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The abject badness of Lorca studies

"It is intended that this dissertation present the fact that Castelnuovo- Tedesco took seriously the poetry p...

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The abject badness of Lorca studies

"It is intended that this dissertation present the fact that Castelnuovo- Tedesco took seriously the poetry presented by García Lorca."  

Actions and Beliefs

Having your actions line up with your beliefs is one of the fundamentals of life. Since I was raised in a religion in which I could not believe, as hard as I tried to (at times), I felt a basic lack of this alignment, in that participation in the religion was forced. Yet I resisted. I told people openly that I did not believe in it, and I left it at 16 rather than accepting the next step of the "priesthood" that I was up for. I simply could not do it. A few years before, on a boy scout camping trip, we were all supposed to stand up and say how much we believed in it (a ritual called "bearing testimony") and I didn't. I was the last one after every other kid had done it, and I just sat there and didn't do it, until finally the leader gave up. It was hard because my cousin was on the trip too, and I didn't especially relish being the odd guy out. The kids who were not especially convinced yet talked about their testimony needing to be stronger, etc... I could have done that, I guess, but I was stubborn in that conviction that it was wrong to say you believed something that you didn't.

If you think believing in something that you don't is a matter of choice, then I recommend that you take something you don't believe and will yourself to believe it. Once you've succeeded in doing that, come back to me and we'll talk. Of course one method of doing this is to stand up and lie and get people's approval until it starts to feel good. Maybe eventually then you will actually be convinced.

I write about this as something that for me is a positive, but that you could turn around and see as negative. Stubborn, anti-social, too convinced of my own positions, etc... I go back to that 14-year old kid and I wouldn't tell him to do anything different. I still think that what I did was correct.  


You only work on poetry.

(How do you teach it, anyway?)

All you know how to do is write your books.

You don't do cultural studies.

You are narrow.

You are dogmatic.

You are too competitive.

You aren't interdisciplinary enough.  

The negative messages you get from others can affect even things that that are actually your strengths. So in my case, specializing in something that presumably nobody cares about, being overspecialized, wanting to be the best at what I do, taking strong positions, etc...

When, in fact, people do care about what I write and recognize my work as interdisciplinary and broadly "cultural." I suppose I should have done a book on historical memory or some other topic that everyone else seemed to be working on.

But actually, books by other people who are also excellent scholars don't follow predictable paths either.  None of us just writes the standard academic book over and over again.    


Before spring break I was looking with my class at this phrase "Y tú te me vas yendo." The translators, literally but without stylistic flair, have rendered this phrase as "And you are slowly leaving me." This line, as is typical in the poetry of Claudio Rodríguez, has a tremendous rhythmic dynamism. The succession of monosyllables would be normal for English, but not for Spanish. The use (rather than omission) of the subject pronoun is emphatic in Spanish, and the "vas yendo" has a stress clash. (The participle yendo is not used for often in Spanish and also has an emphatic flavor.) There is a kind of reduplicative effect caused by the two second person singular pronouns (which alliterate) and then the two forms of the same verb: "you you go going."

The word slowly here is all wrong. It is true that ir + present participle has the sense of something happening little by little, but here it is a dynamic process, and the word slowly works against that. If you heard someone say: "Voy pensando que..."  you would understand her to be saying: "I'm starting to think..."  Not "I'm slowly thinking that..."

The translators in their preface don't comment on any stylistic feature of the work at all.  The treat Claudio's poetry as inspirational uplift, and offer the usual biographical information.

[sarcasm]It is almost as though translating poetry required some kind of understanding of the poetics of the original, as though understanding the words literally were not enough. [/sarcasm]

I thought of this because I was reading a very dynamic account of the rhythmic dynamism of the music of Revueltas.  

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


If I can play piano I should also be able to draw. They are both manual skills, both "creative" and subject to improvement through study and practice. One is not especially visual, and the other is intensely visual, and so there are differences, but I think the progress I've made in piano is significant. If I put that much into drawing it would pay off, but I haven't, obviously. At one point I did put in some effort and did improve. I don't do other "manual" things except type and write by hand, a little cooking. Ceramics would be satisfying; my mom is very good thrower of pots on the wheel. I am drawn more to calligraphy. Something visual would be nice to counteract my intensely auditory focus. I guess there's nothing wrong with choosing one's art forms and neglecting others, but I believe that everyone should be able to draw at least with a minimal competence and I'm not there yet.  

The Educated Native Speaker

"...also comment on FL programs giving up literary studies. Is there an intrinsic reason why literature has to be what these programs study in year 4? (intrinsic = not having to do with history of discipline)"

This question from Leslie is very good. I would say that the Spanish major (or French major) should have some of the characteristics of the "educated native speaker." Not every native speaker has read much literature, but there is a sense in which you aren't educated in that language if you haven't read some books.

The main place you see it is in vocabulary. You simply cannot be exposed to an adequate-sized vocabulary without reading. A lot. Reading also makes certain grammatical structures second nature. If you have read a lot, you will never write "según a" instead of "según." To be exposed to the sheer amount of input through conversation would be impossible.

Literature also gives you a historical sense of the language that you don't get if you only read contemporary non-fiction. To know what a style would look like from 100, 200, 300 years ago.

If we look at what a degree in Spanish would prepare you for, you can think of teaching (you'd want a  teacher to be able to teach AP literature), graduate study, journalism in which you'd want someone covering the Hispanic world to have some knowledge that educated people do.

Since we don't hand out degrees to native speakers of Spanish without taking courses, we wouldn't hand out degrees in English to all of our students just because they have been educated in English. There has to be some content there. Literature tends to work best because we can't read it in translation, merely for its informational content.    

I caught myself thinking

I caught myself thinking:  Well, I didn't know that much about Lorca when I wrote Apocryphal Lorca, but then I wrote the second part of the Lorca tetralogy, that will appear in 2018, and so now I'm starting to know a little about him. It will take the third book to really become an expert... And I haven't put hard work in the archives with the manuscripts so I'll never be that either.  

That's how it feels from the inside. But from the perspective of any objective person, I am "Professor [of] Lorca" and have been for a long time. Of course I'm continuing to learn more, but the way I learn is to write books about things I'm interested in, so how could my expertise not have increased?  


You don't have to discount good things about yourself. In fact, there are few habits that are as harmful. By discounting I mean reframing a positive attribute as a negative, or explaining it away in a fashion that makes it less salient.

I got almost a 4.0 average, getting only one B in my college career? Not that impressive, since it was a state school and a humanities major. I wrote some books that had a positive response from others in my field? "All you know how to do is write your books." I published in a major journal? Oh, some idiots have published there too. Know a lot about Lorca? No, Christopher Maurer knows far more than I do. I know several languages, have extensive knowledge of music history? That's just a mark of "privilege." And other people know more languages. I can do the Saturday New York Times crossword in under half an hour? A useless skill. A good father? Well everyone love their own children. If you are smart, and know it, then of course you are arrogant or full of yourself.

Discounting is easy to do. There isn't a positive thing that can't be turned around against you with almost no effort.  It's far worse, even, than the negative self-talk, because it doesn't allow you any answer to the negative radio. If you've been psychologically abused, then you will do it to yourself if you don't take active steps to stop.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Humanties Woes

Some ailments that afflict our current disciplines. I might be guilty of many of these myself, but not of all of them at once.

1.  Social-scientification.  The social-sciencing of the humanities is the preference for topics that really don't belong to the humanities at all. Everything is displaced onto some other discipline considered to be more real. We are really interested in history and politics, so everything has a political pay-off.

2. Vagueness.  Everything is about the process, about raising the questions, not ever about answering them or talking about why some answers might be better than others. It's about being exposed to great things,  appreciating them, but not knowing how to do anything in concrete terms. It's all about interrogating the conditions about what it means to be human, blah, blah, blah. We pay homage to critical thinking but don't make the student actually think, or defend an actual position.

3. Post-modernification. This is related to the vagueness, but here the vagueness derives from an appeal to certain thinkers who proved to us that we can't really assert anything anymore. Certain fields, like composition studies, basically have destroyed themselves by using left-over deconstruction.

4. De-disciplining ourselves.  In the urge to be inter-disciplinary, we actually have contempt for any kind of discipline. We don't want to think very hard about anything.

