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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 ye...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Day 6

Today I was able to make significant progress on the preface, all but completing the summary of chapters and removing some extraneous material. My first real accomplishment of the sabbatical might be getting a very good version of this preface before moving on to complete the Lorca / kitsch / postmodernism chapter. This is probably a good idea. Not only does the preface come first, but it give me a good sense of the shape of the entire project, and give me mini-accomplishment to begin with.

I find myself observing myself as a writer as though "I" were "another." Jonathan looks at what Mayhew can do with some sense of amazement. The one who can do all this does not seem to be "me," but a kind of separate function of the self.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Day 5: 75 minutes

I set the pomodoro timer for 25 minutes, and repeated three times, with the appropriate number of breaks. I've done this several days in a row. I don't seem to want to write for 100 minutes, but that is fine. I am getting a lot done, working for 50 minutes on a chapter on Lorca and postmodern kitsch, and then another 25 on the preface and the order and titles of the chapters. By working on the preface, I am able to keep my attention on the project as a whole, especially as I rewrite the dreaded summary of chapters. For the reader, this summary has the function of "signposting" the contents of the entire book. For the writer, it has a similar function: I am able to see the project whole in one coherent set of about 11 paragraphs, and work out kinks in continuity.

Remember I am working to finish the book by January 2013. I will have ample time if I keep up this modest pace.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Day 4: Jonathan regains his brilliance

On the fourth day of my sabbatical, I have regained my former brilliance. Ideas flowed together magically before 9:30 in the morning. This chapter will be called "Postmodern Lorca: Motherwell, Strayhorn, García Montero." It is like the missing chapter from Apocryphal Lorca!

In a few weeks of not working on my scholarship at all, I began to feel brutishly stupid. It was true that I was studying Keats and Wordsworth and watching bad Italian mafia movies from the 70s, but I was not writing, not producing my own ideas.

The break was still probably necessary, of only to show myself that I am capable of feeling like an unproductive brute.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Day 3

I have had three productive days in a row. You can check out the other blog for a paragraph I wrote. I rearranged the chapters today as well, trying to get them to fall into place. All this before 9:30 in the morning too. I have put my work in and have the rest of the day free.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Day 2 of Sabbatical

The beauty of the Pomodoro timer is that you can use it to keep track of your working hours, labeling the sessions with discrete tags. So I know I have devoted 4 discrete 25 minute sessions to my project What Lorca Knew during this sabbatical. It will be interesting to see how many sessions I will need to complete the book. *** It strikes me that I need to be more deliberate about vacations and breaks. When I take a trip, I will not work during the trip at all. I will also lose time when I have to move (twice - it is complicated) and for other reasons.

Friday, May 25, 2012

1st day of sabbatical

Between now and January I hope to complete a book with the title What Lorca Knew: Spanish Poetics and Intellectual History. I will be free of teaching responsibilities in this period. You can follow my progress on this book on this blog, and read excerpts on Bemsha Swing as I post them.

I have parts of nine months to complete this project. What's left of May, June through December, and January before school starts again. The main tools I will use are the Seinfeld chain and the pomodoro session, in other words, continuous stretches of writing every day, and short concentrated bursts of effort.

PART ONE: Genealogies

1. Introduction: Spanish Exceptionalism and Intellectual History

2. The Grain of the Voice: Lorca’s “Play and Theory of the Duende”

3. María Zambrano and the Genealogy of Late Modernism

4. Declining Fortunes: Jorge Guillén and Luis Cernuda

PART TWO: Continuities

5. Fragments of a Late Modernity: Samuel Beckett and José Ángel Valente

6. Antonio Gamoneda and the Persistence of Memory

7. What Claudio Knew: From Pragmaticism to Mysticism

PART THREE: Extensions

8. Verse and Prose (From Juan Ramón Jiménez to Olvido García Valdés)

9. Aphorism and Poetic Thought (From Antonio Machado to Jorge Riechmann)

10. Blanca Varela and Eduardo Milán: The Spanish American Connection

11. The Uses of Lorca: From Modernism to Kitsch

The parts I still have to complete are the preface and introduction, chapters 7, 9, and 11. So I have lots of time, but I cannot waste too much time either. The preface should fall into place once everything else is written, so there are four major tasks. Chapter 7 is almost done, so I really have to concentrate on 3 major tasks.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Memorization Notes

1. Knowing something "by rote" has a negative connotation. Yet knowing something "by heart" is a good thing, right? If you memorize a poem even without understanding it, you will come to understand it later, as it kicks around in your memory. So even a "rote," non-understanding memorization, is worth-while. The alternative to not knowing a poem by memory is to have a second-hand knowledge of it.

2. To memorize a poem is to say that it is worth the time to memorize, that it is worth it. It might take half and hour, for a short poem. Then you might have to re-memorize it a few more times before it is really stored in long-term memory. Many times I memorize a poem and then never relearn it. This is still worth while: to exercise the short-term memory or to slow down the reading of a poem.

