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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...

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


I'm going to be out for a while: my daughter's graduation this weekend and then a month in Argentina.  I have plenty of time to post from there, but I just want to take a break just because I don't want to be on the internet at all except for my teaching.  I'll read your comments in my email but I won't answer them on the blog.

I'll be back on the blog by late July.


I found this encyclopedia of literary translation.  The list of authors provides a kind of approximation of the corpus someone (like me) would study. A few major omissions: Teresa de Ávila, Luis de León, Garcilaso de la Vega,  The romancero.  Pedro Salinas.


I bought this notebook to keep track of what I was reading. Of course, the act of keeping track of this changes the activity being tracked, since it makes me more likely to read and finish books.

Bee Webs

Bees weave webs of silk
trapping unwary sailors
"drunk and asleep."
Oh, you thought it was spiders

trapping unwarranted sailors
with salt in their veins?
Oh, you thought it was spiral
but the staircase was a straight shot down.

With saltpetre in their veins
they shat on virtue,
but the strums were straight thoughts.
Thus the gods of flamenco decreed.

They shat on virtual lawns,
bees warning of webelo stirs.
Thus goons of Flanders repealed,
drunk in their boots.

Monday, June 12, 2017

More virtue signaling

When the president of Evergreen began a statement by saying "I am George.  I use he / him pronouns" it rang false with me. If he is not trans, and a cis-gendered guy, then he doesn't really need to tell people what to call him. And if he uses those pronouns, why does he say "I"?  Shouldn't he say "He am George"? Don't people talking to him use "you"?

He continues the talk by mentioning how the land of Evergreen State was stolen from the Indians. Yes, and so is the apartment complex I live in. It's not like he's taking steps to give it back to them, so it's an empty gesture of virtue signaling. He said he would say this at the beginning of all his speeches.

The Human Sensory Apparatus

I came across this article on the human sense of smell. It is pretty phenomenal, almost dog-like.

This got me to thinking about other human senses, in light of the Lorquian ideas that the poet should be "profesor en los cinco sentidos corporales."  

Vision: Our vision is intensely chromatic.  We make very fine distinctions between very small variations in color.  We have a very developed ability for secondary visual representation, beginning with the cave paintings and whatever came before that. We can extend and correct vision mechanically, and we can use the part of the brain devoted to vision to "see" with other senses, as I read about recently in the New Yorker. Vision can be used as vehicle for language (reading and writing) and even for musical notation.

Hearing: We have ability to hear with great specificity, and can train the ear to recognize relative pitches. We can process extremely complex semiotic systems (language) through what we hear. A dog can hear higher frequencies, but so what? We don't pine after those frequencies far above the soprano range (I don't at least.)

Taste:  I don't know much about this one yet.  Sorry.

Touch: I don't know much about that either.

A couple of things are key: the senses are cognitively, aesthetically, and affectively rich. We can talk about small gradations of difference because they matter to us. They are the entryway for information necessary for cognition.

There are secondary cognitive tasks that take sensory information as their foundation. The way an architect designs a building for example, through manipulating space in the head. This is a visual task, but it is not mere seeing (if there is such a thing).

Even the deprivation / repression of the senses is cognitively interesting.  The ascetic poet must still talk of "mil gracias derramando."

The senses are the realm of poetry in all its cognitive, affective, and aesthetic richness. We cannot separate out these three aspects from one another. The human sensory apparatus is the base of the anthropology of aesthetics.

Procrastination as Askesis

Another interpretation:

By procrastinating, you are depriving yourself of the pleasure and satisfaction of getting something accomplished. It could be a small pleasure, like that of having a clean stove top, or a very significant one, like publishing an article.

So procrastination is a way of punishing yourself. You do not deserve such satisfactions, in your mind.

The pleasures of dolce far niente are also real ones, but can they be fully enjoyed when tinged with the askesis of procrastination?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Confident Authority

"The author projects a voice of confident authority."

That was my favorite line from my reader's reports, especially since it was from the reader who had more substantive suggestions / things sh/e found that needed to be addressed. Reading that phrase I realized that I do try to sound like that.

Saturday, June 10, 2017


A little bit of organization goes a long way.  15 minutes of getting organized is probably as productive as 2 hours of substantive work. As long as it doesn't take so much of your time that it crowds out the substantive work.

It clears and focuses the mind, makes things seem simpler by removing artificial impediments.

It is actually substantive, in the sense that these are tasks that need to be completed.

It is not inherently time consuming. For example, take the task of figuring out which dates your class meets. You can sit down with a calendar and figure this out in a few minutes.  At the same time, it frees up time later by increasing efficiencies.

It doesn't necessarily require great intensity of concentration.

