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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...

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Mediocrity (v)

There is a kind of tedious book about intellectuals in the late Franco period, called El cura y los mandarines, by Gregorio Morán. The protagonist is a guy named Jesús Aguirre, priest turned into a Duke, an "intellectual" who actually never wrote anything of substance but seemed to be at the center of everything. The book is a bit tedious because it is longwinded and ultimately I don't care very much about Aguirre. It is useful because it has information about the founding of El País and about the inner workings of the Real Academia. Morán is constantly pointing out the mediocrity of this intellectual ambience, especially seemingly major figures like Julián Marías. This also gets tedious because he rarely explains why someone is so mediocre: it's just supposed to be self-evident. And what has Morán done to make us think he isn't mediocre as well?  There are valuable things in the book, but it isn't quite as great as I expected it to be. It offers that vicarious pleasure of feeling superior to people like Francisco Umbral or the elder Marías, but I am suspicious of that.


Carlos Bousoño was the best known critic of poetry in Spain. His whole system was based on a classification of metaphors, with his own terminology with labels like "imagen visionara."  I don't remember the other ones. I guess he was a disciple of Dámaso Alonso, the main philologist of the previous generation. I came across Bousoño when I was first in Spain. In graduate school I discovered that A. Debicki was the best known critic of Spanish poetry in the US.  I immediately saw his intellectual thinness.  It was self-evident to me, though a lot of other people seemed to think he was great.

I knew that I could be one of the top scholars in my field, because people like this were just not at a high level. The bad thing, obviously, was that this fueled my arrogance. It also wasn't good to be in a field that other people did not respect that much, or were not interested in.  I could be as good as possible, and people would still see me as a Debicki disciple, not reading either of us.  Or they could know I'm good but see me as exceptional within the field.

I'm still working on my arrogance. I'm sure these posts on mediocrity are not helping!

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