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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...

Monday, December 9, 2013

What are people interested in when they are interested in language

Since I am a language teacher (at least in part of my professional role) and an academic specialist in the artistic use of language (i.e. poetry), and a poet and translator myself, I have thought about what it means for someone to be interested in language, and what people mean by this.

One of the main areas of interest is in stigma. People love stigmatizing others for how they talk or use language. Whether it be those interested in the enforcement of "zombie rules" (non rules) of grammar like split infinitives, or in stigmatizing accents, regional dialects, or vernacular habits of speech as ignorant or lower class. At its least offensive, an interest in stigma becomes an interest in mere sociolinguistic difference, without a negative value attached, or an admiration for prestige dialects.

(Disfluency is supposed to be a sign of moral or political corruption. I never understood that. I might hate the linguistic habits of people I agree with politically, for example. Wouldn't that be more my problem than theirs? Or if right-wing people are poor spellers, well, that means that they are poor spellers, and nothing more than that.)

Another category of interest is in words and etymologies. Some people who like language just like word origins. That's fine. I happen to know some etymologies, though I can't say that's the source of my interest in language. I like words, but I like sentences more than words per se.

Some people are interested in the process of language learning. I have some interest in that in my role as teacher.

People are interested in Whorfian ideas about language shaping thought.

But most of my interest in language is in the area of linguistic prosody: rhythm and intonation, pretty much. I think syntax could be pretty interesting, but I don't follow technical discussions of it, lacking formal training. Cognitive linguistics, related to the study of metaphor, is also worth my time, as is the study of idiomatic expressions and proverbs.

Friday, December 6, 2013

No trilogy

I decided against the trilogy idea. Another book by me on Lorca is not what the world needs (after my 2nd I mean). What I should do for book 6 is something completely, utterly unrelated to Lorca.

I think it should be a book on prosody. That's the subject I've thought the most about without publishing anything about it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


What Lorca Knew: Fragments of a Late Modernity

Hermeneutical Introduction*
Chapter 1: What Lorca Knew*
Chapter 2: Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Poetics of Cultural Exceptionalism
Chapter 3: The Anatomy of Influence: Lorca in Contemporary Spanish Poetry
Chapter 4: The Grain of the Voice
Chapter 5: New York Variations: O’Hara, Motherwell, Strayhorn*
Chapter 6: Queering Lorca
Conclusion: Elegy For Modernism

I've honed this table of contents so that it reads better. I realized I didn't need to have Lorca in every title of every chapter, or have explanatory subtitles every time. Title chapters refer to Henry James, Wallace Stevens, Harold Bloom, and Roland Barthes. And Frank O'Hara, I guess, since he often wrote poems like "Ann Arbor Variations." Is that too cute?

Looking at a colleague's work recently, I noticed that the title of every article was very, very long. I'm trying to go in the opposite direction, or at least have a balance between long and short titles. An asterisk means that chapter is written. I'm trying to finish chapter 4 this calendar year.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Degrees of separation, Lorca to Barthes

Lorca was a friend and collaborator of the composer Manuel de Falla.

Falla went to Paris and met Debussy and other so-called "impressionist" composers.

The baritone Charles Panzera, hero of Barthes's "The Grain of the Voice," knew many of these comoposers personally.

Roland Barthes reportedly took singing lessons from Panzera.

So I got from Lorca to Falla [UPDATE: Barthes I mean] in four steps. This is a very fun game.


I decided my Lorca books should form a trilogy.

1. Apocryphal Lorca: Translation, Parody, Kitsch (2009)

Lorca's American reception.

2. What Lorca Knew: Fragments of a Late Modernity (finish writing in 2014)

An expanded view of Lorquian hermeneutics, including more work on his American reception, his influence in Spain, the performative dimension of his poetics, how scholars do (and should) interpret him, etc...


I don't want to think too much about the third yet. If I do, it will start writing itself in my head and prevent me from finishing book #2. I think there will be a book 3. That is my intention now, but I can't even be sure, since I don't even want to know (a least not quite yet) what the book will be about. What is won't be is going through all his works in order and interpreting them. There's no point in me being the person to write that kind of book, which others have already done, with greater or lesser success, but adequately.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Artisanal MOOC

I think I'd like to give an artisanal MOOC.

In other words, not massive, not open, but yes, online and a course. I would choose 10-12 students from anywhere, we would choose a topic. We would have a time period, 10 weeks, say. It would be a virtual workshop or seminar. I would not record canned lectures but I would skype with each student or set up virtual tertulias. I would not charge the students the first time. Once I get the model working, then I would charge them on a sliding scale the 2nd time, nothing for grad students and $1,000 for full professors... or whatever works out logically.

Anyway, this might be one of those brilliant ideas that occur to me and turn out to be much less brilliant the next day. We'll see!

I want to use the speed of the internet and other technology, their power to reduce distances, while keeping the slowness of the analog humanities.

Power of Patience

I've been playing around a bit with this idea.

Here is the poem I have been playing with:

Sobre la tierra amarga,
caminos tiene el sueño
laberínticos, sendas tortuosas,
parques en flor y en sombra y en silencio;

criptas hondas, escalas sobre estrellas;
retablos de esperanzas y recuerdos.
Figurillas que pasan y sonríen
—juguetes melancólicos de viejo—;

imágenes amigas,
a la vuelta florida del sendero,
y quimeras rosadas
que hacen camino... lejos...

[to make it easier to follow I offer the content words: earth, bitter, roads, has, dream, labyrinthine, paths, tortuous, parks, flower, shadow, silence, crypts, deep, ladders, stars, tableaux puppet theatres or alterpieces, hopes, memories, little figures, pass, smile,toys, melancholy, old or old man, images, friendly, turn, flowered or flowery, path, chimeras, pink, make, road, far.]

Instead of staring at it like I would with a painting, I have it memorized and have been turning it around in my head for a few days. I used it once as an exercise for my translation course. I had the students compare five competing translations of it. My very simplistic idea is that the translation should not simply ignore Machado's rhetorical figures.

So: "caminos ... laberínticos" is a figure called "hyperbaton," violently distorting normal word order. It is a mimetic figure here, meant to represent the winding paths. Machado rarely uses hyperbaton so it is not a feature of his style; it needs to be explained. This is also the only point in the poem where there is enjambment.

"parques en flor y en sombra y en silencio": polysyndeton, the repetition of the word "and" or "y." Also, there is a gradation within syntactic parallelism, since "en flor" / "en sombra" / "en silencio" increase by one syllable each time.

Allusion: labyrinth and chimera allude to Greek mythology. Two other words have Greek etymologies: crypts and melancholy. This is part of the poem's logopeia, or usage of words in an evocative way. "Retablo," used to mean a puppet theater, could allude to an episode from DQ.

Ambiguity: "de viejo" can mean "of old" or "an old man's." The first reading is more plausible but the second is impossible to rule out.

Alliteration: three words start with the syllable es in the second stanza. Each of these words has three syllables.

There is some internal assonant rhyme: figurillas / amiga / florida. This is aside from the main rhyme scheme of the poem, the assonance in even-numbered lines with the vowels e - o.

Repetition of semantic elements, word families: senda, sendero, caminos, camino.

Contrast or antithesis: between depth and height: deep crypts / ladders over the stars, or: juguetes de viejo. Past and future: hopes and memories. Smiling and melancholy.

The entire poem evokes the power of the dream-like mind to create spatial metaphors over an imaginary landscape, as well as a kind of mental puppet theater. The mood moves from bitter, to melancholy, to sweet and rose-colored. There is no first person singular (or plural), so the reading of the poem puts the reader herself in the position of evoking this mental theater. It is not about the poet's individual experience, but about anybody's experience. The use of the word "amigas" as a feminine adjective suggests the concept "female friends" as well. The entire last stanza has a feminine air to it, with its flowers and pinkness.

Syntactically, the main device used is apposition: a list of elements aligned in successive noun clauses. There are only four verbs, and three are in relative clauses. The main work is done with nouns and eight highly descriptive adjectives.

The metrical flow of the poem is unpredictable, with lines of 7 and 11 syllables used in irregular combination, and no regularity in the accents interior to the line. Three of the six 11 syllable lines have the "melodic" variation on the hendacasyllable, with the accent on the 3rd syllable. The word "tortuosas" is subject to a metrical phenomenon known as "dieresis," where the dipthong uo is separated into two syllables.

Historically, we can see this as Machado's interiorization of the symbolist / modernista mode of turn-of-the-century poetry in Spanish. He avoids ostentatiously ornamental elements, whether in his rhythms or his visual imagery, which is more fuzzy than sharp. He is not describing a singular object but listing types of things in the plural: there are twelve plural nouns in 12 lines!

There is a high concentration of Poundian values: melos, phanos, logos. Language is charged with meaning. In other words, it is a poem of the type people think of as good in the conventional sense: it doesn't challenge us by being "anti-poetic" or "prosaic."

It ought to be easy to preserve some of the syntactic figures, the visual imagery, and the etymological allusions, in a good translation. Crypt in English is "an underground room or vault beneath a church, used as a chapel or burial place." It has that mysterious air to it: "from Greek kruptē ‘a vault,’ from kruptos ‘hidden.’" A translation, following Appiah's idea of "thick translation" ought be revelatory enough so that you could teach the poem in translation to students who didn't know Spanish, so if you used "vault" instead of "crypt" it wouldn't be so good.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Chapter 4 continues...