The Emotions Behind Procrastination

Procrastination is rooted in emotion. It is really a fear of some other emotion. You don't want to confront the emotion that you will feel upon beginning a certain task. Will it make you feel unorganized, inadequate, guilty, foolish. You might fear the shame of having procrastinated in the first place. Maybe you dread the frustration of doing something tedious and dull. Maybe the reactions of someone else when you do something that needs to be done.

So it might work to give a  name to the emotion you are afraid of facing.  Maybe you don't want to face resuming a project you began and left in a chaotic state. Once you know what emotion you are dreading, then you can ask yourself whether it is worth it to face the emotion in question.  You might decide that no, this emotion is to scary to face.

What if it were a choice

Suppose I had a choice about how well organized I was?  I could see it as something beyond my control, thinking I'm not very well organized, but isn't that the result of choices I make? You could call them habits, I suppose, but habits are just choices repeated until they are habitual.


This does not quite correct the problem, because it is a choice that has some motivation behind it. In other words, I must be telling myself that it's ok to be disorganized, or even that it's advantageous in some way.  For example, "I can start work in the morning without wasting time getting organized and thus produce more than other people." Or I can make it my excuse: "oh, well you know Jonathan is not that well organized..."  "Imagine what I could accomplish if I were organized, if by being disorganized I've already risen to the top of my profession." Or "creative people are just not as well organized."  Or "It always works out in the end..."  If I articulate these excuses they sound very stupid.


What else is a choice, but feels like an inherent feature of one's personality? Persistence? Resilience?  Self-discipline?  I am not trying to argue that everything is a choice, but that once you decide that something is open to change, that give you the opportunity to change it.


Say that there is one number, your iq, that is invariant. You are born with it, and will die with it (if it doesn't diminish with dementia). This magic number may correlate with accomplishments.  Thus, if a composer created brilliant, long-form compositions of great complexity, or a physicist made important theoretical contributions, you might say "Gee, I bet their magic number is very high."  Yet when you think of it, this is a very strange way of evaluating accomplishments: by comparing them to an innate ability to solve certain kinds of problems, as evaluated on a timed test. For the sake of argument, I'm assuming that the test is valid, and that the magic number is invariant, but of course those assumptions are also up for debate.


If we see the magic number as invariant, then we cannot make decisions about it. It is the least important factor to consider. Why bother changing something that cannot be changed?  Yet a lot of what we take to be intelligence is the cultivation of abilities.  So the complex symphonic composition is the result of someone who's learned orchestration, harmony, the structure of long-form composition, and also has creative ideas, a knack for melody, an original musical sensibility, a sense of herself in relation to music history (what's been done already?  what is left to do? how do my ideas fit in with all of this?). None of this is possessed by a musical genius who was born two days ago.      

Friday, June 9, 2017

Something will not get done

I have the Lorca book under consideration, a third book on Lorca begun, and then like an idiot I had to start this new project on translation. This means that something will not get done this year.  I know I should first work on the revisions of the book that is actually finished, to get that out of the way.

Then, logically, I should finish Lorca III.  I shouldn't have started this other project. It would take two or three of me to do all these things, not to mention that I should also publish my poetry in book form, etc... and do a translation. I would collaborate and have other people help me do these things, except that collaborative work is more labor intensive, not less.  I guess in an ideal world I would have a research assistant.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

James Baldwin

Thousands of such tracts were published during those years and it seems to me I had to read every single one of them; the color of my skin made me an expert. And so, when I got to Paris, I had to discharge all that, which was really the reason for my essay, “Everybody’s Protest Novel.” I was convinced then—and I still am—that those sort of books do nothing but bolster up an image. All of this had quite a bit to do with the direction I took as a writer, because it seemed to me that if I took the role of a victim then I was simply reassuring the defenders of the status quo; as long as I was a victim they could pity me and add a few more pennies to my home-relief check. Nothing would change in that way, I felt, and that essay was a beginning of my finding a new vocabulary and another point of view.
There was virtue signaling back in the day too. Here's how Baldwin responded, google the Paris Review Interview with James Baldwin for the context. See also the very funny essay "Everybody's Protest Novel" in which he skewers those social issue novels of the mid-century period.  

Good News

I got some good news about my book What Lorca Knew today, not definitive acceptance yet but two mostly positive readers reports that indicate that they will probably publish it (Routledge!).  Both say I am good and original and one has some very good suggestions; the other just says it is good.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Surrealist Veto

How could you effectively protest a speaker and not interfere with the ability of the speaker to speak?

Here are some ideas:

You get there early with large group of people, all wearing bowler hats.*  Your group fills the front rows.  Once the speaker is introduced, you all begin very quietly to sing "We Shall Overcome." Quietly singing, you file out of the auditorium one row at at time. The speaker completes his racist speech after the first 10 rows have been emptied. You have interfered a bit by delaying the speech and singing very quietly, but your opposition is symbolic. If you had enough in your group to fill the entire auditorium, so much the better.

