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I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Monday, February 29, 2016


I've taken to playing piano in the student Union on a big Baldwin grand just sitting in the corner there. I've done it a few times and not gotten dirty looks yet. This is good because I have to be unembarrassed about playing in public.

Getting Descartes wrong

Getting Descartes wrong (from Stanford Enc of Philosophy:
How could interpreters get Descartes so wrong? One recent explanation suggests that many post-modern “theorists” have absorbed their Descartes at second hand, and the same explanation might be extended to others who invoke Descartes after only cursory engagement with this writings. As the literary historian Michael Moriarty explains, leading French theorists such as Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault would have, in the course of their French educations, “received a solid grounding in philosophy, and in Descartes' works in particular” (Moriarty 2003, 52). They then use Descartes as a stalking horse. Moriarty suggests that many readers of Lacan and Foucault have not received the same education in philosophy or in Descartes. Such individuals, “who read Lacan or Foucault without, or before, reading Descartes, thus imbibe a certain perception of Descartes, more negative, perhaps, than the authors themselves, writing against the grain of their own culture, may have intended to convey” (2003, 53). The implication is that Lacan and Foucault engaged Descartes from a knowledge of his writings, whereas others who lack such knowledge misunderstand the value of such genuine engagement and take away misunderstood implications. This would also explain how Descartes could be charged with denying the emotions even though he published an entire book on the Passions, and how the implications of this book might be overlooked by someone eager to find a famous target to disagree with.
How often does this happen, not just with Descartes but with almost everyone? In other words, someone has not read Descartes, or Foucault, but maybe a chapter on Foucault in a book on literary theory. Or maybe they've read something about Derrida's view of Husserl. I'm not putting myself forth as some great expert. I know nothing about Husserl. But I probably wouldn't take his name in vain when writing about something else.

Translation Workshop

I will offer a virtual translation workshop, beginning on the first of April and ending on the final day of that month. (Virtual workshop, not virtual translation.) If you are interested, please send me a note by email. To qualify for this, you must know a language from which to translate into English, well enough in your own judgment, and have a project in mind. I will accept the first 10 people that write me.

I will accept, in payment, the amount you think this is worth to you. Maybe you think it's worth $20, or $200. I will work with you on a few poems and give you readings to read. I'll have a private blog set up for it.

We will cover some prosody, some translation theory, some poetics. If this works out it will be a regular thing.

Some other things I don't like

I really don't like reading other people's scholarship, unless it is of the highest quality. It really drains my energy to read. A lot of the draining effect of teaching is having to read student work. I know this sounds bad, but why are you tired after reading a set of student papers? If you read some Roland Barthes during that same amount of time, you will be energized with new ideas, but students rarely give you that. Reading bad poetry or fiction does the same thing. That is why we are paid to do certain things. Listening to other people's talks is not easy for me either. I always think that my talk would be better.

(A guy I won't name, a few years ago, asked me for a blurb for his book, but told me not to read the whole thing. He didn't seem to have enthusiasm for his own project, which was somewhat repetitive from numerous previous books. I could not refuse, but still...)

I know this is a significant insight. I've formulated it before, paraphrasing Sartre: "l'enfer, c'est l'écriture des autres." It's not that I'm so brilliant and looking down on everything else. I feel the same way about my own music. I'd rather compose an inferior song than listen to your inferior song, or even your song that's a little better than mine. I'd prefer actively to create my own things. Unless your name is Cole Porter or George Gershwin or Harold Arlen or Jerome Kern or Richard Rodgers or Duke Ellington or Billy Strayhdorn or Johnny Green*, I am going to get more benefit out of my own efforts than from yours.


*Not an exhaustive list, but you know what I mean.

Saturday, February 27, 2016


Now I'm trying to play my compositions and improvise on the chord changes a bit. It's not very hard to play something that will fit, more or less, but only a few isolated phrases sound any good at all. My left hand is pretty good at moving from one chord to the next while my right hand does its thing. I guess for the first or second day of really trying this I didn't do so bad. I'm trying to have better comping rhythms in the left hand as well, and to throw in some two handed chords.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Not looking at random blogs all day has freed up some time for piano playing and running, and even forced my self to do more writing of Lorca III.

I also came up with this plan:

The idea: write songs and record amateur cd for Christmas, 2016

1. Have the recording done. (Final point.) CDs produced and ready to send out. Dec. 17, 2016

2. Burn CDs with art work. December

3. Mix digital files. December

4. Learn enough recording engineering to tell engineer what I want. Record in studio. (Oct /Nov)

A. Vocals B. Piano C. Drums D. Trumpet on two songs

5. Have piano parts written and learned for all songs, with good chords; figure out how to record drum track to go along with it, mostly brushes. (Sept.)

6. Learn to play piano sufficiently well to accompany self

7. Have confidence playing and singing all 8 songs.

8. Finish graphic art-work for cds: pencil drawings?

9. Choose 8 songs to work on for CD

10. Write 12 songs with lyrics / have written versions of all songs (basic version)

11. Work on drawing. Investigate cd cover art printing programs.

12. Learn all 12 keys:

C / F / Bb / Eb / Ab / Db / Gb
B / E / A / D / G

13. Begin to compose songs and play non-travel day.


Hire engineer for recording. Singing instructor. Advice on project: technical, musical. Have Julia record trumpet parts

Do myself:

write all songs and music / perform all parts on piano, drums, vocal / do artwork and graphic design


musical / technological / psychological / physical / make the songs not all sound the same?

Some Things I Don't Like

I don't like, in translation, the "domestic residue." That's the idea of putting in some references that only have meaning to the target audience, like a Lorca poem alluding to an American Blues tune.

I don't like translationese: the use of an unidiomatic construction that is the result of the translator reflecting the source language too directly.

I don't like stuff that's "stuffing" or explanatory. Don't say "full of wood" when the original says "of wood."

