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

Thursday, June 30, 2016


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

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

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

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These outdated practices tend to rely on several myths: The colonizer is the “root” of the cultural system (a hierarchy that continues after political independence); the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

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

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Peninsular studies in the US

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


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


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

I think the article is anti-intellectual and inaccurate.

Developing ideas

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

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Stitching a Bridge

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

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Why I am not a Latin Americanist

I loved Neruda and Lorca equally. Since I studied in Spain as an undergraduate, I knew that tradition a little better, but I went to grad school not having any strong preference. The Latin Americanists at the University I had chosen thought that peninsular should not be done at all, and that the prime directive for a Spanish department was to promote the Sandinistas.

When a Golden Age search came up, they organized the Marxist cabal of graduate students to prefer a candidate who had been a prominent Golden Age guy, but had switched to Latin America. They ended up hiring a superb Cervantista from Princeton, and then made his life miserable until he went back to Princeton (of course).

The senior Latin Americanists were a Chilean writer who could not be bothered to show up for his own classes, having flunkies substitute for him, and a British woman who could not speak Spanish, and had to switch to English after a few embarrassing slips the first day. She gave me my paper back with "nice job, A-." For a 10 week course we only read three novels. She left shortly after that for an ivy league. I didn't respect many of my fellow graduate students in the program. There was a brilliant Peruvian guy who had studied at Berkeley and knew philosophy, later ended up at Harvard for a while and UCLA. The other best students did peninsular.

So when I needed a dissertation topic, I reverted back to what I knew best, writing about a poet that I had studied with in Spain. I could have been a Latin Americanist, but not in that environment. I was more comfortable being the persecuted minority, doing a field that seemed inherently conservative, than trying to fit in with people I didn't respect.

Friday, June 24, 2016


Ok this article from the CHE is not going to be to my liking. I've supported my colleagues who study Spanish American literature, but this guy is not making much sense on the basis of facts.

Maybe my defensiveness is coming into play here, but I think if I were a Latin Americanist, I would have many more job opportunities. I don't think it's true, either, that Latin American authors are considered nobodies in Spanish departments, or that use of vosotros and leísmo is dominant. Very few undergraduate students have a ceceo or use vosotros, ever, even if they've studied the summer in Barcelona.

Mexico is the most populous Spanish speaking country, and yet some departments don't have a Mexicanist (we have two, and just lost one dean who was one, along with a junior colleague who's worked a lot on Mexico.) That's a fair point, but comparing Mexicanists to Peninsularists is not an apples to apples comparison, since most Latin Americanists do not study a single country, except in the case, precisely, of Mexico. People study Latin American literature generally, or are specialists in a period, a genre, or a region, less often a single nation state.


My music project is focussed. I know what I have to do: make up more songs and learn to play them, record them. I play every day and I come up with new songs once in a while. I will go back into the studio in July or August to record.

My visual art project is unfocussed and foundering. I make images every day, and post some to Facebook, but I don't have a coherent goal in mind. Let's assume the problem isn't talent, or lack of it, or even skill, because, if I'm not a talented visual person, I'm not a particularly talented musician either. That's largely irrelevant.

Maybe you can give me some advice on this. Is it the nature of the medium, the fact that the image is there to be looked at and judged whereas the song lives in time? How can this project become less amorphous?


Les résultats

Bob's translations from our workshop.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

No, you aren't a "visual person"

Well, you are, but not in the way you mean it. Everyone is visual, just about, in that almost everyone uses vision daily in various quite sophisticated ways. Saying you are a "visual person" is really not saying anything at all. People will say this who can only draw stick figures, simply because they are insecure about not having information in writing in front of them.


When I have a huge drawing pad with nice paper, I freeze up. Give me a napkin or the back of a torn envelope and I am in business.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


I am remiss about writing lyrics for songs and hence singing them. Today I wrote one that you could sing to

"You told me when you met me that your life was pretty tame / well, I took you to the nightclub and the the whole band knew your name." But that is already a lyric to a song so I have to think of something else.


Of course I do not know what I am doing. That is obvious, or where this might be headed.


