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Monday, December 31, 2012


I was driving 5 hours in a car so I was thinking some thought yesterday. Nothing too original. As I write it up I am sure I will come up with ideas I didn't think up in the car too. This will be the lecture for the first day of my graduate theory course:

How do we understand one another? That is the central question of literary theory and of the humanities generally.

Suppose we take Sophocles as an example. That is, what, the 400s BC, so 2,400 years ago. How do understand Sophocles, then? It would be amazing if we did!

Is the main difficulty linguistic? No, we understand his language fine. (Not me, but others.) Translation is a good metaphor for understanding and misunderstanding, but do we really think if we just had better translations, the problems would disappear?

One answer would be historicist. We should understand Sophocles as he himself understood himself, or as an Ancient Greek around the same time did. Sounds good, but some problems arise. For example, we don't perfectly understand our own contemporaries. I couldn't point to Lorca's contemporaries as a group of people who have understood him, so bridging the historical gap doesn't quit do it. Secondly, we know that it is possible to understand an author better than she understood herself. Say we have a letter written during the 1st world war. We understand things beyond the scope of the letter writer. For example, that there would be second world war. Understanding unfolds in time. Thirdly, we are still bringing in our present day concerns, our current horizon of expectation, even when we think we are being rigidly historical in our thinking. We cannot really do otherwise. This is easy to see if we look at past attempts to be historicist. Someone writing about Sophocles in the 18th century will sound a lot more 18th century than Sophoclean. Fourthly, we are not interested in the past for its own sake, but because it is still meaningful to us.

The second approach would be presentist. Now we are less concerned with the past as such, and more with what interests us now. These approaches might seem more honest, but once again a problem arises. The past becomes just a kind of token or currency to tell us about what we already think we know. Now we are just subjecting the past to an ideological critique based on our superior knowledge.

(The New Historicism is a kind of presentism pretending to be a historicism?)

A third approach is universalist. Now we assume that the difference between present and past simply doesn't matter. There are universal things about the "human condition" that persist, and we can see what Sophocles is telling us about these things. This approach is favored by right-wing cretins and should not concern us here. It is also a kind of presentism, but one favored by the right rather than by the left.

So the approach I would like to follow is based on Gadamer's notion of the "in between." Understanding takes place between those two places, present and past, and cannot be grounded on either one. Once we think we're talking only about the past, or the present, we become blind to inbetweennness.

Now let's forget about present and past and think about other differences. Two cultures existing at the same time but in different places (or in the same place, or in juxtaposition). Two opposing ideologies. Two genders. Two people married to each other who don't "understand" each other. In all these cases, what is at stake is the possibility of understanding. Capisce?

Problems or central questions in all ares of theory stem from this metaquestion. For example, in feminist literary theory. The central question would be, what happens when we stop positing the male subject (constructed in a certain way) as a universal norm?

For Latin American literature, there is a set of questions concerning the interpretative frame to be used. Where does it come from: Paris? Vienna? New York? Quito? What is its historical relation to the reality being studied? Is it a theory developed by Criollos to justify their own dominance? Is it a Lacanian theory borrowed by someone in Buenos Aires? Can it be indigenous, organic in Gramscian sense.

In my field, the question is how we can understand Spain and Spanish culture. The central question for peninsular Hispanism is what makes Spain distinctively itself, and not like some other European country? How do understand what it's all about? That's what I was doing in Apocryphal Lorca: contrasting my view of Lorca as an American Hispanist with, say, Allen Ginsberg's view of Lorca from the perspective of an American poet.

Theoretical disputes are all about choosing the model for understanding. Let's take Habermas. He says that there ought be a way of understanding one another by playing by the rules of discourse based on Enlightenment reason. So if Habermas is debating Gadamer, Foucault, or Derrida, there will be conflicts in the "understanding of understanding" itself.


My objection to psychoanalysis is that it's a kind of dumb hermeneutics, proposing easy explanations. It proposes a single theory for understanding when we ought to have multiple theories, and it assumes it is easier to have certainty regarding unconscious motives than conscious ones. Epistemologically, it's a disaster. We don't even know how Freud knew what he probably didn't know. I think you should be able to look at any theory and ask the basic hermeneutic questions of it. What does it mean to understand one another? How is this possible? How do we know what we know?


Thanks to all of you, the hits to this blog have more tripled from when I first started keeping track. December of 2012 was the biggest month so far. Happy new year.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Writing in Prose

At very few times in my life have I been able to write directly in prose. In other words, sit down and simply write complete sentences rather than painstakingly and with great effort turning rough notes into sentences, or writing rough notes that will require this treatment later. Now is such a time, when I am simply writing the book rather than picking at it distractedly.

I am not saying I won't need to revise later, but the sentences are emerging more or less as they will appear in the final book. I am producing a not half-assed first draft rather than a shitty one.

I don't expect this to occur this way for the rest of my life, but it is very encouraging. I think it is a sign that I am writing the book I am meant to write.

Of course, the prose of the blog is improvised in complete sentences, and I don't revise it at all. The practice I get every day writing has to have helped me in my scholarly prose as well.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Zambrano / Heidegger

The connection between Zambrano and Heidegger might hold the key to my project, the final missing link. I wish I could just go and commission someone to write this study so I could quote from it. Once I learn a little more H. I will be able to better judge how Z. fits in.

I am still not sure what the project behind the project is: Volume 3 of Lorca / modelo para armar?

Eliminate the Unnecessary

Eliminate the unnecessary
Walls, roof, floor, ceiling
leaving the essence of the house intact

That was a poem that some friends of mine from high school, Eleanor and Monica, still remember, although I didn't. I am apparently the author of this text. You gotta love facebook.

What a good peasant in the shire!

Roy Campbell, a right-wing South-African poet, translated Lorca's line "¡Qué gran serrano en la sierra!" as "What a good peasant in the shire!" So the bullfighter Ignacio Sánchez Mejías becomes a kind of dull cousin to Bilbo Baggins.*

That kind of of thing motivates me to keep up the good fight.


*The hobbit was written in 1937, before Campbell's translation, but I am not suggesting he should have avoided the word just because of Tolkien.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

More "trust"

The most popular post on this blog, all time, is titled "trust."

You might be doing something, and not know exactly why. The real purpose might be concealed from you, although you know you should be be doing this.

Maybe you are making baskets, or doing yoga, or developing an interest in Blaxploitation movies. Maybe you are singing, camping, or studying Chinese.

By the same token, the real meaning of your scholarly project might not be apparent to you as you are completing it. This meaning will only emerge after. You will say, "Why did I waste my time with this, when what I really want to do is that?" But the time is not wasted. You couldn't have known beforehand. Maybe that was the only route you could have taken to what you think, now, your destination should be. Maybe you still don't know, and have to complete another project before a third object looms into view.

Facing Inward / Facing Outward

Every scholarly publication faces inward and outward at the same time. It addresses its own field, people who already care about the subject matter. It also "represents" the field or subfield to those outside of it. Those outside might be students not yet in the field, or those in closely related areas. Or even non-academic relatives. Or the news media.