Roland Barthes’s theorization of French cultural specificity, in a well-known but not particularly well-studied essay, “The Grain of the Voice,” offers a suggestive parallel to the performance of Spanish exceptionalism in Lorca’s “Juego y teoría del duende.” Barthes, too, develops an idiosyncratically “nationalist” poetics through the vehicle of a theory of the vocal performance of lyric poetry. His concept of the “grain,” like Lorca’s duende, is at once highly personal and seductively universalizable. Read together, these two essays suggest the possibility of a sophisticated theorization of poetic performance. The issues raised in Lorca’s duende lecture and in Barthes’s essay still remain outside of the institutional and disciplinary boundaries of theory, as delimited by the standard textbooks like The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory or Critical Theory Since 1965. Performance studies, needless to say, is a developing discipline in its own right, with its own set of concerns, but it has not tended to give much attention to the specificity of lyric poetry, or to the role of performance within the cluster of theoretical problems defined by the word poetics. By the same token, very few texts in the canon of literary theory address issues related to the vocal performance of lyric poetry: to find treatments of these issues, one must consult more specialized works, such as the articles collected in Charles Bernstein’s Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word. Jill Kuhnheim’s forthcoming study of cultural practices of poetry recitation in Latin America provides another fruitful avenue of approach, but performance, by and large, remains marginal within the academic study of poetry.

In Mythologies, Barthes devotes an article to denouncing a certain excess in performance, a kind of semiotic overdetermination. “Bourgeois Vocal Art” is singing in which a particular emphasis on certain phonemes strongarms the listener into a predictable response. In “The Grain of the Voice,” written in a different phase of his career, Barthes takes a somewhat different approach, one that is perhaps less resistant to the pleasures of semiotic excess. The French writer begins the essay by complaining about the tyranny of the adjective in music criticism: the dominance of this part of speech seems reductive to him, and he proposes the concept of the “grain” in order to enact a “displacement” of a certain standard rhetoric that attaches labels, formulaic predicate adjectives to music. From Julia Kristeva, he borrows a binary opposition—the geno-text vs. pheno-text—in order to contrast two two distinct approaches to the performance of vocal music. The pheno-song is identified with everything conventional:

The pheno-song [...] covers all the phenomena, all the features which belong to the language being sung, the rules of the genre, the coded form of the melisma, the composer's idiolect, the style of the interpretation: in short, everything in the performance that is in the service of communication, representation, expression, everything that is customary to talk about, which forms the tissue of cultural values.
(Barthes 182)

The “geno-song,” in contrast, consists of
the volume of the singing and speaking voice, the space where significations germinate “from within language and its very materiality”; it forms a signifying play having nothing to do with communication, representation, (of feelings) expression.
Barthes identifies the “geno-song,” more particularly, with the encounter between musical expression and phonology: “It is, in a very simple word that must be taken seriously, the diction of the language” (183; original emphasis).

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Chapter 4, final intro / sans signposting

Chapter 4

The Grain of the Voice: Performance, Pragmatism, and Orality

Interpretations of Lorca’s duende often treat it as though it were merely a variation on the familiar theme of poetic or artistic inspiration—the peculiarly Spanish version of the muse. Lorca himself, while emphasizing live performance, is purposefully expansive in defining the reach of the duende, applying the term to a copious number of examples in the visual arts, and to the composition (and not exclusively the performance) of music and poetry. Moreover, by presenting his theory as an explicit alternative to the muse and the angel, he inscribes it within familiar narratives of poetic inspiration. Still, he does indicate that the duende is most duende-like in the live performance of art-forms that require “un cuerpo vivo que interprete, porque son formas que nacen y mueren de modo perpetuo y alzan sus contornos sobre un presente exacto” (a live body that interprets them, since they are forms that are born and die perpetually and erect their shapes in an exact present).

It is striking to conceive the dramatic struggle of all artistic creation—as in the painter’s struggle with the blank canvas or the poet’s with the blank page—in its performative dimension. To read the duende as another theory of artistic creation, however, is to lose sight of performance itself in its more immediate and literal sense. This seemingly more literal-minded approach, needless to say, should not exclude metaphorical displacements: in fact, it turns out to be extremely difficult to look at performance in itself, without displacing it or making it stand in for other values. An emphasis on performance and orality, then, could serve as a heuristic device—designed to bring a particular aspect of Lorca’s poetics into sharper focus—rather than as the definitive interpretation of Lorca’s duende.
Apart from studies of the oral poetry of traditional societies, like Paul Zumthor’s Oral Poetics, there are still relatively few texts of contemporary literary theory that directly address the poetics of performance. Roland Barthes’s “The Grain of the Voice” provides a convenient point of departure for a consideration of Lorca’s “Juego y teoría del duende” as a meditation on the performative dimension of poetry and song. Barthes’s essay, not coincidentally, also links the performance of song to cultural exceptionalism. Claudio Rodríguez’s thesis on the children’s songs, likewise, might be profitably compared to Lorca’s lecture on Spanish lullabies. Read together, such prose texts form the basis of a pragmatist poetics, rooted in the immediate circumstances of the performance and reception of poetry and other forms of vocal art. This performative and pragmatic bias in Lorca’s poetics, in turn, reveals a new way of thinking about Lorca’s presence in contemporary Spanish poetry: perhaps his strongest influence is more musical than philosphical, more attuned to the body of the performer than to the mind of the interpreter.

Performance theory (2)

Here is the second set of notes I wrote. Oddly prophetic of all the work I'm doing now.

(1) Performativeness (degrees of). Here the idea is that less performative performances are equally performative. In other words, performances that de-emphasize "drama," that are drier and more oriented toward a reproduction of what's on the page, are equally worthy of attention. By the same token, very stylized performances are not necessarily more performative than ones that strive for "realism." This whole question has to be rethought.

(2) Pedagogy. Elocution, in my Grandmother's generation, was the way literature was taught. She could give dramatic readings of texts she had memorized well into her 90s. Performance implies a new pedagogy, in which students themselves should be performers. But, as Steve Evans points out in his interview with ??? [Al Filreis], performance is still kind of an afterthought. The poem on the page still reigns supreme, and we need to find a way of making more than a mere supplement.

(3) Improvisation. Not all performance is improvisation, but improvisation is always a performance. All performance does involve an element of "liveness," of attentiveness to the present. Improvisation brings that attentitiveness to the forefront. It might also be interesting to look at performance in terms of preparation, of logistics.

(4) Duende. The duende is in the first instance a theory of performance, not of artistic creation or inspiration. What interests me here is the way in which a theory of performance can be paradigmatic, primary rather than secondary, in poetics. I also want to explore the slippage between performance and creation in Lorca's theory of the duende.

(5) Song setting. What is fascinating here is the way in which a poem might be derived from a melody or a melody from a text. A kind of translation?

(6) Vocal stylings. Certain singers put across the words in an ideal way, not by overdramatizing, but by using melody, voice, and phrasing to get at the best possible oral interpretation of that particular lyric. On the other hand, there are performance practices that sacrifice the words to vocal techniques. Vowels must be sung a certain way in the interest of sonority, to the detriment of the text. There is fertile ground for theorization here.

(7) Prosody. Usually, once performance happens, prosody is forgotten--paradoxically. That is, there is a kind of false opposition between the prosody on the page and the prosody in the voice. The object of phonology is a written sentence. This needs to be rethought. People wanting to do this field seriously should learn a little more linguistics.

(8) Voice. I'd like to look at the human voice itself as the basis of everthing else. If you had a theory of the voice you would have a theory of the performance of any linguistic performance.

(9) Timbre. I've written a paper on the theory of timbre, that you can probably still see at the Hall Center for the Humanities Website. (Many of these points are overlapping rather than discretely separated.)

(10) Rhythm. Performances happen in time; they are rhythmically organized in some fashion. Actors might wait a "beat" before proceeding. A theory of performance would need a good account of rhythm. My study of percussion over the past 10 years or so has taught me a lot, though I am not at all a good drummer.

Performance theory

At one point the book I was writing was going to be about Lorca and performance. I am grafting some of that material back into the book for a new chapter (4) that will cover some of this ground. I found some notes I made on performance theory before I taught my seminar with Jill K. on poetry and performance. I was trying to figure out everything I knew about peformance theory before teaching the course.

1) Theory of theater. One place from which performance theory emerged is from work in drama and theater. The basic idea is that the literary study of the theatrical text on the page is not sufficient without a look at the impliciations of how theater is performed and the concrete circumstances that surround performance. In Aristotelian terms, this is spectacle, one of six major elements (and a bit of melos too).

2) Semiotics.. Barthes's essays on Brecht, for example, point to a semiotics of theater. The idea is that elements of spectacle are signs in the same way that words are. Theater can be studied as a total signifying system in which language is only one element. Dramatists who de-emphasize verbal signifying in favor of other performative elements lead to this study (Artaud).

3) Anthropology. But Performance is not just theater. From an anthropological perspective, theater is but one kind of performance. Game, rituals, and the performance of "roles" in everyday life are also part of a larger category. Artaud's exposure to other forms of theater in Bali was influential in his ideas. The anthropological perspective entails a less ethnocentric view of things.

4) Ethnopoetics. Rothenberg's Ethnopoetics is based squarely on performance practices, taking an anthropological perspective.

5) Poetics Beyond Ethnopoetics. The contributors to Bernstein's Close Listening bring performance studies into the orbit of Language Poetry, with a critique of conventional poetry readings and an exploration of many issues involved in the oral performance of poetry, also from a less theatrico-centric perspective.

6) Orality. Walter Ong's distinction between orality and literacy is a significant backdrop to performance theory. Not all performances imply an opposition to literacy, but all are in some sense "oral," in that they involve spoken language (if they have language at all). Previous work on Serbian oral epic lays behind some of this thinking.

7) Cultural Studies. Performance theory fits the agenda of Cultural Studies, in its emphasis on popular culture, the performance of social roles in subcultures, etc...

8) Performativity. Theory of performance might bring into play Chomsky's competence / performance distinction, or Judith Butler's sense that social roles are performed, or the performativity of speech act theory. In short, there is a kind of fruitful punning on the word performance itself.

