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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...

Friday, August 31, 2012

Dare to be Inefficient

Although you must wisely manage your time and tasks, scholarship is often an inefficient affair. You won't be able to devote an hour to writing and get exactly an hour's worth of efficient prose out of it. The mind must have enough space to play with ideas without the pressure of having to produce a certain number of words. This is the "higher efficiency."

As dispenser of advice, I advocate regular writing, so as to allow the time for this play to occur. It cannot occur in a vacuum, but only as a part of an already reasonably "efficient" schedule.

I realize that I did not put together a chain of more than three days of continuous work in August, until today. I never got to that fourth day, and as a consequence I had a difficult time reaching that stage in which I could work with the inefficiency I needed to be truly efficient.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Bugbears, red herrings, bêtes noires, alibis, bogeymen, and shibboleths

I had a professor in a comp lit class as an undergraduate who drilled into us all the zombie rules. You couldn't use "hopefully" as a sentence adverb, but only as an adverb modifying an action: "He waited hopefully." You couldn't begin a sentence with the word "however" in the sense of "nevertheless." You couldn't write "the fact that" because that would be wasted words. You could never use the passive voice. Instead of teaching us other, more valuable things about good writing, he substituted a set of bugbears, red herrings, bêtes noires, and shibboleths. Bogey-men of usage. These are not the "elements of style," but a set of alibis for style, a convenient but misleading set of rules.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Split infinitive

Rules that eat your brain. A denunciation of the stupid split infinitive "rule."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Statement of Plans

Another part of the Guggenheim application. I fear it is not clear to non-specialist audience. But getting this fellowship application done will be the first major accomplishment for my sabbatical.
My plan for the Guggenheim fellowship is to complete work on a book in progress with the title What Lorca Knew: Spanish Poetics and Intellectual History. The aim of this new book is to trace the intellectual genealogy the “late modern” school of Spanish poetry studied in my previous book, The Twilight of the Avant-Garde, to explain the intriguing success of this movement, and to reflect on its internal contradictions. The two major poets most closely identified with this tendency are José Ángel Valente and Antonio Gamoneda; other figures associated with late modernism include Miguel Casado, Olvido García Valdés, Andrés Sánchez Robayna, José-Miguel Ullán, and the Spanish-American poets Blanca Varela and Eduardo Milán, among several others. Late modernism is, in my estimation, the most significant poetic tendency of the present moment. Not all contemporary Spanish poets belong to this movement, of course: a rival school, identified with an explicit rejection of modernist principles, has been equally prominent since the 1980s. My aim in this book, however, is not to examine the dynamics of this rivalry (as I did in The Twlight of the Avant-Garde), but to examine late modernism in its intellectual and literary context.

The origins of late modernism can be found in the cultural poetics of Spanish exceptionalism, first developed in the work of key precursors like Miguel de Unamuno, Federico García Lorca, and María Zambrano. Zambrano is a transitional figure in this lineage, providing a bridge between the historical modernism of the pre-civil war period and the late modernism that developed beginning in the 1980s. The central question for Spanish late modernism is the one posed most eloquently in Zambrano’s work: the possibility of fusion between poetry and thought, between the forms of knowledge embodied in the metaphors and rhythms of poetic language and the more abstract forms of reason developed by the philosophers.

Aside from Zambrano, the most significant precursor of the poetics of modernism is Federico García Lorca, who is also one of the most canonical figure of historical modernism itself. The title What Lorca Knew reflects my estimation of his centrality. Lorca’s contribution to modernist and late modernist tradition, however, has remained in doubt. Valente—the major intellectual figure of Spanish late modernism—has been reticent about acknowledging the extent of his debt to Lorca, preferring to trace his own lineage to Jiménez, Lezama Lima, Paul Celan, and Edmond Jabès, among others. As a consequence, the author of Poet in New York is not included in the semi-official canon of Spanish late modernism. Lorca remains a significant and even controversial figure in contemporary Spain, to be sure, but for reasons that are largely tangential to his poetic legacy: he is the most prominent victim of the Spanish civil war, losing his life in a political assassination at the outset of the conflict in 1936. The focus of this book is not on poetry per se, but on poetics. My primary aim, in other words, is not to analyze or interpret lyric poems, but rather to look at the broader intellectual foundations of the late modern movement. The word poetics can mean several different things, but for my project the elasticity of the concept is advantageous. In structuralist theory, poetics can refer to a systematic approach to literature aimed at uncovering implicit structures or rules, but it is also associated with more intuitive modes of thought. Poetics is both the theory implicit in the writing poetry itself, and a genre of prose written by poets in an attempt to explain or justify their practice.

