifting going on.

What is lacking in such writing, very simply, is the "ear." If he had read the paragraph aloud to himself the "author" would have been struck by the awkwardness of "ways of writing"; he would have eliminated the commas around the phrase "who does this." He might have been struck by the stark contrast between a too-pithy opening and a wordy, redundant restatement of it a sentence later: "I am publically criticizing my fellows for their ways of writing." Fellows sounds off to me, but that might be a Britishism.

The concern with false motives is distracting. First, the hypothetical reader thinks that it is written from the perspective of an outsider. Once that concern is dispelled, the reader will think that it is an embittered insider. I guess this is another British strategy of self-effacing humor that I don't appreciate. Why not go directly to the point?

***

The ear, then, is the writer's inner guide to rhythm, tone, perspective. It might be the grammatical ear of the native speaker, the prosodic ear of the poet or master prose stylist.

My revision?
Writing in the Social Sciences is notoriously bad. The aim of this book is to diagnose this malady and suggest some possible remedies. My perspective is that of a veteran insider in the field...

Bible Interpretation

In this dream I was at a table in a restaurant or coffee shop and I explained quite eloquently to a small group of people I didn't know why Christians did not know how to interpret the Bible, especially those involved in "Bible Study" groups. I said that they imposed their theology unto it in a way they had been taught and used Bible passages as "proof texts," without reading in context. They didn't know how to read.

This is really what I think, and my explanation of it in the dream was correct and coherent. The group of people neither accepted nor rejected my explanation, since my dream took another turn after that.

Menard

I believe conventional interpretations of "Pierre Menard" are mistaken. The point was that creativity belongs to the reader rather than the writer. (This was what we were taught in the 80s.) Menard's version becomes more interesting than Cervantes's because it comes from an early 20th century writer. This is what we learn from Rodríguez Monegal and other interpreters, but it is utterly wrong.

(The reproduction or "transcription" of the text is a narrative device that Borges needs to explain that Menard does not copy the text, but somehow comes up with it through another, unexplained method. This device is necessary to the story, since otherwise the Quijote of Menard would be dull copy with no interest at all. It is not true, as Thomas suggests, that "The point (I thought) was that he writes it in the ordinary way after having gotten his own mind exactly where Cervantes' had been." The point is that his text is identical to that of Cervantes's but his "mind is completely different. In other words, he does not "become" Cervantes.)

The first thing people miss is that the narrator is not "Borges," but an anti-semitic Frenchman. He makes nasty remarks about the other interpreter of Menard's legacy, a woman who has had the misfortune of publishing in a journal known for its philosemitism. This is the France of the Dreyfus affair.

Menard himself is a minor follower of the poet Paul Valéry. The list of his publications is quite extensive and interesting. Curiously, the standard interpretations miss the fact that his "visible" publications are a kind of compendium of Borges's own translation and author theory.

Anyway,the overt argument of the anti-Semitic narrator is that Cervantes's own text is somewhat dull. The example used is the discourse about the superiority of arms over letters. This conventional early modern wisdom is turned on its head by Menard, who certainly cannot hold these beliefs ironically. Voilà, the text means something different when ascribed to a different authorial subjectivity.

This is wholly wrong, though. Cervantes's characters already speak ironically, even when they spout conventional wisdom, since Cervantes is engaged in satire or the skewering of this wisdom. Of course, the discourse on the superiority of arms to letters is put in the mouth of a fictional character, so it is not "Cervantes" saying this.

Furthermore, Borges is a great admirer of Cervantes and, especially of Cervantes's metafiction. See "Magias parciales del Quijote." The choice of a seemingly conventional part of his discourse, the explanation of why it is more noble to bear arms than to read books, is a deliberate misdirection.

To really understand "Pierre Menard," you have to be more Borgesian than Borges, in other words, don't accept the facile interpretation of the text. He was a man unfit for military action whose works evince a strong nostalgia for the violent exploits of his compatriots and ancestors. That places the conflict between arms and letters in a different context.





Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Writerly Ego

I'm collecting all my dreams in a sort of chapbook. In doing so, I realized that quite a few of them are manifestations of the writerly ego in its pure state. I have either childish success presenting my writing in public, or abject failure. Really, the dreams of success and failure are not any different in their relation to the ego.

The book of dreams is itself a manifestation of the same ego, I now realize. For the reader, someone else's dreams can't help sounding inane.

Here's a typical example:
CELLO

I was walking down the street and a woman approached me and said: “you have a good chance of getting the violoncello seat in the orchestra now. There has been a lot of attrition.” I tried to tell her I didn't play the cello. She had confused me with someone else.
The double play of the ego is 1): the fantasy (playing in the orchestra) 2) the embarrassment (of course I could not do this). How transparent this all is. (That's a further embarrassment.)