I don't particularly like archaism.

I don't like added punctuation that wants to clarify but ends up blocking rhythms.

I don't like inappropriate registers, either too high or low.

I don't like anything that makes the translation blander. If there's a pine don't make it "tree."

I don't like enjambments that are gratuitous: having nothing to do with anything in the original.

y así sucesivamente....

There's a lot I don't like that puts me sorely at odds with contemporary translation theories and practices. I think I can articulate why I don't like all this, and justify my own preferences. Some of it is "common sense." The rest is simply a fact about myself: I happen to like limpid purity. It is the same reason I like classic prose style rather than signposting my readers to death.

So my guilty pleasure is beauty itself, I guess. I think that's a word you won't find in all of Lawrence Venuti's translation theory. I give priority to poetics over translation theory, but then I must also say that my poetics is my own. It's pretty much "some don'ts for imagists." You know, direct treatment of the thing, the rhythm of the musical phrase, no "dim lands of peace."

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Luis Feria


No sé quién eras; puede que yo mismo;
fui plural una vez.
Al leerme me leo;
en la rueda del tiempo vuelvo a ser.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

No Internet

I've decided not to do any internet for a while, except for posting on this blog. So nothing else; not reading your blog or FACEBOOK or anything else aside from necessary tasks like banking. It's hypocritical, I know, to contribute to this but not consume anything. I'll be writing but not reading. Of course, I'll respond to your comments and emails that are necessary to respond to. We'll see how that goes.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Here is the racial breakdown of population for the State of Kansas and the US

White alone, 86.8% 77.4%
Black or African American alone, 6.3% 13.2%
American Indian and Alaska Native alone, 1.2% 1.2%
Asian alone, 2.8% 5.4%
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone, 0.2%
Two or More Races, 2.8% 2.5%
Hispanic or Latino, 11.4% 17.4%
White alone, not Hispanic or Latino, 76.8% 62.1%

Now let's look at the faculty at my institution;

White: 76.6%
Black: 3%
Hispanic: 3.1%
Asian: 11.4%
American Indian 0.4%
Two or more: 1.2%
Unknown 0.3%
Non-resident 4.9%

Every group is either over- or under-represented here. We'd need more than four times more "Black alone" to reach a nationally representative proportion (and more than twice to be proportional to the state of Kansas.) We are even worse for "Hispanic or Latino." Asians are represented at double the national rate (and that does not include the non-resident Asians). "White alone" non Spanish speaking are represented proportionally to the state of Kansas, but are over-represented in national terms. Ironically, the number of white professors is the most proportionate to the level of the population. we have about 1,500 where we really should have 1,240.

Of course, the full time faculty here number 2,066, so one percent is only about twenty people. The source I'm using is the CHE, and it counts total minority here at 22.5%. In my own department we come from six nations / ethnicities: Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, US, Spain, Netherlands, Dominican Republic...

So the hardest area for "diversity" is recruiting more under-representated minorities: Latinos, African Americans, and "American Indian and Alaska Native alone." For this you'd have to have more PhD among these groups, and a better distribution of PhDs across multiple fields.

Anyone who is even full time faculty at a flagship university like this one is already part of an elite group: the fewer than 2% of the population with PhD (or an equivalent level of education / accomplishment) who beat out 10-200 other people with that level of education. I hesitate to recruit new people into a dying profession, but really we are the fortunate few.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Catachresis and synesthesia

We know this means an expression like the legs of table that are metaphors that have no literal equivalent. There is no non-metaphorical word in English for the legs of the table. In music, there is no non-metaphorical term for chromatic (colorful). Or when describing a tone as dark or bright, that is the normal, metaphorical way of talking about it. How else would you say it? A dry sounding cymbal. etc... Similarly to describe the movement of music, its ups and downs, etc... Not every way of talking about music is a catachresis with a root in something non-musical. But for the most part this vocabulary is based on catachresis.


I disagree with Whorf almost completely, but this is great:
Our metaphorical system, by naming nonspatial experiences after spatial ones, imputes to sounds, smells, tastes, emotions, and thoughts qualities like the colors, luminosities, shapes, angles, textures, and motions of spatial experience. And to some extent the reverse transference occurs; for, after much talking about tones as high, low, sharp, dull, heavy, brilliant, slow, the talker finds it easy to think of some factors in spatial experience as like factors of tone. Thus we speak of "tones" of color, a gray "monotone," a "loud" necktie, a "taste" in dress: all spatial metaphor in reverse. Now European art is distinctive in the way it seeks deliberately to play with, synesthesia. Music tries to suggest scenes, color, movement, geometric design; painting and sculpture are often consciously guided by the analogies of music's rhythm; colors are conjoined with feeling for the analogy to concords and discords. The European theater and opera seek a synthesis of many arts. It may be that in this way our metaphorical language that is in some sense a confusion of thought is producing, through art, a result of far-reaching value--a deeper esthetic sense leading toward a more direct apprehension of underlying unity behind the phenomena so variously reported by our sense channels.
What I don't know is whether this is something in Western culture alone. In fact, the very idea of Western culture is perhaps a mistake, especially when contrasted to anything else. So I don't that other non-Western culture don't hear musical timbres as colors, as we do, bright and dark. I don't know that other cultures don't combine visually elaborate costumes with music and dance in rituals (in fact, this is obviously false.) And I don't know why he thinks of space as such a separate category from other sensory experience so that he needs to think of this as a "reversal" when it is all part of the same process. Other than than, brilliant.

Synesthesia is probably at the root of all metaphor, and metaphor is universal.