5.  Linguification. Want to have the perfect terminology, and often mistake that for a theory.  We are obsessed with language but often use language badly.

"I am committed to personal growth"

It sounds a bit corny, but an idea to turn off the radio voice is to write down a list of things you like about yourself. The first thing I wrote down was

"I am committed to personal growth."

Once I had written that down, I knew I was on to something. If you look at it, that statement is perfect. It is confident and optimistic, but it is not like saying "I am smart and good-looking." It acknowledges any weaknesses that might be there, implicitly.

Then I wrote:

", and I have already made progress; I have shown that this growth is possible, and I am not done yet."

Then I wrote some more things. Some more specific and others equally general. I tended not to write things like "I am a good writer." I think I am comfortable with listing things I am good at, but those things don't tend to dig as deep. I could easily discount a thing like "I can make a good omelet," because it doesn't seem as powerful a statement as "I am committed to personal growth." Lots of folks can fry an egg, after all, but how many are as truly committed to personal, intellectual, and musical growth as I am?


But if you want to start off with just things you are good at, that's fine too.


I have a friend, not a close friend yet but a relatively new acquaintance and part of my larger circle of friends. He is relatively young, tall, good-looking, and personable; he's read a lot of poetry and is very bright. He is smart and easy to talk with, etc... I was thinking, yeah, he's a great guy, it would seem, involved with his children's activities and someone most people would like.

Then the next thought was that I am all these things too (aside from tall and young!). So I sometimes use that as a device to ease up the pressure on myself. Why should I be harder on myself than I would be on my acquaintance?    


Lennie Tristano - Tangerine (Copenhagen '65)

Sunday, March 18, 2018


I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a year and see if I can do better.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Hidden Subject

When you are working on a topic you might not realize what the real subject-matter is. For example, in my just-begun project, I am beginning to realize the subject might be modernism in relation to nationalism. It might be "translation, parody, kitsch," as in AL.

Usually the hidden subject emerges late in the process of writing. Then the hidden subject can be the ostensible subject of the next project.


I now realize that my hesitancy about my 2nd Lorca book is due  to the idea that it won't be as good as Apocryphal Lorca, the book that took my career to a new level... combined with my greater enthusiasm for the next two books in my Lorca Tetralogy. Of course one should always be more enthusiastic about the next project than the last one.


I almost never re-read anything I've written in the past unless I have to. When I do re-read myself, though, I realize that I always had it. It being ideas.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Romanian Lied

I got a Lorca google scholar alert with the title "The Romanian Lied."  Of course I first read it as "The Romanian told a lie," when it was supposed to mean "The Romanian art song."

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


I had this list of things called "operation razor's edge." Basically, my plan to be successful in everything possible. Yet one kind of goal seems much more difficult.  I can publish more books, for example, but the one goal that is very elusive is called "radical self-acceptance." This goal is diametrically opposed to the whole rest of the razor's edge, because it is asking me to accept the self I already have rather than improving it, as is the point of all the other goals.


Here's the thing. I dread copyediting, because it will make me look up references that are incomplete, and it will bring the book closer to publication, where it will be exposed to reviewers. There's also the idea that my next Lorca project will be better: that's the one I'm excited about, right? Who gets excited about a book that's already done?

But this book is seriously ass-kicking too.  It meant a lot of work, and has my best ideas in the period from 2009-16, or so.  I am worried about imperfections in the bibliography? Things that people will pick at? It seems deeply irrational.

And the copy-editor didn't do a thing to my style, only touched one or two sentences in the whole book of nine chapters.

Monday, March 12, 2018

My genres

I became interested in jazz through a beginning piano book with a boogie-woogie piece that I was playing when I was little kid.  My dad had a few jazz records, and I one had Coleman Hawkin's "Body and Soul." After that, I was hooked on jazz for the rest of my life, when my dad said it was improvised. I like bop, free jazz, and anything by Duke Ellington or Billy Strayhorn, and also Blue Note music of the 60s and 70s. West Coast and cool jazz of the 50s too.

Along with that, a deep appreciation of the great American song book. Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen...  I thought stupidly as a kid that the jazz musicians turned these banal songs into great improvisations. But they are great songs to being with.

My dad was a big fan of classical music, and my sister became a classical musician (organist and choir director).  My mom played piano and taught piano lessons for years and years.  She still plays. Classical music was always around, and then my daughter decided to be classical musician too, and her favorite is Mahler so I like that too (as did my dad!). My mom would play "Maple Leaf Rag" along with Chopin and other typical piano pieces. Two of my cousins became classical musicians, one a French horn and the other a conductor who was assistant to Bernstein.

Within that, I've always loved Bach. I also like Morton Feldman and Ned Rorem, too opposite styles in contemporary American music. I like chamber music, especially Haydn and Mozart string quartets.  More recently, I am into Federico Mompou. I wish I knew more opera. I like art songs, especially in the tradition of the French mélodie. I've sung in choirs as young man, and more recently as an old one.  

Blue-grass is great. I like its jazz-like improvisatory flavor.  My girlfriend's brother-in-law is some country and roots bands, and I hear them play often. Classic rock is fine with me too. It's not in my top 5 genres but that's ok.  Blues I see as connected to my interest in jazz. Of course I love Bessie Smith. I like classic R&B, and of course Ray Charles is an abiding love. I love Mahalia Jackson too. Spirituals and gospel music are wonderful.

I am not an expert Hip Hop fan.  I like The Roots, but doesn't everybody?  

I tried to hear Flamenco on my Junior Year Abroad.  I had to pay a lot to hear actual music, in a club not for tourists, but it was worth it.  I've always loved Flamenco too. Carmen Linares and Miguel Poveda should be listened to, among contemporary figures. Mairena and La Niña de Los Peines among older styles.    

I got into salsa and Afro-Cuban styles as well. Eddie Palmieri and Tito Puente, and Willie Colón and Celia Cruz. I've tried to play hand drums in that style. I do like African drumming.

I've approached "New Age" music mostly as an aid to relaxation. I've had two radio programs that I've liked, "Music from the Hearts of Space" and "Echoes" with John ????.

There is enough music I love that I don't have to bother with things that aren't that compelling for me.   It would be a waste of time to denigrate music that isn't of interest to me, or that I simply haven't had time to explore. I'm sure Indian classical music is phenomenal. I just don't know how to listen to it yet.

I wouldn't try to sing Flamenco, but I would try "My Funny Valentine."  My musical abilities are extremely modest, so my biggest talent is a listener. If you as an eclectic a listener as I am I would love to hear from you--in a non-competitive way, of course.


Miguel Poveda - No Me Encontraron

BFRC (4-6)

The other day I did these actually blindfolded, rather than just in a dark room or with my eyes closed. It makes a difference because I can no longer open my eyes to cheat, and I get the full effect of depriving myself of that one sense. Playing the piano is not a mostly visual proposition. We think it is because we need to read sheet music.  That is fine for learning but not essential for playing. We also think we need to see where the key are. Maybe so, but the hand should know this, just as when I'm typing now I am not looking at the keyboard at all.

If I hit a wrong note I should also know what note it is, and decide whether I have played an E instead of an F, for example. My ears should tell me this.

I should also be able to hear the notes before I play them and sing along in real time to my playing. Surprisingly, I can do this. The ears can be trained even for an old guy.

Then I started playing other tunes to the chords of I got rhythm, seeing whether they fit or not, the 1,6,2,5 of Blue Moon at the beginning for example, which also seemed to work with "These Foolish Things."


I saw a movie the other night, Mr. Church, in which the "magical negro" part is played by Eddie Murphy.  It is interesting that jazz is used as the metonymy corresponding to the "magical negro" trope. The character mostly plays in the style of the 1920s or early 30s. This makes sense because making him a bebop player would be not safe enough for a character who is supposed to represent the dignity expected out of this character, even though the movie itself takes place in the 1970s and 80s!  Of course I object to almost any treatment of jazz in a movie.  I can't help it.  

Sunday, March 11, 2018


Here's a Lorca sonnet I want to set to music as an art song. The translation aims to be singable.  I want it to be my first "art song":

Did you like the city that drop by drop
the water carved amid the pines?
Did you see faces dreams and roads
and walls of sorrow lashed by the wind?

