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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...

Thursday, July 18, 2024


 If you think of the word "said," it is more or less that Spanish word "sed."  What we call the short e as in "bed" is the vowel of "ved."  What we don't want is the dipthong of "say."  In English, the short e tends to followed by a consonant. 


Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Small differences

 Ensayo in Spanish doesn't carry the connotation of brevity. There are essays of 300 pages. 

Antología is used for selected poems by a single author, not merely for anthologies of several poets. 

Narrativa is use to mean prose fiction, what in English we would merely call fiction. Ficción is used much less, though the word does exist, as in the title of Borges's Ficciones. Definition 2 of narrativa is "Género literario constituido por la novelala novela corta y el cuento."

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Green beans

Farmers market green beans:

Green beans (handful)

1 smallish tomato 

Garlic (1 clove)

Thai Basil (enough!)

Olive oil (use your judgment)

1 small hot pepper (but it wasn't very hot...)

Salt & pepper (to taste)

Splash of red wine (optional)

I boiled the beans for a while, drained, then sautéed everything in olive oil.  Ate with leftover sausage and potato from previous night.  Every recipe, however minimalist in intention, ends up having 8 or 9 ingredients. 

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Job in my field

 Job in my field at U I got my PhD from. Assistant Prof, but with salary advertised at more than I make now as full, with five books published and 36 years of experience, etc... Sure, the cost of living is astronomical there, but still, it would be nice to make six figures before I retire.  

The new theory

 The new theory of the duende is that Lorca was tongue in cheek when he said that everywhere in Spain people talked about flamenco "having" duende.  The word  itself existed before, but Lorca himself invented this new flamenco meaning / usage of the term.  

Evidence for this is that there is no usage attested before Lorca's own lecture. I just bought a book, a new translation of the lecture, by Maurer, with notes by José Javier León, who came up with this new research.  

It is very strange, to be sure. Lorca invented something, that was not true when he spoke, but became true later on through his own influence. We've all had this backward. The other explanation would be that this usage was new in Lorca's time, that he picked up on it and popularized it. We can't prove that nobody said "eso tiene duende" before Lorca gave his lecture. We do know, though, that nobody wrote down this phrase before Lorca.  


This got me thinking, that because something is strange does not mean we shouldn't believe it. In other words, the truth does not care about the structure of our thinking.  The "truth is stranger than fiction" trope exists for a reason.  A novelist has to invent something plausible, or verisimilar, something that corresponds with our ideas about how things are. But the truth itself has no obligation to be verisimilar. 

It reminds me of the idea that "facts have a liberal bias." Well, no they don't.  Any ideology will generate cognitive dissonance. It is just easier to see when it is not your ideology.   

I was watching a documentary on scientology. Of course, the theology of this is absurd. But all theology is absurd from the perspective of anyone who doesn't subscribe to that particular theology.  Credo quia absurdum est, I think is the relevant dictum.  


Thursday, July 4, 2024

sour grapes

 I used to wonder why the fox couldn't reach the grapes, which are usually low to the ground.  In Argentina recently I realized that vines can be very far off the ground indeed.  

Wednesday, July 3, 2024


 Argentina is the country I have spent the most number of weeks (excluding US and Spain!). A total of about 3 months in three separate years. I don't know what #4 is, maybe Italy.  Anyway, I found this quote in a book on the contemporary political situation.

Esto sí es algo distintivo del peronismo y del radicalismo en sus orígenes. Es la construcción de una narrativa de superioridad moral. Cualquier narrativa de superioridad moral es excluyente, porque te permite ser parte del grupo que se autopercibe como moralmente superior mientras estés de acuerdo con ello y te excluye como moralmente inferior en la medida en que seas crítico. El peronismo lo tuvo en sus orígenes, y el kirchnerismo lo ha recuperado: eso le da mucha fuerza a una narrativa poco pluralista, que implica que todos los demás grupos están en un error.

Di Marco, Laura. Juicio al peronismo (Spanish Edition) (p. 312). SUDAMERICANA. Kindle Edition. 

This is quoted from Aníbal Pérez-Liñán. What kills discussion faster than the idea that a question makes you a bad person by definition?   

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Past tense used as past participle?

 "I done it" is substandard English.  The more common error is "I have did it" or "I have went..."  "I would've went..." etc... This is the exact opposite, and it is very common.  

Take sing / sung / sang.  We know sing is the present, sang the past, and sung the past participle.  It is very common to hear "I have sang" instead of the correcter "I have sung..."  So much so that it almost doesn't sound wrong any more.  

But "I sung it good" is clearly stigmatized.  

Friday, June 28, 2024


 Crews died. I enjoyed his polemics in the pages of The New York Review of Books. The way he answered critics was masterful. I went back and read today his exchange on alien abductions. It is a master class in critical thinking.  

He single-handedly (not really, there were others too) took down Freud. His last book on Freud from 2017 was tiresome, and I couldn't get through the whole thing. It just was too relentless and long, though for that reason it is utterly convincing.  I just didn't need more convincing at that point.  

I began by rooting for the Freudians to be able to answer Crews with better arguments. Surely, there had to be some better arguments, but no, apparently not.  

Wednesday, June 26, 2024


 I don't really get Walsh's "Lorca in English" Book.  It's just like, a more pedestrian version of what I had already done in Apocryphal Lorca! I think I behaved ethically in not reviewing it for the press. Nor will I write a review (as I have refused also to do reviews of Noel Valis's book). At some point, I am too close to the subject matter to be fair.  

Walsh is generous with me, and only disagrees with my critique of Bly, which he calls vitriolic and personal.  But he doesn't actually defend Bly by citing his actual translations.  

farmer's market eggs

 I didn't feel like going to the store, so for dinner I had two fried eggs with everything sautéed I had from my weekly vegetable subscription: onion, red potato, basil, onion, carrot. A hot pepper from the garden where I am house sitting. Nine ingredients, counting the salt and olive oil. It takes a lot of stuff to make a minimalist meal, just like my nada pasta.  10 if you count the beer I drank.  I couldn't include berries, cucumbers, and apples.  

[The eggs are part of the subscription too; house where I am pet / house sitting has chickens, but they don't lay anymore.] 

Tuesday, June 25, 2024


 One of the most puzzling critique of my work has been the idea that I shouldn't have positive knowledge about Lorca to judge translations of him.  My expertise is treated as a handicap: "That Mayhew thinks there is a 'real' Lorca!" My efforts to present a reasonable view of what Lorca is about is treated as professional dogmatism of some kind. 

But translation is inherently comparative: we look at two things side by side. If item A is unknowable, in some existential sense, then why isn't item B also unknowable? How can we compare anything to anything?  

My position was that I knew Lorca, and also knew American poetics. I understand what Spicer is about, or O'Hara, or Koch, or Creeley. It was putting these two knowledges together that made AL a valuable project. You not only have to know Creeley, but know what makes him different from O'Hara; you have to know Sorrentino's sarcasm as well as Ginsberg's exuberant sense of humor. For example, if you just thought O'Hara wrote casual "lunch poems" and wasn't a serious artist, you wouldn't understand his cagey engagement with FGL.    