What a translation needs to do is not just translate in a way that's semantically correct (that's what translation means, essentially), but to look at the relation between expression and meaning in the original. It is not translating form, but translating a ratio or relationship between two elements.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A note on the translations

My aim in these versions of Lorca’s poems, first of all, is to “do no harm.” I have sought to avoid mistranslations that stem from misconstruals of the originals, as well as forms of “translatese” that would not be acceptable in a poem written originally in English. Interesting ideas from translation theory sometimes lead to results that do not satisfy me aesthetically. Secondly, a respect for the integrity Lorca’s own poetics is fundamental: a translation should aim not only to be a good poem in English, but also to preserve the ethos of the original. If the early Lorca, for example, is exceptional for his concrete imagery, his concision, and his careful “engineering” of verse forms and syntactic parallelisms, it will not do to translate him by making him more abstract and verbose while ignoring the rigors of his art.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

This is just to say (ii)

So I told my students they were experts on this poem, "This is just to say"

by WCW.

They are all experts on human relationships. They are human beings, and relationships with other HB are fundamental to everything they do. This does not mean they are good at every relationship they have themselves, but they could analyze someone else's relationship with no problem.

So there several possibilities:

*passive-agressive: the speaker of the poem knows he's done something wrong, but it's ok, because he isn't going to say all the things she's done wrong to him.

*narcissism: he's a famous poet, so she's lucky to be with him. He can eat the damn plums if he leaves a poem for her.

*brother-sister. One student suggested that their relationship was a teasing kind of sibling relationship. He ate the plumbs, and gets to tease her too.


There is not wrong reading of the poem. You can be the guy who ate the plums or the woman who gets the note. You can feel whatever you want to feel. The poem is a poem, because it offers you these possibilities.

This is just to say

In class today I said:

Suppose I wrote a note and stuck it to the refrigerator:

"Sorry I drank all the milk; I'll get some more after class."

Is that a poem?

No, they sd.

Then I said:

"I drank all our milk; I hope you're not mad
I'll get some after class, and then you'll be glad"

That's a poem! It rhymes. One student said: your roommate will not be so mad, because you expressed the message in humorous form.

Then I sd: I have eaten the plums / that were in the icebox / and which you were probably / saving for breakfast..." Why is that a poem, and not a simple message? Was it because the plums were "so sweet / and so cold." ??

Or is it because the poem still means something for us? We are not the addresee of the poem, the person for whom the pome was meant...


We have a tertulia in my department. I've been twice, and both times I was accompanied by two or three colleagues. It was wonderful to hear what they had to say about what they are working on, and to be able to talk about what I am doing as well.


Here is an "engineered poem":

Completamente. Además, ¡vida!
Completamente. Además, ¡muerte!

Completamente. Además, ¡todo!
Completamente. Además, ¡nada!

Completamente. Además, ¡mundo!
Completamente. Además, ¡polvo!

Completamente. Además, ¡Dios!
Completamente. Además, ¡nadie!

Completamente. Además, ¡nunca!
Completamente. Además, ¡siempre!

Completamente. Además, ¡oro!
Completamente. Además, ¡humo!

Completamente. Además, ¡lágrimas!
Completamente. Además, ¡risas!...


You have to know the Góngora sonnet that ends:

"En tierra, en humo, en polvo, en sombra, en nada." [into nothingness, smoke, dust, shadow, nothing]

And the Sor Juana sonnet that ends "es cadáver, es polvo, es sombra, es nada." [is cadaver, dust, shadow, nothing]

Vallejo uses nada, polvo, and humo here; and oro also appears in the Góngora. I've found the mundo / polvo opposition in subsequent poems by M. Hernández and C. Rodríguez.


We think of the humanities as antithetical to engineering, and that's true for how a lot of humanities are practiced. A lot of vague crap about what makes us human, etc... and the fuzzy postmodernism of "anything goes." A poem, though, is a machine made of words (William Carlos Williams) and can be spoken of with precision, the same way as a piece of music. What the humanities offers is not a reprieve from the hardcoreness of STEM fields, but a greater hermeneutic wealth. In other words, we can interpret things in greater depth and with greater sophistication.


I found a nice mathematical problem the other day. It involves the sequence

1 / 2 / 3 as exponents of 2.

2 the first power, 2 to the second power...

Running parallel the same sequence in the denominator of a fraction

1/2 1/4 1/8...

So you play a game in which the odds of winning decrease by one half each time, while the rewards winning increase exponentially by powers of 2 at the same time.

So you half the time you play it, you win $2, a quarter of the time, you'd win $4, once (on average) every 8 times you'd win $8. The question is how much you would pay to play the game? It is called the St. Petersburg lottery. It is paradoxical because you could win a huge sum, but most people would not pay very much to play it.

Suppose you played 16 times. On average, playing that many times you would get

$16 (half the time you win that)
$16 (a quarter of the time, or 4 times, you'd win $4)
$16 (1/8 of the time (twice), you'd earn 8.
$16 (1/16 of the time you'd earn 16).

Then one more time (on average) you'd get >$32. So you'd get >$96 (on average) playing 8 times. It's fascinating, because if you play enough, say 1,000,000 times, a certain percentage of those times will leads astronomical returns.

Chord alterations

So I'm writing this song. I begin with I, then IV, but I decide to make IV a 7 chord instead of maj7, then I go I, and V, but I don't make V the dominant fifth, but a maj7. When I go to the relative minor, I decide to make it a major chord instead. I don't think I'd come up with those ideas if I weren't working in a key that's new and weird for me.

Being Blown Away

As I teach the Graduate Theory course I am continually blown away by the brilliance of concepts (whether or not I agree with the particular perspective of the theorist. Whorf's description of synesthesia, for example; or Levi-Strauss's critique of approaches to myth the precede his own. Gadamer's analysis of the importance of writing. Adorno's idea that art must resist pleasure.

My own agreement or disagreement almost seems beside the point. I'm not talking about taking an acritical approach either. We can argue about the points and raise objections. But if you don't feel that sense of awe then you aren't doing theory right. You need the "dance of the intellect."

