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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...

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Stolen Time

One technique I use is to steal time. For example, I am supposed to be working on revising the NEH grant, but instead I am taking the morning to work on the six Lorca lectures. Thus I get two advantages: it is always easier to work on something that is a side project, ignoring what you are supposed to be doing.  At the same time, the stolen time is also productive. The third or fourth book on Lorca will be the lectures, and the music book will still get written.

Lorca and Me
Lorca par Lui-Même
Modernism and the Death of the Subject
The Avant-Garde Dramatist
The American Reception
The Musical Imagination


I like writing in the voice of someone who knows that he's saying, but addresses the reader as an intellectual equal.

So one can avoid the problem of faux-humility, having to over-qualify things that should obvious, hedging every statement in fifteen different ways.

But if the reader is an intellectual equal, then the writer does not condescend either.  Arrogance is equally avoidable.  It's not: t"his is what I know and you'll never understand the half of it," but, "this is what I've found, and you can do the same thing I'm doing." This is coming from my re-reading of Turner and Thomas, Clear and Simple as the Truth.


I find myself becoming more conservative in this respect.  My politics have not changed per se. I am opposed to Trump and all he represents. But the idiocy of much of the forms that the opposition to Trump takes gives me pause. Surely the answer is not narcissistic identity politics.

But anyway, in academic terms I am conservative in that I like the theology of the classic style more than academic modes of over-qualification and specialized writing. I recognize that this theology is fiction that allows the work to be done. In this sense, I practice the classic style a bit ironically, and probably imperfectly as well.

Friday, March 29, 2019

An end run

By putting the "death of the subject" chapter in my book of Lorca lectures, I no longer have to write the "death of the subject" book on Lorca. At the same time, I can write two books on Lorca for the tetralogy.  Lorca: The Musical Imagination and Six Lectures on Lorca. That will complete the tetralogy and my career as a Lorca scholar.  I'd like to do the lecture book as a podcast.  !!!  Been discussing it with Thomas.
So much in writing is managing your own emotions. I have been noticing this with piano playing: how my goal has to be an emotional one: to establish a relaxed and positive relationship to the instrument. To do that with woodworking would be another step. I feel intimidated just walking into the hardware store.


Barthes says that when he records himself playing piano, and listens back, he can hear the composer himself, whereas listening to other recordings by virtuosi players he hears the performer, not the composer. He is not bragging about his pianistic skill, but saying that his own amateur recording corresponds to the way he hears the music in his head.  I feel the same way.  As long as the recording has no wrong notes, the recording is pretty much the way I understand and interpret the piece. I might not be good, but it is still my interpretation.


This is the kind of insight from "theory" that I value. Let's contrast that with the kind of understanding of "theory" that uses a buzzword in a non-explanatory way.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Blackmail of Theory

Barthes talks about this in Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. The avant-garde text that is written to serve theory, and that thus the theorist (like Barthes) is blackmailed into accepting.  Of course he doesn't!  By denouncing this kind of text he is saying that the avant-garde text cannot be written to order. The avant-garde must come first, not be written by someone who has read a theory of the avant-garde.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

One door opens another

The idea is that doing one thing, like building a chopping board, opens up other possibilities that are unforeseen.  You have to go through that one door first, then you will be somewhere else and other things will become manifest as possible. You don't know in advance what those other things will be.

For example: playing piano = writing a book about Lorca and music.  

Monday, March 25, 2019

I hear voices

I'm not sure why, but once in a while I get a voice telling me to do something. Not anything psychotic, just a suggestion for what I ought to be doing. The voice will say, memorize this poem, or, take piano lessons. It won't be a literal voice, just an idea popping into my head, but with a degree of urgency that is inexplicable.

I have never built anything with my hands, so this particular suggestion is that I should build something out of wood. The easiest thing I could think of was a cheese board, so that will be my first project. I got two small pieces of maple board cut for me at Home Depot, after first going to another lumber store that was not helpful.  I decided to start with two very small ones so that I could learn on those before making a full sized one.  I will make one first, from start to finish, with the first piece.  The second one will be a bit better, I hope.  I watched a few videos and most people seem to cut up little pieces of wood and glue them together.  Instead, I will start with one solid piece, plane, sand, and oil it. After my second one, I will find a bigger piece of wood and make one of proper dimensions.