Here are some notes I took once. Writing itself is a visual art.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


I found some images in an old sketch book. Some images are dated 2004, so this was twelve years ago when I was exploring drawing for the first time. It's probably ok that I dropped this pursuit. I think I didn't know how to make it work for me at that point. I wanted to learn to draw. Now, instead of doing this, I want simply to explore visual perception through drawings. If I happen to learn to draw slightly better through this process, all the better.

How good is it? / How good am I?

With a drawing or a song, I can ask, how good is it? Or I can ask, how good am I at doing this? These are usually the wrong questions, though they are different from each other. Am I a good songwriter? I don't really care, because nothing is of consequence in the answer. Is a song good? If I like it myself, that is enough for me. If you like it, even better. I could be a good songwriter and write a song that's not as good as another, etc... Tons of people hang up their art works in coffee shops around town. Some is fantastically good, some is not, but it shouldn't really matter to the artist what I think.

I do things seriously, whether I am an amateur at any particular thing. In fact, I have decided to pursue hobbies seriously rather than thinking of them as something I am bad or good at. Thinking you are bad at something is every bit as much of an ego move as thinking you are good. To invest serious effort simply means that you think of the activity itself as more significant than your ego investment in it.

Shame is a factor. For example, I have played piano in the student union for anyone walking by. I don't have to feel embarrassed any more, because I realized that nobody really cares how well I play, if they are listening at all in the first place.

It's the same with everything I do, except that I am a professional literary critic slash academic, so there I have criteria which are common to the field of inquiry itself. They are commonly held, and I have my own preferences on top of that, my own quirks.


If you confuse "how good am I" with "how good is it" you will be in trouble. Suppose you write a paper for school in two hours. The paper might not be good, yet, because it is not really done yet. You might be good at writing papers, but you haven't spent enough time with this one yet. If you spend endless time and still can't make the paper good, it means you aren't good at it... yet. You need to write many papers in order to learn how to do it. The ego is mostly a hindrance: you need basic confidence, but you need to be able to look at a piece of work outside of yourself and see what needs to be fixed.

Monday, June 20, 2016


What are your demons? One of mine is time itself. I have never understood it, never been able to judge or weigh it. Another is money, for me. Or sex. I have daily struggles with many things. They are not things that can simply be put aside. Is status a demon for you? Heat or cold? Attention?

Purposeless purposefulness

When creating any type of creative work (and scholarship is part of this) one must be purposeful yet at the same time act in semi-random, indirect, or lateral ways. You want to work for a finite period of time each day, and explore only a few concepts. I was interested today in what the veins of leaves are. In Spanish it is called "nerviación" or "nervadura." They are visually fascinating. I heard in my head the phrase "la nerviación de la hoja de laurel" from a poem by Claudio Rodríguez. We know there is a kind of seam down the middle of a leaf, and the nerves or veins branch out from there symmetrically, more or less, and then there are other little lines that branch out from the main veins. These are visually fascinating.

Leaf Man

Here is an image for a series I might call "superheroes." This is Leafman.

Sunday, June 19, 2016


My hobbies right now are


drinking & socializing

memorizing & reciting poetry

crossword puzzles

cooking & grilling

playing piano, composing songs, and playing drums

[my new visual thinking project]

running & working out

Some are more dormant hobbies, and some are active ones (ones I do every day except for travel days). Basically, if I am not eating, sleeping, doing errands or cleaning, or working, I should be doing one of these things.

Food Factory

I was working in some weird food factory; there was a giant machine for husking corn, and a wide-mouthed and seemingly bottomless well we were calling a "cistern well" where waste from the factory was going. I asked questions about this process and was rebuffed, made to feel stupid. At some point waves invaded the factory and we were almost under water, so we began to walk away from the ocean. I became a different character, a small boy, as the narrative shifted into another dream. I had left my job behind.


There was a chess game, but the board was the entire room and the positions seemed vague. I used my keys to take out my opponent's queen. There were questions about whether one could use one's turn to ship (toss) supplies to a remote position in the room, food for the troops, etc... There was actual food involved, like packets of peanuts or potato chips.