An awesome idea is one that leads to other consequences, shaking up our minds. The idea that theory somehow diminishes our pleasure in literature itself is surely one of the most idiotic ones in existence. Of course, one can get addicted to the hedonism of theoretical play and be less interested in the hedonism of reading texts.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

G Flat

I've made some progress in Gb. I finally came up with a melodic idea over those chords. It's taken a few days, but I am in this for the long haul, so it doesn't really matter. Next up will be the key of B (5 # s). At that point I'll know all the "flat" keys and so I won't really bother with E, A, and D too much.

Now if I can get my running going, I will be doing well. I has some asthma issues in the Fall, and then took on some care-giving duties for my amiga who had some broken bones after a bad bicycle accident. Then, with the cold weather and all of that, the running fell by the wayside.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Bunched Chords

So in the new key I am working in, I have decided to use some chords bunched in close together. So my tonic, Gb major 7, I play as F,Gb, Ab, and Db. My 7dim. chord I would play as F, Ab, B. The same chords sound more dissonant and condensed when played differently. I'm almost to a point where I could write a song in this key.

I realized yesterday that two of my songs have very similar melodies, but differ in rhythms and in some of the chords, and in structure. That's probably ok.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Height of Cynicism

This is about the worst thing I've seen in the past week. The title is

"A Violation of Trust..."

and this title closely echoes that of another very recent article about the same institution

"An Appalling Breach of Faith..."

The article I link to, though, takes the opposite perspective, though seeming to be balanced. It speaks of the president of this university as transformative, but not all transformations are good ones. He just fired faculty who pointed out things he had said.

The writer of this essay is head of an ethics institute. Almost all the comments blast her. Apparently the breach of faith was simply telling others that the president had said "drown the bunnies" as a colorful metaphor for what they should do with struggling freshman. The other colorful metaphor was "put a glock to their heads." I understand that that is some sort of firearm.

It's great to bring transformational business leaders into academia (not). I have a radical idea: let's have academics lead institutions of higher learning. Many academics have become deans and worked there way up from their, and are competent in public relations, in budgeting, in fund-raising. They move from deans to provosts or vice-provosts, learning as they go. They might do things faculty don't like, having switched to the other side too entirely, but this is not the same as someone with zero understanding of academia.


I've done a song in Db, and learned most of the chords for Gb. Even though I seem to know this new key, I really don't, since I can't get anything to sound right in its yet and no melodic idea will emerge. The fourth degree of the scale is B, though I guess I should be thinking of it as Cb. Manual dexterity is not improving much, nor is my skill at writing down the notes, since I haven't done that for a few weeks either. I've made strides in harmonic thinking, and have started to be more savvy about chord inversions, rather than just always playing the bass note with my pinkie, the third with my third finger, and the seventh with my thumb.

Friday, February 12, 2016

What else could you learn?

Intellectual stagnation is a horrible thing. It happens even to very smart people, because basically a smart person, like anyone else, will gravitate toward the already known, as a matter of comfort or inertia. If you comfortably ensconced in what you know, there will be few challenges.

How do you know if you've stagnated? If your ideas five years ago were the same. The jokes you tell. Are your courses identical? Do you cook the exact same dishes? Wear the same kind of clothes?

I've decided the best thing is to learn another language, where language means any cognitive system that must be approached with some degree of rigor. So music would count, or a branch of mathematics, or an actual language like Greek. It could be drawing or ceramics, or chess. It should be something you learn to do, not something you learn about. The point is not the accumulation of additional information. Nothing wrong with that either.

I am incapable of having a hobby without it changing my life in some profound way.


When sung to a rock beat the Lorca sonnet resolves into almost perfect iambics, even it involves changing the accentuation of the words in the first part of the line. The musical rhythm runs roughshod over the words.

en UN e NO che CER de RUI se ÑO REEEES

instead of of "en un anochecer de ruiseÑO res"


en E ter NO mon TÓN de DU ro TRI GOOOO
instead of

en eTERno monTÓN de DUro TRIgo.

Nevertheless I like the song a lot.

Prosody exam

I gave my students a prosody exam. If they don't do well, I will give them the option of memorizing a sonnet and reading it to me in a way that shows they understand the versification.

I listened to a rock version of Lorca's poem "El poeta dice la verdad." Go ahead, google it and you can listen to.

The rocker sings a line like this:

que NO sea CA be NUN ca LA ma DE ja

[que no se acabe nunca la madeja]

over the course of two measures:

The first four stresses fall on the 1,2,3,4 of the first measure, and the word madeja has a measure of its own. That's own way of doing it.

Another Way to be Productive

Here's something else.

1. Don't measure productivity in terms of hours worked. (In the industrial sense, if you permit my crassness, productivity is not hours worked, but how much is produced per worker per hour. It is efficiency. To measure your output by how much you've worked is opposite of how you should be thinking.) Rather, what you should be looking at is getting things done.

2. The basic unit of time you should think about is the day. You want to increase the number of days per week in which you do something significant on a major project. Doing something significant might be starting a chapter, writing a substantial number of words on it (500-1000), having a single lightbulb type idea that represents a significant breakthrough, submitting an article, finishing something, giving it its definitive form.

So if all you do on your major project on any given day is one of the above, then you are making efficient progress. Today, for example, I began a chapter, and it is only 9:30.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Old Dogs

If I can learn harmony at 55, then surely it is possible for anyone to learn new things at any age. Most people don't; aren't interested in really changing anything. Stagnation is the enemy.
Via language hat:

There are three good reasons for studying metre. First and most important, the study of metre increases our appreciation of the poem as a work of art; without it, we cannot read a poem adequately, even to ourselves, and all its musical qualities will be lost to us. Secondly, and understanding of the subtleties of metre adds to our aesthetic pleasure an intellectual pleasure; the skill of a great poet in handling a difficult and complicated metre can be an object of admiration in itself. Thirdly, a knowledge of metre is of the greatest use in textual criticism; the fact that a line has been corrupted in transmission may be revealed by a defect in scansion which in itself may be an invaluable guide to the true reading.


