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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, December 31, 2019


On the one hand, I want to be badass about learning a lot of piano music and writing a lot of pages on the book. On the other hand, I want to have a feeling of self-compassion toward myself, forgiving all.  These sound like contradictory goals, but then again, does beating myself up make me better at anything?

For example, I am a terrible piano player and a very, very good literary critic (let's say!).  But the attitude I take toward these two activities is very similar. The frustrations and small triumphs I feel produce the the same variety of emotions, whatever the activity is. If you begin to play the piano, you will likely be terrible at it for a while, so the inability to accept that fact will deter many people from even starting. Either they suspect, rightly, that they will be terrible, or they start out and realize that they have to start out from that place of utter incompetence, and aren't very accepting of that situation. By the same token, being very, very good at something just means that the frustrations will be of a different, and more advanced sort.

So the idea of being good at something, or terrible at it, is kind of meaningless, at the phenomenological level of doing the activities from the inside, what they feel like to you. It's ok to know you are horrible at something, but in a humorous, constructive way.

 I am horrible at meditating, I could think, but I've gained these insights from my practice, so maybe I'm not so horrible after all.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Edmund Wilson

I'm reading Axel's Castle.  The surprising thing is that he never uses the term modernism, in a book published in 1931, and dealing with Yeats, Valery, Proust, Joyce, and Stein. So modernism was not (yet) the term for this literary movement the Wilson describes, while modernism was still going on. There is an appendix, a memoir of Dada by Tzara, that had a substantial impact on me when I first read it around 1975. So the avant-garde seemed to exist for Wilson, but as an appendix.

I'm sure modern was used, by Laura Riding for example, and I think modernist too around this time. It would be useful to track it down.

Monday, December 23, 2019

In which I continue to be happy

The Lorca / music project opened up to me a whole world of music I was barely if at all aware of. Nono, Revueltas, Mompou. And to a whole world of research.  A lot of the music / poetry books are very recent, like Englund on Celan, Abbott on Baudelaire. This is an exciting time to be in this field. It is also the culmination of my own career (to date).

Someone should do a book like this on Wm. Blake, I'm thinking.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

January Goals

January goals:

Practice 5 standards I already know somewhat.

Finish intro to Lorca IV.

Record book I of Música callada.



Practice 5 standards.

Add one more standard: "All the things you are."

Begin work on Mompou book II.


Later in the year:  other standards

"There will never be another you"
"Body and Soul"
"Giant Steps"

1 more, to be determined...

If I can discipline myself to learn only ten standards, then I will know those.  If I try to learn 20, I won't even learn the first 10.

Saturday, December 21, 2019


I don't at all disdain revision. I frequently start a writing session by going over what I have written so far, on the chapter, and make minor tweaks. If I find a sentence I don't like, or that doesn't express an idea in the way I want it to sound, I rewrite it. If it looks like I've written a paragraph too quickly, or I need to develop a sub-idea in that paragraph, in a paragraph of its own, then I will do that.

I make an effort not to repeat words. I will see if I've used a word more than once in a paragraph, or twice on a page. Of course, my current book has LORCA LORCA MUSIC MUSIC LORCA MUSIC LORCA... I can't quite avoid that. But I do attempt to take out a few of those too.

What I object to in the idea that nobody can write a decent first draft, though, is that when pen and ink were expensive and cumbersome to use, people, not even professional writers, wrote fluent letters with few if any blot-outs. They just did. An ordinary college student can write an email with normal grammar and it is fine. Anne Lammott could presumably write a spontaneous email to her editor and not revise it, and it wouldn't be shitty as a piece of writing.

Everyone should be able to compose mediocre prose on cue. A good writer will produce first drafts that are good. A superb writer, first drafts that are a bit better than good.


I don't revise poems, because they tend to occur to me whole.  I don't like to make my poems sound "written." If they are over-written, even worse.

5 Standards

For my 2020 goal of learning 10 standards, I will start with 5 I already know to some extent.

Rhythm Changes
Bemsha Swing
One Note Samba
Satin Doll
Autumn Leaves

I will practice those in January, then I will go on to 5 others that I don't know as well.  TBD....

Thursday, December 19, 2019

A Dirty Secret

The dirty secret of productivity is that you only need an hour a day on writing. It is almost impossible to spend an hour a day writing and not produce 200 words. 200 x 365 equal the length of a scholarly monograph. Since nobody writes a book a year, this means that nobody is doing this all the time, or even a considerable amount.  

Now you don't want to be doing this all the time, only when you want to be writing a book. You need time to do some research on what you are interested in, or simply rest between projects. Some projects won't work out, of course, and life gets in the way.

The secret is consistency; that's why the Seinfeld chain works so well. Two books that took 10 years each to write, I did without the Seinfeld chain. The one that I wrote in a year, well, you know how I did that.

When you wrote yesterday and the day before, and the day before that, then you wake up today full of ideas and you immediately write them down in your book manuscript. If you didn't write in the last month, it will take some time to get back into it. Working through weekends and holidays is easy, because it is just an hour. You never get burned out even; you just live the project all the time.  Taking every Friday and writing seven hours doesn't work, because I can't write for seven hours at a stretch.

It is dumb not to do this during a sabbatical, but it is harder to do, because you aren't at a desk. Writing while teaching is actually brilliant, because the writing fits into the daily schedule of work. '

I am setting an absurd goal: to write the book in 2020 and to learn all 28 of the MC by Mompou and come up with a decent recording of them.  I also want to learn 10 jazz standards to a point where I an improvise on them. Not only that, but those are my only goals for the year. There is nothing else. Later on, I will blog on which standards I want to learn. I've learned that goals should be ambitious yet realistic, and finite in time.


I sometimes view myself as underutilized by the University. I could do so much more. And yet my salary is low too... But instead of focussing on the salary, I need to focus on how my talents can be used, which means looking beyond my employer. I shouldn't worry about the money part of the equation, but on the utilization of talent part. Of course, everything we do in this respect is unpaid labor, or too sporadic. I think I just have to not care, and do more, and see what happens. It can't be bad.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

I Read Myself

Once in a while I go back and read posts written several years ago. I just go to my stats and see what older posts have gotten some hits, and see what the posts are. I like this because I have forgotten writing these things. Sometimes these posts are good, but I can see how good they are from the outside, having forgotten them.

The sabbatical continues

Lorca: The Musical Imagination belongs to a select genre of studies of the musical legacies of major literary figures. Books of this type are few in number, in part because most writers—even canonical ones—have not inspired enough music to justify an entire monograph. What is more, apart from a few older works on Shakespeare, Goethe, and Schiller, the genre is of relatively recent vintage, arising out of the interdisciplinary field of “word and music studies” beginning in the latter decades of the twentieth century. Typically, such books will be categorized in the Library of Congress system under subject headings like “Baudelaire, Charles—musical settings—history and criticism.” 
Recent books—some monographs and others edited collections—have been devoted to the musical afterlives of Baudelaire, Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Paul Celan, and Samuel Beckett—a group including only writers of great literary prestige. Samuel Beckett and Music (1998), edited by Mary Bryden, includes treatment of various aspects of Beckett’s involvement in music and collaboration with composers. Walt Whitman and Modern Music: War, Desire, and the Trials of Nationhood (2000) edited by Lawrence Kramer, is oriented toward issues of national formation. In Still Sounds: In and Around the Poetry of Paul Celan, Axel Englund focuses on Celan’s deep ambivalence toward “musicality,” examining the complex metaphorical relations between music and poet). In Baudelaire in Song (2018), Helen Abbott is more interested in prosody and the technical details of text setting. She includes, for example, charts about how composers have treated the mute vowel sound e
These volumes do not all employ the same methodologies, nor do they address identical issues. I take this variety of approaches to mean that the critical problems at issue in musical adaptations will depend upon who the writer being studied, how he or she has been set to music, and the proclivities of the interpreters. My own approach to musical settings of the work of Lorca is not directed to musicologists, but to readers of literature with an interest in music. To this end, I will pay close attention to the music itself, but without the sort of technical details that might alienate a large proportion of my potential readers. Since I am an amateur jazz pianist and songwriter rather than a trained musicologist, I am not tempted by such an approach anyway. My main concern, rather, is with the various meanings this music has acquired in its creation, performance, and reception.
In this book I will treat the meaning of a piece of music as contextual. In simplistic terms, I will assume that a piece of music means exactly what the listener thinks it does. Musical meaning is not the province of professional interpreters, but of all listeners. In this respect, at least, musical meaning is somewhat analogous to the concept meaning in literary theory. In vocal music, musical meanings will be closely tied to verbal ones.  Just as the title of a purely abstract painting might strongly condition our interpretation it, the lyrics of a song provide the context for interpreting the song as a whole. There is certain asymmetry, then, between musical and verbal meanings: music is emotionally powerful but semantically diffuse; words have more definite meanings, even when language itself is considered a less artistically expressive medium music.
Discussions of the meaning of music tend to be literary in nature, in part because they take place in a verbal medium. The remark sometimes falsely attributed to Frank Zappa that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture” ignores the fact that language is capable of discoursing about anything at all. From this perspective, the idea that music is ineffable—untranslatable by verbal means—is an unpromising point of departure. This does not mean that a verbal description or interpretation can stand in for a piece of music, or that music is paraphrasable. What is does mean is that we use language to discuss our interpretations of music. This effect is even stronger, of course, when the music in question is already explicitly linked to a work of literature: in interpreting musical meaning, we tend to turn first to the words of the song or to the narrative structure of the opera. The process, then, involves the interpretation, in language, of the musical interpretation of another verbal object, such as a poem or play.    
A focus on the interactions between musical and poetic meanings can shed light on the cultural reception of a poet, like Lorca, who has inspired music in a wide variety of contexts. In cases where a poet has not inspired very much music, the insight gained into his or her reception might be relatively meager. With Lorca, however, there is a large enough corpus to allow for generalizations about the larger patterns of resonance in his musical afterlife—broader tendencies that reveal why Lorca is such a pivotal figure, not just in Spanish literature, but also in other cultural contexts. What, then, are the issues at stake in Lorca’s musical legacy? Lorca, I will argue, is an object of desire for musicians precisely because of his relation to forms of Spanish vernacular music that have long been enveloped in a mystique. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The sabbatical begins