Eerie Lanscape

Visual II

Obviously I'm no artist, but I kind of like this one, the product of my first day of this project. Some crumpled up paper on a coffee table, or, on another scale, an abstract sculpture?

Flamenco progression

I took the so-called flamenco progression, and wrote a melody to it. That's another song. (Think of the chords to "Hit the Road Jack.")

Then I put in another chord between the first two chords of that progression, making it into a five chord progression and ending on i. That was another song that I finished today. Those chords are awesome.


So what if I spent an hour a day working on visual perception? How would the result compare to my songwriting abilities? The idea is not so much to learn to draw, or to create art works, but simply to add that to what I already do. The original idea was to create a cover image for a cd of my songs, but I bought this book in Evanston called The Artist's Eye, by Peter Jenny, which inspired me.

Friday, June 17, 2016

A girl walked by

and said "great job playing the piano; thank you." That made it all worth while, and would have even if it had been a guy or anyone else. My piano playing in the student union or at the hardware store has a gotten a few comments and appreciate nods, along with some uncomprehending stares, amid the general indifference. That's how it should be. Sometimes people I know walk by and don't even realize who it is playing. It is background music.

Shift enter

My sequence of poems shifted into a sequence of microstories and aphorisms. I'll resume the sequence of poem when it wants me to resume it. Meanwhile the sequence of aphorisms wants me to work on it for a while.


The best place to write aphorisms is in the blank pages at the end of a book of aphorisms.

A fear of a parking ticket, even when I have walked down town.

I have been a specialist in the 1950s for much longer than there was a "1950s."

Buy expensive paper, but only write on torn envelopes.

Aphorisms linked thematically no longer work: they become notes toward a dull treatise on something.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Unheard melodies

Today I practiced my keyboard without the sound on. I could still hear what I was playing, more or less. I didn't verify if the pitches in my head were accurate.

Aforismos / Unheard Melodies

Dios aborrece las apuestas, sobre todo las apuestas sobre su propia existencia.

En Cuba mi condición de turista me impedía escribir. Toda observación posible iba a ser la de un turista. Entonces, ¿para qué? Sabía, además, que esto no podía ser de otra manera, aun antes del viaje.

Leo la secuencia "hubiéramos podido sospechar" y tengo que sospechar de estos tres verbos, por gramaticalmente intachables que sean.

El apellido más sabio es "Barbudo." No obstante los que llevan este apellido no lo son. O pueden serlo, pero no por el apellido.

La revisión de un aforismo requiere tiempo.

La invención de una música sin palabras nos condujo, después de varios siglos, a una música sin sintaxis, sin prosodia, sin árboles morfológicos.

Cualquier oración de Kafka, sacada al azar de su obra, es un aforismo.


How difficult to gather all one's belongings from hotel room or train!

The aphorism project can never amount to much. It simply accumulates more and more bulk. As it grows larger, it is increasingly repetitive and pleonastic, never becoming coherent or achieving epic scale.

Imagine a group of people with a genetic quirk that made their excrement very valuable. (We don't have to work out what the value of their shit is, for the purposes of this allegory.) They are wealthy but constrained in their movements and socially ostracized. They live in a compound and are fed a restricted diet.

A concert at which every member of the audience is thinking: I could do it better. Even though nobody in the audience happens to be a musician. And the musicians playing are themselves excellent.

Imagine hopscotch chalkings on a sidewalk. (In a child's hand but meticulously done.) After a few days the squares are smudged and faded. It has rained but very little. Write a poem or story based on this image. This is my gift to you.

The phrase "unheard melodies" never actually appears in Keats's "Ode."

Sontag denounced the aphorism, but she needed an aphorism or two to do so.

My father once called someone a superb poet. It was that word that got me: the idea that someone could be superb at that, be described with that exact word and no other. I still feel the peculiar resonance of that adjective forty years later.

When someone corrects what you throw out as a casual hyperbole, misunderstanding your rhetorical flourish. But then this hyperbole turns out to be exact. So both of you are wrong.