I go out of my way carefully to present my view of Lorca as simply the best one I can muster, provisional.  "If Lorca is a modernist poet... then ..."  But however provisional, contingent, apologetic, or qualified, there must be some view. The poet being translated cannot be a tabula rasa. Otherwise, literally nothing happens

Of course, I can be wrong about Lorca!  I have been wrong.  But you have to say why I am wrong, and why your view is better.  You have to beat me in the argument. Which you won't do unless your name is Andrew Anderson or Christopher Maurer, etc...   

(It's even an argument from authority. The authority comes from the receipts you have, not from the identity of the person who has the receipts in their file.)     


 I had the student do a critique of her own pronunciation skills, using her own podcast.  She really only picked up on a few things,  like putting accents on the wrong syllables of words.  Yes, she does that, but she missed many things, like: 


"eye-dentificarr" and "ouchu." 

R in Spanish is either a tap, almost a "d," silent in Andalusian, or rolled. It is never the prolonged errrr of American rhotic English.  The diphthong ou barely exists.  Usually people end up saying Busoño, not Bousoño, for the poet.  

The hilarious thing was a poet with a non-rhotic American accent pronouncing Lo-car for Lorca.  

So anyway, certain things are correctable, on principle.  

The "eye" of identificar is mistake based on orthography and the English cognate. We have the sound in the word "see" that is pretty close to the word "si."  Just say "sea" and making it more clipped and pure, without the slight "uh" that you might have. The diphthong "eye' also exists, in the word "ay."  

Other stuff can be worked: p, k, and t sounds are not aspirated. You can put an ess before p and you will see that the puff of air is minimized.  Now try it without the ess.  

The voiced z intervocalic: doesn't exist.  The sound of zebra is only in words like mismo, but it is barely voiced if at all.  

Try saying eff with your two lips, rather than upper teeth and lower lip.  It is subtly different. It's not something that really creates a new phoneme, but it will get you into the psychological head space you want. 

I watched part of an episode of Velvet, on Netflix.  It seems quite bad, but the accents are canonical Madrid.  You should be able to identify / analyze why this is so.  

The goal is not perfection, but getting to about 85%.  That's a reasonable Spanish-major goal.  

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Nada pasta

 The NYT cooking talked about "nada pasta," where you make a minimalist pasta dish with whatever is on hand.  I had some squash and fresh basil, so I sautéed those with olive oil and garlic, added black pepper, some olives, a splash of red wine; then of course, topped it with parmesan.    

So my minimalist dish ended up having 8 ingredients.  It was tasty, but a bit more than nada.  

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

A revelation

 A student I thought had a bad accent... and it turned out she didn't want to present as someone imitating a native accent--when that is exactly what you have to do.  Once she realized it was ok, I realized that she had the right accent inside of herself--a student otherwise multilingual with English and another native language learned in the home. She ended up showing us (me and the rest of the class) a much better accent IMMEDIATELY.   

I had approached this before as either, some students don't have a good ear, or you just have to explain what the sounds are in Spanish. No I am seeing that this student (and maybe others), is not wanting to sound inauthentic by taking on an accent not their own.  

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Shouldn't be a surprise

 I am a peninsular specialist (Spain) but I was thinking last night that Latin American literature is actually more interesting.  I feel no need to be defensive about my field. It would be easier to put together a course in 20th century Latin American literature with Borges and Cortázar, Vallejo and Neruda, Paz, Pizarnik, Bioy Casares, Gelman, García Márquez, Puig, Montejo.  Latin American fiction is clearly better than peninsular. The poetry is comparable, but I'd still give a 60/40 split in favor of Latin America, and even that is evidence of my own investment in Valente. For example, the antipoesía (Parra) is more interesting than Gil de Biedma and Ángel González. Valera and Pizarnik are perhaps more interesting than Valente.  

You wouldn't even have to go to the more second-rate boom writers. Fuentes is still better than Marsé, etc...

It doesn't hurt that I am having these thoughts south of the equator, in BA Argentina.  Two colleagues are leaving, so I will be teaching LAT AM the rest of the my career at least 75%.  

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Randomness, disorder, and creativity

Some of my shelves are in order; others are random. Here we see a book by Perloff, a novel by Murakami, Creeley's Words. An orange collection of poetry by Ceravolo over to the left. We have Ashbery, Eigner, Notley, Sapir, a book on Lorca by Honig, Invisible Cities by Calvino, and some other stuff that isn't evident from the photo. The randomness reflects my reading habits as well as my habit of not putting books back where I first found them. The disadvantage is that I don't know always know where my books are, individually. But I would argue that randomness in reading and in shelving creates creative juxtapositions.  I just found a book by Calasso on how to arrange a library.  I will re-read it.  

Here's another shelf that's all Lorca (although it is not all the Lorca material I have, and it is not very well-ordered with respect to itself):      


Wednesday, May 15, 2024


 So I am disorganized.  I have had a successful career, but would have done more if I had been organized. 

But what if the inefficiency created by disorganization were actually an advantage?  

On the other hand, I am organized when I have to be, or organized *enough* to have had career.  

I can imagine focussing on organization and then suddenly becoming very productive again. 

Imagine having one defect so major that it affects everything else. Like those advice columns where we read that the person's partner is perfect, "I love him/her... except for one small problem..."  which always turns out to be something seriously abusive.  Everything ELSE is fine, so why can't I look past that ONE issue.  

Friday, May 10, 2024


 The New York poets, O'Hara, Schuyler, Ashbery, Koch, Guest, were very important to me.  Three gay men and then Koch, every bit as much a part of the group, and Guest, who seemed marginal to the rest of them. David Lehman leaves her out of his study of the group. David Shapiro and Ron Padgett leave her out of one of the first two anthologies.  She was accused of being too "precious."  

Then the 2nd generation of these poets. We have Shapiro, Padgett, Berrigan, Ceravolo. These also important to me.  They come out to O'Hara and Koch, but with their own nuances.  

Then, the women associated with this movement: Myles, Notley, Mayer.  Now, some of the same poetic principles found in Berrigan or Padgett get used for other purposes. Think of a poem by Koch, "Some General Instructions," kind of pseudo-Horatian kind of art of living (from the book The Art of Love (1975). When Alice Notley writes a similar poem ("The Prophet" [1981]) of facetious yet serious advice, the result is very different, because she is a different person. The structure is more or less equivalent: advice pulled together in somewhat haphazard ways.  

Of course, gender comes into play. A movement mostly male and influenced by French surrealism and American modernists becomes this wonderful feminist postmodern thing.   

My own taste is not particularly relevant, except that it allows me entry into a tradition because I had already trained myself on it. I am not as open to Ann Waldman, for some reason, and didn't like her performance style when she came here once to read, but I have been fortunate to be a reader of Notley and others proximate to this way of thinking about poetry.  

