Featured Post

Contrafactum

I wrote a contrafactum to rhythm changes today. Or I should say that one just occurred to the fingers of my right hand as I was playing, aft...

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Principles of Profanity

What would a theory of foul language look like?

1. Polysemy and plasticity. A word would typically cover a wide semantic range and syntactic function. Shit as expression of surprise or sympathy. As a stand-in for a generalized stuff, etc... As a synonym for abuse: "I'm not taking any more of your shit!" I would guess that it would have at least 100 separate lexical uses if we count compound words and idioms like "shit-eating grin." The f word dictionary I purchased is 267 pages. Swearing is not, as your mother said, the province of those with a small vocabulary, but is (instead) a wonderful manifestation of linguistic creativity.

2. Most uses will be metaphoric or hyperbolic. "Tastes like shit." It tastes bad, but not necessarily of literal shit. There may be a few "master metaphors" behind most of profanity. Excrement as debasement. Being fucked or screwed as being on the receiving end of bad treatment. You could be a splitter, trying to find as many separate lexical items as possible, or a lumper, trying to find those broad categories.

3. There will be a range of substitutes or euphemisms, displacement of the core word: Shoot. Crap. Load of bull. Miércoles for mierda. Effing, friggin, ferkin. There will be multiple terms for the same thing, many words for the same genitals, for example. La concha or la vaina.

4. There will be idiomatic compounds, of the "fucking asshole" variety. There will be a syntax of relations between words, and the way they relate to other words. Tmesis like "absofuckinlutely." Stand alone profanity. "Shit!." Adjectives, verbs, nouns, adverbs, etc...

5. Taboo language will be scatological, sexual, or theological. A fourth category might be the animal kingdom. Cabrón / bitch. The taboo language of ethnic and racial insults (wap, mick, etc...) is the subject of another post.

6. Reversibility. Something bad can be good: "... de puta madre" = wonderful. "Motherfucker" = someone with an amazing talent to play jazz. "That's some great shit."

7. It has a fundamentally affective use. In other words, it is designed to convey an attitude of emotion or aggression beyond the normal. Only it's taboo nature permits it to carry this affect. Yet the best swearing is done almost in passing, as though that were the normal way of saying something.

8. Aggression and solidarity. Those might be the two functions of profanity. Swearing with someone gives you a sense of belonging with that person. Swearing at a person is saying I can swear at you, because we have a level of familiarity. Or not. It can be a sign of aggression. Even as the expression of solidarity it is a kind of "intimate aggression"?

9. The non-metaphorical sexual use of sexual vocabulary is something a bit different. Say, two people in bed using that vocabulary to describe what they are doing to each other, or what they would like done.

All this is very serious. I am developing ideas to teach (again) this material. I know little about it, though I can swear competently in two languages. I am just brainstorming on the blog.

Peer review

This is how I review an article:
Report on XXXX

This article shows an impressive amount of research and is quite interesting. I would recommend a "revise and resubmit." The revisions, however, would have to be quite substantial, involving both organization and argumentation. I would recommend a shorter length: although it is below the maximum word-count, it could be much more concise, given that it is basically the analysis and contextualization of a single poem—a task that could be more efficiently accomplished in 6,000 words than in 9,000.

The author can eliminate or support some of the more speculative statements in the paper, detailed in the "specific recommendations" below. The constant recourse to probabilistic statements weakens the argument. What XXXX might have thought or done is less relevant than what he actually did. By relying less on speculation the author could define a stronger and more specific thesis about the relation between XXXX and YYYY. The analysis of the poem itself is excellent, but the contextualization includes a lot of material that is only tangentially related, or whose relevance is not transparent.

If I were writing an article about this subject I would bring in an analysis of ZZZZZZZ and of XXXXXX's response to WWWWW. That might be more relevant than some of the extra quotes by VVVVVV. I think the author could also comment a little more on the comparison between XXXXXX and LLLLL, perhaps citing MMMMM's work on LLLLL in relation to African rhythms. Also, the author could differentiate what he or she is doing from the work of BBBBB and CCCCC. The basic vision of XXXXX's cultural RRRRRR is similar to theirs.


Some specific recommendations.

p. 1: By placing "title of poem" last in Title of Book of Poems the poet is giving it an emphatic position. The idea that this position "belies its importance," then, might not be the strongest point to make.

p. 4: The argument that XXXXX was thinking about the diversity of peninsular immigrants to [Latin American Country] needs to be supported in some way.

p. 6, bottom of page. TITLE OF BOOK was unpublished, but in what sense was it "incomplete"?

p. 7: "enjoyed on this superficial level." I would drop this phrasing. The poem can be enjoyed on a variety of levels.

p. 7-9: The text poem does not need to be italicized.

p. 10: The idea that the five syllable phrase "five syllable phrase" mirrors the [name of genre of song] needs to be better supported. Does the phrase actually mimic the rhythm? Syllables are not really "beats." For that matter, the [name of genre] itself consists of five notes, not five beats.

p. 13: It is not clear why the later [adjective] interpretation of YY is relevant to XXXX.

pp. 21 et passim: Did XXXX read OOO's descriptions of DDDD dance? This part of the paper is interesting in its own right but not directly relevant.

p. 25: Find more evidence that the publication of IIIII was inspired by XXX's visit to YYYY. The point is too speculative.

p. 28: The fact that there were few changes to the ms. of IIIIIII undermines the point that XXXX revisited this book before publishing it.

p. 30: "he might have considered adding to this section..." In fact, he didn't add more to this section. The argument here is too speculative.

Eccentricity is the root of design

My inspiration is this course. It is not going to be a copy of this course, but I want to do a course that has a similar groove to it. Of course, a course like this has to lead to another book.


A. The idea. How bizarre or crazy ideas (from the mainstream perspective) try to erect themselves as culturally normative, as they never really can. This happens first in romanticism, with the sacralization of a poetic originality. Modernism wants to be culturally normative, or else ends up being that way. Romanticism cannot be normative like enlightenment thought can, because romanticism is both traditional and anti-traditional.

It is a critique of hypostatized modernism, estilo Octavio Paz. A kind of monumentalization of the modern.


B. The readings. Blake. Lorca. Eliot. Pound. Gadamer. Lezama Lima. Ginsberg. Bloom. Rothenberg. Bob Perelman's The Trouble with Genius. Ullán and his visual poetry.


C. The periods. Historical romanticism. Historical modernism. The 60s.

Ideas

1. Article on poetic ventriloquism. Juan Ramón and Lezama / Valente and Lezama / Valente and Lorca / Gamoneda and Varela. Cases in which one poet speaks for the other, or attempts a "fusion of horizons" with another. I blogged about it at the Arcade blog once, so I can find that material on line.

2. A course on what I really think is important right now: the normative and the exceptional. I will post about this later in the day. When I realized that Leslie had given a course way cooler than anything I have ever done I got jealous (in a good way of course). I started to wonder why my courses seem cool at first but then devolve into something duller. I have this crazy idea that if I could just be my crazy self all the time then I could be a better teacher. One problem is that I am a Comp Lit guy in a Span Port depot. I need to be a Comp Lit professor, because that's what I am.

3. Translation workshop for KU MFA program.

Why Spaniards do not speak with a "lisp"

Say the word thin. Ok. Now say the word sin. Did you pronounce them differently? Does the fact that you pronounce them differently mean that you have a lisp? No, what it means is that you have that first phoneme of the word thin in your dialect of English.

Now pronounce the word sima like this: "seema." That is "cavidad o grieta grande y muy profunda en la tierra." [A big deep hole in the ground].

Now pronounce the word cima like this: "theema." [use the unvoiced sound of th as in thin, not the voiced sound of that. A cima is "parte más alta de un terreno elevado." In other words, a peak, not a hole in the ground.

Latin Americans pronounce these two words with opposite meanings in the same way, because they do not have a phonetic distinction between s and c/z.

The Spanish of Spain (outside Andalusia) distinguishes between sima and cima, the way English distinguishes between thin and sin. My dialect of English does not distinguish between cot and caught, but I would not say that someone who pronounced the words differently had a speech impediment like a "lisp." It is pretty stupid to call a sound made by millions of people speaking their own language, evidence of a "lisp." Not that there's anything wrong with a lisp. What is wrong is stupid people using this word for this. By this logic almost all speakers of English have lisp too, if they don't pronounce thin as sin.

In Andalusia, there is seseo. That is the merger of two sounds. In Spanish American too.

In parts of Andalusia, the distinction is lost in the other direction with the ceceo. So all sibilants become the th. Again, this is simply a phonetic reality of the dialect and has nothing to do with a so-called lisp.

Thursday log

I leave the house at 8:26. I stop by the office of a friend in English who's brother died last Friday to see how she is doing. I sit down at my own desk at 8:42. I immediately start working on Lorca. I add a quotation of Valente on Machado. I reflect on Tàpies's rejection of Ortega as I read a conversation between Valente and the late Catalan painter. I am irritated because a pile of boxes blocks my access to a book of essays. I read Valente's article on Lorca. I notice for the first time that it is called "Lorca y el caballero solo," as though it were an article on Neruda instead.

9:40. I unpack some boxes of books in order to dig my way toward AT. I find some magazines with poem by me in them. The Hat and The Tiny and Black Spring. I read my own poems. Some are worse than others. I give a duplicate copy of a book to a colleague down the hall.

10:00. I meet with Brazilian candidate.

10:30. Coffee break.

10:44. I begin to read Saussure for theory class next week. I remember again how weak his theory of syntagmatic relations is.

10:56. I switch to Whorf. Suppose you accidentally leave a bowl of white, toxic liquid on the floor, your cat drinks it, and gets sick. You would think the cat drank it thinking it was milk. Whorf claims that a man throwing a match into a pool of waste water and lighting gas on fire has committed a linguistic error by verbalizing this as "a pool of water," but the cat can make the mild mistake without verbalizing the idea of a "bowl of milk." In other words, language is not essential to such situations at all! I get no further in Whorf today.

