Featured Post


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...

Thursday, December 31, 2015


What if there were a briliant.org for the humanities? What would it look like?

Saturday, December 26, 2015


People don't realize this, but "diversity" was the catch-word involved in the abolishing of affirmative action. In the Bakke case from around '78, the SCOTUS ruled that you couldn't favor applicants by race, explicitly. However, you could construct a freshman class (or a 1st year med school class, since Bakke had applied to UCD Med school) and take into account all the different ways people are different from one another: what state they came from, whether they are rural or urban, whether they had special talents or characteristics, etc... This emphasis on diversity honored the notion of academic freedom: that the university might want to enhance the education of everyone by bringing different kind of people together.

I remember because I was a student at UCD at the time, and my father who taught there as well explained the case to me.

"Diversity" wasn't targeted at urm groups anymore (underrepresented minorities), but a university certainly could use it that way as well. Well, of course, universities began to use "diversity" only to mean urm groups. Because the problem was never to get enough White Idaho farmers or Jewish violinists to go to Harvard. Also, although international students automatically bring diversity (of culture, language, race, religion, and a whole host of other factors) somehow only domestic diversity counts.

(Logically, an all black school is not racially "diverse." By the same token, an individual cannot be diverse, only a population.)

So "diversity" is a blunt and inappropriate tool if what you are looking for is a racial mix reflective of US domestic populations. The reason is the tension between the original AA goal of compensating for past discrimination and the goal of diversity, which in actuality targets only two minority groups but sounds like it should strive for a much wider panoply of people. My department, for example, has faculty from Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Netherlands, Spain, Brazil, the US, etc... but yet we still aren't very diverse in terms of the representation of the under-represented US populations.

The Two-Hour Work Session

Two hours seems about right. It is substantial enough to get a lot of work done, even with a few distractions. It's not so long that you need to get to make coffee or go to the bathroom. You have time to warm up and then cool down at the end, and switch focus a few times. If you don't get through the whole two hours, you're likely to have worked at least an hour fifteen.

String these together on successive days over a week or a month and and you will be unstoppable.

The 5th Song

The 5th song is taking shape. It is is Bb and begins there in the tonic, with a sixth and ninth. It goes up to the subdominant Eb, then to the II chord Cmin7, with a flatted 5th and back to the tonic.

Then it goes to IV again, V7, then III (Dmin), a C#7, and a Cmaj7. I don't know if that is permissible, because I'm doing a II/V/I progression in another key. No matter, it sounds ok to me.

The next four measures will repeat the first four. Then the last four measure of the second A section will have to be slightly different, resolving on the tonic rather than on II.

It only took two days to learn to do chords in this key, so that's not so bad.

The melody so far goes like this: La, la, la, la, la // la la / la / la la. Well, I guess you have to be here to hear it. I always need chords first, then melody, then lyrics.

Lyrics seem infinitely perfectible to me, whereas the song (harmony / melody) just is what it. Perhaps that is a feature of my method.

The next step, logically, is to write down and record my songs. I've started to do both. But I think I need an album of 8 songs.

I am painfully aware of my limitations, yet my songs sound ok, even beautiful at times, to me. Toward the end of a part the other night I sat down and played one of them instrumentally and nobody complained.

I think, naturally, that I should set poems to music.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Fallacy Behind David and Goliath

1. We know the favorite wins more often than the underdog. Here, favorite is defined as the team more likely to win, in almost everyone's opinion. When the favorite wins, no explanation is needed, and the story behind their win is not interesting. There is no "story" there; no narrative impulse. There is not story in which the hare beats the tortoise, because, well, that is too obvious. A story must have some twist to it. The story of David and Goliath where Goliath wins is a story that doesn't get passed on in David's family. The reason David beats Goliath is that that is the raison d'être of the damned story. It's a story that exists for the sole reason of having David to do something improbably heroic.

2. So when the expected does not happen, then there must be some explanation, because the result is puzzling by its very nature. These explanations can be interesting (almost by definition), involving factors that people did not see ahead of time. But they usually have little predictive value. Why not? Well, because the underdog still loses more often than it doesn't, and the factors that can foul up predictions are unforeseeable by their very nature. A predictable upset is not an upset at all. If we factored in the factors that make certain underdogs win more often than not, then they would no longer be underdogs: those factors would just, from now on, be included in future predictions. Put another way, we can't use Gladwell's insights to win bets on football games. We can't say the underdog will always beat the point spread, or that favorite will always cover it. Of course, ex post facto reasoning is always wonderful. That's why, after the event, we can also give lists of reasons why things happened the way they did.

3. Since upsets are more interesting narratively, than expected results, and spectacular insights are even more interesting, they are more memorable. The explanations thus seem more significant. But really, they are not; unless they fall into some significant patterns, that can be made the basis of predictions. It is not particularly predictive to say: sometimes the underdog wins, because, say the chances of a 2% event occurring are still 2%, not zero. We don't remember the 98% of times when things happened like we thought they would.

[After reading some comments on Thomas's blog today I was thinking of Gladwell's book on this subject, in which he goes to great lengths to explain why things don't always occur the way we think they would.]

Sunday, December 20, 2015


Here's the problem. An ideology is like a filter to tell you what to think about a number of issues.

The idiocy of right-wing ideology is like a scape-goat. Since the right is idiotic, it must mean that we, the non-right, have the answers: just the opposite of what they think. Very easy.

But most things you might want to know don't break down that easily. So the ideological response to the right is likely to be wrong, not because the right is right, but because the answer to the right is reactive. It is reactionary.

The absence of conservatives in certain fields of academia is not bad because the conservative ideas are so great and we should listen to them. It is bad because ideas themselves should not be so easily categorized. Even about political issues. If no conservative people are part of the conversation at all, then a complacency sets in. They are idiots, horrible people.


Someone on a Facebook group, "teaching with a sociological lens," posted a New York Times article about why there should be more conservatives in academia. Of course, everyone in the group piled on, with the usual canards: reality has a liberal bias, etc... and with some caricatures of conservative thought as racist and simplistic. Very unhelpful and very simplistic itself. It was as though the stupidity of conservatism had made the group more stupid as well.


An example might be watered-down po-mo in composition studies. The idea behind it is a good one: authority and hierarchy are bad; epistemology is uncertain. But the result is that the real virtues of poststructuralist thought, any rigor it might have, devolves into base caricature, as Thomas Basbøll has shown. Another example: skepticism toward American foreign policy might make people more sympathetic to Putin or regimes in Venezuela or Cuba.


Conservatism becomes the scapegoat, a garbage pail where we throw all the idea we don't like. Misogyny, racism, free-market capitalism, gun violence. Everything in the pail smells equally bad, because all that garbage is in there. But the mechanism ends up protecting liberal thought from its own idiocies, weaker in the end, less nuanced.


A social psychologist named Jonathan Haidt, who is a brother of a former colleague of mine from when I taught at Ohio State, has developed some interesting ideas about this in his recent work. Since I am not right-wing, I recognize this scapegoating in myself. It makes life easier in some sense, but in my own work I have to figure things out myself rather than thinking that a left-right dichotomy resolves relevant issues.

My own idea is that reality has a reality bias. In other words, things are not that simple, and adherence to the idea that you just have to look at the conservative view and think the opposite is intellectually lazy.

Friday, December 18, 2015


I'd like to compose and play in a few other keys. I'm hoping this will come as I begin to use a lot of extra chords in the keys I am comfortable in. So if I know C major then I have to know the chords that go along with this key (F, G, A minor, etc..).

I'd like to play well enough to accompany myself singing my own songs, confidently. And also be able to sing while I play.

I'd like to master music notation software to the point I can put my intentions down on paper with some facility.

I'd like to record my songs with myself playing a drum track and a piano track and have Julia add a trumpet part and produce an amateur cd.

Hitting the Ground

When I read a poem in the New Yorker, I get frustrated by the lack of verbal economy. I think of Larry Hart:

Have you met Miss Jones, someone said as we shook hands
She was just Miss Jones to me
Then I said Miss Jones, you're a girl who understands
I'm a man who must be free

Then all at once I lost my breath
Then all at once was scared to death
Then all at once I owned the earth and sky

Now I've met Miss Jones, and we'll keep on meeting til we die
Miss Jones and I

That's like 90 words or so, and ten are "Miss Jones." Take the first 90 words of a New Yorker poem and nothing has happened yet. Even in a shorter one.

Prose should be concentrated in the same way. Every page must have worthwhile ideas. Even the presentation of background material must do so with a sense of urgency. In other words, it's not "here's what you should know before you understand my argument," but: this is how my argument shapes our understanding of what you might already know by way of background.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Breaking down the chords

So here's the little that I know... I wouldn't write just a major triad (CEG). Usually there would be a 7th too (CEGB). Then, usually, I would omit the 5th, or flat it, and add some upper extensions like a 9th(CEBD). So the chord sounds richer, with more color, but not too fat (with 5 or 6 notes), unless you want that effect. You can even omit the root, which give the chord a more ethereal feel. Moving from one chord to the next, you can keep some of the same notes too, and make sure the hands and ears don't have to move around too much. Transitions sound smoother. The upper note especially should not leap around too much. This, I'm told, is called "voice leading."

Factoring in substitutions, inversions, extensions, and the like, every chord has about a billion possible variations, but not all will sound good.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Writing it Down

So I am half-way through writing down three of my four songs. It is arduous--writing a measure of music might take me an hour or so. The music notation software is cumbersome, and I am clumsy with the mouse and not a particularly adept musician for that matter. What the MIDI file plays back to me is not what I intended to write, so I have to do it over again and again.

Yet this is the most fun I've had in a while.