Oddly satisfying

 I had two library books that had been lost; very difficult to locate among my own books. While cleaning out my bookshelves at home, I found one of them. It is white, very thin (think slender volume of verse) and lacking any print or image on spine or cover. It was at the very bottom right hand side of a bookshelf that I had searched before. I brought it back to the library and they are going to give me my $75 replacement fee back. 

Today, I came into the office on campus, and vowed to find the other one. I did, in about 10 minutes, simply by looking through my main collection of Spanish poetry. It was easy for it to hide from me here, because, as I've always said, the most difficult thing is not finding a needle in a haystack, but finding a piece of hay in a haystack.  I mean, one specific piece of hay. It is easy to find a piece of hay, but not to find the very one you are looking for.  

Thursday, May 9, 2024


 My local newspaper growing up, the Davis Enterprise, had a column by Bob Dunning, mostly on sports and community news. He is a good writer, with a wonderful sense of humor, and a local presence.  I remember a community tennis tournament in which he was in the finals; he was a good player, but inconsistent, and would smash volleys into the net with some frequency.  Today I learned that the Enterprise fired him, after 55 years, just in an email saying they were letting him go. It is reported that his column, The Wary 1, has the longest run of any column of its type in an American newspaper.     

Local newspapers are like the glue for small towns, and Dunning has been at the center of the paper, through longevity, but also just because he was good from the outset. He now will have a substack.   

Notley on O'Hara

 Alice Notley, writing about Frank O'Hara, says that poetry "exists to communicate with this entity" [a secret self]. "Its thoughts have the shape of speaking, but it doesn't have to explain to itself as much as one does to another person: it doesn't, e.g., think in prose fiction sentences at all. It sees while it thinks, self-observes often, constructs scenarios of triumph out of vulnerability, etc... etc... that it melts in and out of."

Now this surprises me because it is what I think too, but I don't think my (our) conception of poetry is widely held, necessarily. It is specific to New York School poetics. Not that other poetries don't do this in their own way, get in touch with a secret self and channel a kind of stream of consciousness.  It is odd that people misname O'Hara's poetics as a kind of casualness, something easy to achieve even though it is not. Look at how Notley's own prose imitates that tentative search for a definition.  She isn't writing those "prose fiction sentences.'  

The phrase "prose fiction sentences" is hilarious, because I can picture exactly those kind of sentences. Sometimes I narrate my life to myself in those sentences, imitating the cadence of a New Yorker short story, and they could make up an ironical poem.    

I don't know how other people see poetry. Maybe it's a kind of object to be crafted, or a serious message dressed up in poetical garb. Often, people write trying to make something sound like a poem, which is what you have to do, of course, but they go about it in the opposite way.  In other words, it should sound like a poem (not just prose!), but not in a "poetic" way as conventionally conceived, with the shimmering shards of light. Prosaic and colloquial elements enter for their oddness or jarring quality, not just as a default because the writer doesn't know any better.  

Monday, April 29, 2024


 Would you do this for $2,500 a semester?  ($5,000 a year).  It seems like a lot of work.  Getting 20 faculty members to come to an event is asking a lot.  You'd be essentially putting an event together every 3 to 4 weeks. To me it seems absurdly over-ambitious, even the pay were twice that.  Maybe I just lack energy.  

Call for Dean’s Fellow for Research Growth


Position Description:


We are seeking a dynamic and organized individual to join our team as the Dean’s Fellow for Research Growth at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. This position offers a unique opportunity to spearhead research events aimed at fostering collaboration, innovation, and interdisciplinary dialogue among faculty members. 


Further Details:


This role centers on convening 12 collaborative and informative research gatherings annually. Each event will revolve around a specific research theme determined in consultation with the College leadership team, Dean's Research Advisory Committee, Chairs and Directors, and feedback from the College faculty. For instance, a meetup could spotlight Artificial Intelligence, drawing interest from faculty across various disciplines within the College and professional schools. Other themes might encompass Ethics, Quantum Technologies, Cancer, and Community-Based Research, among others. These 12 gatherings will cover distinct topics, offering a diverse platform to catalyze research discussions within the College and beyond.


The overarching objective is to bring together individuals with shared interests in specific topics or themes, aiming to foster interdisciplinary conversations and collaboration, secure external funding, generate novel research concepts, and co-author publications. Essentially, the aim is to facilitate meaningful connections among researchers working on similar topics across campus, transcending the traditional silos that exist within our academic environment.


Key Responsibilities:


  • Organize and lead 12 research networking events per year (6 per semester), each focusing on a different timely, important, and impactful research theme. 
  • Collaborate with College staff to coordinate and facilitate 2-hour meetings for each event.
  • Actively identify and invite experts from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, as well as professional schools, including the Medical Campus, relevant to each event's theme.
  • Promote events to faculty to ensure a diverse and engaged participation, aiming for at least 20 faculty members in attendance at each event.
  • Facilitate introductions and discussions during events, allowing faculty members to showcase their research areas, propose collaboration opportunities, and discuss potential funding avenues.
  • Foster an environment conducive to networking, brainstorming, and the exchange of ideas among participants.
  • Identify emerging research ideas, areas, and researchers in need of additional engagement, and document those requiring follow-ups by the Dean’s Office. Deliver regular informal updates to the Dean’s leadership team and submit an activity report at the end of each semester.     



  • Faculty appointment in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
  • Enthusiasm for promoting interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation in research.
  • Strong organizational skills.
  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills, with the ability to engage and motivate diverse groups of individual

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Some thought experiments

 Take seriously the idea that music and poetry are closely related, in the sense that they have common origin and elements; don't take that as an arbitrary or forced relationship at all. What consequences flow from this supposition? 

Take the ineffability trope seriously, not as some  bogus cop-out. Writing about music is genuinely difficult. Many books about music don't really address music at all, etc.... 


Friday, April 26, 2024


 We voted for faculty union, 850 to 132.  It is a convincing percentage, and nobody I know of is saying openly that they voted against. Now comes the bargaining. Wages is the big issue: he have lost ground to inflation and earning less than 10 years ago (on average). Benefits are ok, I suppose. The other thing would be job security. The Board of Regents can authorize the Chancellor to fire people due to financial reasons, and that has occurred at other Kansas Regents' institutions.   

We have high attrition rates. I haven't left because I lack administrative experience to be hired as chair, while not being a big star or following trends in research. 

There are multi-million dollar construction projects, like a total overhaul of football stadium. We have lots of newish buildings, and some old elegant ones, but it seems that buildings are not so important, if we can have school for a year from our couches at home, as we did.  

They make noises about paying market rates for faculty and staff... Needless to say there are deans and vice-chancellors who are not suffering financially.  

Friday, April 19, 2024

Dream of Acting

 I was acting in a production of El público.  I hadn't memorized my lines, and so had to read from a script; was trying to justify this to myself. (Maybe nobody will notice!). But I lost my place in the script and was also thinking that I was not a good actor in the first place. It seemed to be a dream about arrogance. Since I am a Lorca scholar I didn't bother memorizing, or even looking at the play, before hand.  