I found this poem on my blog from 10 years ago; I think I wrote it

Homage to An Eastern European Poet

The annals of my idiocy would require multiple volumes--
my symphonic flatulence, not to mention I was a fucking commie for a spell.

And that's just volume I (and half of II.) Like a moth to the flame--
if you'll permit me that cliché--I sinned against self-awareness.

Even if I'd known, I'd have done it the same way.
I encouraged leaden-footed translators

named Bob, for Nobel dreams, and all because of desire.
The same desire you have, hypocrite lecteur,

mon semblable, mon frère
. Actually I won't write this
prologue to a 20-volume suicide note.

The plumbers are here, destroying my house to save it.
It's late and I'm tired. And what good would it do anyway?

Claudio

A fragment of a long series of dreams I had last night.

I was taking a walk in the countryside with the Spanish poet Claudio Rodríguez. I was trying to communicate with him but he was walking fast, ahead of me. I told him that he had told us in class that someone's profession, being a carpintero or a torero, would mark his body. I told him that I did not recognize the significance of this observation at the time, but that recently I had re-remembered it. I wasn't sure of his response to this, but he seemed to acknowledge it in some way.

Now this much is true: he did talk to us in class one day about this, using the bullfighters way of walking as one example. I did realize the significance of this within the past two years or so, after not thinking about it too much between 1980 and 2012. Rodríguez did take long walks in the countryside and composed his poetry in his head on his walks.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Avec les enfants

This is not a dream either, but often when I am doodling or taking notes in pen, I write down the phrase "avec les enfants." I don't know what this means. (I know what the words mean, of course, but I don't know what it means for me to have this phrase in my memory.)

Rankine

Claudia Rankine's book, Citizen, seems interesting. It is, in part, a chronicle of
"micro-agressions," those things that white people say to non-white people on an everyday basis.

(My daughter, for example, has people say "What are you?" when she meets them. On the first day of the summer camp she might be chosen last in team sports, as short half Asian girl. The next day she will be chosen much more quickly, since she is very athletic.)

I have found the chronicles of such grievances unconvincing, in the past, but I think I have been wrong. You cannot consider the micro-aggression in isolation. After all, if I am a black woman and have had one insult in my whole life, that it not very realistic. It is the constant litany of them that get obnoxious, I would imagine.

Three examples.

She reports that a friend said "I didn't know black people got cancer." Rankine cites this as de-humanizing. I don't doubt it. Does the person think that black people have some special gene that makes them immune from cancer? Probably not. Rather, the person is just not thinking at all, but falling back on an image of the "cancer patient" as a white person. It is not racism as hostility, but racism as pure stupidity. Of course, the white person who says this is probably an intelligent liberal who would never be racist in a deliberate way.

Rankine goes to her therapist's house for her first appointment. When she rings the doorbell, the therapist yells at her to get off her property. Why? Their conversations have been by phone, and the therapist is not expecting a black client. Once again, the therapist is not a KKK racist, but somehow did not have the image of an African-American woman in mind as a potential client of hers. This example is very similar to the "cancer" anecdote. What comes into play is the "universal" image of someone with a particular situation. If I ask you to think about an alcoholic, maybe you will picture a white male.

A third anecdote: Rankine is in a car with someone, presumably a dept chair, who says that he is forced to hire a person of color, even though there are great writers (presumably not "of color") that he could hire instead. Here, the interlocutor assumes that the white male is universal, even when he is talking to the non-male, non-white person.

It doesn't even matter whether the category is positive or negative. The cancer patient, the person in need of therapy, the "great writer" are prototypically white. The mistakes here are cognitive, intellectual. They don't stem from overt racism, but from a kind of stupidity. We might all fall victim to moments of perfect idiocy like this, but I am thinking that intelligence itself might be a kind of ethical imperative.

***

Baudelaire's friend (in one of his prose poems) gives a counterfeit coin of considerable face-value to a beggar, thinking that this is a win-win. The privileged individual doesn't lose anything, since the coin is worthless, and the begger gets something: the possibility of passing the coin along without being detected. B. has a fit, thinking that this act of beneficence / malice is completely stupid. The problem is that the supposed act of charity could bring the beggar unforeseen consequences:
Je le regardai dans le blanc des yeux, et je fus épouvanté de voir que ses yeux brillaient d'une incontestable candeur. Je vis alors clairement qu'il avait voulu faire à la fois la charité et une bonne affaire; gagner quarante sols et le coeur de Dieu; emporter le paradis économiquement; enfin attraper gratis un brevet d'homme charitable. Je lui aurais presque pardonné le désir de la criminelle jouissance dont je le supposais tout à l'heure capable; j'aurais trouvé curieux, singulier, qu'il s'amusât à compromettre les pauvres; mais je ne lui pardonnerai jamais l'ineptie de son calcul. On n'est jamais excusable d'être méchant, mais il y a quelque mérite à savoir qu'on l'est; et le plus irréparable des vices est de faire le mal par bêtise.