Clearly, I need to be doing something with my hands that is meaningful.  I do not even own tools to speak of, beyond the typical hammer and screwdriver kind of thing.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Musical Imagination [wrote most of this while proctoring MA exam]

The topic of Lorca and Music comes up with some frequency, but usually in a way that, for me at least, fails to address—or even to identify—the questions of greatest intellectual interest. In Madrid in February, 2019, as part of a Lorca congress where I was an invited speaker, I sat through three presentations by musicologists. Although informative, their approach was almost entirely factual and anecdotal. One, for example, talked about the concerts Lorca might have attended in Madrid in the 1920s. Another listed orchestras, concert venues, guests artists, and repertory in Madrid during this same period, but without even relating it directly to Lorca. A third musicologist introduced a pianist, who went on to play some music that Lorca himself might have played, some Beethoven, Chopin, and Debussy, along with Lorca’s arrangement of the folk song “Tres morillas de Jaén.” None of this was not inherently useless or uninteresting information, of course: the problem was that there was no effort to interpret it, or to explain its significance in relation to the reasons we are interested in Lorca in the first place.   

This conception of scholarship as the sheer accumulation of information, without a very minimal presence of critical argument, pervaded the conference as a whole, with only a few notable exceptions. Still, the study of Lorca and music, in my experience, is particularly prone to merely anecdotal approaches. Most musicologists nor literary scholars, it turns out, are not very adept at studying the relation between music and literature in a meaningful way, perhaps because they lack a depth of knowledge in both fields, or a methodology for bridging the gap. It is not intuitively clear why it might be interesting to look at the question of “Lorca and Music” beyond its biographical interest, or to examine musical settings of his work in greater depth. Many scholars have been content with merely mentioning the existence of compositions based on Lorca, without thinking about what the existence of this material might reveal.        

My subject of this lecture is what I would like to call “the musical imagination.” The questions that interest me fall into two categories: (1) Lorca’s deep engagement of music as in integral part of his own poetics. What was it about music inspired him, and why did he privilege musical metaphors in defining concepts key to his understanding of poetry? (2) The engagement of musicians (composers and performers) with Lorca’s musical and literary legacy from the time of his death up to the present day. Why has Lorca been a favorite among musicians, and how have they used him to create new creative works? I am less interested in chronicling Lorca’s own musical activities, or his friendships with musicians, since those have been the focus of much previous research into the question of “Lorca and Music.” It is true that at least two of the most prominent Lorca scholars, Christopher Maurer and Andrés Soria Olmedo, have devoted considerable attention to Lorca and music in non-trivial ways. Still, I feel the need to explore these questions myself, on my own terms.      

The obvious question is whether there is a connection between the first and the second set of questions. In other words, are composers drawn to Lorca because of his own musicality? It would be difficult to argue for the lack of connection here. Even if not every composer has been fully aware of Lorca’s musical knowledge, the extent and frequency to which his work evokes music is obvious from even a superficial knowledge of his work. A brief look at his work reveals book titles like Poema del cante jondoCanciones,Suites, Romancero gitano; poems with titles like “Canción,” “Balada de los tres ríos,” “Madrigal,” “Vals en la ramas,” “Son de los negros en Cuba”; and lectures on the Spanish lullabiesthe cante jondo, and the duende. Lorca arises out of a culture in which music and poetry are deeply intertwined, in both the folkloric and learned tradition. This historic connection, very strong in the medieval period, was renewed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, through the efforts of folklorists like Manuel Machado y Álvarez (1848-1893) scholars like Ramón Menéndez Pidal (1869-1968), and composers like Manuel de Falla (1876-1946). Lorca himself formed a part of a revival of popular Spanish balladry and song, and other poets of his time, like Rafael Alberti and Miguel Hernández, worked in a neo-popular style. Even some of Lorca’s more avant-garde poetry—seemingly distant from popular forms—has found its way into musical settings. Although preferring Lorca’s songsto less ostensibly musical poems, musicians have taken a wide view in looking for material.   

The poetry of Lorca (and Hernández as well) is eminently singable. It almost demands musical setting, since it arises out of a culture in which lyric poetry is meant to be sung to stringed instruments. Such is the case with the lyric poetry of Ancient Greece (the word lyric derives from the lyrice) and, indeed, with many other cultures around the world from the historical and anthropological perspective. Seen in this light, poetry meant to be read silently is the creation of literate societies in which music and poetry have undergone a separation. Familiar arguments about whether or not song lyrics are really “poetry” can only occur in a culture in which the connection between music and poetry has been reduced to the status of a conventional metaphor. Of course, what is really at stake in this debate is a question of cultural hierarchy: are lyrics to popular songs good enough to aspire to the condition of elite art?       