I was reading an article by Benveniste of the system of French verbs. The reason was because I found great material for my theoretical chapter in a few other articles of his so curiosity led me to see what else he had to say.

We all know from high school French that there are two ways of talking about a past event (what you would use the preterit for in Spanish.) The passé composé is a perfect tense using a compound form, like "Je suis allé." The passé simple is a simple tense. The former is used almost exclusively in speech, the latter almost exclusively in writing. But Benveniste says that this is not a distinction between speech and writing, but between two systems, which he calls histoire and discours.

Histoire is an impersonal mode, forbidding first and second person pronouns and verbal forms as well as deictics like here, now, tomorrow, there. The passé simple is used in this (largely written) mode. Discours is a largely spoken mode, but of course it can be written, as a written transcription or representation of speech. In this mode, the relation between the I and the you is primary. You never use the passé simple in this mode, only the passé composé.

So the French verb can be marked not just for aspect (perfective vs. imperfect), but also for its discursive mode. I read this very article in French very quickly but its lucidity was such that I grasped the point with no effort.

So the lyric is interesting, because it is a fictive representation of discours. Here, the relation between the speaker and the addressee is primary, and deictics are extremely important. Even the impersonal lyric is discours, I would think.

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
petals on a wet, black bough.

The word these is key here. With the red wheelbarrow, even, with its absence of deictics? Or certain poems of Lorca that don't have a first or second person?

It would follow that the first and second persons are intimately linked, in opposition to the third. Perhaps the lyric is a third mode, one that seems to be discours but is really not.

Completing the circle

I'm half way through the circle of fourths. So I've composed in C, F, Bb, Eb, Ab, and Db. Six out of twelve keys. It is important to complete the circle, not because I need to compose in every single key, but because that will complete my understanding of every note in relation to every other note and achieve more harmonic fluidity. I'm finding now that I put in chords that I'm not sure about. They don't belong to the key I'm working in, but they seem still to fit in somehow. At some point I'll understand, but there is something to be said for intuition as well.

Now when I analyze my first efforts, I see that I was working with a limited palette. Yet one of those early tunes is one I find quite beautiful.

Something will always lag behind. Harmonic knowledge, playing ability, melodic or structural construction. I can play what I write, but that is because I write by playing. I am unable to play the chords in a truly jazzy way, rhythmically. I find my typing is stronger, faster, and more confident on the computer keyboard because of an hour a day on the musical keyboard.

Warmth, sweetness, and beauty are available to me. They are there on the keyboard waiting to be discovered. Every flavor and color is there. For example, a dominant chord is tangy. Major sevenths taste smokey. The interval of the major third is sweet. These are available to anyone, the same way that a raspberry will be tart to anyone.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

An Exchange

Here's how I responded to comment on CHE, objecting to a professor who made her students show up and turn their assignments in on time:

"As I often tell my students, "only fools need rules." A rules-based approach, as suggested by the author of this piece, removes the need for much thought about causes and effects, autonomy and mastery, and self-direction, giving primacy to rules to follow. It's a plausible approach for meeting social expectations but a lousy way to question and understand their value to the social order."


Let's free up our thoughts for more important issues and not over-think things that are basic, like showing up prepared and on time. The function of rules is to make certain actions habitual so you don't have to meditate profoundly on the reasons why.

Some Ways to be Productive

1. Put your own work first. Write the monograph and half of the second one before you even think about doing the edited collection.

2. Prioritize the large project over small ones, and small ones over insignificant ones. So be working on the major project at all times, not peripheral ones. Articles take precedence over book reviews. Articles that put forward your main research agenda take precedence over those that don't.

3. Don't wait until you have large blocks of time to resume work on your major project. Since you only need 1-3 hours a day for writing, and it is actually harder to find those hours when you don't have other structure in your life, you are likely to do better if you already have the rhythm of work established before that summer break or sabbatical.

Default to Bum

My default attitude toward myself is to see myself as a bum and impostor. When I am forced to undergo a review and have to produce these documents of self-promotion I discover that I am not a bum after all. I am not a modest person. I believe I am smart enough, etc... But I do believe that I am shiftless. Then I discover what I've done and it seems as though someone else had done it, as in Henry James's story "A Privste Life," where a writer has two selves, one a shadow self back in his room writing while the social self socializes.

So even when I write the summary of what I've done, which is pretty much a laying out of what's on the cv with some embellishment, I feel I am lying. Sure, I've done this, but how could I have?

The opposite is the person who thinks of himself as accomplished, but the cv doesn't back it up. I could easily be that person, with a high opinion of myself but little to show. Through some accident of fate I am the lazy person who's accomplished much instead of the hard-working person who's done little.

Maybe I am hard-woring and just don't know it?

Research Statement

When I came to KU as an Associate Professor I had already published two books and had a solid reputation in my field. I published two more monographs shortly before my promotion to the rank of Professor: Apocryphal Lorca and Twilight of the Avant-Garde both came out in 2009. My primary accomplishment since my promotion is the book What Lorca Knew: Fragments of a Late Modernity, which I am currently shopping around to publishers.

Since my promotion in 2009 I have also published three book chapters in edited collections, four journal articles, two other miscellaneous publications, and four book reviews. Only two of my articles during this period present material from the book I have just completed. Given my strong publication history, I have chosen to concentrate on writing my book rather than publishing a large number of articles: still, seven solid articles in six years (2010-15) is not too bad, especially when seen in the context of a more productive than average scholarly career. Only two of my articles during this period present ideas from the book I have just completed, since I want the new book to contain a large proportion of material not previously published.

I have also given twelve papers or lectures during this period of time (not counting one I have given already in 2016 and another I have scheduled for March of this year) at professional conferences and as an invited speaker at places like Harvard, NYU, the University of Iowa, the University of Córdoba, and the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid.