Think about all the times I read outside my field, a book on Gadamer, say. That book represents the field for me, an outsider. But the writer might be turned wholly inward, toward other philosophers or specialists on hermeneutics. Then I get rather irritated. Why has the author not thought of me?

These responsibilities are equally important. Inward-looking effort is the basis of scholarly reputation and competence. Yet grant proposals always ask for some justification for "significance," or "why anyone who doesn't already give a damn should care."

You cannot only look outwards, because then you are no longer a scholar. You no longer have a field to "represent" to the outside world.

Think of a double-hinged door, that swings both ways.


Still in the airport so I have a lot of time to blog. Wasted time? Not really. If I were home I would just be sleeping at this hour.


Now I realize one of my problems is not being able to settle down on a set of songs to learn. Really, I should be singing "Moonlight in Vermont," "April in Paris," or "I'll Remember April." Maybe "We'll Be Together Again," or "Body and Soul." Or "Our Love Is Here to Stay." If I have too many songs, or switch too often, then I won't be able to sing any one song. I guess I'll give myself until New Year's to decide on the definitive list. I really also like "Begin the Beguine" and "Stomping at the Savoy.'


Stuck in the Denver airport. The flight has been delayed three hours, until 11:30. That will get me home and cozy in bed at 3 a.m. Still, I have worked on Lorca 3 days in a row, including today.


I often find myself returning to ideas I developed long ago. In my first term as a graduate student, in 1981, I wrote a paper arguing that translation was flawed as a metaphor for understanding. If the translated text is understandable in and of itself, then translation has to come to a stop at some point. Otherwise you would have a mise en abyme, in which you would need a second translation to understand the first one, and a third to understand the second. There has to be a level of understanding that is simply immanent, unmediated, simply understood. Translation might be a good metaphor for the end point of interpretation, where interpretation gives way to understanding.

It is very simple idea, and obviously correct. (As far as I can see.) Translation is a good metaphor for interpretation in which the text is not initially understood, but interpretation is not the same as understanding, logically speaking. The translator must also understand before translating. Her skill is in creating another text that will also be understood without another damned translation.

For the same reason, the statement that all interpretation is misinterpretation leads to a similar mise en abyme. Next time someone says that, simply ask, "How do you know?" If the answer is an explanation about how Blake got Milton wrong, etc... then ask, well, what is the right way of understanding Milton? What is the point of comparison?

Well, the point I was initially trying to make is that it is not unreasonable to struggle with the same ideas for thirty years. I am still trying to work this out when I read Gadamer and work on Lorca.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


I was googling Creeley and facticity, to see if anyone had come up with my idea about Creeley and Heidegger. Anyway, I found a book by Stephen Fredman, who was a reader for U of Chicago P, reading my book before it was published. Anyway, I noticed that Fredman cites my 2009 book in his 2010 book. Very nice, since this citation does not show up on google scholar at all. So in addition to an interesting chapter on Creeley's interviews, I found a citation I didn't know about.

I think google scholar mostly works for social science journal articles written in English. I know Apocryphal Lorca has more than four citations.

Monday, December 24, 2012


Here's an idea you can run with. You can become very famous writing this book that I myself don't have time to write. All I ask is that you cite me. If this book already exists, and I don't know about it, and you do, let me know. But please don't tell me about a book that kinda sorta does this, but really doesn't.

Basically, it would be called "aesthetic rationales for the sacred." It would study the way in which aesthetic arguments supplant religious ones, or religious arguments take refuge in aesthetics. This is a familiar idea, one that is all around us, but it needs a full-length book treatment.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


In preparation for my new year's project I have to ask myself several questions.

1. Why do I want to do this?

I have always had these little "self-improvement" projects. Some have come to naught, but that doesn't really matter. Even those have had some benefit, just not anything tangible I can point to. I have sung in choirs as a very young person, and I think everyone should be able to sing. It is the primeval performance of poetry and thus this goal is an extension of my last year's goal of improving my vocal performance.

2. What is my goal?

I will choose five songs that I would be able to sing by the end of the year, in, say, a small family setting, without embarrassment.

3. What are my challenges?

I can hear pitches, but not sing them with great accuracy. So I have to transfer a kind of "hearing" from ear to vocal mechanism. I have to increase my range, practice good breathing, and get a more consistent vocal quality.

4.What songs do I want to sing?

Waltz for Debby / Desafinado / Joy Spring / Lush Life / Stardust (for example)

5. How will I get there?

Recording myself, practicing every day. Perhaps taking a lesson or two.

6. What are the drawbacks of this goal?

None, that I can see. It is realistic, modest, fun. If I don't achieve it I have lost nothing. There may even be benefits I cannot see yet. The real reason I am doing this might be concealed to me.

7. What makes me think I can do it?

I know songs. I have sung before. I can read music.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Jaclyn Guillou - In Your Own Sweet Way (Live at Cellar Jazz Club)

Monica Zetterlund with Bill Evans Trio "Waltz for Debby"

Desafinado by Joao Gilberto

No, just, no (2)

No, just no. People who write poems like this and send them to other people should be [punished in the most non-violent way possible].

Lorca quote of the day

‎"I understand all poetics; I could talk about all of them if I didn’t change my mind every five minutes. I don’t know. Someday I could really like bad poetry, like the way I (we) madly love bad music. I will burn the Parthenon at night so I can start erecting it again in the morning and never finish it."

Lorca could really save me from my dogmatism, even from my dogmatism about his own work!

The "horizon" of interpretation can mean two things in hermeneutics. We could think of it as a kind of finitude: we see up to there, and no further. We are limited by our time and place, our prejudices and preconditions.

More optimistically, as Lorca says, "in eternity we will receive the reward of not having had horizons." There is no absolute such as thing as a horizon, because we never reach it. It is an imaginary line in the distance, that, as we move along, shifts with us, as Gadamer in his old age explained to Derrida.

We are radically who we are, where we are, and nothing more. There is sense of limitation, as in Robert Creeley's poetry. The sense where Creeley's "fact" that if it is Saturday it is only Saturday, that life must be lived in its temporal concreteness, intersects with the facticity of Heidegger's "thrownness." At the same time, what makes this realization poignant is the imagination of it being otherwise. I constantly have the thought of "why am I me?" Why am I the person I have to carry around and take care of all the time. Why am I thrown into this particular life? It seems rather arbitrary that I am alive and myself. Without this consciousness of the strangeness of it all, the Dasein becomes rather trivial. Maybe that's where Rilke's untranslated world comes in. You think that you would rather be like an animal, just fully present in the moment at all times. But isn't it better to aspire to that and never reach that particular horizon? To experience that gap? We might call it the gap between Creeley and Rilke.

That's why I hate Lorca criticism that tries to find the key to understanding everything in one particular factor. I can be against reductionism and still open minded.