It is clear that, for Lorca, music is a master metaphor for poetry itself, if we look at his statements of poetics like the duende lecture, or his use of musical structures in Poema del cante jondoand Suites. What makes music morethan a metaphor, though, is Lorca’s deep understanding of a musicopoetic tradition in which music is usually vocal music, and poetry always has the potential to be sung.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Dream of Pain

I was in bed in some kind of room with a bunch of beds. Someone was saying that if our pain level was a ten we should go the emergency room.  I wanted relief from my pain without going to the ER,;  I raised my hand and said it was an 8. A man came over and gave me a morphine shot in my shoulder, near where in fact I have the actual pain, which is probably a torn rotator cuff.  I woke up and my shoulder hurt like hell.  

Saturday, March 16, 2019


There is a new site up called universolorca. I learned that you can tour the house of Bernarda Alba in a town in the province of Granada. The only problem is that Lorca's Bernarda Alba is a fictional character. I don't understand the urge to see Lorca's works as fact rather than fiction. It just seems so literal minded. Yes, I know that based plays on actual people, but that doesn't make them non-fictional.

The Breaking Point

We sat at a restaurant and we went around the room to talk about "the breaking point"--the point where each of us knew that a divorce was inevitable. (Out of six of us, all but one had been divorced.) Everyone told a compelling story, and there wasn't that much difference in people's ability to narrate, characterize, set the scene, define the decisive moment. Everyone was just about as good at analyzing one another's stories, understanding motivations, etc... There was no advantage, necessarily, to being a scholar of literature or a fiction writer. I was probably not the best narrator of the group. Everyone was highly educated, but I'm sure that people without formal education can also narrate things effectively.

Everyone, then, is an expert on the raw material of fiction: human behaviors and motivations. Everyone understands basic narrative principles too. There are people at one end or the other of the curve: very bad at telling stories or understanding motivations, or very, very good, but most people are probably in the middle, with a very good ability to do this.

Not sure where I'm going with this. Maybe that literary criticism is not that hard. What is difficult is to come up with something that is not simply in the middle of the bell curve. If a pro critic just points out basic things that every reader will get anyway, what is the point?

Friday, March 15, 2019

Little Children's voices

My acupuncturist has her studio next door to the piano studio where I take lessons. There studios share a wall; they are office suites in an apartment complex. She told me she liked hearing the music from next door, and that the little children, when playing simple pieces on the piano, had the same quality of little children singing, as though they were singing through the piano.  

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Dream of ACLU

In this dream I was lying in bed and on the other side of the room Ira Glasser, retired director of the ACLU, was explaining something to someone. (I had seen this person on "60 Minutes" on Sunday so that explains the origins of the dream, I guess.)

Ira was talking about an attorney who was making a bad argument about something.  He said: "Once an attorney takes a client, I can tell with the first three words out of their mouth that they are being dishonest. Their beliefs become a crazy mixture of their former beliefs and what they need to say to represent the client." The context wasn't clear, but he had just interviewed someone, an attorney, who wasn't making sense.

Something like that. It wasn't the argument the Glasser was making on TV, which was that the ACLU should not air partisan political ads. Still, my point, which I channeled through him in my dream, has a certain intrinsic interest to it.  I'm going to have to think about it.

I wanted to go talk to him about it, but I was naked in bed so I couldn't do it. Of course, I actually was naked in bed, and staying in a hotel.  

Friday, March 8, 2019

The first lecture begins...

Book series addressed to dummies and idiots have their particular niche in our culture. Without questioning the utility of such books, my aim here is a different one: to address those who might not know anything about Federico García Lorca, but with the presumption that my audience will be a highly intelligent one. Introductions to Lorca abound; I have one on my shelf in the form of a comic book. Numerous other books take on narrow aspects of his life and work, and are of interest mostly to other academic specialists. What is lacking, I have often felt, is a broad introduction for the general public that gives the author his due. A dumbed-down introduction to a complex subject will fail to convey anything essential about it, and thus will be an act of betrayal rather than of homage. At the same time, however, I believe, perhaps naively, that it is possible to present complex material without concessions to idiotsand dummies, but in a manner utterly accessible to reasonably bright non-academic readers. 