Federico García Lorca is the best-known Spanish poet and playwright of the twentieth century. Working on a canonical writer brought me a level of prominence in the field that I had not enjoyed before, despite the high level of scholarly productivity I have maintained since earning my doctorate. My department has nominated me to be a Distinguished Professor, and I won the prestigious Higuchi award in 2012, so my research accomplishments have been recognized already on campus.

I have recently started to write a third volume on Lorca, Federico García Lorca: The Decentered Subject. The idea of this my new book in progress is to consider Lorca’s work in light of the poststructuralist motif of the questioning of subjectivity. Although I have only written about 15,000 words on this project, I believe I am on to something significant that may have nearly the same degree impact on the field as my first Lorca book.

After this sixth book (the third in my Lorquian trilogy) I do not know yet what the future holds. I plan to retire at the age of 67, in twelve years. I believe I will continue to be a productive scholar in the time I have left, though I do not know whether I will feel the need to write another book after The Decentered Subject. I might devote myself to translation. I have published numerous articles in the past and will perhaps go back to being an “article person” rather than a “book person.”

Teaching Statement

I am the colleague that my chair might call on to teach extra courses, outside my area of expertise, when a colleague is hospitalized, all while serving as president-elect of the University Senate. I do not see myself as a naturally gifted teacher, but I am passionate about developing new courses and enriching the education of my students, as well as pitching in times of emergency, as I did when my colleague had to stop teaching for the rest of the semester.

A few of my courses have been particularly innovative:

•A capstone course on oral traditions in the Hispanic world, my “refranero, romancero, cancionero” class provides a way of looking at anonymous “texts” from the middle ages to the current day in both Spain and Spanish America. In this class we examine proverbs (refranes), ballads (romances), and short lyric poems set to music (canciones). The advantages of this material are multiple: it lends itself to audiovisual presentation and cuts across temporal and geographical barriers. Students in this course are encouraged to undertake innovative projects and to post to the course blog. While I first developed this course before my last promotion, it continues to be a mainstay of my teaching. I gave it last in Spring of 2010 and hope to cycle it back into my courses very soon.

•My course on translation has evolved through the years. I have given it twice since my promotion, most recently in 2013. I have found that translation provides a unique way of seeing the intersections among the three major areas of teaching in our department: language, literature, and culture, in fascinating ways. It is not merely a course on how to translate, but an eye-opening exploration of this “intersectionality.” One traditional idea of teaching foreign languages is to attempt to make the language learner into a quasi-native speaker who does not have to depend at all on her own native language. This approach is not only unrealistic, but also neglects the advantages of bilingualism. A course in translation exploits the advantages of students who are fluent in their first language rather than seeing the first language merely as an obstacle to be overcome.

•My graduate course on Literary Theory emphasizes the reading of the primary texts of theory rather than secondary guides that give potted and inaccurate summaries. My students emerge from this course with a solid grounding for their dissertations. I have given the course twice since my promotion (including this current semester).

My “philosophy” of teaching is to give my students the most of my own talents and expertise. At the undergraduate level, I work a lot on my students’ Spanish and want to give them a well-rounded though not particularly complete vision of Spanish literature and culture. At the graduate level, I feel that our task is to prepare students for a brutally competitive profession by giving them rigorous training and feedback.

Service Statement

My main service responsibility in recent years have been my presidency of the University Senate. I served for a year as President-Elect (2013-14) and a year as President (2014-15). Both years I was a member of FACEX and SENEX. Ironically, when I first was University Senate President-Elect, the major issue before the Faculty Senate was Post-Tenure Review, and I now have the pleasure of going through this process myself, having helped in a small way to make this procedure fair and effective. The following year, I headed up a task-force to devise a Social Media Procedure, in order to implement the KBOR Social Media Policy. This was an arduous and contentious process, requiring meetings over the summer, and resulted in a final version that was acceptable to both the University Senate and the administration.

In my service for governance, I developed several capabilities that I lacked before: I learned to speak to the media, to negotiate between conflicting parties, and to lead large, sometimes contentious meetings of rowdy faculty members. I also developed expertise on due process, first amendment, and academic freedom issues. My leadership style in governance was largely conciliatory. By this I mean that I devoted most of my energy to resolving problems in a collaborative spirit rather than seeing the university administration as an adversary. I was somewhat frustrated that some of colleagues on the Senate were more interested in painting the administration in a bad light than in reaching the best solution to the problem at hand. I don’t know whether my approach is the best one for every situation, but I did learn something about my own talents in the process.

Outside the university, I serve as a reviewer of tenure cases (one or two in a typical summer) and a peer reviewer for a few scholarly journals. I am not very active in professional organizations at the present time, but might do more in the future.

At the departmental level, I have a variety of responsibilities. As one of the few Full Professors in the Department, I head up the Promotions Committee for Associates who want to be promoted to this rank. I am also frequently asked to put lead tenure and third-year meetings for the Assistant Professors and to write summaries of their research accomplishments. The fact that more than one Chair of the Department has asked me to do this means that I must have some ability in this area, runnning meetings equitably and professionally and writing concise and convincing material for my colleagues’ promotions. I have chaired the last two search committees for Departmental Chair. I am also asked to observe my colleagues’ teaching with some frequency, and I have been a mentor to junior colleagues, whether formally or informally. It is clear, then, that I am a respected senior colleague. I see no significant obstacles for my service. I am not particularly ambitious in this area, and am happy to have it be 20% of my allocation of effort. While I was Senate President, it was significantly more than that, so I am pleased to re-commit 80% of my effort to teaching and research. My strengths on the area of departmental service include graduate studies, evaluation, mentoring, and tenure and promotion paperwork. I would be happy to continue with these activities in a collegial spirit. I have not been department chair, since there has always been someone more capable who was willing to do the job, so I have been happy to help out any way I can on the sidelines.