This post is what I have to write tomorrow as a few actual paragraphs of my book. By writing it I have discovered the existential reason for writing this book. I have always thought that the subject of poetry is just this: the sense of awe at being alive at all. If my critical work is informed by that, then I will be fine.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Master Bibliography

Each major project should have a master bibliography. In mine, I only put works for which I have complete information. So if I don't have the book on hand, but know I have to cite it at some point, I don't have incomplete information in the master list.

I will have another list of citations that aren't complete. The article by what's his name in 1973 that I have to look up later. That will avoid me the frustration of finding that my bibliography has half of its items missing publication years or the names of translators. I know that's one of my weaknesses, so I am addressing it now. Working on bibliography is also a good use of time on days when you need a break from thinking and writing.

A page of bibliography with 15 entries. That means each page in the bibliography might refer to between 300 and 2,000 pages of material. That bibliography stands behind your work, props it up. Of course, in some cases an item will be one you've used for one very limited and specific purpose. In other cases it will be a long book you've studied for years.

Daily Breakthrough

Today I realized that hermeneutics extends to performance also. I mean, I always knew this, but today I realized this was significant. So my approach to Lorca's performative poetics and my approach to the hermeneutics of Lorca's work become seamlessly connected.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


It feels like I should be able to finish this book in a few weeks, based on my progress since November 27. Of course, that will not be the case. Once in a while a project will take off unexpectedly; a lot of it will get written in relatively short amount of time.

New Outline

Chapter 1: Introduction: Romantic Hermeneutics
Chapter 2: Was Lorca a Poetic Thinker?

I. Was Lorca A Poetic Thinker?
II. What is “Poetic Thinking” Anyway? (Cernuda vs. Zambrano)
III. Thinking Poetically in Lorca’s Lectures
III. “Play and Theory of the Duende”
IV. The Grain of the Voice: Lorca and Barthes
V. Mayhew’s Duende: Translation and Hermeneutics

Chapter 3: Lorca and Contemporary Spanish Poetry: The Anatomy of Influence

I. José Ángel Valente: The Anxiety of Influence
II. Claudio Rodríguez: Phronesis and Folklore
III. Antonio Gamoneda: Language and Landscape
IV. Pere Gimferrer or Luis García Montero? A Legacy in Conflict

Chapter 4: Postmodern Lorca: O’Hara, Motherwell, Strayhorn

Chapter 5: [How, in spite of everything, Lorca has not yet been fully "queered"]

Chapter 6: An Agenda for Lorca Studies

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

No, just no

The Connecticut poet Laureate writes like this:
This is the greatest mystery: why Death

Throws dark robes on the young and pure and innocent

While those corrupted, those who knowingly

Choose evil often live their whole lives out...
And I have to say no, just no. You cannot write poems like this. A tragedy requires you to rise to the seriousness of the event, have an aesthetic response that profoundly aesthetic, not write at this level of poetic incompetence, not spout fucking clichés. For the clichés, we have the media, with all their stupid-ass conventional narratives. Why should poetry be the secondary victim of an event like this? We need César Vallejo, not Rod McKuen. Dammit. This is not merely an aesthetic judgment, but an ethical one. The ethical responsibility of poetry is not to do this. Not to be a stupid, badly written cliché with Death in capital letters and no sense of rhythm.

I know you'll think I'm a jerk for writing this. Even if I am a jerk I am right in this case. I wanted to let it go but I just couldn't. Sorry! Someone has to be an asshole when the truth needs to be told.

No, just no.

How to Play Academic Politics as a Graduate Student


If you feel pressure to do so, it is because there are conflicts that don't involve you, that others want you to have a stake in, for their own benefit. If there are two warring factions of graduate students, just don't join either one. The faculty don't really respect how well a student leads a faction of students in a squabble with other students, because that is just a source of trouble and irritation for them.

If the faculty use the students as proxies in their own conflicts, you probably don't want to be used that way. Imagine if you do a very good job at being used, then the professor will write you a recommendation--in which she cannot even mention that! If you put your energy into that kind of thing, you will be hated by those on the other side of the fight, but not respected by those who have used you. Being a good politician does not get you elected to the next level, hired by a department.

In an ideal department, the graduate students should not even know that there are politics. It shouldn't affect the students in any way. The faculty should put aside their differences in matters that directly affect any particular student. If students are asked to choose sides, they should still try to put their main energy into their work. The politically powerful advisor might not be the one who writes them the best recommendation and gets them the job.


If you quote Henry Kissinger to me on my blog, his famous aphorism that "academic politics is vicious because the stakes are so low," then think for a moment about his politics. I guess it is not vicious to bomb children in South-East Asia, or overthrow South American governments and put torturers in charge. Oh no. It is academia that is vicious! Because the stakes are so low!

In other words, the rewards are so small and tenuous and people's egos are so big. The resources are scarce. I get that. I would suggest that the stakes are very high, though. What is at stake is the future of an academic discipline, and hence of civilization itself. I'd rather quote Gandhi on Wester Civilization ("It would be a good idea." than Kissinger.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Reading CVs

Here is a very useful post. Read other people's cvs and learn how to construct your own career. Be aware, as she warns in her conclusions, that cvs don't include all one's failures, so assume a long and impressive cv is one of a scholar who has also had disappointments.


People who make more money than you, by a factor of 75% to 200%, will often tell you that money is not that important, and that you have enough of it already. My dad, who was a dean at UCD, when I complained about salary equity, pointed out that he was the lowest paid dean in his university, but that he didn't care that much. That is fine, because once you reach a certain level, the value of additional money gets more nebulously symbolic. So the Letters and Sciences dean makes less than the Vet School dean, but both are quite comfortable. He earned 30,000 less than someone, but I only earned 30,000 period at the time.

The year I was promoted to full professor, I politely inquired about what the raise would be, and mentioned that fact that even with the %5,000 they were offering me I was still way behind where I should be. The dean was furious with me, according to the chair of my department. Of course, right after that, he left KU and took as job as a kind of super-dean at Ohio State. His raise taking that new job was far more than my salary. He earns more than $100,000 more in his new job than he did in Kansas. The Associate Dean at the time also wrote me a nasty note saying that people in the University were losing their jobs, so I had no right to even mention the issue that year. Her salary, of course, is more than twice what mine is. She is a philosopher, the author of a book about oppression.

My point is very simple. You cannot tell a person with a salary significantly lower than yours that money should not be an issue, or to shut up and stop complaining. Especially when you are a dean with a responsibility to make sure faculty members are treated fairly. Yes, I have enough money to live on. I am not oppressed, just treated unfairly relative to some of my colleagues. If you earn less than me you don't have to feel sorry for me. But then, I am not going to tell you that you money shouldn't matter to you if you earn half of what I do.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Critical Thinking and Gun Violence

Perhaps the least useful prism through which to view gun violence and its possible solutions is the rare and spectacular massacre. By all means, ban assault weapons. Most shooting deaths occur with handguns, though. Improve mental health services; most shootings are not done by crazy psycho killers, though. The predictive factors for a lot of gun violence are things like poverty, low rates of university education, lax gun laws in red state like Utah, and the like.