11:07. I turn my attention to colleague's research. I finish what I wanted to do with that at 11:46.

So much seems to be puttering around, what I do here in the office. I find I am very good at very brief tasks, like writing a 100-word document, or reading a few pages of a theory essay.

Now it is 12:24. I am hungry. I have been developing an idea for my new course / book. It is really exhausting to be so creative. I feel like I can sit down and come up with really great ideas any time I want. It might be nice to shut it off for the afternoon.

13:09. Back from lunch. I take some time deciding what to do next. I guess Saussure. He seems to envision language as a series of nouns flowing forward in time in a parallel structure with the ideas they represent. Language is not actually a set of names for things, horse, dog, cow, table. Thought is inchoate by itself and given articulation by language. His idea of syntagmatic relations seems to be one of "one thing after another." In other words, he doesn't seem to care that some words are verbs or conjunctions, or about the actual relation of one word to the other, the structure of NPs, etc...

13:29. I get books in the mail! I accidentally ordered two copies of Ceravolo's collected poems. Oops. I do some emails and look at hte other book I ordered. The F Word. Whoever said profanity was uncreative never looked at this dictionary devoted entirely, well, to the F word. Effing brilliant.

14:44. I've been doing research online on the word "mierda" and updating my handout on that, for later in the semester.

15:41. I look at a grade appeal folder. Aacch...

16:00. Faculty meeting. Ends early at 16:20.

I've worked the classic 8 hour day. I got an idea for a new class and / or book. Did reading for the theory class. Wrote notes for a tenure case. Organized some class presentations for the theory class. Made some notes for my other class. Worked a bit on Lorca, though not as much as I should have.

17:30 Martini night.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Lipstick Paradox: A Theory of Everything

Lipstick seems to discourage exactly what it has invited. It focuses sexual attention on the lips, yet makes one hesitant to kiss those very same lips. The lipstick will smear, get ruined, or end up on other surfaces: cheeks, collars, other people's lips. Some would not enjoy the texture or taste of lipstick, when kissing a woman. Some would say it is worn to attract men, yet the majority of men are not big fans of it. (I happen to like it, but that is the subject for another post, maybe.)

It is also the base of a whole series of paradoxes having to do with

nature / culture // youth / age // performance / identity // inner / outer, etc...

Young women use it to look older, to be adult-looking. Older women, in term, use it to look like a younger version of themselves. Semiotically, it seems relatively amorphous, with a core set of meanings and others that are perhaps incidental. It is worn in a variety of ways. It can be theatrical or relatively subtle, a mark of mere "professionalism." It can just give the slightest hint of natural looking color, or be deliberately artificial. Or neutral, as in a woman wearing lipstick that is, in fact, the same color as her lips. It can mimic the color of the actual lips beneath it, or be wildly different. It can enhance color, or even mute it, in the case of white lipstick. It can seem to be one with the lips, or sit awkwardly on them. It can have a variety of textures: ragged, smooth, wet or dry.

Baudelaire has an classic essay on cosmetics "Eloge du Maquillage" where he praises them, precisely, for their artificiality. The aim is not to imitate or supplement nature, but to replace it with a flagrantly artificial artifice. (If we recall, an earlier discourse on cosmetics had often condemned them precisely for their concealment of the truth.) Baudelaire can talk about "la haute spiritualité de la toilette."

Thus it is perhaps the perfect "object" of theorizing. As cultural history, psychoanalysis, deconstruction.

As a fetish, in Freudian terms, it works perfectly. The tube itself is phallic shaped. (You can't imagine a similar fetish around a flatter packaging.) A fetish is associated with the body but always displaced, at one remove. For a lipstick fetishist, the desire is displaced from the lips themselves (themselves stand-ins for labia?), onto the color of the lips, which can be seen separately from them. As though desire itself could be bottled. All of this is super-obvious. It is probably too obvious to explain how it might be a Marxist consumer fetish, or an example of the overt sexualization of consumer desire.

Rhetorically, the lipstick is metonymy. That, in other words, is how the fetish works, by "contiguity" (Jakobson).

Lipstick could also be the perfect example of Derrida's supplement.

Finally, it is a textbook example of the marking of gender performance. Women's and men's lips do not differ all that much physiologically. Women dressing up "as women" are performing their own gender identity. It is easy to see, for example, that a woman in too much lipstick begins to look like a man in "drag." (Butler).

So why lipstick? There is no reason at all. Anything at all can be a "theoretical object." I just happened to have chosen this particular one.

The Gym Paradox

To go to the gym tomorrow, I must drive. It is going to be bitterly cold and I want to go home and shower and shave after that, change clothes and not have to bring my work clothes to the gym to put in a locker, etc... If I don't go to the gym I can walk to school instead, and walk back. Of course, if it is that bitterly cold I won't walk anyway tomorrow.

Henry V

I finally did my Henry V Prologue to the theory class. It worked. One of my students actually knew the first five or six lines herself, so I only had to take over after her memory failed. I wasn't quite articulate about all the "theory" in this text, but I conveyed enough of it for it to "work."

Romantic Originality

Here is the paradox of the idea of romantic originality: to be original is to be off-center, eccentric. Yet canonical authors are also supposed to be representative (of something more than themselves) and normative in some cultural sense. Bob Perelman went into this a bit in The Trouble with Genius, for the modernist period, but the problem is there beginning with William Blake. You can tell that Blake was, well, just a really weird guy. His prophetic poetry is interesting, but heterodox religiously and unlikely to be influential in its own time. He is an anomaly, not the typical 18th century poet.

So now we have poets that are one-of-a-kind, romantic geniuses. Even Pound, no romantic, fits the paradigm, because his attempt to set normative rules for culture tend to go off on bizarre side-errands. Yeats is weird like Blake was. Eliot tried to steer a more orthodox course. Even Milton was too free-wheeling and protestant for him. So Eliot was able to found a school of poetic criticism that was normative rather than eccentric. He was no visionary like Yeats. Harold Bloom rebelled against this New Criticism in order to champion Blake and the weirdness of the romantic sublime, but his criticism ended up being normative with The Western Canon and Shakespeare the Invention of the Human.

I am not making value judgments about what I like, or what I think is weird. I am talking about how it looks to society in general. Romanticism and literary modernism always want to seem original (eccentric) but also normative culturally. What I mean by normative culturally is what is taught in school, or what you need to know to be an educated person with some cultural capital. The values of School always conflict with the anti-academic values of modernism itself, its irrationality and interest in the occult.

The occult becomes mainstream with Ginsberg. More than Bloom, he made Blake and surrealism a kind of semi-popular art. The whole 1960s was like something that Allen Ginsberg and his friends invented a little earlier. All the occult and astrology stuff that Duncan loved.

So that is where Lorca comes in to American culture. He is valued because he is exotic and the model of the romantic genius. He cannot be processed as a "normal" poet, one who simply writes good poems. But founding a poetics on him, like Bly tried to do, doesn't work either. You need an eccentric view, like that of Spicer, to be able to process his work.

Romanticism sacralizes the poetic imagination in two directions: one faces backward, with an interest in tradition, lore, organic society, nature. One faces forward, with emphasis on originality, novelty. There is a fundamental tension here. You can't be original by going back to the origins: you must also be distinctively original and modern. What you get are really bizarre, eccentric recombinations of ancient lore or religious symbols. Gadamer is very good on this when he examines the romantic response to the enlightenment.

Underarm

When I was a little kid, I was very confused by deodorant ads I would see on tv. They talked about underarms, but what they represented typically was an actor applying the product to his or her forearm, close to the inside of the wrist. I think I knew that the place it would be applied would be the armpit, not the forearm, but these commercials created a kind of ambiguity in my mind... They used the term underarm, rather than armpit, so the forearm could also be seen as a kind "underarm."

So the theoretical exercise here is to finish the simile...

"Just as when I was a kid, I was confused by ... So, too, now, I .... " That is your job for the comment section.

Bloggin' thru Wed

8:28. I have taken four separate modes of transportation to school this semester. Car, bike, feet, and bus. It's only the third day I've taught so one of those days must have been a day I came in just to work and not teach. Today there was snow so I took the bus, a very, very crowded one, with two of my graduate students on it. After we get off they tell me it's always crowded. I look to see what exact passages of Gadamer are assigned for today. I skim over a few passages to get my unconscious mind at work on those.

8:32. I look at syllabus for undergraduate course, realizing that I covered material on Monday that was listed for today. So I have to make a plan of action. I make lesson plan consisting of numbered list of what is going to happen today in the class. It takes me half an hour to do this, along with writing the instructions for the 1st paper and answering some emails.

9:03. Back to Gadamer. "All performance is interpretation." I discover that he makes some of the exact point I made in class the first day, but much more eloquently. I take it back: Gadamer is a singer. I am intellectually prepared for class today, but not pragmatically prepared. I know what the content of the three hours is, but I have not planned it out sequentially.

9:10: I decide to do this. Since I am very lazy I will do it as part of the blog post:
I. Initial impressions from the first day. What worries do you have?

II. Clarify the prohibition on "application." Not that you cannot cite primary texts or use examples: the main purpose is to build up to writing a paper than defines your own critical approach through a comparative study of a theoretical problem. You compare 2 theorists' approach to a critical problem. This prepares you for the theoretical introduction to your dissertation. A standard form, like a sonnet.

II. Impressions of Gadamer? What strikes you about this text? [relative absence of jargon? clarity? wordy, but clear style? How systematic a thinker does he seem to be? How "self-contained" are the passages we read? What questions should we always ask of a theoretical text.]

