Featured Post


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

Friday, July 31, 2015

Grilled whole chicken

I bought a small, politically correct chicken (organic, treated kindly until mercilessly slaughtered, etc...) brought it home and butterflied it by cutting out the backbone and spreading it out. I brined it for half an hour in some brine made with water, salt, and brown sugar, then grilled it on my gas grill on medium along side some small potatoes, basting some politically correct barbecue sauce on it. It took about half an hour. Arugula salad with parmesan and olives on the side. It splits easily in to halves once you split the breast into two. Then you can separate legs from breasts on one side and wings from breast on the other. I ate a wing, drumstick, and thigh from one half of the chicken and have enough left for 3 more meals.

If you butterfly the chicken it cooks more evenly because it is flat. I did the skin side last.

My theory of eating (not really a theory, but a practice) is: protein sources are meat or fish, but non-processed. I can eat as much as I want but that usually is 4-6 ounces, not 8. No bread unless I am eating a hamburger. Salad dressing is oil and various vinegars, with maybe some mustard. Cheese is always good. Starch is potatoes, mostly, with some beer. Some smoothies with fresh fruit and yogurt. No added sugars, excepts a tiny bit in sauces and marinades. Abundant seasonings, herbs and spices as the spirit moves me. V8 juice.

97. can't and won't

These are short stories by Lydia Davis (FSG 2014) that I checked out from the public library. She is a master of the "short form" and I found a few stories over five pages long to be a bit tedious. Although I like her work in general, I found the overall effect of this collection to be tedious in its repetition of the same tricks over and over again, in different sizes. The archness of the tone that rarely varied.

98. Urban Tumbleweed

I went to see Harryette Mullen read, after we met at the restaurant to mourn the death of our friend Ken Irby. She read from this book (gray wolf, 2013) with the subtitle Notes from a Tanka Diary. I bought it and had her sign it. It is extraordinary poetry and I finished it just now. It's a variety of observational, witty tanka written on walks, about the human encounter with nature, sometimes surprising and illuminating. It makes me want to read Richard Wright's haiku (she uses one as an epigraph).

She uses three lines and 31 syllables, and it doesn't seem imitative of Japanese poetry in a facile way.

I knew Mullen's Sleeping with the Dictionary and had long admired it. This is the same poet, with some verbal wit, but in a different mode. She's not repeating herself.

I've lucked out so far in this reading project.

99. nothing fictional but the accuracy or arrangement / (she

This book of poetry is by Sawako Nakayasu (Quale Press, 2006). All the sentences begin with the implicit pronoun "she" from the title.
can never find the right match - lights her cigarette on the hot
water heater, the gas stove, the broiler, a stick in someone's
mouth - lights everything that way
This book, too is extraordinary. The title implies that nothing in the book is fictional, that it all happened, but that it not accurate or arranged in any kind of logical order corresponding to real chronology. I read this book in one sitting. I've had the book a while, and I know I read it when I first got it and liked it.

100. For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut

So I felt that I was not reading with any pleasure any more. Poetry felt dull to me. So I am beginning a countdown of 100 books. The very first book I chose to read reawakened me to the pleasure of reading. It is For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut by Takashi Hiraide, translated by Sawako Nakayasu (New Directions, 2008). It puts American style cornball surrealism to shame:
Getting off the train, there was only one exit to the north. I passed a quiet old
commercial strip along the tracks, what seemed like a row of repeating liquor stores,
grocery stores, and rice shops - in other words I took a long detour south around the
station house. With someone leading the way, I was finally able to stand before the
tree of my dreams.
This is extraordinary in numerous ways, in its understatedness, for one thing. It seems to be a surrealist parable, but could actually be the description of a mundane event as well.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Running (2)

A friend died today. More about him later when I have time to collect my thoughts.

I went to the gym to run. I did a 10k around the track in 1:15. It seemed the best therapy.

I did a 10k easily in 1:30 last week, walking the whole way, so I figured I could beat that by running a bit and walking at about 4mph the rest of the time. To beat my time of 1:15 I must simply run more and walk less.

I was hot, my legs felt heavy at the end, but I was not bored or strained in heart or lungs in the least. My motivation flagged about half way through, but I recovered from that and finished the last 2 miles and a quarter running. Since I know I can run 3.12 miles (a 5k) then I can string together at least that much. My medium-term goal should be a 30 minute 5k and an hour and 5 minute 10k.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Poem on Re-Reading The Fighting Spirit of the Walnut

I circle the numbers of the poems that hold my attention. I want to go back to them later. The first circle is faint. The ballpoint pen is dry.

