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BFRC

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, June 26, 2022

Tropic of Capricorn

 I read this novel by Henry Miller.  I had read it when I was 15 or 16, I guess. It does not age particularly well, to put it delicately.  I think just about anybody could write about sex better than Henry Miller.  It could only be published in the US in 1961 or so, and a decade later it was already being denounced by one of the first works of feminist literary criticism.  Well of course.  There's something in the rawness of it that I realize must have seemed appealing at one time, if you can ignore all the offensiveness of misogyny and antisemitism.  

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Graduate School

 There was a dank basement with several unfinished rooms where we were going to stay--me and two other young people, one male, one female.  (I was young in this dream, or starting school again, but with my entire experience intact, somehow). I tried going around the other way, but met my two companions in the same place I was before. This was, apparently, "graduate school." I explained to the other two individuals that graduate school was traumatic because of its very nature, not as an accidental by-product. It seemed hard that we would have to spend several years in this dungeon-like space.  

There were words written in the dust down there. They were misspelled words of insult, like aweful. These words were going to be used somehow in an action against trump. They were either the words he would use against us, or vice-versa, and this would come out in some hearing or experiment.    

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Outline of future article

 Here's an article I could write:

Apocryphal translation tends toward the parodic, whether intentionally or not.  Why?

(Definition: translations of "originals" that do not exist, or translations so distant from the original that they are almost unrecognizable.)  

Why? Because they are "unmoored" from any source, hence what steps in to the vacuum created by the absent original is going to be a cultural stereotype.  It will be "orientalist," whether it is Japan or Spain. In other words, a vision of an "other" that is non-Western, in some sense. 

In reality, the use of this device is variable, so must be judged case by case in individual contexts. In general terms, though, we should see this not as an exception within translation practices, but simply one extreme--where the other extreme would be translation that aims toward an ethics of scrupulousness. 

A narrative device that is available, with well-known precedents. Nobody reads Brownings Sonnets from the Portuguese as apocryphal Portuguese poetry. In this case the device is a pure pretext.  The pretense that Don Quijote is translated from the Arabic is somewhat different: it becomes a device of metafiction. We don't literally read the work as a translation from the Arabic, since the device is transparent.  

Examples: Spicer's Lorca (add Ron Padgett)

Rexroth's Marichiko. 

Landling's Love Poems from God

Conclusions: the parodic view means that intentionally bad, kitschy poems, will be indistinguishable from sincere attempts to channel the original.  In other words, parody cannot be as bad as the supposedly sincere attempt to do justice to the poetry of the "other." 

This reveals the status of poetry in our culture. It is on the level of inspirational quotes on facebook. Engagement with the cultural other ends up being an exercise in cultural narcissism.   



Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Weinberger on Rexroth

I guess some people like the fake Japanese poet:


The Marichiko poems are particularly extraordinary. The text is chronological: in a series of short poems, the narrator longs for, sometimes meets, dreams of and loses her lover, and then grows old. Although Marichiko is identified as a “contemporary woman,” only two artifacts of the modern world (insecticide and pachinko games) appear in the poems; most of the imagery is pastoral and the undressed clothes are traditional. The narrator is defined only in relation to her lover, and of her lover we learn absolutely nothing, including gender. All that exists is passion:


Your tongue thrums and moves
Into me, and I become
Hollow and blaze with
Whirling light, like the inside
Of a vast expanding pearl.


It is America’s first Tantric poetry: through passion, the dissolution of the world (within the poem, the identities of the narrator and her lover, and all external circumstances; outside the poem, the identity of Marichiko herself) and the final dissolution of passion itself


I shouldn't elevate my own opinion to gospel. 

Rexroth

 Here is another one:

IV

You ask me what I thought about
Before we were lovers.
The answer is easy.
Before I met you
I didn't have anything to think about.

VII

Making Love with you
Is like drinking sea water.
The more I drink
The thirstier I become,
Until nothing can slake my thirst
But to drink the entire sea.

IX

You wake me,
Part my thighs, and kiss me.
I give you the dew
Of the first morning of the world.


An American poet, Kenneth Rexroth, invented this Japanese woman poet, Marichiko, and published these apocryphal translations of her.  You could criticize this as cultural appropriation, as gender appropriation, or as bad poetry tout court.  Rexroth had translated much Chinese and Japanese poetry, he had paid his dues in a sense. And yet he still came up with this.   

According to Eliot Weinberger, "he gained critical recognition for having conveyed so authentically the feelings of someone of another gender and culture." But how would Weinberger know?  He is not a young Japanese woman getting some cunnilingus, so how could he tell the difference between authentic and inauthentic renderings of this experience?   

What if we saw apocryphal and / or appropriating translation as the norm, and an effort to not appropriate as the exception?  Just as my attempt to write bad poetry can never quite keep up with the actual bad poetry that people love so much.   




An ethics of prose

The particular ways that writing fails entail ethical issues. If the entire impulse is unethical, then the writing will be bad, as a way of trying to cover up that lack of integrity.  For example, an official apology that isn't really apologetic, but simply is covering the rhetorical bases.  An over-wrought obfuscatory style designed to make the writer into a paragon of virtue.  

The same is true of cultural appropriation.  Here is a poem purporting to be a translation of St. John of the Cross.  It is not. It is the crappy appropriation of the name by Daniel Landinsky, and American infamous for channeling poetry by Hafiz and publishing it as though it were by Hafiz.  In the kindle edition I have, the lines are centered on the page in a way typical of schlocky poetry.   


THE ESSENCE OF DESIRE

 I did not
have to ask my heart what it wanted,
because of all the desires I have ever known just one did I cling to
for it was the essence of
all desire: to hold beauty in
my soul’s
arms.

Various. Love Poems from God (Compass) (pp. 313-314). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

Apparently, Hafiz writes in the exact same style as the Catholic saint:

HOW DID THE ROSE? 

How 
did the rose 
ever open its heart 
and give to this world all of its beauty? 
It felt the encouragement of light against its being,

Various. Love Poems from God (Compass) (p. 161). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

ONE REGRET 

One regret that I am determined not to have
when I am lying upon my
death bed is that we did not kiss
enough.

Various. Love Poems from God (Compass) (p. 172). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

I kid you not.  I think we have an ethical obligation to hate this, and the aesthetic failing is what might tip us off to the ethical failure, the fact that he is attributing his own lousy poems to famous mystics of the past.  


I could accuse the Barcelona blues bands of not having "the right to sing the blues," because they have paid their dues, so to speak.  Or, in musical terms, I could just find the music not flavorful enough, lacking in musical substance.  


CA

 I have no objections to discussions about cultural appropriation.  In fact, my whole book, Apocryphal Lorca, was in part about cultural appropriation. 

I once sang in a concert (in Carnegie Hall) with various gospel choirs, many from Europe.  Aside from one woman who was clapping on the downbeats, or just randomly, it was fine. I think the fact that there are serious gospel choirs from Poland is pretty amazing. 

I went to a blues concert in Barcelona.  I thought the bands were not particularly good or "bluesy," but they were just doing their thing.  

I object strongly to people who do fake translations of Rumi.  

What I object to is hand-wringing, the cringe-worthy attempt to worry the concept to death.  In the cases where it's bad and wholly objectionable, then object to it. But realize, too, that all cultural innovation arises from borrowing things from other people, or you wouldn't have polka rhythms played with accordions in Mexico.     


Monday, June 20, 2022

Brisket with the Danes

 That said, I do not believe that the conversation about cultural appropriation should be so easily cast aside, especially by those who are concerned with the pains of history, the well-being of neighbours, and the healing of society. To the contrary, I believe that the accounts of history and of political vigilance that lie at the heart of the cultural-appropriation framework are more or less beyond reproach. The simple fact of the matter is that Western culture, even with all of its religious and scientific pretensions (as often as not because of them) was predicated on presumption and enacted through theft. And not only this, these presumptions and this theft continue to shape the complex ways in which those of us who have inherited this culture interact with one another. Because of this, I believe that the work of taking this history seriously by repairing its original harms and rejecting its lingering impulses is central to moral and political integrity in our time. All this to say, I find—even with its conceptual ambiguities—the framework of cultural appropriation to be an important source of theoretical and practical guidance in the ongoing work of overcoming the harms of our colonial inheritance.


Why do I find writing like this insufferable?  It's supposed to be so ever thoughtful and nuanced, but the kind of "cultural appropriation" at issue is of the most trivial, unobjectionable kind imaginable.  If I were to parody this style I would call it "concern troll" style.  All this "I believe that..."  "All this to say, I find." The pretentious verbiage like "moral and political integrity of our time."  