Since one of the central projects of late modernism is to fuse poetry with more abstract forms of thought, this body of writing becomes particularly significant, acquiring an autonomous value quite apart from its usefulness in explicating the work of the poet in question. A text like Lorca’s “Play and Theory of the Duende” might hold keys for interpreting Lorca’s poetry, but it is also a major work of literature in its own right. The same might be said of Robert Duncan’s H.D. Book or the densely baroque essays of José Lezama Lima. The philosophical essay, as practiced in Spain by Miguel de Unamuno, José Ortega y Gasset, and María Zambrano, also has close connections with the practice of poetics: the aim of these philosphers is to explore modes of thought that are intuitive and poetic rather than strictly rationalistic, and to forge a cultural poetics of Spanish identity.

The following is a table of contents of this book:

1. Introduction: Spanish Exceptionalism, Poetics, and Intellectual History

2. Declining Fortunes: Jorge Guillén and Luis Cernuda

3. The Grain of the Voice: “Play and Theory of the Duende”

4. Postmodern Lorca: Motherwell, Strayhorn, García Montero

5. María Zambrano and the Genealogy of Late Modernism

6. José Ángel Valente: The New Synthesis

7. Antonio Gamoneda and the Persistence of Memory

8. What Claudio Knew: From Pragmaticism to Mysticism

9. Strange Islands: The Spanish American Connection

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

At this time, I have completed drafts of seven chapters. I propose to write Chapters 4 during my Sabbatical leave (Fall of 2012) and remaining sections of the book (Chapters 1, 6, and 10) during the academic year 2013-14. This plan allows for time to revise the entire manuscript for style and submit it to a publisher by June of 2014.

This book will make a substantial contribution to the study of modern Spanish poetry and poetics, showing how Lorca’s legacy relates to the development of the late modernist poetics developed by Zambrano and Valente and echoed by Spanish American poets like Blanca Varela and Eduardo Milán. In chapter 2, I argue that the legacy of Jorge Guillén and Luis Cernuda, two canonical poets, is not quite as significant as it once seemed. The two chapters on Lorca (3, 4) perhaps hold the key to the book. In chapter 3, I undertake a major re-interpretation of a foundational text in Spanish poetics. In chapter 4, I further reflect on Lorca’s on-going legacy, discussing three emblematic cases: “Elegy for the Spanish Republic,” a series of paintings by the Abstract Impressionist Robert Motherwell; jazz composer Billy Strayhorn’s musical settings of Lorca’s texts; and Spanish poet Luis García Montero’s struggle to reconcile his admiration for Lorca’s politics with his suspicion of Lorca’s avant-garde poetics.

The following chapters of What Lorca Knew are devoted to three poets of the latter half of the twentieth century: José Ángel Valente, Claudio Rodríguez, and Antonio Gamoneda. My contention is that these three poets owe a great deal more to Lorca’s legacy than they have acknowledged. Lorca’s work thus holds the key to the development of late modernist poetics. Chapter 9 examines the support lent to Valente and his school by Spanish American late modernists, while Chapter 10 highlights the importance of poetic works that call into question the distinction between verse and prose. This final chapter will allow me to revisit the work of poets discussed in other chapters (Gamoneda, Rodríguez) in a different context, showing how the distinctive prosody of late modernism creates new forms of artistic expression.

Friday, August 24, 2012


Guess what dashingly handsome Lorca scholar teaching at KU won the prestigious Higuchi award this year?

I didn't become a distinguished professor, but this is a serious award, giving me $10,000 toward my research. Now I just have to figure out how to spend it.


Jonathan Mayhew version 5.2 will be even superior to 5.1. Although it might be slower at some tasks, it will be more patient and experienced, less dogmatic and more humble.

. I feel as smart and confident as ever. I'm working out in the gym and, despite living in St. Louis for my sabbatical, going back to the university town where I work with some frequency.