The second circle is darker. The friction of drawing the first, faint circle has awakened the pen. The third circle is faint again. I have waited too long. The fourth will be darker again, or lighter, depending on the time elapsed and amount of heat and friction awakening the ballpoint.

This poem is one in a series of poems about applying liquids or semi-liquid substances to surfaces. Imagine a poem about basting an uncooked piece of meat with a barbecue brush. Another about... well, use your imagination for that.

The book of poetry I was reading was astonishing, yet what seemed to interest me was the response of the pen. A triviality. This is not quite accurate, since this poem imitates (badly) the tone of what I was reading. What was interesting was that this extraordinary poetry allowed me to perceive the triviality of the pen's response (or failed response) as an occasion for my own writing.


Archambeau writes here.

I love his statement that he calls it a dojo because it a semi-serious name that shows he doesn't take himself too seriously.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

How to think about sexism in science

This article pretty much nails it. It goes exhaustively through the potential obstacles to women in science and weighs each one judiciously. It could be wrong on some of its points, but surely the answer would be to debate specific points and offer careful correctives to anywhere these scholars have gone wrong. If you really care about this issue, then you should want to separate out issues that are not as significant so that you can concentrate on the more significant issues.

It was interesting to me to find out that women go into the life sciences more (I knew that), but the women you go into the math-heavy fields (math, physics, etc...), while fewer in number, do better (I didn't know that). That's the kind of fine-grained knowledge you have to have.

Contrast this approach with the twitter-storm reaction to a Nobel-prize scientist who made a supposedly sexist joke. What do think is the most productive way to promote women in STEM? Find a scape-goat to bear the burden, or carefully sift through the problems to figure out what the explanations are for under-representation of women in STEM?

Suppose you thought all obstacles were equal. Women suffer stereotype threat, are paid less, discriminated against in hiring and grants, not cited as much, etc... Wouldn't it be helpful to know that some of these obstacles are not that relevant, so that you could concentrate on those that are?

Saturday, July 25, 2015


Anyway, there are about five things that can bother you running.

Your feet or legs can hurt.

You can be tired, out of breath.

... hot, thirsty or dehydrated.

... bored.

... unmotivated.

I just was in the gym and I did a five k around the track. It is going to be 95 today so I didn't want to run outside. I wasn't particularly winded, or bored, since I had music. I was hot, but not excessively so. My legs hurt at first but I stopped noticing that after a few times around. I was motivated enough to complete the run, setting a personal record of 30:57. The trick was to run as slowly as I could the first part, run comfortably the second mile, and then have enough energy left to speed up for the end. Basically, I wanted to average 11 minute miles, but I ended up running a steady pace of about 6mph most of the time, giving me 10 minute miles. I think I could easily improve my time to 30 minutes, and from there a few minutes less. I was only aiming for 35 minutes today and I far surpassed that. I think the trick is going to be running outside (once it is cooler).

I think this is really a metaphor for how I approach virtually everything in life. Analytically, obsessively. The list of five things that can bother you running allows me to see what my main obstacles are. For another goal or activity, it will be something different. I've discovered, for example, that my limit in the five k has nothing to do with aerobic endurance, for now. I could have run faster if I were not as hot. It has a little to do with my legs. It is not a limit in speed, per se, since I ran quite slowly. So what I have to do is come closer to my limit in endurance, running a 5k in which I am actually winded at the end. I also need to run a mile faster. My record is 9:20, which should be easy to beat since I just ran slightly over 3 miles in 31 minutes.

Here's how I think of it: I can walk 5k in 45 minutes, at a brisk pace. The world's record is 12 something. Best amateur times in my town are around 17 or 18. My 20-year old daughter can do it in 24, without being a serious runner at all. I suspect I'll end up at about that, and I will be quite happy. I have no interest in 10k or longer at the moment, though you never know.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Educated Rita

Here's the typical article that thinks "professionalism" and "creativity" are the opposite of each other. In my view, creativity emerges through discipline, in both senses of the word. I had a student once who thought he was creative but pronounced the word "gozo" with a voiced sibilant. He was a graduate student. Being creative in scholarship means doing it better, not more lazily as many people seem to think.