III. Gadamer presents, not a theory of literature, but a theory of understanding in the humanities. This can be philosophy, history, or literature. Or art history, music history... He doesn't present a "methodology" for how to approach a text. This is very important. It jives with my own sense of not giving you a series of interpretative "methods." There is no Gadamerian approach to interpretation, no critical metalanguage you can apply.

IV. Discussion questions (handed out by email on Monday).

V. Discussion of quote on page 851, column 1.

10 minute break.

VI. Henry V.

VII. Back to Gadamer. What other questions have we not resolved?

VIII. Benjamin. Why does it belong on the same day of class as Gadamer? What is his style of writing? How does it compare with that of Gadamer. What is the historical situation of the text? What does he mean by "historical materialism"? What is the effect of having short, numbered "theses"?

IX. If there is extra time after this: what would a paper comparing Gadamer and Benjamin look like? What would you start with.
9:25. Ok, I did that in 15 minutes. I am fast! I look at things on the internet now. I can justify it by diverting my attention from what I am "supposed to be doing" and letting my mind work unconsciously.

9:41. Lorca! I am going to try to come up with subheadings for "Hermeneutical Introduction." I do this.

10:00 coffee break.

11:00. Teach undergraduate course. It goes very well.

12:18. Decompress. Right before class I think of another idea about the prologue to Henry V. The speaker, or chorus, is a direct mouthpiece of the writer, but talking from the point of view of the actors and stage hands. I could develop this even more. I work on Lorca, then have lunch at 12:50. Back at my desk at 13:18.

13:18. I look at what I am doing next week in the theory course. I have no notes on those readings. That's fine.

13:34. I realize I zoned out for a few minutes there. I don't want to do last minute psyching for class now, because I have 2 1/2 hours before.

14:02. I work on some other things, including the Lorca / Strayhorn research.

14:40 I've been with the blog, and getting myself psyched now for the long class. I love those last minute ideas.

15:08. Now I look at my plan again. I should probably print out those discussion questions for myself.

16:00-19:00. I teach the theory course. I eat dinner downtown and walk home from there.

9:10. My face is frozen having walked home a mile, but I am hot once I am inside. No more work for today.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How I chose to be heterosexual

(Once I even put that title down, it carries a very strong implication: I could only "choose" to be heterosexual if I were not, already, such. Only a gay person could "choose" heterosexuality, then.

So this post is really how my heterosexuality developed, as best as I remember it.) When I was a young boy, four or five, I took comfort in these tiny imaginary female figures who would dance around in my lap before I went to sleep. Their explicit origin, as I far as I can determine, was Tinker Bell, from the Disney movie "Peter Pan." I had some wooden blocks with figures from this movie on them, and also a record album with an illustrated booklet, based on that movie. These figures, at one point, became sexualized. I must have been about 10. At some point, instead of being small, they became life sized, because it was awkward kissing such small fairies. One night, I had a sudden, jerking, "accidental" discharge while fantasizing about them. I had no idea what is was, because that was explained to me in sex education a year after that. A year too late for me to have been helped.

The original fairy-like creatures were subsequently replaced by images of actresses, or other adult women I could visualize. Since I was 10, I didn't fantasize about 10-year old girls. In fact, I had crushes on girls my age but didn't really think about them sexually, because they just didn't coincide with my desires (yet). [I no longer care much for Tinker Bell, and you might think it's a stupid way to become heterosexual, but in my defense I must say that I was a tiny kid when I started to fall for her.]

And that is how I "chose" heterosexuality. I actually didn't know I had a choice, because the objects of my fantasy were already there, present in my lap from the time I was four. When they came to life, suddenly one night, as a different sort of figure, I had no idea that I could have "chosen" an equivalent set of male figures.

This is why every heterosexual man actually knows that gay men do not choose a "lifestyle"* of being attracted to other men. Just ask the question: when did you choose between men and women as the object of your desire? If my story is at all typical (not in details, but in its general drift) then you never really made a choice. The sexual object was already there, probably, before it was even sexualized (in the conscious mind).

***

Another strong element in resistance to homosexuality is the idea that heterosexuality is this enormously fragile thing, that must be sustained by endless football games, gallons of lipstick, and socially sanctioned bullying. (Every boy who was small and bad at sports, as I was, was called a faggot all the time. You didn't actually have to be gay to get this treatment.) Really, though, it not so delicate a creature. It will do fine, really. Don't worry. People who worry that "if everyone is gay, then how can the species survive" seem rather comical to me, given the size of the world population and the relatively robust nature of heterosexuality.

___

*By "lifestyle" (stupid word for this) people apparently mean living as a gay person, if you are gay. But I could live a thousand different lifestyle, Bohemian, bourgeois, communal, monastic, military, rural, etc... and I would still have the same sexual desires and preferences.

Outlines of Chapters 2 and 3

Here are the headings for chapter 2. This is the first chapter after the introduction, and the one chapter I would want everyone to read if they were only going to read one chapter. The title of the Chapter is "What Lorca Knew," the same as for the book as a whole:

WAS LORCA A POETIC THINKER?
CERNUDA VS. ZAMBRANO
THINKING POETICALLY IN THE CONFERENCIAS
“PLAY AND THEORY OF THE DUENDE”
LORCA AND BARTHES: “THE GRAIN OF THE VOICE”
THE POETICS OF SPANISH CULTURAL EXCEPTIONALISM
MAYHEW’S DUENDE

It is 42 pages right now, but I still have to finish the section I added today.

***

and here is chapter 3:


CHAPTER 3: THE ANATOMY OF INFLUENCE

ALMA AUSENTE
VALENTE: THE ANXIETY OF INFLUENCE
GAMONEDA: LANGUAGE AND LANDSCAPE
WHAT CLAUDIO KNEW
WHOSE LORCA?

The Blog is Work Too

In the sense that I develop my ideas for research and teaching here. I work things out, organize my time, resolve my problems, by writing it.

Literary Criticism and its Dullness

X poet "uses parallel construction and sharply delineated images to highlight essential life patterns." That is one way literary criticism can be boring. The formula "uses x to do blank" is just so formulaic I can hardly tolerate it, even though I sometimes tell very inexperienced undergraduates how to do this. I would be perfectly happy if I never did a "poetic analysis" again in my life, or had to say, about a paper, that of course the poetic analysis is ok, but the paper as a whole fails to have a point.

Another boring mode is the standard approach to a novel, in which the critic basically retells the plot from a particular "thematic" angle. It is well suited to the novel (or any narrative fiction) because it uses the forward motion of plot to further its own argument. It isn't exactly plot summary, because it is more interpretative than narrative, but it can come dangerously close. It is very dull if you haven't read the novel. I can tell when it's done competently, but I have a hard time caring about it. I end up skimming to see whether the critic is doing it in the standard way. If so, fine.

So I guess my question is why do we teach and perpetuate these norms, if we ourselves are put to sleep by them? Or maybe it's just me.

My own mode, on the other hand, is a kind of meta-analysis that could be boring in the wrong hands too. Hopefully not in mine. I am interested in what gives value to particular literary modes, or in resolving a critical contradiction or problem. Why does everyone say that the main value of a given writer is y, when y is in fundamental conflict with z, and z is what this writer is really about?

I sometimes forget, then, to include the part where I talk about Lorca's plays and poetry. I'll have to do that at some point, maybe in a third book about him. Even then, I will be approaching them through critical problems.

***

Here's one: Lorca is approached through biography, but he is a dramatist and a dramatic poet. The subject of enunciation is rarely him, even in his lyric poetry. That kind of displacement is fascinating to me. Take the little remark at the beginning of Bernarda Alba: "El poeta advierte que estos tres actos tienen la intención de un documental fotográfico." He talks about himself in 3rd person (el poeta), using a conventional synonym for dramatist, but in what is one of his less "poetic" plays. He talks about authorial "intention." But the intention here is to present a documentary, not a product of his "poetic" imagination. The documentary as genre purports to have no authorial voice, to present things as they really are, but in fact this is never the case. Documentaries are typically selections of a very few images (still or moving) out of a vast number of possibilities. Imagine shooting 200 hours of film over several years in order to produce a documentary of 2 hours. !%. (Of course, in the work of Michael Moore, for example, the narrative voice is very much in your face. There is no pretence that there is no "author."} The play by Lorca if very Lorquian; it is not some "objective" documentary. Hence the statement of "intention" is deliberately misleading. To find the author's intention, we have to discount his own statement.

And what is the status of mimesis here? He calls it "Drama de mujeres en los pueblos de España." But it only takes place in one "pueblo de España." It is thus meant as "representative," in the sense that it stands in for other, similar situations. Yerma is Poema trágico en tres actos y seis cuadros." So that is a tragic poem, and BA is not. Bodas de sangre is "Tragedia en tres actos y siete cuadros."

Tuesday live bloggin

8:30. I am at my desk at home office. I find two Strayhorn biographies in my boxes of books and take them up to office. I enter them into the Lorca bibliography and find KU dissertation on the Artists Theatre of New York. I have it delivered to my office. I am thinking there is one more dissertation on this by a KU student, but I cannot remember for sure? *The library never answered my query of last week and I ended up finding it myself today.)

9-10. I am on the phone with personal business having to do with taxes and the like. I had to call 4 or 5 times all told.

10:00. I go downstairs, reheat some coffee, turn on the stereo and begin to read Gadamer for tommorow's theory course. I read Gadamer outloud to myself.

11:00. I reheat more coffee, go upstairs to work on Lorca. It goes very well. I decide a need another subsection of my duende chapter, and I write about 2/3 of it in one hour.

12:06. Lunch, and I go to gym to rejoin it.

13:07: Back at desk. I got a lot of ideas about Spanish cultural exceptionalism and how it might fit into my chapter on the duende. I write them down very messily in the place they go in the document. My anxiety is high. I write a few blog posts. That is work too.