Two Views of Elite Culture

(1)

The instrumental view of elite culture views it, simply, as class privilege. People who have been the right schools, with the right cultural references, etc... will have access to the upper echelons of society, etc...

By definition elite culture belongs to the elite. Knowing literary references makes one more cultured and polisished. Those who don't have it, by the same token, are marked as less than elite.

(2)

Elite culture, in the second definition, is a resistance to conventional attitudes. It is not identified with any particular class position, and is in fact opposed to conventional "bourgeois" attitudes. Elite culture is the last bastion against the dumbing down of everything. A dumbing down that will serve corporate interests.

***

Take the example of Samuel Beckett. His prototypical protagonists are tramps or institutionalized homeless people. So we can take the example of an elite ivy-league graduate who knows who Samuel Beckett is, condescending to the community college graduate who doesn't.

But the experience that Beckett is describing is one of absolute social abjection, not social privilege.

It is easy to see that there are periods in which social privilege corresponds, unproblematically, to access to cultural capital. This does not apply, anymore, to modernist literature. Or it does, but unevenly. The divorce between a certain "class" position and the access to cultural capital might become complete at a certain point. We still see Virginia and Marcel as both upper class and culturally privileged at the same time; but not James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, or Beckett.

•••

Most leftist literary intellectuals are going to be invested both in a non-elitist politics, and in an interest in high-brow literary modernism as well. We know what the standard positions will be, already. The easiest cases are going to be those of marginalized but avant-garde subjects. Canonical writers of the avant-garge who come from socially marginal position, like César Vallejo. Just about everyone I most respect who knows anything at all about Latin American poetry thinks that Vallejo is the greatest Latin American poet. I think so too, obviously.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Archives

Here is a post I wrote a while back. I had no memory of it, but it came up as a post with some hits on my stats. The comments are good too.

I no longer remember who my colleagues were in this conversation. That is fine. The fact is, I have more than a few brilliant colleagues who might have been my interlocutors in this particular conversation.

Meeting of the Minds

Let us consider, further, the "meeting of the minds" theory of translation.* As I suggested in a post below, a good or great poet translating another good or great poet might lead to a happy synthesis of poetic talent, or a meeting of the poetic minds. So we might welcome a translation by Celan on Dickinson because we are interested in Dickinson, or Celan, or in the meeting between them.

This seems plausible on its face. One idea would be that the poet-translator could produce a remarkable poem in the target language, using his own poetic talent. A second, that the poet-translator has some special insight into the poetic art of Emily herself, and can "translate" that understanding into the German poem he is writing.

The second theory, then, is based on a kind of Bloomian notion that poets have special insight into other poets, even (or especially) when this insight is based on error. We can see this in some literary criticism by literary geniuses, like Beckett on Proust. Beckett's insight is extraordinary, but it might end up telling us more about Beckett than about Proust himself.

Another parallel might the idea that we might want to hear a great performer playing the music of a great composer. We get great music twice over, and we get to also consider what particular aspects of the great music come out in that particular performance, with that added intellectual pleasure of the analysis. This is a richer experience than simply reading the score on the page or listening to an indifferent performance to remind ourselves of how the music goes. This analogy is inexact.

To translate poetry, one must be a poet. In the first place, one able to produce the poetic utterance in the target language. Translation is a decoding, yes, but it is also a re-encoding. Secondly, there must be a meeting of the minds, a relation between two poetics (assuming the two poets never share the exact same poetics).

Defenders of translations undermine translation by being less exigent with the second poem, the translation. People will say, well, "that's difficult to translate so give him / her a break." My position ends up being extreme but based on very sensible reasons as well. In other words, it is perfectly reasonable to say that translations should be good poems in the target language, and almost everyone agrees with that. But if you actually have that expectation with real translations you will come off sounding extreme and intransigeant.