Shadow CV version II

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education referred to the concept of a “shadow cv.” Disappointingly, this turned out to mean a list of failures and rejections, of scholarly dead-ends, of grant proposals that weren’t funded. Like anyone else in the profession, I have had my share of those. Nevertheless, my notion of the shadow cv is different and much less negative. I see the shadow cv as consisting of a list of other activities that are not quite “academic” enough for the cv, but that enrich one’s personal and creative energy in ways that sometimes end up contributing to scholarly productivity and excellent teaching over the long haul. I am not certain that this is what item (4) is requesting, but I will give a partial list of some of the items that might appear on my shadow curriculum.

•I have been blogging since 2002. My first blog “Bemsha Swing” was named after a Thelonious Monk tune and contained my reflections on jazz, poetry, translation, prosody, and whatever else interested me. It was one was one of the first poetry and poetics blogs in existence, at a moment when these blogs were becoming a significant medium of communication among American poets. My current blog is called “Stupid Motivational Tricks,” with the subtitle “Scholarly Writing and How to Get it Done.” Many readers in and outside of academia have found my advice and reflections useful. “I now use “Stupid Motivational Tricks” as a forum for other subjects as well. I have written more than 2,000 posts on this blog alone. One faculty member at another institution credits her implementation of my advice for her successful tenure.

•Since August of 2015, I have been composing songs on an electric keyboard and writing out the music using Finale, a music notation software program, as well as taking voice lessons. My goal is to incorporate music more actively into my research interests and find a way of using it more astutely in my courses on oral traditions in the Hispanic world. While this may seem as though it were a non-academic interest for someone not in the music school, it dovetails with my interest in Lorca, who was an accomplished musician as well as a poet, playwright, and visual artist. I am moving toward a view of his work that involves a larger conception of his poetics of performance. (Coincidentally, an opera singer recently contacted me and asked me to be a consultant for a multi-media project she is doing on Lorca’s duende.) I read recently of a study that found that Nobel-prize winning scientists were far more likely to be involved with creative activities like painting or music composition than non-Nobel scientists. It could be that the Lorquian model of creativity has something to teach all of us.

•I also continue to write my own poetry and song lyrics. I have book of poetry with the title Mayhew’s Mood that I have not yet published, and have given poetry readings in Lawrence. Some people have also told me that I am an adept translator of poetry. This is a long-standing interest of mine, and I have published translations from time to time, but my long-term scholarly projects are demanding of my time. Still, I plan to translate a book of Lorca’s poetry, possibly Canciones. I have very well-defined ideas about how this should be done, and I believe I have the ability to do it well.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Research / Scholarship / Criticism / Writing

Research, or "investigación" means finding things out. That is the official name of what I'm supposed to be doing.

Scholarship is learning, "erudición." I would prefer to be a scholar (estudioso) than a researcher.

Criticism is the actual name of my own discipline. Literary criticism, to be exact. I am a much better critic than I am a scholar or investigator. My criticism is learned, erudite, but I don't discover or find out new things that nobody ever thought of before.

Writing is what I really do. I am a writer of criticism; that is the medium through which I do literary criticism.

So, I could say I'm a researcher or investigator, a scholar, a critic, or a writer. I am someone who finds things out, who knows things, who criticizes or analyzes the things he knows about, and who writes down and publishes the results. What you call yourself matters.

Learning a new key

I taught myself a new key today, Db, with five flats. When I learn a new key what I do is to figure out the major 7 tonic chord, then go and figure out what each of the other six chords will be for that key. I tried to learn Gb yesterday, but it was difficult because I didn't know Db well enough. D flat is a very warm key that I like a lot. It gives me knew ideas to play in that key, and I came up with a nice sounding melody this morning.

Every key, following the circle of fourths or fifths, will have one different note, so learning a key that is a fourth or fifth from a key you already know will be easy because a lot of it will be the same.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Shadow CV

Ok. This is my PTR time. (Post-tenure review!). Part four asks for this. Can you tell me if this sounds good. Too boastful in tone? Too modest? Just right? Thanks in advance. (Thomas, Leslie, Bob Basil, Clarissa?... anyone else out there?)

4) Statement of Additional Activities not covered by your CV

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education referred to the concept of a “shadow cv.” Disappointingly, this turned out to be a list of failures and rejections, of scholarly dead-ends, of grant proposals that weren’t funded. Like anyone else in the profession, I have my share of those. Nevertheless, my notion of the shadow cv is somewhat different and, I believe, more interesting. I see the shadow cv as consisting of a list of other activities that are not quite “academic” enough for the cv, but that enrich one’s personal and creative energy in ways that sometimes end up contributing to scholarly productivity in the long run. I am not sure that this is what item (4) is requesting, but I will list some of the items that might appear on my shadow curriculum:

•I am a member of a local group of poets and writers that meets every Thursday, in the tradition of Spanish tertulia. This distinguished group has included the former poet-laureate of Kansas and a well-known translator of Homer and Dante, as well as a Distinguished Professor in the English Department who is one of the top experts on Mark Twain.

•I have been blogging since 2002. My blog is called “Stupid Motivational Tricks,” with the subtitle “Scholarly Writing and How to Get it Done.” Many readers have found my advice useful.

•Since August of 2015, I have been composing songs on an electric keyboard and writing out the music. My goal is to incorporate music more actively into my research interests and find a way of using it more intelligently in my courses on oral traditions in the Hispanic world. While this may seem as though it were a non-academic interest, it dovetails with my interest in Lorca, who was an accomplished musician as well as a poet, playwright, and visual artist. I am moving toward a view of his work that involves a larger conception of his poetics of performance. (Coincidentally, an opera singer recently contacted me and wanted me to be a consultant for a multi-media project she is doing on Lorca’s duende.) I heard of a study recently that found that Nobel-prize winning scientists were far more likely to be involved with creative activities like painting or music composition than non-Nobel scientists. It could be that the Lorquian model of creativity has something to teach all of us.