Sexism in Science Hiring

Here is an interesting story that has gotten a lot of reaction.

First of all, the study does not show that "sexism in science doesn't exist." It is a bit more subtle and finely calibrated than this.

It studies a single point in the process: hiring. Actual hiring audits reveal that "women apply less often for academic jobs but when they do, they are more likely to be hired. For example, during 2002-2004, 20% of applicants in mathematics were women, but 32% of those offered the job were women." In other words, the sexism that does exist in science does not take the specific form of hiring discrimination.

In their study, Ceci and Williams did an experiment that found that scientists actually had a bias in favor of women candidates.

I have seen several objections to the story, but Ceci and Williams have answers to all of them.

Objection 1: The respondents to the study surmised that they were being tested for sexism and over-corrected.

Answer: They asked respondents to guess what the purpose of the experiment was, and nobody could.

Objection 2: The study overlooks discrimination at other career stages.

Answer: Yes, but it was targeting a specific stage in one's career, being hired.

Objection 3: But, sexism!

Answer: Yes, women are underrepresented in STEM fields. This underrepresentation, however, is not the result of explicit discrimination in hiring.

Objection 4: The women who survive graduate school are superstars, having survived a hostile sexist environment. There is still discrimination against mediocre women.

Answer: Maybe so, but if the women coming up are really superior, wouldn't that create an expectation that women are going to be better, on average? [This is my answer, not that of Ceci and Williams). That could explain the bias against men. On a search committee, I would look to the 20% of my applicants who are female rather than the 80% that are males, because it is more likely that I will find truly excellent candidates there. I don't understand the "discrimination against the mediocre" argument. Presumably a university wants to hire a power-house.

The main reason women are underrepresented is math, according to a study don at my own university. The more emphasis on math, the more attractive it is to boys who have great math skills and are weaker in verbal ability.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Riding / Piera

Carlos Piera suggests that that word "yo" in lyric poetry has little to do with the function of the word "yo" [I] in its "usos familiares." His example is a poem by Laura Riding:

First I was a woman, and I feigned.
Then I was yourselves, and I fooled.
Then I was a spirit, and I subtilized.

Now I am not, utterly am not.

Monday, July 20, 2015

I wrote this comment once...

Logically, I should be the least productive scholar because, while somewhat intelligent I am told, I am lazy and inefficient. So I am productive scholar in spite of my laziness and inefficiency. When those qualities have gotten in my way, I have found a way around them, so that now I am reasonably efficient, though still damned lazy. I also tend toward depression, but I can write my way out of it. Sometimes I think I could have written much more if I weren't so lazy and inefficient and depressive. Maybe so, but I think that I would have, if I had wanted to badly enough.

Después de la muerte del autor

I propose that we read Lorca after the "death of the author," in the wake of the "postmodern crisis of the subject." You can take this either as a thought-experiment or as a proposal that we seriously read Lorca like this, from now on. It's almost better to see this as a thought-experiment, first. Only if it works then we can start seeing him like this seriously, not as a clever boutâde.

Objection 1: This reading is anachronistic, since this is a postmodern reading of a modernist author. Here I have to call in the heavy guns, all the modernists who call into question the unitary subject, like Borges and Pessoa. This will be very fun and amusing. I will show how all (most) modernist criticism is wrong.

Objection 2: Lorca criticism is heavily based on biographical constructions. So what? When it is biographical it is either trivial, or not based on good biography. Luckily for me another critic more than twenty years ago destroyed Gibson for all of us (Luis Fernández Cifuentes).

Advantages: the best criticism takes something somewhat obvious and runs with it. What should be obvious but is not until you point it out. It isn't based on cleverness, or stretching out in a pseudo-creative way. Creativity is seeing what's there in front of you, not in abstruse over-complication. My proposal works in this way. Why not treat Lorca as modernist poet, tout court? (This book needs to be in French!) Stated like this, the objections fade away.

The proof will be in the success of the ideas, their productivity in explaining Lorca.

(One danger is in eclipsing the book I have just finished writing. No matter. I think that book makes its own contribution.)

I have a whole list of writers who are my points of comparison. Carlos Piera wrote of the problematics of the subject and used a poem by Laura Riding. Another trick of the trade is to use other, smarter people to make your points for you. The idea that the lyric subject is never simple, even when it is found in its simplest form, as in anonymous poetry, is one I owe to Piera, who also points out that the postmodern death of the subject is already present in modernism. (Curiously, I misplaced this book for a few months and finally found it right on my shelf where it should have been all along. I couldn't even remember why I needed this book so badly.) My list, in any case, goes from Whitman and Borges to Celan & Beckett.