14:43 I realize I have done a lot of work just now on the project, while intermittently blogging it. It has been a productive day, both for personal business and research. Anxiety is at an extremely high level, though. Somehow it is as though I were afraid not to work on the book very hard, that it would disappear unless I wrote it very fast. The problem is that I am very fast: I sit down and it just comes out without much effort. Either I don't trust it or don't trust myself to keep going with so much intensity.

I write another blog post. I think I'll listen to podcasts of "This American Life."

I relax for a while. I can't take too much intensity. I really did made a lot of progress today and tomorrow I have 11-hour day on campus.

17:30 "Big Tent" meeting.

6:30 Dinner

20:00 Swing dancing club.

Home at 21:45. No more work today.

Cantabile

Your prose must sing, but it must sing prosaically. In other words, it cannot merely rely on alliteration or ornament, metaphor or preciosity. It must sing plainly, on the whole, with a few flourishes now and then.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Abandoned Project

In the 90s I did a lot of work on gay male poets of modern Spain. I published on Gil de Biedma, Brines, and Gil-Albert. I wrote other essays on Lorca and Cernuda that were not published. I also published work on Claudio Rodríguez and Valente, from the perspective of masculinity. This was going to be a book on the gender of male poets. Why should only female poets have gender, I thought? It would include both straight and gay poets.

For whatever reason, I didn't do that book. Enrique Álvarez, a friend of mine (now) wrote a book that was similar in scope, on Lorca, Cernuda, Gil de Biedma, and Villena. I thought it fine that someone else did it, filling in that gap, though I would have done it differently. His book is good, and I wrote for his tenure, so it worked out well for everyone.

I no longer have the essay on Lorca I wrote for this project. That was many computers ago and I simply don't know where the electronic file would be. Now, however, I realize I have to make that exact argument again. The argument I would have made in that part of the book. I remember, too, exactly what I wanted to say. I just have to re-do the spade work to find the critical citations. Enrique does not make that argument, so it leaves me the perfect hueco to fill.

That was my breakthrough today. It will be a kind of tour-de-force deconstruction of "Ode to Walt Whitman." I will also deconstruct the critics, like Jack Walsh in ¿Entiendes?

I think Hispanic criticism kind of missed the whole "queering everything" movement. That book has too many articles where the critic is trying to prove someone is gay, rather than starting with that as the point of departure, as should be done. PJS does not cite Sedgwick in his book on Lorca's theater, published 8 years after Epistemology of the Closet.He only wants to do other kinds of Foulcauldian readings, not that kind.

Live bloggin the day (Monday)


8:46: Arrive at office on foot. It took 19 minutes to walk from home. Prepare class, which is just a matter or printing out some things.
Tarea para el día 4 de febrero:

Estudien la lista a continuación. ¿Cuántos son “transparentes” para Ud, como hablante nativo del inglés? ¿Cuántos son relativamente “opacos”? Encuentren equivalentes en inglés. ¿Cuáles contienen metáforas? ¿Otras figuras retóricas (hipérbole...)? (Todos vienen de Plata quemada, una novela de Ricardo Piglia.)

de mala muerte (un bar de)
vivir en la babia (estar en la babia)
ver todo negro
en cámara lenta (a cámara lenta)
de golpe
a todo tren
perder la cabeza
un dominó de caídas en cadena
cortinas de humo
jugarse las pelotas
sangre fría
hacer la vista gorda
en mangas de camisa
amigo de la infancia
medidas de seguridad
pegarle a alguien un tiro
en el acto
paralizados de terror
estado de ánimo
a toda velocidad
en sentido contrario
hacer caso
no servir para nada
delincuentes comunes
“algo de eso había”
confirmar la sospecha
el Gran Buenos Aires
descartar la posibilidad
por puro instinto
todo bien
a esta altura (a estas alturas)
“no le daba importancia...”
hacer planes
con cara de aburrido
de todos modos
su mayor orgullo
“se hacían los machitos”
está bien por hoy
sus horas están contadas
conferencia de prensa
asesinos a sueldo
el predilecto de su padre
At nine I look at a book called Modernism and the New Spain. It is very recent and cites me. I enter it into the Master Lorca bibliography. I look over candidate's schedule and c.v. I begin to write this post. I realize I've forgotten watch. I only have watch to teach so I will have to put my phone on airplane mode and use that. I've also forgotten my cash, so I must pay for every coffee today with a card.

9:19: I start to read Benjamin's "Theses on the Philosophy of History" for class on Wed. I have no idea why I assigned these theses. I am about to find out. 9:25: Now I know. Aha! I can pretend to my students I knew all along. It's not because of smug people quoting his aphorism about "documents of barbarism" and civilization. While reading it I also skim over to see what particular Gadamer is in the anthology I've assigned. I see I've made some annotations and selected some sentences the last time I assigned this. 9:35. Student comes in and talks for 15 minutes. I lose sight of poor Benjamin. I realize, though, he has a poetic quality to his writing lacking in Gadamer, for all of G's interest in poetry. Benjamin is cantabile; his writing sings.

10:10: Coffee break.

10:30: I start to look over materials for class. I am hoping it goes well. Now I need to come up with some good last minute-type ideas. I google the verb "pulular."

11-12:15 I teach. The class goes well, but a disturbing number of students don't show up. Maybe because it is going to be 70 degrees today.

Decompress. Answer study abroad email. I read my favorite blog. Really, should be able to throw myself into Lorca now, but it's been several days. What did I specialize in again? I force myself to open up the last thing I was working on and add a sentence to it.

12:50 Lunch.

1:10. Back from lunch it occurs to me I have discussion questions on Gadamer I can email the students. I do so.

1:23. I try to work on Lorca again. It works. I blog about Lorca too after I have my mini-revelation of the day. It is now 1:56.

3:08. I am pretty exhausted. Did some work on Lorca, enough for the day. I start to work on my lipstick essay.

4-5: Candidate talk for Brazilian position.

5:05: I'll hang out in my office until six, then walk downtown for dinner. I talk to a few people passing by.

5:42. I order some books from amazon. I will use research funds to pay for them. I keep forgetting I can buy all the books I want now.

6:30: Dinner at Teller's with job candidate. I can go home after this. I don't know if my tv will get the Basketball game. I have given in and am now a fan of the KU Basketball team.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Dream and Interpretation

DREAM:

My dream was that I had become fairly well known for some aphoristic pieces of advice, like "RELIGION: Don't try to convince people out of their beliefs." Each piece of advice was linked to a word in upper-case letters. There couldn't be too many of them, because the idea was to simplify life. Unfortunately, I only remember the one example I give here, which I'm not even sure I believe in myself. In my dream my pieces of advice achieved a small succés d'éstime among other bloggers and the like, and people from my past. Each nugget of wisdom seemed to bring breathtaking clarity to my life. THIS WAS ALL YOU HAD TO KNOW. I was working on them in my new office in my new apartment.

INTERPRETATION:

One of my courses is on idioms and proverbs, and I also write a blog of "advice." I am an aficionado of proverbs and aphorisms. I am also teaching graduate theory course. I want to express basic concepts with clarity. I moved out of my other apartment, and live in only one now, so all my books, theoretically, are in my office or my new place. I knew I had to clean up today, put books away, and generally find a set of solutions for my chaos. These mottoes, then, have the function of telling me to find basic principles to help me get more organized. Yet they were not simple pointers, but had a more transcendental dimension, as in the aphorism about religion. This was the quintessential "problem solving dream." My mind was working through my problems, applying what I actually know how to do (give stupid advice, express things pithyly, theorize) to the problems I actually have.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Where did the day go (Thursday)

I read some short stories from Hotel Lambosa as coffee is brewing. I'm at my desk (at home) at 8:18. I didn't sleep well and am suffering from almost overwhelming anxiety. A combination of hangover from teaching 1st day, the stress of moving, having to think about taxes, and some personal stuff. At 8:26 I submit article to RCEH after adding one item for the bibliography. I write study abroad about budget for Barcelona, and answer email from colleague at other university. It is 8:39. Read more KK. I find the passage I was looking for:
A friend of mine, a woman, once explained happiness to me.
[...]
She had a theory the the "happiness base." Once, she said, you had this base, at odd times, moments of true happiness could occur.

Without the base, they would not.

The base was made of good health, good work, good friendship, good love. Of course, you can have all these things and still not be "happy."

You have to have the base, and then be lucky, she said. That's why you were happy at the café.
Koch develops this theme more in his intro to poetry, where he talks about how a poet needs a "poetry base." I, in turn, borrowed this concept for my "scholarly base."

I make some business-type calls. I hate doing this, but I like accomplishing those tasks. Phone keeps going dead. I thought I had good reception in this new place I am living. Made massage appt when phone started working again. Maybe that will help me with anxiety.

My translation of the happiness base into scholarly base: good formation, good prose, good support, good motivation. Then you have to be lucky too. Life is more complicated than scholarship, but somehow I can't make it sound as good as Koch's formula. Motivation means: finding a good fit between your ultimate aspiration and what you are actually doing. Formation: everything you have learned, your intellectual background and education. Support: institutional and interpersonal. Good prose is being able to write it up really well. Luck is finding the project that allows everything to line up perfectly: you were meant to read this book.

You don't have to be happy to do good scholarship. I am not happy today and I sent in an article.

I go to get cascade, go to cell phone office where they tell me tower is down. Have lunch with my amiga. Back at 1:40. Anxiety at 50% of where it was this morning. I email my editor at U of Chicago Press. Does he want to look at my ideas for next book on Lorca?

2:30=3:30. Massage.

5:30. Martinis.


Dinner.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Where did the day go (Wed.)