___

*That came out sounding stuffy. Sorry! My prose is off-kilter today.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Beckett on Proust

The identification of immediate with past experience, the recurrence
of past action or reaction to the present, amounts to a participation between
the ideal and the real, imagination and direct apprehension, symbol
and substance. Such participation frees the essential reality that is denied
to the contemplative as to the active life. What is common to present
and past is more essential than either taken separately. Reality, whether
approached imaginatively or empirically, remains a surface, hermetic.
Imagination applied—a priori—to what is absent, is exercised in vacuo
and cannot tolerate the limits of the real. Nor is any direct and purely
experimental contact possible between subject and object, because they
are automatically separated by the subjects’ consciousness of perception,
and the object loses its purity and becomes a mere intellectual pretext
or motive. But, thanks to this reduplication, the experience is at once
imaginative and empirical, at once an evocation and a direct perception,
real without being merely actual, ideal without being merely abstract, the
ideal real, the essential, the extratemporal.
I've been posting a lot. I am not teaching, my amiga is in Japan, and it is cold outside. Plus I am also actively researching and writing the conclusion of my book.

Anyway, I was reading a guy's book on Gamoneda to blurb it, and I found this quote. I've read Beckett's great essay on Proust before, but I'd forgotten how brilliant it is. I don't have time to explain it yet, even to myself, but one way of getting smart (i.e. the "whetstone") is to read things like this.

Dream-meditation of Coleman Hawkins' "Picasso"

This is not a dream. Meditative states are not dream-like, though they might be interesting because they are not simply normal wakefulness either.

Listen to "Picasso" with your eyes closed. Put it on a loop so you can listen to it two or three times. Observe your own breathing as you do so. Don't try to do anything special with your breath, just watch it. The music, an unaccompanied tenor sax solo in rubato, is constantly creating and releasing tension. Notice how the tension in the music might increase at a moment when you would have otherwise been feeling particularly relaxed. The music might create anxiety in you. Or you might be feeling anxiety at a moment when the music seems to be diffusing tension. Get used to this disparity between the music and your breathing. There is a particular phrase that occurs at 1:21 that I have named "settling in." It is very confident and masterful. There are other phrases that mean "pay attention" or "this is the emotional climax of the piece thus far" or "I am winding down now" or "this is an interesting tangent in my argument you might also want to consider." You don't have to adjust your own mood to these moments. You will feel and recognize them. After you have finished this meditation, write this poem.

Bad Postmodernism

Back in the day, the promise of theory was that we could read things more complexly. Many of us had the feeling that literature was a complex thing, and that poststructuralist theory was a way of accounting for that complexity, or giving us a critical meta-language adequate to the object of study. The theory was a theory about how literary language actually worked. It promised some "rigor" and certainly did not exist to make things easier for anybody.

Some people, though, used the theory in another way, as a kind of hermeneutic loosening. If meaning is indeterminate, in its complexity, then this means that everyone's interpretation is equally valid.

Meanwhile, social science also got wind of something called "postmodernism." What they really meant was poststructuralism, but for reasons unknown to me they called it postmodernism. (This postmodernism bore some resemblance to postmodern fiction, but really those are not the same thing.)

A lot of the thinking in postmodern social science is like a parody of the "permissive" branch of poststructuralist interpretation. It promoted sloppy thinking as in this example provided by Basbøll. It turns out that the laziest, least intelligent and literate undergraduate students are like folk postmodernists! This idiot anthropologist simply descends to the level of the typical intellectually indolent student whom we've all taught in class. Clear, easy to understand distinctions are lost amid straw-man demonstrations and caricatures, glib deployments of jargon and half-understood concepts. In Blum's article, we are given a false dilemma between a naive theory of authorship that nobody every held (the writer as absolutely original creator of every idea) and a seemingly more sophisticated idea held, seemingly, both by smart postmodern anthropologists as well as know-nothing backwards-baseball-cap wearing frat boys. Something is amiss here. What is missing, of course, and as I pointed out in a comment to Thomas's post, is the idea that there are many gradations of originality between the simple idea of using your own words and ideas rather than copying or paraphrasing, and the absolute, existential originality that is almost impossible.

The Ten Habits of Highly Productive Writers

There was a CHE article with a title like this recently, maybe today. I would condense the habits of productive writers into one ...

They write.

Translation and Originality

Translation would seem to be an "unoriginal" form of writing. What Jakobson called "intralinguistic translation" is paraphrase, or the writing of a text that translates within the same language. The only thing more unoriginal than that is transcription. We know from Pierre Menard that transcription can itself be "original."

(Paraphrase does differ from translation, though, in that, curiously enough, it cannot be as exact. As Carlos Piera points out in "Sobre traducción, paráfrasis y verdad," we can translate César Vallejo's word "oxígeno" with a high degre of exactitude as "oxygen." But to paraphrase, we need to find our own words.)

