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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...

Friday, May 19, 2023


 It's been said that Cavafy is "flat" or "prosaic."  It certainly can sound like that in translation.  Certainly it has a conversational tone (not the same thing as prosaic!).  

Does this mean that it is in the demotic register? Yet I have read that he also mixes in touches of more literary Greek, so his language is really more hybrid (not one-dimensional).  

People seem very incurious about its prosody. I know that some of it has rhyme and meter. That just disappears in the "flat" English translation.  

And the syntax is different in Greek and in English, too.  

Colloquial poetry is not just colloquial: the poetic effect emerges from the use of the colloquial as a poetic device in its own right.  It is poetic because it violates expectations. (That is one way of looking at it.) The fifth person to write in a colloquial style after it has been done for a while is no longer original. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2023


A student of mine liked to repeat a slogan about capitalism.  I kept wanting to ask why they had chosen to come live and study in the most capitalist of all nations, after being born in a formerly socialist nation and going to with her family to another advanced capitalist place. The answer would be, I'm sure, that capitalism made them do it.  

It seems like a cheap gotcha, and I would never do that to a student.  


 I have an idea.  An artificial intelligence grader.  It would be designed to give an F to any paper that also used AI.  In fact, you could just develop a prompt that said to give every paper an F with some convincing-sounding reasons.  Here's what I came up with:  

As an AI language model, I do not have personal preferences or biases towards any specific type of paper or grading, and I strive to provide impartial responses to all questions. However, here are some common reasons why a literature paper might receive a bad grade:

  1. Lack of clarity and coherence: The paper might be difficult to follow or poorly organized, making it hard for the reader to understand the main argument or ideas being presented.

  2. Weak thesis statement: The paper might lack a clear and concise thesis statement that provides a focused and insightful analysis of the literary text.

  3. Limited textual evidence: The paper might not provide enough specific examples or quotations from the literary text to support the argument being made.

  4. Plagiarism: The paper might contain passages or ideas that are not properly cited or are copied from other sources, leading to accusations of academic dishonesty.

  5. Poor grammar and mechanics: The paper might contain numerous errors in spelling, punctuation, or grammar that distract from the overall quality of the writing.

  6. Inadequate research: The paper might demonstrate a lack of engagement with the scholarly conversation surrounding the literary text, failing to draw on relevant critical sources or perspectives.

  7. Lack of originality: The paper might rely too heavily on well-worn or simplistic interpretations of the literary text, failing to offer a fresh or nuanced perspective on the subject matter.

These are just a few possible reasons why a literature paper might receive a bad grade. Ultimately, the criteria for grading a paper will vary depending on the specific course, assignment, and instructor.

Saturday, May 13, 2023


 I have a new Mac air book and it has dictation on it. I'm sure my last one did too, but I don't remember if it worked very well. I was thinking about a post Thomas had on his blog about the process of writing as something embodied. It seems odd that disability studies would a favor an embodied model of writing on when actually technology can make riding less embodied. For example, I don't need to use my hands to write this post. I could compose a scholarly article without typing a single word, if I can get good enough at this process. Anyway, the post is not turning out perfectly and I will have to go back to correct some words that my computer heard wrong, or that I pronounced in an ambiguous way. There are also privacy concern, since Apple receives my spoken words and then sends them back to me as printed text.

Friday, May 5, 2023

Ornette the Composer

 Not to knock Ornette's playing, which I love, but he is actually great at writing tunes, and by tunes I mean melodies, tuneful things with an almost pop catchiness. It is hard to single out which ones are my favorites. 

An early one is "The Blessing." It starts with an exuberant upward figure: ba, bababa, baa, baa BAAA.  Then a downward "answer" to it, which sounds decisively conclusive. It is a perfect bop tune, if played in that style. Gonzalo Rubalcaba covers it, as does John Coltrane. 

There is "Lonely Woman," of course--perhaps his best known tune. There is cover of it by the Kronos Quartet, on one of the first CDs I ever had.  

I've always been partial to "I heard it on the Radio." 

Last night, I was thinking of one that has a 12-bar blues structure, but I don't remember what it is called. The melody was vivid in my mind. 

From "In all languages" there is "Latin Genetics," one of the only Ornette songs that my ex could stand. Very catchy, with a downward moving arpeggio, that still sounds joyful despite its downward movement.  

So many of the songs have the 32-bar AABA structure. How much avant-garde feeling can be stuffed into a traditional form? Quite a bit, it turns out. The bass can still play 4/4 walking time, the drummer can still play basic time. The horn players still play the head, improvise in turns, and then play the head again. It is so similar to basic bop, but so different in feeling.  

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Two methods

 Parallel to that, one could envision diametrically opposed reading methods:

1) Each word receives scrutiny and annotation. The etymology, phonology, all the definitions of the word even if not relevant to the narrative. An extreme form of close reading. 

2) The language is the text remains opaque (or relatively translucent).  The reader guesses at unknown words and fills in the hermeneutic blanks with some degree of uncertainty (but also with a surprising level of confidence). 


Human memory is partial and imperfect. A novel narrated in 1st person often has more detail than could be remembered accurately or completely. I propose one of these two alternatives:

*A narrator with a very bad memory, with no apologies. In other words, a realistic narrator. 