What I can play more or less fluently on the keyboard takes me much longer to get right on th page. Then, of course, I can always improve on it. I can make the piano chords richer and more complex, and change the rhythms up to make them less boring and predictable.


What does it mean to write our prose down? The software is less cumbersome. We still must obey conventions, and know how to write in sentences and paragraphs. Writing a sentence should not take an hour.

Yet the precision of the notation must still be there. The attention to detail.


My four songs:

1. This is pick-up line song. Let's get together. With a jaunty rhythm.

2. This one is a let's live our life together song. We've already fallen in love, but haven't made the commitment. A beautiful melody.

3. The third one is a reconnecting song. We've loved each other in the past and will continue to do so. Another pleasing melody.

4. The last one is a break-up song: our love has taken its course and is no longer. The melody is catchy despite the negativity.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

4th song

I wrote my fourth song, with the express aim of not having it sound like the others. It doesn't... and yet it does.

It goes from Amin7 to Cmin7 to Fmin7, then to Dmin, Cmin, Amin7, G7

The next line is Amin7 to Cmin7 to Fmin7, then to Dmin, Cmin, Amin7, Cmaj7

The bridge goes Fmin7, Emin7, Fmin7, Dmin7, C#min7, Cmaj7 again

And the final 8 bars repeat the second phrase again.

It has some organic coherence, to be sure, and sounds bluesy without being a blues. Kind of Gershwinny,

I don't have to count measures, since I think naturally in unites of 4 and 8. I'd say the song has to almost dictate itself over the chord structure. For some reason I always start with chords and then put a melody to that, and then the lyrics come last.

For some reason I always want to use the subdominant minor in the bridge.

I realized that if I'm derivative that's a good thing: that means I'm actually able to imitate something. Imagine if I couldn't even be derivative.

Another thing: practicing the song and composing it are the same activity. In other words, I have to learn my own songs, teach them to myself, and in the process make adjustments.

Another realization: this is why I'm taking voice lessons. I didn't know why when I started.

UPDATE: Yet another factor: composing songs gives me persistent ear worm. I have to play them so much that they end up playing all day and night in my head.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Involuntary & Deliberative

Some decisions or impulses seem somewhat out of our control. For example, I began to write songs in September of this year. This arose from simply staying at my girlfriend's house for a few weeks to take care of dog and chickens while she was in Japan, and fooling around on the piano. Soon, I had a song, then another one. Then I began writing the lyrics for them, naturally enough.

This is still voluntary, in the sense that I wasn't forced to do it against my will. Rather, I felt as though I should listen to this impulse, that it was coming from somewhere significant that I would ignore to my detriment. It isn't a scholarly impulse per se, since I am not in the Songwriting Department, though I did develop a proposal for the discipline of song studies" at one point in the recent past.

It is also deliberative, in the sense that I take deliberate, self-conscious steps, to compose what I feel is a good song, and to educate myself enough to do. I have to write the next song without a tritone substitution or using III instead of I, and not beginning the song on II.

Perhaps the relation between the deliberative and the involuntary is similar to that between the routine and the improvisatory. In both cases, we can understand human creativity as mysterious in its workings. It requires both conscious and unconscious effort, and we don't really understand the relations between these two things.


Although I don't think much of Malcolm Gladwell, the 10,000 hour principle he popularized is useful. I'm thinking, for example, of spending 10,000 hours watching television, a seemingly passive activity, or listening to songs and singers in the tradition of the great American song-book for countless hours, as I have done. Many of us are intuitive experts on many things that we have done over and over. I know (in the sense of recognizing) hundreds of songs by Gershwin, Arlen, etc... My songs are likely to be amateurish, yet I feel that must teach myself to write them.

Mulberry Lane

I had written something about Mulberry Lane, a street in Davis near where I grew up. It involved the calculation 11 x 7 = 77. That was correct, but the original data was faulty and I was accused of research misconduct. The New York Times criticized me harshly, though I felt it was not my fault: someone else had publicized my findings before I had released them.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Back Surgery

I was in a hospital awaiting lower back surgery. I was looking for an empty hospital bed in which to have it. I thought that my back barely hurt, and thought to myself: "After this operation I might never be the same again." I was trying to get out of this ill-advised procedure in some way, and this happened when I woke up and realized it had been a dream.

Monday, December 7, 2015

King Nuance

Despite the brilliance of the critique of nuance in Healy's "Fuck Nuance," I still think that for my field, nuance is king. In other words, the vast majority of work could be improved by more attention to nuance and detail.

I accept that in sociology, the call for nuance might be a cheap move. In fact, it not a nuanced approach to call for more nuance in a facile way, when what is really meant is the introduction of missing category of analysis. So if you say, "what about class?" in an analysis focused on gender, that is not necessarily a call for more nuance per se. It more like an unnuanced attempt to outflank someone politically.

What I mean by "king nuance" is that

suppose someone were to talk about the postmodern death of the subject. There are a million ways of formulating that, a thousand applications, so a cliché version of that would not be very helpful, would it?


So I wrote this sappy song lyric. It is completely and utterly different from my poetry (my poetry poetry). It is supposed to be a Johnny Mercer type song:

Sleepless Hours

Though sleepless hours turn into days of regret
I won’t forget you’ll always be with me
Gone are the days of youth but still I remember
Smiles from a woman’s tender heart

When sorrows haunt my dreams and trouble my days
I feel your face smiling upon me
Then we’re together once again and the music
Echoes across the boundless years

I wrote the music too, though I didn't write it down yet, and unfortunately the first seven notes are the same melody as "I'll remember April." If you can get past that then the song is very original. I decided this lyric didn't need consistent rhyme. I also decided it didn't need a bridge. It is just a 16-bar song, kind of in an ABAB form.

It could be an older guy remembering his late wife, or a son or daughter remembering a mother or grandmother, or whatever you want it to be about, really.

This is a disturbing development in my life, that I would want to write a song like this, and be capable of doing it, composing, playing, and singing it.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

When you are old and grey
I have eaten the plums
and full of sleep
that were in the icebox

and nodding by the fire
and that you were probably
take down this book
saving for breakfast

and slowly read
forgive me
and dream of the soft look
they were delicious

your eyes had once
so sweet and so cold


Like stars ascending on a cloudless night
We got together and it felt so right
Let’s share a life together
In sweet harmony

And now I’m working on the second part
If you could hear it it would touch your heart
Let’s sing this song together
Our sweet melody

But if you say
Our love is not real
That I’m a fool for you
I’ll walk away
and never say what I feel
What’s a poor guy to do?

But when you want to hold my hand so tight
I’ll know that everything will be all right
Let’s share our life together
In sweet harmony

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Finding One's Voice

Ron Padgett has a facetious poem about the idea of the poet's "voice." He hears people talking about finding their voice and wonders if they have literally lost their voice. Where is it? etc... Funny poem.

Anyway, I've often disliked my speaking and singing voices, but my friend Bob Basil recently commented to me that he liked both: I had sent him a homemade recording of a song I wrote called "Cloudless Night." Anyway, this comment made me want to embrace my two voices rather than dismiss them. I can more confidently speak and sing now because I have an outside perspective. Of course, Bob might think I'm better than I really am in many respects because he is my friend, but that doesn't really matter. Isn't that one thing, one of the major things, a friend is for, to like one's uniqueness?

And actually the idea of not liking one's voice played back from outside one's own head is almost universal. Who likes their own voice? It is only by listening to it and tweaking it from outside that one can even embrace it unapologetically, as I am trying to do, partly by taking voice lessons.

One's writing "voice," in the metaphorical sense that Padgett was making fun of, is also a real thing to be cultivated. I think my writing sounds like me in its exact balance of earnestness and facetiousness. In one sense voice is exactly what writing doesn't ever have, but in the metaphorical sense it is exactly what writing needs. Voiceless writing is crap.

Routine, ritual, and improvisation

Routine is beneficial: it provides efficiency, safety, and comfort.

Efficiency because you don't have to think about the order in which you do something. Routine tasks are quick and efficient.

Safety, because you can avoid error. Always put your car keys in the same place, they will not be lost. Never transcribe someone else's words into your document without at the same time noting whose words they are and marking them off as separate, and you won't commit certain kinds of plagiarism.

Comfort, because a routine provides familiarity.

Ritual is the sacralization of routine, on top of its utilitarian benefits. It is a kind of "magical thinking" applied to routine. "This routine is not only efficient, but it will make everything else work right as well. It will make me safe not just from certain kind of errors, but from ERROR itself."

The problem with routine is that breaks from routine provide opportunity for creative thinking. Drive a different route to work, or do a routine task in a different way, work in a different space, or at a different time of day, and you might have an idea you never had before.

So the question becomes knowing what to approach "routinely," and what to approach creatively. Placing your car keys in the refrigerator is a creative move you might not need to take. Doing the same thing in the exact same way every day, though, will deaden the mind.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Chicken Asparagus

I took some chicken breast and cut it up, marinating it in a mixture of vermouth and corn starch. I prepared a sauce of more corn starch, tamari, sesame oil, garlic chili sauce. I cooked the asparagus spears to perfection, with a little ginger and onions, then removed them from the wok. I cooked the chicken until it was almost done, added the sauce and put the asparagus back in, mixing it all together. The trick is not to overcook the asparagus and not to undercook the chicken. Asparagus in this dish should be limp yet still crunchy, never soggy. The chicken should be cooked through but no more, so that it remains tender.

My plan for student evaluations

Here's how it would work. Students would have to compete to get into my program: I would accept the top ten students that applied. I would also have the option of dropping an underperforming student. I would coach the students to compile a portfolio of materials.

Some judges I do not know would judge, blindly, what my students have accompished against students at other universities. My teaching effectiveness would be judged solely by what I was able to make the students do.