Thursday, June 16, 2022

Translation 101

 The first idea of translation is that there are words that mean the same thing in different languages.  

So, let's say summer, verano, été all mean the same thing.

A second idea, there are utterances, complete sentences, that correspond to complete sentences in another language.  

A third idea: languages can be compared in what they must and can convey.  

So there are concepts like number, gender, aspect, level of formality, tense, mood.  

Let's take the second person.  In English we have 

You

This word does not have gender or number or level of formality. In Spanish we have

tú / Ud.

vosotros / vosotros / Uds.  

There are five words, because the Spanish pronouns express three extra factors: level of formality, number (singular vs. plural), and, in the case of vosotros, gender as well.  

I went can be fui / iba: The Spanish past tense is required to express an aspect, but the English is not.  

Nouns have gender in Spanish, so the language decides to divide the world up rather arbitrarily into masculine and feminine things. Tables and chairs are feminine, as is the moon, but the sun is masculine.  

English has gendered pronouns, but not gendered nouns in the linguistic sense, except to refer to animals or people of a certain gender. German has three genders, masculine. feminine, neuter. 

[When we think of untranslatable words, we are thinking on the level of the word.  Many people find this concept interesting, but I don't, because it is really just a function of the third level (languages divide things up differently and choose what to express, or not), but applied to problems of the first degree: finding equivalents for individual words. It would be rather weird if each language came up with the exact same way of carving up reality. One language has a word for the feeling of joy when something happens to your enemy, another does not. So what? That would be expected, not surprising.]

If we are still thinking on levels 1, 2, and 3, we are thinking about: synonymous words in different languages, the possibility of expressing the same idea in two different languages, and the way languages line up (or fail to line up) in what factors they can, or must, express. 

Level four would be to look at the text to be translated in a holistic.  What is its style, its poetics, its context? What is distinctive about it?  Is it a scientific treatise, a folk ballad? What kind of Spanish is it (historically, geographically)?  

The next idea (5) is to look at what kind of existing (or potential) styles exist (or could exist) in the target language. Here, again, different literatures will have different resources. Imagine translating a novel into a language in which there are no novels yet written. The the translator would essentially be inventing an entirely new discourse in the target language.  Now, imagine a more "normal" situation, in which we have many available fictional discourses in the target language, from which to choose, or mix and match.  

Idea 6, then, is that translation is a way of comparing, not two languages, but two systems of discourse that differ in what resources are already developed. Now we have gone from the idea of comparing two words, to the idea of comparing two distinctive literary universes.  

The haiku scholar Makoto Ueda follows more or less this protocol.  He first wants to define what Basho's hokku is in itself:

I believe a hokku... is a short, three phrase poem intended to charm the reader into contemplating some aspect of nature or the human condition, usually through the help of a seasonal word. I also share the view that the 17-syllable poem presents an observation in all its immediacy, before it is intellectually conceptualized. 

This is sufficient. Suppose someone had a different idea of the hokku; that would be fine, took as long as it could be expressed in terms as specific as these.  

The second factor is Ueda's "predilection for a certain English poetic style." He has certain ideas about what he likes in a poem written in English, and what kind of styles already existing in English come the closest to the qualities he perceives in the original.  Notice he's not focussed here on how to translate words or complete utterances, or on how English and Japanese line up with each other (or differ) grammatically. 









Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Birch

 I remember the close intertwining between the LDS Church and the John Birch Society when I was a kid.  There were a few families that were Birchers, and seemed to take about it a lot. Even people that were just normal conservative Republicans didn't care for them. My cousins, at the house of the Bircher, were taken aside by the father of the family and given some lecture about communism.  

I think here was a rule, written or unwritten, not to make a Bircher a Bishop. They thought Eisenhower and Nixon were commies. 

In other words, a high percentage of Birchers were Mormons, but not necessarily vice versa. Ezra Taft Benson and David O. McKay, high leaders of the church, looked favorably on them. 

ACLU

 I used to support the ACLU, and even had a birthday fundraiser for them a few years ago, but I now see FIRE moving into the space traditionally staked out by the ACLU.  

My issues: 

*They want to position themselves as a Social Justice org rather than a Civil Liberties one. So it only will stand up for freedom of left-wing speech. If you only support freedom for people who already agree with you, then you don't really support freedom of speech at all, do you? 

*They have a hard time speaking clearly.  They had a tweet with a quote from RBG in which they substituted the word "[person]" in brackets to the word "woman," the word that she had used. If you can't say woman, then you can't be an advocate for women's rights. They can't seem to say that abortion is a women's issue.  In another tweet, they said that abortion restrictions had a disproportionate effect on LGBTQ communities.  I think not. Surely its "disproportionate" effect is on heterosexual women.  ?? 

[Yes, I know some in the LGBTQ+ etc... can be pregnant, too, but the idea is proportionality.] 

*The Amber Heard fiasco. They ghost-wrote an OPED in WAPO by the actress, which was then the center of a libel suit. It just isn't good optics for them. Putting their fate in with hers was a complete disaster for them.  




Tuesday, June 14, 2022

1000 Cranes

 I have re-read 1000 Cranes, by Kawabata.  A man of 25 is invited to miai, a step in an arranged marriage. But he doesn't know it is a miai, and the woman who arranged it an ex-lover of his dead father. Also there is yet another lover of his father. He goes home with the second lover, and has sex with her. Then, the rest of the novel is about how the shadow of these two women make it impossible for him to go through the marriage to the original woman at the miai, or with the daughter of the woman he has slept with.  He feels sullied by the intergenerational effect, which gets in the way of his affection for either of the younger women, especially the daughter of lover #2, who also was around his own father quite a bit.  

The story is told through details of the tea ceremony, and objects associated with drinking tea. The daughter gives her a tea cup that belonged to her mother, a tea cup with a permanent lipstick stain on it.  

Once again, the culturally specific parts of it seem inaccessible, but yet symbolically transparent, in the sense that this is the vehicle for the plot to take place, not the place where meaning is invested.   

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Snow Country

 I have re-read this novel, Snow Country, by Kawabata.  Although I liked it the first time, I realize now that I don't really understand it. I don't now if I did the first time, either, but know I am more sensitive to what I don't know.  

The main character is the classic dilettante. His speciality is Western ballet, but he has never seen a performance of ballet. So clearly this is a type, a trope of some kind, but to understand it I would have know enough about Japanese literature to compare this to other versions of the same trope. This is not the main plot of the novel, just a detail offered as characterization (highly effective). It is a little bit like the classic trope of the alienation of labor: the laborer picking coffee beans who has never tasted coffee.   

Now, I'm thinking that I am the dilettante here, interested in ballet but denied access to it. I am like the character who is interested in something that is inaccessible to me! That details holds up a mirror to the Western reader. Of course, it wasn't written for us.   

Another thing, quite effective, the description of an elaborate process for bleaching kimonos. They are taken to a certain town, specializing in this, washed a few times before the bleaching process. Here is a classic metaphor that is very evocative... but of what?  The symbolism of washing and bleaching is quite obvious, but how is this being offered? As characterization of the main character who is fascinated by this? As folklore? It is quite amazing, whether I understand it or not.  

So perhaps understanding is an illusion. Someone with more expertise who understood these things in a different way, might be right, but maybe my feeling about these details is intuitively correct.   



 


Thursday, June 9, 2022

NMH

I read this NYT article on Normal Marital Hate.  I'm not a relationship guru, but what I think is this:

I have two simple needs. Not being criticized too much, and the other one that I don't need to elaborate on here.  

I don't live with my partner.  That eliminates about 90% of any potential problems. I don't feel like I need to be with someone all the time. Time together should be good times. I don't remember the last time we were angry at each other in any serious way.  

I feel the impulse to change someone, or to make them happy, is negative. Happiness is your own responsibility, not someone else's, and if you want to change the person that much, it is probably not the right person for you.  You need someone who is already up to your high standards, not someone to mold in order to fulfill that. Instead, change yourself (if you feel the need). Personal growth is a never ending process. Then your partner will appreciate the person you are. If they don't, then you don't need that person. If the relationship if bad, then it is bad for you and for the other person as well; it is not some virtuous thing you are doing that shows what a great relationship worker you are, how much great effort you are expending. 

A good relationship doesn't require hard work. There are difficult things, but the real difficulty is your own self.   


Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Official University Apology Style

[Second statement from the Office of DEIB Compliance regarding incident on bus]

It has come our attention that our first statement about the incident on a campus bus last week could have been interpreted as minimizing the real harm done. Our buses, like all other campus buildings and outdoor areas, are meant to be safe spaces, and any inappropriate violation of student, staff, and faculty rights must be taken seriously. Bodily contact of this type, even if deemed "accidental" or "unintended," falls under our zero tolerance policy. At the same time, acts of verbal aggression, such as that was reported to take place after this physical contact, can also be seen as a form of violence, triggering to survivors of abuse and disproportionately affecting BIPOC members of our community. We apologize, then, both for the original incident, which never should have occurred, and for our own frankly inadequate response to it in our earlier statement. Moving forward, we will attempt to do better to foster a sense of belonging and equity for all members of our community, especially the most vulnerable ones. We will provide free counseling to anyone who has felt triggered, either by the original incident or our first response to it.  

Monday, June 6, 2022

Haiku

 Man with hat on bus

yells at other man: stop it!

Sews button on coat. 

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Kokoro

 I'm rereading this novel by Soseki.  I used to love it, and now I'm not so sure. The narrator is a student who chooses as his mentor a man whom he call sensei. There is no real reason why sensei is admirable. He doesn't do anything, and hasn't accomplished much. He's an embittered misanthrope, pretty much, perhaps a misogynist too.  

There's one scene I remember; haven't gotten there yet, when a character shares a room with an older woman in an inn and doesn't take advantage of the situation. Then it becomes clear that she would have slept with him if he had made a move. That's pretty much all I remember of the novel, which I probably read 30 years ago, when I was closer to the narrator's age than to sensei's.  I had thought that this scene was at the beginning of the novel, but it isn't, so perhaps it will happen to sensei, not the narrator?  

They key to this novel is a certain quality of feeling, an exact definition of an emotion that does not really admit of exact description. It has to be done by suggestion, as Mallarmé might say. This perhaps explains the admiration of the young man toward sensei. If there was an explicit reason for admiring him, then that would be too definite a thing. The aesthetic here is a fin-de-siècle je n'e sais pas mood.  Maybe that's why I liked it so much.  

For better or worse, a compelling novel has to have an it, something that gets you.  

[UPDATE: I think the scene must be from another novel; I'm not finding it.]. 

Friday, June 3, 2022

Sestina

So, I have taught the poem by Jaime Gil de Biedma, "Apología y petición," in graduate classes several times. The poem is a sestina, and invariably, no student will notice this (or know what a sestina is). They will notice that the poem is a bit repetitive... It's kind of a banal political poem, when read straight, but when read as a provencal tour de force, it becomes something else, a postmodern parody of a certain political discourse. You can't understand the poem unless you know that it is a clever variation on a fixed form. There are various ways of understanding the relationship between "form" and "content," here, but to understand this you must first understand what the form is.  

Since I knew what the rules of the sestina were when I was 15 years old, it seems strange to me.  But then, thinking better of it, I realize that it was very easy for me to become an expert on Spanish poetry, because most people ending up in the field didn't know what a sestina was. Not knowing that one thing is not important, but if you don't know that, there are probably other things you don't know, as well. I'm just using that as an example.     


South of the Border

 At B's house where I am pet sitting I found a copy of South of the Border, West of the Sun. It features the protagonist born in 1951 (like Murakami himself) as mediocre heterosexual male at 30 years old. Seems to be like Norwegian Wood, but not as compelling, so far. Nostalgia for lost love of early adolescence; disillusionment with 1970s politics...  Awkward sex scenes. 

I'm still struggling through 1Q84. Probably because I'm reading it on a kindle and in Catalan. 

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Hard Boiled

Yours truly had passed another sleepless night in the city of angels. Now it was a hazy morning and I had a bad hangover. I'd been working on a domestic case, and now I was tailing some working stiff: his better half thought he was stepping out on her with some other dame. The wife was a classy broad, from money--old or new, it didn't matter to me--it was just green as far as this gumshoe was concerned. I'd wasted a lot of shoe-leather already on the case, when the poor sap jumped on the bus I had to do the same. A few minutes later he whipped around; I thought he'd made me, but instead he tried to stare down some wise guy with cauliflower ears and sunken eyes who'd been bumping up against him. Thinking better of it, he high-tailed it and sat down.  

I followed his trail up to the station, where he was meeting with a business associate ever coffee. So it wasn't a skirt he was chasing, just some get-rich scheme involving counterfeit overcoats!  

Valis

 As I suspected, I got invited to review Noel Valis's book on Lorca's afterlife.  I said no, as I will to all other requests.  I just cannot feel objective about it.  Now I know we are never objective, in the true sense, but in this case I cannot separate my own views for long enough to give a balanced view. 

It is not even that I disagree with her. I just don't feel like writing a review that would mostly be defending my own territory, or deliberately trying to bend over backwards not to defend it. That seems pointless as well.  

Inner Sorrentino

 I feel like I am channeling my inner Sorrentino in my Queneau variations. Sorrentino like the Oulipo movement, understandably. I might have heard about it first from him. There is a chapter in one of his books (I cannot remember which, right now) that consists entirely of a list of fanciful nicknames for mafiosi. He could pull off that sort of comic tour-de-force like no one else. He was Sicilian, from Brooklyn, with an Irish mother, and he loved Joyce and Flann O'Brien. He had been an editor at Grove Press, so he witnessed, and participated in, the development of postmodern American lit. 

In him, the novelistic postmodernism came together with the poetic postmodernism in a unique way. These are, in some sense, rather separate movements, with metafictional people like John Barth one side and the Pound-Williams-Olson tradition on the other. Sorrentino was in both of these worlds. When Perloff was hired at Stanford, Levertov notoriously opposed her, because she (Perloff) liked the Language poets, but Sorrentino was in favor of bringing her on board. It is interesting how Creeley and Sorrentino welcomed the Language Poets, but Levertov did not.  

Anyway, Queneau's variations are clever, but they do not aim deliberately for comic excess. The only American member of Oulipo was Harry Mathews, so you might appreciate the difference here. Mathews is wonderful, but not someone searching for comic effect to the same degree.  

I am thinking of combining my Queneau variations with my homage to Bronk.  It would be Homage to Bronk and Queneau. I take the idea of "derivative writing," derived from Robert Duncan. Derivative is an insult, usually, meaning slavishly imitative of another, but why not deliberately imitate another's work and see what happens? We know that parody is fundamental to postmodernism, after all. and parody is essentially derivative in this sense.   


Wednesday, June 1, 2022

déjà vu

 An older man with an elegant chapeau did not care for the way a younger man was behaving. The éminence grise turned around, prepared to deliver a cri de coeur to the agent provocateur.  "Escusez-moi, Monsieur. You have committed a faux pas. Rudeness on the bus is my bête noire. I cannot give carte blanche to your laissez-faire joie de vivre " "Touché, replied the enfant terrible, unable to find le mot juste. That, then, was the coup de grâce. Having delivered this tour de force of invective, he sat down. His rhetorical superiority was a fait accompli. 

Later, I saw him in a tête à tête near the Gare, where he met d'habitude to discuss matters of haute couture

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Murakami signatures in first part of Wind Up Bird Chronicle

 

*Aimless 30-year old male protagonist, left by wife

*Association with adolescent girl 

*Other female figures as objects of sexual desire  

*Suggestions of incest 

*Communication with alternate reality / occult / divination 

*Maleficent right-wing figures

*Sheep or other ovine animals 

*Long shadow of Japanese Imperialism

*Use of random music (jazz, rock, or classical) / cooking as punctation, like listening to music while making spaghetti and then the phone rings... The music is always specifically named. 

*Search for lost cat 

Of course, this does not make any given novel unoriginal. I'm sure all writers have favorite situations or character types that work well for their particular imagination. It's almost comforting to see a motif you've seen in a few other novels, because the novelist is teaching you how to read him. 




Jeopardy Style

 This 1947 book uses 99 separate styles to recount an anecdote about a man with a long neck, wearing a hat, on a bus, who later meets a man to consult with him about his overcoat. 


What is Exercises de Style?  

Insomnia

 I was thinking about the circle of fifths as I was falling asleep--or failing to fall asleep--the other night. 

Going around the circle, each new key adds a sharp, on the seventh degree of the scale.  So G has F#, D adds C#, etc... At the bottom of the circle F# adds E#.  At every point of the circle there is one fewer shared notes. So G shares all but one note with C, and F#, at six positions of distance, shares only one note. At first, I was thinking that Gb or F# had five notes in common with C, since there are two white notes in the this scale. But then I realized that the B would have to be spelled as a C flat.  