Chapter 1
Lorca: The Musical Imagination
This is not a book about Federico García Lorca’s own extensive musical activities, but about the many works of music he has inspired after his political assassination, in 1936, at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. I have devoted two previous volumes, Apocryphal Lorca (2009) and Lorca’s Legacy (2019), to the literary and cultural legacy of this central figure of modern Spanish literature. A study of his musical influence, in my view, is a logical extension of these other projects. In fact, the critical problems of interest to me here are similar, even when the materials and methodologies might vary.  
Like translations and other forms of creative adaptation, musical settings set into motion new meanings in new contexts of reception. As a consequence, they tell us about what the work of Lorca has meant to a wide variety of people across the globe, over the span of more than eighty years. The premise of almost all of my work on Lorca has been that creative adaptations are informationally rich, providing insights into his reception that would not otherwise be available. Jerome McGann has called this mode of interpretation “performative,” contrasting it with more conventional academic reading practices: “Within that general field of dynamic reflection we might usefully distinguish two kinds of interpretive action: a mode oriented in performative models, of which translation and parody are perhaps the master types, and a mode oriented in scholarship, which is our customary exemplar of interpretation” (137).  
This perspective differs from traditional views of a translation—for example—as a simply a  reproduction of content, to should be judged by its fidelity to the original. What is significant about translation, surely, is the new information it releases, not the degree to which it corresponds (or fails to correspond) with the original. I also believe that my work on Lorca’s reception has led to new insights about “Lorca himself.” In other words, studying his work indirectly, through its subsequent refractions, has generated ideas about his work that would otherwise not have occurred to me. What is more, creative adaptations like translations, parodies, film adaptations, theatrical performances, and musical settings all have an inherent vibrancy lacking in academic literary criticism. Writers who live on through these new acts of creation remain relevant in a way that doesn’t occur through scholarly exegesis alone. While the notion of the literary canon is usually discussed only in the context of academic teaching and scholarship, hypercanonical figures live on in numerous other ways outside the school and university.          
Why music? This is a logical object of study because of Lorca’s own musicianship, because of the inherent musicality of its poetry, poetics, and drama, and because of the abundance of music indebted to him. A large quantity of available material, in and of itself, is not sufficient justification for a work of scholarship. Yet surely it is striking that Lorca is the twentieth-century poet most frequently set to music, in both classical and vernacular idioms and in a wide variety of geographical settings—in Spain, other parts of Europe, and the Americas. In fact, he has few if any close rivals in this respect. There is no other modern poet, for example, who has a strong presence in the world of classical music and also in a vernacular style like flamenco. Clearly, then, it is necessary to explain why Lorca has been an extremely attractive figure for musicians around the world. At some point the sheer quantity of materials produces a qualitative effect, making Lorca a kind of point of reference or touchstone in a way only a few other poets have been. 
Lorca: The Musical Imagination belongs to a select genre of studies of the musical legacies of major literary figures. Books of this type are few in number, in part because most writers—even canonical ones—have not inspired enough music to justify an entire monograph. What is more, apart from a few older works on Shakespeare, Goethe, and Schiller, the genre is of relatively recent vintage, arising out of the interdisciplinary field of “word and music studies” beginning in the latter decades of the twentieth century. Typically, such books will be categorized in the Library of Congress system under subject headings like “Baudelaire, Charles—musical settings—history and criticism.” 
Recent books—some monographs and others edited collections—have been devoted to the musical afterlives of Baudelaire, Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Paul Celan, and Samuel Beckett—a group including only writers of great literary prestige. These volumes do not all employ the same methodologies, nor do they address identical issues. 

Monday, December 16, 2019

An extreme view

"The moment the composer begins to create the musical verses of his song, he destroys our appreciation of the poem as poetry, and substitutes an appreciation of his music as song. This is true of even such exactly corresponding pattern of poetry and music as the endlessly repeated verses of a folk song. In fact, it is in my opinion the absolute of the song as a genre. ... As soon as we sing any poetry to a recognizable melody we have at that instance left the art of poetry for the art of music."

Michael Tippett, "Conclusion" to A History of Song, ed. Denis Stevens.

I disagree, but I am glad to have a view stated like this by a composer. The main dichotomy is between a view of song as song, a unified art form, and song as a hybrid; in the latter view, the music usually comes after and is destructive of poetic value, or at least antagonistic toward it.

Usually vernacular traditions are more geared toward fusion, and classical traditions more toward hybrid views. But Tippett is uncompromising.

Elegant signposting

Signposting, though I do not like it much for my own writing, can be artful. When it is inelegant, it stops the flow of the paper and reveals a lack of organization, rather than a tightly marshaled argument. When it works well, it is obvious but at the same time unobtrusive; it doesn't impede the progress of the central line of reasoning.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019


The next step if finding a program that spits out the score of what I play.  I discovered in garage band that it will give you the notation of what you played, but with a catch. You have to play exactly with the measure lines and with a very precise intentionality to the note values--no rubato, no fermata.  My scores looked bizarre, with all the "ones" in funny places in the measure and funky sixteenth note rests and ties in funny places (not funky in the musical sense.) On my recordings of two classical pieces, let's just say the recording looked nothing like the original score. It would be like having an idiot transcribe your speech, and not because I played them incorrectly. Nobody in their right mind would want to read music written in this way. It is frustrating but hilariously funny at the same time.

Still, it is progress. If garage band does it, then other DAWs will as well, probably with better luck. I could also play with a metronome and make my notes line up mechanically, just for the purposes of having legible scores. Notating software programs are a nightmare.

It is odd that you can download a video easily into blogger, just a simple one recorded on your phone, but not a purely audio file, without a lot of complication.

S****y drafts

Here is a nice take on my take on shitty first drafts.  I like the way Thomas frames my words and makes me look smart.

I was citing something from Jerome McGan in my introduction:

“Within that general field of dynamic reflection we might usefully distinguish two kinds of interpretive action: a mode oriented in performative models, of which translation and parody are perhaps the master types, and a mode oriented in scholarship, which is our customary exemplar of interpretation” (The Scholar's Art 137).  

I really like what this quote says, but I don't particularly like it from a prose standpoint. I'm sure it is the way he wants it to sound, because he is a guy who knows what he wants. It is not an accident. But if I wrote it I would take out some of the qualifiers and hedges to make it sound less clunky. Anyway, when Thomas cites me, I am glad that my own prose holds up to his. You can cite someone who writes worse than you do; if you cite someone who writes a whole lot better, then watch out!  I first experienced this in grad school, where I quoted something by Jonathan Culler and the prof. noted how much more gracefully I was writing compared to him.  Of course, this is relative to one's own taste. The clunky style is probably just a matter of comfort, like wearing an overcoat two sizes too big. 

Listening Without Ego

When I listen to my recordings without ego, this means that I am listening for what I like and do not like. If something turns out nice, and I like it, that is good. If things are not to my liking, then I make a note of that too. I hear myself overemphasizing something, being too much on top of the beat, rushing through a melodic phrase rather than giving it its full value. The voicings could be muddy, with too much bass.  Being a good musician is being able to listen for all of this.

The things I liked were some good voicings that sounded smooth and sweet, some melodic lines; the overall feel of things at times. The main thing is that it is my own taste that is the guide. I can hear something and say it is to my taste or not. The ego is out of the way in that I don't have to get upset or over-elated about what I hear. I can just try to keep the good stuff and not as much of the things I dislike.  I hear a lot of players much better than I am who are not to my particular taste.