9) Audience. A theory of performance is a theory of the audience, usually involving the physical presence of a public and some notion of reception. It's true that the "reader" is often invoked in discussions of literature, but in discussions of performance the spectator is more alive and concrete, not a reader merely posited as a theoretical construct.

10) Body. With performance, the body of the performer comes into play. Not the merely theoretical body involved in writing from / with the body.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Intro to chap 4 sans signposting

Chapter 4

The Grain of the Voice: Performance, Pragmatism, and Orality

Interpretations of Lorca’s duende often treat it as though it were merely a variation on the familiar theme of poetic or artistic inspiration—the peculiarly Spanish version of the muse. Lorca himself, while emphasizing live performance, is purposefully expansive in defining the reach of the duende, applying the term to a copious number of examples in the visual arts, and to the composition (not exclusively the performance) of music and poetry. Moreover, by presenting his theory as an explicit alternative to the muse and the angel, he inscribes it within familiar narratives of poetic inspiration. Still, he does indicate that the duende is most duende-like in the live performance of art-forms that require “un cuerpo vivo que interprete, porque son formas que nacen y mueren de modo perpetuo y alzan sus contornos sobre un presente exacto” (a live body that interprets them, since they are forms that are born and die perpetually and erect their shapes in an exact present).

It is striking to conceive the dramatic struggle of all artistic creation—as in the painter’s struggle with the blank canvas or the poet’s with the blank page—in its performative dimension. To read the duende as another theory of artistic creation, however, is to lose sight of performance itself in its more immediate and literal sense. This seemingly more literal-minded approach, needless to say, should not exclude metaphorical displacements: in fact, it turns out to be extremely difficult to look at performance in itself, without displacing it or making it stand in for other values. An emphasis on performance and orality, then, might serve as a heuristic device—designed to bring a particular aspect of Lorca’s poetics into sharper focus—rather than as the definitive interpretation of Lorca’s duende.
Apart from studies of the oral poetry of traditional societies, like Paul Zumthor’s Oral Poetics, there are still relatively few texts of contemporary literary theory that directly address the poetics of performance. Roland Barthes’s “The Grain of the Voice” provides a convenient point of departure for a consideration of Lorca’s “Juego y teoría del duende” as a meditation on the performative dimension of poetry and song. Barthes’s essay, not coincidentally, also links the performance of song to cultural exceptionalism. Claudio Rodríguez’s thesis on the children’s songs, likewise, might be profitably compared to Lorca’s lecture on Spanish lullabies. Read together, such prose texts might form the basis of a pragmatist poetics, rooted in the immediate circumstances of the performance and reception of poetry and other forms of vocal art.

This performative and pragmatic interpretation of Lorquian poetics, finally, suggests a new perspective on his influence on contemporary Spanish poetry: perhaps ...

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Almost got rid of the signposting here, maybe 3rd version will work

Interpretations of Lorca’s duende often treat it as though it were merely a variation on the familiar theme of poetic or artistic inspiration—the Spanish version of the muse. Lorca himself, as we have seen, is purposefully slippery, applying the term to the visual arts as well as to the composition (not exclusively the performance) of music and poetry, and presenting his theory as an alternative to the muse and the angel. Nevertheless, he does indicate that the duende is most duende-like in the live performance of music, poetry, and dance, since those art-forms require “un cuerpo vivo que interprete, porque son formas que nacen y mueren de modo perpetuo y alzan sus contornos sobre un presente exacto” (a live body to interpret, since they are forms that are born and die perpetually and erect their shapes over an exact present).

It is striking to conceive the dramatic struggle of artistic creation itself—as in the painter’s struggle with the blank canvas or the poet’s with the blank page—in its performative dimension. (Although poetry can be a performative art, many poets have adopted Lorca’s duende without relating it directly to performance.) To read the duende as yet another theory of inspiration, however, is to lose sight of performance in a more literal sense. The more literal-minded approach I am proposing, of course, does not exclude allegorical displacements: in fact, it turns out to be extremely difficult to look at performance in itself, without displacing it by making it stand in for other values. My emphasis on performance and orality, then, is a heuristic device designed to bring a particular aspect of Lorca’s poetics into sharper focus.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Literal Minded

"Andrew O’Hagan writes: ‘Joan Didion gave me her hand and she was so thin it felt like I was holding a butterfly’ (LRB, 7 November). A beautiful sentence, but I wondered about the simile’s plausibility. It’s been reported that Didion weighs less than eighty lbs. She’s so thin her doctors have put her on an ice cream diet to keep her mass up. A woman’s hand is said to be 0.5 per cent of her body weight. So if Didion weighs 75 lbs, her hand probably weighs about six ounces. The world’s heaviest butterfly, the female Queen Victoria Birdwing, weighs about two grams. There are about 28 grams in an ounce, and Joan Didion’s hand probably weighs about the same as holding 86 female Queen Victoria Birdwings..."

[from a letter to the London Review of Books].

Well, I think the guy coming up with the simile knew that a human hand does not literally weigh as much as a butterfly. The simile is plausible because that was the mental image he got when he shook her hand.

This made me think. I'm trying to push for the idea that you should at least consider the literal level of the metaphor before you just try to forget about it. Performance, for example, is often used just as a metaphor for all kind of notions of authenticity and spontaneity. You can't study performance in an of itself, because the reason you are studying it has to do with these positive human values you want to tie it to.

Yikes, too much signposting, but what can I do?

Chapter 4

The Grain of the Voice

Interpretations of Lorca’s duende often treat it as though it were merely a variation on the familiar theme of poetic or artistic inspiration—the Spanish version of the muse. As we saw in Chapter 1, Lorca himself is purposefully slippery, applying the term to the visual arts as well as to the composition (not exclusively the performance) of music and poetry. Nevertheless, he does indicate that the duende is most duende-like in the live performance of music, poetry, and dance, since those art-forms require “un cuerpo vivo que interprete, porque son formas que nacen y mueren de modo perpetuo y alzan sus contornos sobre un presente exacto” ( ). My next task, then, is to treat the duende more literally as a theory of performance, rather than viewing performance as a convenient metaphor for the dramatic struggle of artistic creation. As in chapter 2, in which I took Lorca at his word in interpreting the duende lecture as a theory of cultural exceptionalism, this more literal-minded approach does not exclude allegorical displacements. In fact, it turns out to be extremely difficult to look at performance in itself, without diplacing it by making it stand in for other values. My emphasis on performance and orality, then, is a heuristic device designed to bring a particular aspect of Lorca’s poetics into sharper focus.•••

Thursday, November 14, 2013


I guess I don't understand this story. It looks like a psychologist borrowed an equation from a physics paper just arbitrarily. I don't understand why you need a math person even to tell you that this is bullshit.

Friday, November 8, 2013

More Bad Writing

Avant-Garde in Crisis.

The essay starts out like this:
Of those aligned at least with one visible column of the U.S. American avant-garde, more than a few writers have been so obedient to formal mandate and the certainties of development as to discount the likelihood that those imperatives, as with every hazard of orthodoxy, are narrowly if any longer defiant of our state of affairs.
Here I can't really figure out who's doing what to whom. Apparently there are several visible columns of the avant-garde, and some writers aligned with at last one of them. Some of these writers are obedient to something called "formal mandate" (what is that?) and equally vague "certainties of development." But these beliefs are apparently are no longer "defiant of our state of affairs." The essay concludes with some feel-good language:
My desire is for careful energizing words to structure the astonishment that is our accountability to language, foresight, and gesture. Metaphoric language in the mediated world can so beckon into action—into experience and knowledge—as to prompt the unforeseen. Constitutive of social space and cultural selfhood, the syllabic realism of metaphor obliges an urgent kind of carefulness that emboldens the critical imagination to alter our picture of the present and the shape of things to come.
Who could be against all these wonderful things, accountability, astonishment, foresight, gesture, carefulness, the social, cultural selfhood, action, metaphor, critical imagination, the shape of things to come? Surely the avant-garde itself is for all of this, as is the anti-avant-garde, and everyone in between.

Whatever the avant-garde stands for, though, I think it could be a good barrier against this kind of sloppy writing and thinking. Syllabic realism? Really?

There are more objectionable sentences here that I am not quoting.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Thoreau on the 1st person

“In most books, the I, or first person, is omitted; in this it will be retained; that, in respect to egotism, is the main difference. We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking. I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well."

Wow. Just wow. What an insight. (Emphasis added.)

Thursday, October 24, 2013


The distinction between narrative, lyric, and drama is often attributed to Plato. But look what he actually says (bold parts are most relevant):
You know the first lines of the Iliad, in which the poet says that Chryses prayed Agamemnon to release his daughter, and that Agamemnon flew into a passion with him; whereupon Chryses, failing of his object, invoked the anger of the God against the Achaeans. Now as far as these lines,

‘And he prayed all the Greeks, but especially the two sons of Atreus, the chiefs of the people,’

the poet is speaking in his own person; he never leads us to suppose that he is any one else. But in what follows he takes the person of Chryses, and then he does all that he can to make us believe that the speaker is not Homer, but the aged priest himself. And in this double form he has cast the entire narrative of the events which occurred at Troy and in Ithaca and throughout the Odyssey.


And a narrative it remains both in the speeches which the poet recites from time to time and in the intermediate passages?

Quite true.

Epic poetry has an element of imitation in the speeches; the rest is simple narrative.

But when the poet speaks in the person of another, may we not say that he assimilates his style to that of the person who, as he informs you, is going to speak?


And this assimiliation of himself to another, either by the use of voice or gesture, is the imitation of the person whose character he assumes?

Of course.

Then in this case the narrative of the poet may be said to proceed by way of imitation?

Very true.