Of course, we also want to lessen the chance of these horrific mass killings, because they are horrible and frightening. That should be initiatives narrowly focused on prevention of this kind of event, but in the context of addressing gun violence in general. We could prevent all those lone-gunman-shoots-up-mall killings and still do nothing to address the other 50,000 gun homicides a year. Or we could make serious inroads on the more statistically significant problem, and still have the occasional outlier who is able to get the guns to carry out his plans.

Your chances of getting murdered in any given year in the US are .003%, or three one thousands of a percent. That's a rate of 3 per 100,000. That's unacceptably high, for several reasons.

*Other advanced countries have rate much, much lower than that. So it should be possible to lower the rate to a negligible level.

*Murder is a very bad way to die and affects younger people disproportionately, as do other somewhat preventable kinds of events like accidents and suicides.

*Homicide has a disproportionate effect on certain communities, where the rate is much, much higher than that 003.%.

I personally am not afraid of getting murdered, because for my age and race and general level of social interactions, it would be a much rarer than 003.% chance. If there are 100,000 living in a statistically average town, and 3 a year are murdered, it is not going to be me, most likely. Of course, men are more likely to kill and be killed than women, but still, I am not going to be too worried. Even if the chances were random, and three names were picked out of a hat to be killed each year (Shirley Jackson's "Lottery"), I would still probably die of old age. Say I had a life span of 80, so 240 names are pulled from the hat each year, out of 100,000. That's 24% of 1000, so 2.4% out of 10,000--so .24% is my chance of dying that way in 80 years. Unacceptably high? Yes, because we shouldn't have anyone put to death. I am against the death penalty too.

Whenever I start thinking anecdotally, based on watching the news and newsworthy events, I get a little bit stupider. Newsworthy events are much more likely to be rare and hence, well, newsworthy.


Of course Gadamer's main concept, one of his main concepts along with Bildung, is dialogue. So what I need is not disciples but interlocutors. What is troubling about Lorca is that he cannot answer back, literally speaking. The past is dead, though it still speaks to us. What it tells us is what we want to hear; it can correct us, but there is still doubt as to whether it corrects us according to our own cognitive biases, even when it seems to go against the grain of our thinking.

So the best kind of dialogue is with living folks. What happens is not an echo of one's exact position (boring) but a displacement or refraction, similar to what happens in translation. The fact that someone never hears you exactly right, exactly the way in which you want to be heard, is a good thing. But then again, a "diálogo de sordos" in which no understanding takes place is as bad as a mere confirmatory bias.

So this morning I sent my introduction to Lorca 2 to two people who would understand it and maybe say something about it. What would be helpful?

Of course, the first element is phatic. You are reaching out to someone. Are you there?

Secondly, there is mutual respect on a personal level, implicit in my sending it to someone who I know already respects me.

Thirdly, you expect someone to appreciate you. The warm glow. They might say something nice. You are on the right track; your work has value.

Fourthly, they might clarify your position by saying, "Jonathan, what you are really doing is ..." Simply rewording your ideas is helpful.

Fifthly, they might say, no, I don't get it. What are you doing right there? That seems "off" to me. Sorry. You think you are doing x, but you are really doing z!

The mere disciple could only offer the phatic pleasure and the warm glow of admiration. Mind you, I do enjoy people telling me how great I am, but I also recognize it for what it is, rather transparent ego-food, even if based on my legitimate accomplishments. The real satisfaction is in the engagement itself, the dialogue in the fourth and fifth step.

You have to cultivate interlocutors. In some cases, like the people this morning, I will be citing their work in my own, but this work in which they have already cited me. This is not a random or casual process. Nor is it superficial professional "networking."

So dialogue is also Bildung, but not my personal Bildung as an individual, but Bildung in a larger sense of something shared.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Quiz-- how well do you know Jonathan?

!. Who is Jonathan's favorite director?

a) Buñuel

b) Scorsese

C) Tarantino

2. Who is Jonathan's favorite American poet?

a) Robert Duncan

b) Charles Olson

C) Frank O'Hara

3. What is his personal style?

a) Hipster + rumpled professor + aspiring dandy

b) White t-shirt + jeans + leather jacket

c) Brooks Brothers

4. What are Jonathan's beverages of choice?

a) Kool-aid, bottled water, Miller lite

b) Scotch, espresso, wine, beer, soda water

c) Coke, red bull, vodka, grapefruit juice

5. Who is his favorite painter?

a) Rothko

b) Dalí

c) Caravaggio

6. Who is his favorite composer of 20th century?

a) Copland

b) Stravinsky

c) Feldman

7. What would you say to him if you met him in person?

a) You are nothing like I would have imagined.

b) You are exactly like I would have imagined.

c) Who the f++++ are you?

8. What poet would he despise the most?

a) Billy Collins

b) Mary Oliver

c) All of the above.

9. Does he prefer Hawkins or Young?

a) Both, depending on his mood

b) Hawkins

c) Young

10. Does Jonathan wear hats?

a) Yes

b) No

11. What canonical modernist author does he most resemble (physically)

a) T.S. Eliot

B) Federico García Lorca

c) James Joyce

12. Who are his favorite literary theorists?

a) Burke, Bloom, Benjamin, Blanchot, Borges, Gadamer, Perloff, Wittgenstein, Lorca

b) Matt Damon, Robert Di Niro, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson

c) Eliseo Vivas, Herbert Marcuse, Charlie Parker, Helen Vendler

13. What is his greatest fear?

a) Dying before he writes his next book

b) Meeting Scorsese and not knowing what to say

c) Nothing in particular; he is fearless

14. What movie is he watching right now?

a) Goodfellas

b) The Departed

c) Los olvidados

15. If you met J. now, you would

a) Buy him a drink

b) Set him straight

c) Ignore him

16. What is his goal for 2013?

a) Learning to sing

b) Losing weight

c) Earning his black belt

17. What would you like Jonathan to post about on his blog?

a) The same as he's always done

b) Lorca, Lorca, and more Lorca

c) More posts like this one; keep surprising me

18. What best describes his overall approach?

a) Always historicize

b) Let me not to marriage of true minds / Admit impediment

c) Literature kicks your ass with its transformative power

19. How old his he?

a) 52

b) 88

c) 45

20. Ask me a question...

Werner Jaeger -- Paideia

When I was about a young kid, before high school I know, I was obsessed by Greek mythology. My dad had a book on his shelf called Paideia, so I picked it up. It was about the Greek ideal of education as manifested in philosophers like Plato, etc... I read this book and I swear I actually understood it, although I might have been 12. The reason why I can claim I understood it is because I remember following the argument with some excitement and not skipping over anything. It took me a while to read and it taught me something about how an intellectual proceeds.