3.Learning new texts and relearning old ones, both tasks are equally worth while. At one point I knew most of a short novel by Samuel Beckett, Ill Seen Ill Said, by memory. I could relearn it if I wanted to. "There where she lies she sees Venus rise..."

4. Memorization has an oblique relationship to my "work," my published research. Obviously I don't need to memorize poetry in order to write about it. It is a technique or spiritual practice that make me what I am, rather than something that any scholar needs to do. I know scholars of poetry and even poets who don't memorize at all, who could barely recite two or three lines from memory. I don't think there is anything wrong with this. In fact, I sometimes wish I were not a slave to my own memory.


Classes are over, so I am reading some poetry. That is my work, believe it or not. 40% of my effort should be directed toward research, according to my contract, and I am a specialist in poetry. A lot of what I read will never find its way into my published articles. Not every experience I have as a reader will result in an academic argument. Most of it is background, yet a background that is, in some sense, more significant than what's in the foreground: the published work. Yesterday, when I was reading in the coffee shop, I was thinking about what I was doing. The poetry I was reading was by Andrés Sánchez Robayna, a poet from the Canary Islands. I stopped to memorize a few short poems. Occasionally, I thought of ideas I could use in my book, but mostly I was experiencing the poetry as a sacred act of communion with nature. It is a sacred act for the poet, and for me as a reader. This has nothing to do with any particular religion. It is the sacred in its purest form. (Some people need religion to get at the sacred, and others use religion to avoid the sacred. The guy at the table next to me had a Bible and some other religious books that he was studying, but I don't know which category he fell into.) So what is the relation between my academic work, work that fulfills requirements for research, and the fact that what the poetry I study is actually about is the experience of the sacred? In Borges's story "El etnógrafo" a student named Fred Murdoch is presented as a respectful everyman, naturally believing in what is written in books. At the beginning of the story he is a tabula rasa, a man with no identity and open to any possibility, whether puritanism or the orgy. A professor suggests that he go to live with the Indians on the prairie and undergo what might be described as a vision quest, revealing the sacred "secret" of this particular tribe. He does this, but on his return he decides not to write the dissertation. The experience is not ineffable, but the secret in itself is less valuable than the experience that led up to it. So one model is the ethnographer of the sacred who doesn't write of his own experiences. There is no graphia in this ethnography. The other model is that the experience of reading poetry ends up in a secondary form of writing, called literary criticism. Then the problem is that the canons of literary criticism impose restrictions that seem irrelevant to the experience of the sacred. Rather than seeing this as a negative, however, I see it as a good thing. Academic literary criticism provides a forum and a discipline for this experience. Otherwise there would be no way of articulating the experience to anyone else. It is too important to keep to myself.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Sometimes I feel the window is closed. I cannot imagine changing any habits, or learning anything new. Work continues, but plods on. At other times, I question everything. Why am I not a full-time translator of poetry instead of a critic? Having the window open is a good thing, but you wouldn't want it open all the time, or you could never settle into a routine. On the other hand, a permanently closed door would lead to stagnation.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


I will be regrouping for the summer, with the plan being to write one article / chapter between now and August 31. That seems realistic, since I have to move, take some smaller, non work-related trips, and teach a summer course. I will work in a very deliberate and unhurried way, without rushing things. My topic is the poetic aphorism, focussing on poets who combine poetry and abstract thought during the last decades of the twentieth century. I basically know what I want to say in the article: it is a matter of putting everything together. I decided the book will have 11 chapters, which will allow me to publish one more article without worrying about duplication between articles and published book. If I work only on this section, then I will be more focussed. I am leaving aside Lorca / modelo para armar for later.

Friday, May 4, 2012


I got this comment the other day on the most popular all-time post on this blog:
Well, as a tenured faculty member who sacrificed a lot to get to this point, I would have to that in my case a lot of depression in academia is environmentally driven. Academia amounts to high expectations with almost no reward. One is either bombarded with large amounts of trivial criticism or politically supported unworthy praise. I for one wasted my life following an academic life and would recommend others to look elsewhere for a more fulfilling life.
This morning, I saw a facebook post by the out-going chair of the English department at KU, which said, simply, "I love my department." I love the English department here too, as well as my own department of Spanish and Portuguese. The amount of knowledge and culture present when I am at the table drinking martinis with people like Ken Irby or Susan Harris is extraordinary. My response to someone who can only see the negative in academia is to get out in order to let one the hundreds of other people who want her tenured job in. (Or his tenured job; I shouldn't be sexist not knowing the identity of this whining loser.) Yes, depression comes from outside, from "environmental factors," not from how one responds to these factors. Because it is easy to discount all the praise your get as "unworthy" and hence impure, and all the criticism as "trivial." Nothing means anything, then, if you set up those as the only possible categories. How can you waste your life pursuing your most passionate interests and getting to teach them to a new generation of young people?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

New Work

I published an article this month. See here. Unfortunately, you can't read it unless you subscribe to the journal. I can't even read the other articles in this special issue.