I'm assuming that translation is original because, for example, we cannot simply take a translation, change a few words, and call it our own. Even for a literal translation, we assume that the translator can claim the translation as her own, copyright it, complain if someone copies it verbatim (or even almost verbatim.) Translation might look like semi-plagiarisms of one another by coincidence, of course. There may be one solution to a short line or sentence that occurs independently to various translators.

So called "creative translations" will, of course, look different from other translations, by the same measure that they differ from the original. So one way of looking at the problem would be to say that the originality of the translator lies in not always using the word "oxygen" when that is the most logical choice. In other words, translation as paraphrase and interpretation. In a way, a paraphrase depends on an understanding, whereas a translation can be a transfer of ill-understood signifiers (if we follow Piera's logic.)

The translation of poetry results in more poetry. In other words, the translated text stands before us as a poem. The poet is the translator. So instead of saying that we're reading Adonis in translation, we should way that we are reading poems by name of translator, poems that just happen to be translations of other texts that we are unable to read.

That this is not satisfactory solution suggests that our notions of authorship come into play. What we attribute to the original poet, in a translation, is the poetic self itself. Poetry is (usually understood as) the expression of a self, of personal experiences, even if the speaker of the poem is not (easily identified with) the biographical poet.

So the standard model of translation is that the two functions of the poet are split between two authors. One, the translator, provides the poetry itself, where "poetry" is understood as the formal structure, the use of language, etc... The other, the "author," provides the self, the experience. The translator would be the ego-less writer, the one without self or experience, the writer with nothing to say. Not surprisingly, this resembles the function of the ghost writer, or what in Spanish they call, a bit racistly to my ears, the negro.

The problem is that this split seems to reinforce an "unpoetic" way of thinking, since it separates "form" from "content." Anyone who claims to think these are inseparable should have no business closer than 100 feet from the translation of poetry.

One way around this is the translation of poetry where nothing much is going on. In other words, the translated text itself reads as flat prose, without any charge or electricity. The translator might say that the translation was easy, because the original is like that too. I have noticed this a lot in translations of Eastern European poetry. This poetry is read, indeed, for its content; its political positions or value as "human" testimony. I don't get much out of this kind of poetry or poetry-translation. I'd rather read a memoir if what I'm after is the recounting of personal experience in narrative form.

Another way is for the translator to be a poet and use his or her own "poetry" as the poetry of the translation. When we want to read a translation by a famous poet, we want to do so because we think that the target language text will be good in the same way that famous poet's poems are good.

What is more, what we really want to see is a kind of meeting of two great poetic minds. In other words, we want to see poetry 1 (the original poet's genius) meeting up with poetry 2 (the translator's genius) in a marvelous way. This will be an original event because it has never happened before between these particular two poets. Celan translating Dickinson, say. Now this might not always occur, or we might over-value the result. While I appreciate that Ashbery has translated Rimbaud, and have nothing to complain about in his translations, I don't think I feel any great frisson there. Without the name of Ashbery I would simply see these as competent translations.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Lightning

When I first decided to be a poet, I was 11 and we had to write a poem in school. At that moment I decided to be a poet, without really understanding anything of what that entailed. I suppose my first idea was that a poet wrote poems for other people who needed them but did not know how to write poems themselves. Maybe a kind of Cyrano idea of poetry? (I didn't know that story then.)

Anyway, I got some books about poetry, and a few poems struck me, like Wallace Stevens' "Disillusionment at 10 O'Clock." I still think a poem has to be that same thing, a poem that grabs you somehow. I still feel it in the Cummings poems I used to like, and still do to some extent. It is in Vallejo, like "A veces doyme contra todas las contras." Or Ceravolo: "like cellophane tape / on a schoolbook." Let's call it electricity. A poem without it is worthless.

There are two ways of disagreeing with me about this (at least two). You could disagree about what poems have lightning, and how much lightning they have. Or you could disagree with me that this is even a meaningful way of talking about the problem. The first form of disagreement is not troubling to me, because we expect individual differences of response. I am shocked when someone doesn't respond to Vallejo like this, and often doubt whether the person has any feeling for poetry at all. But after I calm down I just chalk it up to individual differences. The second kind of disagreement is more crucial, because then I don't understand the point of studying or reading poetry at all. The rest of poetry, aside from the electricity in it, is a dull and worthless thing.

Dream Diary

I am thinking my dream diary will form a book of prose poems. I dislike dream imagery in (other people's) poems, though. A dream can be dull, like my own "dull mafia" dream, but a much worse problem is the spurious narrative cohesion of a linguistically transparent and symbolically portentous dream. Is there anything more insufferable? Someone whose dreams come out as perfectly written absurdist fables? The interpretation of dreams is equally misguided: a search for religious or psychoanalytic symbols, a disregard for the real importance of the dream, its textures. Most writers will use the same wispy, "dream-like" texture for all their dreams, or recount them deadpan. The idea that someone would associate me with that vile genre of literature is intolerable to me.