I think this book, more than any other, made me an intellectual. The Greek ideal of education was based on the inculcation of a concept called "arete," or virtue. This concept was not a stable one, but seemed to shift shape from one philosopher to the next, sometime radically, along with the meaning of paideia itself. This was fascinating to me, because I expected the Greeks to be saying one unitary thing, not to have contradictory ideas and arguing with each other. Education could be so many different things, and I was myself educated by this book, even though I have rarely thought of it since. Of course, I don't remember specific points in the argument any more. (I should re-read it now. If anyone wants to get it for me for X-Mas I will give you my address.)

Paideia, of course, is another word for Bildung, or formation. The idea was how to mold the subjectivity of the student. Jaeger was a German philologist writing in the 30s, although I had no way when I first read this book to understand this context. I saw Jaeger just as a guy looking at the texts and explaining what they were saying, not as part of some grand hermeneutical tradition of German classicism.

Anyway, my point is that what we read shapes us, or deforms us. That's what literature is for, to shape and educate, to "kick us on the ass with its transformative power" in my previous formulation. If that is not happening we might as well forget it. Of course, I don't really distinguish between poetry and philosophy, because both can have this power.

This might explain why I became critic and not writer. I need that level of engagement with abstract concepts to be happy. Writers are smart in other ways, but not always in this particular way.

I was thinking about this last night: what books shaped me most as a scholar? I would have to say that this book was the first, and hence most profound influence on me, though I guess if I was reading it in the first place I was already what it was asking me to be.


When I first started out in this field in the late 70s / early 80s, there were people I saw who had known Lorca. I saw a poetry reading by Luis Rosales for exmample. It was in his childhood house that Lorca hid before he was found and killed. The poets I was studying, and my professors, were my parents' generation and are as old as I am know. They are mostly deceased now, as is my father.

Thirty years have passed. Now I can see that a shift has taken place. I can see Lorca as belonging to the past, more clearly. That there is hermeneutic gap that makes my job easier, in a sense. I don't have to see Lorca as my contemporary, but as someone belonging to a discretely different era. This displacement is always necessary. It is hard to see an object from too close a distance.

A lot of students in Graduate School want to do dissertations on contemporary novel and film, and deal with contemporary issues of social import. Immigration, narcos, etc... I understand the urgency and excitement of the present, having been young once. It will be interesting for them when thirty years have passed, to see that change in perspective if I live to be 80.

Friday, December 14, 2012


The time to think about your New Year's resolutions is now, at the end of the year. Think about what you wanted to accomplish and how far you came.

I wanted to get in shape. I did that, but my level of physical fitness has dropped off in the second half of the year.

I wanted to win the Higuchi award and / or become a DP. Half of that happened.

I wanted to get a substantial raise or job offer. That has not happened.

I decided I would become more expert in the oral interpretation of poetry. I accomplished this, or at least worked on its considerably.

I would finish my book What Lorca Knew. This did not happen, but I did write a lot. Toward the end of the year, the book shifted shapes on me. It will now be both harder and easier to finish it. Harder, because I have to reshape it and write more. Easier because I have a clearer sense of the direction I am going in.

So my goals for the next year: improve my living situation. Find a good place to live in Kansas. Live better (dress better, sleep better, eat better, be in better shape). Earn more money. Finish ADLB. (Another Damn Lorca book--that's my less than respectful nickname for my project). I want to learn to sing.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Disciples (ii)

It does occur to me that I do in fact have a disciple in Spain, Margarita GC, who did a dissertation on LGM taking more or less my line, after having come to study with me in Kansas for a few months. Her recent book, based on her dissertation, cites 10 separate publications by me, which is something of a record for me. Google scholar says I am only cited by 92, and doesn't include any of these citations, so just by virtue of this one book my citations have increased more than 10%. Of course, google scholar doesn't really capture the extent to which my work has been cited in Spain, and does not even include all of my own publications.

So I guess I don't need to have too many disciples of this type. One or two would probably be enough. I'm irritated by even having to need this kind of extraneous ego-food.


à moi.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Backwards (Bildung 2)

Of course, I've had it exactly backwards. I have been arguing that one needs a scholarly base in order to produce excellent scholarship. This much is true, as far as it goes. Without that formation, Bildung, or culture, it would be hard if not impossible to produce good scholarship.

But scholarship is really the path toward the ultimate goal, which is the Bildung itself. The writing of the work is, itself, the scholarly self-fashioning. The dissertation creates the scholar, not the other way around.


Maybe I should have disciples? Maybe one of my problems is the lack of them. When I've directed dissertations, or been on committees, the students have not been my intellectual followers. They haven't done the kind of scholarship that I myself do or advocate. I have had to deal with that, very maturely I might add. I never held that against any student. Some of the students have actually been good and turned out ok. Yet I feel I have so much more to offer. It's not that I want to tell students what to do, or have little Mayhews running around in the field. I just think something I am doing should rub off on the graduate students in a little more direct way. I'm going to have to think about that. Is it that I am unassertive? That I don't want to be imposing my own views on those who would rather do a more standard form of criticism? It is good that I am so tolerant of approaches that I think are not that relevant, but on the other hand, shouldn't I be a little less tolerant?


I guess I realized that I am really a follower of Gadamer. Even though his name does not appear in Apocryphal Lorca. The more I read him, and about him, the more it resonates with me. My concept of the scholarly base, for example, could be a version of Gadamer's Bildung. Some commentators say that we shouldn't identify this Bildung with any particular German bourgeois educational idea tied to a particular place or time. It is a theoretical concept that transcends its particular horizon, in classic Gadamerian fashion. Bildung is culture, development, formation, transformation, self-fashioning. It is related to the concept of receptivity, or the willingness to grow in response to one's response to the "other." I oppose scholarship that merely follows academic proceduralism to produce technically "acceptable" results (Gerald Graff).


Its reverse would be "reeducation," or the imposition of false consciousness, the alienation of oneself from one's own work, one's own Bildung.


Not coincidentally, Clarissa's dissertation was on the Bildungroman. Not a surprising topic for someone with her own Bildung to work on. How did a Ukrainian autistic woman knowing no Spanish get where she is today, a Professor of Spanish in the American mid-west? You couldn't invent a novel with that plot.


Having a solid formation in graduate school is part of the Bildung, but only part. I realize that this post is a draft for the first lecture of my theory course. Aha! Theory is not about a tool-box of technical terms, but about scholarly Bildung or self-fashioning.


I realize, too, that my scholarly community this semester consists of the readers of my blog, especially those who comment like Olga, Thomas, Leslie, and, maybe less frequently, Andrew Shields. These people, like me, are involved in transformative scholarly self-fashioning every day. I'm not even going to talk about Wittgenstein's Bilden.


The way I engage in my own Bildung, every day, is by reading and writing scholarship. So writing this blog is not less important: it is my daily dose self-reflexivity. (As if I wasn't enough meta already!).

So Where Is This Going... ??