I see that one of my blogging colleagues is also tracking work. Today will be about 10 and a half hours in the office.

8:30 Get to office. (In the parking lot I see Sonia, a former worker in my office, and chat a bit as we walk toward the building.) Already I have thought about the 1st day of undergraduate class, while taking my shower. I write up the plan of what I'm doing in class in 10 minutes. Of course, I wrote the "lecture" part already. I also write answering an invitation for an MLA panel next year. I come up with a title and a brief description of what I would do. Then I start this post. I practice Shakespeare.

9-10. Ok. I am going to do research the first day I teach. I know what I want to do in both classes, so over-preparing will not do anything for me. I write some good paragraphs and then start blogging about them, and also blogging about theory course. Now I need a coffee break.

10-11. Now I am going to look at my undergrad material a bit so they are fresh in my mind. I also do a little posting on this blog. I am getting a little nervous for class. I have many repeat students so that will be good. I raid the office supply cabinet for postits, dry erase markers.

11-12:15. I teach undergraduate course. It goes very well. Many repeat students, 8 from previous courses (out of 19). That makes it easier to break the ice and to learn names. Students learn that we will spend an entire class period on the word "mierda" in comparative analysis with the word "shit."

Early afternoon. Email. Decompression time. Work on an article. Lunch. Walk to bank in the union to cash a check. Work some more on the article. Efficiency is high today. I love my job. Saw two people I know on the way to the Union.

2 p.m. A little nervous. What should I do with two hours to go? I xerox my questions. Go to facebook to debate whether it is possible to write a great public occasion poem. I think it is, but nobody else does. I still am looking for that one extra idea or two for the course. I'm nervous because it is 3 hours long. Maybe I'll use that question: is it possible to write a great poem for a public occasion? Why or why not? I have never taught this particular group of students before, except for one.

Here's another idea: literature could be seen as a branch of rhetoric, philosophy, the arts, or history (Perloff).

I go to Clarissa's blog for inspiration. Teaching literature is possible. That is nice to know.

Reading Language Log I come across a book The F Word that will be useful for teaching my idioms class.

4-7. I teach Graduate theory course.

7. Dinner, spend some time with my amiga.

Gender Privilege

I am going to clean the table of the seminar room before I start teaching my grad course. I have my lemon pledge here in the office. This is a classic instance of gender privilege*, because I can do this in a way a female faculty member probably wouldn't want to. Of course, I am the only male faculty member who does this too, but still...

For me it is about respecting the work to be done in that space. We should start with a clean table, at the very least, since people spill coffee on it and it gets a little gross.

___

*Not fond of overuse of the word "privilege." So maybe I picked a fairly trivial example of it to make fun of the concept. I get to clean a table. Who even wants to? Or maybe I am just showing I know how to use it the way others sometimes do. You decide.

Friend

I once had a friend in a former university, in the social sciences, let's say economics. She's quite a big deal in his field, but I noticed her level of cultural capital was bit spotty. I mentioned Picasso one day in a group conversation and she said "the painter?" This is the sort of person who might think of Nietzsche just as some precursor of Hitler. He reads Pérez Reverte, and told me she had never re-read a book of literature. I kind of reacted with shock sometimes, when she said Miles Davis bored her, or had never heard of Zukofsky or barely knew who Gertrude Stein is.

So I'm wondering, is this normal? Not the person, I mean my reaction. I really shouldn't look down on someone who seems otherwise very smart.

Baskerville

I have been using Palatino for a while now. I like it much better than the sterile Times New Roman. Now I am a bit tired of this font, so I am writing one of my chapters in Baskerville. A good font has to have serifs, unless we are talking about Chicago, maybe, and that only for a very specific kind of writing. It cannot be ornate or distracting, but must be actively pleasurable to look at. In other words, transparent, ma non troppo. Baskerville has a considerable contrast between the thick and thin lines.

I know other people feel you should just use TNR because it is the default and you only want to call attention to yourself through the writing itself, not the type face. I understand that perspective. But that font, for me, just does not sing. Of course, a very fancy or oddball font would cause a horrible impression for a scholarly article.

More application

I guess the way I can explain why I don't want theoretical applications in my theory class is "That is what you are going to be doing in every other class." In other words, every paper for every other graduate class will take some text as its basis, and also have some theoretical framework. What I want my students to do is isolate the theory for a while, work with it by itself. If I am grading a theoretical application, and there is not much theory in it, then it is hard to give it a grade. It might be a perfectly good paper, but one in which the theory does not work at all, for example.

So the theory course is the one place where theory cannot be "used." Does that make sense? Because one common way of using theory is to name-drop, but do an analysis that could have been done the same way without that theory. To his credit, Paul Julian Smith doesn't use theory in this name-dropping, redundant way. He really does apply the theory in a thick layer.

Also, I like my theory kind of subtle in an actual paper of literary criticism. I cannot say "apply the theory, but make it subtle," and then turn around and say, "where's the theory?" If I ask for an application it cannot be a subtle one.

Applications

I discovered a way of explaining why I don't like "applications" of theory, while reading Paul Julian Smith on Lorca and Bernarda Alba. Smith is one of the major figures in my own field, and has written many books. I welcome his contributions when they support my ideas about getting past traditional Lorquismo with all its sentimentality, kitsch, etc... His use of the Foulcauldian "author-function" is a good idea. He told me he liked my book, so in my book he is a good guy.

Yet Smith is really well known for those "applications." Adela is the subject of Foucauldian surveillance, knowledge / power, etc... The theory works really well, even. I cannot object to it. Yet I still feel that it is hermeneutically poor. It doesn't explain why Lorca is important in the first place. This what I wrote in my chapter this morning about this:
Unlike Smith, I am not looking forward to the end of humanism: not only is it impossible to suppress “the insistence of the humanist order,” but to do so would be to ignore the wrenching effects of the modernist fracturing of the subject itself. It is interesting that Smith sees an affective response to Lorca as a kind of “displacement.” A displacement of what, we might ask? His own Foucauldian reading of La casa de Bernarda Alba in The Body Hispanic, does manage to avoid certain naive pitfalls of Lorca criticism, but at a very steep price: Smith, while theoretically sophisticated and astute, is not at all receptive to any aspect of the play not already explainable by Foucault’s theory of power. Lorca does not tell him anything not anticipated by the theory he is deploying. By reducing the tragedy of Adela’s subjectivity to a Foucauldian mechanism of surveillance and knowledge, he erases the affective reasons the ways in which the play engages with its audience.

Of course, it is Smith’s overt intention to move beyond the traditional humanist justifications for literary criticsm, and he is very clever at showing how this can be done. The problem is that model of “theoretical application,” so prevalent in the 1980 when Smith’s book came out, does little to explain why we should care about Lorca in the first place. Why are there “no fewer than 26 pages in which elegies and homages are listed” in a standard bibliography of Lorca criticism? (The Body Hispanic 110).

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Where did the day go? (Tuesday)

Got up around 8. Coffee and read part of the article I started yesterday afternoon. Rode my bike in (brrr) and got in at 9:19, sweaty but with numb face. It's only a mile but uphill for a good part of the way. (When I checked the weather it said 34, but then I realized that was the high for the day. The actual temp was 19.)

Worked on theory and idioms-and-proverbs courses. Printed out class rosters. Talked to office staff about graduate studies business. Printed syllabuses. Wrote a post on what the definition of "idiomatic" is, which will be the basis of 1st day's class. Printed out lecture notes for 1st theory day. 5 pages of single space. I won't get to all of it but I won't have a lack of something to say either. Still not ready for other course, but I have between 8 and 11 tomorrow for that.

Talked to colleague about our respective projects. Me, Lorca; him, cine religioso del franquismo tardío. Actually a good project. Talked to other colleague about study abroad and grad studies. It feels great to be back at work. Like an adult! I have to figure out who is on admissions and graduate committees. (Ok, did that). I have to figure out when Vicky teaches.

Wrote an email thanking smart guy at Princeton for sending me offprints. Wow. This guy is swimming out there where there is no competition rather than struggling to find a towel on the beach.

11 a.m. Study abroad meeting for Barcelona.

Lunch, over lunch talked with chair to try to see who is on Graduate Committee and what the issues this spring might be.

Morning efficient but not productive.

1:32: Started looking at a tenure file. That lasted to 1:53. A good twenty minutes.

2-3. A good hour on Lorca. Got some books delivered to me from library. Productive and efficient.

3-3:15. Read more for the tenure case.

A pattern is starting to emerge. I get a lot of things done rapidly in the morning, or then rapidly after lunch. The rest is puttering around. I could go home now and call it a very good day. I still have bookcases to bring in from my car to apartment. It was too cold yesterday.

3:20-4. I might as well do some research to relax.

That's it, really. I have an 11-hour day tomorrow, so I think I will try not to work any more today.

[UPdate: went home, did some more reading. Dinner. Went to GF's house to watch basketball game].


Idiomatic

What defines any given utterance in a language as "idiomatic"?

A. In the first place, it is something that no native speaker (of that same dialect) would object to. So it is simply the "normal" way of saying something. Something unidiomatic might be grammatically fine but simply normal.

"We are going to the movies."

*"We are attending the movies tomorrow."

We know the idiomatic use of "attend" is usually associated with an event, or an obligation like a class. Contrast "Estoy hambriento" with "Tengo hambre."

B. The second meaning of idiomatic has to do with the fixity of the phrase. The idea that there are "frases hechas" or "frases fijas" that just are the way something is normally said. These are idioms, but they might be transparent to the second language learner.

C. There could be a statistical definition of idiomatic. "I want to make one thing perfectly clear." That phrase, "perfectly clear," is one every has heard a million times. It is statistically probable. There are perfectly good phrases that sound ok but are statistically improbable. They aren't as "idiomatic," for this reason. "I want to make one thing impressively clear."