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Table of Contents


Misunderstanding Lorca

1.     Introduction: Lorca and Me 

2.     Toward an Intellectual Biography

3.     The Death of the Subject

4.     Is Bodas de sangre a Work of Fiction? 

5.     Lorca and Flamenco: The History of a Misunderstanding 

6.    Teaching Receptivity 

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Anderson Cooper

 It is not "ironic" that Salman Rushdie was attacked with a knife while defending free speech. It is the opposite of irony, whatever that is called. It is a "rhyme."  

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Misunderstanding Lorca

 I have a book that will either be called Understanding Lorca or Misunderstanding Lorca

The first title seems misleading; the second, too facetious. 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Lorca's supposed giving up of poetry

 "After 1930, Federico García Lorca moved almost entirely from poetry to theater so as to engage audiences directly... "

Labanyi, Jo; Delgado, Luisa Elena. Modern Literatures in Spain (p. 167). Polity Press. Kindle Edition. 

I think the "almost" is doing a lot of work there. Since Lorca only lived until the middle of 1936, we have barely a half decade, with three major poetic works: Llanto por ISM, the sonnets, and the Diván. Then the six Galician poems (maybe a minor work), and some uncollected poems. It is true that the balance shifts from the 20s, when Lorca wrote Cante jondo, Canciones, Suites, Poeta en Nueva York. 

Also, Lorca remained interested in his "impossible" theater to the end. It is not true that he simply wanted to "engage audiences." 


 "Gamoneda’s 1977 Descripción de la mentira (Description of a Lie) merged ethics and aesthetics in everyday language. He would continue to write about the intersections of personal and collective concerns (love, family, aging, rural depopulation, immigration, economic need) throughout the democratic period, including Blues castellano (Castilian Blues, 1983; written in the 1960s but ..." 

Labanyi, Jo; Delgado, Luisa Elena. Modern Literatures in Spain (p. 272). Polity Press. Kindle Edition. 

I noticed this because, well, if you know about something, then you will see mistakes very easily. For example, if you read a newspaper article about something you know very, very well, then it will be inaccurate, in most typical cases. But this means that you cannot trust the same newspaper about things of which you are ignorant. 

Gamoneda's language in DDLM is not "everyday," but highly baroque. The idea of merging ethics and aesthetics is meaningless, without any added context, and a list of themes does nothing to explain why Gamoneda is a significant poet. It is confusing to say that he is writing during the democratic period a work that he had already written before. 

Probably the book as a whole is good, even though it happens not to be good on every page. It purports to be a cultural history, and covers languages other than Castilian. Perhaps, trying to do too much, it is going to be inadequate in many areas, not even mentioning, say, the most influential Spanish poet of the latter part of the twentieth century, José Angel Valente. 

Doing it well or doing it at all

 Increasingly, I think it more important to do something in the first place, and let *doing it well* be secondary. This works for all hobbies in which the ego can be put to one side: birdwatching, piano playing, running, drawing, cooking. Of course, there is some implicit idea of being  better at it, trying out new recipes. There is a minimum floor of competency, in that food must be more or less tasty. There is satisfaction in improving, but it isn't even necessary. 

It applies as well to meditation, where doing it is the significant thing, and being better at it is the result of doing it without trying to be better. The egoism of  being better at it is counterproductive. 

With scholarship, since I know I can do it well, I need to just do it *at all* and the results will follow. I have no doubt that it will be good, because I have done it in the past and have not lost the ability.  The ego involved should be a quiet confidence, not a worrisome insecurity. 


The corollary of all this is that not doing it at all means that this part of your life does not exist. Someone who does not cook at all is not cooking well. 


 An article in New York Times makes fun of grammar peeves, etc... How they are kind of silly.  

The comments are people complaining about their own grammar peeves.  


 Manuel Machado writes that between cante jondo and other forms of flamenco there is as distance as between "Baudelaire ... y el pueblo." 

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Ode to Awkwardness

An ode to something graceful would be natural, so to get at awkwardness we would think about something endearing in its youthful joy, or shy and stuttering, attractive but not in a conventional way. An obstacle overcome. Awkwardness depends on grace, in the same way that asymmetry presupposes symmetry. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

The paper is cheap...


The paper is cheap; the font is ugly;

the binding looks flimsy; there are some smudges on the back cover.

This book might be brilliant, 

for all I know;

it is written in a language I do not know. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2024


 I have a critique of Lawrence Kramer's critique of ineffability.  ("Oracular musicology"). It seems to me that music really is ineffable, and that there is a good reason for the trope.  I think it is rooted in the very structure of musical language, which seems to be saying something, but we don't / can't know what it is saying, exactly. It is a language with phonology, prosody, syntax, punctuation, but without determinate semantic meaning. It has semantics, but not of a determinate kind.  So the romantics invented the trop of ineffability for music (previously a trope applied to mystical experiences).  But they did so because music is like that.  Kramer wants to eliminate ineffability because he wants to talk about musical meaning in a more determinate way.  Odd for a postmodernist!  

Monday, April 1, 2024

The music paradox

 The idea is that music suggests the existence of a different world, a world where such as thing like music existed. But, since music exists in our own world, then this other world is not truly other: it is our own, after all. But we have to go through these particular steps to get to the realization that music exists in our own world, because music suggests the existence of a different world, a world where such a think like music existed. But, since music exists in our own then the other world is not truly other: it your own, after all, But we have to go through these particular steps to get to the realization that music exists our own world, because music suggests the existence of a different world, 


 Some women I know were talking about Elizabeth Strout the other day.  I downloaded one of her books on kindle, and I think I have serious allergy to middle brow earnest realist fiction.  To me, it's not well written at all. Some of it is just flat, but then there will be a purple patch or a misconceived simile.  This is a wildly successful writer who has shows and movies made of her work. 


 There is something else I'm trying to track down: Kenneth Burke notes at one point that the rain dance is done right before the rainy season begins. It is not that people believe, naively, that the dance causes the rain; instead, the dance is a ritual preparation for the coming showers.  

We might think there are many kinds of magical thinking. Other people's behavior manifests itself as magical, from our perspective, but our own kind of magic is invisible to ourselves because it is integrated into our behavior and thought patterns in a seamless way.  

[Update: I've found a reference to Wittgenstein's critique of James Frazer along these lines.  I'm not sure if Burke makes the same critique or if I was misremembering.  Burke does talk about Frazer as well.  The idea is that the Western mind talks about rain dance as a kind of cause effect relation, but its real meaning is "let's celebrate the beginning of the rainy season."]. 

Saturday, March 30, 2024


 Suppose an alien civilization does archeology on us and tries to figure out what music is.  Suppose this civilization has culture of different kinds but does not have the sense of hearing. Biologically speaking, these creatures simply lack ears.  Intellectually, they can figure out that music has to do with vibrations of air perceived in a particular way, but they would not ever possess music experientially.  

They could develop theories. Some would see music as a branch of mathematics.  Others, as a system of cultural prestige or a strange adjunct to sexual selection.  There would be debates about what music is, with whole schools of thought standing in opposition to one another. There would the economic musicologists, the mathematical musicologists. The only thing there wouldn't be would be the musical musicologists.  