Did you see the blue crack of broken glass
that the river splashes with crystal trills?
Did the hawthorns kiss your fingers,
crowning with love the faraway stone?

Did you remember me as you climbed
to the silence suffered by the serpent--
a prisoner of crickets and shady vales?

Could you see in the clear bright air
the dahlia of joys and sorrows
sent to you by my burning heart?

My translation might be different if it were not meant for singing, but I think it still stands on its own compared to a random sampling of translations you might find in a quick search.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

On Being Brilliant

All the advice about productivity ignores the process of getting good ideas in the first place. We need to have smart ideas about how to become smarter.

Here are a few things:

Explore other languages. I don't mean only "foreign" language, but also things like mathematics, or music, or visual arts. When you think of aspirations to be inter-disciplinary, think of those other disciplines as disciplines, not fields. (Fields are like other territories, different places. Disciplines are intellectual approaches to doing things.) You can explore other fields too, of course.

Commit to it.  Whatever "it" is in this particular context. An example might be my blindfolded rhythm changes. It's just a different level of commitment to something that might be unimaginable to many people. It might be reading more than the next person, or really learning something well that most people just learn in a half-assed way.  

Catch people in the act of being brilliant.  If you aren't doing this, then you missing out on a lot. You should be able to explain how and why something is brilliant and be in absolute awe when it happens.  So many times I've been amazed when students can read something brilliant and be unimpressed by it. A lot of times the undergraduate students will be more brilliant than the grad students, even when they are taking Spanish for some non-literary reason. You can catch a student being brilliant from time to time. I am difficult to impress, but I am still amazed every day by some piece of human creativity.  

Catch yourself being brilliant. This one is a little tricky, but it is hard to cultivate your intelligence if you can't identify moments when good things happen, so that you can reproduce that phenomenon  again. For example, it might be two ideas that weren't connected to each other come together in your mind, so that you see them together in a relation rather than as two separate ideas. Or you might realize that you have been using the same word about two very different things, but without realizing they were different.    

Turning off the radio

Imagine if you had a radio commentator analyzing every move you made, everything you did or didn't do, in critical terms. "Jonathan is not having a very good day, no.  Look, he's procrastinating again. Why can't he do better, I just don't understand it...." When you went out of the house, you would get more criticism from this radio narrator about yourself, your inadequacies and failings of various kinds, and it wouldn't stop all day long. You would probably want to turn the radio off, right?

A lot of people have that, though, in their own heads, and don't know how to turn it off.  I, for one.  Where is the switch?

Here are some ideas.

*Try to find that other narrative, the one that tells you you great.  It sounds a bit corny and embarrassing.

*Avoid negative people.

*Figure out where that voice comes from.  Parents? Ex-spouses? That voice is not really your "self" talking to you but an interiorization of other voices.

*Get into groove-like activities in which that voice isn't there. For example, when I am explaining my project to my friends, I just feel empowered, and the voice isn't there. Keep as busy as possible, but in good, supportive activities.  

*Meditation is great, but it also gives space for that negative voice to be heard. If you aren't great at meditating (as I'm not) it might be because the idea of sitting there thinking about nothing allows for the worst thing in the world, which is called rumination. You still have to try it, but just be warned that that will happen at times. You can't be afraid of the voice, you just have to gently put it aside every time.    


My daughter is in a trumpet class and they have to criticize one another. She's the grad student and thus senior student in the group. When one kid didn't play well, at all (almost everything wrong in multiple ways), she told me that she said this:  "I think you should play with more confidence. That will help you to play much better and address some of the other issues you are having." This seemed brilliant to me. If she had just listed all the problems with this kid's playing, it would have not been constructive in the least. She said she always says, "what I'd like to hear is..."

Thursday, March 8, 2018

E Halffter

 En el ambiente de aquellos años, aproximadamente desde 1923 hasta la guerra civil, los hombres de pluma y de pentagrama estuvimos muy unidos. Mi amistad con Federico García Lorca fue grande. Era un músico nato. Le escuché tocar cosas suyas en el carmen de Falla, asistí asiduamente a las comidas y reuniones de la Residencia de Estudiantes y a las tertulias del Correos y del Lyon. Federico me dedicó su Cortaron tres árboles; hice música para algunas representaciones de La Barraca, como Fuenteovejuna; instrumenté algunos temas populares arreglados por Federico para La Argentinita, y habíamos proyectado, con Fontanals, una especie de revista.

Another ruse

Another great ruse by Lorca. He quotes Halffter to the effect that the "three greatest musicians in Spain are Manuel de Falla, me, his disciple, and Federico García Lorca." But of course Haflfter is just reduced in this quote to being a Falla disciple, so that leave Falla and Lorca. But Since Falla is obviously the best composer of that time in Spain, it lets Lorca be the greatest musician, even though that was the career the didn't pursue. He can be the greatest poet and dramatist and the second best musician.

Blindfolded rhythm changes (3)

I did some BFRC this morning before I went in to work, mostly with eyes closed. I explored some of the bop ideas I found last night.  To me bop means two things: lots of chromaticism, and fluid combinations of swung 8th notes, 8th note triplets, and sixteenths, with some sixteenth-note triplets too.


I had a dream that my colleagues (or some group of people) had voted a certain way, against hiring someone for example, because they did not understand two fundamental concepts: that literature is metaphorical and that is fictional. So I very brilliantly explained those two concepts to them to encourage them to change their votes.

Then when I got up I realized that this was actually a basic point that people forget often. There are three main ways in which we define literature:

Fictionality: refers to a world that does not exist.

Figurative language: the language refers to something, but it is talking about something else, not what it refers to.

Musicality: the work is distinguished by structure, form, sound, and other aspects comparable to musical structures and sonorities.

Fictionality and figurative language are clearly linked, even though they are separate concepts. For example, a poem could be about a real pigeon, but the pigeon might be a symbol. Or a novel could refer to someone who does not exist in reality. Those are different things, but the mistake my dream-colleagues were making was literal-mindedness in both cases.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Blindfolded rhythm changes (ii)

Today was the first day. I didn't use a blindfold, timer, or metronome yet, but that will come. I made some progress and for the first time in my life felt that I was playing bop-like phrases. I learned most of "Anthropology" and just stole some phrases from that when improvising. The idea is to do this 365 times. It might take slightly longer than a year, but that's ok. I'm going to count this as day two, since I played some rhythm changes the other day in the dark just to see if I could.


When I got back from Chicago from hearing Julia play in the "Homenaje a Federico García Lorca," I found that I was a better piano player, even having not played for a few days in a row. I suddenly was better at reading music, learning, and playing with confidence. Yes, it is possible to improve on the piano as a relatively old guy (57).

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


Book on Beckett and Music by multiple authors.  Some good things, some anecdotal material. The idea that Beckett's work is already so perfect that you can't set it to music without destroying it. An analysis of Feldman's "Neither" that loses sight of Beckett for pages at a time.

Book on Celan and music. Based on idea of an antipathy to musicality and distrust of music in Celan's poetry.  Mostly set to music in a European context. The book is good, though with too much passive voice for my taste. Musical examples and dense analysis. Has a central thesis.

Book on Shakespeare and music. Too much of a survey; little attention to music itself. Takes a larger view and isn't that helpful methodologically (for me).

Book on Baudelaire and music. Very technical on prosody and song-setting. Musical examples and some dense analysis; charts and drafts. I haven't read enough to know how good it is.  

Book on the Spanish Copla and Conchita Piquer.  No attention to music or even performance style. An analysis of how the lyrics to the songs may have had a therapeutic affect on listeners during the Franco period. An entire book that's an analysis of a few song lyrics; lyrics not especially complex. This book won a prize from the MLA as best book in Hispanic studies that year.  

I haven't found the methodological model for my book, but then it would be my book, wouldn't it? I want to write a book for those that skip over the part of the music book with examples from scores, but still wants to read about music, not about everything except the music.

It could be that the choice of subject makes a certain kind of book inevitable, or not.  It is not the same thing seeing Schubert setting Goethe as Fauré setting Baudelaire or Feldman Beckett.  

No more drafts (3) + My greatest weakness

By not writing drafts and by having an organized bibliography from the very beginning, I will write this book much faster than the others. This is almost an unstoppable combination, because when I finish writing something it will be done.