D. Next, there are idioms, fixed phrases, that are not transparent to the second language learner, or even the 1st language learner if sh/e doesn't happen to know the idiom. The basis of this sort of idiom is metaphor. "He's climbing the walls." The point is that we don't take this literally. So what makes language most distinctively idiomatic is the use of metaphor. Idioms are standard, or fixed metaphors that everyone understands (though not always!). They are also the normal, or statistically probable way of saying something.

E. Nobody knows what "go the whole nine yards means" on the literal level. The origins of the phrase are obscure. But speakers of American English know how to use the phrase and what it means. This means that we can understand metaphor without understanding it on the literal level. I understand "pull out all the stops" as a metaphor derived from playing the organ. This, in fact, is the origin of the phrase, and the metaphor makes sense: an organist pulls out stops to activate certain sounds. Pulling out all of them means "going the whole nine yards." I'm sure people understand this metaphor who've never thought about it in terms of an organ. My sister plays organ so I know what it means literally, but you don't have to. A third type of metaphor is one like "climbing the walls" where the literal meaning is transparent. We all get a mental picture of someone climbing the walls. What is amazing, though, is that we could understand it even if we didn't know what a wall was. It could be a fossilized phrase like "go the whole nine yards" and it wouldn't matter.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Where did the day go? (an ongoing series)

Got up at 7:10. Coffee. Got to the office around 8:45.

Morning: Looked at Thomas's blog post on my "Mayhew's Duende." Famous in Denmark! (Thomas,I mean, not me. Well, maybe neither of us.) Worked on syllabus for second class, completed first draft of that while listening to Flamenco podcasts. Made a new folder of all my "refranero" stuff. Answered email from a scholar who had used my Lorca book in writing a chapter of her own book. Made a list of citations of my Lorca book apart from reviews. Blogged a little and read my two or three favorite blogs (you know who you are). Met with colleague about Barcelona program for about 15 minutes. Answered email from grad student. I realize I don't now who is on the grad committee of which I am chair! Aha, it's Unruh and Rivera. Good. I realized our graduate office support person has quit her job to take another one in the university and that will be a headache. Made list of things I have to be on top of in Graduate Studies.

Left office at 11:45. Mixture of course prep, research, study abroad, personal development, and emailing, and "thinking" about doing service. Moderate efficiency. A lot of small stuff keeps you busy without getting much done.

Afternoon: Had lunch, went to supermarket then home. Looked at an article sent to me as offprint by a really smart guy at Princeton. He even cites me. Slept and goofed off. Efficiency is low.

Around 4:48 I got a good idea: look at the enunciative situation of Lorca's poetry as key to everything. Who is speaking in his poetry? What is the subject there? [The grammatical subject of the 1st person singular, and the subject posiiton.] Work this somehow into introduction.

Evening: Went to meet some friends. Too cold to walk. Dinner.

Overall: One major thing accomplished: the syllabus.

Golden Oldie

The Scholarly Base

From a course description

This course began as a course on translation. One day I brought in idioms and proverbs into class and realized they held the possible material for another course. I next gave a course (several times) on proverbs, songs, and ballads [refranes, canciones, romances] or popular poetry in the Hispanic world. This literature course then morphed back into a language course, from “Idiom to Proverb.” This is the second time I have taught the course using this title. Perhaps in its next incarnation it will be another course on translation, developing a theory of translation based on what is “idiomatic” in a given language, and how those differences get negotiated. My job would be dull if I couldn’t develop new courses. Often, material from my courses makes its way into my books and articles too.

Feeling Receptive

I am feeling very receptive lately. Everything I read is relevant to what I am doing. I could pick up a book randomly and it would help me teach my theory course, my other course "From idiom to Proverb," or help me write my book. You cannot always be this way, because life is not that good, but you should once and a while experience something on that level.

New Citation

This book cites my 1st Lorca book. I am looking forward to reading it and citing it, in turn, in my project.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Dressing for work

I, too, get dressed in work clothes to work at home. I wear what I would wear to teach or to go to the office when I work at home. I don't shave unless I am going to to see a particular person that day, but I don't write in sweatpants.

That is not the main point of Clarissa's post, maybe, but it is an important one.

A few essential insights

from Mictlantecuhtli:
It is said that everyone is competing but I think they are competing down, not up. They are competing for towel space on a crowded beach, as it were. But if you go out past the bathers and through the waves, there are only a few swimmers in the clear water. There is space for everyone and they wave at you as you go by.
And
It is draining to do things poorly and energizing to do things well [...]
This explains a lot. These two insights are connected at the roots.

Today I am moving, and I realize that I am doing it incompetently and thus it is draining a lot energy from me. I dreaded it so I never planned how to do it efficiently. I just throw things in boxes kind of randomly. I take more trips than necessary (and it is a five hour trip each way). Now I am avoiding loading the car again and instead in Starbucks blogging. I am disrespecting the process. Just the way people who hate to cook cook badly and find the process stressful. But you can't just tell them to love to cook!

When I am writing, I rarely find the process stressful. I take pride in the smallest details. Even the hard parts are infused with a sense of pride.

As for "competing down" it is easy to see that writing another article based on an insight already developed by Jo Labanyi or some other famous scholar, just like everyone else already does, will get you published but not get you known. If you can envision that space beyond what other people are doing, you will always have something to say. It is hard, but hard in a different way. You have to be a strong swimmer, but you don't have to be as good at jockeying for position among many similar people.

***

I had an insight too recently, that the scholarly base concept is what I have to teach my graduate students. One of our best students wrote a dissertation on Quechua poetry a few years ago but never really learned the language well enough to work with the poetry in Quechua. I disagreed with this, but I still had to sign off on the dissertation. Other than that, it was good. It still bothers me, though. Like, "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?" At OSU there was a graduate student working on the Popul Vuh without knowing the language of the original. I would argue with him endlessly. I guess this is another instance of Mayhew's fallacy, or the idea that if other people just knew what I know, they would agree with me completely.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

School

I hated school and taught everything to myself. In college it was much better. I did well and learned from every prof, even the bad ones. While still teaching myself everything. In grad school the same.

Somewhat ironically I am educator.

I did learn a lot from the poet Claudio who taught me everything even without being good teacher in the normal sense. Some daycicwill figure out teaching and be good at it.

Moving

I am moving now and find it draining because I am doing it in such a half assed way. If I were doing it well it would be,if not a joy, at least a good experience. With the great possibility for reorganization.

Mayhew's Duende

Here is the conclusion to a chapter:
MAYHEW’S DUENDE: TRANSLATION AND HERMENEUTICS
Lorca, indeed, is a poetic thinker. Not only does he think, in a profound way, about poetry and poetics, but he advocates a mode of discourse that is both poetic and performative, giving it the name of duende. He opposes this principle, a manifestation of Spanish cultural exceptionalism, to other European aesthetic modes, German or Italian, but the duende seems irrelevant even to Lorca’s Spanish contemporaries: critics don’t deploy this concept when explicating the poetry of Emilio Prados, Jorge Guillén, or Vicente Aleixandre. In this sense, it is a name for Lorca’s own exceptional poetics, universalizable, in principle, but also irreducibly his own.

In Apocryphal Lorca I suggested the duende—an untranslatable term—was was at the same time a master trope for translation itself. “Mayhew’s duende,” in other words, would be a kind of meta-metaphor—since the Latin trans-latere and the Greek meta-pherein both refer to a process of “bringing across.” Duende, in this reading, would a kind of inspired “performance” of the interpretation of Lorquian poetics in an alien hermeneutic context. The model for this kind of sort of performative translation is Lorca’s own evocation of figures like Socrates, Nietzsche, and Saint Teresa of Avila in “Juego y teoría del duende.” By making them precursors of his own aesthetics, he resituates them in a new and unrecognizable landscape.

It may seem presumptuous of me to associate my own proper name with this most hallowed concept in Lorca studies. At the same time, my particular hermeneutic peformance of the duende will not necessarily be shared by other readers, so my motivation here is actually a kind of hermeneutical modesty: the popular use of the duende as the alibi for anti-intellectual poetics is likely to persist, despite my best efforts: the duende, paradoxically, names both the idea of a mysterious force beyond intellectual understanding, locked into an exotic culture, and at the same time the reduction of Lorca’s complex poetics to a simple-minded cliché.

If my interpretation of “Juego y teoría del duende” has a “hallucinated” quality to it (like Barthes’s libinal hallucinations of French phonetics?) I believe that I am following the example of Lorca own metaphorical leaps. That being said, “Mayhew’s duende” is not mine alone, since it builds on Roberta Quance close attention to the duende as a performative concept, on Christopher Maurer’s astute definition of the duende as a kind of ultimate metaphor, in which x = y porque sí, and on Carlos Piera’s re-imagining of the duende as a poetics of contradiction and the limits of representation.

With this hallucinatory quality in mind, then, I conceive of the duende as a word for a radical principle of “receptivity,” or hermeneutic openness to contradiction, similar to Keats’s “negative capability.” In Lorca’s version of romantic hermeneutics, the reader, the interpreter, the peformer, or the spectator feels intimately connected, in the present moment, to a new imagining of an artistic spirit arising out of an ongoing tradition. What makes the duende particularly slippery is that is seems to invite both positive interpretations (the absence of fixed horizons, an infinite openness to aesthetic contradictions) and deconstructive views like that of Piera, that link it to a hermeneutics of suspicion or negativity. From my perspective, however, the via negativa of the duende is precisely what allows for this openness.