Or, if the poet everywhere appears and never conceals himself, then again the imitation is dropped, and his poetry becomes simple narration. However, in order that I may make my meaning quite clear, and that you may no more say, ‘I don’t understand,’ I will show how the change might be effected. If Homer had said, ‘The priest came, having his daughter’s ransom in his hands, supplicating the Achaeans, and above all the kings;’ and then if, instead of speaking in the person of Chryses, he had continued in his own person, the words would have been, not imitation, but simple narration. The passage would have run as follows (I am no poet, and therefore I drop the metre), ‘The priest came and prayed the gods on behalf of the Greeks that they might capture Troy and return safely home, but begged that they would give him back his daughter, and take the ransom which he brought, and respect the God. Thus he spoke, and the other Greeks revered the priest and assented. But Agamemnon was wroth, and bade him depart and not come again, lest the staff and chaplets of the God should be of no avail to him—the daughter of Chryses should not be released, he said—she should grow old with him in Argos. And then he told him to go away and not to provoke him, if he intended to get home unscathed. And the old man went away in fear and silence, and, when he had left the camp, he called upon Apollo by his many names, reminding him of everything which he had done pleasing to him, whether in building his temples, or in offering sacrifice, and praying that his good deeds might be returned to him, and that the Achaeans might expiate his tears by the arrows of the god,’—and so on. In this way the whole becomes simple narrative.

I understand, he said.

Tragedy and Comedy are wholly imitative; dithyrambic and some other kinds of poetry are devoid of imitation. Epic poetry is a combination of the two.

Or you may suppose the opposite case—that the intermediate passages are omitted, and the dialogue only left.

That also, he said, I understand; you mean, for example, as in tragedy.
What Plato is saying is there are three modes of literary or poetic discourse. One is pure narration, or single-voiced speech, one pure imitation (the absence of a narrative voice) and a third, mixed mode. He doesn't call the single-voiced discourse "lyric," but simply says that is might be found in "dithyrambic and other sorts of poetry." The way he demonstrates single voiced narrative is through Homer (the parts where nobody else is speaking). It seems that the mention of dithyrambic poetry is a mere afterthought, since his main interest is in narration itself. Also notice that imitation is literally imitation of other speakers, not representation or depiction. (Aristotle, in contrast, will say the all poetry and even music are mimetic.)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Serious question

Do we think the value of poetry consists of bringing us into contact with someone of specially privileged subjectivity? That would explain a lot.


Curiously, Aristotle never proposes a tri-partite division of genres in The Poetics, despite accusations to this effect. Here are his words (well, his translator's words):

"For the medium being the same, and the objects the same, the poet may imitate by narration—in which case he can either take another personality as Homer does, or speak in his own person, unchanged—or he may present all his characters as living and moving before us."

Here's another, probably better translation:

"A third difference in these arts is the manner in which one may represent each of these objects. For in representing the same objects by the same means it is possible to proceed either partly by narrative and party by assuming a character other than your own--this is Homer's method--or by remaining yourself without any such change, or else to prepresent the characters as carrying out the whole action themselves.

So there are three modes: one is clearly dramatic: the characters are there (as actors) in front of an audience. But the others are both narrative forms: one is a pure narrative form (without dialogue) and the other is a mixed mode, which he attributes to Homer. In Homer, there are speeches of characters as well as Homer's narration.

He hardly mentions the lyric in the entire work. Of course, lyric poetry would be in one's own voice, and hence the pure narrative mode (as opposed to the mixed one), but that's not what Aristotle actually says. This was a neoclassical idea, not one of Aristotle himself, as far as I can tell.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Another citation:
Something completely different: Jonathan Mayhew, Apocryphal Lorca: Translation, Parody, Kitsch, Chicago u.P., 222 pp., is, in fact, not about G.L. at all but is, instead, a thought-provoking exploration of G.L.’s apocryphal afterlife in the poetic culture of the united States, specifically how G.L. became an American poet adapted to the clearly ideological and cultural needs of uS poets during the 1950s and 1960s. after a brief chapter setting up ‘a charismatic, protean, and enigmatic authorial figure’ (xiv), there follow separate chapters on how G.L. was defined according to a new uS cultural nationalism in opposition to Cold War politics in which both black and white, male gay poets played a significant role in the midst of a more generic romantic Lorquismo; on the strategies of ‘domestication’ in a great number of translations from Langston Hughes to Paul Blackburn; on the rather misleading concept of deep image; and then, best of all, the individual studies on specific apocryphal paradigms such as those of robert Creely and Jack Spicer, or Frank O’Hara’s ‘Lorcaescas’, or Kenneth Koch’s parodic poetic pedagogy, or Jerome rothenberg’s variations.

K. Sibbald.

J. Mayhew, ‘Guillen, Cernuda, and the Vicissitudes of Spanish Modernism’ (17–33), exploring a provocative point of view that critiques without mercy the later poetry of the touted modernists of their generation, Guillén and Cernuda, rejects any facile conflation of post-coloniality and postmodernism, and suggests that José Ángel Valente and Antonio Gamoneda are better post-WWII exponents of a movement that still awaits its final realization; to be read together,

K. Sibbald.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My Poetry

For fall break (yesterday and today) I thought I would put together another version of my poetry manuscript. It involves the modulation of tone from one poem to the next. I have several tones. One a kind of outraged bile, another, more distantly ironic, the fake sincere, the real sincere, the deadpan "bad poet" tone that you might almost take seriously, the parody, etc... The trick is not to get the reader tired of one tone, or allow her to think that the speaker is always going to be the same. I have always wanted to publish a book of poetry, but I have little persistence in entering contests or pursuing it.

I have found 53 pages of usable material. I plan it to have 60.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Assumptions of Poundian Criticism

1. The 1st assumption is that the reader is serious, and probably wants to be a writer (a better writer). At the very least wants to read and appreciate like an expert.

2. The next assumption is that the expert guide has to have credibility by being an excellent writer himself (him, in Pound's case). Academic criticism by people who don't know what they are talking about is only confusing.

3. Next, the only way of studying literature is to catch it at its best. Find the writers who actually invented particular techniques, or perfected them. You can't learn much if anything from mediocre work.

4. The ways that poetry are excellent are definable in concrete terms. We can look at three main ways of "charging language with meaning" and apply them to virtually any text.

5. The literary sensibility is trainable. You have to pay attention to what's actually there on the page and with enough experience you, too, will be expert. At bottom the attitude is empiricist. Pound won't tell you the answers; you have to see for yourself.

6. There's an ethical imperative here, an implied (sometime stated) connection between this clarity of vision and a clear-sighted vision of a well-run society.

So serious expertise, impatience with questions beside the point, close attention to what's there.

In a way, all this should be unobjectionable. Poets like Zukofsky believed the same thing (from the left not the right). I pretty much believe in 1-5 as well.


I found this cento I once wrote:
Among twenty snowy mountains, the only moving thing... An old pond -- a frog jumped in. Siempre la claridad viene del cielo. As I sd to my friend because I am always talking, John I sd, which was not his name. So much depends upon the apparition of these faces in the crowd, petals on a wet black bough. Nothing in that drawer. Verde que te quiere verde. Nothing in the drawer. Nothing in that drawer. Like cellophane tape on a schoolbook. Each joining a neighbor, as though speech were a still performance. Empieza el llanto de la guitarra. Nothing in the drawer. You were wearing... Snow has fallen into the bottle of eraser fluid.
I guess my point is that nobody confuses a cento with an original poem. Centos don't attempt to present themselves as anything but that. A plagiarist cannot fall back on the cento alibi.

[The authors are: Stevens, Basho, Rodríguez, Creeley, Williams, Pound, Padgett, Lorca, Ceravolo, Ashbery, Lorca, Koch, and David Shapiro.]

Friday, October 11, 2013

Magic of Translation

I was distractedly reading on Bob Archambeau's blog some poetry that he was citing to make some point:
... the word carries a hopefulness
which has no strict foundation
in the real world.
The world being what it is!
For although I know it cannot be used
in the sense I want to give it
it is the same picture that faithfully
returns in my memory
whenever I pronounce it to myself—
it is the light space over my childhood...
It seemed to me that this was not poetry but another genre, that I might call "translated poetry." It may very well be as prosaic and flat in the original (I don't know), but this is an effect you often see in a translation: "For although I know it cannot be used / in the sense I want to give it." That kind of slackness of language. Once again, you might find that in poetry written originally in English too, whether because some poets like that effect, or because they are incompetent. It seems ok if it is done ironically or with a wink of the eye, but not if it's just that the author doesn't know any better.

I also read a translation of Yeats' "The Lake Isle of Inisfree," by Andrés Sánchez Robayna. It was a very good translation, but wasn't recognizably Yeatsian.

The translator imagines that there is a magic in the original. It could be in the original language itself. Or in the genius of the author. Borges points out several times that there is no inherent reason why a translation should be inferior to the original. There could be as much magic in English (Yeats, Shakespeare, Alice Notley) as in Spanish (Lorca). Nevertheless, we think only the magical texts are worth translating. We cannot even do an analysis of how good a translation is unless we first invest the text with some value. Without this value the traditional questions we need to ask of a poem-in-translation don't even make any sense.

So my point is that we should hold translation to a much higher standard, never make excuses for it.

Face Book Science

I always see friends of mine on facebook post things about "scientific" findings that are pretty much bullshit.

Really badly designed experiments about how creative people are more narcissistic, or that poetry lights up the part of the brain responsible for introspection (duh), or that reading fiction makes you more empathetic.

These media-friendly experiments are likely to be picked up by those looking to bolster their own professional self-esteem. See, literature is really useful!

But if studying literature has not given you the basic critical thinking skills to see through bad science, then I think you should hold yourself up to a higher standard. Yes, reading a sad story is going to light up the part of brain for sadness. That doesn't really tell you anything, does it?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

More Pullum

Common sense on grammar from the Guardian.