One uses the fragments of memory one has, the few phrases that one remembers, with no illusion that they are true to the dream itself. The dream should not be too well written, too well remembered.

Ozma of Oz / Jailhouse Talk

In the first dream, I was on the phone with my publishers. They said that the owners of the copyright for The Wizard of Oz wanted a fifty-eight hundred dollar fee for my referring to the movie or somehow using it in my book. I said that I would simply return the copy of the movie I had and not use it at all but apparently it was too late. I took the movie out and began to watch it and it turned out to be a black-and-white film from the 1930s called Ozma of Oz instead. I assumed that they had the rights to that too so this did not resolve our problem. (There really is a Baum book called Ozma of Oz, but I doubt there's a movie version from that period.)

***

A little later in the night, we were going to a talk in the jail. I was walking very fast and got ahead of the group, arriving there 15 minutes early. (There was a woman also walking fast but I accelerated and left her behind.) I walked into the jail, which was unlocked and deserted. I peed in the bathroom, wondering for a moment about my safety. I went down the corridor and saw nothing; the jail resembled a locker-room, or more accurately the showers of a locker room. {After I woke up I realized there were no cells.) It occurred to me that this is not the right place, since the women would not be able to attend a talk in a men's jail, so I walked out the corridor, passing a slightly-built inmate smoking a cigarette. We made no eye contact. When I emerged there was a staircase to go to the main floor. There was a sign at the bottom that said "guns, library, school." I climbed the stairs and saw the heavily locked gun room on my right, with shotguns or rifles. To the left a little ways down was the auditorium where the talk would take place. The seats sloped downward from the stage, in reverse of the usual arrangement. I was exactly on time, but I thought I had been really stupid to think the talk would take place in the jail part of the jail.

***

Emotionally, the two dreams are about feeling stupid and out-of-it. Maybe that's not it exactly: in dreams there is often a "Kafkaesque" element of accepting things as correct or legitimate that are actually not. What is strange is not the strangeness itself, in other words, but our acquiescence to it. My mind was hard at work all night sorting through legitimate and illegitimate conditions.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Hazo / Adonis

I checked out three translations by Samuel Hazo of the Syrian poet Adonis, without looking very closely at them. I was reading them just now and I noticed something odd.

The first is from 1971.

The second, from 1983, by a different publisher, is almost identical. It includes only 2 or three additional poems. At least it makes transparent its relation to the first volume, but ...

A third, from a third publisher, from 1994, makes no mention of the first two, and includes the same exact poems, in the same translations--with about 10 additional poems.

So I could have just checked out the '94 volume. (Maybe I missed a 2007 one with the same poems and a few slight additions!) It seems a bit questionable to publish a new book that is really just a slight revision of a previous one. If he had kept at least the same title it would be clear that it is essentially an expansion of an earlier book. I am calling him out for resumé padding--or something. I wonder if the publishers noticed or cared?

Adonis sur Lorca

Il y'a des poètes qui conservent, même traduits, leur force mais ils sont rares. On peut citer le poète espagnol Lorca. Même traduit, on sent toujours qu'on est face à un grand poète. Mais c'est rare de trouver parmi les poètes espagnols traduits une présence aussi forte que celle de Lorca.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Arab Lorca

There is a lot of Arab Lorca, meaning modern Arabic poets who pay explicit homage to Lorca. This is not obscure or unknown, but can be discovered in a few minutes by googling. Lorca is the major poet of Andalusia, and El-Andalus is a major place / era in Arabic culture. Also, there's the Andalusian / Palestine parallel: two places Arabs were kicked out of. Any left-wing Arab poet in the 50s and 60s was going to be hugely into Lorca.

I cannot really cover this in my book. I don't know the language, and it would take at least another chapter which I could not write. I'd like to at least gesture toward, along with Latin American Lorcas.

Lorca in Persian

Derrida Schiff

In my dream last night a woman was recorded on tape saying the phrase "Derrida Schiff," but indistinctly, not loudly enough. I was involved in tracking down this error, somehow. I was angry either at her or at a male individual who was citing her. At stake was the transmission or citation of this message, or its original conceptual erroneousness.

Later, we were involved in a shared car service and were supposed to pick up someone, possibly my friend Bob Basil, on a street corner to go to a bar. I was driving my own car, but in exact parallel to another car driven by a woman, maybe not the same one earlier misrepresenting Derrida.