With the flat keys on the other side of the circle, each new key loses a flat.  Of course, losing a flat is the same as adding a sharp, so the same pattern is observed. With the circle of fourths (reading counterclockwise), each key adds flat, and that flat is always the fourth degree of the scale, so that F adds Bb, Bb adds Eb, Eb adds Ab, Ab adds Db, Db adds Gb, Gb adds Cb.  Usually, I would be asleep by now thinking about this, but this particular night I just kept going.  If I had stayed awake longer I would have figured out why the fourth corresponds to the 7th going the other way.  I do know that the sequence of sharps added follows the same sequence as the circle of fifths itself, starting with F#, C#, G#, D#...  The flats are the same order, in retrograde.  

{The reason why it's flatting the fourth the other way around is very obvious: the fourth of the key becomes the seventh of the next key, in the circle of fifths.} 

[The sharp added will be the 7th, as we said, so that previous sharp added will the 3rd in that new scale. The one added before that will be 6th, then the 2nd, the fifth.  Finally, there will be key that begins on that first sharp added (F#).] 

Monday, May 30, 2022

Blank

 The blank-slate protagonist of Murakami's novels works pretty well. The aimlessness, lack of connection to the world, even his mediocrity, make him available to what is proposed to him. He has negative capability. Someone with more of a definite personality would not work as well.  He has to be free (left by his wife, un- or under-employed), a bit stoic. It doesn't matter that it is the same generic character in several different novels. A reader (male at least) can identify with him as an everyman. 

Of course, he has to be strong too, resilient when things start to happen. Mediocre everyman has to rise to the occasion.  The modesty has a power of its own. It doesn't even matter that many of the other characters are more interesting than the protagonist. He doesn't have to be interesting because things happen to him.   

***

The banality of the original anecdote of Queneau's stylistic exercises is similar. A story with more inherent interest would not work, because the key is the stylistic variation.  

UK HEADLINE STYLE

 LONDON RAILWAY STATION OVERCOAT BUTTON SUSPECT ACCUSED IN BUS ROW

Cante jondo

Andalucía tiene 

autobuses siniestros

donde llora la gente.  


¡Ay, amor,

que se se va y no vuelve!


En la encrucijada verde

del llanto en los olivos

el puñal se pierde


¡Ay, amor,

que se se va y no vuelve!


Y el puñal, ay,

se hunde en el pasajero

que en el atardecer muere.


¡Ay, amor,

que se se va y no vuelve!



Sunday, May 29, 2022

Dated Slang

 Jeepers creepers! This hepcat, ya dig?  He's got some groovy threads, with this porkpie hat. I thought he'd have cool wheels, too, with a get up like that, but there he was on the city bus, probably going back to his crib to shed, like all the cats used to do. Anyway, this other cat is standing there, throwing shade his direction, so finally the first cat, he's like, daddio! I'm just cooling my heels here, I don't dig the way you're cramping my style. He kept riffing like that for a while, then took a load off in an empty seat. 

I saw this same mofo later with this ofay cat, on the other side of the tracks. I thought the other cat was the man, but they were just comparing their threads, just two jive turkeys. 

Intersectional, 2020s style

This incident occurred on the ancestral lands of the Missouri and Illini peoples, in a city built by the labor of the descendants of previously enslaved persons and Latinx immigrants. 

There was this cis-gender male, masculine presenting--though his retro hat made me think at first that he was an ally of the LGBTQ+community. (Either that, or he was just a gentrifying hipster.) Standing behind him on the bus was a Stan in a MAGA hat, who was manspreading, his elbows and knees jutting into black and brown bodies. I don't mean to body-shame him (if that is the pronoun that would use), and perhaps he was not neuro-typical, so I don't want to make any ableist assumptions here. Maybe he was just an incel, though.There was a white woman with a Karen haircut on the bus who looked like she was ready to call 911 or ask to speak to the manager, and some TERFS glaring at a pre-transition transman, visibly pregnant, who was sitting in a seat reserved for the differently abled. 

So the cis-gender person in the hipster fedora turned around and asked the alt-right fan of Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson to check his privilege... 

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Dick and Jane

 See the man.  The man has a hat.  The man in the hat is on the bus. He has no seat. The man is mad. 


This man is on the bus too. He has no hat. He has no seat. He hits the man in the hat.  


The man in the hat is mad.  He is mad at the man with no hat. He sits on a seat.  


Now, the man in the hat is not on the bus. He is with a man. They chat about a coat.  



Dream of Novel

 This was a complex dream about doing a book review of a Latin American novel. It was by Carpentier or by Ariel Dorfman, and was about 100 pages. In the dream I only had access to a small portion of it. But I was also a character in the novel, in a sense. We (a woman and I) were on the police and we had a prisoner that we were keeping hidden from the rest of the police force, to protect him. Another, burly officer interfered. We arrested him, but he got away and threatened me. He was much larger than I was, and the rest of the police were not helping us.  

The dream went on for what seemed to be several hours. Some of it was the action in the dream-novel, and some the action of attempting to read the book. 

Of course, the names Dorfman and Carpentier are real, but have nothing to do with the plot of this particular dream. They just came up as I was desperately trying to fix in my memory everything about the novel so that I could write the book review when I woke up.  

Cliché

 Ain't life strange? At the end of the day, a man has to do what a man has to do, ya know what I mean?  After all, everything happens for a reason, like they say. I'm not saying these things happen only once in a blue moon; they're more like our daily bread, to tell the truth.     

 We were packed like sardines on the bus; it was hot as hell. This pencil-neck geek is standing there, like he had all the time in the world and not a care in the world. His fancy-pants hat stood out like a sore thumb, no doubt about it. The other guy, like a bull in china-shop, he's bumping into people like there's no tomorrow. So he turns around, pencil-neck does, and gives the evil eye to bull-in-a china-shop, and says, "Hey, Mac, you're disturbing the peace. This isn't cool." He's a wolf in sheep's clothing, I reckon. I didn't think he had it in him, bless his heart. The other guy, he's like "Don't make a federal case of it. Why are giving me the third degree?" Then the first guy takes a load off, shooting daggers.  

Later the same day, you wouldn't believe it, I saw the same guy, completely out of the blue. There he was, plain as the nose on your face, with his evil twin, like two peas in a pod. They were cooling their heels and chewing the fat about some needle in the haystack. You'd think money grew on trees.   

Friday, May 27, 2022

Ineffable

 Words cannot describe the scene on the bus. I find it impossible to find any way of expressing my astonishment at the hat the man was wearing, nor the attitude of je ne sais quoi in his demeanor. Truly, the language is failing me! What happened next reveals the incapacity of human systems of signs to convey the complexity of reality: the indescribable man in the ineffable hat turned around and uttered an unimaginably violent diatribe that I am unable to reproduce here, against a fellow traveler to whom I can do no justice. 

Later, I saw him in a place that beggars all description, talking to another person whom my prose style is utterly inadequate to depict.    


More tritones

 If you draw the circle of fifths, with C major at the "12 o'clock" position, and going clockwise, then the tritone for C (F# or Gb) will be at 6 o'clock.  And so on, the tritone of the key at the 1 position will be at the 7, 2 and 8, 3 and 9...  

A key six degrees away isn't all that related, but... the C 7 and the Gb 7chords share the two notes, the 3rd and the 7th (reversed), in this case, E and Bb.  The distance between this 3rd and seventh is also a tritone. In jazz voicing, the fifth and tonic are often left out, so a chord of these two notes could be ambiguous.  

So you can substitute one dominant chord for its tritone equivalent. If you have G7 resolving to C major seven, you can use D flat instead. You get a cool voice leading, with the root of the chord descending a half step, the third descending a half step, (f to e) and the seventh remaining the same (b - b).  

Eerie

[spooky music plays]

 It was gloomy afternoon; the bus was crammed with unsmiling commuters. There was something definitely "off" about the pallid young man standing in the aisle. I sensed it immediately when I caught sight of his uncannily long neck, his cold eyes, and his weirdly outdated garb. In place of a band, his hat sported a thin cord, as if to suggest a hangman's noose.   It was as though he was a ghost visiting from another century. At one point he turned around and gave a piercing, withering stare to the man standing behind him.  "Sir, stop jostling me." Espying an empty seat, he sat down. 

Later in the day, I felt a malignant presence in the air as I was walking by the train station. I turned around, only to see the ghostly figure from the train standing next to another sinister-looking personage. The two of them were hunched over in their overcoats, as though conspiring to commit an unspeakable act.   

Anglo Saxon



 A bump on the bus    a body jostled

A hat on his head    he hassles his neighbor 

Seeing a seat   he sits and fumes


Later he lingers     listens to council 

About a button    banging his fist 


Thursday, May 26, 2022

MARXIST JARGON

 A representative of the petit-bourgeois, a slave to false-consciousness, attempted to exert social control over a member of the lumpen-proletarian, in a symptomatic expression of reactionary hegemony. Later, the petit-bourgeois subject was seen with another of his same class, plotting counter-revolutionary actions.    