I actually like playing scales.  There is a satisfaction in knowing all of them and improvement is very rapid. I want to be able to play all the major scales and then some other modes, like dominant lydian in a few keys. I think it will improve both my jazz and classical playing.

Monday, December 9, 2019


I watched some youtube videos to see how to connect my keyboard to my computer.  It seemed complicated. Then I read the manual and it just said use a USB cable. I was about to go and buy one when I remembered that I had one hooked up to my printer. I took that off and hooked up my keyboard, and it worked. I recorded myself using "garage band" and the sound was not that of my own keyboard, but of this program's "steinway grand." It sounds pretty good. I recorded a few songs and they sound fine. I didn't even have to do multiple takes. What was in my brain pretty much came out the way I wanted it to. There are some minor imperfections, but I don't really care as long as the overall concept comes through.

So something I thought of as difficult turned out not to be so. I had been getting in my own way.

One thing is a kind of dumb self-doubt. We worry so much about being good enough, but that isn't usually even the question.  I read a book by McClure and was thinking, this is not at all my cup of tea, but I'm sure that this opinion is largely beside the point for McClure himself. Not only would he not care about my opinion, but he really shouldn't care. Where would it get him to know that from a mentality like mine, his work cannot really fully speak. He already knows this, not because of me, but because many people probably don't dig it and writing for them would be pointless.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Dept politics

I can't blog about it in detail because I do not blog anonymously, but my department is going through a political crisis now. There was a particularly contentious meeting I walked out of the other day. The feeling among some is that a colleague should be shamed and publicly ostracized. I do not believe this is a good idea moving forward. This will not be a punishment for this colleague, as people think, but for the group as a whole, which will no longer be able to function collectively.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Patterns of Resonance

I post more when I am working more steadily on research because I am at my computer and generating ideas. Coming up with one idea in a day is actually quite good. A few days ago I came up with the phrase "patterns of resonance," by which I mean tendencies traversing a large number of literary works.

Today I thought of something I haven't been able to name yet, but it is the extra something emerging from a text in its musical setting. The "value added." This is analogous to what occurs in the "domestic residue" (Venuti) of a translation. I got the image in my mind of a dried flower re-releasing its aroma.


A person in my circle of acquaintances is an artist. Up to a certain point, I hadn't had many one on one conversations with him, but on one occasion I started to talk to him about literature. He knew some of the beat writers from having been close to Wm. Burroughs who lived in Lawrence, and has read a whole lot of poetry by Ed Dorn or Robt. Creeley, what have you. The other people in our group don't really have this kind of interest, so it is kind of interesting that I can talk to WP about this stuff.  Yesterday he brought me some very rare books from the period of American lit.  We talked about Ted Berrigan too.


Today I repeated the exercise of singing the note at the middle of my range first thing in the morning. It was F#3 this time. It is never very far from that G3. !


When I am working on a book I regain that feeling of having something to say, of not being a bum. I have that utter self-confidence I once had, and lost, and regained again, and lost....


Musical Meaning

I think musical meaning is contextual.  It is meaning for someone particular at a particular time. The meaning of a piece of music is whatever the listener says it is, simplistically speaking. [This is true even if we have an internationalist view of meaning: we still have to posit a listener reconstructing an intention. It still has to be a meaning for someone.] It is pointless to invest too much in one's own interpretations, or to argue that others' interpretations are not valid ones.

The meaning of music directly tied to a literary text will be an extension of the meaning of the text. In other words, since literary meanings are much more directly semantic, they will strongly condition the reception of the musical meaning, providing a set of cues. We can talk about this musical meaning in tension with the meaning of the words of the text, but in that case we will talk about the setting as being inappropriate to the text, not vice-versa.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Other degrees of canonicity

Being "best of category" or best-known representative of a national literature.  Cervantes for Spain. Shakespeare. Goethe, Dante. Or of a century: Lorca for twentieth century Spain.

Celan, for being the best-known European poet of post-war period. Baudelaire for being, well, Baudelaire.

The founders of disciplines or whole schools of literature. Borges.

My Memory

A few days ago I began to read a novel by Paul Bowles that I picked up at a used bookstore. In the prologue, an American man identified only by his last name is at the house of some Moroccans he knows well, in Fez. It is the mid-fifties of the last century. It is midnight and his hosts insists on hiring him a guide to get back to his hotel. There is an argument here, because he doesn't think he needs a guide, but they insist and hire a Berber man, paying him in advance. The streets are very dark and they take a circuitous route. Everything is focalized through the American man's consciousness, but in third person. He tries to take out a flashlight, but the Berber guide thinks it makes up too much noise. There is a discussion of the "Moslem mind" and two perspectives, one minoritizing and one universalizing. The minoritizing perspective is that Westerners will never understand the complications of the Eastern mind. The universalizing perspective is that people are the same everywhere, with just different rituals and gestures. The narrator refers to the minoritizing perspective as hypocritical. There is reference to another Western man, "Moss," who is English. There is a long discussion of how the American man can find his way in the dark very easily through a process almost like echolation, by listening to the echoes of own footprints and to the sound of water flowing in the river. There is obviously something different about tonight, when the city is darker than usual. There is an air of danger here, because of the darkness and what seems the excessive paranoia of the guard.

They get to the hotel. The Berber disappears as the hotel watchman appears quicker than usual. The watchman tells a lie, saying that he wasn't waiting close to the door. There is a narrative digression about lying.  Moss summons the American to his room, and when the door opens, there is another stranger there along with Moss... He wishes he hadn't come to Moss's room.  


I read this text carefully, reading the first paragraphs of the book several times and reflecting on everything I read, looking for tropes that I might recognize from other literary works. In short, I read it like a professor. Now I could come in to a class and teach this text easily, without even looking at a it, because I retained all of it. This is just a summary of some important things, but I remember more than this. I would have to look up again the proper names, (Denham?) which have escaped me, except for "Moss." I could do the same with a text of literary theory.  Things jump out at me and I take them to be significant.  

The Experiment Continues

I wake up in morning and sing a pitch that I think is smack dab in the middle of my range. It is usually a G3 or a half or whole step off from that. Today I tried is a different way: in the shower of thought of One-Note Samba, which starts on F3. I then sang the first note into my tuner, and it was an F3. The tuner didn't even tell me to tune it up or down. It helps that that note is only a whole step down from the G, and that I often hit that G when I think of the magical middle note. If I think of the first note of All the Things You Are that will be Ab. The first note of Bemsha Swing will be G.

So the experiment is this. For someone who doesn't have perfect pitch, can you train yourself to come up with pitches like this out of the blue? Most people will start to sing a song they have heard many times on or about the pitch where it actually starts, because it is simply more likely than any other pitch, if they don't think about it too much.

If I could reliably hit the G, then I could sing up the G scale to C, etc....

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

3 degrees of canonicity

1. Inclusion on reading lists and academic curricula.

2. The existence of a critical industry devoted to this figure. Is there a Wallace Stevens society? If so, then he is probably a canonical writer. This critical industry will document everything about the writer, life and works.

3. The third modality is creative afterlife. includes performances, translations, and adaptations. A canonical playwright is one whose works are staged. A canonical composer is performed by musicians. Canonical authors are parodied or translated into other languages. And, what concerns me in my present work, some of them inspire music settings

A lot of the secondary literature on the canon only talks about (1). [!]. I think (2) and (3) are more significant, because they are the mark of writers who aren't merely included in a canon nominally but are hypercanonical.

This distinction also helps me clarify my own relation to Lorca. I am interested in (3) but have little wish to be part of (2) in its documentary aspects.


I've realized that the Seinfeld chain only works with a physical calendar. You have to have that physical object to keep yourself accountable. It doesn't work just to say that you will work most days. So I am starting a new chain now. I am on my second day, looking forward to keeping it going through the end of the semester and the sabbatical, etc...

A normal person would wait until the end of the semester, and perhaps after the New Year.  But I am not a normal person.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Dream of Nonnos

In my dream I saw Stan at the Merc. I asked him if he liked my contribution to the Nonnos translation, and he said "Not very much." I said "We'll talk later." When I woke up I realized that it was a dream and felt relieved. Maybe Stan will not dislike my translation.

I get good stuff in the mail

Monday, December 2, 2019

The other part of the routine

The other part of the practice routine is to stop once the timer rings. You can finish the musical phrase or even the piece if you are close to the end, but don't keep working on it once the time is up.

The reason is to keep the practice segments ultra-concentrated. The idea is to see gradual learning over the course of weeks or months.

Sunday, December 1, 2019


Here's a practice routine I have. I set the timer for 10 minutes, and practice one tune. I have a list of 9 tunes and I play all of them  Then for another 10 minutes I play another, random tune, a different one every day. This is 100 minutes. I can also halve it and have a 50 minute day. It doesn't have to be all at once, I can return to the piano throughout the day. What is important is that concentration must remain on the same tune for the entire five or ten minutes.