New Course

My undergraduate siglo XX peninsular course will be on modernism and avant-garde. This is the perfect solution, because I can study major authors, revivals of avant-garde poetics, reactions to it, just about anything I want including my own research interests. The class projective will be an annotated edition of Lorca's theory and play of the duende. Students will do their own research to explain everything mentioned in this essay. They won't be cheated because we are doing major authors and movements in a serious way, and they will get to do research that is somewhat meaningful.

Monday, October 7, 2013


Here is a gross misunderstanding of melopeia, by a stupidly incompetent literary critic. I can think of many definitions of melos in poetry.

1. It could just be a function of poetry actually set to music, having a historic connection with a tradition of vocal music. That's melopeia(1).

2. Secondly, it could be a kind of mellifluous quality. Smooth sounding verse, like Spenser "Sweet Thames." Melopeia(2).

3. Next, it could be applied to metrical and rhythmic skill generally, whether or not this skill is directed toward smoothness. After all, you can have skillfully rough or shaggy effects too. Melopeia(3).

4. It could be a function of how prominent or salient sound is in the poem, in relation to other elements. Melopeia(4).

That's just getting started. I'm sure there are more. You notice I never mentioned metrical regularity as a form of melos. That may or may not accompany melopeia, depending.

Better logopeia definition

... it employs words not only for their direct meaning, but it takes count in a special way of habits of usage, of the context we expect to find with the word, its usual concomitants, of its known acceptances, and of ironical play. It holds the aesthetic content that is peculiarly the domain of verbal manifestation, and cannot possibly be contained in plastic or in music.
Original emphasis

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Strong determinism

I was reading some philosophy on free will because my college-student daughter wanted to discuss it with me. Anyway, I learned some things. A lot of effort goes into arguments over compatibilism and its opposite, in other words, whether free will is compatible with determinism.

Then I got to thinking about determinism. The strongest form would say that, from the time of the big bang (say) it was determined that Kansas would lose a football game on October 5, 2013 by a score of 54-16. The strongest form of determinism, then, is highly counterintuitive, because molecules bumping into each other do not seem to explain events that depend on man-made symbolic processes. For example, the molecules in the paper and ink of an edition of Mein Kampf don't explain why the book is noxious.

Kenneth Burke uses the example of a truck driver: he drives the truck and stops to ask directions from a pedestrian. He then turns the truck around and drives it in another direction. If that message had been different, he would have continued in the original direction instead. So something symbolic, a few little words in this case, has a material effect on several tons of machinery and cargo.

Saying that strong determinism is unsatisfactory is not the same as saying that there really is free will, of course.

But, really, strong determinism is the only kind. If not everything is determined, after all, then some things aren't.

de Man

When de Man constrasts a grammatical and rhetorical meaning of a rhetorical question, like "What's the difference?", what he means by grammatical is a "literal" meaning, one that asks for information. What he means by a rhetorical meaning is that the question makes an assertion: "it makes no difference, why are you bothering to even care about this."

So this is not really a distinction between grammar and rhetoric. Both questions have the same grammatical form and semantic meaning. Rather it is the difference between two pragmatic functions: one can use the question in that syntactical form to ask for information or to make a statement. Questions also serve as requests: "Could you open the window?" You could misconstrue the question as a request for information, and answer "Yes, I am able to open the window." That would be a pragmatic mistake. Questions can also be insults: "Are you really that stupid! What were you thinking!" Assertions can also be questions, as in typical interview formats. "You were born in Western Kentucky." In context that is asking the person being interviewed to elaborate on her origins. Or, "You're best known for your sestinas." The poet being interviewed might say: "Yes, I began writing them as a small child..."

It's not even a distinction between semantics and pragmatics, but between various pragmatic functions.

My point? Paul de Man's categories are medieval* ones. He wants to go beyond structuralist categories but he has little curiosity about actual modern linguistics, even. Grammatical is not a synonym for literal or non-rhetorical, in any case.

The alternative interpretation of Yeat's "how can we know the dancer from the dance" is totally dumb, anyway. It isn't plausible to have a request for information in this context, I'm sorry. It only works as a rhetorical question, in pragmatic terms.


*No insult here to medieval grammars, semiotics, poetics, and rhetorics, which are marvelously complex and interesting.

Saturday, October 5, 2013


Here's another quote:
Vegem l'essència d'aquests instants; vegem l'essència d'un moment poètic concret. "En tendre prat gaudir el paisatge estricte", comença un sonet de J.V. Foix. Heus ací, potser, una manera de posar-nos en el terreny adequat. Sentim la tendresa del prat; sabem que és "tendre" perquè té una verdor dolça o perquè l'ja humitejat la rosada. Però el paisatge és "estricte": precís, ben dibuixat, nítid, de contorns segurs. El veiem ara amb més netedat, amb claror definitòria, més fermament descompartit que no en la visió confusa de la vida corrent. El vers ens el fa veure així.
It's the theory of the modernist epiphany. In language itself, in a line from a sonnet by Foix, we feel the tenderness of the meadow, the green sweetness of the dew, but with a hard, strict, cleanness and clarity, unlike the confused vision of everyday life. "The line of poetry makes us see it that way." Really, to see this theory of poetry in its stunning clarity, can also make us see the limits of this conception of poetry. It's like a theory of cooking based only on the necessity of putting butter in everything.


Ingredients I will use to make my eggplant pasta this evening: water, salt, pasta; eggplant, olive oil, flour, eggs, bread crumbs, cayenne pepper, black pepper, onions, garlic, parmesan, fresh basil.

I will boil the pasta in salted water; dip the eggplant in bread crumbs (flour & eggs first), sauté them in olive oil, make a tomato sauce with onions, garlic, fresh basil; mix the pasta, the eggplant, and a little of the tomato sauce with some cheese, and I am done. This is a relatively simple dish, that I think of as having two main ingredients, but if I break it down like this it looks complex. I have to decide how much of everything to use, how small to dice the onions, cooking times for every ingredient, amounts of seasonings. I might find a few more things in the pantry or fridge that will go into it.

It will require about 35 minutes (yes, I am fast in the kitchen). I know that I need to start with the things that take the longest; I know what can be done simultaneously. The the pasta can be cooked first and wait for the other ingredients. Onions will take their time to get as brown as I want them, but garlic cannot be burnt.

I know that I can make minor mistakes in timing and have things turn out still ok. I know my haste and lack of attention to detail might make a dish into a B+ or B- when it could have been and A-. I know rewards and risks of improvisation.

I know that I can eat this pasta with the rest of the pork tenderloin with chipotle blackberry glaze from Thursday. I'll have a salad of baby spinach with lemon and olive oil dressing. That's the third night I'm eating that tenderloin, but that's what I get for living alone.


There's an empirical side to the study of poetry, that I got from Pound, Zukofsky, and Perloff. Look at what the poem actually is saying on the literal level. Evaluate claims with precision. It seems too simplistic an approach but actually develops a level of complexity. There's a clarity of perception, like knowing what certain foods taste like and how long they need to cook.


Here is a quote from Gimferrer:
El papel de la visualidad en la poesía recuerdo que me lo explicó muy bien Cabral de Melo, cuando estaba en Barcelona. Hizo que me fijara en los poetas primitivos, en Berceo, o en La Chanson de Roland y no digamos en Villon. Jamás explican nada que no fuera posible imaginar visualmente, a pesar de que se tratara de hechos fantásticos. Nunca hay en su poesía un concepto no visualizable. La pura comunicación de conceptos abstractos no es poesía. Desde entonces siempre lo he aplicado así, incluso quizás de forma excesivamente rigurosa. La operación poética consiste en explicitar en imágenes una cosa que no existiría en ningún otro caso. Es lo mismo que la teoría del correlato objetivo de Eliot. Por eso Goethe decía que el poeta es un hombre que piensa en imágenes. Octavio Paz es otro ejemplo de que la poesía es imagen.
I'm not so sure. An intense visuality is not always so significant in poetry; this seems like a particularly modernist prejudice. Berceo is not a particularly visual poet, although saying that he never present anything not visualizable might be technically true. What's different about modernist visuality is its intensification, its primacy. Of course, modernist poets looked for precursors to this intense visuality, and found them easily enough, though frequently in Asian poetics rather than the West.

Lorca is visual where the lyrics to the cante jondo are not, typically:
yo quisiera renegar
de este mundo por entero
volver de nuevo a habitar
mare de mi corazón
volver de nuevo a habitar
por ver si en un mundo nuevo
encontraba más verdad

Ni aun durmiendo puedo tener
tranquilo mi pensamiento
porque yo tengo un continuo padecer
mare de mi corazón
tengo un continuo padecer
y que está pasando mi cuerpo
por cumplir con su deber
There is not a single thing in this petenera sung by La Niña de los :eines that throws a visual image unto the imagination of the reader. Basically, the song says "I want to renounce the world entirely, mother of my heart, inhabit a new world where I might find more truth. Not even when I am asleep can I calm my thoughts because I have a continuous suffering..."

I'm not criticizing this poem, which I think is marvelous, just stating the obvious: such poetry has no need for images. When concrete images appear, they do so conventionally, for their obvious symbolic value. The wind, for example, might be fickleness. Lorca's idea that the poetry should be "professor in the five bodily senses" is simply not relevant.


I wanted to know what logopeia was, according to some bare minimum scholarly consensus, at least, but when I googled the term I found (mostly, apart from quotes from Pound himself) a lot of commentaries on it by ... Can you guess who?

So I guess I can always cite myself as the expert on this. I really thought the term was in wider circulation than this.

Friday, October 4, 2013


My students did quite well with a oulipean translation exercise: translate a poem by Lorca without using the letter e. In one case even the mother of a student got in the act, and did her own lovely translation of Lorca's guitar. The course is going quite well and I get to give it again next semester.