In this spirit, I am presenting this book of six lectures (or perhaps “nonlectures,” in E.E. Cummings’s coinage). For the most part they are not, literally, lectures that I have given or hope to give. All, however, are based on my experience of writing about Lorca and presenting my ideas to a variety of audiences, mostly in an academic context. Lectures have the reputation of being dull, of course, but in comparison with texts meant to be read silently they have the potential to be dynamic and performative. The lecture, not the essay or book chapter, was Lorca’s own favored genre of expository prose, and I imagine that he was able electrify his audiences. I am hoping, then, that this conceit will help me to shape my exposition in the Lorquian spirit. 

I propose, then, six chapters of six thousand words each, on subjects that I predict might be of interest to my hypothetical audience. Wherever possible I have decided to avoid cannibalizing my already published scholarship on Lorca: I am not rewriting my books, but riffing on my previous ideas and presenting them with a few new wrinkles. The title of this first lecture, “Lorca and Me,” might sound a bit narcissistic at first blush. My intention, though, is to bring my own biases to the forefront from the very beginning rather than making a pretense toward objectivity. In each of these lectures I propose an argument rather than a compilation of information. For this reason, it might be useful to begin with an explanation of the experiences and perspectives that have shaped my view of the Spanish playwright and poet over the years. The reader (or listener) deserves to know how the author of his book is positioning himself with respect to Lorca. One’s own unique relation to the subject matter can be a source both of blindness and insight. I have often been disheartened to realize how little of one’s own deep knowledge makes its way into    

I began to define myself as a poet at the age of eleven. Naïvely, perhaps, I thought that a poet should know everything there is to know about the art form itself, so I began a systematic study of it, one that I have not yet concluded, nearly fifty years later. Gradually over the years, I discovered that most poets do not share my assumption. My more scholarly attitude would lead me in another direction, away from the purely creative attitude that would have made me a poet in the professional sense. In any case, I was going to be an English major, but I began to study Spanish during the summer before my freshman year, and progressed rapidly through the courses. The opportunity to study abroad in Madrid for a year made me change my major to Comparative Literature. My PhD is also in Comp Lit, although my primary professional identification has always been as a hispanist. 

I was interested in Spanish and Latin American poetry because of the wide number of translations being produced at the time, as a consequence of the prevalence of the deep image school and the Nobel Prize for literature awarded to Pablo Neruda and to Vicente Aleixandre in the 1970s. I bought into the notion that the best Spanish poetry was surrealist in the mode of Aleixandre’s books of the 1930s, Neruda’s Residencia en la tierra, and, of course, Lorca’s Poet in New York. I wanted to understand and translate this poetry. This was my primary motivation for learning Spanish, in fact. I assumed, at one point, that my trajectory would have been a fairly typical one, but I have actually never met anyone else who became a professor of Spanish in order to read Lorca or Neruda in the original. This was also the period in which the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez and other “boom” writers was hugely popular in the US. In some sense, this concept was the equivalent, in prose, to the poetic idea of Spanish-language surrealism. Both are exoticizing lenses through which to view the cultural other.       

My main poetic interest in the English language was the New York School, a group of poets who were inspired by French, rather than Spanish poetry. (Later I would discover that Frank O’Hara and Kenneth Koch owed more to Lorca than most people realized, but that is getting ahead of myself.) I liked some of the deep image poetry of people like James Tate, but I didn’t necessarily like most the work of American poets inspired by the Spanish poetry I was studying. This split in my own consciousness is important to note because it explains how I took a more suspicious view when I began to write on this topic. Not only would I would never celebrate Lorca’s duendein an uncritical way, but I would actively criticize those who do. 

My first published poem, with the title “Poem,” was based on my experience of reading Kenneth Koch’s parody, “Some South American Poets,” in his book The Pleasures of Peace: “There is no need to invent imaginary / Latin American poets! Real poets exist, / Waiting to be translated!” This poem is obviously very derivative of Koch, but it provides evidence that I was already fascinated to the practice of apocryphal translation, to which I would return more than twenty years later in my first book on Lorca.    