Vague

 The other day, something happened. A couple o' people. One with something strange on his head, some weird deformity, too, maybe. Some part of his body was abnormally short or long. They got into it, one angry with the other for some real or imagined offense. They had words, then one of them sat down somewhere. 

Later, I saw one of them somewhere, else, discussing something else related to clothing, with some other person.  

Dream of tritones

 In this dream we had to be matched with our corresponding tritones, so that if I was a G, for example, I had to have as a partner a D flat.  It wasn't a sexual or romantic thing it all, just a matter of finding someone complementary in some way to work with on some project. It was also unclear what made someone a particular note.  

***

While the tritone can seem dissident, it is present in diminished and dominant 7 chords. So the 3rd and seventh in a dominant chord will be a tritone, and the tonic and fifth, and third and 7th, will be tritones in the half diminished. 

It is not true, by the way, the it is "the devil in music" in the Middle Ages. That designation dates from the 18th century. I don't think they would have forbade this interval because it is devilish, but simply not used it because Western harmony had not developed a use for it yet.  

Opaque

 I want to book my travel to Spain, and I am sitting here trying to use the travel system set up by my university, and apparently designed by Franz Kafka and George Orwell. There is an hour long video you can watch, a training module that you can access after logging in, but I have no idea how to log on in the first place, etc... Nobody answers the phone.  I've been sitting at my computer for an hour going back and forth to different places.  

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Filling

 --So, like, what happened next? 

--Um, this, um, guy on the bus, you see...

--Yeah? 

--Like, he... he was wearing this hat, you see, with this sorta cord or something, like, in place of the hat... the hatband, you see. He had this, um, weird long kind of neck, and ...

--So, um... you were going to say?

--Oh yeah. Um.  This guy, well, as I was saying, er... This other guy, you know, was standing next to the hat um guy, the guy with the hat, I mean. And, um, and long neck starts it up with him, he was like, "Dude, like, you're like jostling me every, like every time the bus starts and stops." Then, um, he sees an empty, like a seat, and um... goes and sit down.  You know what I mean?  

--Well... yeah, and so?  

--Yeah, so, um later the same dude, I see him, you know, later the same day somewhere else, you know, and, you know, he's with his pal... 

--The guy with the hat, right? 

--Right, I dunno, but now, right? This other guy's like, dude, some kind of button, right? You should put an extra, like, button, he should sew it on, like in his coat.  


***

I've decided to write some of my own variations on Queneau's story. I took B to the hospital for a routine thing and had a notebook with me and got some ideas.  


More exercises

reportage

 The subject reported an incident he had witnessed on a municipal bus the previous week, invoking two other individuals.  The first of these, a caucasian male between the ages of 25 and 30, was wearing a hat with a cord in place of the usual band. His only other distinguishing feature was an unusually elongated neck. Standing next to him was another caucasian male. At some point, the individual wearing the hat interpellated the other passenger in a harsh and threatening tone of voice, accusing him of jostling him repeatedly whenever another passenger entered or exited the vehicle. Then, seeing an empty seat, the first individual desisted from his tirade and sat down. 

The subject also reported seeing the hatted passenger later near a train station, having a discussion about the buttons of his coat.   

*** 

pantoum


This dandy on the bus, strangely hatted

Jostled by another in the crowd 

He whines, threatens strangers

Now he finds an empty seat


Jostled by another in the crowd

As though buffeted by the winds of fate

Now he finds an empty seat 

In this way the story ends before it truly begins


As though buffeted by the winds of fate

He arranges to meet his friend over by the station

In this way the story ends before it truly begins 

A pretext for a banal film adaptation 


He arranges to meet his friend over by the station

This dandy on the bus, strangely hatted 

A pretext for a banal film adaptation... 

He whines, threatens strangers


profane

This motherfucker with this damned hat on, man, with this long-ass neck.  On the shitty bus. This other shithead standing next to the first fucker, you know, he kept fucking with him, like, damn, pushing up against him whenever the bus moved or someone other cocksucking asshole tried to get by. So the first fucker, he goes, like, hey, asshole, like, why are you fucking with me? Do you want me to fuck up your face? Rip you a new one?  Don't be a goddamn douchebag!  The other dude was, like, Jesus H. Christ,  what the fuck? The bus is fucking crowded, I can't fucking help it. Screw you, he said. Then the mother with the stupid-ass hat found a friggin seat and sat the hell down. 

Later, I was down by the fucking train station and saw him and said to myself, "damn, that's one of the asshats from the goddamned bus, the fucker with the fuckin' hat. Fuck this shit!" Now he was with this other jerk-off, talking about sewing buttons on their fucking overcoats. Fuck 'em all!       


literary 

The sunlight, filtered through the dirty panes of the city bus, illuminated fine grains of dust in the air. The conveyance was filled to the brim, as though some invisible force had conspired with the laws of chance to set in motion a series of unusual events. A young gentleman with a long giraffe-like neck, sporting an ostentatious hat adorned with a fine silken cord, cut a striking figure. A seasoned newspaper reporter riding the bus would have noticed that at one point the young man turned around and leveled an accusation against another, rather nondescript man, saying that he had been jostling him without cease during the entire ride. At that very moment a seat freed up and the strikingly hatted gentleman took possession of it. 

It seemed coincidental that this same distinctively looking man was later seen down by the station, getting sagacious advice from a third individual about minor alteration to his overcoat... 


Symposium of the Whole

 I picked up this at the used book store. The first section is snippets from Blake, Thoreau, Herder, Marx, Fenellosa, Lorca, Pound, Olson, and others that are supposed to be precursors of Rothenberg's conception of ethnopoetics. It's mostly European / American romanticism-through-modernism. It's all male too, in this section of the book. Ethnic poetics is supposed to save us from our Eurocentrism, but, to my mind, that's a European trope. So we get Fenellosa and Pound imagining the Chinese language. We don't get to see a Chinese view of it. 

The critique is almost too easy to make. 


Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Queneau

 I found a copy of Excercises de Style yesterday at our used book store, The Dusty Bookshelf. I was looking to see whether there was any Murakami and came out with that instead. 

 A guy with a hat on and a long neck on a bus complains about another passenger jostling him Then finds an empty seat. The narrator later sees long-neck hat dude somewhere else, and a friend of long-neck tells him to sew a button on his overcoat.  

Raymond Queneau tells this banal story in 99 different ways. It is 1947, a classic of postmodern literature. Not knowing French very well is no obstacle for me to understand the concept here.  It makes me want to write something similar. 


Monday, May 23, 2022

Catalan

 La Tsubasa dormia amb la galta al coixí i la boca lleugerament oberta. La seva respiració no podria haver estat més silenciosa, i el cos pràcticament no se li movia; només, de tant en tant, li tremolaven una mica les espatlles. 

Murakami, Haruki. 1Q84. Llibres 1 i 2 (EMPURIES NARRATIVA) (Catalan Edition) (p. 335). Grup 62. Kindle Edition. 

Notes:  Catalan uses a definite article with names, so "la Tsubasa" means just "Tsubasa."

Tsubasa slept with her cheek? on the pillow? and her mouth slightly open. Her breath could not have been quieter, and her body practically did not move; only, from time to time, her shoulders trembled a bit.  

This is practically transparent to me.  I can guess from context that galta is a check and coixí a pillow. Lleugerament sounds like "ligeramente," [lightly], but slightly makes more sense in English.  

It's a bit of a cognitive burden to read it in Catalan, especially since is very long novel.  I love Murakami, and I love Catalan, but somehow I don't love Murakami in Catalan.  








Sunday, May 22, 2022

Táíwò

 Táíwò is against the politics of "deference," which means the automatic deference to the less privileged in the room. He points out that this is well intentioned, but that the unprivileged people are not in the room at all, so it ends up being a deference to the elites of colonialized groups. In practice, I am unlikely to stop deferring to people. If we are talking about abortion rights, I will defer to women in the room. 

("The room" is his own wording here.) I remember an earnest discussion of privilege and the like years ago at an MLA convention session. I noticed that the people on the panel and audience members involved in the very intense debate could not see the African American woman hotel worker who had come in to refill the water pitchers. It was as if she were invisible, like the people mowing the lawn or doing maintenance work are to students on a college campus. Socially invisible, like Ralph Ellison's protagonist.   

Now, in the part I am listening to now, he talks about Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Freire's notion of the "banking" model of pedagogy. I already know about this, so I am not learning anything new here. That is, I don't have a profound understanding of this, but this exposition does not go beyond what I know.  