The students understood the point of the exercise quite intuitively, without my having to explain it too much. Constraint as a spur to creativity, all that.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


I discovered that any poem I have ever written will sound ok in a poetry reading, if I give it the right inflections. Reading Sunday at the Taproom. Wish me luck.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Finding shit

Going through ancient files. Found my essay on Lorca's "Ode to Walt Whitman," with the rejection letter and reports from PMLA. I think it is a twenty-year old essay worthy of publishing now, in its present form (with updated bibliography, of course). I found old letters from friends, my college diploma, and many other things of greater or lesser import. Poems from college days.

I need a research assistant very badly.


When my students are commenting on what they like about one another's translations, the criterion they return to most is flow. This is a rhythmic consideration (Rhuthmos / rhein = flow). This criterion is closely related to their goals for their Spanish (fluency). Prosody, then, is paramount in their thinking about language. Speech or writing without "flow" is halting, hesitant. It does not flow.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Coleman Hawkins. The bebop years

This is slightly out of order, but it is what I am listening today. It is a four cd box set of Hawkins that I bought on the cheap, including a lot of things that are not bebop at all, of course. That thump on the floor of the bass drum on all four beats in a lot of jazz of this period is really noticeable. The pulse is really fat with the rhythm guitar and walking bass strumming on those beats too. It makes the music square up without being "square." Hawkins hits notes squarely on the beats too, without that behind the beat feel introduced by Lester Young.


I've been a tenure track professor for 24 years, which I almost half my life (I am 53). If you count the fact that I was teaching college level courses since 1982 in some capacity or another, then it more than half. Of course, I was in training to be a professor since I was about 11, so there's that.

The Motivated Sign

I scored 8 out of 10 on this quiz. I knew none of these words before, so I was just going by how appropriate the sounds were to the sense.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Apocryphal Lorca

How I missed this apocryphal Lorca poem I don't know. Perhaps this poet was not on my radar (well, not perhaps, he wasn't).


La guitarra

Empieza el llanto
de la guitarra.
Se rompen las copas
de la madrugada.
Empieza el llanto
de la guitarra.
Es inútil
Es imposible
Llora monótona
como llora el agua,
como llora el viento
sobre la nevada.
Es imposible
Llora por cosas
Arena del Sur caliente
que pide camelias blancas.
Llora flecha sin blanco,
la tarde sin mañana,
y el primer pájaro muerto
sobre la rama.
¡Oh guitarra!
Corazón malherido
por cinco espadas.

Translate, but without the letter "e." Good luck.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Dante, writing about 1304, said there were three Romance languages: French, Occitan, and Italian. So most Iberian tongues (Castilian, Portuguese) were still back-water languages at that time, off the map of the best educated Italians (for example). He calls Occitan "Hispanic" at some points in his essay and probably would have considered Catalan a mere variant of Langue D'Oc. I don't know what he would have thought of Berceo against Arnaut Daniel.


Prueba: Identify the authors WITHOUT GOOGLING: choose from among Machado (any of the three Machados) Salinas, Guillén, and Gamoneda. Explain your answers. Scoring: 0-2: francamente mal; 3: mediocre; 4-5: experto.


Aunque el deseo precipita un culto
Que es tropel absorto, da un rodeo
Y en reverencia cambia su tumulto,
Sin cesar renaciente del deseo.

Sobre su cima la hermosura espera,
Y entregándose todo se recata
Lejos--cómo idea y verdadera?
Tan improbable aún y ya inmediata.


Ahora, aquí, frente a ti, todo arrobado,
aprendo lo que soy: soy un momento
de esa larga mirada que te ojea,
desde ayer, desde hoy, desde mañana,
paralela del tiempo...


Como si te posases en mi corazón y hubiese luz dentro de mis venas y yo enloqueciese dulcemente; todo es cierto en tu claridad;

has posado en mi corazón,

hay luz dentro de mis venas,

he enloquecido dulcemente.


Dices que me quieres mucho,
y es mentira, que me engañas:
en un corazón tan chico
no pueden caber dos almas.


Este noble poeta, que ha escuchado
los ecos de la tarde y los violines
del otoño en Verlaine, y que ha cortado
las rosas de Ronsard en los jardines
de Francia, hoy, peregrino
de un Ultramar de sol, nos trae el oro
de su verbo divino...


At the poetry reading the other night I began to compose my own poems in my head. One was going to be titled "The future is a foreign country." It was about how the future had a spurious clarity to it, and would send back simplistic messages to our shifting, shiftless present. How the main flaw of the future was its reverence for the crappy wisdom of a past more distant than our present, a past which, after all, in its own time had only been a shiftless present of its own. There is more to it than that, various twists on the relation between past, present, and future, that I could reconstruct if I wanted, though in a different configuration. I do remember the phrase "shifting, shiftless present," which I was quite proud of at the time. I liked how those two adjectives seemed to both negate and complement each other.

The second poem was about how I could weave fictions of my own while listening to a superb poet read her work, but that these fabrications would dissipate once the reading was over. I would never write these poems. The electrifying creativity I would experience was a form of resistant listening, that would never have been possible without that poet's voice. The third poem I have forgotten.

I thought afterwards that I should have turned off that counter-narrative, listening only to the voice of the poet I was there to hear, rather than weaving my own poems in and out of hers. It was a failure of reception. Or maybe not. Maybe mine was the proper response. Would I want my listeners to turn off their mental monologues and attend only to my insistent voice? I don't think so.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


My daughter Julia starts college today. 1st day of classes at Northwestern, where she will study music performance (trumpet). I feel old. I was a professor for seven years before she was even born. That means I have been professing for a quarter century.


Kate Greenstreet came to read last night. She reminded me that I published a poem of hers long ago, here.


Deep in my own green element,
I met a friend—
my double, my dearest.

pulled me out of the sea,
placed me

in this pan of water,
added salt,
and taught me to eat bread.
Lorca on patriotism:

Siempre hemos entendido desde niños al patriotismo como un sentimiento que tiene por espíritu a un trapo de colores… Hay que ir contra esas exhibiciones (la música militar), llenas de lástima y con los oídos del alma tapados como Ulises se tapó los suyos para no caer en la tentación de las hadas del mar... ¿De qué se valen las congregaciones religiosas sino de la fastuosidad y de la riqueza para atraer a la multitud? Saben muy bien que la masa es muy impresionable y le hacen postrarse ante el brillo del oro... Es preciso acabar con lo inútil de las ideas patrióticas. El patriotismo es uno de los grandes crímenes de la humanidad porque de sus senos podridos por el mal surgen los monstruos de la guerra…

New Blog

I have a new blog for my course on translation, with the name Tumulto de acordes. You can find it here. I was teaching Guillén's "Más allá" in my other course and used the phrase "tumult of chords" from the last line of that poem as the title of the blog. My idea is that advanced students should be able to translate effectively from the Spanish, that publishing their work is valuable, and that they should be able to see what the rest of the class is doing, rather than turning their work in just to me at the end of the semester.

My first impression is that they are doing an amazing job. Keep in mind these students are not poets or creative writers, not professional translators. This is their first stab at it, and I haven't edited their work at all. It can only get better from here.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Hard Copy

I found, while cleaning out some things, a hard copy of a paper I wrote and never published. I am very happy. It is a good paper and I tried to publish it in PMLA, but I think I could re-think it and place it somewhere else. This is like from 15 years ago, but it is a relatively "timeless" theme. I will dust it off and start work at some point. It has the rather dull title: "Redundancy: A Problem in Poetic Form."

Bill Evans: New Jazz Conceptions

This 1956 Riverside album is Evans's debut as a leader and thus has historical interest though it is not the Evans I return to most often. He was already playing with Paul Motian on drums. His "Waltz for Debbie" only lasts about 1:18, so it is not as satisfying as other versions.

The answers!


Mistranslations: cauce is channel or riverbed, not source. Shine for inundar [to flood]

Failure to observe syntactic parallelisms: se quede sin ....

Added material: blind / deprived. Introduces semantic material not in original, or only implicit.

Ennoblement / expansion: glitter and shine for brillen. Glistening for fresca.

Wrestling and writhing with noon is very effective without being overly literal.

Resisto = I can stand. Shows a good understanding of semantics of Spanish verb resistir.

Y los arcos rotos donde sufre el tiempo = and the ruined archways of suffering time.
Ok, but changes active verb to participle. Less dynamic?

But don’t show your nakedness, clean
Interrupts rhythmic flow with the comma.

Let me go on fearing dark planets.
It seems blander than the original.

Overall. Not bad. I would give it a B+ if you did something like this for my course. The most critizable aspects are ennoblement and expansion. I think an English-speaking reader would find it an effective poem in English.


A mixture of strategies. Sometimes very literal and sometimes the freest of versions. The lack of punctuation is possibly effective. Does the poem really need punctuation?

Domestication: ballad for ghazal.

Mistranslations: arcos = rainbows?

Free translation: star clusters for oscuros planetas.

River / bed. That puts the relation between agua and cauce in a way understandable for English only readers. (Compare Honig: water / source.)

Failure to observe syntactic continuity of first four lines.

And the yellows give a complete colour to silk
Here the poet has interpreted Lorca’s line, imagining that yellow dye penetrate a piece of silk, dyeing it completely. The line is awkward and strange in English. Several of you noticed the British spelling of colour, but Spicer is as American as they come.

Spicer’s understanding of the original may be faulty. His approach does not seem consistent. He avoids ennoblement and expansion. I wouldn’t assign this a grade but ask what the intent behind the translation was and ask the student to rethink some choices. (As it happens, Spicer had unique ideas about translation and wasn’t aiming for a conventinally good version.)


By conventional standards, an excellent translation. Endure for resisto is excellent. I might make some other choices, like noon for mid-day. I’m not fond of embroiled.

Failure to observe syntactic parallels in first four lines, but “to be free of” is good, direct version of “se quede sin...”

I would give an A to this translation, but would ask the student to rethink punctuation. Semi-colons are ugly!


Ghazal is actually the correct English translation of the Arabic poetic form Lorca was using, the gacela in Spanish.