What if self-mastery were a real thing? What would happen if we acted as though it were real?

The best place to write aphorisms is in the blank pages at the end of a book of aphorisms.

A fear of a parking ticket, even when I have walked down town.

I have been a specialist in the 1950s for much longer than there was a "1950s."

Buy expensive paper, but only write on torn envelopes.

Aphorisms linked thematically no longer work: they become notes toward a dull treatise on something.


The idea of self-consciousness, self-awareness, or self-control is intolerable. Who exactly is controlling whom? The very idea of the self introduces an intolerable self-division.


With a really good spy movie the spectators never find out who the spies were.


Poetry is a visual and a performing art, but everyone wants to concentrate on that narrow space in poetry that is neither.

Friday, June 10, 2016


My cousin Richard taught me an important lesson when we were teenagers. He is a year older and follows sports avidly. When I casually mentioned to him that I followed baseball, he asked me if I knew who was in first, second, third place, etc... in the American League East, National League West... There were 24 teams at the time, in four divisions. I did not really "follow baseball," it turned out, because all I knew was how a few teams at the top of the standings were doing, not the exact ranking of these twenty-four teams. He wasn't being mean, and wasn't even trying to teach me a crucial lesson, but I learned one from him.

So no, you aren't doing interdisciplinary work if you've read one or two anthropology or psychology articles.A teenage boy can follow baseball as well as anyone else with no special training, and can spot a dilettante instantly.

over compensation

For example, I would not think I know enough chords or keys, and compose songs in abstruse keys with lots of weird chords added in, and then I realized that most songs by excellent songwriters are only in a few basic keys. My simpler songs are no worse than my overly convoluted ones. When I wanted to be a poet when I was 12 I got this book called the poetry handbook by Babette Deutsch and learned everything in it. I was kind of shocked when I began college five years later and students in creative writing classes didn't know what a Villanelle was. When I was into Bolaño a few years ago I read every book he wrote. Before graduate school I thought I didn't know enough so I read every book I could find by a boom novelist. Then of course the boom fell out of favor with Latin Americanists and never really recovered. I once had a project that involved reading thousands of books of poetry. If I find a poet I like I check out all the books and read them instead of just being contented with the poems in the anthology that led me to her. I hate "Selected Poems." Give me the Complete Poems.

I never think I've read enough, so I over-compensate. I'm pretty much a "completista" in things that matter to me. I've explored many ways of making coffee and I've owned multiple types of hat. I binge watch series I don't even like that much.

I took the Greek Workshop and Berkeley right before attending grad school. My dad had the idea that I should go to Oxbridge and get an MA in Classics before getting a PhD. I loved classics, but not the way classics were taught by grammar translation. The thought a Latin teacher and teaching the ablative absolute was not what I envisioned for my self. I didn't go for his idea, but I did study 10 weeks of intensive Greek, enough to start to read Euripides and Plato. Since I was going to graduate student to be a Modernist I promptly forgot Greek.

If I was happy with my self I wouldn't have to do any of this, but my relationship to myself has always been bad. All my successes, too, arise from unhappiness.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The opposite of irony?

What do I mean by the opposite of irony? Well, irony is based on contradiction, right? I remember my daughter laughing as some bicycles suspended from a ceiling of a store. She was maybe 4, and she knew that bicycles did not belong in the air. Her favorite book in those days was Wacky Wednesday, an ode to humorous incongruity.

The absence of irony is the absence of contradictions or discrepancies. It is unnoticeable, because it is consistent and normal. So the real absence of irony is a consistency so consistent with itself that it calls attention to itself in spite of being expected. A white privileged male acts like an entitled privileged person. Aha! We expect that, of course, but this particular example of it is too perfect to escape notice. We wouldn't say, ironically, the storm chaser was killed by a tornado. That is not ironic at all, but rather all too fitting.

What Barthes called the doxa was the opposite of the paradox. It is what everyone expects to be the case. The paradox, much beloved here at SMT, is the opposite of that. We don't have as many labels for things that go with the grain.