I cannot say I am disagreeing with Táíwò, but the book is a bit repetitive and not so well organized. Maybe this is function of listening to it rather than reading it. I don't yet have a notion of what the "constructive" politics he advocates for involves, beyond looking past the "deference" politics that he is not very enamored of.

He does that thing "the political scientist Blank," "the philosopher Blank," identifying each person by their academic expertise.  Although I normally find this distracting, it is actually good for an audio book, when I do not know the people he is citing. Maybe I am wrong to look down on this practice, then? With a printed book, I can look at the footnotes, or make note of the name visually.  


Saturday, May 21, 2022

MacGuffin

 The MacGuffin is a plot device in which some object of the quest is merely there as an object of the quest, with no inherent value in itself, like the Maltese falcon in the film of the same name. The MacGuffin is always a red herring of some sort, because the literal object of the quest is never that important in the end. It could be anything at all. It is the narrative structure itself that invests it with meaning. 

The word is associated with Hitchcock, but the principle is more universal than that. What makes the MacGuffin the MacGuffin is the transparency of its fakeness. "Here is this flimsy plot device for you to focus on; now, on with the show." 

Last book?

 B said last night that my Lorca/music book might be my last one.  I didn't argue, because that's a possibility, but I feel I should also write the book about translation from Spanish into English from the early modern period through Antonio Machado.  

Guadalupe

The poet Guadalupe Grande died early last year, but her facebook page is still up. I knew her a bit; she was part of the circle of Mestre, who would invite me to his house. Her father was Félix Grande, her mother, Francisca Aguirre,  poets of the 50s generation. 

Since her face book page is still up people last year (and this year) are leaving her birthday wishes, not knowing that she is no longer with us.  I guess that is the hazard of being "friends" on facebook. You know the person, or who the person is at least, and have generally warm feelings for them, but you don't know them well enough to realize that they are dead.  I wrote something on her timeline pointing out that it wasn't such a happy occasion, since 70 people had written on her timelines with "felicitaciones."  

The dual narrative

 One technique Murakami uses (a lot; Hardboiled wonderland and the end of the world, 1Q84, Kafka) is the parallel narrative. Odd numbered chapters tell one story, even numbered ones another, and gradually there is a convergence of the two plots. There is a lot of thematic play in the parallel universes. They seem to be about the same underlying thing, even when they seem to describe separate things. 

***

Murakami will often tell us directly that things are "symbolic" or "metaphorical." The characters in Kafka talk directly about the Oedipal plot, for example. I groan inside at this signposting.   

***

Several novels feature a guy about 30, whose wife as left him or who is unattached. He has sex with some emotionally unavailable women without any real romantic interest on his own part. There is often an unconsummated (thankfully) attraction toward a 17 years old girl. He is at a creative crossroads. He is a painter who just paints by commission, not expressing his own voice (Comendatore); he is a novelist who rewrites someone else's novel (Tengo in 1Q84). The implicit plot, then, is how to become a writer; how to channel creativity toward a goal that one desires oneself, not imposed by someone else or on other people's terms. 

He is a lone wolf. He doesn't care much about conforming to Japanese norms of material success. He is also rather aimless, unmotivated, assigned tasks not of his own choosing. This creates a tension in the novels' plots.  He searches for something that he doesn't really desire, or for something absurd. I think of him as the same character (minor differences aside) is each book. In other words, the subjectivity is structured along the same lines. There are various talismanic objects that serve as a bridge between normal reality and something beyond. A painting, a song, a bell, an entrance stone, a unicorn skull, a mutant sheep. 

There is a long shadow cast by WWII and Japanese imperialism; another shadow cast by the failed student activism of the 1970s.  

In short, reading several novels by the same novelist, there is a code to crack. It's not very difficult, assuming the novelist wants you to crack the code and feeds you the information rather directly. What the reader is doing is making sense of things in a kind of structuralist way, figuring out that one object or character  in one novel is the equivalent of another object or character in another novel. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

A Wild Sheep Chase

 I finished this novel today. It was one of the first Murakami novels I read, and one of the first he wrote, so I am coming back full circle. It was better than I remembered it.  I think the absurdity of the quest narrative is well done. In other words, the quest is an absurd and silly one, so it turns into a parody of the quest narrative, but still the quest narrative keeps the plot afloat and is meaningful in and of itself. (He has a thing of the silly simile, which is another parodic device.) I like that refusal to take things too seriously. The quest is what's important, not the spurious object of the quest.  

In English we say "a wild goose chase" for such a pointless quest. 

The quest is undertaken somewhat involuntarily, as in Kafka on the Shore. The characters do not know why they are seeking what they are seeking, and find what they are looking for seemingly by chance or intuition.  

Nobody in the novel, including the narrator has a proper name. Everyone is identified by a function or at most a nickname. The narrator appears to be the same person as the narrator of Pinball 1973.  

I found the notebook in which I was putting all my readings.  I hadn't updated it in several years, but here I  go again.   

Monday, May 16, 2022

Elite Capture (ii)

 According to the Elite Capture book I am listening to, the ivory tower elites took over Black Studies programs, making them serve elite interests rather than "the black working class." But I would think that the programs were elite from the beginning?    

NATO

 If you don't see Russia as aggressive, then you don't have to join NATO. So now that Russia is waging war against Ukraine, Finland and Sweden want to join NATO. If the goal was to counter NATO expansion, then the effect is the opposite.  

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Elite Capture

 I'm listening to an audio book in my car, Elite Capture, by Táíwò, a Nigerian man living in the US. Elite capture means just what it sounds like, that elites take things over. So in foreign aid, the elite of the country awarded the aid benefits more than the impoverished masses. A country becomes independent, but the leaders of the newly independent postcolonial nation have policies that benefit themselves, the elites of which they form a part, and the former colonial power. Identity politics gets taken over by elites within identity groups, for the benefit of corporate and managerial elites. 

This process repeats itself in various contexts. It is not a "conspiracy," but just something that tends to happen because the elites have the resources to do this over and over again. 

The author is not against identity politics, but against the cooptation of everything, everywhere, by elite groups. The concept of elite capture is not a new one, but the application to identity politics in particular is an interesting one.  

The Ukraine Stupidity

 It's not that complex. It's not good to overthink these things.  It's not NATO's fault. It isn't because there were Nazis in Ukraine. Those explanations, offered by far left and far right people, and idiotic centrists, make absolutely no sense. 

I read in the nation that Russian invasion of Ukraine is not real threat to "Europe," but where the hell is Ukraine?  It is in Europe, last time I checked. 

Some on the left want to apologize for Putin, because???  nostalgia for Soviet times?  On the right, because, stick it to Biden? 

 I heard that Chomsky was saying that only Trump was offering a good solution here, Trump, who Chomsky was very recently calling the most evil man ever in the history of the world.   

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Address

 In English, miraculously second-person pronouns are gender neutral. The pronoun we use is "you," for both singular and plural. It is thus impossible to misgender a person by "addressing" them with the wrong pronoun. I have had conversations with people for a long time and never had to commit to what gender they are by my use of pronouns. I suppose "you guys" is a vernacular plural pronoun gendered masculine, but you can avoid that one if you want.  

In Spanish class, I use "tú," which is also gender neutral.  Amazing! The gender enters into "vosotros/vosotras" but we tend to use ustedes. Usted comes from "vuestra merced" and thus was originally feminine in gender, but used to address men as well. 

There, right wing and left wing people, I have solved your imaginary pronoun problems.  Just address everyone as "you." 

Astoundingly, the first person is also gender neutral in English and Spanish. So the pronouns I use for myself at home are I / me / mine.  I bet that is true for you as well. 

You literally cannot address someone in the third person. By doing so, you are converting the third person pronoun into a second person pronoun. If I said "how is she doing today?" and referring to you, you would be confused.  

Friday, May 13, 2022

Pinball 1973

 I reread Murakami's first, "kitchen table novels" on the trip to DC.  They reveal some talent, without being great. The characters are rather aimless and passive, and the rhythmic punctuation of the narrative is done with smoking and drinking.  This gets monotonous. The translation captures the aimless nonchalance of what I am assuming is the same tone in the original. Reading in English is certainly better (for me) than in Catalan, since the English translator can get the tone that way. Either the Catalan translators use a neutral tone, or I am incapable of hearing tonal nuances in Catalan. 

I also started Kafka on the Shore, which I found in Christina's bedroom in my brother's house, where I was staying.  (That's the guest bedroom now.) I have a copy of this novel in my office so I will pick it up next time I go in, along with the rest of my Murakami novels. 

Reading a book ten years later (after one's initial reading) means two things: one is a different person now, and one has forgotten a lot of it. 