You get there early with your group, fill as much of the auditorium as possible.  After the the speaker is introduced, you applaud sarcastically for 5-10 minutes, shouting words of praise.  Then you all take out your headphones, take off your bowlers, and listen to music while studying from your textbooks. When the speaker is done, you take off your headphones and applaud for another 10 minutes, delaying the Q and A for ten minutes. You ask all your questions in a foreign language. Or do them as knock-knock jokes or sarcastic questions: "What, in your opinion, is the most effective way of keeping black people in their place." Hand these out to your group in advance.  

If it is in a room with chairs not attached to the floor, turn them to face the back of the room.

Fill the front rows with couples kissing, both heterosexual and not.

Have some jugglers at the back of the auditorium doing tricks very quietly.

The idea is the following: protest with some amount of wit. You are not depriving the speaker of the right to speak, and someone who is there to listen will still be able to listen. You are not obliged to listen, or to listen seriously.  

Or, you could just listen and then in the Q and A put forward your best debaters.


*Why Bowler hats?  Because this is a surrealist protest; your are channeling bowler-clad men from René Magritte.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Virtue Signaling

I had never used this phrase before but it struck me that this is what I don't like in emails from the provost or chancellor.  I realize that this is part of their job description, but I just automatically delete, after reading the first few words, any message to the entire university community that is intended to verbally signal commitments to certain values. It doesn't make me feel warm and fuzzy inside to see these statements, and of course I'm not crazy about times when departments compete with one another to come up with statements of solidarity, pursuit of excellence, and so forth.

When my group of friends meet every week people start by rehearsing bad things Trump has done recently. How he is the worst ever, etc... It's not that I disagree, but come on, I know this is a social ritual and so does everyone else. And it doesn't happen to be my favorite ritual either. You won't find bumper stickers on my car.    

Right-wing virtue signaling is the same thing, except the causes are different: "life," "freedom," "the troops," "guns." Empty patriotic gestures and ritualistic affirmations of support for Israel.    

The opposite of virtue signaling is the deliberately transgressive shitting on virtues. That seems refreshing at times, doesn't it? W.C. Fields style.  What makes it refreshing is that we all react against manipulative virtue signaling even as we are doing it. Think of the children!  For anyone not old enough to know, Fields would say things like "Anyone who hates children and animals can't be all bad." We all know that the cute commercial with the happy family at McDonald's is manipulative, as morally bankrupt as the lite beer commercial with bikinis.       


Dame Alcohol and Dame Sex
are the dogs that wag me

Don Respectability and Mister Professionalism too
Lord Erudition

Madame Virtue Signaling stops by for her fee
but we don't pay it

I'd rather have Mademoiselles Shame and Guilt,
sororal twins, suck my dick

The worst, though, is Monsieur Ego
When Monsieur Self comes by, watch out!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Free Speech for the Weak and not the Strong

You often hear this argument: the speech of the weaker in society should be more protected than the speech of the strong.  So if you are powerful, privileged, etc.. your speech should be less protected.

There are a few things to consider here:

1) This means that someone, in order to be heard, must claim victim status. (The merits of the arguments aren't meaningful anymore.)  So you will find that even people belonging, ostensibly, to powerful, privileged, or influential groups, will start to claim that they are the true victims, once they figure out that that is the way to be heard.

2) In practical terms, the weak or underprivileged need freedom more, because they don't have power in other ways. Hence they have a vested interest in keeping freedom for everyone.

3) It will be the liberal professor, the one who often sympathizes with the less privileged, who will get in trouble with the censors first, before the hardcore racists. I'm sure people who have made these kind of "free speech ... but..." arguments have themselves found themselves censored, more than some conservative economics prof who just keeps his head down.

Self Interest

In the FIRE podcast with Ira Glasser (former executive director of ACLU) he tells an interesting story. The ACLU was trying to get some small political parties on the ballot in various states, and one party said:  yes, I understand why you are trying to get us on the ballot, but why do those other parties need to be in the lawsuit? Glasser says that everyone's interest in free speech is, in the first instance, an interest in their own free speech, not that of other people.

Consider the "heckler's veto."  This is when a speaker is shouted down and cannot give her speech. One way to think about it is to consider what it would mean if Martin Luther King came to your college and was shouted down by racist students. How would you feel about that? Someone might answer: "that's different. The heckler's veto is only legitimate if the speaker being heckled is a bad guy." But who gets to decide? Ultimately, it's not the students, but the administration.    

Glasser makes the point that the first use of campaign finance restrictions was against some old radicals who put an ad in the New York Times to denounce Nixon's bombing of Cambodia.  In other words, once you authorize censorship, then you have no way of ensuring that the "good guys" won't be censured too.