Until one day, a young scholar under the sway of the mathematicians wakes up one day with a kind of epiphany... Yet this person's theories can never be accepted: they are based on accepting as real something that everyone else agrees is a kind of phantom: sound itself. 

Berta García Faet

 I was reading this book by a new (to me) Spanish poet. She says at the very end that everything that Ben Lerner thinks about poetry (in the Hatred of Poetry) is the opposite of what she thinks. Ben's thesis is that people like the idea of poetry more than actual poems, which inevitably disappoint.  Nothing can live up to that Poetry with a capital P.  

So I'm assuming Berta like poetry lower case, as it actually is, more than big P Poetry.  I was thinking about this and I agree. It's not that all or most poetry is worthwhile, but that the worthwhile stuff really does surpass expectations. I'm not saying that Ben's idea is wrong: there could be people who never find poems that live up to what we want.  What I enjoy, though, is the hunt. 

Friday, March 22, 2024


 Another Vitale poem:


One plus one, we say. And think:

one apple plus one apple,

one glass plus one glass.

Always the same things. 

What a change it will be when

one plus one is a puritan 

plus a gamelan, 

a jasmine plus an Arab,

a nun plus a cliff,

a song plus a mask. 

a garrison plus a damsel (again)

one person's hope

plus another's dream. 

The epigraph is "horse and horseman are now two animals" JD García Bacca. 

The reference to garrisons and damsels is to Pablo Neruda's "Arte poético": Entre sueño y espacio, / entre guarniciones y doncellas."    


 Here's another one:

Three absurd sparrows

sing in the fog 

smelling like lemons.

The afternoon is empty 

of the sad human hustle

and bustle. 

Alone, the birdlike glory 

gives meaning, 

against everything, 

to the world.  

Ida Vitale


I took a stab at translating a poem by Vitale:


Fall, a dog 

with an affectionate, impertinent paw

shakes the leaves of books, 

demands we notice 

its fascinations 

shifting in vain from green

to gold to red to purple. 

Just as when, distracted,

you lose le mot juste


Friday, March 15, 2024


A friend in Spain shows me a book by Mariano Peyrou on how to read contemporary poetry. I open it up randomly and there is a discussion of the Red Wheelbarrow (in Spanish), then again, I see 13 maneras de ver un mirlo (in Spanish again).  I went back to buy the book, and it has Hejinian, and, in Spanish, poems by my favorite contemporary Spanish poets. I've never felt my "taste" more vindicated. I can open this book up randomly and there will be poem a have memorized, like Blake's Sick Rose.     

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Minor wins

 The Face ID on my phone wasn't working, neither was the phone charging well. I took some lint out of the charging hole with a. toothpick. I found a cell phone case shop and got the screen protector changed. Now I've been able to reactivate the face recognition, and the phone also charges perfectly.  

Useless knowledge

 Could someone map one's personal knowledge?  Imagining hundreds of thousands of separate items of information, with, for example, knowledge about everyday life, the origins of words, musical instruments, cooking techniques, the rules or scoring systems of various games. This knowledge would form a complex web in anybody's mind. Most of it is useless in any given circumstances. If I am not in Madrid then the internalized subway map of Madrid in my brain is not useful. When I am not watching tennis, my knowledge of tennis scoring is inert.  

How would you visualize the map of one's knowledge? In space: knowledge associated with particular places. In time. In thematic networks?  

There could be areas of doubt or outright mistakenness.  The biggest area would be unknowledge, areas where there is simply nothing: the grammar of a language I do not speak and have never studied.  

Monday, March 11, 2024

experiences not dreams but experienced as though they were

 1. In a store downtown selling pens, notebooks, and art supplies.  I see a friend, JR, I recognize her from the back and she turns around. We have a brief conversation. I see that that another friend of J's I also know, KG, is also there a few feet away. JR says, "I didn't know you drew."  I said, "I don't... well, I do, but that's not why I'm here." Then I wonder if these two women draw as well. 

II. I suffer from bad vision close up. I can read well in bright sunlight or large print, but some things defeat me, like dark blue letters printed on a lighter blue background, as on one the credit cards I have.  I had to pick up the keys to an air--n-b yesterday here in Madrid. There was a lock box with shiny metal letters in relief, reflecting light, and I had great difficulty discerning them. The light from the flashlight on my phone only made them worse. I had to turn one of the dials to a 1, and could only do that by finding the zero and then turning it one more notch. The process took me several minutes. This place was about a miles from my actual apartment; for some reason I had to go to two places in order to get into the place. 

III. In a bookstore, I saw a book of Lydia Davis's essay (in English). I was reading an essay about her revision of a story about a house besieged. She explained the origins of the story (in her own life) and presented two versions of it.  I immediately thought of Cortázar's "Casa tomada." I bought the newest novel by Menchu Gutiérrez (from that  samebookstore) and she talks there about Maupassant going crazy and imaging a dark presence taking over his house every time her leaves it. I don't buy the Davis essays because I have some of them already (on kindle app) and don't want to carry a heavy book home from Spain written in English. Surely, though, there is a motif of the "taken house" that is common to many writers. 

IV. It occurs to me that Lydia Davis and I have the same culture. She cites Ron Padgett and might like Borges and be interested in translation. There might be a 70% overlap, which is very high. Then I start to think in Spain, people I will see here, we might share another 70% (but not the exact 70%).  

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Drummer as bandleaders

 I was thinking, oh, not many drummers are bandleaders, after I saw "The Gene Krupa Story" recently.  Not a horrible movie though not A+ either. What saves it is that the drumming itself in the movie is done by Krupa himself. Anyway, then I thought well, there's Chick Webb, Art Blakey.  

Then it dawned on my that it is pretty common. Max Roach had several groups, including the best known one with Clifford Brown. Mel Lewis had a big band with Thad Jones. Buddy Rich had a big band. Roy Haynes has had quartets and larger groups. Tony Williams had excellent bands, and Elvin Jones had some groups post-Coltrane. Cindy Blackman...  etc... 

In short, almost every major drummer recorded under his or her own name at some point, leading a trio or larger group. It makes sense, in a way, because drummers are inherently conductors, in groups without a guy or gal standing in front with a baton. I guess bass players are not bandleaders as often.  Mingus stands out more. Ron Carter I'm sure has multiple albums under his own name, but we associate him more with being the most recorded bass players on everyone else's albums.  With the drummers, several of these groups were major, like those led by Lewis, Roach, and Blakey.  

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

5 k

 I ran a 5k on the weekend, with approximately 11 minute miles. I came in around the middle of the pack, below average for male and above average for the entire group. I came in second in my age group, which sounds less impressive when you add the information that there were only 5 of us in the 60-64 span! On the other hand, most men of this age group are not out there running at all. Doing it at all is the point, not how fast you can run. 

My personal record is below 30 minutes, so I am three minutes off of that.  My training was mostly in the gym running around the track, so I can improve by running outside and doing some hills, as I did yesterday. I might not ever match my pr achieved in my 50s, but that's fine. I might decide to do 10k runs.  I can run indefinitely far at a slow enough pace.  