It will slow down at some point, but it will slow down because it would anyway. I am not rushing in the least. I just want delays to be substantive ones, not because I get bogged down in incoherent notes or have to go back and figure out what the citations are supposed to be.

Baudelaire in Song

I got this book out of the library, BiS.  I immediately knew that it is a serious work, but nothing like what I want to do, being too technical, both musically and prosodically. "Analysis of the number of breathing spaces in this score reveals..." The author is Helen Abbott.

I do like the title. I'd like to steal it: Lorca in Song. I won't, because it would be stealing.

Lorca in Music.
The Musical Afterlife of .... 

In my mind I think of it as Lorca Music. That just might work.  My project is larger than song, because it has instrumental music as well. Eminently googlable.


We are understaffed so the service burden is growing, but one colleague suggested that we give more teaching releases in order to do service.  Really? Then who is going to teach our classes? I don't really want to teach any less, or do any more service than I am doing. As of now three out of twelve people are teaching less (chair, associate chair, language program director), and so should we have a few more do this? That would be half the department. When you add in sabbaticals, parental leaves, etc..., then you really don't have people to teach.  

A year of blind-folded rhythm changes

Here is a very simple idea: Play rhythm changes on the piano every day, blind-folded, for a year. The blind-folded part is probably the least important. The idea is to increase one's proprioception, that nice little sense that tells you where you fingers are without looking at the piano. I can play ok without looking, so that's the easy part.

I know the chords, so that's not particularly onerous. My weakness is in the improvisations, which sound very square to me, relying on a few cheap tricks. But I figure with a year, I can find some ideas.    

The "year" and the "every day" part are what's difficult. Since I already play piano every day, I could do this, but I also want to play other things. And then, the experiment might fade in interest for me after a few weeks or months, rather than lasting a year.

Still, it is a good concept. The idea would be to change it up if it got boring, so you could do only bass line for a week, or do it in a weird key, or work on a particular song with rhythm changes as its basis.

[The chord changes to "I got Rhythm" by Gershwin is a standard vehicle for improvising in jazz, and for writing new tunes with the same changes, or variations thereof.]

Monday, March 5, 2018

My Biggest Weakness

My biggest weakness as a scholar is a lack of organization in my citations.  So for the new project that is going to be one of my strong points. I'm going to put in all the citations and bibliography as I go along, rather than fixing it at all at the end, and sometimes doing so imperfectly.

The reason for this is because I work fast, in order to write down all my ideas, so I cannot be bothered to stop and cite something. This is obviously the wrong way of doing things, and I have no excuse except that I can sometimes get a way with it a bit.

Now I will see bibliography as the hard part, and put in my work there.  That will make the writing all that much easier.


Friday, March 2, 2018

Dream of music making

We had received musical instruments in the mail. (I was living in a household with other people.) Mine were a set of cymbal-like instruments, in thin rectangular metallic sheets hanging down from some kind of apparatus. I began to play a rhythmic pattern on one, using the top of an ordinary ball-peen hammer. Because of the harmonic qualities of the metal, the ride pattern I was playing also produced its own, inherent melody, which I was able to manipulate depending on what part of the cymbal-sheet I was playing in what geometrical pattern. For example, I could go diagonally to the four corners to improvise a different melody, or move the hammer in figure-eights.

 My time was perfect in this particular dream, and the instrument was designed so that there were no wrong notes, so to speak, only valid melodic combinations of the cymbal's harmonics.  The other members of the household were present in the background, and I knew they were listening, and enjoying my playing, but otherwise they had no firm roles or identities within the dream.  When I woke up I had an aural image of what this sounded like, and it ended up being like "rhythm changes" played on the piano the way I had been attempting to play the evening before...

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

No more drafts (2)

Not writing "drafts" doesn't mean that whatever you write down the first time is sacrosanct.  Did you ever ask a student to revise a paper and you get only a few changes, the exact ones you have suggested? That is not what I mean at all. Every time I look at something I've written, before it is published, I make some changes to improve it.  

Rather, that the prose you write is basically fine the first time around. It doesn't aim for shittiness or roughness but for smoothness.

Monday, February 26, 2018

March Goals

I didn't do badly with February goals; I never got into the key of E that much, but that's ok. I thought I would do as much as that as in B, in January, but it didn't work out. I didn't get far with the Shostakovich fugue, but learned other pieces instead, like learning to sing "Tres morillas de Jaén."

I rocked research in February, turning a very vague project into something real and doable.    


Write a substantial part of the methodological / theoretical introduction to the musicology book.

Revise the NEH proposal until it really rocks, to be submitted on April 11. Complete bibliography.  

Learn enough of the Mompou "Música callada" to play at talent show on March 30.  

Key of the Month: A maj.  

Continue to average 11,000 steps a day, as I have in February.

I've paid off credit card now. I have to figure out plan for paying off the car to be completely debt-free (again).  

When I am working well

When I am working well I can finish at 9 a.m.  I have written a good page and I am done for the day.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

No more "drafts"

I've decided not to write "drafts" any more.  (I did away with "rough drafts" and "shitty first drafts" a while ago.). What I mean is not that I will never revise anything, or rewrite it if it isn't good enough, but that I will write it the first time in a more or less acceptable form (better than most people's final drafts, in some cases).

When I gave our local humanities grant-writing person my first version of my NEH application, she commented that my "rough drafts" were often better than the final versions other people were sending out.  Yes.  Once again, that is not because they cannot get any better, but because they are not "rough" at all.

This method will help me not to have to have all these half-baked fragments every where, that take more time to sort out later. Of course, when one goes back to work on the document, one fixes things that are wrong in other paragraphs. But once the document is complete it is a shareable document. Then you can revise according to what suggestions you get.

 I believe you shouldn't share something unless it is already in a presentable form. That way, you aren't wasting their time by asking them to correct things that you could have easily corrected. If you want comments, they should be on something that has been worked on enough so that the only comments needed will be substantive. This does not imply stylistic perfection, which you'll never reach anyway, but adequacy.

If you want to bounce ideas off of somebody, then you can do it conversationally, or in a conversational mode like email.


I started to write something and stopped myself at the word posit.  That's a fine academic word, but it marks itself as academic in the first sentence. What if we could write using two or three of those words a page?

These are advanced tips. I would never tell a junior colleague to avoid posit. I would say not to use subtend. As a full professor I have the luxury of choosing my words carefully.  


I remember when I was a young academic and I thought it would be good to talk about William Carlos Williams at the MLA at some point, but every year the WCW Society would have a panel on "Williams and Medicine" or "Williams and Baseball."  It never turned out to be a topic I wanted to talk about. I began to hate that and.

So I would never write a book on "Lorca and Music."  My aim is to destroy the and--if that doesn't sound too pretentious. You can look at music through Lorca, or Lorca through music, but the and is odious. It implies that this is an extraneous topic, like baseball to Williams or insurance to Stevens. I have the same objections to the "words and music" movement. That is why I prefer my own discipline, song studies. In song studies we don't see words and music as separate entities to be brought together through abstruse comparisons or spurious contrasts. I guess you might object to the "studies" part. You should just say you are in song.

You could say that song is the performance of poetry by other means. Song, then, is an extension of poetics, not an arbitrary linking between two separate arts. It would be a little bit like trying to separate dance from music. I'm sure there are dances that don't involve music at all, but they would be a bit unusual. It would be a bit unusual to have a discipline called "dance and music" in which the idea is to bring the two together. We see the pairing as natural. The analogy doesn't hold up totally, but I'm going to hold to that for the time being. I'm going to contend that dance is a musical form, like song. That vocal music is the original kind of music, and that song is the origin of poetry too. These are hardly original ideas.    


I remember making a new year's resolution once to take voice lessons. It didn't happen the year that I resolved to do it, but it is happening now. I am on my second teacher and third year, and the voice is better. (The first year not much improved.) I am in my third semester of choir, my second year of piano lessons, have been composing since 2015.

Friday, February 23, 2018

A Process

Step 1: I am not a musicologist; I cannot write this book.

Step 2: I know more about music than I knew I did. It will be ok if I am very cautious.  