I have compared Lorca’s duende to Barthes’s “grain of the voice”-- another culture-bound and idiosyncratic concept belonging to the discourse of “literary theory.” A Danish reader of Apocyphal Lorca, Thomas Basbøll, has suggested that the duende is also comparable to Heidegger’s Dasein, standing in relation to poetics in much the same way as the Dasein does to philosophy. Following Basbøll’s lead, I would suggest that the duende could be a trope for a particular kind of existential “thrownness”or “facticity,” a bringing forth into presence of artistic energy in the here and now. http://pangrammaticon.blogspot.com/2011/07/daring.html
Dasein seems culturally specific to the extent that it is tied to the particular language of Heidegger’s thought. As Basbøll points out, both duende and Dasein are usually left untranslated and hence give rise to “a particular affectation about philosophy and poetry. A romanticism.” (http://pangrammaticon.blogspot.com/2009/09/topos-eidon.html). It is true that both concepts lend themselves both the mystification and kitsch, yet both are, in principle at least, universalizable concepts as well. To see Lorca’s “Juego y teoría” as a work of “literary theory” requires that we transpose it into other theoretical languages, testing the limits of translation itself. Such comparisons, while speculative by necessity, allow for a hermeneutic use of Lorca’s poetics beyond what Lorca himself may have imagined.

Leaving aside any direct comparison between duende and Dasein, it should be noted that Heidegger’s late work on poetry is also a form of poetics, in Duncan’s sense of a reflection on “the inner nature and process of poetry itself.” Poetics, then, merges with literary theory. The point, then, is not to peform a Heideggerian reading of Lorca, but to see the two writers as belonging to a single tradition of postromantic hermeneutics. Of course, to make this comparison is to detach Lorca from the poetics of Spanish cultural exceptionalism in which he inscribes himself in “Arquitectura del cante jondo” and “Juego y teoría del duende.”

The possible link between Lorca and Heidegger allows for a Lorquian interpretation of the Heideggerian poetics of late modernist Spanish poetry, as manifested in the philosophy of María Zambrano and the poetry of Valente, Gamoneda, and Rodríguez. By the same token, the full significance of Lorca’s duende will only come into view in a reinterpretation of Lorca’s influence on the strongest poets of the late 20th century.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Oh for a muse of fire!

I realize I have many introductory lectures planned for the same opening day.

1)Hermeneutics

2) Validity

3) Henry V. In which I derive all the literary theory I can from the Prologue to Henry V.

I've never tried this 3rd option before, but I know exactly how I would do it.

Of course I never read a lecture. I just talk with notes in front of me. With Henry V the advantage is I wouldn't need any notes. I would just start saying "Oh for a muse of fire, that would ascend / The brightest heaven of invention..." and go from there.

a) The captatio benevenoltiae as a trope. Relation of this to themes of ineffability, like Dante's "Oh quanto è corto il dire e come fioco al mio concetto!" Or even Beckett's "Fail better." Relate this to audience "gentles all," who will sit patiently through the play. Meaning only arises with the participation of an audience.

b) The muse of fire itself. Is it a merely conventional here? Or is an actual invocation of a muse? What is the muse here? Are all muses the same? What is the theory of poetic "inspiration"? How does it vary from one period to another.

c) Mimesis and the magic of performance. The prologue promises a poor performance, yet the spectators have to supplement the poverty of the performance with their imaginations. Hence we have the onset of a theory of the imagination itself. We don't have to see the horses "imprinting their proud hoofs in the receiving earth." The language does it.

d) Thus the centrality of language itself. Shakespeare does all this through language. That is his metier. The language has a prosody, a weight to it. It imitates its objects of representation through sound.

e) Other Aristotelian principles. Unity? Shakespeare realizes that unity is in the spectacle, not in the reality represented. Thus the prologue can put the accomplishments of many years "into an hourglass." He is conscious of breaking a rule?

f) What is the difference between showing and telling, or dramatic and narrative versions of representation? Why does Shakespeare need a Chorus in the first place? Is it to supplement for the poverty of the representation itself? You don't need any Hollywood special effects.

g) Literature is conscious of itself. It is its own theory. The writer knows what she is doing. Metatheater.

h) It is a material practice. It takes place in a particular physical space, the walls of the theater.

And so on... I could probably start with these and see if there is anything else.

We Will Always Be As Busy As We Are Now

It is an illusion to think we will be less busy in the future, or at any point in the future, than we are now.

There may be particular instances where this is not true, in other words, exceptions to this rule, but these exceptions are themselves deceptive tricks of the mind, in most cases. In other words, the fact that there are many apparent exceptions simply perpetuates the fallacy of future time.

Take the notion of winter break. If we postpone things for the break, then the break is no longer a break, but an equally busy time filled with all the tasks that couldn't be accomplished because we were too busy during the semester. In fact, we are too busy during the semester because we are always putting things off until other times when we are supposed to be less busy. The same goes for a weekend or, on a larger scale, the summer.

I asked my colleagues to propose names for a lecture, giving them a week to come up with some names. I get an email back saying that might not be enough time, given how busy we all are with a search, a third year review, etc... The time it took to write that email is about the same amount of time it would have taken this person to send me a name of a prominent Hispanist who might come and give a lecture next year. Everyone knows the names of prominent people in their own field off the top of their head. I would also need time to send out a new message with a new deadline, so apparently to postpone a task until we have more time to do it simply makes the task take more time for everyone. Also, a longer deadline would make people less likely to meet it, because there is more time to forget.

Theory and Poetics: A Lecture

Since the days of Hölderlin and Schiller, poetry and "theory" have been the same thing. A neoclassical idea of poetics (to simplify greatly) is based on prescriptivism. Let's take Horace as a convenient example, or Boileaux.

Voulez-vous du public mériter les amours?
Sans cesse en écrivant variez vos discours.
Un style trop égal et toujours uniforme
En vain brille à nos yeux, il faut qu’il nous endorme.
On lit peu ces auteurs, nés pour nous ennuyer,
Qui toujours sur un ton semblent psalmodier.

It's pleasant advice for writers, or a set of rules to follow. How to please the public!

Aristotelian "Poetics" [Peri poetikes] was taken as a handbook rather than a work of literary theory, as we would understand it today. Here's Lope channeling Aristotle:

Ya tiene la comedia verdadera
su fin propuesto como todo género
de poema o poesis, y este ha sido
imitar las acciones de los hombres,
y pintar de aquel siglo las costumbres:
También cualquiera imitación poética
se hace de tres cosas, que son, plática,
verso dulce, armonía y la música,
que en esto fue común con la tragedia,
sólo diferenciándola en que trata
las acciones humildes y plebeyas,
y la tragedia las reales y altas.
Mirad si hay en las nuestras pocas faltas.

With romanticism, something fundamental changes. Sure, in these examples of "poetics" we see that verse (a poetic medium) is used to talk about poetry itself. This is quite different, though, from the romantic and postromantic idea of "poetics," a discourse about the inner nature of poetry from the inside. It doesn't even have to be written in verse any more, because poetry no longer needs verse to be poetic.

So "poetics" becomes writing about poetry in prose (often), like the essays of Lezama Lima, Robert Duncan's HD Book, or Lorca's "Juego y teoría del duende." Heidegger's late writing on poetry also belongs to this genre. He is thinking through language, and the language cannot be separated from "meaning."

Now in structuralism, there is a rebirth of the term "poetics," with a quasi-scientific meaning: the system of what literature is. Todorov's Poetics of Prose. It is not advice for the writer, but a systematization of what we know about literature. It is a return to Aristotle, in the sense that poetics means philosophical knowledge about poetry, not lame-ass Horatian advice.

But in the modern literary theory derived from Heidegger (Derrida, María Zambrano), the difference between poetry and theory disappears. If Lezama is a poet in his prose essays, than why isn't Zambrano or Derrida? Celan's poetics seems Heideggerian, if we look at Gadamer's essays on him.

Poetics is also the implicit theory of poetry embodied in the poems themselves. So Vallejo, who didn't write Lezama or Lorca-like essays, also has a poetics. The "Arte poética" of Neruda happens to use a neo-classical title, but it doesn't tell you how to write a poem. Huidobro's is more of a manifesto. The manifesto is another genre that comes to prominence with the avant-garde, another way poetics gets expressed. Look at how romantic Huidobro is in this poem. The idea of creativity in "creacionismo" comes straight from romanticism, which overthrew Aristotelian mimesis in favor of the creativity of the artist's mind. Wordsworth in "Tintern Abbey" is not imitating nature, but deriving his poetics from the ways in which his mind interacts with it.

Modern French theory is also linked quite explicitly to the avant-garde. Barthes and Kristeva and Sollers. Avant-garde theory is poetics in another form, once the pseudo-scientific structuralism wilted away in favor of neo-Heideggerian poetics.

The purpose of this course is to allow you to put everything together: see how theories fit together (or don't). Otherwise we just have a list of theories side by side. The consequence of the fusion of poetics (theory) and poetics (thought about poetry within poetry, or by poets) is that we could just as easily (well, not really easily!) use poetry to explain theory as vice-versa. In other words, the theorist doesn't stand above the poet explaining what she is doing. Lorca is a theorist, and Barthes is a poet.The theory of literature is internal to literature itself.




Revelation

I can use all of this (SMT) for my theory course. The idea of the scholarly base, all the Seinfeld stuff, everything. The problem is I only have 15 weeks.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Where did the day go?

7:30-10: Worked on article.

10:00-10:45: Walked into campus from new apartment. Talked with chair. Emails.

11:00-12: Theory syllabus. Finished all-important schedule of class meetings.

12-12:48: Lunch and emails.

12:49-1:14: Completed revision of article.

1:15-2: Finished syllabus for Graduate course. Will look at it again before printing another day.
An introduction to literary theory based on the “primary texts,” not introductory guidebooks or “applications” [shudder]. The course will begin with an introduction to hermeneutics, or the nature of interpretation itself. We will continue with theories of language, questions of “validity,” feminism, Marxism, and translation theory. On two days students will choose the readings in order to allow for discussions that are relevant to student interest, or to expand the horizons of interpretation.

