Featured Post


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, 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.