Step 3:  I can write this book in a better way than the hypothetical musicologist I had in my head as being better at writing this book, because I know how to write for people who don't know about music in technical terms. (And I know how to write.) A musicologist might be writing for other musicologists, but that is not what I want to do. I don't have to include fragments of scores in the book, because that would be intimidating to my readers, and a technical analysis of music, in the way that I would attempt it, would also be criticized by anyone with more technical knowledge than I have. So that would be a way of alienating all my readers at one fell swoop.

I can also see that musicologists borrowing from literary theory often don't know what they are doing.  For example, they borrow from postmodernism and poststructuralism, but without realizing that that makes musical meanings more indeterminate. Thus they cannot really be as confident as they want to be about their conclusions.

I realize what I have been calling impostor syndrome in my own case is not really that at all. It is not that I think I am an impostor and everyone else knows what they are talking about.  It is that we are all pretty much impostors. Some are the real deal, and I am still aspiring to that.  Maybe I've hit that a few times in my career.  But I see younger people in my field and think, no, you don't have impostor syndrome, you are an impostor.  You are so far from being the real deal that you don't even know it yet.

Advice is Useless

I once thought that I could show people how I do things and that that would allow them to do what I do.  It doesn't seem to really work like that, does it?  You have to be smart and well-trained, and smart enough to train yourself when need be ... and then be in circumstances where it is possible to do the work. (A frequent commentator on this blog,  the profacero blogger, has been saying this to me for years.)  The advice only works once you are there, but isn't it superfluous then? Usually, when someone  has benefitted from any help from me, it is because they were already where they needed to be, and just needed to know it was possible for them to have an active research program with tangible results.

Of course, I can look at what you write and give you a critique, tell you how to make it better, but that is editing, not "advice."

It isn't about work ethic or time management, even. I will be the first to tell you I am lazy and disorganized.


Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Plain Style

[This is one of the "pages" on this blog, but I thought might revisit it] 
Bob Basil, in a response to my comment about one his posts, called me a writer "devoted to the 'plain language' style of writing." I hadn't thought of myself that way, but I'll accept that characterization with pride.  Stupid Motivational Tricks propounds a model of writing that is clear, concise, elegant, and free from unnecessary jargon. Needless to say, not all academic writing strives to embody this ideal. I went to graduate school in the 1980s, at the height of the "hegemony" of theory, and the plain style was not in ascendence during those formative years. 

This mode of writing does not really require a defense, but I will offer one anyway by responding to a few common objections. 

Some writers feel that plainness suppresses individuality. They want their stylistic choices to be distinctively quirky. The plain style, though, allows multiple options: long sentences or short, a range of emotional tones from the comic to the serious, and various personalities. I feel my writing voice is distinctively my own even within its seemingly dull plainness. Convoluted, pretentious styles often do not reflect the true personalities of the writers who use them to start with. These styles are more like costumes worn so the writers will fit in in the academic environment. 

Others contend that literary criticism, like any other discipline, has a technical language of its own: nobody objects when a physicist uses the "jargon" of her field, the argument goes, so why can't the literary critic do the same? I do not object to technical terms used appropriately and correctly. To speak of "extradiegetic" music in a film, for example, you have to use that term if you want to distinguish music from the film score from music that forms part of the diegesis of the film: a character singing or playing an instrument, for example. The jargon that readers object to, however, tends to be language used without the precision of true jargon. 

Finally, inexperienced writers (and some experienced ones) sometimes fear that writing too plainly will make them sound unsophisticated. Maybe their ideas really are not all that sophisticated, and they are afraid to expose their simplistic thinking to sharp scrutiny. In this case, the preference for a less transparent style reveals a weakness, not a strength. 

My best positive argument in favor of the plain style is that academic prose can be very unpleasant to read. (Ok, I know that doesn't sound very positive.) I myself skim it as quickly as possible just to see what it's about. If it's not in my field and it's not pleasurable to read, I spend very little time with it. I really want to write so that my readers will savor every word. That's the only way that I will truly communicate anything of value. If I care about the argument I'm making I want my audience to have a clear idea of what that argument is and why it is important. Even a clearly presented argument is liable to misreading, but I want to maximize my chances of effective communication. 

Anonymous | Tres morillas [Villancico á 3; Ensemble Accentus]

Carmen Linares - Las morillas de Jaen (Zejel)

Music Notes

Doing a major scholarly project on music allows me to use parts of the "scholarly base" that I didn't even know I had. Those 7,000 "songs" on computer, for one thing. (Or 7,000 things). I put that in scare quotes because a song might be a movement of a string quarter or a symphony. All the thinking about music I've ever done my whole life. Instead of viewing my lack of musicological expertise as a great obstacle, I'm now seeing that letting this limited expertise into my scholarship on Lorca is like opening up a floodgate.  Other clichés that come to mind are "pay dirt" and "the mother lode."  There is nothing like tapping into something that profound. And instead of being a pure ego thing (though the ego is there too), it is more like knowing that my life is not wasted by listening and thinking through music. It is a profound connection. I think I needed to start playing and composing to really get there, that listening alone was not enough. Or listening with the score in hand.

I'm playing sections of an extended series of compositions called "Música callada" by the Catalan composer Federico Mompou, an homage to San Juan de la Cruz. It is very beautiful, and the access to that through one's own fingers provides a different kind of understanding, even though my piano playing is worse than mediocre. Just getting to an 80% tolerable version of a very simple piece is tremendously satisfying. As is singing the "Tres morillas de Jaén."

I cannot use my own taste as a guide for a scholarly project like this.  I am just one guy and the amount of musical intelligence and feeling in all the music dedicated to Lorca is enormous. Charles Rosen, reviewing Taruskin, says something like: he writes better about the music he loves.  Well, yes, there is that. I also don't need to denigrate anything, or privilege one kind of musical understanding over another. I'm not in it for some culture wars pay-off.    

Monday, February 19, 2018

An Interesting Ruse

Lorca, in a book of interviews I have recently purchased, talks about his success, and says that he, personally doesn't care about his triumphs.  He only cares for the sake of his friends. They will be disappointed if he doesn't have great success in his plays, and he can please them if he does.

(Now Lorca is not exactly a modest man, and he had to play the role of a celebrity.  As Christopher Maurer points out, very astutely, in his preface to this book (Palabra de Lorca), the celebrity interview during this period was a new journalistic genre, and Lorca had to figure out how to present himself to the public. He was gregarious and could do this, but you can also see the toll it must have taken on him. If you read all the interviews straight through, you see he has to repeat himself, and present a fairly consistent image, even though Lorca himself was mercurial and had a private side. They mostly want to interview him about theater, not poetry, which is understandable because theater is more public, and because during the years Lorca became famous, it was more for the theater, and he wasn't writing as much poetry [the 30s rather than the 20, and not as much in the early 30s before Bodas de sangre].)

So, of course, the adulation of a smaller group of friends and admirers is more meaningful than the adulation of thousands of strangers. That much is easy to see, and probably sincere. But it turns out that this adulation of Lorca's friends depends on his adulation by the larger group. His friends need him to succeed with the larger group. So the result is that the claim that he doesn't care about success for himself, but only for his friends, is transparently spurious. Of course it for himself, even if it needs to go through his friends as well.    

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Walking and Thinking

I walk in the gym, because it's been cold out. I walk outside, too, if I want to get somewhere.  My goal is the proverbial 10,000 steps a day, and I'm meeting that goal (as of now, for this calendar year). I will often decide to think about something in particular, develop ideas as I walk around and around the track. An hour is a good stretch of time; you can develop some ideas in that amount of time. Today I was thinking about how to assume my new role as someone who actively thinks of himself as a top scholar, rather than a bum, but still not be an asshole or arrogant prick of the kind I hate, especially in myself.


One rule, for example, is not to be a professor at all out of context, unless very irritated by someone, to the point at which you need to get professorial on their ass.

 Another would be to worry about being a prick. The real pricks don't worry about it, or if you point it out will have some excuse or not even see the problem.  

Another rule would be not to write in a way that is designed to make you seem smart, at the expense of the reader.  You can be smart, if you have a smart point to make, but you can't write just in order to make yourself seem that way. You cannot condescend either, or even practice false modesty.  

You might depend on friends to tell you not do it. And you should listen to them.

