My students in intro to lit thought Elvira Sastre was "cringe." I didn't even prime them (very much to think that). These are young people who aren't studying literature as their major, but they could see it was superficial, cliché, facile, "like something my grandmother would post on Facebook." I'm trying to engage with them; they liked a rapper I showed them, but not the more literary but actually much worse poet.
Tuesday, January 31, 2023
People tend to use language as a surrogate for other issues, but sometimes language is the actual issue (or appears to be at least.) I thought of writing a post facetiously against language itself. After all, without language we wouldn't have insulting words at all! Instead, a brief list of what people (some people) don't like. Not everyone will dislike everything here, but this is what I hear the most frequently in recent days.
Change in general. People aren't happy about unfamiliar language, or about things changing. There would be a bias in favor of whatever they perceive to be the stasis, or what they are used to.
Neologisms and acronyms / initialisms. This could come under the category of change, as well. STEMM, instead of STEM. DEIB. Generally, they are seen to be bureaucratic or ugly.
Euphemisms can be disliked. This might come under the category of change, as well. There is a shift from homeless to unhoused. Same meaning, but a shift to soften or euphemize the term.
Language that is cowardly or mealy-mouthed, used out of fear of calling offense, or in order to strike an attitude. A kind of performative use of language designed to mark the speaker as part of the right side of history.
Language that is obfuscatory or blatantly dishonest, like "right-to-work" for anti-union laws. Orwellian language that makes us call things the opposite of what they are.
Some don't like terminology that seems verbose or fussy, using more words that necessary, or making fine distinctions where none are needed. The objection here is to the attitude behind the speech, the kind of person who would use language that way.
People (some people) don't like concept creep, where a term takes on new meanings. Violence (for things not literally violent), trauma (for things milder than older ideas of trauma. White supremacy (for just about anything, no longer tied to KKK ideas.) Triggered.
People don't like trivial or patently absurd objections to words, like the supposedly dehumanized phrase "the French," or recent questioning of the word "field" as tied to slavery.
People don't like the obsessive focus on language itself, the idea that a linguistic hygiene will resolve real issues. On the other hand, people do like to obsessively focus on language and force others to use it how they like it, or curtail certain usages that seem unobjectionable. You can't say the debate is trivial because it is merely linguistic. After all, we are symbolic creatures.
That's only a partial list. There's also jargon, minor grammatical peeves, and other categories I'm sure I'm missing.
Monday, January 30, 2023
I never was big on Ammons, but he is actually pretty great. Maybe I made the mistake of trying to read a book called Garbage [a long poem] which I found long-winded and prosaic, almost unreadable. What I like about a few poems ("And I said I am Ezra") I couldn't find in too many other poems. Also, I was committed to poetics of non-earnestness and quite picky or dogmatic about certain of my preferences. Something in my brain dislodged, my blockage toward him, and now I actively like him. This is not to day I prefer him to Ashbery, but I would not like him better if he were more like Ashbery. In other words, the aspects I like of him are unique to his achievement. I would see him all the time in the "Temple of Zeus" in Cornell University (a little coffee shop in one of the buildings, with white plaster reproductions of Greek statues) but of course I never approached him!
Understanding a poet is understanding why even seemingly unattractive aspects are part of the whole that makes everything else work. So with Ammon's shagginess and occasional abstraction / obviousness.
Thursday, January 26, 2023
I had become close friends somehow with a British prince. (?) I was telling him about seeing my friends from High School again. One, a woman, has cancer, and I was glad that I could see her, I told the prince. I was explaining how I had had a crush on her when we were young, but that now I loved her only as a friend. Norbie, my brother-in-law was also in the dream (also in poor health in real life). Perhaps John W. was there too, at least in the background.
Tuesday, January 24, 2023
I was discovered to be a relatively fast sprinter, since I won a race in 7.4 seconds, with very little effort. Supposedly it was a 10 meter dash (that wouldn't be fast, but that was what it was in the dream context). I think I was young in this dream (maybe 16), or else I was middle-aged and discovered that I could still run. When I woke up but still in a daze I sincerely believed myself to be a swift runner for a few minutes.
There was some kind of armed conflict between a group of vigilantes and a criminal gang. (I wasn't in this dream, but watching it as in movie.) The gang was going to retaliate against the vigilantes, and the latter were in a room with guns drawn, all pointing to the door through which the gang members would presumably come in. It was absurd, since it was not clear how soon the gang would discover the location of the vigilantes. You couldn't just stand there for days staring at the door, thought.
Monday, January 23, 2023
One of Juan Carlos Rodríguez's maxims is "la literatura no ha existido siempre." In other words, it is a social institution that is historically contingent. It comes into being, and can disappear.
Somehow, then, we would have to say that what Aristotle was studying is not "literature." That ancient Chinese poetry is not "literature." This is fine with me, actually. We don't have to call it literature, because that is an arbitrary word that did arise at a particular historical juncture and might as easily disappear.
Other things have existed for longer: narrative, song, myth, ritual.