Brotherly

 My brother and I don't always talk, and have sometimes gone years without seeing each other. When we are together, we get along great. When I listen to myself on video recordings, I recognize intonations and facial expressions that we both have. We are the same height, both have PhDs, though in vastly different fields. (His is quantitative, and he works in private consulting, after some years in academia and government.) He is skinnier than I am, though that used to be the reverse. 

We have some similar hobbies. We began to play piano without talking to each other about it, within a few years of each other. He plays Goldberg Variations; I play jazz and Mompou and Chopin. He started birdwatching recently; I started a year a go.  He has an expensive camera to take bird pictures; I don't take many pictures, and only have my phone as camera.  (We went on my last trip to DC [this week] to a place where there were lots of cedar waxwings and other song and aquatic birds. 

We both run, though I haven't been running recently, and he has done a marathon this year. We both like Samuel Beckett.   

 I left the church early; he has lapsed more recently. None of our daughters is religious. One of his, Chris, is about the same age as my Julia.  

In short, it is like having someone who is different enough to be contrasting in some ways, but with underlying commonalities. I know this sounds rather banal to point out, since that is the expected result of two people of the same gender sharing common genetics and upbringing. 


Wylie

  I have a new favorite painter, Rose Wylie. I don't know that she is my favorite of all time, but she is my favorite yesterday and today.  I like the exuberance and fearlessness of her work. This seemed to be what I am after nowadays, or should be after.      

I haven't seen any of it in person, but I'm sure I would like it even more in person, because the paintings are very big.  

Saturday, May 7, 2022

1Q84

 I'm reading this novel by Murakami.  It is a bit slow in pace, but the plotting is interesting, the sense of anticipation, as things come gradually together. I'm using it to practice my Catalan. (I'm also reading a book in Italian on the pandemic, by Roberto Esposito.)

The Catalan is becoming almost transparent to me. It's kind of funny that to say yacht, in Catalan, is iot

 


Triadic Memories

 Something told me to listen to Triadic Memories, an hour-long piano piece by Morton Feldman. I've looked at the score and I think I could play most of it without struggle. I think I even "understand" it. 

You can try to follow it, as a slow, slow, plotless narration. Or you can have it in the background as soothing yet spooky meditation.  Or anything in between.  It is not particularly discordant or jarring, though of course most people do not really count Feldman as one of their favorites. I'm saying this because classical music is already a minority taste, and within that contemporary music of this type is a minority of the minority.  

I don't know what told me to listen to this.  Some resonance that the word triadic had for me, thinking of the word and then remembering the piece. The triad is the basic chord structure, so three notes, root, a third (either major or minor), and then the fifth (perfect, diminished, or augmented). 

Saturday, April 30, 2022

ENEMIES

 

  

I find the idea of having enemies silly

Where would I find one?

In alleyways of grief?

In forgotten childhood toolshed of twisted intentions?

What would I do with an enemy if I had one?


What enemy could harm me more than I have harmed myself?

****

What what I do with an enemy if I had one?

Plot slow revenge, steam open letters, 

booby trap my poems?

***

We could do harm to each other

by turns, or both at the same time


Anger, hatred, be careful when someone gives these gifts to you

They are not very good ones


***

And what of lovers?

They are easier to find than enemies. 

Not people to got to bed with

(Though there's that too!)

Or set up domestic arrangements

But anyone who will love you for a moment or two

Or deeply and long 





Thursday, April 28, 2022

Fernando

 Here, from my google scholar alerts:

"At the end of the same decade, the Spanish poet Fernando Garcia Lorca visited New York between June 1929 and March 1930 during which he penned his famous  work of poetry, Poeta en Nueva York..."  

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

A conversation

--I didn't want to say no to this article because I had never published an article in Poland before.

--What's so special about Poland? 

--Nothing. I just haven't published anything there before. I would publish in Sweden, Chile, anywhere they invited me.  

--Where have you published?'

--U.S., Canada?, Spain, UK, Italy, Australia...  



Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Death of the Comendador

 The narrator of the Murakami novel is relatively passive. He reacts to things but is not the main driver of events. Menshiki is the instigator of most of the action, having the nameless narrator paint his portrait and then the portrait of the girl who may or may not be Menshiki's daughter. 

The common wisdom is that a protagonist should want something, and take action to achieve it, and then deal with the obstacles that arise. Here we don't know what he really wants. His wife has left him, and he has affairs with some women, but they are not what he wants, really. He perhaps wants to forge his own artistic style, rather than being a painter of commissioned portraits, but to do so accepts Menshiki's commissions.  It is Menshiki's money that permits everything to happen. 

A passive protagonist can work, but it is much more difficult to pull off. It doesn't feel satisfying, so something else must compensate. Verbal descriptions of someone painting are not wholly satisfying either.  There is something half-hearted about the whole novel. as though the author didn't know what he wanted to do in writing it.   

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

2 models

Here is outline of the next talk I want to give. Please invite me!  I will speak for food and drink. 

Two models of song

1) The classical model

The text comes first. Song is a musical setting of a previously written poem. 

The relation between music and words is fraught with tension. The composer in some sense is going against the poet. The text's own prosody is over-ridden by the music. 

2) The vernacular model 

The listener processes music and words at the same time, without caring which was written first. We don't think of song as a musical setting of a "poem." The words might come first, or the music; it doesn't matter too much. If we asked Cole Porter whether he wrote music or words first, the answer might be interesting, but it wouldn't really affect our understanding of his songs. 

The lyrics may or may not have a "literary" value apart from their union with the music. 

There is no fundamental tension between words and music. 

***

A third model: in vernacular settings of literary poems, we know the text comes first, and was chosen for its literary value. The inherent tension of the classical model comes into play again.  

Thus the classical model is more relevant, despite the vernacular character of the setting. This means that we listen to this kind of vernacular music differently than other genres. The poem is not anonymous, unlike a folk song. 

Consequences of this for Lorca. He arises out of a tradition in which the vernacular assumptions are operative, but settings of his work need to be heard more critically, with this analytical separation between words and music.  


 




Monday, April 18, 2022

Manuel

 Vino, sentimiento, guitarra y poesía

hacen los cantares de la patria mía. 

Cantares… 

Quien dice cantares dice Andalucía. 

***

Here is Manuel Machado celebrating flamenco. Wine, feeling, guitar and poetry form the songs of my homeland. Songs... Whoever says songs says Andalusia.  

What an utter mediocrity.  

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Hey Catalan publisher of Murakami

 It's Thelonious, not Thelonius.  

Friday, April 15, 2022

Lived experience

 All experience is "lived."  The added adjective is tendentious, as though to say that this particular way of seeing experiencing is sacrosanct. "Lived" puts a kind of frame around the word, a halo of reverence. 

More Murakami

 So the narrator, we don't know his name, but he lost his sister when the sister was twelve, he fifteen. He marries his wife, Yuzu, in part because he reminds him of the dead sister. He gets claustrophobia after seeing the sister in the coffin. 

The wife leaves him, and is involved with other men. The narrator wanders a bit, stops being a portrait painter, and then goes to live in the house of a painter who has dementia and is now in an institution. This is where he finds the Don Giovanni painting, painted by the painter with dementia. A man, with a youthful face but white hair offers him a great sum of money to paint his portrait, and he agrees. But meanwhile he hears, at night, a bell ringing on the property. He goes outside and finds the ruins of some kind of temple.  The rich man hires someone to help dig up the ruins, and they find an antique bell. Some kind of spirit has been ringing the bell, of a Buddhist monk (monjo).  

So the mystery of the painting, and the mystery of the bell. All these talismanic objects found in the house. The rich man might have a daughter (paternity is unclear) who is about the age the narrator's sister was when she died. Does the rich man have some hidden motive?  

I find the narrator telegraphing the sense of mysteriousness in a somewhat contrived way.  We have two unexplained objects. There is some idea that the painter with dementia spent time in Austria in the 1930s, and so there is some Nazi theme that's going to enter.  They are constantly listening the Germanic music, left there by the elder painter.  

I'm eager to see how it will pull all together: the incest theme with the Don Juan archetype and the historical guilt.  

In terms of the Catalan, the language has not disappeared for me yet.  I still am seeing the language, not seeing through it. Maybe that's why I like reading in this language?  Unlike other people (some other people) I like looking at language, not just through it. This harder to do the more one knows the language.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Adaptations

 The novel by Murakami is the Death of the Comendador.  The painting that appears in the novel is a scene, painted in a Japanese style, of a scene from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni.  This opera is adapted from the Spanish of Tirso de Molina (El burlador de Sevilla) and features the Don Juan archetype.  The narrator of the novel is a painter, who finds this painting and begins to study; he starts copying it in pencil sketches. Unlike the Japanese painter he is imitating, the narrator is a Western style painter, so this is a work of adaptation or translation:

No es pot dir que fos una feina d’«adaptació», però sí que havia d’interpretar el quadre i «traduir-lo» a la meva manera, i per fer-ho primer havia de copsar la intenció que hi havia en el quadre original. Dit d’una altra manera, jo ‌poc o molt—havia d’entendre el punt de vista d’en Tomohiko Amada com a pintor o la seva manera de ser com a persona. Fent servir una metàfora, havia de ficar els peus a les seves sabates. 