If you really insist on getting me something, I wouldn't mind having the new edition of Bean Spasms. I guess my tastes never change that much.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


The book for which I am known for being the most "dogmatic" was Twilight of the Avant-Garde. This was the book that took the longest to write, precisely because I was constantly revising ideas and debating myself. Apparently it didn't work. I could have taken five more years and still be seen as dogmatic.

Many people just don't think any controversy is valid at all. If you take any position at all, you are dogmatic. And, often, championing any avant-garde work is seen as inherently rigid, since it implicitly (or explicitly in my case) calls into question the value of mainstream poetry.

Career Narrative (2)

I'm sure you are all waiting for this with great anticipation. Tell me if it sounds arrogant in any way.
I began my academic career as an undergraduate at the University of California at Davis and a graduate student at Stanford University. I spent my junior year abroad in Madrid, studying with the poet Claudio Rodríguez, who later became the subject of my doctoral dissertation. My year in Spain had a formative influence on my life and career, determining my choice of field: I would be a scholar of Spanish-language poetry. My principal goal has been consistent from the very beginning of my intellectual trajectory: I have always wanted to account for the contribution of modern Spanish poetry to the larger project of literary modernity in the international context. In other words, how can we compare the achievement of poets like Federico García Lorca and José Lezama Lima to that of Ezra Pound, André Breton, Fernando Pessoa, or Constantin Kavafy? What is distinctive about the contribution poetry written in Spanish? I have sometimes approached these questions through close readings of emblematic poets. At other times, I have addressed broader historical and theoretical questions, sometimes intervening in literary polemics.

I received my PhD in Comparative Literature from Stanford in 1988. My first tenure-track position was at the Ohio State University, where I taught from 1988 through 1994. I published my dissertation as my first book, Claudio Rodríguez and the Language of Poetic Vision (1990). I wrote a second one, The Poetics of Self-Consciousness: Twentieth-Century Spanish Poetry (1994) with help from a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities (1992-93 academic year). During these years I was also able to publish articles in prestigious journals like PMLA, Hispanic Review, and MLN, establishing myself as a recognized scholar in my field at a relatively early stage of my career.

In 1995, I accepted a position as Associate Professor at the University of Kansas, where I currently teach. In the late 1990s I began work on a mongraph that was eventually published in 2009: The Twilight of the Avant-Garde: Spanish Poetry, 1980-2000. This book deals with the heated polemic between two rival schools of poetry. The first, “the poetry of experience,” pointedly rejects the intellectual and literary ambitions of literary modernism. The second, which I call “late modernism,” attempts to reshape these ambitions for the twenty-first century. Since I took the position that this more intellectually challenging held more promise than the anti-modernist alternative, I gained some degree of fame (or notoriety) among Spanish critics and poets. One prominent poet, for example, referred to me sardonically as “politically correct because of a love for Indian reservations.” I began work on this book in the midst of an on-going controversy. Perhaps as a result of this, I frequently questioned myself and revised my plans, so that the final book came out several years later than I had orginally planned.

I held my second NEH Fellowship during the 2007-08 Academic Year, completing my fourth book, Apocryphal Lorca: Translation, Parody, Kitsch (2009). This book, published by the University of Chicago Press, has received a positive reception. This book charts the uneven process by which US poets like Langston Hughes, Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, Robert Bly, Paul Blackburn, and Jack Spicer assimilated the influence of Federico García Lorca, the best-known Spanish writer of the twentieth century. Like The Twilight of the Avant-Garde, this book has a polemical edge, since I argue that American poets read Lorca through the prism of their own “domestic agenda,” often mistranslating, oversimplifying, and otherwise misrepresenting his poetry. While Lorca’s influence on American poetry had received some attention from previous scholars, my book, based on extensive archival work, brought the most relevant material together in a coherent narrative. Apocryphal Lorca is the scholarly book for which I am best known. Several scholars have told me that they have used this book in their courses.