Eliotic ideas about impersonality & the dramatic in lyric poetry will be key. It is interesting how Lorca is never permitted to be the author of dramatic monologues, even though he is one of the century's greatest dramatists. We always assume Lorca is talking about himself, but what if he isn't, even when he seems to be.

We can locate this new way of thinking about subjectivity quite precisely, say, in Beckett writing about Proust. There doesn't need to be any vagueness here. Anyone who thinks postmodernism (poststructuralism) leads to a fuzzier way of thinking will have to contend with me. Isn't it precisely the opposite, to see things in their proper degree of complexity, no more, no less? Even the idea of the indeterminacy of meaning is simply the precise upshot of a factual situation: we don't, in fact, agree about what texts mean. There doesn't seem to be any way out of this situation other than admitting that we don't agree. The texts about which we don't agree are significant ones (in both sense of the word). They are culturally central, canonical, and they signify. Of course, we could not study the humanities at all, or we could study the humanities in a way that does justice to the complexity of the hermeneutical complications that arise.


There is a vulgar culture of "gotcha" politics afoot. The idea is to score points against someone for being racist or sexist, or of contravening some other taboo or not toeing the line. Somebody says something outrageous and we react to that, or are supposed to. Even when I, too, am among the outraged I think this is not the most productive politics. It usually follows the logic of scape-goating, in which one individual (usually not even the worst offender) stands in for a much larger problem.


But back to thinking about Lorca. Shouldn't our goal be to think? That is, the quality of our thought should be the measure. Once again, the problem is a very simple one of being up to the task, of performing the basics of literary criticism in a competent way. It sounds like it should be easy but it ends up not being so easy, for most people.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Revelatory argument

I had a revelatory argument with someone about grammar. The person had been taught by parents (high school teacher I think) that it is incorrect to say "bigger than me." You have to say "bigger than I." That is "correct" grammar.

The person is in a job teaching writing to students. Of course I was right, but it came down to an issue of respect: I was not respecting the person's expertise as professor of X, and the fact that my terminal degree was higher than theirs made me into the disrespecter. Of course, I was correct in terms of the grammar, but I turned out to be in the wrong socially, since I insisted too much, and in terms too absolute, that I knew what I was talking about. I had to apologize.

Every uneducated person says "bigger than me." Every linguist, along with everyone who has actually investigated it, also knows that this is correct. It is in that middle zone where people want to think they have an advantage over the uneducated where you have to say "bigger than I."

Friday, July 10, 2015

Here's a note I wrote for Facebook

La poesía escrita por mujeres

Tengo mis preferencias de lectura, como todo el mundo. Entre mis poetas preferidos están varias poetas, como Olvido García Valdés, Lola Velasco, Amalia Iglesias, Isla Correyero, Coral Bracho, Julia Otxoa, Concha García, entre otras. Solo hablo aquí de poesía en castellano, ya que tengo mis preferencias también con respecto a la poesía escrita en las otras lenguas que manejo.

Si me gusta la obra de una o poeta o de un poeta, no es por su género, ni es a pesar de su género. Para mis gustos personales, hay más poetas que "poetos" interesantes entre las últimas generaciones. No me supone ningún mérito especial decir esto. Lo que digo es simplemente una verdad, pero una verdad sobre mis propios gustos. Puedo decir, por ejemplo, que hay poetas de todas las géneras que no me interesan, y que puede ser por una falta de comprensión mía. Hay poetas que no entiendo, pero que me interesan mucho también.

Si hay un poeta bueno que no me interesa ni me gusta, será por mi falta de receptividad. Lo que sí puedo decir es que intento ampliar las zonas de mi receptividad siempre que pueda. No me produce orgullo el asco que siento al leer la poesía de Billy Collins. Puede ser un fenómeno neurológico, como sucede con la gente que no soporta el sabor del cilantro. En fin...

Lo que no entra en mis perspectivas es la discriminación. Si padezco de discriminaciones inconscientes, intento sacarlas a la luz para rebatirlas. Siempre he pensado que las discusiones que mantengo conmigo mismo son más valederas que las conversaciones fáciles con los que ya están de acuerdo conmigo.