Murakami, Haruki. La mort del comanador 1 (Catalan Edition) (p. 99). Grup 62. Kindle Edition. 

You can't say it was a work of adaptation, but that I had to interpret the painting, translate in my own way, and to do it first I had to capture the intention that was in the original painting. Put another way, I a little bit or a lot, had to understand the point of view of Tomoiko Amada as a painter or his way of being as a person.  To use a metaphor, I had to put my feet in his shoes.  

Wifi travails

 My internet wasn't working too well. I got new router, then a new modem. It still wasn't working well, so they fixed the wiring into my apartment. I was nervous because I was going to give a zoom talk, but, ironically enough, the talk went great from my end, but the host was doing internet from home and could not be heard in her introduction of me. I spent more money on the equipment than I was paid for the talk.

Then, this morning, it cut out again, and I didn't have it most of the day. The technician came, and said the outside wiring needs work, so that will be done tomorrow.  Then, we will have replaced my equipment, the inside and outside wiring. I'm quite sure another problem with the connection will arise after that.   

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Public intellectuals

 I notice that the colleague is on a panel about how to be a public intellectual. I just reread her piece on Tolstoi and "me too."  I just don't get it.  Apparently Tolstoy is a "gender theorist."  

Monday, April 11, 2022

Vivid and not so vivid dreams

 A wolf carcass by the side of the road. I had seen it alive earlier. 

***

A vivid dream; I was in a well-appointed house, walking from one room to the other. I knew it was a dream, and was proud of myself for being able to create all the visual detail in my own mind, what the rooms looked like, the people, with clear features. I was telling them that, that they were my creations, then they started making fun of my pronunciation, because it was not high class enough. I laughed at them, because their examples of the vowels I was mispronouncing were not valid ones. 

I was happy to be in my dream house, and would wake up from time to time to look at the clock by the side of the bed, but I had the capacity to go to sleep again and resume the dream, repeatedly.  

Bird census

At the bird feeder and balcony, cardinals, doves, other usual suspects. 

Near the apartment, robins, starlings. 

At the wetlands, loons, ducks, geese, blackbirds, tree swallows, grackles.   

Another cardinal. Fox sparrows? (I think.) A bluejay.  Sandpiper (a new one for me).  A heron.  

Catalan

 I am reading a Murakami novel in Catalan.  I get bored by fiction so I always read in languages I want to practice a bit; someone told me about a novel I hadn't read by him, so why not? I downloaded it on my computer. 

Anyway, I understand perfectly well all that is going on. When I tried to download the dictionary, the kindle app decided I needed a French dictionary rather than a Catalan one, but I understand all but a very few words. 

What I find difficulty getting is the tone. There is a particular voice in English translations of this novelist that is casual, a bit wry. From the Catalan I am getting a kind of affectless, dry realism. Maybe a native Catalan speaker would get the correct tone, but I am not. I would have to compare this translation to the one in English to see what is going on here.  The original might also have a different tone from other Murakami novels.  


Friday, April 8, 2022

Mentions

 Graduate students will write "menciona" in their papers as almost as a default.  Foucault mentions that.... 

That will also talk about "académicos" when they are talking about anyone who has contributed to the field.  I don't know where they get these habits from. 

Thursday, April 7, 2022

La casada infiel

 After my talk, I got a question about "La casada infiel."  The questioner did not like the poem (nor do I). I pointed out that it is virtually the only Lorca poem with a heterosexual male speaker, and one clearly differentiated from Lorca himself.  He is at once the macho seducer of women and the honorable man, since he would not have seduced the woman (or let himself be seduced) if he had known she was married. Surely this is parodic?  

Dalí hated this poem, and I'm sure Lorca regretted having written it, because, well, taking the poem straight would have been more normal, except for those of us who are Lorca scholars or who like to question texts rather than taking them at face value.  

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

My colleague in Slavic wrote this

 reading Russian literature

What do you think? I'm not crazy about this type of articles.  It is well intentioned, but to me it seems like a mishmash.  


Thursday, March 31, 2022

Feudal

 I remember people I had taken a strong dislike to, usually mutually, for not very solid reasons. Often, not having met them in person, but only through being on opposite sides of some poetry debate in the days of the Buffalo poetics discussion list, or in the early days of poetry blogs. 

The animosity was not well founded, in most cases. Yet I still feel that I am correct in my assessment of these people. Perhaps something else they did, later on, confirmed my idea about the person. I am no longer invested in these feuds, and barely remember the issues involved.  

Sometimes I was defending language poetry, or flarf. I didn't like people to attack the poetry of people I liked. I became friends with people I didn't agree with always, but I felt their judgments were honest ones. Now, as I remember it, I am beginning to feel those old passions stir.  

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Translator's statement for Nonnus

 A lot of contemporary translation of poetry, to my taste, is bland and colorless, aiming for a kind of unobjectionable literalism—at best. In approaching Nonnus, I had three principles in mind: (1) Every text requires a unique approach from the translator, based on its unique qualities. I would not render Nonnus in the same style I would use for Lorca. (2) A translation of a poem is a poem: it must give pleasure in its own right, without spurious appeals to the virtues of the original. Although we tend to judge translations by comparing them to the original texts, their intended reader is normally someone who does not know the original and thus cannot perform this comparison. (3) A verse translation must have a distinctive prosody, a rhythmic shape. It should not be a prose crib divided into lines.          

With these principles in mind, my version of Book 37 attempts to harness the dynamic exuberance of Nonnus’s verse through a variation on Williams Carlos Williams’s indented tri-partite line, which he developed in poems like “Of Asphodel, That Greeny Flower” in the later part of his career. I came upon this solution almost immediately as I began work, and I was pleased even with my first attempts. I did not try to imitate Williams’s prosody with any exactitude, but instead sought to exploit the elasticity implicit in his concept of the “variable foot.” This allows both for short and relatively long phrases rather than a more uniform movement that might become tedious. Later, I remembered that Williams had used this form for a translation of an idyll by Theocritus, and that my first published article was on Williams’s prosody. 

Nonnus is especially skilled at describing physical movement, as in his quite lengthy, exuberant, and virtuosic accounts of the chariot race and other athletic contests in book 37. A literal line-by-line rendering, I thought, would make him sound too clunky, failing to do justice to his gift for conveying kinetic energy through the movement of his verse. The elasticity of the tri-partite line also afforded me a great deal of lee-way. I could fit a lot of words into some lines, or set apart a very short phrase for emphasis. I deliberately did not make my line divisions correspond to those of the original text.    

It is quite evident that this Nonnus’s epic poetry does not conform to our contemporary aesthetic ideals of concision or narrative economy. In conversations with some other translators in this project, I often heard his work described as simply “bad.” (I’m sure I expressed this opinion myself as well.) Coincidentally, I have been interested in bad poetry for quite some time, writing two unpublished books of deliberately inept poems. This experience came in handy as I was translating Nonnus, because it allowed me a certain freedom from prejudgment. I could allow the poetry to be what it was without trying to improve it or apologize for it. What some might see as the excesses of the Greek original, such as its redundancy and its long-winded, hyperbolic, and seemingly gratuitous descriptions, provide an opportunity for a loose and playful approach to translation. If I have done my job well, Book 37 should be a lot of fun to read in English.

Te vulnero en sueños...

 Te vulnero en sueños, gato equivocado de lugar Para contar mis desdichas bastan unas ínfulas insulsas, insulares Me afeito con espuma del mar, desde un interior insondable, selvático.

Another rescued translation: Lola Velasco

 I. The Hands Speak


This is how your albino hauteur
dangles, 
so bright it is perverse.  

***

Free of wrinkles, 
with a dazzling 
insolence of forms
you rush your dream 
to the crest,
escorted 
by golden rays.

You flirt almost always 
in profile,  
and the sun
tosses you missiles
of yellow lust,
alters your color,
trying to confine you
to its dome.  


***

And the other acrobats,
stupid paper ballerinas,
clear away their final pirouettes
so you can show off 
your lone, aerial
luxury in flight.  

***

But night will come.
There’s little time left.
And your sophisticated, 
cynical beauty will pour down
false gold.
And you will fall to me,
artlessly.