So where is this sequence of posts headed? I have to think about where I am headed professionally. I've reached a certain level in my field and in my department, overcoming my depression of the early 2000s. In order to continue to move forward, I have to continue my own intellectual Bildung, even though that, in and of itself, brings no external rewards. So I will finish and publish the second book on Lorca.

I want to teach a course for the MFA program, a workshop on the translation of poetry. I can start efforts to make this happen in the Spring. I need to increase my internal presence in my university, something which doesn't happen because of my frequent absence. I won't be absent as much from now on, because my daughter is graduating from High School and I won't be going to visit her in St. Louis any more after summer of 2013.

I need to earn better money. To do this I need an outside offer or a promotion to DP, and/or an administrative post. I feel my low salary is a function of not being able to promote myself better within the university, to prove my worth. I have to be less passive. I was in my personal life, since I decided I had to get divorced in order to stand up for myself.

I once associated my low status in the department as a function of my dissent from Kansas mediocrity. Now that my status is higher, I have to complete the process of separating myself from that legacy. Paradoxically, I am the member of the department who is most involved in keeping alive the legacy of having a research-oriented department. Thus I have to pay some lip service to the scholars who published a lot, even though they were a bit mediocre to my mind. The "over achievers." I can publish as much as those guys, but I want to be recognized as publishing good quality work as well.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Just by believing that the quality of criticism I was promoting was superior, and acting on the belief, I ran the risk of seeming ungrateful, petulant, arrogant, and uncollegial. A jerk. I could repress my true beliefs, or express them, or some combination of both (as it happened). Both the expression and the repression had psychic costs, took their toll on me, as I wavered between those two positions. You can suffer in silence, or suffer more loudly and be thought a jerk.

I was told I shouldn't care so much about APD's dominance of the field, that I shouldn't be so resentful and petty. After all, there were plenty of other critics who weren't beholden to him. I was exaggerating his importance, etc... But the same people would tell me, by implication, that my field was virtually worthless (except for me, presumably!).

Even now, I feel I shouldn't be airing this controversy. Nevertheless, there are some wounds that remain fresh, something here is unresolved. I still need to remain collegial, but also correct some major issues lingering from that dark period.


While I was teaching APD's class, after he fell sick, I learned that he and my colleague in Latin American poetry were going to be teaching an NEH Seminar in the summer. Imagine my surprise. My two colleagues and friends had applied for an NEH Seminar for College Teachers, had their proposal accepted, and this was going on without my knowledge: a seminar in my own field, at my own university, that I knew nothing about until it was about to happen. She had approached APD with the idea. She had mentioned, "What about Jonathan?" and he said, "Oh, he wouldn't want to do it." (As I found out later.)

So that summer a group of students came to KU to study poetry with APD, once more. Later I had it out with my colleague in Latin American poetry. We are still friends and even co-taught a course later. She knew I thought APD's work and influence were far from benign, but she still wanted to teach with him instead of with me. I don't understand it and I never will, but I can't do anything about that now.

It was true that I might not have wanted to do it, and that I was no longer getting along quite as well with APD, but I still felt like I had been punched in the stomach by these two colleagues. Of course, I was too stunned to even express my anger, until a few years later. That is my fault, because I tended to be passive about such things. When I had to peer review an article that had obviously resulted from this seminar, I could point out how this student had no original voice, was a mere carbon-copy of APD.

I don't think I would be as passive today.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

More APD

My disagreement with APD was both profound and trivial. I disagreed with him about major issues and minor details, about Spanish poetry and poetry itself, and about how to write about it, what constituted good scholarship. (The two of us agreed with each other that I was very smart, but that was about all.) My motives in disagreeing with him were both principled and grounded in some petty resentment.

I think he was a little resentful about smart people in the field who were not within his circle, like Silver and Soufas. These people were smarter than he was and he knew it. He had a sizable ego, and wanted things to revolve around himself, to some extent. He had disciples, something that I would never want to have even if I could.

His writing is utterly banal, and many of his assertions are absolutely contentless in that they could apply to any and all poetry. His style was clear but not elegant. To the extent that he puts forward an assertion with any arguable content, his view is usually mistaken. He thought that modernist poetics was about putting forward assertions that could be paraphrased. In a translation of a famous line by Mallarmé: "To name the object" he adds another word that destroys Mallarmé's point: "Merely to name the object..." That makes no sense at all. If naming the object suppresses three quarters of the pleasure, how does it make sense to say "merely" to name it? With this conception of modernism, he had no understanding of postmodernism, because he saw everything there as new even when it was a continuation of the most basic modernist principles.

He came up with the New Critics, yet somehow missed the lesson on the heresy of paraphrase. He interpreted the great Spanish poets in terms of Anglo-American New Criticism, making them dull and reinforcing the most conservative part of their legacy: the stylistics of Dámaso Alonso. He tried to take Perloff's idea of "indeterminacy" but didn't quite get it.

He thought just using theory was sufficient. It didn't matter whether you used it well or not, or understood it. His students would cite the same damned essay by Hillis Miller in every article they published. He thought it was better to be interesting than to be right, but he was "interesting" in a very dull way.

He is given credit with creating the field as we know it. It is true that the other leading critics of his generation didn't have his impact. He had a bigger personality, more students, was a nicer guy. But then I find the field itself doesn't have that much prestige. Some people I know who specialize in narrative only read my work and ignore that of anyone else. I get told I'm not like those other specialists in poetry. Thankfully there are others coming along who are not influenced any more by APD.

Nobody has every told me I am wrong about him, only that I shouldn't say it. Perhaps I still shouldn't.

Reading List for Students Considering Graduate Work...

in Spanish...

My criterion is to choose work that is "hypercanonical," in other words, not just works that are included on many standard reading lists, but work that lives on in the work of other writers, or that is famous on a world-wide scale. Works you should be embarrassed not to have read before the first day of Graduate School. If you have read these works in your undergraduate program, that is fine: then you can spend some time reading more in a particular field. This is kind of a bare minimum so please don't confuse it with an MA reading list. It is also not a list of books / authors I admire or love, though I do love and/or many of these texts.

Saint John of the Cross
Calderón (Vida es sueño)
El burlador de Sevilla
A few sonnets by Garcilaso, Lope, Quevedo, Góngora

One romantic play from Spain, like Don Juan Tenorio, and one realist novel by Galdós.

Neruda: Residencia en la tierra
Vallejo: poems from Trilce and Poemas humanos.
Lorca: Bodas de sangre / Casa de Bernarda Alba.
Some poetry by Lorca and Machado.

Borges. Otras inquisiciones.
Rulfo. Pedro Páramo
GGM: 100 años de soledad

Unamuno. Niebla.

That's the start. After that, I would read some boom novels, some more contemporary Spanish American and Spanish novels, and some Crónicas. The problem is that if the list gets to long, it becomes self-defeating. The idea is, that if you don't have course work in all fields as an undergraduate, you should at least have some inkling of what is there. Especially, since so many students want to do something in the contemporary period, it is helpful to have some grounding in medieval and early modern.