Resting pulse is in 57-60 range.  

Monday, March 4, 2024

Dream of finishing High School

 In my dream I had been trying to finish High School.  (It seemed like my GED was no longer satisfying to me.)  I was in the choir and noticed that the duration of what we had to sing or recite was contrived, in order to occupy a fixed amount of time. I grew skeptical about whether I really needed to go back and do my senior year in High School.  

Monday, February 26, 2024

Model of relation between words and music (classical, dualistic model)

 The words come first. The melody is a "setting" of a previously written usually canonical poem. 

The process of song setting is not collaborative.  

Words and music are fundamentally at odds. The composer overrides the poet's art.  


Reverse this, and you get the "organic" model. Neither words or music are essentially prior, and either might come first as a matter of practice. 

Songwriting is often collaborative, or can be done by one person writing both words and music. 

The listener experiences the words of the song as "the words of the song," not as a melodic imposition on a previous text. 


Neither model is correct in absolute terms, but clarity emerges if we contrast the two models. The second, vernacular paradigm has more far-ranging applicability than a model pertaining only to Western art song. 

Sunday, February 25, 2024

New York Times

"'Reading Genesis' is, as the title suggests, Robinson’s literary analysis of the first book of the Old Testament — one writer’s appreciation of the enduring work of others. Like so much of Robinson’s writing, the book is alive with questions of kindness, community and how to express what we so often struggle to put into words. 'An argument that I make in the book,' Robinson says, puckishly implying a counterargument to contemporary mores, 'is that God is patient, loves human beings, suspends judgment and is not inclined toward punitive behaviors.'"

I'm thinking that's a nice set of sentiments, but why project our values onto Genesis? It's not a  "counterargument against contemporary mores, but more like a projection of them. 

A few punitive moves jump into my mind: the flood, casting Adam and Eve out of the garden, Sodom...  

Saturday, February 24, 2024

How a shirt dries

 Still submerged in water, the shirt will not begin to dry. It is maximally saturated with water. Once lifted out, a great deal of liquid will fall from it rapidly: it was not absorbed into the fibers in the first place, and thus has no way for it to hold on. At this point, more water will be shedded manually, through a process of squeezing or wringing out the excess. Some tub or basin, or the equivalent, will catch whatever falls, if this process should occur indoors. 

Now the shirt is hung, perhaps with companion items of clothing or linen, in a place where any stray drips will caught by the appropriate receptacle--or unto the ground in the case of outside drying. Gravity will pull some of the moisture toward the bottom regions of the garment, such that the upper part will dry at a faster rate. Nevertheless, it is evaporation, rather than this downward pull, that has the greatest overall effect. Thicker or denser fabric will dry more slowly. Warmer, dryer air will accelerate the process. In a hot wind, outside, a wet shirt doesn't stand a chance. 

Friday, February 23, 2024


 I read most of a book of interviews with Valente. He insists over and over on the distinction between orthodoxy and heterodoxy.  (It is funny, too, how he repeats the same metaphors over and over. He is the "long distance runner" distant from his own contemporaries. It is striking how self-righteous he is and how ungenerous with other writers: he only saves a very few, and even comes down hard on some former friends.)   

It struck me that the concepts of orthodoxy and heterodoxy are devoid of content. They are purely relational. In other words, you can't tell whether a given belief is orthodox or heterodox unless you know who is in power, and what those in power happen to have decreed to be the right beliefs. So heterodoxy is not some marvelous thing in and of itself, and heterodox ideas might well be mistaken. It's still a bad idea to have an orthodoxy (a set of beliefs designated correct by who's in power). The reason is not that the orthodox views are wrong (they might very well be correct) but that power always puts its thumb on the scale. We don't know any longer whether a belief is true, or simply one favored in contingent circumstances by someone who happens to wield power.  

Because some heretics are wrong does not justify the existence of an orthodoxy, someone with the power to call someone a heretic. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Two gears

 I ran six k this morning.  

I did it slow, fast, slow, fast, slow, fast, slow, fast, 

where slow is an 8 minute k, "fast" is 7:15 (or 6:45 in the case of the last kilometer). I have two gears. The really fast gear, at 6 minute kilometers, is not sustainable for me yet (or any longer!).    

I'm thinking this was easy, in that I feel not very tired an hour later. Forgetting seems to be an essential part of it: I am blessed with poor memory so I can barely remember this run involving much effort. I just feel the runner's high.  

Just to put it in terms of the 5K I am training for.  

5 minute ks = 25

6 minute k = 30

7 minute k = 35

8 minute k = 40. 

My personal best is just under 30.  


Coming home, I wrote an abstract for the NOLA MLA in 2025. 


I got a request for a promotion case from the UK.  I should be able to do that. Also have spring break trip to Spain coming up.  I need to plan that.  

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Dream of Patagonia boat race

 I was on a plane and reading a book. The table of contents looked cryptic, literally in some kind of terse code. One part I read had to do with some boat races near Antarctica: apparently the navy was racing captains against each other to decide which ones got to be the captains of ships. There was a great loss of life and material because the conditions were "near blizzard." I couldn't read more in the book: I could make out very small portions of large paragraphs.  

We were watching the video of the plane's camera. It seemed dangerous because we had to pass through narrow spaces. Then someone told me the video had nothing to do with our plane's trajectory at all. 

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Dream of misspelled name

 This really happened. The Deans mispelled my name on a little commemorative item they gave me for being interim chair.  They promised to give me one with my name spelled right, but that hasn't happened yet (two months later).  

In my dream, they gave me the corrected plaque in some kind of public ceremony, but I looked and it still said "Johnathan" instead of "Jonathan." They asked me if it was spelled right, I looked, and said "No.  What the fuck?" I was embarrassed / not embarrassed for cursing like that in public.   

Monday, February 12, 2024

comic genius

 It keeps getting better

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Dream of unrestful sleep

 I dreamt of someone coming in constantly to clean as I tried to sleep (maternal figure). I was trying to explain to her that I only had a few hours to sleep before I would have to get up anyway.  

When I did wake up from the dream, I realized that I had actually slept (since I was dreaming) while experiencing this sleep as unrestful (someone trying to prevent me from sleeping). I had been awake for several hours before falling asleep and then having the unrestful dream.    

Saturday, January 27, 2024

A dream

There were two houses on opposite sides of a street, on a hillside, such that the house on the higher side of the hill had floors above the road, and the house across, on the bottom, had floors lower than its "ground floor" or street entrance. 

We were staying at the lower house, but attending a party or celebration of some kind at the upper house, which was superior in every way.  In fact, each floor of the house, ascending was more luxurious. The opposite occurred with the lower house.  The street entrance floor of the lower house represented something like basic common sense. The floor beneath it was at the cultural level of "Jesus saves!" and BBQ.  We felt inferior while we were in the upper house, with the elaborate fixtures and pretentious discourse. No other person in the dream had a clear identity, other than myself, but it was clear that some of us were from the "lower" house.  