Mistranslations: Let the water do without a place to settle. Water flows through a cauce; it doesn’t settle there. You can’t fuck around with a poet’s metaphors, since those are the most “translatable” parts.

bueyes = steers. Techinically this is ok, but most translators go for oxen. I resist sounds literal for resisto, but the verb in this context really means stand / endure / tolerate.

but do not teach me the ways of your cool waist.
Here the translator has apparently taken enseñar to mean teach when it really means show. As a consequence he has introduced an expansion / rationalization: you can’t teach a waist so his solution is the ways of your waist. Yuck. Does that even make sense?

In a poem it matters who is speaking. The poet’s desire is expressed through the verb Yo quiero... The translation say “Let...” and introduces the poetic “I” later on. Why?

This was a version preferred by several students in the class. As long as you gave reasons, I didn’t take points off for preferring it, even though it is among the worst (in my opinion).

I would give this a C+ or B- for my course. Some choices are defensible: an arch is collapsed. Twilight carries some of the connotations of ocaso. The translator has done some things right, but the missteps are hard to justify. This would be a good “teachable moment,” since the translator is finding some solutions that are better than the best translation, Archer, yet falling on his face more directly too.

My ranking: Archer / Spicer / Honig / Bonta
Or possibly Archer / Honig / Spicer / Bonta
If you ranked Bonta highly you might have been responding to some of the things he does well. If you liked Honig, you probably are accepting of some degree of ennoblement. It sounds the most “poetic” in conventional terms among the four. If you liked Spicer, you probably don’t mind a mixture of strategies and some real strangeness.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

No Room at the Top / Room Only at the Top

I was looking at the MLA job list. The only job for which I could apply (and not be a department chair) is to (essentially) replace Brad Epps at Harvard, since he went to Cambridge recently. Virginia and Cornell are looking for senior Latin Americanists (not me) and Berkeley for a Luso-Brazilian specialist (also not me). Baylor is looking for a chair, but I could be chair at Kansas at some point so why would I want to move to a Baptist school in Texas where I know nobody (no offense). The head of languages at Notre Dame would be an applied linguist (again, not me). There are very few Comp Lit jobs, none of which I am qualified for. There is also an internal job I will apply for. No moving expenses that way.

So only very top-tier places even advertise for fulls. You have to be a star (perhaps, again, not me) to move at all. There will be some shuffling of top Latin Americanists to Cornell, Virginia.

Bill Evans, Jazz Showcase

This is simply a compilation of Evans's Riverside period, his first albums as a leader produced with Orrin Keepnews. It is a valuable period of his development, as he is already playing with people like Paul Motian and had already written "Waltz for Debbie."

Keepnews was a great impetus for this crucial period of jazz, recording Evans and Monk, among many others. I listened to some video podcasts of Keepnews a few years back, and then acquired a lot of the records he was talking about. I never regretted that.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

An assignment

Federico García Lorca

Gacela de la terrible presencia

Yo quiero que el agua se quede sin cauce.

Yo quiero que el viento se quede sin valles.

Quiero que la noche se quede sin ojos 

y mi corazón sin la flor del oro.

Que los bueyes hablen con las grandes hojas 

y que la lombriz se muera de sombra.

Que brillen los dientes de la calavera

y los amarillos inunden la seda.

Puedo ver el duelo de la noche herida 

luchando enroscada con el mediodía.

Resisto un ocaso de verde veneno 

y los arcos rotos donde sufre el tiempo.

Pero no me enseñes tu limpio desnudo 

como un negro cactus abierto en los juncos.

Déjame en un ansia de oscuros planetas,

¡pero no me enseñes tu cintura fresca!


Tarea dos: Evalúe las sigientes traducciones de este poema de Lorca en 300-400 palabras. ¿Cuál es mejor / peor? Utlicen el documento “¿Cómo leer una traducción?” como guía.

Fecha de entrega. 17 de septiembre.

Edwin Honig:

Gacela of the Terrible Presence

I want water left blind to its sources.
I want wind left blind to the valleys.

I want night deprived of its eyes
and my heart of its flower of gold.

Let oxen speak with the huge leaves
and earthworms die of the darkness.

Let teeth in the skull glitter and shine
and the yellows shine through the silk.

I can watch wounded night in its duel,
wrestling and writhing with noon.

I can stand in a poison-green sunset
and the ruined archways of suffering time.

But don’t show your nakedness, clean
as black cactus alive in the reeds.

Let me go on fearing dark planets
but don’t show me your glistening waist.

Jack Spicer

Ballad of the Terrible Presence

I want the river lost from its bed
I want the wind lost from its valleys

I want the night to be there without eyes
and my heart without the golden flower

So that oxen talk with big leaves
And the earthworm is dead in shadow

So that the teeth of the skull glisten
And the yellows give a complete colour to silk

I can look at the agony of wounded night
Struggling, twisted up against noontime

I can stand all the sunsets of green poison
And the wornout rainbows that time suffers

But don’t make your clean body too visible
Like a black cactus opened out among rushes

Let me go in an anguish of star clusters
Lose me. But don’t show me that cool flesh.

Paul Archer

Gacela: The Terrible Presence

I want water to be free of channels, 

I want the wind to be free of valleys.

I want the night to be without eyes

and my heart without a golden flower;

for the oxen to talk to the giant leaves

and the earthworm to die of darkness;

for the skull's teeth to gleam 

and yellows flood through silk.

I can see the duel of wounded night

wrestling embroiled with mid-day.

I can endure the sunset's green poison

and the broken arches where time suffers.

But don’t reveal your clean nakedness

like a black cactus out in the rushes.

Leave me longing for the dark planets,

but don’t show me your cool waist.

David Bonta


Let the water do without a place to settle;

let the wind do without valleys.

Let the night do without eyes

and my heart without its flower of gold.

I want the steers to talk with the large leaves

and the earthworm to die of shadow.

I want the teeth gleaming in the skull

and the silks drowning in yellow.

I can see the duel between the wounded night

and noon, how they twist and tangle.

I resist a twilight of green venom

and collapsed arches where time suffers on.

But don’t illuminate this limpid nude of yours

like some black cactus open in the bulrushes.

Leave me in an agony of longing for dark planets,

but do not teach me the ways of your cool waist.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Everybody Digs Bill Evans

Here is 1959 trio outing with Bill Evans and Sam Jones (b), Philly Joe Jones (d). It is his second album as a leader, with a fairly straight-ahead feel, lots of block chords. I really like Jones's warm drum sound on this. It came out on Riverside when Keepknews was putting out some marvelous sides.

Another anecdote

Shortly after I found Digressions, I all of sudden thought I should look for a book I needed on my shelves that I had lost track of. I recently began cleaning out my office but haven't made sure all the books are on the shelf where they need to be. So I decided to begin at the upper left hand corner of the shelf that houses my main research collection on Spanish poetry. Can you guess where the book was?

I had almost thought I should just get it sent to me from the library. That could have been less effort than trying to find it. Yet I found it a second after I began my search.


I lay down on my office floor around 10 a.m. and closed my eyes for a few minutes. When I opened them, I looked straight up and saw a book that I recognized as Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O'Hara. I had just been writing about the James Dean poems by O'Hara, so I wondered if Joe LeSeuer had commented on them. Of course he had, as my uncertain memory had hinted to me. I ended up getting some good quotes for that chapter: Frank writes, “if one is going to start being embarrassed about one’s work I don’t know where it would stop, or rather it would stop” (Quoted in LeSeuer, 64).

Productivity works in mysterious ways. If I hadn't been tired and laying on my floor, I wouldn't have seen this book.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Benny Carter / 3-4-5 The Verve Small Group Sessions

This is probably the best that small group swing ever gets, with Carter (as) and people like Teddy Wilson on piano and Jo Jones on drums. Benny Carter plays beautifully, fluently, throughout, even on the kitschy "The Birth of the Blues."

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Twenty Best of Artie Shaw

This is one of those junky compilations that are useful for me with artists I don't know very well. "A Foggy Day" has a hip seven-measure intro that brings me up short every time. You expect the phrase to end in that 8th measure and instead another phrase begins. The arrangments are very hip for their time, as on "Stardust."

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Artistry of Pepper

Another album that is not particularly famous but comes highly recommended (by me). Art Pepper plays typical cool jazz with various sidemen, like the great drummer Mel Lewis.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


I just spent 2 1/2 hours proctoring PhD exam and figured out how to finish my book by the end of March. I will very slowly finish one Chapter in what is left of Sept. I only have a few lines to go, but I need to track down references, finish translations, and change everything to U of Chicago Style. Then I have another chapter to write in October, etc... I realized I was giving myself a month to do a very simple task (complete a chapter I had already written, really) so I condensed here, expanded there, and came up with a plan. I realize now I am pretty much done with a lot of it, despite my slacking in the summer.

If I don't follow the plan I still have to extra months in the school year to work. At this point it is important to concentrate on getting things in their final form, rather than working randomly on everything at once.

Proctoring forces me to sit still and get work done.

Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section (1957)

The Rhythm Section is that of the Miles Davis quintet. The section of Red Garland (p), Paul Chambers (b), and Philly Joe (d). I like the knowingness of the title! Art is fluent and meshes well with this section. They play Dizzy's "Tin Tin Deo," some standards and some straight-ahead blues.

All my albums have been clustering in the late 50s and early 60s so far.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Paris Jam Session

Art Blakey's Paris Jam Session features the legendary drummer with Wayne Shorter and Lee Morgan. Bud Powell appears, brilliantly, on two tracks, "Dance of the Infidels" and "Bouncing With Bud." Recorded 1959. What stands out here is Powell and Shorter playing a fairly straight-ahead bop style. I've owned this for many years and played it endlessly at one point.