•I also continue to write my own poetry, but without being too concerned about how much I publish. Some people have also told me that I am a good translator of poetry. This is a long-term interest of mine, and I have published translations from time to time, but my long-term scholarly projects tend to be very demanding of my time. Still, I have in mind to translate a book of Lorca’s poetry, possiby Canciones. I have very definite ideas about how this should be done, and believe I have the capability to do it.

Two more things about translation

There are two objections I have to certain kinds of translation theory and practice:

1) Very sophisticated translation theory often leads to (or justifies) translation that is at the opposite pole from my own aesthetics. All the emphasis on translation that contains a "domestic residue" and the like, or that transforms the target language in a certain way, all of that ends up producing poetry that is not good poetry. I approach the translation of poetry in a radical way: I think that, without mistranslating in any way, the main criterion should be the aesthetic quality of the translation. So I approach translation through poetics, rather than subordinating poetics to translation theory. Sorry.

2) Secondly, atheoretical translation does the same thing: it justifies questionable translation decisions, but now based on the translator's ad hoc decisions.

Now you will say that of course my aesthetics and poetics are mine alone. They are not compelling for other people. The proof of that is eminent translators translate in ways I find odious, and others accept these translations as valid. Rothenberg, for example, when translating Lorca: if Lorca says "a river of gold" then he will say something like "a river made of gold." Or Lorca's "oro" will be "pure gold." Extra words added to rationalize Lorca; little touches to make him sound cuter; added punctuation that interrupts the flow of the lines; enjambments in a poem that imitates a folk style where enjambments are rare; the destruction of syntactic parallelisms; the use of weaker, more abstract words where Lorca's words are concrete. I could go on and on. I have gone on and on.

It would be cheating to say that this Lorca's poetics as well? Ok, then I will cheat. The original text has an aesthetic integrity. The translation should not only be a good poem in its own right (to cite the cliché) but be a good poem in the same way that the original was good. So a good translation of Quevedo (a different aesthetic from Lorca's) should be verbally witty. Góngora should be baroque, not plain-spoken.

Lorca was a modernist: his best early poetry exemplifies Pound's ideas in "some don'ts for imagists": use no extra words, don't follow the metronome, direct treatment of the object, don't say "dim lands of peace." All that good stuff. Secondly, Lorca follows the best of the anonymous lyric tradition, which derives its aesthetic value from extreme simplicity. No words are wasted there either. There are some childish and kitsch-like things going on there, too, some impurities that might lend themselves to a more varied approach, but not to the degree that would introduce extra words when Lorca is being austere.

Once again, I feel that mine is a minority position. The ungenerous alternative would be to think that those who don't translate as I'd like them to have no talent. I think that they could have talent, but simply don't share my aesthetic preferences.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A translation

El campo segado
y la luna disuelta.

Por el aire van los sueños
de las semillas.

Espiga azul
y amapola blanca.

Mi alma,
una sola
flor delirante.

El campo segado
y la luna disuelta.


The field reaped
and the moon dissolved.

Through the air go the dreams
of the seeds.

Blue ear
and white poppy.

My soul,
a single
delirious flower.

The field reaped
and the moon dissolved.

Thursday, February 4, 2016


I am a addicted to certain kinds of sonority and tone colors. I guess what I try to do is to make the music sound chromatic, but using mostly the notes of a diatonic scale. I decided to stop worrying that all my songs sound similar, since I am only writing for my own amusement anyway. I am impressed that I can do it at all.


I am writing this new song and Ab, with the Bridge a fourth up, in Db. At that point I will know most of the flat keys (F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db...) and all the accompanying chords that go along with those keys. I used to wonder how a key could have six flats if there are only five black notes on the piano. I still wonder that. I guess I know how it happens, but it still seems odd. But any way, Db, with five flats, will basically give me command of the entire keyboard, so I won't worry about Gb /F# for now.



I decided I like luminosity. By this I mean that pristine quality of the anonymous Spanish lyric of the middle ages:

Dentro en el vergel
dentro en el rosal
matarme han

Or of Saint John of the Cross, or Miguel Hernández's Romancero y cancionero de ausencias. Lorca, needless to say, achieves this quality as well. "Si muero / dejad el balcón abierto..." In another register, Vallejo's "El momento más grave de mi vida..." Or Joseph Ceravolo at his best.

It's not the only thing I like, of course, but I'll take perfection over imperfection every time. The cult of messy "process" tell us not to overvalue such things, but, of course, it's hard not to.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The winds of March

Lyrics are hard to come up with: "The winds of March that made my heart a dancer / A telephone that rings, but who's to answer? / And still the ghost of you clings/ These foolish things / Remind me of you." That is just priceless. Yet the bridge of that song is weak: "You came, you saw, you conquered me" {that part's good} but "When you did that to me / I knew somehow / It had to be..." is not all that great. None of the lyrics I have written approach that level, so I guess nobody notices that the second half of a bridge of a classic song isn't great.


Who would have thought that lyrics would be my challenge? I was reading an article linked to by Clarissa about raising a creative child. Apparently Nobel prize scientists are more likely to have painted or composed music than the average scientist. Really good scholarship is creative, not mundane.


If you have a PhD, you are in the top 2% of the country, in terms of educational attainment. If you actually do research, you are in the top half of that 2%, and if you are a leader in research, a top expert on something or another, you are at the top of that half. It makes sense to think that the very top people in any field would be highly creative. I remember a theoretical physicist at my undergrad institution who would just walk all day absent-mindedly through campus. He was working. I don't know if he ever made that breakthrough he was seeking.


Most people are not creative in the deep sense. I hate it when the word is used for someone who just isn't all that disciplined. I don't know if you can force it either. You kind of have to let it happen. Probably, if you feel the educational institution has ironed all the creativity out of you, you might not have been that creative in the first place, because creativity is actually a stronger force than that.