Students' grades would also be determined by the same criterion. Their incentive is to come out on top as well. Student learning and faculty evaluation would be identical. The consumerist model of how well I am liked would fall by the wayside. I would be more like the basketball coach, recruiting students who will do well and cutting those who can't hack it.

Suppose all ten of my students place in the top 10%. Then they all get A's and I do too. If my class average is a C, then I get that as my evaluation too.

The problem here is that it gives the professor too much incentive to cheat, helping the students too much. I suppose the students would have to sit for an examination proctored by a third party.

Another problem is that my university might not have great students in the first place: how could I compete against the Ivies with what I have to work with?

Why does the right [seem to] care more about free speech?

1. Everyone cares more about free speech for opinions they themselves hold. So a defense of free speech might be merely opportunistic. This is the same for the left and the right. So a free-speech issue involving a faculty's right to insult a right-wing group like the NRA will rally left-wing professors to it. An affront to free speech that prohibits certain kind of conservative speech will arouse the ire of the right-wing outrage machine. For example, suppose political opposition to affirmative action might count as a "micro-aggression." We only know if someone is really devoted to free speech per se if sh/e defends the right to express distasteful opinions.

2. A free-speech issue only arises with an unpopular opinion. In some sense, then, the fact that the right has more issues might have to do with the fact that certain conservative opinions have become unpopular. This is a good thing, right? I'm not saying that nobody is racist, but racism is publicly unpopular, in the sense that almost nobody wants to be perceived as a racist anymore.

3. So the right "seems to care" more about free speech in the academic context, because academia skews left. Most of the left-skewing of administrators is simply a response to legalistic matters and public opinion. If they were really left-wing the world would be a much different place.

4. Just because the right has an outrage machine designed to magnify any perceived threat to free speech or the censuring of conservative opinion does not mean that these threats are not real.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Musical Autobiography

I am listing to my "purchased" playlist on itunes, in the order in which I purchased the music. It is 3283 items, spanning 11.5 days. It will take me more than that to listen to it, since I can't listen 24 hours a day. It starts out with Coleman Hawkins "Body and Soul," then skips to Feldman's "Rothko Chapel." Unfortunately it cannot ever get better than that, but it has more Morton Feldman after that, then Mozart's quartets dedicated to Haydn, some Sonny Rollins and Stan Getz and Lee Konitz. Keith Jarrett. Sinatra's wee small hours. A Tsaik symphony. Joe Pass's "Virtuoso." I'm not sure when this was, since I don't know how to figure out the exact chronology. I do know I was listening to Joe Pass while writing 1st Lorca book, which is about 2006.

Coming up is some Bach and Shakespeare.

My brother-in-law Norbie Kumagai gave me an airport express he wasn't using, so I can stream the music from my laptop to my stereo speakers. I have other music that's not purchased (downloaded from cds in instead). That would be my other 5000 songs that I'm not worried about right now.

You could do something similar if you kept track of all the books you've bought or checked out of the library.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Spinach artichoke dip

My assignment for thanksgiving was appetizer. I made a dip with

1 package cream cheese
1 package sour cream
some grated cheddar cheese
some parmesan cheese
1 lb spinach
1 jar artichoke hearts
1 carmelized onion
a little bit of kale

I carmelized the onion, then sautéed the green veggies and the artichokes. It all went in the blender, then baked in the oven for 20 minutes, with some extra cheese on the top. It was a big hit.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


I took an onion and cut off the ends and stuck it on the grill without doing anything else to it. I put on a white sweet potato at the same time, and they took the same time to cook. When they were almost done, I put on a piece of ahi which had been marinated in tamarin and balsamic, finished with a little black & cayenne pepper. I served it (to myself) with kale sautéed with ginger and sesame seeds, with a little tamari and sesame oil to finish.

The peel came off the onion with no effort at all, so I had a cooked and easily sliceable onion as a garnish. Everything in the meal was perfectly cooked and seasoned, and the cooking itself felt effortless.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Let's not

celebrate the slog.

Let's celebrate actual mastery, actual accomplishments.

Let's give up our infantile fetish for process and celebrate the actual finished products.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


There are very few things in my research that admit to a political slant. In other words, there is little that I can do to appeal to the left / right dichotomy, even though I skew heavily left in my own political views.

It just doesn't seem that that dichotomy is intellectually productive in any real sense. Where it does come into play, it is orthogonal. For example, if I were studying or teaching Miguel Hernández's prison poetry, my main point is not to prove that his imprisonment itself was unjust: that is a given, something all but the most rabid Fascist would deny. If I disagreed with another scholar, it would not have to do with that issue.

In a sense, a certain left-wing position is simply implicit, unquestioned and unquestionable, in my field. More politically conservative people or ostensibly apolitical folks often study medieval, or science and literature things.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Free speech as diversion?

And this is where the arguments about the freedom of speech become most tone deaf. The freedom to offend the powerful is not equivalent to the freedom to bully the relatively disempowered.

Here is the problem with this: freedom of speech has to be content neutral or it is nothing at all. Speech that you disagree with, or that targets "the relatively disempowered," is equally protected. If you believe otherwise, then you don't really believe in free speech at all. It might seem that that's a good move in the short term, but once you undermine the core principle then you can turn around and censor the disempowered voices very easily.

Of course, the language here is loaded: we can only "offend" the powerful," but we "bully" the disenfranchised.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Classification of White Racists

1. Active racists. These are people for whom racism forms an active and unapologetic part of their identity. They are members of racist organizations or actively spew hate.

2. Covert, active racists. These people share everything with (1), but must deny publicly that they are racists, because they are elected politicians, etc...

3. Passive racists. These people are racist to a certain extent, but that isn't central to who they are. They might act racistly in certain situations, but aren't motivated by hate in their daily lives.

4. The indifferent. These would deny being racist, and look on disgust on those who are actively racist, but don't think a lot about race. They think MLK is great.

5. Passive non-racists. These white people are not actively or passively racist, and in fact strongly react to overt racism, but they simply don't care too much beyond that. They might be defensive if you talk about their white privilege, because they've had it hard too.

6. Active non-racists. These people recognize themselves to be a little bit racist, and try to actively combat that in themselves.

7. Deluded anti-racists. These people think they have transcended racism in themselves. They admit to white privilege, of course, but think of themselves as so committed to the cause that they have entirely transcended their racism.


The so-called "conversation about race" is designed to make people in categories 4 and 5 become part of 6 and 7. It ends up pushing those people back into 3 instead, in many cases. Groups 2-5 already know that racism is socially unacceptable, after all. If you call them racist, it could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.


I've seen the argument that grammar should not be taught because it doesn't improve one's writing to study grammar. I say this is idiotic, because it assumes that the purpose of grammar is to improve writing. Grammar is interesting in its own right, whether or not it has any practical use in prose writing or not. There is a joy in paying attention to the syntax of things, despite Cummings. A good writer should be interested in language irrespective of the usefulness of this knowledge. At the very least, a knowledge of grammar will prevent one from making false & idiotic statements about grammar.


Also, I am impatient with people who profess interest in language, but disdain linguistics, either not knowing that it exists or dismissing it, thinking their folk beliefs about language superior to actual scientific, intellectually rigorous study of it.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The 6th Best Place to Work

There's a web-site I log in to almost daily, for a company that advertises itself as the 6th best place to work in America. I always think that this is not an attractive way to advertise themselves. They could say they are in the top 10, but saying they are number 6 is strangely off-putting.


I was confronted by a man about 40 years old, a little taller than me, balding, with a slightly reddish complexion, and good-natured. He took me to task for sticking up for someone that the group had decided to attack. I asked red-head if he was going to beat me up. I was not afraid, even though it was obvious that this man was larger, stronger, and younger than I was. He said no, of course not. The conversation continued and my interlocutor made some homophobic slurs. In spite of this, I did not feel especially hostile to him. I began to swear at him, with some f-bombs, which surprised him, put him off guard and on the defensive. I was someone in control of the situation by virtue of my mastery of profanity. That's all I remember.

Thursday, November 5, 2015


Seeing myself as Lorca guru, or academic writing guru, or poetry guru, always seems deeply pretentious to me.

But I am.

Sing Song

When I am having difficulty singing a song it always seems to me that some other song, one I am not singing, would be easier to sing, unproblematic. But the song I happen to be singing is never unproblematic: it is only some other song that seems that way to me, because I am not trying to sing it.

Reading Myself

I try not to read things I have written and published in the past. If I find that I like something I wrote quite a lot, then I wonder if I still "have it," can still be as smart as I used to be. If I am disappointed to find that I could have done better, then that is bad too. Either way, I can't win.

But I had to read a few pages of my Lorca book in order to cite myself, and I found that it reinvigorated me. I made the discovery that I really do "have it." It is easy to see myself as an everyday blunderer, stumbling through life as I tend to do, but when I re-read my own prose I realize that I can pretty much kick ass (immodestly speaking) in that narrow area in which I specialize. To minimize that is to sell myself short.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Short Form (again)

I think I could do my short form course as a short unit within a longer course on modern poetry. I had thought of doing a course based on Poundian ideas (melos / phanos / logos) but the short form would fit in there somehow as well.

Not that it is exclusive to phanopoeia or logopoeia. It certainly cuts across those categories. I wouldn't dare to do an aphorism course as a stand alone unit, since I wouldn't get the numbers of students needed to make the course make.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Baseball IQ

"I didn't know you knew so much about baseball." I don't, but I was at someone's house with people who talked about scoring "points." It wasn't hard to seem like I knew something about it. I view it as "territorial" knowledge. Growing up as male in the 1970s I simply know the minimum that anybody in my situation would have to know. Like someone living in a town would know where the major streets in the town are.