In Spain, I took a course on Lorca, Aleixandre, and Guillén from the poet José Luis Cano. He presented these poets in a very straightforward way, emphasizing Lorca’s Andalusian origins. Carlos Bousoño, the most prominent critic of poetry in Spain at the time, gave a course on “Theory of Poetic Expression.” During the first class session, he devoted more than an hour to discussing the first line of a Lorca poem, “Romance de la guardia civil española.” His point was that this was poetry because Lorca wrote “Los caballos negros son” [the horses black are] rather than using the normal word order “Los caballos son negros.” I did not return for the second day of class. I was put off by his display of pedanticism. He expected students to take down his words verbatim in their notes, even repeating sentences so make it easier for them. Cano, or perhaps another professor, told me about a course taught by Claudio Rodríguez, perhaps the greatest Spanish poet of the time. I enrolled in that course, dropping Bousoño’s, and went on to write a dissertation on Rodríguez.

Dream of Bad Piano Lesson and Imperialist Trump

As if to counteract my recently redefined piano goal, I dreamt that I was in a piano lesson with an unfamiliar teacher. Both my daughter and I were supposed to have a lesson, and she went first, but only talked, without playing.  I sat down to play the Prelude in C Major by Bach and my fingers could not find the notes. I started an octave too high at first, but even when I was in the correct octave I couldn't get it right. I realized that the piano was too high in relation to the bench for me to reach comfortably, but even after those adjustments I simply couldn't do it. In waking life, I can find the chords very easily because it begins with a C major triad. It was unclear whether my daughter would play so I left her there, though with some uneasiness.

After that, I was in a bar but didn't want to have a drink. My girlfriend was there and we went to a hotel lobby where someone was being honored for his contribution of the coaching of baseball pitching. We were shown his photo on the cover of an old issue of Sports Illustrated. The presenter was starting, but Trump, on a stage, was talking loudly in a way that distracted attention away from the ceremony. I walked over and told this to one of the president's aides. The word "rude" was used a lot. The aide said he knew about the rudeness. Finally Trump went to a microphone and began his speech. He talked in a loud, hostile, and bombastic way about Asia, saying we were going to conquer India, and conquer Beijing...  I sprinted away in disgust and noticed that there were only forty people in the audience to applaud him.

There was fight going on in gift shop area as I ran away. Two women, one black and one white, were involved, but by the time I was nearby they were picking up the toppled merchandise and were being friendly to one another again.

In waking life I try to take a negative but non-deranged view of Trump and a relaxed view of piano playing. Apparently, though, in dreams the conscious intent counts for very little.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Redefining a goal

Instead of defining my goal on the piano as getting to a certain point of dexterity, I will define it as getting to a level of comfort and ease. My only goal will be to have a positive relationship to my own playing. Of course, I will still get better in other ways, but I want to turn my attention away from those external goals.

Fight & Lemon Cake Dreams

In this dream I had to fight someone larger and stronger than I am. He was tossing people around at will. I decided my strategy would be to put all my attention and strength into breaking his pinkie finger. So I was basically redefining the fight as: all of my strength ...  against his weakest point. I had no fear at all. The fight began and I was attempting this strategy, but I woke before I could figure out whether I was going to be successful.


I had baked a lemon cake. A woman I had known in some past period of my life was there and praising me for it, eating one of the few pieces left. The place and circumstance was very hazy, but it seemed like a public place to which people could bring their food to share. There were references to another dish I had made.


Someone else's dream: the airline had broken her suitcase and replaced it with another of lesser quality.  It was very heavy because it was filled with books.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Six Lorca Lectures

I.  Lorca and me

II. Lorca par lui même

III. Lorca and the Death of the Subject

IV.  The Dramatist: Comparative Perspectives

V.  The American Reception

VI. The Musical Imagination

Sunday, March 3, 2019

12 tone

I wrote a tone row. To the extent that it sounds good, it is because it suggests tonal relationships, as when I went up a diminished triad, or up three notes of the beginning of a minor scale. Its retrograde sounded really good; its inversion was ok, and its retrograde inversion wasn't great sounding. The twelve-tone system is ruled by a systematic avoidance of tonality, but by this system the tonal system remains there apophatically. Anyway, I don't think the melody is any less of a melody because it happens to have twelve notes without repetitions. I'm phrasing it in groups like this:

F Gb Db C /  Eb D E / G Bb / Ab A B