The tunes vary in difficulty and also in how well I know them. I figure that I could be doing some combination of three types of learning:  learning (for the first time), solidifying, or deepening knowledge. Thus it doesn't matter where on the spectrum a given tune is. If I don't know it well, then I am learning it; if I do, then I am deepening my knowledge of it. I have to be careful that I don't get stuck playing something the same way every time, solidifying when I should be deepening instead.  

5 or 10 minutes is enough to learn, better, one part of a tune, to develop some new improv ideas about it, or to solidify some parts of it. If I don't know the tune at all, it is enough time to play through the melody several times, or to get down a four-bar phrase with the chords.

If this works correctly, then I will have repertory of 9 standards. I could modify the routine by subbing out a tune for another one. The tenth tune is actually the most important part of this, because that allows me to avoid boredom, practice sight-reading, and to gradually expand my knowledge.

The tunes are these

One note samba
Rhythm changes in Bb
All of me
Mr. PC
Giant Steps
Autumn Leaves
Bemsha Swing
All the things you are
Satin Doll

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Landscape dreams

In dreams the physical landscape doesn't have to be stable. Yesterday, for example, a field where people were launching large model airplanes caught fire and I could put it out by rolling up part of a rug that was inside a building I was in. We had to evacuate, but weren't sure of where the fire was.

The mind forges the dream landscape out of its own imagination. In real life the world takes care of its own consistency: the mind doesn't have to worry about the consistency of everything. So much of the spatial and narrative incoherence of dreams comes from this amorphous quality of what is generated by unconscious thought without real life constraints of time and space. We think of this quality as mysterious, but it is the product simply of the lack of constraint. The mind is not constructing a place for the dream body will exist in geometric terms, but according to the dictates of phenomenological reality.

The End of Diversity

A video a student showed in class for a presentation went from biological sex, to other factors (gender expression, sexual orientation), then deconstructed all the binaries of the original four categories, and finally reached the conclusion that there were as many possibilities as people on the planet: every person has a unique sexuality. What promises to be infinite diversity, then, ends up being the end of diversity, since you can no longer find two people alike. This means that any group of 10 people chosen at random is as "diverse" as any other. This was not meant to be a reductio ad absurdum, but it ended up like that. If everyone is equally queer, then it turns out nobody is.

It would be a bit like an analytical tool so fine that it ends up being not a surgeon's scalpel but a blender.

Without the original binary of biological sex, nothing else makes any sense. For example, being a Lesbian means being attracted to ... what exactly? We can't say if we don't have a concept of being or not being a woman. The proliferation of categories seems promising, but then ends up destroying any coherent thought.

Monday, November 25, 2019

some jokes

Kierkegaard tells of this one:  A man taking a walk sees a sign in a store: "We press pants." He goes home gets his pants and brings them there and they look at him quizzically.  He wants his pants pressed.  They tell him, no: "We sell the sign."


"My husband and I decided we don't want children.

We are going to tell them tomorrow after school."


Ben is pacing the house. His wife asks him why.  "I owe Saul $20,000 dollars, The note comes due tomorrow and I can't pay him."

 His wife calls Saul:  "Ben can't pay you the money he owes you. Maybe you should be pacing the house instead of him."


What composers do like?  I'm thinking of ones that might be relatively obscure. I'm not much interested in whether you like Bach or Haydn or Stravinsky.

The reason I'm asking is that I sometimes discover a new-to-me composer and wonder why nobody told me about them before. Here is your chance to tell me.  I'm currently delving into the music of Paul Bowles, but I have discovered Mompou within the last few years as well. I'm thinking of people of that level of fame, but not of composers who are obscure for very good reasons.


Altogether, Bowles created 150 original musical compositions. In 1943 his zarzuela The Wind Remains, based on a surrealist tragicomedy by Lorca, received its premiere at MOMA in New York, with choreography by Merce Cunningham and Leonard Bernstein conducting. Bowles also composed the music for a ballet based on Verlaine's poem Colloque Sentimental with sets by Salvador Dali. Commented Newsweek: "Paul Bowles's beautiful score was wrecked by Dali's usual outlandish weirdness."

The Untuning of the Sky (1961)

This book by John Hollander, who was also a well-regarded poet back in the day, was one I read and then didn't look at for several decades. It was a dissertation at the U of Indiana. The thesis of the book is this:

"From the canonical Medieval Christian view that all actual human music bears a definite relation to the eternal, abstract (and inaudible) 'music' of universal order, to the completely de-Christianized, use of such notions in late seventeenth-century as decorative metaphor and mere turns of wit, a gradual process of disconnection between abstract musical terminology and concrete practical considerations of actual vocal and instrumental music occurs." (19).

Note the richness and specificity of the thesis. This is something that needs a book to document, not the kind of thesis one would expect in a 6,000 word article. The historical scope is broad, and requires knowledge of intellectual history, British poetry of the periods involved, and music, both in its actual forms and in what Hollander calls the "musical thought" or "ideology."

I recommend, too, another book by JH on The Figure of Echo.

I had remembered this idea in vague terms. What interests me here specifically is the transition from musicality as a profound trope to a weaker one, described as "decorative metaphor and mere turns of wit." Yet with romanticism and symbolism music becomes, again, a deep metaphor, not a decorative one. A retuning of the skies, but without the medieval belief in the literal "music of the spheres"?

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Master's Tools

You can, in fact, dismantle the master's house with the master's tools (Audre Lorde). Tools do not know whose they are, so that if you break into the master's toolshed and steal his chain saw, it will in fact do as much damage to his house as if it were YOUR chain saw.

So this is an example of a metaphor that seems to work at the metaphorical level, without being valid at the literal level. It "works" in the sense that people assent to it, or don't question its logic. It sounds good if you don't really think about it.

But then the question is whether it works at the metaphorical level either? In other words, if the master's tools are rhetorical or discursive devices, etc..., or other things that are not tools in the physical sense, why can't those tools be used in ways against the master's interests?  I'm asking because I've always wondered why this was considered to be a good slogan. Isn't the most fundamental characteristic of a tool that it can be used in ways independent of the user's positionality?

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Atxaga on the premodern

Atxaga notes, in an interview I played for my class the other day, that in premodern regions of the world like his mythical Obaba people do not use psychological metalanguage to describe themselves or each other. To talk about their feelings they use metaphors or natural images, or fantasmas, but don't analyze them as such, picking them apart or using psychological / psychiatric language. They are essentially pre-Hamlet in their interiority. I started to think about this once while teaching Unamuno's Abel Sánchez and Lorca's Bodas de sangre in the same semester. Unamuno is meta-psychological, in that characters analyze themselves and others without cease. Lorca is not. There are no abstract concepts in his work.

Three Musicalities

Three meanings of musicality in relation to poetry:

1) Music is a privileged metaphor for poetry itself. This metaphorical function exists in weak and strong forms. The weak form is mere conventional usage, as in references to singing and song that aren't really meant to suggest anything deeper. The strong form sees more profound connections based on the inner kinship between poetry and music. These connections take varying forms depending on the period, so the Renaissance has the music of the spheres, and the symbolists their synesthesia.  

2) Aside from this metaphorical usage, we find musicality in prosody. All the sound of poetry and its rhythmic structures. This kind of musicality justifies the strong version of the music metaphor. 

3) Finally, musicality refers to the actual connection between music in poetry in their common origins: song itself. Vocal music is the primordial form of music, and sung poetry is the primordial form of poetry. In this conception, song is not a hybrid art at all.  

Which of these aspects is most interesting? I think the merely conventional metaphorical sense is easy to dispense with, if seen as a kind of dead metaphor. Is song in Whitman's "Song of myself" a dead metaphor? We would have to see. I think the strong version of the metaphor is interesting, along with the historical argument from the primacy of song itself. Prosody is interesting too, for some people like me, but it's more interesting to me, right no, to the extent that it connect with musicality (1) and (3).  

[The fourth sense would be what happens when poetry, already existing as such, is set to music, giving rise to a hybrid form... Now we are seeing poetry and music as separate things and seeing what happens when we put them together....].  

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

What you are supposed to like is not what you really will end up liking

I grew tired of the High (Late) Modernism of Valente and Gamoneda. It was what you were supposed to like, I guess. I decided I didn't have much use for María Zambrano. Regretfully, because that is what I was supposed to like, according to that particular view of the canon. I decided I didn't need to write on Lezama Lima. I can still admire Gamoneda, but I don't have to like him because he is in that canon with Valente, Lezama, and Zambrano. At one time I was quite taken with the idea of Zambrano, but she never ended up delivering it for me. After all, here is a great modernist Spanish philosopher who is also a woman and feeds directly into the kind of late modern poetry I have admired, like that of Valente. And yet I end up being not so zambraniano.  I have to give myself credit for trying for many years. In some ways it was the failure of Zambrano admirers to formulate articulate commentaries on her work that did me in.

Marjorie Perloff doesn't like Duncan or Olson, and it's ok. I agree with her there, for one thing. Same thing with Laura Riding. If Marjorie had pretended to like these people just to get along, I would not respect her as much. Of course, I would never blame somehow who did like Duncan or Zambrano; that would be even worse.  It would be a boring world without disagreements.