You would know that if the catcher drops the third strike, he must throw to first.

That if the home team is ahead toward the end of the game, they can skip the bottom of the ninth. If they are behind in the bottom of the ninth, the minute the score, the game is over.

I knew that RISP is runners in scoring position (2nd or 3rd base). I know what era and rbi stand for.


I underestimated my baseball IQ because I am do not follow baseball very much, or watch it much except for when the local team is in the world series. I am not a baseball expert or serious fanatic at all. Yet I know that baseball has umps, not refs, the meaning of some basic terminology. I know you score runs, not "points."

We probably underestimate or overestimate our knowledge of many things. A speaker we had yesterday said that I new more about American poetry than most people in English departments would know. That is true.

The Historical Future

I've written about this meme before: my version of the time traveler going back with orders to kill baby Hitler is that, upon his return to his own time, he is put on trial for killing an innocent: having killed baby Hitler, there is no holocaust anymore either, so his crime has no justification. He himself has no evidence of being sent on this mission. His only vindication might come in having his own baby-self killed, thus negating his killing of baby Hitler but also re-instating the holocaust.


Imagine a person alive in 1900. Various people. They have no fucking clue about what will happen in the next 50 years of history. Nothing is foreseeable. It seem like it is, or should have been, because we know now what happened. They seem tragically blind to us. History explains why things happen, and gives an aura of inevitability to event, but this is an illusion: we can only explain because we know the outcomes already.


So the truest form of historical fiction would be science fiction. The only true test is whether we can predict the future, because prediction of the past is based on purely circular reasoning. We are tragically blind to what is about to happen, in the same position now as people 100 years ago.

Monday, October 26, 2015


I made kind of a sofrito with onions, hot peppers, and tomatoes and Indian spices, then added a cup of red lentils and three cups of water. That had to cook for a while, basically until most of the liquid was gone, with some stirring toward the end. Roasted peanuts and cilantro completed it. I put more hot peppers in my bowl before I ate it, but spared my dining companion those. Salad and grilled pork chop made the meal complete, with some asparagus from the night before.

Folk Hermeneutics

My students told me last summer that they like poetry in free verse, because the meaning is open. A sonnet will have a fixed meaning. Therefore, they like fixed-form poetry in class because the professor can tell you what it means.

In the course this semester, my students say they like poetry because it is open to whatever meaning the reader wants to attribute to it. Narrative prose has more fixed meanings.

I don't bother to argue with these conceptions. Rather, I find them interesting. I would argue with a grad student, but not with an undergraduate. This is simply the folk hermeneutics of the bright but not professionalized student. The Spanish major / minor is not a specialist in literature, but studies literature as one of the components of the course of study, enjoying it when it's taught well and h/she can be caught up in the enthusiasm of the prof.

Shadow CV

Nobody cares about your list of rejections and failures. When I first saw the title of this essay I thought it would be about something much more interesting: the parts of the scholarly formation that seem less scholarly but that somehow affect one's writing: my study of jazz and percussion, my obsession with prosody: all the things I never wrote about but that are essential to who I am: for my friends, it could be their work as zen masters, or being in a band: the translations someone has worked on but not published.

The point the article is trying to make is that we see a cv loaded with stuff but don't see the rejections and failures that everyone experiences. The longer the cv, the longer the shadow cv too, because someone more active will also have more opportunity not to get grants they apply for. Everyone knows this, so it's supposed to be great for younger people to see that these successful people have also failed. I get the point, but it is a stupid article because it is not the one I would have written with this title. (Sorry.)

Friday, October 23, 2015


I believe certain things are under my direct and conscious control. For example, at certain point I decided I wanted to weigh 155 pounds, rather than 164, so now, after some months, I do. This could be a false belief (I don't know!) but you would have a hard time convincing me of it. I believe I could weigh 150 lbs or 145 if I wanted, or 180. There are limits at either end, but it's up to me how much I want to weigh within those limits.

I know this is heresy, since a lot of people seems to believe that their weight is as fixed as their height, even when these very same people try to modify their weight in largely ineffectual ways.


I want you to try to touch your knees together. (Ok. You were probably successful at that.)

Now I want you to touch your knees together. (Don't make an attempt at it, simply do it.)

What is the difference there? In the second case, you take out that intermediate step of making the attempt at doing it. That turns something remarkably simple into something overly complicated.

Trying to go to the gym effectively means NOT GOING there. I suppose if the police stopped you on the way and arrested you then you would have made a failed attempt to go the gym, but otherwise you simply did not go. So people who try to do things like this are setting themselves up for failure.


I could say that my fallow periods were the fault of other people preventing me from writing or publishing. This would be a lie, though. I simply did not write. I did not try to write and fail. I simply didn't do it. It's fine because I still published more than you did over my career (unless you are in the small percentage of people who've published more). It might even be true that I am correct in not have written another book or two, that those books would have been redundant. Nevertheless, there is nobody else responsible.


When I read poetry and Spanish and have to look up words in the dictionary, about 95% of this vocabulary is botanical or ornithological. A lot of times these terms are not in most dictionaries. At other times, the English equivalent is also unknown to me. So it would have made sense to have studied plants and birds to be a specialist in what I study. Why is knowledge of history and politics seen as essential but not knowledge of the natural world? Of course I know gorriones, gavilanes, gaviotas, golondrinas, palomas, halcones, perdices, petirrojos, águilas, avestruces, pavos, pavos reales, cuervos, mirlos, patos, gallos and gallinas, faisanes, lechuzas, buitres, and a few others, but I have birdwatcher friends who know hundreds of species.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

My next seminar

next academic year will be on both Latin American and Peninsular poetry. My idea is to organize it around the logo- melo- phano- poiesis categories.

I will read Gamoneda, Olvido García Valdes, Gelman, and Milán in the wake of Vallejo. (logos)

Poetry of the image will begin with Lorca and continue with Paz & Gimferrer.

Melopoesis will begin with Darío and Jiménez, and proceed from there.

These are not static categories, but rather pathways into poetry. I don't know what we'll find yet. The wiki on Pound's categories says that they are types of poetry. Absolutely not. They are ways of charging language with meaning.

visuality / musicality / language as such

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


As a child I was confused by deodorant ads on tv. They depicted people putting deodorant on the insides of their forearms, yet somehow I knew that deodorant (although I did not need it yet) was to be applied on the armpits, what the ads called, ambiguously, "underarms." Where were the "underarms," really? That was a plausible name for the forearms as well as for the pits themselves. Eventually I figured that out.


I was a Spanish professor already, and was translating a book by Lola Velasco. I translated the word "cometa" as "comet," when of course it means "kite." The difference is between "el cometa" and "la cometa." Just like "la frente" means the forehead and "el frente" is the front in a war, or "el corte" is a cut and "la corte" a court. I should have looked at the picture of kites that Lola drew in her book for me. (Kites not the bird but the flying diamond-shape toy.) Luckily I didn't publish anything from this translation.


A colleague, also a specialist in poetry, and a native speaker of English, asked me how to pronounce the word "prosody."


To be continued, perhaps...

Monday, October 19, 2015

Green beans with cumin, red peppers, peanuts

I blanched some green beans, then roasted some peanuts and cumin seeds in a pan with no oil. I removed them from the pan, then sautéed some finely chopped hot peppers with the beans, adding back the peanuts and seeds later.

Meanwhile, I cooked a flank steak on the grill, and mixed some sour cream with some habanero dip mix.I had a sweet potato in the oven, so I had this with some sliced tomatoes and salad.

Passive alert

From a comment on the Washington Post:
“As a result of the confrontation, the officer discharged his firearm, resulting in the death of the subject.” Could this be any more Soviet-style in weird passive-voice denial of agency?

Translation: Police murdered a guy and he's now dead.
This idiot does not realized that "the officer discharged his firearm" is active voice? It is bad writing, but it has nothing to do with the passive voice or the Soviet Union.

Boneless Thighs

I did not have a lot of time or energy, so I got some boneless, skinless chicken thighs and marinate them only a little less than an hour in soy sauce and red wine vinegar. These went on the gas grill and cooked in fewer than 20 minutes, to be served with bbq sauce. Meanwhile, I made an eggplant parmesan, using pre-grated parmesan and a half-way decent pasta sauce out of a jar. With a little salad and red wine it was a meal for two.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Minimal seasoning

I came back late from Boston. I grilled a flank steak on my gas grill with salt and pepper. Had some sweet potato, and tomatoes with olive oil and balsamic, a little salad with some honey mustard vinagrette leftover, with sriracha on the steak.

The food network will tell you to "repurpose" your ingredients. I prefer to let the ingredients be themselves. Food must be seasoned, yes, but you don't have to do much.

The Last Hispanist

I am not the last Hispanist, ni mucho menos. Hispanism will survive me, for sure. Yet I note that my own field, the study of Spanish poetry, is in decline. Very few of us do it any more. Latin Americanists have abandoned the study of poetry as well, and I am the last poetry specialist in my department. It isn't likely that a poetry specialist who retires will be replace by another poetry specialist.

The same could be said for drama, and even narrative. It is fine for the field to reconfigure itself, but I wonder whether we will have people like me in the next generation.
Giving a talk at Harvard in front of Luis Fernández Cifuentes and Christopher Maurer, on Lorca, is intimidating. I did fine, and both of them were complimentary, generous in their responses to me. Daniel Aguirre, author of an excellent book on Gamoneda, gave a generous introduction to me as well.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Slowly and Well

Obviously some things must be done quickly. If you are diving off a diving board, the movements must be executed at a rapid pace. Yet for most things a certain deliberateness is best. I must constantly force myself to do things slowly and well because my natural tendency is to save time by working as fast as I can. The principal of festina lente comes into play here.