You might pick and choose your times for making a point, or showing someone else. A colleague was all excited in the meeting a few days ago for having invited a slam poet to campus. I said nothing, even though slam poetry is inherently crappy. If you pass up opportunities to try to make a point like that, you will find it is easy just to let most things slide.  

You might look at your motivations: competitiveness?  A sensed of being aggrieved, and not getting your due?  Anger?  Frustration?

Let me know if you have rules in order not to be an asshole.

Some people just aren't that way anyway, and don't need rules to keep themselves from assholic behavior.  Sadly, I am not in this category.  


It is hard to walk 10,000 steps a day (on average) if you don't walk at least that most days, because if you walk 5,000, then you need a day of 15,000 to balance that out, and that is harder to do. It is hard to accumulate 10,000 simply by walking where you need to go.  You have to take a walk of some substantial length, at some point. Otherwise you will be in the 3-7k range. So if you walk at least 10 a day, you will average more like 11.

Friday, February 16, 2018

My Mind

I like things like prosody, grammar, and music theory because I like to look at how things work as systems.  I guess literary too, but not as a series of buzz words* as it now is, but real theory, where the theory actually explains and predicts things. I've never understood language learners who didn't want to understand the grammar inside and out, or who actively dislike understanding syntactical relationships, or musicians who want to play but don't want to know what it is they are playing. What I like about the jazz harmonies is that the player knows what the chords are and their relation to each other: they aren't just reading notes off the score.  I'm not a good improviser at all; I like it because I like how it makes sense structurally.

A musical rule is, for example, that the fourth tone of the scale sounds bad against a major seventh chord. So play C,E,G,B in the your left hand, and see if F sounds good. It doesn't. Now you could F if you wanted to, if you trying to find something very dissonant, but you wouldn't use it if you were going after a different effect. A grammar rule is that you would say the big red barn and not the red big barn, or "Never have I seen such a thing" and not "*Never I have seen such a thing."

I should actually be good at math, but I am not.  I think it was because I didn't see myself as talented in that, so I tuned out at a very early age from it.

So I don't always think like other humanists do. I guess it is a good thing that I am accepted in my field and not seen as some crazy person. I can sometimes see right away why someone is wrong, and I get impatient and want to cut through the bullshit.


*By a buzz word, I mean a word that does all the theoretical work just by sitting there as a point of reference.  That's what I see in a lot of job candidates. They say, I will be using "Mayhew's theory of the subtextual valence," quote the theory, and then analyze the text in the same way they would have otherwise.  

Thursday, February 15, 2018


"Jonathan Mayhew helped me polish Chapter 1 with his superb editing skills."

Yes, I will be in your acknowledgements.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Not a bum

I made a significant decision the other day.  I will no longer think of myself as some bum who happened to get lucky and publish some things that gained me some measure of academic respectability.  I will fully inhabit my non-bumness. For example, I won't have a book sitting in a drawer for a year without seeking a publisher, as I did with the last one. I will apply for everything, seek out intellectual and academic connections with no trepidation.  

Meta-interpretative Sandwich

Word and music studies is like translation studies in that it is meta-interpretative. You interpret a text, then interpret what the composer has done with it, producing another verbal object comparing your interpretation of text with your interpretation of the composer's interpretation of the text.

The music the filling on the sandwich, there is text before and after.

The problem is the degree of arbitrariness, because you aren't really comparing words to music, but rather your interpretation of a text to your interpretation of the composer's interpretation.  Thus L. Kramer in something I was reading last night was comparing "Goethian" and "Schubertian" interpretations of a poem by Goethe. But, of course, Schubert's reading of Goethe is as Goethian as Kramer's.

I've already written of the melodramatic mode of music analysis, the anticlimactic descent into the tonic and the startling diminished chords, all that jazz. Does anyone listen to music like that? It makes a good story...  What I'd like to propose is to look at cultural and idiomatic relations between musical and poetic styles.  

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


This word, as reported by Clarissa and by Spanish people on my facebook feed, makes no sense, feminist or not.  Let's review the morphology here.

porta + voz falls seems to fall into the morphological category of 3rd person verb + noun. These nouns are masculine and invariant for singular and plural.  

Usually, the noun is plural, like "el sacacorchos"    ["removes corks"].  In the plural "los sacacorchos." The cork remover or the can opener (abrelatas). There are many such words, like aguafiestas (throws water on the party, the spoilsport.). Some refer to people, like "perdonavidas," [bully.].

But portavoz uses the singular form.  The curious thing, though is that the word voz is feminine. The idea that we could make it more feminine by saying "voza" is stupid beyond belief.  The noun is masculine because of the morphological pattern, not because of the word voz.  Why don't we just use the elegant solution and say "la portavoz" [the spokesperson in female gender] instead of "el portavoz."

We don't say "persono" or "víctimo." Certain nouns just don't correspond to the gender of the person we are talking about. Or "Juan es buena gente."          

Monday, February 12, 2018

"Candidates from diverse backgrounds are particularly encouraged to apply"

A person cannot be diverse. A group of people all the same as each other is not diverse, hence there is no such things as a "diverse background," unless what is meant as having grandparents from four different racial groups.

The only thing that can be diverse is a group of people from backgrounds different from one another. So you could have diverse freshman class, but not a diverse member of the freshman class.  I don't know why I have to keep explaining this to people.

Canción de Cuna (Silvestre Revueltas)

Here's the lullaby from Bodas de sangre composed by Revueltas.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Song Studies

I invented this field a while back. I didn't realize that "word and music studies" was a thing.  But song studies is better than word and music studies, because of that troublesome word and. Word and music studies first separates the words from the music, and then tries to put them back together again.  No.

Song studies says that there exists an artistic form that already has both words and music together. It is grounded on the intuition that poetry arises out of music, and that vocal music is the origin of music itself. Hence song is the originary point of poetry and music. It is ethnopoetics 101.  

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Practice routine

When I first decide to play a piece on the piano, I work on it for 1 hour on one day.  Then I work on it for half an hour for one day, then 15 minutes for several consecutive days. It takes concentration and discipline to work on something for an hour, but then if you know its notes fairly well you can spend less time. After a while, I can sit down and play the piece by memory a few times over in much less than 15 minutes. I like working on very easy pieces that I can learn this way. If I spend the first hour and don't make headway, then I need to choose something easier.

Friday, February 9, 2018


I saw Juliana Spahr read two nights ago. It was a good reading, and now I've just read a book I bought there, called That Winter the Wolf Came.

I noticed a technique in the book I'll call hedging. When the socio-political charge get to heavy, or there is too much danger of direct statement, then there will be a distancing effect. For example, in one poem she talk repeatedly of the "non-revolution," where a less hedging writer would write "revolution." Or, when she talks about some oil-rig workers killed, she tells us how she won't talk of the tender children they left behind. Or she uses the cliché "children are the future" but in this way:  "I won't say that children are the future, but..."  You get the idea. Her answers to questions at the reading were also similarly hedging. Of course, all the questions were about politics, not any kind of poetic techniques.

I've like Spahr's work for many years, and continue to like it. The hedging comes off as a kind of ironic distance from her own political commitments. Or maybe not.  I'm not trying to be negative about the work at all, but the issue of irony / distance is quite interesting to me. If she were a less experimental poet she would just write a poem denouncing Trump, or something. What she does instead is a kind of hybrid writing in which the avant-garde techniques pull in a different direction from where the politics seems to be leading.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

George Herbert, surrealist poet

 Prayer the church's banquet, angel's age, 
God's breath in man returning to his birth, 
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage, 
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth 
Engine against th' Almighty, sinner's tow'r, 
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear, 
The six-days world transposing in an hour, 
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear; 
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss, 
Exalted manna, gladness of the best, 
Heaven in ordinary, man well dress, 
The milky way, the bird of Paradise, 
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul's blood, 
The land of spices; something understood.

Someone on facebook was saying they didn't like George Herbert. I remembered this poem.  It is list poem, so the elements involved have no logical order: it is prosody and some invisible rhetorical principle that determine the arrangement of the elements. It has rhyme but not reason. 

It is a series of metaphors for prayer, conceived of as the union between the human realm and the divine, or the natural world and the supernatural. The surrealism comes in the juxtaposition of elements, and the way that, even though each element is a metaphor for prayer, there is very little connection between the apart from that. There are probably other metaphysical or baroque poems that are also surrealist in this sense. 


