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...

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Hard to Describe

 In a dream last night there was a series of social media bombs: very strong messages sent out to everyone with intent of discouraging all action or propagating extreme pessimism.  But there were others that had the opposite effect, in which I myself was involved. These are hard to describe but involved intense refutation of the pessimists. The dream was very specific but the language I use to describe it must be vague because none of the details have survived in my memory.  

Later, there was a role-playing exercise in an airport. We had to surrender passports to police. But I got suspicious and grabbed our passports back and made a run for it. I thought we might be in trouble but then thought the police officer must be a rogue and not have support of his other colleagues.    

Monday, November 23, 2020

Posted this to facebook...

 I was in a graduate course on the Theory of the Lyric at Stanford in the early 1980s. As each student gave the required presentation, the professor would simply take over and explain the reading himself at a certain point, usually about 5 minutes in, and not allow any student to finish. I decided this would not happen to me, so I prepared my presentation on Kenneth Burke's reading of Cleanth Brooks' reading of a Keats' Ode, in The Grammar of Motives, as a coherent talk, rather than doing whatever the other hapless students before me had done. I had read a lot of Burke before taking the course and so I had chosen to sign up for a reading that would play to my strengths. The professor, whom I won't name here, allowed me to finish, and I turned my awkwardness in differentiating between the similarly sounding names Burke and Brooks (I've never pronounced the r very well) to my own comic advantage. I'm not sure why this memory came back to me today as I was reading something else by Kenneth Burke. Grad school was filled with brilliant students, and I certainly felt out of my theoretical depth many times, often experiencing Stanford as what we would now call a "hostile environment," but the advantage I held was knowing who I was and what I had to say, and figuring out how to get where I want to go.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Rhythm Method

 My new rhythm is this.  500 words a day. This takes shortly more than an hour. I can do it in one sitting or two, on days that I teach.  I skipped yesterday because I did a zen retreat, but the idea is to have 6,000 words in 12 days. 

I think I will need another 12 days to put all the references in, to perfect style and organization. 

Needless to say, this only works if I already know the content of what I am writing. The amount of time I spent learning all the things I will be saying is incalculable. 

I very much appreciate Edwin Denby's idea about dance writing. It involves two separate abilities: to observe what is happening, and to write. It is similar to Thomas's idea that you first know something, and then write it. As I work I also discover things that I do not know, so I have to do some additional research to answer ancillary questions.  

Saturday, November 14, 2020


 There was a new variety of chipmunk, perhaps a hybrid with another species, that befriended people, wanted to be close to them when they were camping, as we were in this dream. 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Take downs (more)

Another take down: Luis Fernández Cifuentes on Ian Gibson. Fernández Cifuentes also reviewed some other books on Lorca in savage ways. John Kronik on Patricia Hart's book on detective fiction. Another book on Goytisolo by Genaro Pérez, reviewed harshly by Kronik.  Andrew Anderson on Andrews Debicki's Poetry of Discovery is not a hatchet job, but a fair but rigorous review that ends up tending toward the negative. Before I knew either Andrews, I took heart in that review because everyone else was saying this mediocre book was great, when it clearly was not. 


I have a few that I have done. A particularly inept deconstruction of Francisco Brines. A book on Lorca I found absurdly and incoherently argued. I couldn't even tell what the points being made were. 

I will not do a negative book review again. I don't have any more in me. But I think the genre is a valuable one. It can be disheartening when ideas and approaches are never challenged at all, when everything is bland and uncontroversial. Kronik decided at one point not to do negative reviews any more, too, I understand completely, since I am in that position myself now. I also won't do mixed or negative promotion reviews. I will say no to them if I cannot support the person. I will still do negative prepublication reviews of articles, since I have to be honest in this process and can't tell before the reading how it will come out. I am going to try not to do negative prepublication reviews of books, if I have any way of telling before hand whether the book is going to be good again. 