All the things you are (manifesto 6)

Suppose a singer gives a moving performance of "All the things you are." "You are the promised kiss of springtime / that makes the lonely winter seem long. / You are the breathless hush of evening / that lingers on the brink of a lovely song..." The singer could be male or female, but the singer did not write the words. The lyrics are by Oscar Hammerstein II, the music by Jerome Kern. The implied recipient of the lyric could also be male or female, and this does not depend on the gender of the performer or the gender of Oscar Hammerstein.

To find the meaning or emotional truth of the lyric or of the performance of the lyric, we don't go look at the biography of Hammerstein. He wrote it for a failed Broadway show, and we don't especially care about what he was thinking about when he wrote it. At least I don't. We could say it's conventional sentimentality, but is it? Its conventionality, after all, is what make it work for any performer in any decade. Sometimes I feel that the melodies of these songs are superior to the lyrics, which can become dated, or too specific to their time and place: Gotta get my old tuxedo pressed / gotta sew a button on my vest." Yet not really... The lyrics come alive again in a great performance, and even instrumentalists might be thinking of the lyric when they interpret the melody or chord changes. This song became a jazz standard and was beloved by beboppers.

I suppose we could go back to that Broadway Show and find out who the characters were, and interpret the song in its dramatic context. Nyah. Nobody cares anymore. Not only was the show, "Very Warm for May" (1939) a failure, but the song has achieved independence from those origins.

We could also find meaning or emotional truth in the performer's biography. This, also, might matter to us, or not. We don't have access to the performer's inner life to know whether he (or she) is thinking about as the performance or recording was taking place. We can invent a story about it, but that story is not essential, or will not be significant to those who don't know or care to know.

I don't even know if I have to finish this thought: the conclusion should be obvious. The meaning is in its repeatability and in its immanence, not in its origins or circumstances. Its meaning in one immanent circumstance might be that it is sung at a wedding, and its meaning specific to that occasion, but it will be sung at other weddings as well.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Viva voce (manifesto 5)

Research is attested to in writing. Yet teaching is quintessentially oral. The living presence of the voice is what matters. I spoke at my Friend Ken Irby's memorial service today. I started out by saying that the world was a less literate place without Ken, a gifted and acclaimed poet and teacher. This literacy, though, (I continued) was transmitted to me orally rather than in writing. In Ken's teaching, in his conversation, it was a particular mastery of cadence and intonation that carried the day. I said that I couldn't imagine him trying to convey information through a power-point slide (laughter). Later someone told me they couldn't even imagine him knowing how to work power-point at all. I can't imagine him working from lecture notes. Of course, he was a professor of poetry and of Shakespeare and Melville, of sonorous words. It is not accidental that he taught beat and black mountain poetry. He himself is perhaps one of the last poets directly involved with this kind of poetics.

This does not exclude the love of the written work. He would bring many books to martini night to show us, and had a keen appreciation of a book in its physical form. In his teaching I'm sure he brought in the physical text to consult as well. (I found myself yesterday in the engineering building, a third of a mile from my office, about to teach a class but without a copy of the novel we were reading. I still did fine, even referring to specific words and passages. Essentially I was teaching naked, though clothed in suit and tie,)

Some students complained about a lack of linearity in Irby's teaching: his was an aggregation of evocations rather than a straightforward account. Others figured out that they could learn more from Irby than from almost any else, since he had read more and knew more. He is the only person I have ever known that knew more about jazz than I do. Devoted students of his call themselves the company, or members of the company, perhaps using the word that Creeley used in a similar tenor.

You should be able to teach viva voce. If you need specific formats for information, such as tables of statistics, in your field, that's fine. In poetry we depend on the written text too, and typographical details of the text can be extremely significant. But you shouldn't have to look at notes to be able to teach something that you know well.

68. Mella y criba

Ida Vitale. Pre-textos, 2010.

This book is by the Uruguayan poet Ida Vitale. A bird (a rook) complains in a tree; a cat, inside, wants to get outside to get the bird; a third element, a person observing bird and cat; a fourth layer is the reader of the poem, trying to understand the triangular relationship between these three "languages." Conceptually, that is an amazing poem.

69. The Torches

Tate. Unicorn Press, 1971.

I've probably owned this book since the 70s. It is one of the best examples of the "deep image" school of the time, and it is beautifully printed in a small edition.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

70. Sobre una confidencia del mar griego / precedido de Correspondencias

Andrés Sánchez Robayna. Huerga y Fierra, 2005.

This is a beautifully printed book with prints by Tàpies. I translated a few poem from this book.

Composition (manifesto 4)

In poetry every word, every punctuation mark, counts. Even the typeface matters. That a noun is masculine or feminine has no particular importance as an inert linguistic fact, but in a poem a masculine and a feminine noun cannot be interchangeable. If you are a scholar of poetry, then you know how to pay close attention to every word and every space. You have, then, a certain prose responsibility to poetry. You must write well and accurately. You don't have to be a poet, but pretty close.

Everything I regret in my own work is the result of failure to live up to this ideal. I realize others don't share it, and I won't worry about them for the time being. I remember being outrage when a doctoral student used the word "thusly" in a chapter. That was an exaggerated response, but I still would never use that word.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Manifesto (3)

Reading poetry is a ruminative activity. Instead of being absorbed for hours in the reading of a continuous narrative, you read very short texts over and over again and then think about them for a long time. To read (really read) vast quantities of poetry is guaranteed to make you somewhat insane, since it invites solitary rumination. In my case, I am often reading three or four books of poetry at a time. Sometimes I read through a book in one sitting, or a few sittings. At other times, I'll read a few poems a day from a book. There seems to be a contradiction between the concentration required to even read a few poems well, and my desire to have read and to be constantly re-reading every significant poet in great depth. I am now the only poetry specialist in my department, so the effects of isolation are even greater.

My stock trades

I have a method for investing in the stock market. This is not my normal TIAA=CREF retirement but just a few bucks that I took from my savings account. I buy a stock for about $1,000 or 1,500 and then wait. If a stock does very well, earning me at least 1,000, I sell that thousand off and buy something else, thus diversifying my risks. I have done that 3 times in total, twice with my best performing stock. I also reinvest all dividends.

The other way would be to cash in on any substantial gains, removing that money from the total pot. But money just sitting in the bank loses its value to inflation so that is a guaranteed loss.

If a stock does poorly, or gains more slowly, I just let it ride indefinitely. Since there is a transaction fee for selling and buying, I have to factor in that before I know I have made money. That fee also makes me more disciplined in not doing a lot of smaller trades.

With one mutual fund, I buy $50 dollars automatically every month, or $600 a year, so my total stake increases there. If the market is doing worse, then I am buying this fund at a lower cost.

If I needed money for an emergency beyond what I have in the bank, I could sell a stock that has done well, but not too well. The most I would lose with the total bankruptcy of a single company would be about 1,500 of my original investment. This is a form of very conservative gambling. You don't lose the bet unless you are obliged to sell an asset for a loss, but you can always win by selling an asset that has gained value. That means that the trick is not investing money that you need to use right away.

Freud / we know nothing about the brain

I was sitting at a table with two sociologists, including my friend Bob A.. I was reading a magazine but I decided to join their conversation so I started to argue with the other man (?) about Freud, whose name I had just heard in their conversation. I claimed that Freud had to be read through his epoch, while ? argued that Freud transcended his own times, that the key to reading him was to not historicize him. I made the polite remark that it was interesting that we had such polar opposite views. I started to say that we knew so much more about the brain now than in Freud's period, but the guy responded "we know nothing about the brain!"

Monday, October 5, 2015

Pork loin

I brined a pork loin in a brine of soy sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, fruit juice. I rubbed some paprika and rosemary on it and grilled it on my gas grill until slightly pink in the middle with some small sweet potatoes. I had a salad too of fresh greens, parmesan, and cherry tomatoes, with a honey mustard vinaigrette, and some green beans sautéed with onions, garlic, tomatoes, and Indian spices (cumin seeds, coriander, cardamon, hot pepper flakes, turmeric). I called a beautiful woman up to come and share this with me, with some Free State Stormchaser beer. Keith Jarrett's Standards in Norway played in the stereo. Life is good, my friends.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

71. Arden las pérdidas

Gamoneda. Tusquets, 2003.

This book largely recycles images and motifs from Libro del frío and Un armamrio llano de sombras. "Some afternoons, Billie Holiday puts a sick rose in my ears." Blake's sick rose?

Friday, October 2, 2015

72. Edenia

Padorno. Tusquets, 2007.

This is a strange and beautiful book of poem organized around a central conceit: an imaginary, Edenic world with ample descriptions of plants, animals, terrains... Manuel Padorno was a poet from the Canary Islands and I don't know much beyond this book. It isn't quite great poetry, because it ends up being too descriptive and loses energy too often as a result.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Chard & Burnt Ends

Take some burnt ends you have picked up at your local bbq place. Chop up some chard and garlic, and sauté the garlic in a tiny bit of oil. Add some of the some burnt ends and the chard; cook until wilted and add a little beer. Cover for a few minutes. Season with vinegar, salt, and pepper. Serve with the rest of the burnt ends and some left-over sweet potatoes and squash. And the rest of the beer.

Another manifesto

There is a puzzling dichotomy in twentieth century poetics. Let us call it the division between aesthetics and the anti-aesthetic. It manifests itself in the debate between art itself (on the one hand) and socio-political uses of art. We are all familiar with it, on both sides of the debate. Poetry has to do something important and socially useful to be justified; poetry that does not do this should be condemned. On the other side of the debate, there is an "art for art's sake" position that claims that doing this, sacrificing aesthetics, will ruin poetry.