That's why free speech has to be a content-neutral principle.  It does no good if it only protects the speech that someone in power happens to like at any given time.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Noche oscura

I found an amazing translation of "La noche oscura del alma" without really looking: I was reading something else, a book I had from the Lorca project, and there it was! And I knew it was there, but didn't know that I knew until I saw it.  I'm not going to reveal it yet, because I have to save something for the published book.    

Friday, June 2, 2017

Errand boy of the gods

There's something you're not enjoying about being

errand boy of the gods

a wall knocked out between two rooms

abolishes both rooms, even in memory

that salty broth you thought you'd always liked.


I've spent some time with Merton. I think I had a false idea of him, to the extent I had any idea at all, because I associated him with pacifisms, civil rights, and things like that, and thought of him as some kind of hip poet-monk. He was that, I'm sure too, and his reaching out to Asian religious traditions is probably interesting.  

 In his book on St. John of the Cross, The Ascent to Truth, punished in 1951, he sounds a lot like Pope John Paul II on the same figure, in the future Pope's 1949 treatise: both emphasize the Thomistic, rational and orthodox quality of Saint John and his value to protect against "false mysticism."

Although they are both poets, neither approaches San Juan as a poet in the least. Merton's first book of poetry is called Strange Islands, a phrase from the CE (repeated twice.) So that's next on my list of things to read.    

Original Sin

Let's say a basic capacity of the human mind is to find fault with itself. A squirrel does not awaken in the morning and wonder how to be a better squirrel, or more of a squirrel, because all squirrels are basically perfect squirrels already. So to explain this anomalous fact about humans, we have a myth like "original sin." (Well, there is a myth, first, and then its interpretation.) But we can see that the purpose of the myth is to explain why there is something wrong with us, but the real feature we need to explain is not why there something wrong, but why we think there is in the first place. Why do we have a capacity to find fault with ourselves?  The oak tree presumably lacks that feature.

Another approach would be to unlearn the habit of fault finding, or to reduce it to its most banal dimension, where any observation of the self would be free from shame and guilt. Self-acceptance feels utterly foreign to me, because I am attached to certain negative ideas. These ideas are, even, a source of reassurance.  To renounce them would be to accept defeat.    

Thursday, June 1, 2017


I've found a third version of the stanza I quoted a while back, by John Frederick Nims of San Juan:  

Unready yet to mend
the havoc in this heart--so quick to break it?
Possess and not intend
ever to take it?
Have it by force and forceably forsake it? (1959)

Seeing you've wounded, dear,
this heart of mine, why never stoop to mend it?
Steal and yet leave it here?
By halves a bandit,
neither entirely take it nor unhand it? (1968)

And wounds to show. You'd cleave
clean to the heart, and never think of healing?
Steal it, and when you leave
leave it? What sort of dealing
to steal and never keep, and yet keep stealing?  (1979)

I cannot say there is any improvement from version to version.  Probably the '68 is the best of the three and the '79 the worst.  He retains very little in each successive version, not even the rhymes.

He must have been dissatisfied with the first two, since he tried a third version. I think I would not know what any of these versions is supposed to say without the original to guide me:  Why, since you wounded my heart, didn't you heal it? And since you robbed it from me, why did you leave it, and not take the robbery that you robbed? The antitheses are crisp in the original text.

The '68, though is an interesting edition because it has a preface by Robert Graves that cites Lorca!  

Barnstone is rather flat in the translation of this same stanza:

Why do you wound my heart
and then refuse to heal it?
And since you took it from me,
why do you leave it now,
abandoning the thing you robbed?


I'm always finding poems I should have known about before publishing the Lorca book.  An elegy for Lorca by Thomas Merton starts like this:  

Where the white bridge rears up its stamping arches 
 Proud as a colt across the clatter of the shallow river, 
The sharp guitars 
Have never forgotten your name. 

Stages of research

1. Read stuff and think about it.

2. Write down ideas.

3. Shape written down ideas into prose. Keep revising prose.

4. Document everything read and cited.

5. Publish.

For research days, I like to use the afternoon for 1. The next day morning I will write down ideas I got the day before, or shape written down ideas into finished prose, or revise.  Everything is basically reading, thinking, writing, and documenting. That's all there is to it.  It sounds easy this way, but nothing will happen if you don't do steps 1 and 2.  


I'm no sanjuanista, and I won't contribute anything to our knowledge of his poetry or theology. I have no interest in resolving controversies about how best to interpret his work, etc... or in contributing more to the commentary on the commentaries. But I can always find new things in the reception. Pope John Paul II defrocked the poet-priest Ernesto Cardenal, for being in the Sandinista govt. The interesting thing is that both men were devotés of San Juan de la Cruz. These kind of minor anecdotes are not what I'm about, but I think if they are accumulated they start to form patterns. For example: poets interested in the Saint, but for his mysticism and decidedly not his poetry. If we count Wojtyla as poet...