KU requires only four literature courses for the Spanish major. The first is introductory, so it doesn't really give a student a full idea of a canon. The last is highly specialized, so it doesn't provide wide coverage. The other two are confined to a single period and nation, so they don't provide coverage either. Students don't read books not required for school, so really the major does not prepare for graduate school. Most students, in fact, do not go to Graduate School in Spanish after the major, so I don't think that should be the only aim of the major.

APD and Me

One of my professional mentors was APD. He was very helpful to me politically, in having a powerful person in my corner. I had several problems with him as well. Now, thinking back, I think this can be inevitable in a mentoring relationship of this type.

People adored (adore) him. He gave several NEH seminars for College Students and single-handedly jump started several careers. Others were able to publish when they hadn't before.

I was in a somewhat different position. I never studied with him, and I was a whole lot stronger than the typical student in his seminars. I was chosen to replace him at the University where I teach, with his overt approval. We got along very well for several years, but somewhat less so toward the end. When he got sick, I had to teach his class for half a semester for no extra money.

My problem was that I could not say what I really thought about his work. I had to keep writing about him, because I was asked, and I had to use a kind of double-voiced discourse, saying that, of course, he was great, but that there were a few little problems. Reading carefully, everyone astute enough could see that these little problems were huge. It took a toll on me to be so rhetorically cute. I even had to organize an homage for him, with his prize students coming. I had to try to be intellectually honest while not seeming a total ingrate and jerk. I didn't want the stigma of being his disciple, because the smartest people knew his work was rather weak, but I still wanted to benefit from my political connection to him. It was rather difficult.I think those years were my biggest period of depression.

On the one hand, he seemed to be having a positive influence by making people in our field more theoretical. On the other hand, what these people were doing was a kind of "theory-lite." It wasn't actually good work (with a few exceptions), and his own work was not either. I'm sure his other students resented me because I was his chosen successor even though, some of them might have realized, I was a bit skeptical about the value of his own work and influence.

Of course, I'll never the adored mentor that he was, because I cannot encourage people to do inferior work, or get excited about their lamest ideas. I think he helped a lot of people do what they wanted to do, including me, although his mentorship of me was never intellectual.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

How Much Should You Publish In Graduate School?

Clarissa's comment on next-to-last post or maybe three posts down is an excellent one. You should start crafting your cv the minute you hit graduate school. Students sometimes want to start publishing right away, so what value do conferences, publications, and other kinds of activities contribute to the academic cv?

Regional conferences, conferences for graduate students, etc... . These are good for practice, up to a point, but you don't want to clog up your cv with too many of them. Do maybe 2 regional talks and zero in conferences where the only other participants are other student.

National, international conferences. These are fine. If you give a talk at the MLA or LASA, you are putting yourself out there. Once again, be wary of giving a lot of talks without having publications to back them up. Talks should be based on serious dissertation research.

Journals edited by Graduate Students / for Graduate Students. It is fine to be involved in editing these, but avoid publishing anything there. If you have anything good enough to publish in a legit journal, then you are wasting your article. If you don't, then you shouldn't be publishing at all!

Legit journals. So that brings us the gold standard journals. They usually have print versions (are not only on line). They are recognized by everyone in your field as THE journals in which to publish. Those publications help your career. Even having one or two is better than publishing 10 book reviews, or going to 10 mickey-mouse conferences, or writing 10 encyclopedia articles. You want to avoid having a lot of publications that aren't refereed articles. These pad your cv but are hardly worth the line that they take up.

Chapters in Books Edited by Your Advisor. Be careful. Everyone knows who your advisor is and why you got your article published: you are his / her student! If you have a half dozen of these, then you could be seriously stigmatized.

Translations, interviews, book reviews, encyclopedia articles... Don't bother with any of these. The exception is if you are a serious translator of really valuable texts, like the primary texts of a great literary tradition.

So how much should you publish? As much as you can, but your work should be in the good journals, it should reflect your professional identity (the field you are going to make your mark in), and it should not have "grad student" written all over it. Write and publish for the next stage in your career, not the stage you are in now.

The padded cv looks impressive for the first 20 seconds. It is bulky, but once the reader submits it to academic semiosis it fades quickly. Little is more discouraging than looking at a list of twelve publications on a cv and concluding that they don't add up to anything very substantial.


I may have to start dressing better. The comments on this article are quite interesting in their deployment of all the racial, gender, class, and sexuality tropes. I reject the notion that how we dress is unimportant, and that the way to signal our intellectual seriousness is by dressing badly. Once the rest of my life is in order I will tackle the clothing problem.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Pedagogy (2)

So I picked my daughter Julia up from school today. She said she had done a homework assignment, choosing the option of writing and recording a soundtrack to Chapter 3 of Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. She had me listen to the soundtrack, which she had recorded using the "Garage Band" program on her laptop. She spent most of yesterday on this assignment. It was actually brilliant. 3 and 1 half minutes of music. She had put together the music, playing trumpet, adding other tracks... She asked me how to improve it. It was hard, because I thought it was already good, but I suggested putting more church bells in at a particular moment.

So that's the perfect pedagogical situation. A brilliant assignment from the teacher, and the kid buys into it wholesale. I didn't have to do much but tweak it. If your students buy into your assignment, then they will do great work. The teacher is not that "nice," because she demands a lot of work. But the kids will do the work.


When Julia was in 2nd grade, I taught poetry to her class, using Kenneth Koch's Wishes, Lies, and Dreams, and Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?. The kids wrote really great poems for me. I would come in every other day for two weeks. That was actually one of my triumphs of teaching. Kids would come up to me years later and say, "Mr. Mayhew, how about a poem?"

How to Succeed in a PhD program in the Humanities

1. Realize that you might not be prepared. In your undergraduate program you were probably one of the smarter kids, so your professors liked you. But that makes you no different from any one else in your program. That does not mean that you are well-prepared for graduate work. It is very unlikely that you have read enough. I had never had a class in the BOOM so the summer before Grad school I read all the novels of Gabriel García Márquez, Julio Cortázar, and Mario Vargas Llosa. Later I realized a lot of Latin Americanists don't even like these writers, but that's another story. The undergraduate degree in Spanish does not prepare you for Graduate Work. It just gives you a small taste of what it's all about. The same could be true of other fields.

2. Realize that the profession you've chosen is brutally competitive. You won't get anywhere by just being an average student in an average program. Choose a field in which the ratio of PhDs to tenure track openings is reasonable. Like Spanish. Even in this case, you have to be one of the better students from a better program to get one of the better jobs.

3. Take care of the basics. If you are doing a PhD with a language in its name (Spanish, French) then master that language. You will be teaching it your whole life. If the language is English, then make sure you have "got prose." Mere competence is the key, because, look around you, not everyone is going to be able to transform themselves from bright undergrad to competent scholar in six years.

4. Begin building your cv at the beginning of your PhD program not toward the end. (Added after reading comment by Clarissa).