Both sides of the debate are actually in complete agreement with each other, deploying the exact same dichotomy without questioning it. In other words, everyone agrees that making poetry or art politically useful ruins it, and that politically useful art will have to subscribe to anti-aesthetic principles. You can try to make it work, by saying that some people have managed to make poetry come out politically correct without ruining it, but within this conceptual frame we pretty much know that these will be seen as exceptions.

So the puzzle is that this dichotomy would have not been comprehensible 100 years earlier. If you asked Shelley about this, he would not have understood what you meant. Or Milton or Spenser. The terms were not yet in opposition; the debate was not framed in that way in the least.

So there had to be a moment in which the debate got framed like that. It had to be in the Victorian era, in the debate between moral earnestness and aestheticism, because I don't see it before that. Spenser would not have seen a dichotomy between expressing his particular point of view and writing good poetry.


Now we could see the separation of the aesthetic as such earlier, in the 18th century, but without all these implications in play. This separation of the aesthetic is the original sin, since it leads to dire consequences. In particular, it seem both to exalt the aesthetic and to diminish it as merely aesthetic. To say that the aesthetic was not distinguishable as such from other considerations is not to say that it did not exist, but rather that everything was aesthetic in the broader sense. In other words, there was a total ethos that encompassed the entire creative enterprise, but this entire enterprise remained a creative one: there could be no tension or dichotomy between writing a great epic like the Iliad and doing something else that would diminish the value of the work in order to achieve some other end.


When that total ethos is broken, then we can ask whether we can still appreciate poetry that tells us the opposite of what we believe. From the hermeneutic perspective, we get the problem of belief. The aesthetic now serves as a way of expressing enthusiasm for works that don't allow us to identify with ideologically. This is easy to see, since we don't have deploy aesthetics separately if we already like what the work is telling us. We can simply embrace the work enthusiastically, in its total ethos. There is no turning back at this point, because we realize that this embrace is going to be rare occurrence.

73. La última costa

Brines. Tusquets, 1995.

Surely this is one of Brines's most beautiful books of poetry. "Vente, luz, a mis ojos, / descansa tu fatiga / en ellos, tan cansados."

Monday, September 28, 2015

Let's Instrumentalize Everything

Once we instrumentalize poetry, judge it by its racism or anti-racism and only by that, for example, then there is really no way out. As Aaron Kunin puts it:
If you didn’t care about poetry itself, would you attend a poetry reading in hopes of snacking on the cheese and crackers that might possibly be served afterwards? Wouldn’t the poetry reading make you impatient? Couldn’t you think of more efficient ways of satisfying your hunger — other social gatherings where you wouldn’t have to hear any poetry, and the cheese and crackers came out right away?

People used to read that way in Graduate School. The idea was to judge how racist or sexist something was. But why bother unless you like poetry in the first place?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Raspberry Mint Salad

Salad ingredients:

Salad greens
Mint leaves
Fresh Raspberries
Ibérico cheese


Olive oil
balsamic vinegar

I saw a recipe for a berry / mint salad. I changed it up around and came up with this. It was nicely balanced and went very well with a marinated flank steak & red wine.

74. Nuevo tratado de armonía

Colinas. Tusquets, 1999.

I have a lot of these brown books from Tusquets in Barcelona, many published in the 90s, probably a few thousand dollars worth. Colinas writes reflections in prose, in a sequel to another treatise in harmony. I like Colinas, in some sense, yet he fails to convince.

75. El equipaje abierto

Benítez Reyes. Tusquets, 1996.

This book is a relentless and skillful deployment of a few clichés. A less original poet is hard to imagine. Yet he has a talent for this, so if you like it, it will please you.

I've now documented about a quarter of the books in this project. Many I have read half of and will get to sooner or later.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


I am very sick today so came up with a manifesto of what is really important to me:

1. Nobody knows what poetry is for. I think it is for something of great importance; that it is not trivial. The best formulation I've come up with is that it is supposed to "kick you in the ass with its transformative power." The motto for my other blog was: ""The very existence of poetry should make us laugh. What is it all about? What is it for?" (Kenneth Koch). Another formulation would be just as good as mine, but I won't budge on the idea that it is something transcendent. Koch's aphorism allows us to fill in the blanks.

2. It follows that the reading of poetry is a spiritual exercise. For me, what poetry is about is the experience of awe. I only really care about poetry, or music, or art, that offers this sense of wonder about being alive in the first place. If you've never felt this reading a poem then you need to read someone else's blog and leave me alone.

3. This should simplify things, but it doesn't, because mystic poetry might not do this. Or other poetry, that is not mystic, might lead this way as well. Even a poetry that seems to set itself off from awe might lead there anyway. There are no road maps, no system of correspondences that allow for the "translation" to occur. You still have to learn about poetry in all the conventional ways, even in the ways that are clearly idiotic but that others have found useful.

4. A lot of things that we think are important about poetry, though, might not be. The things that make a poem acceptable according to an institutional requirement; the arguments that academics might want to make about a poetic practice in relation to other social formations. These things might be important, or not, but we can tell if they are important by whether they have to do with the purpose we think poetry has.

5. All the prosody, the style, everything to do with the language of the poem, is part of the awesomeness of poetry; it is not unimportant. But we can care about it in unimportant ways if we give it the wrong emphasis. The awe of poetry comes from the poetry itself, not from its awesome subject matter.

6. There are poets who write poems, and have a decent, acceptable, style, but don't seem connected at all to anything related to the awesomeness of poetry. There are critics who make nice arguments about which poetry belongs in which category. I have done that myself. A lot of this has nothing to do with poetry and can be safely ignored.

7. The style of the poem is really a weakness: I mean the grab-bag of things that the poet knows how to do, and depends on to get through the writing of the poem. A good poet should be able to write without a style at all, responding to the situation without using anything used before. This is not possible, of course, but it is desirable. We wouldn't need poetry set off from anything else if this were happening more. We would still need a word to point to the poem and say: "this is it."

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

5 ingredient salad

This is as close to perfection as possible. You'll need five ingredients:

grated parmesan or romano (the real stuff, not salty crap from can)
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
red wine vinegar

Place the ingredients in a bowl in the order listed. Toss and serve. Quantities will depend on how much you want to eat. The rest of the meal will be a protein source and a starch or other vegetable.

Trick of the day: subtend

Here is my trick of the day: do not use the word "subtend." It is a real word, but I would not use it when "underlie" would do. It has the smell of the pedantic. It has technical meanings:
1 (of a line, arc, or figure) form (an angle) at a particular point when straight lines from its extremities are joined at that point.
• (of an angle or chord) have bounding lines or points that meet or coincide with those of (a line or arc).
2 Botany (of a bract) extend under (a flower) so as to support or enfold it.
But usually, when used in the humanities it is not a technical term like this. My objection is that it seems technical, as though it had a precise meaning, when it really just means underlie:
• be the cause or basis of (something) : the fundamental issue that underlies the conflict | [as adj. ] ( underlying) the underlying causes of poverty and drug addiction.
Generalizing, this objection pertains to any such pseudo-technical usage. Do not write in a way that makes you a parody of the sort of writing you are doing.

Friday, September 18, 2015

What's wrong with this picture

The initial vote taken of audience members finds that about one-third of them are undecided. More than half support giving the courts decision-making authority in sexual-assault cases, and just 12 percent support assigning such a role to colleges.


The post-debate vote comes in. Fifty-six percent of the in-person audience supports having the courts decide sexual-assault cases, an unchanged statistic. The share of support for having colleges do so, on the other hand, more than doubles, while the undecided vote declines to 14 percent. Nearly half of the people in the crowd have changed their minds.

56% is unchanged from before and after the poll, so the "nearly half of the people" who have changed their mind are in the other 44%. Presumably the decline in undecideds (33-14=19%) corresponds to the rise in "colleges" (more than doubles, from 12% to >24%). I don't understand where the other 5% went, though there is some wiggle room in "about one third." In any case, 25% is not "nearly half," but more exactly one quarter.

This is poor reporting. The numbers are reported in inconsistent ways and the conclusion does not follow at all.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

MLA talk--The plot thickens

Prevalent translation practices have had a difficult time dealing with Vallejo's brand of modernism. At the same time, his poetry prods translators into taking into account these other aspects of the poetic art. Vallejo’s avant-garde poetry is heavily dependent on logopoeia, or to poetic effects that are purely verbal, rather than on phanopoeia, the evocation of visual images. These effects include punning and other forms of verbal or orthographical play, shifts in register, neologisms, scientific terms, the use of words for their etymology, the wrenching of words from their normal contexts of usage, linguistic patterning (for example, the accumulation of reflexive verbs in certain poems), the exploitation of enjambment for dramatic value, and the proliferation of rhetorical figures, including but not limited to antanaclasis, antithesis, metonymy, catachresis, and anaphora. Rhetoric itself might be a synonym for logopoeia, but I prefer the term logopoeia because it is more oriented toward a particularly modernist deployment of linguistic resources.

My partial list of logopoetic devices, most if not all of them already noted by previous scholars of Vallejo’s poetry, provides some idea of the difficulty of translating him. While Lorca and Neruda present multiple problems to the translator, Vallejo’s logopoeia tends to be even more resistant to the poetics of translation that was prevalent in the period in question. Melopoeia, needless to say, also suffers in translation, since many translators default to prosaic free verse or undistinguishedly loose blank verse, rather than following Pound in his careful attention to prosody. (Some merely put in line breaks that mirror those of the original, with virtually no attention to the line of verse itself as a prosodic unit.) Nevertheless, for the purposes of this paper I will assume that logopoeia is the area where Vallejo’s poetry loses the most in translation. Vallejo actively avoids or disrupts mellifluousness, and puts prosodic devices to the service of rhetoric.

