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I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Sunday, 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. 


 Here is another one:


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.


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.


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.   


 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

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:


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

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.  


 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 


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


 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. 


 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


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


 Man with hat on bus

yells at other man: stop it!

Sews button on coat. 

Sunday, June 5, 2022


 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


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!  


 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