The emotional tonality here is indignation and frustration, the correction of error. Schiff, as far as I know, is a German surname with no other meaning for me. As I woke up I made sure to make a mental note of the spelling, as though that were important.

I must resist the temptation to make my account of the dream more coherent than the dream itself.

The Prosodic Brain

I was reading that a violinist's left hand is not as special as the part of the brain that feels what the hand feels. That can grow to much more than the corresponding part of the brain of someone who doesn't use those fingers for any particularly specialized task. In blind people, the part of the brain that the sighted use to process visual signals is repurposed for other activities: it doesn't just sit there unused.

***

There is a prosodic brain. For example, I can hear a hendecasyllable as such, before I even speak it aloud. The analysis happens immediately. I am not counting syllables but adjusting the line to a set of paradigms.

***

I guy at the Córdoba conference, an American living in Spain for many years, presented on Prufrock. When he read aloud he made sure to over-emphasize the metrical pattern as much as he could.

***

The 11-syllable line in Spanish combines fluently with the 7. One common patter for the 11 is

7 + 4

That means that you can take any seven syllable line, and turn it into an 11 by adding four. Conversely, the first seven-syllable phrase of an 11 is indistinguishable from a 7. This is because the 7 has its accent on 6, and the 11 (in one of its major variants) has its major accents on 6 and 10.

A 7-syllable phrase will often fall into the patter of

3 + 4

de hierbas / agostadas
anude / la corbata
los muros / de verano

or

4 + 3

de su sueño / de siglos
done el árbol / arraiga
los muchachos / sestean


So the 11 will often take the pattern

3 + 4 + 4

or

4 + 3 + 4

If we throw the major accent from 6 back to 4, then we get lines in the pattern

5 + 6

Follow that with 7, as in a silva and you find

5 + 6 + 7, where the 7 can be 3 + 4 or 4 + 3.

People think of metrics as a set of rigid constraints. Thoughtless people. I think of a process of a kind of conquest of fluidity. The fluidity of English blank-verse is a marvelous thing, and the equivalent in Spanish, as Carlos Piera has pointed out to me, is the baroque silva. Free verse in Spanish is essentially a rhymeless silva with some verses of nine thrown in from time to time.

The paradox, of course, is that the perfect model of fluidity is prose itself. Verse moves toward a prose idea as is gets looser and more fluid. Juan Ramón Jiménez wrote out all his marvelous free verse as prose poetry in his later life.

Someone once said that you couldn't tell Milton from prose unless you saw it on the page. That is at once profoundly dumb and very astute, because it all comes down to perception. If we are reading verse on the page we know to tap into the prosodic brain. If we are reading prose we tend not to. Perhaps wrongly, but there it is.





Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Dull Mafia

I dream a lot, and sleep badly in the early hours of the morning, waking up frequently mid-dream. My dreams can be emotionally intense but are not very vivid: last night's had to do with living in dull town and forming part of a dull mafia of a sorts. We were a criminal organization but relatively unexciting, that's all I can say. Our souvlaki was insipid; that's another detail I can remember. We ate souvlaki but it had no taste. The others with me in the dream had no real identity, but I formed part of that community, that mob.

The feeling of the dream is in those phrases: dull mafia / tasteless souvlaki. I cannot say anything occurred in the dream.

Passion

One of the main components of an "emotional style" that one might have is how long a positive feeling persists. If you give a talk that goes well, for example, how long does that "afterglow" last? For me, it is quite long. Even minor positive things can keep me in a good mood for a long time. At one extreme would be people who have good things happen to them and do not register them as positive at all, who immediately discount them, looking for the negatives.

Anyway, what a lot of people mentioned to me after my talk in Córdoba (which I am still in an afterglow about), is that what came through is my passion for Lorca. This was a surprising result, because it was not my conscious intention at all. I thought that what would come through was my iconoclasm. Nevertheless, I have to accept what the audience said. This was a conference of about 40 people, and I think about 90% of them congratulated me individually on the talk.

A little passion goes a long way, in a medium in which passion is not the most expected element.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Conclusions

I would advise against the kind of conclusion that is virtually useless to the reader of your book, a summary of the chapters, a mere repetition of an earlier summary of the chapters in a prologue, preface, or introduction. Instead, the conclusion must draw out implications that are not fully spelled out anywhere else.

It is better to have no conclusion at all than one that is a mere placeholder.

As I Was Writing...