I like the unpredictability of it. A writer is experimental within the kind of canon I usually accept, and I can't predict my reaction. I might love it, or hate it, or anything in between.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Reading 100 pages

So if you read 100 pages of something... That's a lot to read in a day. It might take an hour and a half. If you multiple that by the number of days you do that, then you are reading a fantastic number of pages.

 If you really knew quite well 50 pages of Borges's stories and essays, that would be a lot. So you could essentially do that in an hour, if you could remember and assimilate what you read. It's not just about the retention of what is read, but the significance of it. So the 50 or 100 pages I have memorized--that is something. If someone knew really well 50 pages of Wallace Stevens, we would call that person an expert on Stevens.


I read last Xmas at my mom's house a book of short stories by Graham Greene. In one, a boy is deathly afraid of playing hide-and-go-seek.  He protests vigorously, but to no avail: he must go to the party and play. He dies of fright in the arms of his twin brother.  In another, a boy joins a youth gang and takes it over by the extremism of his actions: together, they break into a man's house and demolish it from the inside in a terrifyingly complete process. I like the idea of stories whose excellence lies in their conception, not their execution--however expert this execution is. Borges's lecture on Hawthorne contains many of these examples: a couple inherent a house and have to abide by one condition: not to fire an aged servant to makes their life miserable, and who is in fact that person who bequeathed the house to them. In Borges's summary, Hawthorne becomes a surrealist poet, or precursor of Borges himself, perhaps. That paradoxical imagination: a man marries a perfect looking woman, who has one small defect, a birthmark on her face. All his attention is on the imperfection, and he gradually kills her through scientific experimentation in an effort to remove.

So 10 pages of Borges contains germs of numerous stories, and a whole universe.

The tens of thousands of pages we read simply turning pages, trying to get somewhere else...

The Man in the Street

There's a story Morton Feldman tell many times in interviews. He's studying with the Marxist composer Stefan Wolpe, and Wolpe keeps talking about "the man in the street" in the typical way, and  Feldman looks out the window at that moment and sees Jackson Pollock out in the street.  So the "man in street" turns out to Pollock.


I have been thinking my non-Lorca interests tend to infiltrate into my Lorca scholarship, so that I am often doing this arguing for a Lorca in my own image, that lines up other things I am interested in.

For example, nobody else would have included separate chapter on O'Hara AND Koch in a book about Lorca in the US.  This is a consequence of me being into the New York school of poetry in the first place. I don't regret it, I just wonder how I got away with it.  

I have a whole set of things that I am interested quite apart from my interest in Lorca. A lot of my musical interests, my work on other Spanish poets, etc... Whenever I can I try to shoehorn Lorca in there somehow.  

Monday, November 18, 2019


A doctoral student from Spain will come work with me for a few months next year. This is the second time this has happened. The first student was very good and is making a career for herself in Spain; we are still in touch.

It made me realize, though, that I don't have students come to work with me for a PhD.  Aside from a particular coterie of people in Spain, and the world of Lorca studies, my criticism is not really read. My field, the study of twentieth century Spanish poetry, is nearly dead in this country. Most people now work in Cultural Studies, in which poetry hardly exists as such. It will be hard to have new Lorquistas, since nobody wants to work on single authors anymore for their dissertations.

I don't mean to sound negative. I will take what I can get, and I tell myself I never wanted to be chef d'école.  Is that the phrase? I'm a good third or fourth reader on dissertations outside my field, but it would be very difficult to direct a student in my own field that I didn't feel was my equal.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Your voice is your ear

If I ask myself to sing a note in the middle of my speaking / singing voice, I will come up with a G3 most of the time. It will be around there, sometimes an F#.  My ear is not particularly good, but the voice itself acts like an ear. People who can play an instrument by ear can essentially treat another instrument as though it were their voice. When people can't match a pitch played on a piano in their voice, we say they have no ear. In other words, if you cannot match the pitch with your voice, we say that you can't hear it.

The ability to hear is more important than the ability to produce a sound, so music is more about perception than production.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Dancing about Architecture

You need to set your mind free sometimes; give it some play.  I've been reading recently about dance, music, and architecture, not for the content per se, but because I want to see how people approach the task of writing about art forms that are not verbal. In this process what you will find will be serendipitous. You will be doing "research" but not with the aim of finding the answer to a particular question.

Reading out of field is one way to set your mind out in other directions. When you get back to your own field, you will start to ask: why do we always do it this way? Why do we ask these questions of our material and not others?

Traveling is another way to do this. Practicing another art form, like photography or ceramics, or music. Language study...

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


Here another link.

La Argentinita

I just found this:

Al desatarse la Guerra Civil Española huyó de España y se estableció exiliada en Estados Unidos. En 1943 presentó en el Metropolitan Opera House de Nueva York el cuadro flamenco El Café de Chinitas, con coreografía propia, textos de Lorca, decorados de Salvador Dalí y la orquesta dirigida por José Iturbi. Junto a su hermana, Pilar López, actúa en el Water Gate de Washington y recorre Norteamérica durante 6 años, hasta su fallecimiento en septiembre de 1945, momento en que se deshace la Compañía de Bailes Españoles de La Argentinita.

More sparkling prose from Denby

Here are three paragraphs from "About Ballet Decoration" from Denby (1944). He presents a theoretical framework and writes a 6 paragraph essay with some concrete examples. The middle paragraph here consists of three sentences, relying heavily on the verb "to be." The other verbs are fairly ordinarily ones to, like know, make, hold, look. The next paragraph explain how a ballet set can be "pictorially alive," by doing "different and opposite things decisively."

My aim is to write this way about music. The thing about dance is that is is visual but also kinetic, performative, and auditory. So writing about it has to take into account multiple dimensions. Look how Denby summarizes here what makes a ballet "alive and satisfactory."

I would say a poet can write good dance criticism because poets are also in the business of writing something that holds the interest for "hundreds of years." Denby's own poetry is odd, and I will have to read more of it to comment on it with the required degree of acumen. Right now it seems quirky, comic, and dependent on rhyme in a funny way you wouldn't expect, but that's just a first impression.

Phrase coming to me in a dream

I come from THE EGG

to which / I have never been

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Words and Music

Here are three relations between words and music:

1) In a folksong, one simply accepts that that melody goes with those words. In other words, we don't think of someone finding a poem called "London Bridge is Falling Down" and then setting it to music.

2) In collaborative ventures, we think of the composer and lyricist working together. The words or music could come first; it doesn't really matter. Take "Stardust." It was an instrumental first, and then someone wrote a lyric for it. But our reception of it doesn't depend on whether the melody or lyrics came first. Sometimes the composer and lyricist is the same person.  Once again, it doesn't matter whether we think of music or words as prior, since in practice we often don't even know or care. As in (1) we don't think of the music as a setting of a text already existing on its own.

3) But in settings of poetry that already exists apart from music, we do think of the words as having an absolute priority, not just in time, factually, but at a deeper level. We think of a composer approaching a text and giving it a new dimension that it didn't have before, transforming it from poem to song. This seems fundamentally different from (1) and (2).

The difference is in the kind of questions we ought to be asking.  I would contend that the sort of questions we ask when considering how Fauré treats Baudelaire are rather different than those we might ask when discussing the collaboration between R. Rodgers and L. Hart in the process that produced "My Funny Valentine." We don't think about what musical treatment RR gave to an existing poem written by LH, or even vice-versa. We could still analyze how the music works with the words, etc...

This is not a judgment about quality in the least.  Many art songs in the classical tradition might be dull, and not up to the standards of Richard Rodgers. Hart wrote brilliant lyrics that are better than most so-called poetry of the same period.

So the problem of Lorca: he comes out of tradition (1), but we must approach musical treatments of his work using analytical tools based on (3).

Monday, November 11, 2019


Denby has some prose chops:

Handsome the NYC way of dancing certainly is. Limpid, easy, large, open, bounding; calm in temper and steady in pulse; virtuoso in precision, in stamina, in rapidity.  So honest, so fresh and modest the company looks in action. The company's stance, the bearing of the dancer's whole body in action is the most straightforward, the clearest I ever saw; it is the company's physical approach to the grand style--not to the noble carriage but to the grand one. Simple and clear the look of shoulder and hip, the head, the elbow, and the instep; unnervous the bodies deploy in the step, hold its shape in the air, return to balance with no strain, and redeploy without effort. None either of the becks and nods, the spurts and lags, the breathless stops and almost-didn't-make-it starts they cultivate in Paris. (On the analogy of painting the French go in for texture, the Americans for drawing.) As clear as the shape of the step in the NYC style is in its timing, its synchronization to the score at its start, at any powerful thrust it has, at its close. So the dancers dance unhurried, assured and ample. They achieve a continuity of line and a steadiness of impetus that is unique, and can brilliantly increase the power of it and the exhilarating speed to the point where it glitters like cut glass. The rhythmic power of the company is its real style, and its novelty of fashion. Some people complain such dancing is mechanical. It seems quite the opposite to me, like a voluntary, a purely human attentiveness.  (Dance Writings and Poetry, 223)

Note the abundance of adjectives. We are told to write with nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs, but they provide color and texture here. There is some technical language. I don't know the difference between the grand style and "noble carriage." Nor would I be able to perceive with the sharpness that Denby does--almost preternaturally. The paragraph builds gradually, through enumeration of detail, to a stunning conclusion, a pithy statement of the major achievement of the New York City Ballet: it rhythmic dynamism. Then we are told, surprisingly, that this approach seems "mechanical' to other people! He's throwing a wrench into his own argument.  But then he has the perfect rejoinder. And isn't "attentiveness" the quality that Denby's own writing demonstrates?