A Funny Thing Happened Once

I agreed to review a promotion case several years ago. The candidate was known to me without being a close friend. I had only positive feelings personally. He had creative work, let's say short stories, some critical editions of a Peruvian dramatist, and a monograph on a theme in cultural studies, let's say comic strips.

I reviewed the case positively, but here is the problem: there was nothing that spoke to me in any of it. The short stories were insipid. The works of the dramatist were not interesting. The monograph had some good moments, but was not at all deep. The articles on various other topics were insubstantial. For my kind of mind, with all of its own limitations, there was little there there, despite the quantity of work.

But this is usually the case. Another example I can think of: a speaker came and gave a talk on something that should have been interesting to me, yet the approach ended up being dull, despite its proximity to my own interests.

The upshot: you don't need to be good to be successful. If your work is actually good, though, you will be successful simply because that is a rare thing that will be recognized.

The Monster Seminar

The seminar will be on both Latin American and Peninsular. It will take Pound's tripart categorization of poetry as the basis, then talk about self-consciousness (an extension of logopoeia?) and then talk about poetry that doesn't seem to "charge language with meaning" in any way at all (conversational modes). Finally, we will talk about the "short form." The class meets 14 times, so taking away the first and last classes, we really only have 12 meetings to get all this done. My last seminar was on Lorca, so there I took the opposite approach. I have twelve students, five from my last theory class and seven more.

Melopoeia I am associating with music and performance.

Phanopoeia I relate to the visual arts, ecphrasis and concrete poetry.

Logopoeia I associate with rhetoric and language itself.

I plan to plan the course over the course of 14 days in June, giving myself a day for each class period to decide what goes there and do some xeroxing. Of course, the first or three days are devoted to the total outline of the course.

The class meets for three hours (really more like 2.5) so we really have about 24 slots to fill, two for each day excluding the beginning and the end. We lose a class to Labor Day and another to Fall Break, so there are 14 instead of 15.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The opposite of irony?

What is the opposite of irony? For example, celebrity chefs on cooking reality shows fault contestants for not seasoning their food. In restaurants, food tends to be over-seasoned, too salty. This is not irony, but rather a kind of unexpected consistency. The cause of the too phenomena is the same: the belief that food tastes better when over salted. It is unexpected (hence at least semi ironical?) because it produces a kind of shock of recognition.

Monday, June 6, 2016


We used to think that the most desirable quality in a pre-modern work was its modernity. So a work that was modern for its time period, or ahead of its time, or one that spoke to our own current concerns, was inherently valuable. This, too, is a form a strip-mining. Nothing that is not "modern" from the past can speak to us, so we must pick and choose the tiny bit that is salvageable.

I was guilty of this kind of thinking myself. I picked it up naturally from my professors and others who thought in this way.


Human relations requires that we take a short course on IT security, but doesn't tell you where the course is located. I ask them where, and they give me a broken link. I find the link by myself, and find it gives me an error message. HR tells me I should not block cookies or pop-ups (thus weakening my security in the meantime!). I get further into the course and get more error messages, and they ask me what browser I am using, etc... Well, I shouldn't have to spend more than half an hour getting into this course that only takes half an hour to complete. I've already spent that much time. Everyone in the KU community must take this course, and if even a tenth of them have my problems it will be a nightmare for everyone.

2 modes of criticism

2 modes of criticism that used to bother the heck out of me when I was coming up in the field, mostly practiced by Spanish-language critics:

Planteamiento de la cuestión. In this mode the entire critical effort went into the definition of what the critical problem under examination would be. Lots of sentences with a lot of left-elements (syntactically speaking) before we could get to the point under consideration.

Altamente poético. The critic would write in a poetic mode that seemed to echo the poet's own discourse, but added little to it. Terms were vague. We would hear about primores líricos.

What was frustrating was that so much fell into these two categories. Neither offered any real insights.

Advantages of Studying Poetry

1. It is infinite & inexhaustible. Well, not really, but close enough. You couldn't in a lifetime read and understand enough poetry to exhaust what poetry is, or even a few traditions of poetry. You will never run out of things to do or to study. Aside from a few canonical authors, poetry is not well studied. Even the study of canonical authors is problematic and often superficial.