Thursday, January 19, 2023
Some left-wing young poets in Barcelona in the 1950s wanted to escape censorship for their magazine, so they somehow took over a magazine that happened to belong to some branch of the government itself, the ministry of education perhaps. It was exempt from censorship, since it was a government publication, and they could do what they wanted with it.
I was in Africa. I was surprised by how fast I got from South Africa to Morocco on my way to maybe Egypt. Our friend T. was part of the trip. I was worried about losing passport.
I was teaching a seminar. The students started having conversations among themselves instead of addressing the entire class. I told them not to, but they continued. I became very angry and stood up and threatened them with a long pole I happened to be holding. (I knew I would be in trouble for this.) The next meeting, they did it again, and the male students were starting to argue with each other. I didn't know there names because it was the beginning of the semester. I stopped them again, and had a female student explain why it wasn't good to do this. She said that the whole class needed to reap the benefit from their brilliant remarks (something like that) and that it was discourteous, etc...
There was a dinner party at the house of S and B (real friends of ours). It was some special occasion, and the placemats or menus had all our names printed (8 of us). It was the "Friendship Dinner." I was wondering why we were invited and many others in our friend group were not. (Normally at their house there would be as many as 30-40 people.)
Thursday, January 12, 2023
"under the French horns of a November afternoon"
I just found that line by James Schuyler. On facebook many were celebrating the work of a recently deceased poet. I said nothing, because I always get irritated by celebrations of mediocrity, yet also know that you can't say anything negative, as in de mortuis nihil nisi bonus dicendum est, or something like that.
It is the moment to celebrate the work of a poet who many people liked and admired. My objections to him are just that he isn't very good. He never wrote anything like that Schuyler line.
Some people here in town organize a yearly reading of William Stafford, someone who lived in Kansas and was well liked. Once again, why do people love this mediocre stuff?
I've been reading some Ammons. Not my favorite, but kind of an interesting mishmash of prosaic and colloquial language with keen observation of nature. There is a fearlessness I like, in that he is not trying to prove he is a great poet with every line or even every poem. "Corson's Inlet" is a wonderful poem.
Sunday, January 8, 2023
I could teach you to improvise like this.
First, play a triad CEG on the piano with your left hand. I will show you the notes if you don't know them. Then you would just play ideas based on that triad, as well as the scale from C to C (all the white nots on the piano) with your right hand. Every phrase should end in a C. There, you are improvising!
Now, you would be doing this for a while until you felt you could improvise over the C triad. You will notice that you have found certain cadences to end each phrase, like EDC or GEC. Now, I will ask you to notice how you want naturally to play phrases that answer each other. You have invented the question answer structure, which you probably already know. You will notice too that you are playing in a certain rhythm, and the phrases will take up the same number of beats. Set a timer and improvise over C for 10 minutes. You will have ideas you like and others you don't. You will get bored and so will have to invent something not so boring, or you will find something you like a lot and delve into that.
I never said I could teach you to improvise well, or that your ideas would be great or compelling or original. Right now, you just want them to make musical sense, and they do: they end in a logical way, they have a parallel structure. There is logic and symmetry. There is melody, because melody is just movement in the right hand of any type. Notice that you can have simplistic melodies or ones that are slightly not so simplistic. This second step is just noticing what you are doing and how easy it is. You already knew how to improvise before you started. You just didn't know you knew.
Now, I would show you that this works in D Dorian. Play DFA in the left hand. Play phrases from D to D on the white notes and make your phrases end on D. Now, you could do the same in A minor. Play a G triad, and then add the F to the left hand. That is a G7. Improvise over that.
The next step is to play a chord progression, using the four chords you know. You can do DGCC, or CADG. All the rest is just adding new chords to what you know, and doing all of this in other keys.
Friday, January 6, 2023
Just saying. A "billion-dollar industry" is $3 a person. (US population is a third of a billion.) So practically everything is a multi-billion dollar industry, except for writing poetry, say, or wildly unpopular genres like jazz. People who throw around this phrase a lot are not really thinking about it very much.
Thursday, January 5, 2023
This is not a big deal; even otherwise good interviewees do this, but don't greet every interview question with "That's an excellent question." There are a few problems with this:
*It sounds insincere. If the question is a boilerplate "tell me about your dissertation" kind of question, then there is nothing "excellent" about it, and everyone in the room knows it.
*It is mechanical, as though someone had learned that this is the thing you had to say, every time.
*It sounds a bit immature, professionally speaking, to do this excessively.
It is ok to acknowledge a question after a job talk is if it truly excellent, but don't say that after every single question. Then you are not distinguishing between great and average and even poor questions, but simply covering your bases. If it is really a perceptive question, then you can something say, "I like that question because it gets to one of the things I had to work out at a turning point in my research." Then, answer the question in a way that makes your compliment to the questioner sincere.
Asking a good question is also an art form. You can ask someone to elaborate on a point they mentioned in the talk. I'm not fond of questions that try to bring it back to the questioner's own obsessions. (I've been guilty of this, I'm sure.) Or ones that don't really have much to do with speaker's main point. The point of a question is to let the speaker talk about their stuff off the cuff in an engaging way.