I'd probably suggest some edits in a few sentences if I were an editor. I'm not saying this paragraph is perfect in all respects, but it is vigorous, attentive, varied in rhythm, as dynamic as the dance style is is describing.

The Lorca connection: Denby has a wonderful piece on La Argentinita, mentioning Lorca in passing.

Myths about writing

The main myth about scholarly writing is that one's relationship to it must be negative. The sub-myths include these:

:it never gets easier

:if you aren't unhappy doing it, you aren't doing it right

:all writers produce bad first drafts, which only become good through arduous revision

:nobody likes doing it; it is someone one does to get tenure or promotion

:nobody reads it anyway, so the important thing is having the items listed in your c.v.

I don't deny that people have an unhealthy relation to their own writing practices; what I question is the assumption that this needs to be true. My attitude is this:

Writing is like anything else: one gets better at it with practice. Thus it does get easier with time, experience, and intelligent practice. The unhappiness has to do with the expectations surrounding the writing, not the writing itself. There are many ways to be an unhappy writer, but these are all based on a cognitive distortion.  Some of us do like it, and the reason to get tenure is to be able to do more of it, not less.

The idea that you can't learn to write more easily does not line up with the practice of any other human activity. Things that were difficult for me to play on the piano a year ago are now somewhat easy. Why would writing be something so different from anything else in life?

I see some of the reasons behind the myths. The romantic idea of the struggling artist in his / her agony has a great deal of appeal. Maybe the idea of the bad first draft is supposed to encourage the student whose drafts are still shitty. The idea of negativity has a great deal of paradoxical appeal, in that suffering can be a badge of honor. I don't deny I have suffered at some stages of my writing career, and can be proud of my persistence and resilience.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Habits and Goals

A goal is something in the future.  I want to get there. A habit can be established in a single instant.  Just by sitting down at the piano, I am a pianist.  Voilà! The same goes for running, meditating, or any of my other habits. If you get out of the habit, you can just re-establish it again.

I was having a hard time with goals. Should my goal be to run in 5k in under a certain time? If my goal is just to run, then I don't have to worry about the goal at all. The time might get better, but if it doesn't, it is not the end of the world. I could see my piano goal as to learn a certain piece, but I have already learned pieces and will continue to learn others, so I have already achieved this. Since my playing it improving just because I have the habit of playing, I don't have to even set a goal. I can enjoy the improvement as it happens, but also enjoy playing at my current level, whatever that is.

So set the goal of having a healthy, relaxed relationship to what you already doing. It is better to have the habit of drinking water every day setting a long term goal of drinking 10,000 gallons of water.

The Stack

Here is the stack.  At the bottom level: erudition.

Erudition means knowing things at a deep level, or at least knowing something at some level.

One step up from that is critical thinking. Being able to perform basic operations about what one knows, comparing and contrasting, summarizing, analyzing texts, drawing conclusions from evidence, applying theories to concrete instances, etc...

[Then comes creativity, the ability to have truly interesting ideas emerge from these thinking operations.]

The next thing, I would say, is nuts and bolts. This is being able to construct paragraphs and essays that put together the first three levels in a convincing way.

[Finally, there is kind of stylistic elegance, that might emerge from someone who does this in a satisfying way. ]

Someone who was at a B level or above at all of these things would be a great literary critic. A true failure at any level would be a serious flaw. I put creativity in brackets because, while it is the most important thing at some level, it is also the rarest. You could do everything else, without much creativity, and still be satisfactory. Yet for me, there wouldn't be much point to doing all this and at the end not having put forward really great ideas.

You could also get away with inelegant writing and do fine in the field, so I'm also putting that in brackets.

So at some level the most basic "stack" would be

nuts and bolts of essay writing / basic critical operations

knowledge or erudition

[Maybe nuts and bolts and critical thinking is the same thing.  In other words, knowing how to compare and contrast, etc... is the same thing as knowing how to write an essay that does that.  I'm not sure. For example, perceiving things about a poem is not the same thing as writing an essay about those perceptions. So maybe analyzing the poem is part of the knowledge about the poem?]

Of course, I think I'm good at all of this! I know people more erudite than I am.  There are critics who write more elegantly.  Many, many people have mastered the nuts and bolts of essay construction about as well as I have. Probably thousands of people are better than I am at this. The thing about the stack, though, is that having all the layers really solid is what is rare. Mere competence, then, becomes excellence.



The reason it is a stack is that one skill depends on another.  You cannot do thinking operations like comparing unless you have something you know, that you can talk about.  You can't write an essay unless you know how to compare two things, or perform other critical thinking skill, like argue why or why not a concrete example of something confirms or disconfirms a more abstract theory.  You cannot write elegant prose unless you are first doing some writing.

Mindblowingingly obvious

One idea I missed, because it is so obvious, in my brainstorming about Lorca's theater is that Lorca specialized in female characters. Doña Rosita, La Zapatera, Mariana Piñeda, all the the rural dramas...

This is easy to miss because it is so well known,  but it helps my argument that Lorca is exploring other subject positions not his own.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Now the next stage: Begin the intro

Lecture 5:
Dramatis Personae

Lorca’s lyric poetry explores subjectivity in multiple dimensions. A confessional lyric voice identified with the biographical subject “Lorca” as merely one option among others, and is far from his default mode: his poems speak from a variety of positions, including fluid, impersonal, and quasi-anonymous ones. The speaker of the poem, then, is not Lorca himself, but a voice deployed in a variety of ways, following some of the generic conventions of lyric poetry. In my view, even a first-person singular lyric subject, identified in some way with the author, is still a fictive utterance, since a poem is not an act of speech in the real world but a fictive simulation of such an act. Even confessional poems are dramatic monologues. 
If we regard Lorca’s poetry not, primarily, as a mode of self-expression, but as an exploration of the problems of subjectivity itself, it is easy to see that drama offers him even greater possibilities in this regard. A playwright, after all, speaks through the voice of fictive subjects not identified with the authorial self. Of course, nothing will prevent critics who are so inclined from projecting the biographical subject “Lorca” back into his plays. It is not clear to me, though, that this impulse leads to the richest possible interpretation of his dramaturgy. What is striking about his dramatic characters is the wide range of subject positions they occupy: why, then, would we want to trace them all back to a single source?   
Lorca’s search for alternative forms of subjectivity means, essentially, that he is a modernist playwright, one who rejects conventional dramatic realism in favor of avant-garde techniques of characterization. It is easy to see this avant-garde dimension in his “impossible” theater and in early experiments like “Buster Keaton’s Bicycle Ride.” From my perspective, though, the rural tragedies for which he is best known also overturn the conventions of theatrical realism, through their poetic elements and their austere stylization.      

Lucid Dream

I was walking through a desolate urban landscape at night.  There were children running through the streets. I realized that I was dreaming so I began to control what was happening, partially. There were big menacing dogs running around but I was not afraid, since I was dreaming.  I decided to fly up in the air, and did so.  Landed in another spot and opened some doors. There was a woman, but I realized she was too young, so I left her behind. Now I was being married, but to a different woman. I felt some relief. She was young too, but not too young; a conventionally attractive women with long hair, not of the sort I would go for in real life, but I kissed her.


Later on I was waiting for a wrestling class to begin. We were outside on concrete. I was talking to someone else and I wondered out loud if I still knew how to wrestle.  After I woke up I remembered that I didn't like wrestling because I didn't like being identified as a wrestler. Adults would try to reduce your identity to one single thing, and that was not it for me.  I hated when people called it "wrassling."  I also wasn't crazy about other wrestlers, who didn't share any of my other interests.  

Friday, November 8, 2019


There was a party with young people. They were having a great time seeing which kitchen appliances could shoot a ping pong ball across the room. The popcorn popper seemed to work for this. Not the microwave.  There were great peals of laughter and I was among those laughing.  


My daughter had come back from a trip to an Asian country, possibly Malaysia or Thailand. She had discovered there a dish to make which she called simply "The Food."  "The Food" was easy to make and only required a few, easy-to-find ingredients.  We were eating it along with some things we had gotten at the poke bowl place, and some other things I couldn't identify. There was a large group of people there.  "The Food" had a nondescript aspect to it, and, of course, no memorable taste, since food never has taste for me in my dreams.