I am not suggesting that Vallejo’s style is the sum of his rhetorical devices, but I am suggesting that a translator ought to reproduce features of his style that make it distinctively his. Appiah, in “Thick Translation,” formulates a fairy obvious maxim: that the translation of literature ought reproduce the most features of a literary work that which makes it valuable. He call for “a translation that aims to be of use in literary teaching; and here it seems to me that such ‘academic’ translation, translation that seeks with its annotations and its accompanying glosses to locate the text in a rich cultural and linguistic context, is eminently worth doing.” I would add that what makes a work valuable has to do with its fine-grained distinctiveness, what make it different from other works by other authors. Secondly, a translation should convey what is valuable about the work not only through its explanatory apparatus but through the quality of the translation itself.

Trilce is strongly logopoetic, of course, but my main examples will be drawn from the sonnet “Piedra negra sobre una piedra blanca,” from Poemas humanos, a particularly dense compendium of logopoetic devices:

Me moriré en París con aguacero,
un día del cual tengo ya el recuerdo.
Me moriré en París —y no me corro—
tal vez un jueves, como es hoy, de otoño.

Jueves será, porque hoy, jueves, que proso
estos versos, los húmeros me he puesto
a la mala y, jamás como hoy, me he vuelto,
con todo mi camino, a verme solo.

César Vallejo ha muerto, le pegaban
todos sin que él les haga nada;
le daban duro con un palo y duro

también con una soga; son testigos
los días jueves y los huesos húmeros,
la soledad, la lluvia, los caminos...

MLA VALLEJO TALK, well begun being half done

Vallejo and The Trials of Translation:
The Erasure of Logopoeia

What would happen if I approached César Vallejo in a way parallel to my treatment of Lorca in my 2009 book Apocryphal Lorca: Translation, Parody, Kitsch—using similar analytical and theoretical tools but adjusting them to the case at hand? That is the question I would like to pose in my talk today. Like Lorca, the Peruvian poet had a strong presence in US poetry in the 1960s and ‘70s, and has continued to be studied and translated by eminent poets and scholars in the years since. The boom for “Latin American surrealism,” often neither Latin American nor surrealist, made both poets famous (at least among readers of poetry) in the English-speaking world, along with a handful of others like Borges, Neruda, Machado, Jiménez, and Aleixandre. This boom in poetry translation begins in the late ‘50s, a few years before the “boom” in the Spanish American novel began to produce abundant translations of García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, Cortázar, and others. The idea of Latin American surrealism, in fact, prefigures later understandings (or misunderstandings) of “magical realism,” which remains a prevalent cultural cliché in the reception of Latin American literature in the Anglosphere.

The most influential mode of verse translation in the United States at the moment when translations of Spanish-language began to proliferate (the 1960s) emphasized visual imagery over both sound and verbal play. The name for the school of American poetry inspired by these translations is the “deep image.” The idea was to link the ordinary language of William Carlos Williams and other imagist poets to the depth of Lorca’s “deep song” and of Neruda’s surrealism, supposedly less cold and superficial than orthodox French surrealism. It was Robert Bly who popularized the idea that both the Anglo-American modernism of imagism and the “Pound-Williams” school, and its immediate offshoot, the Black Mountain school, were excessively concerned with the technique of verse and, as a corollary, somewhat lacking in inwardness or psychological depth.
It is easy to see why translation—or, rather, a certain understanding of translation—is key to the deep image school. Bly’s translations, like his original poetry, did employ free verse and “the American idiom,” but without the obsession with “breath” and “measure” that Creeley and Levertov brought to the table. In fact, the emphasis falls completely on those aspects of poetry that are easiest to translate: visual imagery and semantic meaning. Unless the translator makes a conscious and strenuous effort, at least two main aspects of the original text will be invisible to the reader: sound (prosody), and the actual language of the original, its purely verbal textures.

Bly’s notorious argument that American modernism, along with its successors, lacked the full range of imagination of the European and Latin American avant-gardes would have been a valid one, except for one paradox: the way in which he proposed an alternative tradition was so oversimplified that it resulted in a less, rather than a more complex variety of modernism. Speaking of his own early poetry, Charles Simic, a figure associated with the deep image, says that “the idea was to make poems entirely of images, not caring too much about sound, using the simplest possible vocabulary” (Simic). Indeed, the modernist heritage was reduced to a single movement—surrealism—and a single aspect of poetic technique, the visual image—whether deep or shallow. My thesis here, simply stated, is that it has taken quite a while for the poets who were championed by the deep image school, poets like Lorca and Vallejo, to emerge fully as avant-garde / modernist poets in the American consciousness, and that one of the major stumbling blocks have been translation itself.

Although Vallejo was quickly recognized in the US as a major figure of 20th century Latin American poetry, he did not fit, very well, into the dominant paradigm of Spanish-language “surrealism,” despite being translated by Bly and his confederates. For one thing, he is not a surrealist. Trilce (1922) precedes Breton’s surrealist manifesto by two years, and Vallejo became overtly hostile to surrealism while living in Paris and writing the poetry of his third phase. Secondly, his poetry—I would argue—is pre-eminently verbal, characterized by what Ezra Pound called “logopoeia,” or the “dance of the intellect among words.” Quevedo, too, is a strong influence on Vallejo. The particular kind of verbal wit found in Baroque poetry is strong in Vallejo, long before the rise of the Spanish American neo-baroque, and finds its parallel in T.S. Eliot’s admiration for John Donne, or Pound’s intrest in Laforgue.

Pound himself stated explicity that logopoeia was the hardest kind of poetry to translate, but instead of simply ignoring it he developed modes of translation specifically designed to address its inherent difficulties. To simplify greatly, his translation of Chinese poetry in Cathay is oriented toward phanopoeia, or visual imagery; his work on Troubador poetry is oriented toward melopoeia; an example of his interest in logopeia would be his Homage to Sextus Propertius. Lawrence Venuti argues that Pound’s translation practice is modernist, oriented toward making the translator visible again, unlike what Venuti takes to be the standard practice of translation in the English speaking world: the creation of a new text that reads smoothly and unproblematically in the target language.

Write, Walk, Write

If walking or biking is among your exercises, I recommend walking after you finish writing. You don't even have to make a conscious effort to continue to work through your ideas in your head. Somehow, the ideas will continue to percolate there as you walk. Running or biking might work too, in the same way. What walking has is its more relaxed pace. Sitting at a desk removed from nature is not conducive to thinking per se. Almost everywhere else is better than your work desk, though that could be good for the actual writing.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Corn, quinoa, habanero

I sauteed some fresh corn with a small amount of tomatoes and an habanero pepper. The result was too hot to eat, so I combined it with some quinoa I had made in the normal way (1/2 cup with enough water to cook it, about 2 1/2 cups, cooked with some Indian spices). It was very good mixed with the corn as a side dish. To be truly superb as main course it should have something else, I'm thinking cilantro.

Thursday, September 3, 2015


Yagoda citing Sacks:

It seems to me that I discover my thoughts through the act of writing, in the act of writing. Occasionally, a piece comes out perfectly, but more often my writings need extensive pruning and editing, because I may express the same thought in many different ways. I can get waylaid by tangential thoughts and associations in mid-sentence, and this leads to parentheses, subordinate clauses, sentences of paragraphic length. I never use one adjective if six seem to me better and, in their cumulative effect, more incisive. I am haunted by the density of reality and try to capture this with (in Clifford Geertz’s phrase) “thick description.” All this creates problems of organization. I get intoxicated, sometimes, by the rush of thoughts and am too impatient to put them in the right order. But one needs a cool head, intervals of sobriety, as much as one needs that creative exuberance.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

76. Shroud of the Gnome

James Tate. Ecco, 1997.

There are poets who get worse by not getting better over the years. The late James Tate has his charms. I've been reading this book a poem or two at a time every morning as I take a xxxx. These are charming poems, but I think he hit his high point earlier on, in The Oblvion Ha-Ha, to be precise. It is probably the case that this book (Oblivion) hit me when I was ready for it. Tate is not responsible for me having been impressionable and then disillusioned by his subsequent work.

77. Amor mi señor

Luisa Castro. Tusquets, '05.

I'm a sucker for the series "nuevos textos sagrados" by Tusquets in Barcelona. This long poetic sequence is a strange turn on the trope of courtly love as a form of erotic slavery. The final part of the book is the original Galician poems that gave rise to the entire book, written in Spanish.

78. Cuatro noches romanas

This book by my old friend Guillermo Carnero (Tusquets, '09) is a bit bizarre, consisting of a series of dialogues between the poetic speaker and a rather grotesque female figure (muse?), on four nights in the city of Rome. Carnero is a prodigiously talented, but this book will appeal to very few readers.

79. Libro de los trazados

Vicente Valero, Tusquets, '05.

I re-read this very beautiful book at the cabin at the lake for my birthday. My only critique would be that it is too explicit: it tells you what it means and doesn't leave you guessing. It is very unitary and well-planned.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

80. El común de los mortales

Jorge Riechmann, Tusquets, 2011.

My girlfriend took me to a cabin on a lake for my birthday. I read several books published by Tusquets, the Barcelona publisher of the series Nuevos Textos Sagrados. This book by my friend Jorge Riechmann is an impassioned manifesto in favor of the environment.

81. The Richard Nixon Snow Globe

Rachel Loden sent me this book back in the day (Wild Honey Press, 2005). It is exactly what is seems to be: poems dedicated to RMN in an ironic, flarf-like collage style. Very good.

82. Between Two Walls

Pacheco. Trans. Dorn & Brotherson. Black Sparrow, 1969.