The publication of two books in 2009 cemented my scholarly reputation and led to my promotion to full professor. My current projects include a book to be written in Spanish with the title Lorca / modelo para armar [Lorca / a model to construct], and What Lorca Knew: Spanish Poetics and Intellectual History. The first, which I expect to publish in Spain, will synthesize my thinking about Lorca for a Spanish-speaking audience. What Lorca Knew is the project I propose to complete while holding the Guggenheim Fellowship. Although it is a completely new project, it draws from more than 30-years of single-minded study. Like my previous books, it is an approach to what I regard as the central problem for scholars in my field: what is the distinctive contribution of Spanish poetry to modern poetry and poetics?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Career Narrative

I am applying for a Guggenheim. The first thing they ask for is a summary of my career. These are always fun and challenging. The challenge is to promote oneself but without seeming arrogant. The fun part is that it provides an opportunity to look at oneself and figure out what the narrative of one's career actually amounts to. It's an intellectual autobiography, not just a list of accomplishments.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Why plagiarize

In an on-line course for which you receive no credit? Because you are an idiot.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Sharing Unfinished Work

There are two schools of thought about this. Mine is that you should only share work that is done, in "penultimate" form. Giving someone a "rough draft" verges on the insulting. Moreover, it puts the reader in an awkward position. Should I point out rather obvious lapses that the writer could easily catch herself? Or should I assume that he really needs help with some basic issues? I have to guess at what needs commentary and what doesn't. I don't want to waste my time with issues that the writer already knows how to fix, with the possibility of insulting him, but I don't know which is which. Does the writer have problems with organization, or did she give me something before she bothered to organize it? You should only share with me a smooth draft.

The other school of thought is that you need to share work sometimes earlier, just to get another perspective, or for reassurance. If I need feedback on ideas, then what I would normally do is to send a more informal email and lay out some ideas, to see whether they have plausibility. On beginning one of my current thoughts I wrote four or five people in the field asking their opinion about whether it would be viable, giving them a sketch of what I was planning.

I will not read...

I will not read...

Very funny take on what it takes to read someone's manuscript. I really like when the aspiring writer says, "wait, read the new version instead...."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I was stuck this morning so I wrote this. I used 25 minutes to write everything I knew (or could articulate in that time) about a particular section of a work of literature. It is not part of a chapter of my book, but it is tangentially related to it. I'm sure the work has not been wasted.

Monday, August 13, 2012


via Scroggins. I tend to agree with this. You are either writing things down, putting ideas on paper, or editing, preparing a final version of a piece of writing. Very rarely do you have to write a sentence for the first time that will remain unchanged in the final version. For example, I found the sentence "the prose canon is dominated by a certain kind of writing that is quite different from what we would find in Lorca’s plays or poetry" in something I had written. There is no way that I would knowingly keep a sentence that bad, that vague, passive, and lazy, in a finished draft. Yet that sentence serves a function: to remind me of some idea I had, so that when I come back to it I will know what I was thinking.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

More "Signposting Without Signposting"

I reviewed an article last year in which the author (identity unknown to me) couldn't stop using "As I will contend..." "I will argue that..." The curious thing was that this kind of language did not really orient the reader through the stages of the argument: it was used at seemingly random moments merely to signal particular assertions. So to be effective, signposting must actually serve that orienting function. Otherwise it is like finding a sign on the trail that says "you are somewhere on the trail."

My idea is that you can mark the stages of the trail without too many metadiscursive markers in the first place.

Friday, August 10, 2012


It may be time to revisit Elmore Leonard's rules.


Sabbatical paradox. It is worthwhile revisiting this post because I am on sabbatical now. It might even be useful for you if you have experienced this phenomenon as I have.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Saying No

How saying no helps.


What are the factors that hold you back? Criticism from others leading to self-doubt? Fear of rejection? An institutional culture discouraging research and intellectual pursuits generally? A lack of adequate knowledge or training? Your own bad work habits?

How much of this under your own control? You can control your own work habits to a large extent. You cannot prevent people from criticizing your work or rejecting you, but you can develop strategies for dealing with this. Clarissa, in a comment to the next-to-last post, says she uses the culture of complaint about "how hard research" is to motivate herself to do more research! An unusual response by highly effective. In my first job, I used the fact that some of my colleagues didn't think I was very good to spur myself on to greater things. I was going to prove the assholes wrong in spectacular fashion, and I did. I know it's hard to believe, but not everyone has always worshipped my superior intelligence or praised me lavishly. It's a good thing too.

So your anti-fuel can be your fuel too.


I return to teaching in January. That gives me 6 months (including what's left of August and the beginning of January before school starts) to write six chapters. Two of them are virtually complete: I just have to add a bit to them. So I have to bring at least one to completion every month.