Poetry contest

 I was judging a poetry contest and received 15 or 20 slender volumes, it seemed like mostly from Venezuela. I thought it would be a good idea to make the judging of the contest a group project in class, but my students pointed out that I couldn't physically distribute the books to them on zoom. 

Earlier, there has been various rooms of people, each presided over by a Nobel prize candidate. One of them was Marjorie Perloff. Each of the rooms had its own short story that we had to compare... 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Classic takedowns

I subscribed to the NYRB the other day. I used to have a sub long ago.  So I got access to all the archives. I have been revisiting the classic takedowns. Crews on Freud and Freudians.  Renata Adler on Pauline Kael. Helen Vendler's savaging of Gilbert and Gubar. Many articles by Charles Rosen. 

It made me think to of Chomsky v. Skinner. Of Edward Pechter and Richard Levin in the PMLA attacking New Historicism and similar tendencies, in the 1990s. Derrida defending himself in Critical Inquiry against people who had misinterpreted him on Apartheid. Perloff putting Eshleman in his place.  

The feature I most enjoy is the attempts at rebuttals by the aggrieved parties and their surrogates, and the masterful responses of the attackers. The aggrieved parties almost always take the tone of apolectic outrage, but typically the original critic is able to remain calm. 

One's own position comes into play in judging the merits of the arguments, but even if I were a Freudian I don't think I would say that Crews loses the debate against Freud's defenders. He is a better arguer. At times, I have to give up my own positions because the arguments on the side I initially defended are just not good ones, or i don't want to be defending things I don't really believe in. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020


 Vice-presidents who have gone on to be president in my lifetime: Nixon, Johnson, Ford, Bush, and Biden. Vice-presidents who have run and lost: Humphrey, Mondale, Gore. So a vice-president is a good bet to be a candidate and win an election as president, or to succeed a president through death or resignation (Truman, Johnson, Ford). 

Dream of Scatting and Fappling

 I was scat singing, trying to get every note of Hawkins's "Body and Soul" or maybe "Moody's Mood for Love." I found someone else singing and tried to match that performance note for note, hoping that the other singer wouldn't be annoyed with me.  

Late, I was explaining my hobby of "fappling" to someone. It was a variant on the word "fabling," derived from "fable." It was a game involving the collaborative creation of fictional worlds, though the details were not clear. Perhaps fappling means dreaming.  

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Some Questions

 What did medieval people call their own epoch? Surely they didn't know they were "medieval" or "middle." Did renaissance people know they were in the renaissance? What did Mozart call his own style of music? It probably wasn't "classical." We know the "baroque" was the invention of the 19th century. The "counter-reformation" is also a label created well after the fact, I believe. I don't think Lope knew he was in the "siglo de oro" or, even less so, "early modern." I think rococo was used contemporaneously with the style it describes. I'll have to look that up. 

What was the first period that knew what it was called, that named itself? When was the periodization we now take for granted become established? Do any of these questions make any substantive difference, or are they simply taxonomical shorthand that we use for convenience? 


Taking a break from my Italianate fixation, I read Vicente Luis Mora's Centroeuropa.  A man arrives at a farm in Prussia with the corpse of his dead wife. He digs a hole to bury her and unearths the corpse of a frozen soldier... This takes place in the first decades of the 19th century.  

That is the first page or so. Everything else is the gradual revelation of everything else surrounding these events, in past, present, and future. So many novels leave no room for mystery: everything is on the surface. This one does the opposite, and revelations only lead to a deeper sense of mystery. 

I knew Vicente as a critic of poetry, whose book Singularidades is obligatory reading. I've met him in person, I seem to remember, and also am friends with him on face book.  

Friday, November 6, 2020


 We had a workshop on microaggressions yesterday in my department. It was done in a very reasonable way and I didn't feel myself resistant or skeptical at all. I guess people have been exaggerating how oppressive the PC stuff is.  A bit of the language was funny, like "target" and "agent."