2. It is demanding. You have to step up to an intellectual & poetic level that is adequate for the material being studied. You will get smarter by doing this. If you are smart, you will be able to exercise your complete intelligence with this genre, including your musical and visual abilities, such as they are.

3. You can't practice content mining. You can't deal with poetry by "content mining" or hermeneutical strip mining, simply reading it for its overt treatment of race, class, gender, etc... You can still deal with these and whatever other issues you want, of course, but your approach will have to be sideways rather than direct.

4. Not everyone does it. Spires once asked me in an interview why I didn't study the novel. Well, everyone else does (or used to at that time, now it would be film.) Why should I do what everyone else is already doing more or less well?

The disadvantages are that you probably won't be able to do it very well. You might not rise to the challenge. In spite of poetry's inexhaustibility you will produce a reading of a canonical author that is not that different from that of other critics. You will content-mine in spite of everything.

Trump U

Trump's "University" followed a very common pattern in Real Estate Guru scams. You would take a free seminar that was really just an advertisement for a $1,500 seminar, which in turn was an advertisement for a premium program that cost ten times that amount, and was essentially worthless.


I was in the plane coming back and my traveling companion was reading a short story in the New Yorker that contained the word heteronormative. She asked me what it meant and could barely believe me that this word was of common usage in my academic circles, for more than twenty years at that. The story had a lot of very pretentious vocabulary.

Sunday, June 5, 2016


In Cancún we were offered about $150 to listen to a fractional ownership sales pitch for two hours. It was excruciating to me, of course. We were shown some luxurious hotel suites and we could buy a partial ownership in them. Of course, we would never actually use them, as the sales people admitted, but instead we could use our "equity" to stay in hotel rooms from big chains anywhere else in the world. So why did we need to be shown those suites in the first place? Why would I want to borrow money at 14% from a Mexican bank to pay thousands of dollars in advance for hotel rooms for the rest of my life that I may not ever use? Of course I pocketed the cash and did not buy in.

Unemployment rate of college graduates?

look here.


I was playing guitar, something I cannot do when not dreaming. It seemed very clear to me suddenly: a finger on a particular fret on each string would produce a note. You just had to know where those notes were and play one at a time. In my dream I seemed to already know where the notes were and was playing beautiful notes.

Saturday, June 4, 2016


In a casa particular in Cuba I picked up a German translation of a novel by French best-seller Guillaume Musso that had been left behind by another tourist. I don't know German, but I could follow the plot ok. It was absolutely the most execrable thing you could imagine. I didn't know who Musso was but now I do, unfortunately.

Friday, June 3, 2016


So I went to a certain nation to the South of us. All the clichés were in evidence. The 1950s Chevys, the Buena Vista Social Club, the decayed infrastructure & European tourists, the revolutionary murals. I had no contact with the literary or academic world. Instead, I was pure tourist. At every restaurant we were serenaded with Bésame mucho, Quizás, Quizás, Quizás, Guantanamera, and Compay Seguro's "Chan Chan." We hated that song about three days into the trip.

The bookstores only featured books about Fidel and Che. Museums chronicled the history of the Island until about 1964. The people and landscape were extraordinary, but it was tough living as a clearly privileged person just because I carried the tourist currency. It is rare for an American to speak Spanish there. People often thought I must have had C****n parents, since I spoke Spanish with a more or less C****n accent when I was there.

The tourist dollar is worth 24 times the national currency. A person on a salary might earn 50-$200 a month in the national currency, but a taxi driver could net that much in equivalent tourist money with a few trips a week.


I'm back from my summer vacation. I am continuing to refine my life-style. I need to make fundamental changes in many aspects in order to stop getting in my own way. I have eliminated a lot of idle web surfing and binge watching. I am going to follow more rigorous schedules and make the best of everything that is in my power.

Being in a third-world (technically a second world, I guess) country for a few weeks changed my perspective. I realized that my obstacles are largely self-created. I have enough money and time, I just need to manage them better.