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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, 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.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Wooten's theory of improv

I was watching some videos of Wooten [bass player of renown] on improv.  I will mix in his ideas with some of mine.

1] Improvise badly.  [This is similar to my idea of writing bad poems; it frees you up.  The results will be good, possibly]

2] Wooten says: there are 7 notes in any given scale, and 5 notes NOT in the scale. So play any notes you want; you have more than 50 % chance of those being the right notes.  If they aren't in the scale, they will be altered notes or chromaticism.  [My idea is: there is only one bad sounding note, which is the fourth degree in a major seventh chord.  So play CEGB and then F in your right hand.  That F sounds really bad.  You can avoid that one if you like. Everything else is pretty good.]. 

3] Make the groove solid, says Wooten.  Note choice is less important than the rhythmic feel of the music. [So I can improvise with simplistic ideas or repeated notes.]   

4] My final idea [not attributed to Wooten] is just to do it.  Sit down and do it enough. Anyone can improvise.  Now can anyone improvise well? No.  The quality of the ideas might be good, bad, or indifferent. One thing I learned from Chick Corea's book is this: you are the judge.  You get to decide what you like and what you don't, so you are developing your own taste. That fact that the fourth over a major seven sounds bad to your ears [if it does] is just as useful as knowing that the third sounds super consonant and sweet.  Maybe the third will be too sweet, what Herbie Hancock calls the "butter notes."   

Reading in anthologies

 I remember the revelation of reading the Complete Works of a certain poet. [Wallace Stevens]. I was maybe 14 or 15.  Anyway, reading in an anthology gives a false impression. You find that the poems are more uneven in the complete works. Some fall flat; some are dull or incomprehensible (especially if you are 14); some good ones never get into the anthology. It seems as though the anthologists only read other anthologies and choose the same ones out of inertia. (Can an anthology be plagiarized?) Even the weaker poems provide satisfaction, and make the ones you like stand out even more. The dullness is part of the over all experience of finding out for yourself what is interesting, and finding out what poetry is really about: a process of large numbers of failures punctuated with tenuous and temporary successes.  

Also, books of poems are works of art in their own right. They have organizing principles. Who would know that Lorca's "La guitarra" is part of a sequence of poems, and that this sequence of poems in its turn is part of a book of poems? The anthology does not give you that information. Even your professor might not know this, using an anthology of poems selected by someone else. 

Many people, even famous people, in my own field I have heard say over the years: Oh, I don't really like / read / understand poetry.  It's odd to me because I would not have gone into the field to read modern Spanish novels. Nothing wrong with the modern Spanish novel, but I wouldn't have felt compelled to go into the field from reading Azorín, Gabriel Miró, Benet, Marsé, Laforet, or even Goytisolo. My late colleague Bob Spires asked me in the intrerview: why don't you study fiction?  I had no great response, but now I would say: all of you are already doing that.   

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

rescuing a post from 2006

My criteria for an article:  

Problem The article must first address a significant critical problem. That is, it cannot be merely informative or descriptive, but must make an argument. For me, the critical problem usually involves a paradox. For example, we know that Creeley's poetry was influenced by Pound and Williams. Yet, in comparison to their work or Denise Levertov's, his poetry is not strongly visual in the same way. A paradox is like a wrinkle in the fabric of our expectations, or a distance between what most people think about a particular writer and what is *actually* the case. I had an interesting talk with Mark Halliday: his perception of Thank You was that it contained many difficult poems that did not make sense on the surface. My perception of it was the opposite. Of course, when we got out the Collected Poems I saw that we had both overestimated the proportion of "easy" and "difficult" poems in the book, overlooking the ones that did not confirm our previous bias.

The critic must feel that the problem is of some significance and make a case for this significance. Does literary history change if Creeley is not a visual poet? Maybe it does. Maybe not. There has to be a non-obvious consequence that makes a difference for something else.


The critical article cannot repeat what has been said before. It cannot argue an obvious thesis, that Levertov derives her line-breaks from WCW. It has to take into account what has already been written and enter into a critical dialogue with it. Even if not much has been written about the topic, there must be some demonstration of the gap in the critical literature.


The critic must speak with voice of her / his own. It can't be the application of an already existing critical discourse. The critical voice is the authority--not the literary theorist to whom the critic is beholden. Nobody else could have written this article but him / her / me / you.


I haven't said anything about theory. That is because the presence or absence of theory in the article (i.e. references to specific works by "name" theorists) is not directly relevant to these criteria. For me, the theory will usually be more implicit than explicit, simply because I have my own voice, more or less. Barthes is not theoretical because he quotes other theorists or presents abstract ideas (although he does do this too) but because his is an interesting mind dealing with critical problems. I find my own ideas more valuable than applications of Derridean theory, say, to a particular text. The silliest idea in my head is worth more than the most profound idea in someone else's head (Frank O'Hara, as paraphrased by Kenneth Koch). This is not arrogance. It is the starting principle. Why should you listen to me if I'm simply a less accomplished version of someone else?

Good academic criticism has to be extremely imaginative. It should convey the same excitement we get when we read Barthes on LaRochefoucauld. I hate "imaginative" criticism where I feel the critic is simply making things up. After all, making things up is pretty easy to do. That's cheating, in my mind. You can't say you'd "rather be interesting than right." You'll end up being interesting in a kind of dull way. If you stretch out a little bit, you have to have the smoking gun, the piece of evidence that makes your argument not only possible or plausible but probable. We've had students who seem to have the "spark" but can't quite put things together in a cogent way. I've been that student myself.

Bad criticism is bad because there are not that many people who can do all of this and put it together. Ever read a plodding, descriptive dissertation, where the dissertator seems to be merely going through the motions? He is not incompetent; he deserves the doctorate and a place in the profession, perhaps.

For myself, I feel that I need to have something for the formalist reader and something for the cultural critic at the same time. That is, if I'm writing about poetry there has to be something interesting going on in what I'm saying about the poetry, as poetry. At the same time there's got to be some other point beyond this as well--some reason for you to care even if you don't care about the poetry as poetry.

Saturday, January 6, 2024

Research is still "writing"

 What I mean by this is this: if you are researching, you will be taking notes, putting what you learn in written form. The exception is when you are reading a book and not taking notes, just marking pages or keeping mental note of ideas. The process of writing is continuous with the process of note taking.  

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Scratching my head

 This is the strangest statement I've read this year:

"What makes me uncomfortable about this situation was how so many people, under the guise of being 'objective,' did feel the need to invest their time in the name of establishing some kind of truth in the situation." It's on Andrew Gelman's blog, but in a post by another contributor.  

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

You need an hour, but you only need an hour

I have decided to return to my practice of writing every day on my book, for an hour a day more less, using the Seinfeld chain method; I began on January 1.   

Many things require an hour (or less) a day. Practicing an instrument (for hobbyist ambitions). Running: yesterday I ran (walked) for an hour and did 4.5 miles.  Now, I don't even need to run everyday, even, just every other day, alternating with weights. I only spend 30 minutes lifting. Making progress on a book ms. For meditation, 30 minutes is good if you aren't a Buddhist monk.  

You can prepare class in an hour a day. I teach two and a half hours a week, and I need about an hour of prep for each hour of class, if it is a class I have taught many times before.