José Emilio was not very well known in English when this translation came out. It is actually just a single poem, a very beautiful one, though the translation could be greatly improved. The library copy is signed by author and translators.

Monday, August 31, 2015

83. Harmatan

Paul Violi. Sun, 1977.

I don't know much about this poet, but somehow picked up this book, a travelogue book of poems, taking place in Nigeria. The book is good without having many good poems; in other words, the writing is good, descriptively vivid, but the poems are not distinguished individually. Still, it seems better to me than most poetry you would come across randomly.

84. Noche abierta

Hugo Mujica, Pre-textos, 1999. I have a copy dedicated to me by the poet. Re-reading it, it seems very calming and nuanced, almost quietistic. Very nice but not stunning.

Fuck Nuance

Here. This is an important paper, and applies to literary criticism as well as to soc. We in lit crit are enamored of nuance. Of course, we should be capable of fine distinction, but sometimes we should go in the opposite direction.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Running & Songwriting

I completed my first official 5k, in 29:55. I was hoping to come close to 30 minutes and I beat that time, coming in 9th out of 26 runners of both genders and all ages. It turned out to be easier to run fast on a set course with other runners, with no streets to cross.


All my songs sound the same, even if I use different chords. So it is not that they sound the same just because of the chords. The one I am starting now begins I IV I IV ii V I. I use part of the first phrase of "I'll remember April." Later, I'll go back on find a different beginning.


Each endeavor is its own thing. The skills are not transferable. Still, everything helps.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Two versions of an event

This is interesting

Version I:

Many nights, Mike [now out of prison] and Steve drove around looking for the shooter, the guys who were part of his crew, or women connected to them who might be able to provide a good lead. On a few of these nights, Mike had nobody to ride along with him, so I volunteered. We started out around 3:00 a.m., with Mike in the passenger seat, his hand on his Glock as he directed me around the area. We peered into dark houses and looked at license plates and car models as Mike spoke on the phone with others who had information about the 4th Street Boys’ whereabouts.

One night Mike thought he saw a 4th Street guy walk into a Chinese restaurant. He tucked his gun in his jeans, got out of the car, and hid in the adjacent alleyway. I waited in the car with the engine running, ready to speed off as soon as Mike ran back and got inside. But when the man came out with his food, Mike seemed to think this man wasn’t the man he’d thought it was. He walked back to the car and we drove on.

Version II:

First, let me say as plainly as possible: at no time did I intend to engage in any criminal conduct in the wake of Chuck’s death. … Most important, I had good reason to believe that this night would not end in violence or injury. …

After Chuck was shot and killed, people in the neighborhood were putting a lot of pressure on Mike and on Chuck’s other friends to avenge his murder. It seemed that Chuck’s friends were expected to fulfill the neighborhood’s collective desire for retribution. Many of the residents in the neighborhood were emphatic that justice should be served, and the man who killed Chuck must pay. But they weren’t actually doing anything.

Talk of retribution was just that: talk.

In the weeks following Chuck’s death, his friends occasionally drove around, ostensibly looking for Chuck’s killer. But these drives, like the talk of the residents, also came to nothing. This was so because it was common knowledge that Chuck’s killer had fled right after the shooting. These drives seemed to satisfy the feelings of anger and pain; they were a way to mourn a dear friend, and showed people in the neighborhood that Chuck’s friends were doing something.

One night, when Mike could not find anybody else to go with him, I agreed to drive. I felt ambivalent, but I went because I knew these drives were about expressing anger and about grieving, not about doing actual violence. I had talked Mike down from violence in the past, as did many other women in his and his friends’ lives.

These accounts are clearly contradictory. If version 1 is correct, then version 2 is an attempt at making it seem like the ethnographer did not commit a criminal act. If version 2 is correct, then the ethnographer wrote up her story in a misleading way. If it was common knowledge that the shooter was not in town, then why did Mike bring a gun to the Chinese restaurant and almost shoot someone?

Campos writes:

If black lives matter, why did no one care that Goffman may have come close to participating in the murder of a young black man? Why was someone who recounted driving a would-be getaway car rewarded with a big book contract and a TED talk that has been viewed almost one million times?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

85. Toner

This book by Ron Silliman (Potes & Poets Press, 1992) and autographed by the author is divided into symmetrical 7 line stanzas over 67 pages, with three stanzas per page. It has blurbs by Kathy Acker, Kevin Killian, David Melnick, Jerome McGann, and Hank Lazer, on the back cover. Then, on the first page, another blurb by McGann, and others by Jed Rasula, Nancy Scott, Barrett Watten, and Keith Tuma. It is part of the Alphabet, Ron's long series. This would be volume T.

I read it at one sitting. The punctuation disappears after a while, then there is a long section in ALL CAPS, then it's back to no caps, no punctuation, and then the punctuation appears again.

It is a diary of a sort, a series of semi-disconnected fragments of observation--again, like much of Ron's work of the 90s. This is not my favorite of his, though his characteristic wit shines through.

Trigger Warning

Here is a comment I put on someone's facebook feed about a trigger warning. I had objected in an earlier comment to a tone of earnest condescension:

Look, I would use language like this in a warning, if I needed one. "Look, this course is about racism, so we're going to be looking at racist material that's going to make all of us squirm." Or, "This course is about sex and violence, in part, so we are going to see vivid descriptions of sexualized violence. You're going to need to take responsiblity for your own emotional reactions in dealing with this material. You can talk to me about this if you want, or simply find your own solution." What triggered my reaction was the necessity for a mealy-mouthed apologetic earnestness. The tone has to be right, and has to have an educational message of its own. For example, what tone would you use to warn a colleague about something that might be upsetting? How would you address that person as an equal, even accounting for the fact that not everyone is a hipster?

I am Mayhew again

Lorca's Modernist Self-Unfashioning

The premise behind the book on Lorca I am now beginning to write (which will be the third in my Lorquian trilogy!) is strikingly simple: what would happen if we decided to read Lorca from the perspective of the “postmodern death of the subject”? This is a provocative proposal, since Lorca criticism has long been unapologetically biographical. At the end of my talk today, after listening to my arguments, you can, of course, return to more conventional ways of looking at Lorca (if you really want to). I only ask that you entertain my modest proposal as a thought-experiment with some potentially interesting implications, not only for Lorca, but for a larger consideration of poetic modernism and postmodernism.

My title, “Lorca’s Modernist Self-Unfashioning,” with its obvious homage to Greenblatt’s Renaissance Self-Fashioning, poses the question of how Lorca became Lorca. In other words, what enabled a young writer to make the jump from the writer of juvenilia to the mature artist. I situate this jump in his first major work: Poema del cante jondo, which he completed in 1921. His literary self-fashioning entails its opposite: a dismantling of the self, or a self-unfashioning. From my perpective, furthermore, this dissolution of subjectivity runs parallel to that of other modernist writers, like Kafka, Pound, Borges, and Pessoa. My book will sketch out comparisons with numerous other writers as well. My larger argument is that the death of the subject that we attribute to postmodernism has its origins in modernist poetics, and that Lorca is best understood in this way—rather than as an example of subjective plenitude whose biographical vicissitudes completely and unproblematically account for his work.

My approach is grounded (I hope) in the best and most traditional Lorca studies. My respect for the textual and biographical spade-work of scholars and editors like Andrew Anderson and Christopher Maurer remains undiminished. The question, rather, is how to understand Lorquian poetics in light of both philology and poetic theory. I don’t believe these approaches to be incompatible, but certain hermeneutical assumptions persist in Lorca studies and almost nowhere else. Few other authors are read with such biographical servility and hermeneutical naïveté. The first step in my thought experiment, then, is to break Lorca free from the biographical imperative.

Borges advised us to distinguish between Walt Whitman, the semi-divine protagonist of Leaves of Grass, and Walter Whitman, “el pobre literato que lo inventó.” I propose that we introduce a similar distinction for Lorca, separating the Lorca myth from its self-conscious fashioner. Borges is a highly relevant figure here since he is one among many modernist writers who began to question the centrality of the self, in essays like “La nadería de la personalidad.” Fernando Pessoa’s creation of heterónimos is another angle of approach to the modernist dissolution of personality. Still another is Vallejo’s dramatization of the dissolution of the autobiographical self in poems like “Piedra negra sobre piedra blanca” and “El momento más grave de mi vida.” Theories of dramatic poetry and poetic objectivity in Pound and Eliot might lead in still another direction. I am not claiming that all these modernists flee from unitary notions of subjectivity in identical ways. In fact, what is suprising here is the multiplicity of approaches to a central problem.

Before I present my possibly controversial argument that Lorca, too, belongs in this conversation, I need to contrast my understanding of modernist poetics with a simpler (and only partially correct) notion of modernism as a unitary movement with a certain heroic view of the literary genius as privileged subjectivity. This may be somewhat of as strawman view. (Does anyone really believe this anymore in its simplest form?) But it tends to lurk in the background, especially when what is at issue is the contrast between modernism and postmodernism. I am not denying the existence of a prophetic mode of larger-than-life heroic subjectivity in modernist poetics—in Rilke or Juan Ramón Jiménez, for example. To some extent this view results from a subsequent lionization and canonization of the “great moderns” that occurred after the heyday of historical modernism itself. What I am saying is that this orphic or prophetic mode, with its very familiar grandiosity and ambition, is only one facet of modernism, and that even when it occurs it entails a certain separation of the poetic self into more than one self.

But what about Lorca? The publication of his extensive juvenilia has provided us with a goldmine of material—lyric poems, prose effusions, and dramas—from which to interpret his mature work. This is unfortunate. For many writers, maybe most of them, we lack this extensive archive…