This calls for a measured approach of neither rushing nor procrastinating. Festina lente. I have to work almost every day I am not on a trip someplace, but I don't have to rush on any particular day. I don't feel the need to use timers right now. I can just start working shortly after I get up and try to devote most of each morning to the writing, until about 10:30 or 11.

I am also re-memorizing Gamoneda's Libro del frío (for the second time). That is the activity that will keep my brain occupied at night. I'm sure an article on Gamoneda will emerge somewhere from there.

One Project Conceals Another

As I was writing a paragraph today, I realized I needed to write a whole 'nother book on the generation of poets that includes Ullán, Gimferrer, Sánchez Robayna... Ah, well. Every book contains a second book struggling to get out, the book behind or beyond the book. One project conceals another. The discipline lies in keeping to one's present project without jumping to something seemingly more appealing. I already have a book after this one on Lorca, so this new project will have to wait in line.

Yes, I know that "nother" is not a real word.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


What is your fuel? Caffeine? Good food? Fountain pen ink? Perfume? Sex? Music? Massage? Praise from others you admire as scholars? The acceptance of articles? Intellectual dialogue? Reading primary texts or foundational works in your field? What happens when you don't get this fuel regularly?

Blocks of Time

Z suggests we need blocks of time in order to enter into our identities as researchers. In other words, it is difficult to sit down to write if one hasn't been assuming the identity as a researcher and writer in the rest of one's life.

She applies this to women, in the first place, though I don't see why it is not applicable to me as well. Researching and writing academic articles and books is such a strange activity that it is hard to assume that as one's primary identity in ordinary life. Of course, the micro-indignities to which women are subjected remain outside of my experience, so it may be that {some) women experience this with even more intensity.

Still, I, like anyone else, have a difficult time transitioning into work. July and early August was spent moving back to St. Louis for my sabbatical. I was moving out of one apartment and into another, storing things at a friend's house, moving things out of my soon-to-be ex-spouse's house, etc...I decided I wouldn't even try to write during July. Now the huge block of time looming is my sabbatical. Within the huge block, I need to have large blocks each day. When I open up my chapters again I think: "Why am I even doing this?" It seem almost crazy. So before I start today I will finish this blog post.

There. It's done.

Sunday, August 5, 2012



Simple Arguments

An argument can be simple, easy to understand, without being simplifying or simplistic. For example, I want to argue that Valente's move toward mysticism occurs by the early 1970s, rather than mostly in the 1980s, as other critics have suggested, and that this fact has certain consequences for the reinterpretation of Spanish literary history. That the shift in his perspective does not involve writing a new kind of poem, but rather in his decision not to write another type (as often). It's not a particularly profound point, and might even seem obvious once I point it out, but it will have implications for the larger shape of my project.

You don't have to be afraid of pointing out the obvious, or even rehearsing knowledge that might seem basic. A really convincing synthesis of existing knowledge can be useful.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lazy Arguments

I know a little something about laziness. Here are some habits to avoid:

"X is inseparable from Y..." Ok, but what is the actual connection? What are you really saying about the connection between X and Y? Only that they belong in the same conversation?

"It is no coincidence that X and Y arise at the same time..." Once again, you are arguing that X and Y belong together. You are asserting that their co-incidence (occurring at the same time) is no accident. But, once again, what is actual link? Language poetry and Reaganism both occur in the 1980s. Could it be an accident? Yes, it could. Or LP is a reaction against Reagan, or the two could have a third, shared cause, etc...

"Z is no exception..." You state a general trend, and then introduce your own topic with a phrase like this. No problem, except that you aren't stating a very interesting connection between the general trend and your own topic, are you? (You are also using a cliché.) How about situating your topic in relation to the trend by saying that it is a particularly relevant example because it seems to illustrate the trend but really doesn't? Or call into question the relevance of the trend?

Instead of saying: "Avant-garde movements spread through the entire world. Latin America was no exception." You could say, "When Latin American artists became engaged with the avant-garde, they introduced a fundamental element absent from European movements: ..." You can see how much stronger that is. The reader wants to know what the element is.

So a strong argument argues for a relation between two elements that is not simply inseparability, coincidence (or the lack thereof), or the exemplification of a general trend. Weak arguments tend to point to potentially exciting juxtapositions without really articulating what kind of relation there is.