As I was writing just now I heard a voice in my head, the voice of a book reviewer who was saying "Mayhew tries to do several, incompatible things in this book, but manages to do none of these things very well. Parts of the book contain some insight, but the project is self-indulgent." I'm sure I will get reviews like this, as I did with AL as well. Even when reviewers are wrong, they are right, to the extent that they are giving their honest viewpoint. I try to imagine myself writing a book that would be airtight, with no possible negative reaction, and I am not at all excited by the prospect. I'd rather be doing what I am doing. Of course, I can anticipate some objections and try to forestall them, but not infinitely.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Maillard

Chantal Maillard has something that I might use as an epigraph.*
Siempre me ha llamado la atención la facilidad con la que reducimos una persona a unos pocos datos. Una persona es una multitud de fragmentos, su vida no es una historia sino un mapa o, mejor, una retícula o rizoma que ofrece itinerarios diversos, cada uno de los cuales daría pie, si lo siguiésemos, a construir una una historia distinta de las otras.
[I've always been struck by the ease with which we reduce a person to a few data points. A person is a proliferation of fragments, her life is not a story but a map or, rather, a reticle or rhizome offering multiple paths, each one of which, if we followed it, would create a story distinct from the others.]

*I used to love epigraphs, but am using them less and less. More than one or three in a book would be excessive.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Faculty Friday / piedra de afilar

My chair started a thing where we share our research over lunch on Fridays. It is wonderful, another "whetstone." Just explaining my project for five minutes to my colleagues made things come into sharper focus.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What's your anti-whetstone?

It could be alcohol. For me, that is a way of shutting my mind down from time to time. Otherwise, the weight of intelligence could be overwhelming.

It could be the ease of not having to struggle very much to have your ideas accepted. You don't have to be sharp because you are in a mediocre environment.

Maybe it's a social thing: you can't be as sharp as you want because that would make it socially uncomfortable for you. It's easier not to be the asshole and just go along with the flow.

The anti-whetstone is what dulls your mind, over the long term.

Whetstone

In my everyday life there is nobody I can talk to who knows more (or even close) about Lorca, contemporary Spanish poetry, or anything else I am supposed to know about, to be a big expert on. When I am in Spain, though, I get to talk to people like José Antonio Llera, Andrés Soria, Carlos Piera, Julián Jiménez Heffernan, Margarita García Candeira, José Manuel Cuesta Abad, Ada Salas, and Jordi Doce. I get to do this in Spanish, too. Of course, I can talk Spanish with my colleagues and students too, but it is not quite the same.

I also got to talk a bit with Attridge and others, too, in Córdoba.

So Spain is my whetstone. Maybe one of my whetstones, because the blog is too; other conferences I might go to. My Thursday tertulia can act like that as well, though the conversation tends to be more social than intellectual there.

Without this one has "one thought less, each year," so to speak. The scholarly base is still there, always, but the sharpening of the mind is something else.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Córdoba

My Córdoba paper went well. The conference was on modernism, mostly in the English-speaking world, with scholars from Spain and other European countries. (Derek Attridge gave the other keynote, on Kafka and Coetzee. He is a very nice man.)

Anyway, I spoke in English and engaged the audience (something not very expected apparently) with my take on Lorca. I spent some time and Granada, and spoke with Andrés Soria, one of the main Spanish critics of Lorca, but really it seems that the place to study Lorca is the US. As always, Spain is energizing for me. I get to remind myself about the continuing existence of the actual country whose literature I study. Apparently the traditional parties are in crisis, with a new political formation "podemos" overtaking them in the polls.

It is warm here; it has been 80 degrees wherever I've gone, even here in Madrid on the 2 of November.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Bill Evans

Here are some words from Bill Evans. He advises you do something simplistic and precise rather than something vague and over-complicated that you don't understand.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Bad Critic

We all know what the bad student does. He takes literally what he should read metaphorically; he is "plodding" and unimaginative. She answers too quickly in class, with the "easy" version of the answer, as though you had asked a stupid question with a super obvious answer. When asked not to be so literal minded, however, the student will come up with super-convoluted, overly metaphorical answers with no basis in the text. The bad student is literal when he should be metaphorical and metaphorical when she should be literal.

A bad critic will do the same. If there are four doves in a Lorca poem, those represent the four gospels. Why? We have no idea. These far-fetched readings go along with a very limited and literal minded approach, rooted always in biography and authorial intentionality. The bad critic needs to reverse his approach, but how to do this? Isn't knowing when to look accurately at the basic facts in front on you, and when to interpret a bit more, the very basis of being an intelligent critic? We can't just tell her to "be intelligent about it." (Obviously that's not the only definition of intelligence, but it is one of them. You can seem "brilliant" precisely by going for a lot of far-fetched stuff, if you know how to play the game.)

There ought to be a way of formulating this as a hermeneutic rule.