There were numerous other dreams before or after these two, in rapid succession and with little continuity. I was at the MLA at a hotel bar. A young woman with short brown hair had just arrived. We talked about the wounds the profession had inflicted on us. I said something dismissive about her experience (!) and she answered with a "That's easy for you to say." This rebuke was fully justified, but of course the entire dream emerged from my brain, so I feel comfortable telling you about it. I then lay there half awake for a while thinking about whether the wounds of the profession and of life, in my case, have been self-inflicted.

Low Tech

There are some old technologies that work really well.  The codex, for example. You can carry around a book; it is easy to find a particular page of it, or mark it up.  It is a much better technology for reading a book than a screen on which the book is viewed.

The seminar room is a very nice technology. A room of the right size with a table in the middle where 10 people can hear each other talk. We might call the class discussion a technology, as well. For all the talk about innovation, really, the seminar format is something that still works, and it is hard to think of how to make it better. We learn how to do it by seeing our own professors do it in grad school, and then using what we liked and not using what we don't like.  

Pens and notebooks work really well.  They are cheap, portable, reliable, and easy to use.

My classroom has dry erase boards. I got a dry erase marker from the office, and got there, and it didn't work. Chalk is dusty but it usually works better than these, which dry up really fast.

The value of a technology is not in its technological aspect per se, but its ease of use and its usefulness. So if I want to play recorded music, I need a world in which someone has figured out how to record music, store it somehow, and have a mechanism for playing it, but what those recording, storing, and playback methods are is not particularly interesting. You could probably do a music theory course with just a piano in the room, or a music history course with a record player and some old lps.  

Lo tech is not inherently better than hi tech, but a lot of the lo tech has the advantage of not getting in the way of failing. In the seminar discussion, everyone's focus is on the people in the room and the ideas being discussed. There is nothing to distract or get in the way, and there is kind of a purity to that.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Lorca's theater

1) Lorca's theater is modernist. What does that mean? That he was searching for new forms of expression in the same way others were: Pirandello, Brecht... Both his experimental theater and his rural tragedies are modernist, though in different ways.

2) He is not expressing himself, his "self," but exploring multiple expressions of subjectivity, including ones that involve "blank" subjectivities.

3) His work can go in two directions: toward increased simplicity of motivation or toward ambiguity and complexity. For example, Yerma wants a baby but can't get one because she won't break social norms. E.g. having it with another man. It's not a complex psychology. Adela wants Pepe el Romano. At the other extreme are plays in which we don't know what the character wants.

4) Inseparability of his poetry and theater: see his theater as extension of his poetry in exploration of alternate subjectivities.

5) Lorca anticipates Beckett, but only if we liberate Beckett from the "absurdist" box and see his work in its complexity.

Let's put these ideas in a different order and make them connect:

1) Just as in this lyric poetry, Lorca as a dramatist is interested in exploring various forms of subjectivity.

2) The drama offers the advantage over the lyric in that dramatic subjectivity is the subjectivity of the character, not the implied author.

3) What he needs, then is modernist theater, since experimental techniques in the theater are aimed at exploring alternative subjectivities rather than "realistic" style character development.

4) Lorca's anti-realism goes in two directions: a simplification and stylization of dramatic motives, on the one hand, and their experimental complexity, on the other.

5) This leads us to Beckett, etc...

The monotony of paraphrase

One thing I noticed with my grad student papers: when a student paraphrases and summarizes, without quotes from the original text, the paper becomes more monotonous. Direct quotation from the text provides more interest because now we have another voice or two in dialogue. Paradoxically, you have more of your own voice if you can quote other people directly, in judicious amounts, than if you rely too heavily on paraphrase. The prose has more texture if there are quotes in another voice, and the separation between what X thinks and what I think becomes more clear.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019


Through a meditation course I got from an app on my phone, I've been learning some communication skills. To summarize:

Be fully present with the person you are with.

Be very clear about what your needs are, and very attentive to what the other person wants or needs.

Your aim is to understand what the person is saying. You can ask for clarification. "So what you are saying is that...?" You want to show the greatest degree of empathy.

You want the other person to understand what you are saying too. You can ask them what it is they have understood from what you said, and clarify in turn. You want to come out of the meeting with a plan mutually agreed upon.


In giving feedback on student papers, I have attempted to do so from a place of great compassion and empathy. So I can say: "What I want you do in the revision of the paper is this: expand here; add signposting*; make all paragraphs at least 4 sentences long; clarify this or that idea." Substantively, my critique is the same as it would be using my older style of communication. It is not even a matter of being tactful, as I used to think. Being tactful is dressing up something negative in sweeter terms. Being compassionate is trying to see if from the other person's point of view.


*I don't like signposting, as you know, but I think certain students need it in order to clarify for themselves the shape of an argument. You can also go back and reduce it to the bare minimum.

The 5 x 5 technique

Here is a technique I developed once. Take a long walk or drive and think of 5 main ideas about your subject matter. Yesterday I did this on a walk and came up with these 5. I recorded them using voice memo on my phone so I wouldn't forget what they were:

1) Lorca's theater is modernist. What does that mean? That he was searching for new forms of expression in the same way others were: Pirandello, Brecht... Both his experimental theater and his rural tragedies are modernist, though in different ways.

2) He is not expressing himself, his "self," but exploring multiple expressions of subjectivity, including ones that involve "blank" subjectivities.

3) His work can go in two directions: toward increased simplicity of motivation or toward ambiguity and complexity. For example, Yerma wants a baby but can't get one because she won't break social norms. E.g. having it with another man. It's not a complex psychology. Adela wants Pepe el Romano. At the other extreme are plays in which we don't know what the character wants.

4) Inseparability of his poetry and theater: see his theater as extension of his poetry in exploration of alternate subjectivities.

5) Lorca anticipates Beckett, but only if we liberate Beckett from the "absurdist" box and see his work in its complexity.

The second step is to find five ideas within each of these. You can take five more walks, or do it at your desk.  Now you have 25. I recommend walking because you are exercising, avoiding sedentary scholar syndrome, and because the walking itself stimulates the brain.  Don't worry if you only come up with 3 or 4 sub ideas; you will still have plenty of material.

Now what you want to do is to put the ideas in order, eliminating ones that aren't as pertinent. You might end up with 4 major ideas, with 4 subheading for each one. An idea that was once a major idea might be now a subheading of one of the others. You now have an outline of your argument. It is time to formulate a thesis.

Now find your textual examples; what plays you want to discuss, and in what order to support parts of your argument. You can bring in the secondary bibliography on the plays, etc...

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Skill Stacking

This concept, which I have found recently in several sources, means developing several skills to a relatively high level, without worrying about whether you are the absolute best in any one.  For scholarship, the most important features are these:

erudition; knowing your field

creativity: having the ability to develop original, creative ideas about your material

writing: being a good prose writer

organization: having good methods for organizing your research

work ethic and drive: really wanting to publish as a top priority, and putting the work in

Looking at myself, I have some degree of erudition, and a high degree of creativity, and some serious prose chops. I am also motivated, but sometimes lazy. My weakest point is organization.

If someone just had one of these attributes, it would not be enough. You probably need to be good enough in most of these categories, but someone who is really good will be very good in several of them.

Where things really kick is in the combination of skill, so that someone is erudite and creative, and can also express their ideas in elegant prose, and can produce three or four books over the course of their career.  That person is a star.

Another person who is super erudite, can write ok, is super well organized, and works hard, also writing books, but without much creativity. That person might be a star as well, with a different profile.

The erudite person lacking all the other qualities is not a star, or even a good scholar. It doesn't matter if s/he is even the most erudite person on the earth.  The best prose writer who lacks all the other ingredients is not a scholar either, or the creative person without enough erudition, etc...

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Procrastination Penalty

Part of the negative association tied to the dreaded and postponed task is a byproduct of the procrastination itself. So however difficult the task will be to face, you will also have to hear your internal critic say "It's about time!" The minute you stop procrastinating, your inner critique will take you to task for having done so. Knowing this, you might feel like procrastinating a bit more to avoid the reckoning.

This is one of those traps that we set for ourselves. Generally speaking, we want to diminish the meta-emotion surrounding what we perceive to be the source of our suffering, the compound interest, as it were. Procrastinating, we construct a narrative of ourselves as lazy, worthless bums.


Last night I set the clock back instead of forward an hour. So the alarm went off at 4:30 instead of 6:30. I thought quite consciously: "spring ahead," ok, so I need to set my clock ahead. But of course November is fall. I looked at my cell phone and was confused about the two-hour discrepancy. My kitchen clock, which I had not reset, said 5:30. Then, of course, I realized what I had done.  I couldn't go back to sleep, because I was running in a 5K benefit run at 7:30.