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Convergence ...

happens when everything you have been thinking about for several years all makes sense to you as a coherent whole. You still have to draw the lines between the dots, but you know exactly how to do this.

Receptivity reaches a high point. Everything you hear and see confirms that you are on the right track.

My daughter showed me a paper she wrote for her AP English class. It made perfect sense in terms of my pedagogical approach to raising her to be a writer, musician, and artist. In my own image (fortunately or unfortunately), but very different from me in numerous ways. A key scene in her paper is when she is hearing an explanation of "Pictures in an Exhibition" in a music-appreciation class in elementary school. She hears the convergence between sounds and images and something reaches the level of Joycean epiphany in her head. (The paper was supposed be inspired by Portrait of the Artist). The paper ends with her choosing an instrument to play for band. I ask her (in the paper) whether she wants to play jazz or classical. She says "both."

So all of a sudden, my life makes sense to me. I should treat my students like my daughter. When I take her to Starbucks, that is like what happened when I went with my dad to Fluffy Donuts when I was the same age as she is now. My dad loved music, art, and literature just like I do, and he was an academic.

"Transmission" is not the communication of information as in the "banking model" of education, but the handing down (tradition) of a way of receiving or appreciating these things that are so important to us.

Monday, December 3, 2012


Some reflections on my teaching philosophy. This is what I think I ought be doing while teaching. I am hoping that by articulating this I will be able to implement it better. I am far from the most successful teacher, but I do feel I have been effective with certain students. Some aspects of my philosophy might make me a less effective instructor for many students.

1. Setting the bar. One of the most significant things a professor can do is to establish a certain intellectual level to which one should aspire. This should be a level higher than the students might have previously imagined was even possible. I remember particular professors who did this for me, like the Dante specialist John Frecerro. Some professors who set the bar in this way come off as arrogant, like Frecerro often did. This is a risk. Gustavo P-F once told me one of the best professors he had was PI at Michigan. PI was not a good classroom teacher, but he established an expectation of what intellectual life should be. I feel that APD, who was a beloved mentor to many, never set a high-enough bar for his students.

2. Kicking ass. You have to be somewhat hard on the students in order to let them know where they stand in relation to this standard. A critique of student work should be rigorous but never personal. "This introduction doesn't work because of the following reasons..." not "You are a crappy writer." Once again, beloved mentors may not have kicked enough ass. Their students might have benefited from someone who demanded more of them.

3. The expectation of equality. You can only give a rigorous critique if you think of the student as your (potential) equal. The model is a peer review, in which scholar 1, who is reviewing work by scholar 2 anonymously, will be reviewed the next month by scholar 3. Disagreeing with a student should not take the form of "pulling rank," but having the better argument. This is tricky because holding back to be a nicer guy ends up undermining equality. But going at a student full force can be perceived of as bullying. Giving assignments that do everything but dot the i's for the student is not ideal, even if the students love it (they will).

4. The expectation of disagreement. The student's responsibility is not to give me what I want, but to kick the ass of the assignment. The student should never have to agree with the perspective of the professor. The success of the professor is judged on whether the students grow intellectually, and this might entail a complete disagreement with the perspective of the mentor.

Notice I've said nothing about classroom techniques. It is implied that the students should come ready with something to say about the material. Without that, I have very little to work with. The material I am working with is what the students bring to the table.

What Maisie Knew

The child was provided for, but the new arrangement was inevitably confounding to a young intelligence intensely aware that something had happened which must matter a good deal and looking anxiously out for the effects of so great a cause. It was to be the fate of this patient little girl to see much more than she at first understood, but also even at first to understand much more than any little girl, however patient, had perhaps ever understood before.
--Henry James

That's where I got the title "What Lorca Knew."

More introduction

The hermeneutics developed by writers like Jorge Luis Borges, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Harold Bloom provides a way of understanding the ongoing legacy of a hyper-canonical figure like Lorca, who presents interpretative problems of dizzying complexity. Because Lorca has been the object of endless translation, creative transformation, and commentary over the course of nine decades, his achievement calls out for an acute awareness of the historical vicissitudes of interpretation. An author is “hypercanonical,” in my definition, when he (or in rarer cases she) not only forms part of a standard canon or reading list, but comes to be regarded as quasi-sacred. Borges defines the classic text in the following terms:

Clásico es aquel libro que una nación o un grupo de naciones o el largo tiempo han decidido leer como si en sus páginas todo fuera deliberado, fatal, profundo como el cosmos y capaz de interpretaciones sin término. Previsiblemente, esas decisiones varían.

A classic is that book that a nation or group of nations or a long period of time has decided to read as though everything in its pages were deliberate, predestined, as profound as the cosmos and capable of endless interpretations. Predictably, these decisions will vary.

Borges, with his characteristic skepticism, does not view the canonical work as possessing intrinsic qualities that make it eligible for this treatment. The decision to regard a work as a classic is a contingent, variable, collective decision, taken over time.

Hypercanonical authors are typically subject to hyperbolic and hagiographic treatment. They are saints or martyrs, the inventors of languages, entire national literatures, genres, or grandiose generalities like “the human” itself. It goes without saying that such authors will normally form part of academic reading lists, and become the subject of critical industries, but their afterlife will never be exclusively, or even mainly, academic: they will live on in other artistic or literary works, in translations and adaptations, and in the popular imagination. Hyper-canonical authors live on not only in the classroom but in other creators of culture: Cervantes in Borges; Shakespeare in Lorca

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Bad Sentences (1)

"This is the latest of the ideas I introduce in these pages,and to commemorate it, and for future reference, I inscribe this early moment of my book with excerpts from the last pages of this play."

This is by a writer who is a super-famous Ivy-league professor, but whose prose is full of this sort of meandering sign-posting of the umpteenth degree. I have never known him to get around to a real point, although lots of people swear that he absolutely brilliant, the true heir to Emerson and Thoreau. I think he is a pontificating windbag whose pretentious posturings divert attention from the banality of his insights.

If you worship this author, please don't let me stop you. If he ever got around to his point, then I would be able to judge whether it is as brilliant as you say it is.

Why can't it always be this way?

I got up at 7, had some coffee. I have been a little sick so I didn't sleep well. During the night, intermittently, I read blog comments, which were flowing in from another blogger who was up all night grading. I even spoke on the phone with her (in a dream). I took some cold medicine with pseudo-ephedrine in it, and then I took my daughter to the High School: they (some kids from her school) are going to Columbia MO to try out for All-State Band / Orchestra. Back at 8 or so, I began to write. I wrote about 600 words of finished prose, and stopped shortly after 9. I got several new ideas that I will develop tomorrow. I was not distracted even by stressful emails I received while working. While writing, I almost felt as though I were taking dictation.

So why can't it always be like this? Working so well despite physical and emotional distress? The beginning of a project can always be energizing. Perhaps the cold medicine helped. And would it even be desirable to be this inspired every day? It might be exhausting. In any case, I will bank up this experience so that I won't forget that it can happen.