The dream continued many hours, with many details I cannot recall. The upper house was more like the Ivy League, theoretical researchers. The two houses with their various levels represented the intellectual and cultural hierarchy in very concrete terms. As I was awakening I was also analyzing the dream as much as possible. 

Thursday, January 25, 2024

 I noticed that there are several possibly *negative* components of running:  

Being hot / sweaty / thirsty. 

In cardio-vascular terms, breathing hard or having elevated heart rate. 

Feeling tiredness / soreness in the legs or pain in legs any part of the body. 

Being bored / unmotivated. "I'd rather be doing something else." 

The first two don't bother me (unless I were running outside in high heat).  

Usually, my legs will feel tired before my cardiovascular system.  I am not really tired in any meaningful sense. After the run, or next days, legs will feel sore, but a *good sore.* I don't mind sweating, because that is the body's system for cooling down. 

So the key is mental, receiving the signals from the body and processing them in the way I want to. It is a training of the mind. Now, since the weak part, as far as the body is concerned, are the legs, then I don't have to worry as much about other components. The weakest part of the mind is the part that wants to quit at a certain point, but then I can just slog through those parts. Presumably the muscles in the legs will get used to running and not protest as much.  


Back windshield shattered yesterday. Extreme cold temperature, and then heating up the back window with built-in heating coils to melt the ice, must have stressed the glass too much. The dog got sprayed by skunk; then I noticed she had peed in the bed at some point during the day. [I don't even own a dog!] 

Bad things happen in threes.  

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Cognitive load and canine intelligence

 Running in the gym (because the ground is icy) requires a lot. I can lock up things in a small locker, but must remember a combination and which locker I have used. I have to have ear buds (they must be charged), the wallet containing id, the phone to play music in my earbuds, water. I must change clothes; make sure I am aware of the hours of the gym (not a problem usually but Sunday they open at 1). 

I set a running app to keep track of my miles, and select music on a play list. All these organizational tasks seem difficult, whereas the running itself is physically taxing but cognitively uncomplex.  


The cat was trying to get something from under (behind) an open door. Then the dog came along and tried for a few minutes with snout and paws. I got up and moved the door, and the dog retrieved its bone. The dog could have physically moved the door, as I had, with minimal effort, rather than trying to dig out the bone from underneath. I'm sure there are dogs or cats smart enough to do that; even a crow or squirrel.  

Saturday, January 20, 2024

the gym paradox

 There is a cognitive bias, I will call the gym effect. At the gym, if I catch my reflection in the mirror, I see and old, weak-looking guy with five pounds extra body fat.  At home, in the mirror, on the other hand,I see a relatively young looking guy, with a decent physique for his age and not very much overweight.  

The gym is where the students work out, so I am going to be 45 years older than the average person there. The more out of shape students do not work out as much, so the typical person is a student with zero body fat. The substantial muscles on some are due to the fact that... it is the weight room.  

It is the same if I think about the fact that my 35 minute 5 kilometers is very slow. Yet some people cannot run that distance (or do not choose to run at all). 

My brother in law is in palliative care. He called me the other and the conversation turned sentimental; he was talking about how brilliant everyone in my family is (he is married to my sister, also in palliative care) and that he felt inferior. But in my family it is normal to have a PhD.  My dad, my brother and I, two uncles on my mom's side. For him, it is like being at the gym, intellectually speaking (and he is a very smart guy, just modest and very generous).   

I guess the point, in abstract terms, is that there are always multiple sets in which a potential comparison might take place. 

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Writing as manual labor

 Murakami's book on running suggests that writing a novel is manual labor. It is just laborious work. He says that three things are required: talent, focus, and endurance. Talent is necessary but not sufficient. There has to be a way of grinding it out over the long haul.  

This makes perfect sense. The book itself, What I talk about when I talk about running, could be seen as a slight book, a mixture of travelogues and diaries. If you like Murakami and running, though, it is worth a look. The authorial persona is humble and realistic.  Failures and successes are both treated lightly.  


"Writing novels, to me, is basically a kind of manual labor. Writing itself is mental labor, but finishing an entire book is closer to manual labor. It doesn’t involve heavy lifting, running fast, or leaping high. Most people, though, only see the surface reality of writing and think of writers as involved in quiet, intellectual work done in their study. If you have the strength to lift a coffee cup, they figure, you can write a novel. But once you try your hand at it, you soon find that it isn’t as peaceful a job as it seems. The whole process—sitting at your desk, focusing your mind like a laser beam, imagining something out of a blank horizon, creating a story, selecting the right words, one by one, keeping the whole flow of the story on track—requires far more energy, over a long period, than most people ever imagine. You might not move your body around, but there’s grueling, dynamic labor going on inside you. Everybody uses their mind when they think. But a writer puts on an outfit called narrative and thinks with his entire being; and for the novelist that process requires putting into play all your physical reserve, often to the point of overexertion."

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Vintage International) (pp. 79-80). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2024


 It took only two months to reclaim most of my running fitness. I ran 5k in under 32 minutes, just three minutes faster than my record time of 29 something, when I was maybe 7 years younger than now.   

I started by running six minutes, walking three. Then 9 and 3... Then I did 8 and 4, 12 and 4, 16 and 4... until I got into a good alternation.  Soon, I could run 25 minutes without stopping, then 30.  I gradually left out the walking part. I set my app to measure in metric system, and usually decide in advance on a distance, between 1.5 and 8 kilometers. On days I run, which is not every day, I alternate between shorter and longer distances. Longer ones, I do as slowly as possible; shorter ones, at a brisk pace, and medium distances, at a steady pace only slightly slower than my "speed" runs. I only have about 3 gears: slow as possible (8,5 minute kilometers) and still be running, steady middle pace (6.40), and one slightly faster than that (6.30) Ideally, I should have four gears: slow, medium, medium fast, and all-out. 

The slow pace is actually the most powerful, because it permits more mileage and endurance. I can run a long time and then still be able to speed up at the very end.  I don't feel particularly tired after running. 20 minutes later, I feel as though I had not run at all.  


 I felt I was dreaming all night.  1st, a love scene I don't care to describe in detail, but entirely soft-core. 

I was playing a game based on chess, but not exactly chess. I moved my queen to threaten opponent's rook, but of course their rook took my queen instead. This was agasint someone I know in real life to be a skilled chess player (as I am not). I resigned the game in disgust with myself.   

There was an altercation in front of our favorite bar, a mass brawl I witnessed from outside a circle of people.  Once in a while I got a glimpse. Then they were carrying people out and someone said, "Now, for some triage..."  The bar itself had emptied, and I had not paid my tab. 

I had moved my alarm clock to another room so I didn't see the time as I slept and woke. When I thought it was my normal time, 7ish, I got up, looked at my clock, and it was 7:09.  I had woken up between different phases of this night-long dream. 


I use some poems to fall asleep: 

Frost: the way a crow, silken tent, for once, then, something, a bird half woken in the lunar moon, never again would the bird's song be the same, design, acquainted with the night, nothing gold can stay.  

With WCW: I use, red wheelbarrow, this is just to say, iris, flowers by the sea, as the cat, to waken an old lady, complete destruction, the jungle. 