Now it would be logical for me to get mad at myself, but I know I will never be immune from doing dumb things along these lines, especially with dates and times. It feels better to laugh at myself then try to punish myself for this.

Saturday, November 2, 2019


Procrastination is the avoidance of a particular emotion associated with a task. It could be boredom, frustration, fear or dread, shame or guilt. The avoidance of the task, though, does not mean an avoidance of that emotion, but it's prolongation. You are essentially carrying around that emotion with you all the time. Completing the task, then, is a release from that emotion, not its prolongation.

So there must be some positive benefit to procrastination: one could become habituated to that tension and release of emotion, or thrive on the adrenaline of almost missing deadlines.

Procrastination creates inefficiency, with greater wait times before work is begun. You are "at work" for longer than you are working.

Imagine two people given an identical task. One does it first thing in the morning, and then is released for the rest of the day. The other does not things all day, and finally gets around to the task at the end, but does not experience that early release from the task, and must always keep it in the back of the mind somehow.

Friday, November 1, 2019


I'm not particularly good at communication, but I've had some recent successes.  In a potentially difficult conversation about a merit raise, I told my Chair at the very beginning that I saw her as an ally in the process. Once I said that then the conversation was a great one.  How could it not be, with that beginning move on my part? We were on the same team, after all. It didn't hurt that she is a good communicator, better than I am. I probably didn't even need to worry about it.

There was some tension in my graduate course among some of the students. I met with one student, listened carefully, and then offered suggestions to her. In the next class I gave a little speech about how to best talk to one another, with some concrete suggestions.  Then I asked the class for their own ideas. I followed up later with a few of the students. The tension has dissipated now.  I felt I dealt with the situation skillfully rather than let it go on too long and get worse. None of my professors in Grad School would have even cared if students hated each other. It would have been beneath them to even notice it. Sometimes they would even openly pit one group against the other, or play favorites.

I am valuing this emotional intelligence in myself more and more.  I say this with the greatest degree of humility, because I have never considered this to be a strong area for me. In part because I was unable to be compassionate to myself, it was more difficult to be the best I could be to other people.

My choir director says: "listen louder than you sing."  That's a pretty good way of saying it.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019


Neoliberalism used be the enemy, twenty years or so again. Now it is neonationalism. And the progressives who used to be concerned about neoliberalism are now neoliberal themselves, since it turns out that neonationalism is worse. Even when it is neoliberalism, in part, that created the nationalist reaction.

It is like when we used to think that the enemy was a conservative view of the literary canon, when the true enemy are people who despise literature in the first place.

Lumpers and splitters

Wittgenstein [quoted on 153 of Perloff's The Edge of Irony], says he wouldn't get along with Hegel. Hegel was interested in showing that "things that look different are really the same," whereas W. interest "is in showing that things which look the same are really different." He says he could have two mottos:  "I'll teach you differences" [King Lear] or "you'd be surprised."

Lumpers are like Hegel, splitters like W.  But don't some problems call for lumping, and others splitting?  In other words, a splitter, like me, might come across something that seems to demand lumping. Or perhaps this suggests a change in me, since I am now drawn to these "lumping" tasks as much as to my previous splitting.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019


Things that are dull or interesting are not so in themselves, but because of the one making that judgment.  So dance, for example, is not something I've ever considered (until very recently), but that is simply a statement about myself, not about the inherent interest (or lack of) in dance as an object of attention in itself.

Morton Feldman's "Triadic Memories" might seem like a dull piece. A series of slow piano chords going on forever.  I am very interested in it, but that is not a recommendation that it should interest you, necessarily.

Boredom should not exist.  In other words, there should be always an object of attention. Even boredom itself could be an object of attention.  What does it feel like?  Is it frustration? The sense of being disconnected from something more interesting occurring elsewhere. Is it a sense of time passing at an uncomfortable rate? Is it dissatisfaction with something that doesn't fulfill expectations? A sense of over familiarity?  What combination of these factors is involved? How does boredom feel in the body?

Could you recreate the sensation of traveling, that unboredom one feels, but staying at home?  In travel time passes at another rate, experiences are new by definition. Places, people, climates, one's own feelings about them. Even jet lag or long travel delays creates an oddness with relation to one's own experience. Coming back home makes for an interesting experience too.  Home presents itself in a new light, and things seem easier and more possible. But if you could do that without traveling, it might be nice. I don't necessarily like tourism, but what I do like is the dissociation and subsequent homecoming.  

Default to bum

When I am not looking at my cv or directly engaged with writing something, I tend to default to bum. If I have a bad day or week or month or season, with less than ideal productivity, I tend to think of myself a lazy. But, even though I might appear lazy if you followed me around for a few days, I believe I am not. I have the Lorca and Me book almost finished, am well along the way with the Things to Do to Poems book, and with Lorca: The Musical Imagination.  I did abandon some other projects, it is true. But my five published books is more than respectable, even apart from the contents of my files of unpublished things. I have three books of poetry I could publish, if I had a publisher, and I have taught myself to write music.

It is curious, though, that I have to get out my cv in order to convince myself of this. My default state is to consider myself to be somewhat of a bum. I wonder why that is so. I do hate arrogance, in myself and others, so perhaps it is out of mistaken fear of that. Perhaps it is because people are not constantly heaping praise on me. Of course, that would be pretty ridiculous too. We aren't supposed to need constant approbation. We are supposed to be content with extremely sporadic or perhaps nonexistent positive reinforcement for our efforts, and it seems childish to want more than this. Perhaps I am extrapolating from my low salary about my status in the university, or exaggerating my own numerous failings, which are far more visible to me than to anyone else, I'm sure.

In any case, through meditation I've learned to be curious about emotions. If you are feeling an emotion you have to examine what it feels like in the actual body. What is it like? Also, you become aware of an emotion almost before it arises. This does not prevent the emotion from manifesting itself, but it helps.

Intellectual Curiosity

Intellectual curiosity is probably the most powerful of the scholarly superpowers. It is elusive to define, in some sense. We can't be infinitely curious about every possible thing, because we need to pursue some interests more intensely than others.

Two anecdotes:  I very early read Frank O'Hara's essay in Morton Feldman.  But for many years I did not go out and investigate his music, which I now view as essential to me. When I began to be interested in Feldman, it was as though I was discovering something that I should have known from the start. I could accuse myself of a lack of curiosity, but I eventually did go out and find Feldman's music.

A similar thing happened just this past week or so.  Thomas asked me who a good dance writer was.  I answered "Edwin Denby" off the top of my head. Now I had known of Denby for many years, as a poet of the New York School, like O'Hara. I had read some of his poems, but never his dance writing. So I went out and did it. Denby is a great writer about dance, and I once again felt that something had come full circle for me. He should have been within my radar, but was not, despite my devotion to NY school poetry. I am going to use his prose style as a model for my own writing.

So it seems that I am lacking in intellectual curiosity, always getting there late, wherever there is. There are probably other things awaiting my discovery, things that are there under my nose, virtually. I only discovered Mompou last year!  Some element of serendipity must be involved, since many other undiscovered things might possibly just be not that interesting. You can't just indiscriminately go and look at everything in existence, but have to follow particular cues from your own self.  So maybe the idea is to be able to listen to those cues when they come up. To be attentive to them.

Saturday, October 26, 2019


I know of fancy words

I do not use them in my poems, though

Poem written early in the morning

Our dreams are poorly furnished--a concrete floor at best

They are our own, we might be more opulent, at no extra expense!

Even in our deepest imagination, though, what we desire is ugly and brutal

Friday, October 25, 2019

Arrogance (ii)

What we call arrogance is not an overestimation of one's abilities, but rather an attitude of puffing-out-the-chest. For example, I might overestimate the quality of my musical compositions. I might think of them as B+ level when they really deserve a C-.  But arrogance is not a simply overestimation, but the attitude that follows from it.  I know people who overestimate their own scholarship without being arrogant about it. We might simply say that they are making a mistake in one direction or the other. Excessive modesty about one's musical compositions would be a mistake in the other direction, but wouldn't be an attitude of "humility" per se. In other words, it might not be accompanied by any particular attitude of self-abasement. Suppose my compositions are "really" at the B+ level, but I rate myself as a C- composer.

What defines arrogance or humility, then, is not one's self-estimation in relation to the truth, but rather an egotistical attitude in one direction or another: arrogance or self-abasement. I also think that humility is as much of a matter or the ego as arrogance. Both are ways of putting the self in the middle where it doesn't belong. The question is not how much talent I have, but how good the actual song turns out to be.  

Also, of course, arrogance is a perceived quality. One can feel that ego in another person, as in one's self. It is almost palpable.

Also, you want to project some degree of ego, or the thing itself will not work, in many cases. Think of a way a conductor projects mastery and confidence. Or a boxer or baseball pitcher, or someone in a position to take control of the  classroom.  You wouldn't welcome a false humility in the surgeon about to cut you open. Part of psychological health is to project a modicum of arrogance, then.