A typical day in the course will consist of a student presentation, a discussion of two or three theoretical readings, a “mini-lecture” by the professor, and occasionally a group activity. We will have a short break (10 minutes) at 17:15 or at a convenient stopping point. We will speak in English, Spanish, or a mixture of the two languages whenever it is convenient.

This material is the most important you will read in your graduate career. The point is not just to become a good scholar, but to be an intellectual. In order to do so, you must master a certain number of foundational ideas about interpretation, the nature of language, and literature itself. At the conclusion of the course, you will not only know how to use theory in your own work, but also how various theories relate to one another. Thus you will be able to understand any new theoretical concepts you encounter with the greatest of ease.

2-2:34: Read blogs. Payed bills and managed bank tranfers. Relaxed a bit. So far I've finished an article and a syllabus, set a date for my talk in Iowa, and transacted some personal business. A student assistant dropped off my Higuchi award plaque at my office. Got an email from school district about violent social media threat. Apparently it was at Middle School not High School, so there was no threat to my kid, but still...

You'll notice the only thing I haven't done yet is work on Lorca!

2:35-2:49: ¡Lorca! :::::
Other critics have noted the influence of Lorca on Gamoneda. Jacques Ancet writes:

Dans la voix d’Antonio Gamoneda passe donc à la fois la souffrance d’un peuple dans la tragédie de son histoire, une tradition poétique proprement hispanique mais aussi européene dont les deux figures emblématiques récentes seraient, pour l’une, le dernier Lorca et pour l’autre, Georg Trakl, et la fragilité intense, la rigueur brûlante--violence et compassion--, d’un corps singulier impossible à confondre.
(Froid des limites 9)

In his edition of Descripción de la mentira, Jiménez Heffernan notes the presence of Lorca in this work, along with numerous other writers from Plato to Luis Martín Santos, but does not single out the author of Poeta en Nueva York. In a later essay, however, the same critic compares a passage from Lorca’s Impresiones y paisajes to Gamoneda’s ...
Not bad for 15 minutes, even if it was just transcribing a quote. After all, I had to remember the quote was there, pull it off the shelf, and find it.

2:50: Time to goof off again. Martinis are at 5:30. The Eskimo snow hoax is back! Something about "le dernier Lorca" makes it sound so much cooler than "el último Lorca." Moi, je voudrais écrire un livre sur Lorca en français, ce serait magnifique. Spanish no longer sounds wonderfully Spanish to me, but French always sounds French no matter what it is saying.

3:07-3:29: Back to work. I will order book from the library to be delivered to my office.

3:29-3:49: I ordered some books. Couldn't find two that I know exist. Now I will just read.

3:49: Mess with some subject headings in my chapters.

5:10: Walk downtown for martinis with "poetini" group.

5:30: Martinis!

6:45: Dinner with friend.

After that, I will walk home. Won't drive my car today.



While looking at the last time I taught theory, I notice that I framed things differently

Theory Lecture I: Introduction (validity, interdisciplinarity, eclecticism, voice, application)


In some sense we will have to put the question of “validity” between parentheses. After all, we aren’t scientists, right? And yet the problem of what makes for a valid critical approach does not simply go away. For example, structuralism in literary analysis depends on structuralism in linguistics (and anthropology): if the underlying linguistics is not valid, then what is the point of using this method in literary analysis? Another example is psychoanalysis: critics using this method assumed that Freud was fundamentally correct in his analysis of how the human mind works. Now, there are serious questions about whether he was in fact correct, so I don’t believe that those questions are safe to ignore, simply because as literary scholars we aren’t scientists.

Disciplines are narrow channels that run very deep. The problem of literature as a discipline is that it always seems to need support from elsewhere for its validity. That’s one idea of what theory is: bringing in support from elsewhere to shore up the intellectual validity and prestige of what we do. The argument is that if we have no theory, then we will be dependent on an unarticulated theory. Perhaps a positivism? A naive empiricism? But, if the discipline on which we call for intellectual reinforcements is itself struggling with questions of validation, that means that we must interrogate the validity of that discipline as well.

(To start off with, we are going to read two essays on validity, by Thomas Kuhn and Isaiah Berlin. The Berlin is a highly technical essay. The Kuhn, however, is a little more accessible. Kuhn wrote a fundamental book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, that has been subject to some basic misunderstandings. In this essay Kuhn attempts to clarify some of his ideas.)

What most people in our field do is to practice a kind of eclecticism. In poststructuralist theory there was kind of a break from the idea of validity. In structuralism, for example, there was still the idea that structuralist linguistics and anthropology was a good scientific basis for the study of literature, providing a good analogy, at the very least, for what literary criticism would try to do. Literary semiotics was to be based on a scientific study of signs. With poststructuralism, however, this rational or empirical substrate no longer applied.

In English we use the word “science” to mean natural science, primarily. In French, there is the term “les sciences humaines,” what we would call in English “social sciences” plus “the humanities.” All “science” really means is “knowledge.” What makes knowledge scientific is its validity, in other words, not its truthfulness but its methodical nature.

It might be helpful to think of two major theories of knowledge: rationalism and empiricism. Rationalism is rooted in the French tradition of René Descartes. The basic idea is that knowledge comes from the intrinsic qualities of the mind. Kant is also rationalist. In this sense. So is Noam Chomsky.

Empiricism is stronger in the English speaking world. (John Locke is a founder of this tradition. Think, too, of Hume.) The idea of empiricism is the primacy of experience, not reason. We have to actually go out and do the experiment; we can’t just rely on a priori ideas. (Experiment and experience have the same root). For some, empiricism is naive, in that experience is never unmediated by some abstract or theoretical scheme. On the other hand, the opposing argument says that rationalism is too deductive, trying to impose its ideas on reality and ignoring the actual evidence. I think it was easier to make a jump to a position in which validation itself was not as important, in a rationalist tradition like the French one.

There are other such divisions in intellectual style that might be useful for us in this class: between “lumpers” and “splitters,” for example. Lumpers try to synthesize and group things in larger categories. Splitters look for fine distinctions. There are hedgehogs and foxes. (This is from I. Berlin). Hedgehogs have one move, one technique, which they do very very well. They basically bury themselves in a hole. Foxes have a variety of strategies. They are “jacks of all trades, masters of none.” Just so you know where my own biases lie: I am a fox, not a hedgehog, and a splitter rather than a lumper. I have respect for both rationalism and empiricism, but am tending more toward the empirical pole lately.

Very, very strong critics can end up being hedgehogs. By this I mean critics who come up with one very good idea, and then apply it with success in many different contexts. One example might be Harold Bloom with the “anxiety of influence.” The problem with hedgehoggism is that we will be able to predict what the critic is going to say: the conclusion is determined a priori. (In this sense the hedgehogs are more rationalist than empiricists, more Platonists than Aristotelianas.) It is probably worse to be a hedgehog with someone else’s idea. If I were to apply Bloom’s “anxiety of influence” to everythings I see, it might be somewhat less effective than if Bloom does.

The problem with the fox is that the fox tends to have less of a strong identity. We don’t know what the fox’s principles are, what the fox will say in any given situation.

The goal for us all is to find a critical voice. You should be able to define what you are interested in and what positions you take. That’s one of the goals of this course. I think these categories (hedgehog, fox, lumper, splitter) might be useful in the process of self-definition.

By the end of your graduate career, you should be able to do a theoretical analysis that does not blindly “apply” a scheme, but, rather, intelligently looks to how and why the theory fits the material that you want it to fit. Usually, it won’t fit very well. In other words, your theory won’t automatically lead to “valid” results. These gaps between literary theory and the practice of literary criticism are significant opportunities.

“Finding a voice,” entails reading and absorbing a lot of material, thinking critically about what we read. As I mentioned earlier, I want you to do a paper in which you explore a theoretical issue, not one in which you take a given theory and apply it. The reasons have to do with the developmental stage you are as critics / theorists. The skill I am looking to develop is that of evaluating the discourse of literary theory. If you can’t do that, then it will be difficult to judge what theory will be appropriate to apply. There is no such thing as a pre-established method for doing a “deconstruction” of a text, or a “Lacanian reading.” There aren’t formulas. (Or if there are, they should be avoided!)

Understanding what a theorist says is not equivalent to endorsing that position. We can disagree with a given perspective in our class discussions, but we must understand first what exactly what that position is. It’s also important not to prematurely criticize a position, or to criticize a particular article based on one narrow mistake (that we think) it makes. Negative critique is almost too easy. When I present the ideas of a particular theorist, I will be, in some sense, pretending that I agree with him or her, at first, just to make sure we all understand what the points are. There may be great value in a particular essay, even if we end up disagreeing with its main thrust or with individual side issues.

If we go back to the idea that the theory is not likely to fit, exactly, our needs, that there will be a gap between theory and practice, then we can see that it isn’t that important whether we agree with every single detail of a given article: that is going to be a rare exception. A similar situation obtains with literary works themselves. Insofar as literature embodies ideological positions, we are likely never to find many works that line up exactly with our own positions. Finding misogyny in medieval literature is pretty easy.

It can be empowering to a graduate student to realize that Bakhtin is full of shit, or that Mr. Famous Theorist comes up with a position that is not tenable on its face. What I am saying is that it’s good to resist that temptation.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Brevity

I had an article rejected two days ago because it was too short at barely above 5,000 words. I felt it made a cohesive, relevant argument, but the journal disagreed, thinking I should flesh out the paper. I am viewing this as an opportunity to publish an even better article. It won't take me long and there are a few points I could expand on and publish in a different journal, an article of about 7,500 words.

I am realizing now, also, that this was a conference paper. That is the risk if you only go half way in expanding a paper into its article version.