*A narrator with a picture perfect memory of every day, like Borges's Funes. This would be like a hyperrealistic painting including detail more precise then one could perceive through normal sight. This would lay bare the artifice of including a higher level of detail than the average human could remember. 

Both would be artificial narrative experiments. The conventional way of doing it is also an artificial narrative experiment, but it seems realistic simply because it is conventional. I'm not sure what would be more interesting, exaggerating memory or dimming it out. 


(I remember a Woody Allen movie, Hannah and her sisters, in which a character recites a poem by Cummings. In my memory, it was one character's voice, but watching the film again and waiting for the poem, I discovered that it was a character of the opposite sex than I had remembered. I even had an auditory memory of the actor, with a particular accent.) I think the poem begins "Somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond all experience, your eyes have their..."  If I saw the movie again I would not be surprised if it were a different poem, or a different gender. I think that I remembered Michael Caine reciting, and being surprised that it was a woman, but even that memory could be false. I know that he goes to a bookstore and buys it for her (Diane Keaton?). The other day I was trying to remember whether she or Mia Farrow was in Annie Hall. Yet I can remember things like "nobody, even the rain, has such small hands.")

Wednesday, May 3, 2023


 Why do Oliver Stone and Chomsky [fill in other names too] like Putin?  It is not as though Putin were a left-wing guy, after all. Is there something I'm not getting here?  

Tuesday, May 2, 2023


 Do people hold the beliefs that they profess to hold?  I've wondered about this for a long time as a sort of meta-epistemological thing. It is somewhat tricky to formulate this question. It is hard to give specific examples because then people would debate the merits of those positions rather than the "meta" question.  

For example, religious people don't believe that atheists don't believe. They just think of that as a denial of what the atheist knows deep down. Or I have a problem believing that religious people believe. I think of it as more of a kind of pseudo-belief, or a belief of a different kind of order, like a justification for a behavior.  

Bird vocabulary

Birds are a part of our everyday environment, while at the same time carrying portentous meanings. The mostly commonly seen birds will be known to virtually everyone. For a birder, a bird seen several times over the course of several years will not be "rare," simply uncommon. Birds seen every day or week or month form the basic vocabulary, expanded from there into more species. Being able to rapidly identify a common bird is helpful, because it serves a point of comparison. 

Literally too, our visual vocabulary corresponds to a nomenclature. We have extra adjectives or descriptors to distinguish species, instead of just duck, goose, sparrow.  


I guess I'm looking for a pretentious way to express a rather dumb and basic idea: we see common birds commonly, and know the words for them. Birding is [simply] an extension of that.   

Monday, May 1, 2023

Pectoral Sandpiper

 We're in migration time, so I've been going out on field trips with the local Audubon people. I got several new birds, like pectoral sandpiper and Harris Sparrow. We saw egrets and herons, blue-winged teal ducks. Red-winged blackbirds and tree swallows are abundant. Great-tailed and common grackles. 


Yesterday, some crows and a hawk were making a racket outside my apartment complex.  

Golia on Ornette

 I read a book on Ornette, by Maria Golia,  that I got at Politics and Prose in DC,  on a visit to my brother. It is an ok book, though a bit weak on the music itself. More attention paid to background and context. 

It made me want to listen again to Ornette. What stands out to me:  

The early albums with piano, like Something Else! We have a more traditional chord-change structure, but Ornette's compositions are superb, like "The Blessing," which has been covered by many other artists. 

The original quartet, with Haden (or LaFaro), Billy Higgins (or Ed Blackwell), and Don Cherry.  The Shape of Jazz to Come and the other classic albums of this period. 

Free Jazz, with a double quartet structure. Ornette's two bassists and two drummers, Eric Dolphy and Freddy Hubbard alongside Ornette and Cherry.  

In All Languages: a reprise of the original quartet, + recordings of the same tunes with Ornette's electric group Prime Time

The Song X Album, with Pat Metheny.  I saw this group in Ithaca. It had Haden and two drummers, Jack DeJohnette and Ornette's son Denardo. Metheny admired Ornette from early on and also recorded some wonderful things with Haden later on, like Under the Missouri Skies

Sound Grammar.  Ornette's prize-winning late masterpiece. 

I saw an Ornette based group (without Ornette) in Davis, CA in the 1970s, called Old and New Dreams. It had Dewey Redmond, Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Ed Blackwell. So it was like Ornette's quartets, but with Redmond on sax instead of Ornette himself.  

Think of Coltrane's album, The Avant-Garde. It has Cherry, Haden, and Blackwell, and features compositions by Ornette, Cherry, and "Bemsha Swing" by Monk.  

(When I think of LaFaro, I think of someone who was in two key groups of jazz history, Ornette's quartet and then Bill Evans's trio. Then he died in a car accident very young. Some say Haden is better suited to Ornette's music than LaFaro, but I'm glad we have both bassists!) 

Making all these connections among Ornette and all the other musicians he influenced. I think too of Haden and his recordings with Keith Jarrett or Hank Jones... 

Dream of flooded bathroom in hotel

 There was a hotel I was staying at. Somehow I had paid for three nights even though I only needed one. Trying to get into my room I noticed that the maid was still in there.  I waited a while. When I came in later, I went into the bathroom, and was up to my shins in water. I made sure the bathtub was draining, and then was using a plastic container to bail out water from the floor into the bathtub...