And then, Yeats: no second troy, when you are old and gray and full of sleep. 

Sunday, January 14, 2024

out loud

 You do'nt get to judge the quality of your poetry (out loud). That's because, egocentric bias. 

On the other hand, you do get to judge the quality of your scholarship.  There is an ego there, too, but you can objectively lay out the strengths and weaknesses, and you compare yourself to others because you are all doing the same thing. 

That being said, I do think my poetry is on the level of what semi-famous poets do, or actually better than the Pinsky, Collins type of poet.  

Friday, January 12, 2024

Some other handy notes

 Some other handy notes:

Use only present tense to analyze literature. If you use past, then you will make mistakes with preterit / imperfect, and mix up present and past in the same sentence, to much confusion. 

Avoid any second person grammar: no "you" or yours. 

Use the 1st person only for convenience as discursive marker. Don't talk about yourself. Don't say, "when I first read this poem, I didn't understand it." 

Don't make references to the course itself. "As we learned in class last week..." 

Avoid the "dawn of time" opening and the "dictionary definition" trick. Those are high school.  

Don't make a generalization and then say "blank is no exception."  [This is one for scholars too; you know who you are.]. 

Set the language of the word doc to Spanish.  Then some spelling errors will show up and you can correct them. And some grammar errors as well. 

Agreement, agreement, agreement.  

Don't make every verb reflexive. Some verbs are reflexive, others aren't.  

Make all the mistakes in the subjunctive you want! You are a student and still learning.  But don't make the "Spanish 101" errors if you are a senior Spanish minor or major. 

Don't tell me Lorca is a famous writer, etc... Start the paper at the beginning, without all the bullshit throat-clearing. Entrar en material.. ir al grano. 

Another recycled post: how to write a paper for your undergraduate Spanish class

 [This post will replace the one I wrote more rapidly a few days a go on the same subject.]

1. What you are being asked to do is very difficult. Produce college-level writing in Spanish. Think of what you are asked to do in a course in another department. You would probably be embarrassed to turn in a paper with a grammatical or vocabulary mistake in every other sentence, or with a very low level of intellectual content. Writing in Spanish, you still need to produce college-level work, so you need to remember everything you ever knew about academic writing. If you are already a good writer in English, then you need to transfer those skills to the new language. Principles of organization and rhetoric or not fundamentally different between the two languages. For example, you probably know that you wouldn't start a paragraph with "Also..." in English. So why would you start with "También..." in Spanish? That's a weak transition. If you aren't a good writer in English, you are in trouble, because then you have to learn composition at the same time as you struggle to master a foreign language. Write well-developed paragraphs of about 5-6 sentences each, with topic sentences in each paragraph that all support the main thesis statement of the paper.  

Because of your language skills, you might unconsciously dumb down the content of your paper. Your sentences might be too short, your vocabulary limited. Don't let poor language skills make you seem less intelligent than you are. Avoid grandiose or obvious statements. "Lorca is a famous writer." When doing a compare and contrast, don't say "There are many similarities and many differences."  

2. Read the instructions. Figure out what the professor wants from the paper. It is likely she doesn't want her own ideas from class parroted back.  

3. Do not translate your ideas into Spanish. Before you begin writing for the day, look at some authentic Spanish academic writing to get a feel for what your style should be. Borrow some frequently used phrases like "Sin lugar a dudas" or "Así las cosas." A frequent source of unclear writing is the literal translation of phrases that made sense in English but produce garbled Spanish.  

4. What did the Spanish language ever do to you? Why are you mistreating it so? Now is not the time to forget elementary grammar. To say "like this" you just need "así," not "como así." "As much" is not "tan mucho" but "tanto." Don't make verbs reflexive or subjunctive in a random way. Distinguish between parts of speech. "Mágico (magic, adj), "magia" (noun). Use technical terminology correctly. Never use the word "cuento" unless you mean the literary genre of a short-story or short oral tale. Look at the corrections of previous Spanish papers you have written, in this class or previous ones. Chances are you are making the same mistakes over and over again. Don't make grammatical mistakes in the title of the paper.  

5. Choose quotes carefully. Don't use the quote the professor analyzed in class to make his main point. When you do quote from a text, use the quote rather than merely quoting it. For example, with a long block-quote that occupies a quarter of a page, you need to point out some relevant details after the quotation, not just have it sit there using up space.  

6. The good news is that the professor is likely to be more tolerant of some level of grammatical mistakes than a professor in another department. The professor does not expect perfection. A few errors in the use of the subjunctive will not make an A paper into a B-. Really basic mistakes tend to produce more anger than more subtle ones.

Here's another recycled post: how to comment on a grad paper

 I found these comments in my file for the theory class. 

“Critical Review of...”


Let’s start with the title: it could be a bit more revelatory and interesting—a minor issue. The intro is strong, but the last sentence of the 1st paragraph is weak. Here is the place where you could insert a strong thesis statement, but instead you simply announce that your paper is going to comment on the article by B. Something that we already know from your title. Likewise, the concluding sentence of the essay is weak: you apologize for not dealing with every aspect of the essay, instead of taking advantage of the final position to highlight your own strongest point, whatever you feel that to be. The time to make this kind of statement is early in a paper, as a kind of captatio benevolentiae.  

You might need more context in the second paragraph. What exactly was B reacting against? I would say there are two main traditions: neo-classical poetics in Europe did not really consider the novel as an artistic genre because it was a new, upstart form that did not form part of the classical canon. Secondly, B was writing partly in reaction to the Russian formalists. If you don’t see this context, it becomes hard to see why B establishes the dichotomy between poetry and prose. Poetry (poetics) entails a certain narrower, classical view of genres. I don’t think that it as easy as you assume to extend his “prosaics” to the realm of “poetics.” I also think you need to consider the historical development of the novel as a genre.  

In the third paragraph: it is unlikely that B knew Gramsci. You should look up the actual dates of publications of Gramsci’s work rather than just saying that you don’t know whether he knew Gramsci or not. Good summary here, though. 

Page 5: “Essentially a genre theorist of the novel, I...” Who is the genre theorist, you or B?  

You make good points throughout, but a better thesis statement and conclusion would result in a better, more cohesive paper.  


Final Grade A -

Most of my previous comments have been addressed. Generally, this is a strong paper, building on strengths of the first version. My main critique at this point would be that the paper could test B’s theory against real examples of novelistic and poetic discourses. It seems a little abstract, too theoretical, in a way. The reader doesn’t really have a sense of what B’s theory would look like when set in motion. The paper could go even further in the direction of proposing an interesting idea about Bakhtin’s theory. 
I didn't give a grade for the first version, because I wanted attention on substance not on "why did I get this particular grade." I didn't have to change any information to publish this on my blog because there is nothing personal here. Everything is about the work, nothing about the writer as human being. [update 11 years later: now I really don't know who wrote this paper!]. 

I also gave some interlinear comments that I didn't save.  

Now I'm feeling I should have kicked his or her ass even more. But beyond a certain point is becomes counter-productive.