The big contradiction is to have a discrepancy between what you truly value and what you actually do. So if you say that your priority is to have friends and socialize, but that unfortunately you don't ever do this because you are busy at work, then you will be unhappy... Unless, of course, it is actually the work that makes you happy and the other thing is just a thing you say to conform to other people's expectations.

You cannot make yourself happy by making someone else happy. Now, all of a sudden, what you truly value is placed on hold in accordance with what someone else values. For example, if I had gone on a mission like my mom would have liked me to, I would have been miserable.

I've had to decide which Lorca book I wanted to write first. I decided it had to be the one that spoke to my deepest convictions, the one that grabbed me by the lapels and forced me to write it. This is not the easiest choice, because I have been anguishing about my low level of musical ability. And yet... There had to be a reason why I have been playing and composing music every spare moment since Fall of 2015. Lorca and the Death of the Subject could be a book, but it could be a few articles too and nobody would complain except me. Things have to be books for me because I have a lot to say, but that doesn't mean that anyone else would miss them.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Five Questions

1. What is your project?

2. Why is it significant? [usually it has to be material of inherent interest combined with a promising approach to the material.]

3. What are your main ideas about it?

4. Why are you qualified to do it? [not just qualified, but uniquely qualified, if possible]

5. What is the outline of the constituent parts of the project?

There are other questions, like when are you going to do it (timetable of completion); where the material located that you have to find, etc...  Those questions have to do with the pragmatic of completing it, not with its initial set-up.

Friday, February 2, 2018


Today my goal is to think of 5 ideas about "vernacular" musical approaches to Lorca. That is the best word I can think of so far for what I am trying to get at in one of the major sections of the book. So far I have a chapter planned as an intro, in which I discuss axes of contrast (vocal / instrumental // classical / vernacular etc...) along with a musicological rant.  Then a chapter on Lorca "himself," so to speak. Not his "knowledge of music" but a deeper reading. Then a chapter on vernacular settings, and then a chapter on "art" settings.  Then an epilogue. This might work.  My Feb. research goal is to have the book thought out more or less, with five ideas for each part, and have an NEH proposal by April.

I worry because I hate dilettantism. If I include musical examples (scores) in the book then anybody's not a musicologist eyes will glaze over. Plus I can't really do that kind of analysis anyway and I am writing for people in my own field.  I've thought of doing an edited collection but I think I can do this project better than anyone else from the Lorquismo perspective, at least.

Also, what happens to Lorca III which is well on its way to being written as well.  I have to reorganize my whole life in order to write even more than I am. At least the music will not suffer.
Books for my project.  A book on "Samuel Becket and Music." It's kind of a miscellany.  Of course I love it that Morton Feldman wrote a Beckett opera. Nothing very useful methodologically for my project, except a reference to a Lorca piece I didn't know about!

Another one on Celan. Written by a single author (a Swede) rather than an edited collection, which is good. A good precedent for my project, though Celan is mostly set to music in Europe, it would seem. No discussion of vernacular traditions in music. A book on Lorca and music would be much richer in its raw materials.  

There is a book on Walt Whitman and modern music I haven't looked at yet, edited by L. Kramer, no surprise. What I'm looking for has a very precise library of congress subject heading:

Last name, first name of poet--musical settings--criticism and history.  I have to guess what poets or authors have a lot of musical settings, then search for them one by one. Another possible syntax is 'poet's name--knowledge--music.'  I'm not studying Lorca's knowledge of music, though.  

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Música callada

I'm listening (and playing part of) Mompou's "Música callada." It is a hauntingly simple composition based on St. John of the Cross. Needless to say I thought of the poem of the same title by Claudio Rodríguez as well.

There is no place to hide

My scholarly projects always cannibalize my creative ones. There is no place to hide. I can go into my music room but my cv comes in and finds me and demands that I write about music too.

Art Song

The assumption of the Art Song (in the musicological literature) is that the text comes first, and then the setting later, so that we can study the text itself (By Schilller or Goethe) and then see what the composer  did with it. I guess this is accurate, and yet...

1. The experience of the listener is simultaneous. The reader does not first read the poem, interpret it, and then hear the musical setting. She might encounter the melody before the words, if she's heard instrumental versions before hearing the song sung (as happened to me with "Blue Skies" by Irving Berlin.).

2. In the popular song tradition [in many vernacular traditions], we don't give priority to the text over the setting. We simply don't care whether the lyricist wrote a lyric to a melody, or whether the lyricist and  composer worked simultaneously, or whether the composer and lyricist are one person, or whether the composer set a pre-existing lyric to music. In folklore we have songs that come with their words and melodies together, and nobody cares what came first.

3. Words are not prior to music ontologically, then. Putting words first is the artifact of a particular musical tradition.  Nevertheless, this tradition is extremely significant, because, well, we have very significant poets being set to music by equally significant composers. Aside from the Lied, there is the French mélodie.

4. Do we put more value on the music than the words? It depends.  If we have Baudelaire and Debussy... Do we have to think that George is greater than Ira? (Because Ira's rep as a poet is less than George's as a composer?). I admire song lyrics because I cannot write them very well.  

Self Improvement

The point of self-improvement is not to reach some ideal self, but not to stay in the same place or get worse. So suppose I hadn't started to write music, hadn't taken piano lessons or sung in the choir.  I would be the same person, but without whatever growth I achieved from going into music more seriously.  I didn't need to learn to read Italian: I would have been fine without doing so. I could give up crossword puzzles and still have a satisfying life, without trying to do them faster and faster every day.

The idea that I need to find new research projects.  I could easily just coast the rest of my career, and teach things I have already learned rather than come into the classroom with things I have learned in the past few years, as I like to do.

Without self-improvement, though, the world narrows rather than expanding. I would find it difficult to imagine being in a teaching situation in which I couldn't be a learner myself. It would go stale pretty quickly, and I think the students would notice too.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Feb. Goals

My goals for Feb:

Keep walking 10,000 steps a day.  I will add 50 push-ups a day.

The key of the month with be E, with four sharps. I will play in that key every day and compose a few pieces in it.

I will learn the first Shostakovich Fugue all the way through, and two sections of Mompou's Música callada.  

I will have a strong, detailed intellectual andamiaje of the Lorca / Music book, with everything except the complete list of the actual pieces of music that will be mentioned. Main ideas of the book, main ideas of each chapter. Architecture of the book.


What I've been trying to say is that the most "worldly" musicology, that which is trying to debunk the myth that music is a pure art for detached from human meanings, depends on the most technical, formalistic analysis, mostly of harmonic movement (only one aspect of music), invests these harmonic structures with ideological charges (resolution is masculine, the misogynistic conquering of the secondary, "feminine" theme), then creates allegories of human subjectivities around these ideological projections. The claim to be postmodern depends on forms of semiotics and / or hermeneutics that are distortions of these concepts. For example, if movement by thirds were semiotically coded as homosexual, then how come listeners unschooled in theory don't hear this in the music? Semiotics cannot be a matter of some secret code.

Of course we use metaphors to describe our subjective experience of music. But we cannot then turn around and establish absolute correspondences between the metaphor and the ideological charge of the music. These correspondences have to be more nuanced and contingent, more historicized. For example, I would accept the argument that a trumpet fanfare has certain historical associations and meanings based on its previous use. So a fanfare might introduce the entrance of the king, and something in another composition that reminds us of a fanfare has that association. That is something different from a musicologist claiming that a certain voice in a Back Cantata reminds her of a nagging wife, and that therefore Bach is being misogynist (a real example!). Wouldn't the musicologist be the misogynist one here, since she is the one hearing a sexist stereotype where nobody has heard one before?

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


The ideas I am finding in musicology for relating music to larger "human meanings" are turning out to be rather crude and intellectually naive.  The association of Western tonality itself with male dominance, or the idea that movement in fifths is straight and movement in thirds gay.  There are plenty of people in musicology itself who have called bullshit on this kind of thing, with the reintroduction of essentialist thinking that it entails. I'm sure you could teach a listener to identify certain kinds of musical resolution as misogynist, but many do / would not otherwise experience this. What good is a semiotic code for interpreting music if nobody knows how to hear music this way unless they are taught to do so on a very self-conscious level.