The Best of the Complete Pablo Solo Masterpieces / Complete Capitol Recordings of Art Tatum

These two compilations from Art Tatum give you enough Art Tatum, about 48 songs, for almost everyone. I'm partial to the Capitol sides, because they were my introduction to Tatum.

Chess & Computers

I'd like to see a computer that could design a human good enough to beat it at chess.

So I remarked in a comment. Mark Liberman kindly responded: "Excellent premise for a story. There could be a prize involved: the Mayhew Prize."

In other words, the whole premise of "computers are getting better than humans" at something is flawed. Of course you can make a computer better than a human at almost any given task.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I Noticed Something

The general level of argument people use is fairly low. Looking that the Chronicle of Higher Education comment threads, I notice people will make arguments like this. (Irrespective of whether I happen to agree with the perspective: obviously it is easier to spot fallacies when you are looking to discount a particular point of view, but I find people I agree with can be equally fallacious.)

Arguments from anecdote or limited information, with no empirical foundation. This happened to me, so this must be typical. "My grandfather smoked everyday and lived to be 90."

Arguments from self-interest. Tenure is a good thing... because I have tenure!

Arguments from what "studies show," or from what a particular study showed that I read about recently, heard about on NPR or in the CHE, or from a press release from my Uni.

Overgeneralization from studies with very limited, barely significant findings. A 5% variance becomes an absolute. If men are 5% more likely to do x than women, that means "men do it and women don't."

Arguments from received wisdom or prejudice. Of course tenured professors are not going to be good teachers, because they do research. Everyone knows this already.

Arguments from the fallibility of science. Of course, you can't believe these scientific studies, because... Hitler used scientists to his ends.

Arguments from the infallibility of science. I am right because ... science! (Even when it is merely a limited form of social science of limited validity.)

Various other kinds of lazy thinking. Tenure protects academic freedom (yes, sure but is that what it mainly does in today's climate? does it really protect freedom all that well, who benefits from that type of argument?; does that mean the untenured should have no freedom?) The military protects "freedom," (but is a militarized society generally more "free"? I don't think so.)

Anthony Braxton, Seven Standards Vol 1, 1985

This is the first jazz cd I got, when making the transition between vinyl and cds. It has Victor Lewis, Rufus Reid, Hank Jones. I knew Braxton as an avant-garde player: here he starts off with standard statement of theme, and then gets gradually more out-there in successive choruses, bringing it back to the melody again at the end. This isn't a famous album that everyone already knows, but is worth checking out.

Moanin' / A Night at Birdland

Art Blakey's 1958 Moanin' is the classic hard bop album. It has Benny Golson (ts), Lee Morgan (t), Bobby Timmons (p), and Jymie Merritt (b). This is probably essential listening just for being most typical of a particular style or mode.


A Night at Birdland (1954), though, is even better. It has Clifford Brown, Horace Silver, and Lou Donaldson, and is in a more boppish mode, with "Night in Tunisia."

This list will amount to a discography of essential jazz music, with some omissions and biases, of course.


Smokestack is from '66, but recorded earlier. Still Blue Note, still Andrew Hill. It has Roy Haynes and Richard Davis, plus another bassist, Eddie Khan. No horns. The use of two basses is a bit unusual, though not unheard of for a more experimental period. It makes the music bottom-heavy. Haynes is brilliant on this album. That does it for Andrew Hill. I have another one I don't like quite as much, Spiral, that didn't make the cut.

Point of Departure

Andrew Hill's Point of Departure is roughly equivalent to Black Fire, with Hill originals, Richard Davis on bass, and Henderson, but adding Eric Dolphy and Kenny Dorham. It has a more avant-garde feeling because of Dolphy's playing. Tony Williams on drums gives a different feel than Roy Haynes, but it is hard to prefer one to the other. Williams's cymbal sound is the best there is, and he is more fluid, less "jerky," than Haynes. More ride-cymbal and less hats.

Richard Davis, I discover, is a professor at U of Wisconsin. He is certainly one of the best bass players of the 60s (and much beyond).

I like the feeling of consistency from Hill's music. It all sounds like him. It is excellent music to think to, as you might dance to other music. But it is a dance-like thinking.

Black Fire

I am starting on a series of posts on the best jazz albums I have in my possession, using my itunes library as a guide. I am going alphabetically by first name of artist and title of album. My only choice will be whether to include an album or no, and will be arbitrary. I won't skip over a masterpiece, but might be selective with artists of whom I have more than five albums.

Andrew Hill's Black Fire came out in 1964, with Richard Davis (b), Joe Henderson (ts), Roy Haynes (d). The tunes are all (or mostly) by pianist, composer Hill. I love the sound of Blue Note jazz from this period. My itunes tells me I have played each of these songs many times, though often I have done so as background while working.

This is an album you could listen to just to hear Roy Haynes's drums, if you were so inclined.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Language Log

Very good post here quoting Lanham.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Startling Ineptitude

Here is the beginning of a poem about baseball, by Rolfe Humphries, who is also one of the first translators of Lorca:

Time is of the essence. This is a highly skilled
And beautiful mystery. Three or four seconds only
From the time that Riggs connects till he reaches first,
And in those seconds Jurges goes to his right,
Comes up with the ball, tosses to Witek at second
For the force on Reese, Witek to Mize at first,
In time for the out -- a double play.

Do you see the problem? Time is of the essence (cringe-worthy cliché), indeed, but the poet seems not to have understood that his is also an art of time. He has a wooden ear ("highly skilled" he is not). His phrasing is clunky; he is writing prose divided up into lines in an awkward way. We know the elegance of a double play well turned, but the poet's language adds nothing to this. We already know it's a double play before we get to the phrase at the end of this stanza! The poet is doing badly what the baseball play-by-play announcer would do expertly, almost effortlessly.

Certain people should just not be allowed to come near a poem.

Friday, August 30, 2013


Here is some kitsch for you:

Cante hondo

A todos nos han cantado
en una noche de juerga
coplas que nos han matado...

Corazón, calla tu pena;
a todos nos han cantado
en una noche de juerga.

Malagueñas, soleares
y seguiriyas gitanas...
Historias de mis pesares
y de tus horitas malas.

Malagueñas, soleares
y seguiriyas gitanas...

Es el saber popular,
que encierra todo el saber:
que es saber sufrir, amar,
morirse y aborrecer.

Es el saber popular,
que encierra todo el saber.

We have all had sung to us on a night of partying couplets that have killed us. Heart, quiet your sorrow; we have all been sung to on nights of partying. Malagueñas, soleares, and gypsy seguiriyas ... Tales of my burdens and of your bad times. Malagueñas, soleares, and gypsy seguiriyas. It's popular wisdom, encompassing all wisdom, knowing how to suffer, to love, to die, and to hate. It's popular wisdom, encompassing all wisdom.

What is kitsch about this poem by Antonio Machado's older brother, Manuel? It evokes the flamenco deep song from outside. It is not, itself, an example of any of the three genres it mentions. It is metapoetic, like the song "The birth of the blues" which is about the blues but is not itself an example of the genre.

Oh, they say some people long ago
Were searching for a diffrent tune
One that they could croon
As only they can
They only had the rhythm
So they started swaying to and fro
They didn't know just what to use
That is how the blues really began
They heard the breeze in the trees
Singing weird melodies
And they made that the start of the blues

And from a jail came the wail
Of a down-hearted frail
And they played that
As part of the blues
From a whippoorwill
Out on a hill
They took a new note
Pushed it through a horn
Til it was worn
Into a blue note
And then they nursed it, rehearsed it
And gave out the news
That the southland gave birth to the blues!

Blech! This is offensive on so many levels, though it is a good song as an instrumental.

Both these lyrics exemplify a kind "secondary" quality that Eco has pointed out. Now why is MM kitsch and FGL not?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Tennis vs. Baseball

Nadal has lost three times in 2013, and won maybe 55. Federer is about 34 and 10. Djokovic has only lost 8 times, and Murray's stats would look quite similarly impressive (9 losses against many more victories). Ferrer is 42 and 14. James Blake, number 100 in the world, who has just retired, has a career record of 61 and 42 in Grand Slams. He was an extremely good player at one point, and retires with a very respectable record, but way below the level of those who win repeated tournaments over the course of several years.

In part because of his extreme dominance on clay, Nadal has a career winning record against Murray, Federer, Roddick, and Novak, and probably against every other player he's played at least 3 times. He is 21 and 5 against Ferrer, an excellent, excellent player who's ranked number 4 in the world, and 16 and 3 against Berdych, who is #5. He has won 15 straight times against the Czech. If Federer is the greatest of all time, Nadal can say he has a winning record against the best player ever. So what does that make him? He has a 6/1 ratio of wins to loss in his career. Federer has won more than 900 professional tennis matches and lost only around 200!

In baseball, most teams in the major leagues are between .400 and .600 in winning percentage, so the typical mismatch is between a team that wins 9 out of 20 and one that wins 11. (The highest percentage as of today .606. Two teams are below .400.)

The difference is that the top tennis players are playing against the equivalent of minor league players, a lot of the time. The game is structured differently, so you don't get to even play another match if you lose the first round of a tournament. A .500 record means you lose and win about half the time in the first round. Or lose a lot in the first round and go into deeper rounds once in a while. What is truly amazing is a player at the top of his game who is virtually unbeatable, even by another stellar player. A pitcher never wins 20 or 30 games in a row.

Baseball is subject to numerous chance factors, so that a team that is objectively better will lose to worse teams on any given day. The season is long with many games, and every team plays the exact number of games. There ought to be a technical term for sports that are more subject to chance factors, like golf, soccer, or baseball, vs. sports in which the winner is much more often the better team or player, like football or tennis. When I see two pro tennis players who aren't in the top 10 against each other, I think either of them could win on any given day. Say the number 35 against the number 25 in the world. So in that context tennis seems much more "noisy." A top player who isn't having a horrible day can almost always put away even a superb player.