In contrast the seemingly naive belief that music has no meaning at all seems attractive--if this kind of allegorical reading is the only alternative.

This kind of ideological reading is also deeply ahistorical and anachronistic, in that it ignores the way people would have thought of this music at the time of its creation.

The abject badness of Lorca Studies

"El duende del jazz no es muy diferente del duende flamenco."

Monday, January 29, 2018

Some words I've learned recently


A commonplace book, but specifically for musical ideas in the context I encountered it.


An added bonus given to you by a merchant when you buy something. By extension, an added bonus.

In our grammar book we are using in my Structure of Spanish class (King & Suñer), they explain the contrast between lexical categories which are closed (prepositions, articles, pronouns, conjunctions, etc...) and those that are open. Every speaker of the language knows all the pronouns and articles, but not all the nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs. Also, we can easily add new nouns, borrowing from Italian or Cajun French as in these two examples, but it is really hard to introduce into the language a new definite article or pronoun. People are resistant about trying to introduce new pronouns like zir, but they don't get mad if I tell them about the word zibaldone.

Other sources talk about function words and content words. To understand a function word, one studies grammar; to understand a content, word, we look it up in the dictionary.

The 5 x 5 method

This is a method I've used to generate ideas.  You can do it in the car or when walking. Suppose you have five major areas in which to generate ideas. You take the first one, and think of five ideas about it.  On your next walk, take the second chapter (area, etc...) and develop 5 ideas about that one. At the end of the process you will have 25 ideas that you can then pare down to 16, by eliminating one areas and keeping four of the five best ideas in the other ones.

The melodramatic style

The melodramatic style in musicology consists of describing harmonic progressions as startling and cataclysmic.  They might be, in some cases, or this might be a discursive by-product of analysis itself. In one instance I've found recently, the writer makes these kinds of statement but then brings us up short:

"I should warn you that several of the points I have made in this chapter may not be audible on many recordings..."

Well that's a relief, I guess.

The writer goes on to say it's her duty to combat over-prettified interpretations with a call to make the music sound more drastic and conflictive, more in tune with her own "gnostic" reading of the score.

 A little later we get an "abject collapse into C minor."

A Paradox

When music and poetry come together, in song settings, Kramer wants to separate them by emphasizing their disjunction. When there is seemingly no connection, as between Stevens and Ives, or Wordsworth and Beethoven, he forces an analogy.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Reading Kramer's "Music and Poetry".

Surely instead of trying to look for parallels between one quartet of Beethoven and one poem by Wordsworth, it would be better to look at larger structural tendencies that don't depend on one person's analysis and judgment of isolated examples.  And this nervous flipping back between poetry and music, between Ives and Wallace Stevens, for example. The comparisons occur at such a high level of abstraction and stylistic obfuscation  that one is never sure of the exact claims being made:

"At first glance, the risk that Wordsworth takes with myth in the 'Intimations' Ode might seem insignificant beside Beethoven's protracted gamble with tonality."

[or else: unrelated in any way; we are comparing musical structures with literary meanings].

Word and Music studies

I've been reading some of Lawrence Kramer's work. He brings together the study of poetry and music in an odd way, because his presupposition is that they are far apart in the first place and thus require Herculean efforts to bring together. Even when he brings them together in the obvious places, as in his writing on the art song, he wants to emphasize their antithetical character, especially in the way that music does violence to the text being set.

That is not how I experience song. I don't think of the poem or text as something pre-existent, which then the composer has set to music (even when that is the case). Rather, I hear the song as a song, with two simultaneous dimensions. In the hearing, these dimensions are inseparable. Of course, I can hear disjunctions. For example, I react strongly against Serrat's 70s pop sounds when he is singing Miguel Hernández. In this case, I think that that is the wrong setting of the text stylistically. But I feel the same way when I hear Cummings read his own poems, even in the absence of music.  He is doing it wrong!  Thus I think of it as a performative issue, more than an issue relating to the presence or absence of music.

Kramer has a very intricate analysis of a piece's harmony, and then pairs that with an account of a poem, then asks us to assent to a comparison between the two. So Beethoven in a piece does this, etc... Wordsworth does this... and then they are found to be analogous.  I don't buy it, because I don't think you could have an experimental subject sit down, read Wordsworth, listen to Beethoven, and come up with anything remotely like these responses. The comparison is the artifact of the analysis, not something present already in anyone's reaction to these kinds of works.

What seems to be missing is the more primordial connection everyone already feels between song and poetry.  We don't need that much effort to bring them together. I feel like Kramer is more romantic than postmodern or poststructuralist as he tries to be.  He falls back on this allegorical style of reading that is pre rather than poststructuralist.  (I remember Barthes warning us against readings that are analogical rather than structural.)  Of course he is a very brilliant guy, but could that brilliance be counter-productive? Song is very close the origin of language itself, and poetry has always been song, although it has been dissociated from song in a few exceptional circumstances, and only within literate traditions.  

Encerrona (4)

I read an autobiography of a writer (Jim Harrison) who begins by saying he does an encerrona by checking into a motel.  (He doesn't use the word encerrona, of course.) That is one method. A writer's colony or retreat would be another. I think the spatial aspect is important: you need to get away in some way, or spend time in your office on the weekend when you normally wouldn't.  Something that marks the time / space as sanctified and devoted only to your work.

If you cannot generate 1,000 about your project in a morning's work, you probably don't have enough ideas, yet, to call it your next book project. This particular project snuck up on me, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, it's my turn now.  It had answers for all my doubts and snowballed so quickly that I was humbled (though I hate when people say they are humbled).  

I think now what I need to do is give more talks about it. I am available!

More Rejection

The rejection project isn't going all that great. I did get a poem rejected from a journal one day after submission, but most of my requests for interviews have been met with acceptances. When I ask colleagues, whether here or elsewhere, to spend time to talk to me about my research, everyone says yes enthusiastically. What is it with people? Getting 100 rejections will be hard at this rate.  

Also, the rejections of poems are by people who don't know me, and thus I am not really putting myself out there all that much. I need to be rejected more in person for this to work to really desensitize myself to rejection so much that I don't even fear or feel it.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

I go right for the debates

When trying to figure out what's what, what direction is up, in a scholarly field, I go right for the debates. I go to jstor and try to read as many book reviews as I can of a prominent figure. This gives me the context of intellectual discussion. Reviews that are mere summaries or that are mostly positive aren't very useful.  By the same token book reviews of my own work that are more mixed are more useful than those that praise me, ego aside. Polemic is enjoyable, even though many are afraid of it.


Lawrence Kramer's book on poetry and music in the 19th century seems promising. I first came across his work in a book on John Ashbery, edited by David Lehman I think, called Beyond Amazement, where Kramer analyzes Elliot Carter's setting of "Syringa." I must have read this as a teenager.

The prose is very high-theory 1980s. The connections he find are sort of allegorical, in the sense that they derive from very convoluted musical and literary analyses, and then comparisons between these convoluted analyses. I would like to find more direct, intuitive connections, that don't depend on a musical ear that can hear Shenkerian analysis.

I've spent a lot of time worrying whether I can do this project, but I've decided to do it so too bad if I can't / am not qualified. I've certainly found a not so great book with the subtitle "FGL y la música." I am already at a higher intellectual level than this guy.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Encerrona (3)

Part of the encerrona can be a narrative account of how you came up with your project.

Another part can be some blog entries in which you track your progress. I've written 1,000 words now.  

Encerrona (2)

I've mentioned the idea of an encerrona before.  The idea is to spend an extensive period of time on a single day to jump start a new project--or to inject new life into an ongoing one. I'm doing this today with LORCA IV. I am not teaching today, girlfriend is in Japan, no meetings with job candidates or papers to grade, so I can devote the entire working day to this. I have 300 words already, in which I discuss my qualifications for the project and some main ideas and directions. I began in the morning before I arose, and outlined some things in my head, then began to write during my morning coffee. If I take a walk somewhere later then my mind will continue to work on this.  I will still practice piano, feed chickens and cat, and do other normal activities of this kind.

If you've tried this technique let me know how it's worked for you. Most research cannot be done in a state of continual encerrona, because, well, life and other work obligations do not permit this. Nevertheless, to do an encerrona is to do a substantial amount of work in one concentrated burst of effort.