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The lute lies rusted in its green case odor of pines is synthetic; sweeteners artificial; even salt!  our tongues crave something dif...

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Slip

My students kindly pointed out to me that a Judith Butler article I said was published 10 years ago, in 1993, was actually published 20 years ago. Somehow 93 does not seem twenty-years ago to me. I think of 73 as being about 30 years ago, too, though obviously I will admit that is is 40 years ago, if you really want to insist. I think I lost years of my life to depression and frustration. I am doing very well now, though, and I must have held it together a little bit, at least, to be where I am now.

External Critique

I find my Graduate theory students prefer to make an external critique to an internal one. In other words, they are interested in what a particular theorist does not mention. If a theorist does not mention something, they conclude that their theory does not "cover" what is omitted. That is the student's main criticism of the theoretical article. The students are especially hard on theorists for not predicting the future, failing to account for things that have not yet happened.

An internal critique would tease out the inner contradictions of an argument, its incoherences, the inherent weaknesses of its argument.

I am guilty of external critiques myself. It can be a convenient way of "clearing the ground." Absences do speak loudly. Yet I find them also too easy, a bit cheap, as it were. You don't really have to look very hard to find an error of omission.

The external critique I am most fond of is when critics assume that the novel is the only significant genre. Then it is easy to see what the introduction of essay, poetry, and theater does.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

7 kinds of relation

In a dream my students were doing an exercise where they had to compare Lorca to three other writers. When I got up and got in the shower I couldn't reconstruct their brilliant presentations, but I remember Chesterton figured in somehow. I've never read him so don't ask me.

In the shower I decided there were 7 kind of people you could cite in relation to Lorca. Imagine this charted on a huge poster, with Lorca at the center. I think I had 8 categories but one disappeared by the time I got to my office.

1. Influences flowing into him. Góngora, Darío, Nietzsche, Chekov...

2. People he influenced. Spicer, Motherwell, Valente...

You'll notice on your chart that there could be a huge spread in both directions.

3. Lorca's immediate contemporaries. Guillén, Cernuda, Neruda, Dalí, Falla...

4. Lorca's contemporaries that he didn't know about, or that didn't know about him. Pound, Pessoa, Cavafy... People engaged in a parallel enterprise.

So the chart expands horizontally too.

5. Writers with no direct relation of influence or simultaneity, but that you'd still want to compare Lorca to.

6. Lorca critics and scholars.

7. Other critics and theorists, who never thought about Lorca, that you might want to cite to make other points about Lorca.

Now put another writer at the center of the chart.

Monday, February 25, 2013


Ego is usually associated with thinking one is great at things. This is not really the case. A big ego is often manifested in people who think they "suck," and thus cannot enjoy other people's achievements. The pathetic person in the comment I link to (which I found in turn from a comment yesterday on Clarissa's blog), cannot enjoy guitar playing because he thinks he sucks at playing guitar. He cannot enjoy a movie with a good screenplay because, in his mind, he could have been a great writer himself. If he really wanted to not suck at the guitar he could practice for ten years and get good at it. At 34, he would still be young. He could learn to write if he wanted to, but I suspect his ego gets in the way. If the results are not immediately perfect, he gets frustrated.

So ego is not about thinking you are great, but about assuming you should be able to be great with very little effort. It is the egotist who has a kind of empty self, projecting his insecurities onto other people.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bland and Spicy revisited

Here is a post in which I compared two styles.

Let us now consider the relevance of this ability to the current state of modern pluralistic democracies surrounded by a powerful global marketplace. First of all, we can report that, even if we were just aiming at economic success, leading corporate executives understand very well the importance of creating a corporate culture in which critical voices are not silenced, a culture of both individuality and accountability


Now picture one kind of “bad” student. This child is obsessive, inflexible, a bad listener. Prone to daydreaming, preferring her own company, idiosyncratic in her tastes, she is a solitary, possibly discontented child. In one way, she is a classroom problem, with disorders of attention or attachment. She is also an eccentric; an artist; perhaps a “genius”; in any case, an economic burden, a proto-elitist, with the capacity for generative unhappiness. One might go so far as to call her a natural humanities major.

Notice the difference in the use of adjectives. The second and to my mind better passage uses just as many adjectives, but uses them better. They are unexpected, startling, statistically improbable (generative unhappiness). Nussbaum, the kind of defender the humanities could do without, thinks exclusively in "collocations," so we have "current state," "modern pluralistics democracies," "corporate "culture," "powerful global marketplace," "leading corporate executives," "economic success," or "critical voices."

There is nothing wrong with such collocations, but to use seven of them in two sentences betrays an unhumanistic mind. She is not thinking in and with her prose, but letting the language speak her.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Conventional Wisdom

The perpetually astute Vance Maverick in a comment on this blog compared the belief in the inefficacy of adverbs and adjectives to the conservative belief in "small government." In other words, this belongs to a curious kind of folklore impervious to empirical evidence. There is a kind "folk grammar" pitched together from a little Orwell, a little Elements of Style, a little half-remembered what-my-English-teacher-told-me. This is a folk-grammar not of the folk, but of the highly educated academic or the cranky auto-didact. There's an odd puritanism, too, this idea of being able to do without superfluous verbal ornamentation or foreign loan words. Those long words might confuse people! I'm all for concision and elegance, but I also believe there's room for some baroque exuberance. And there's a kind of confusion between truly excellent writing and the mere avoidance of rookie mistakes like using the passive voice in every sentence as default.

Here is Guy Davenport reviewing a biography of Stephen Crane:
Stephen Crane is an intractable subject because so much of his emotional life is an impenetrable surface. Benfey has hard weather of it with the love affairs, and even with Cora, who remains a blur. Only Conrad’s account of knowing Crane (the preface to Beer’s biography) gives us any sense of what the man was like, and Conrad’s words are so finely nuanced, so ironically reserved, and so obviously shaped for effect, as to be a Conrad story, a kind of “Secret Sharer” in a different key. One hopes that Max Beerbohm was tempted to make a drawing of Conrad telling Crane, all of a long evening, Balzac’s La Comédie humaine. What other writer would have asked to have it told, and what other writer would have obligingly told it?
Davenport is one of my favorite prose stylists; look at the mileage he gets out of three parallel adverb / adjective combinations, or from the echo of intractable / impenetrable. I haven't bolded words like "any" or "other," or the adjective in titles like "secret or "humaine," just the straightforwardly descriptive and restrictive adjectives.

Psychoanalysis and Foucault

Foucault's treatment of psychoanalysis is not particularly sympathetic. The first volume of The History of Sexuality, for example, takes aim at the "repressive hypothesis." This is a pretty direct hit on Freud. Not only to write a history of sexuality without Freud's help, but to begin the whole enterprise by turning Freud on his head. I find whole swaths of Foucault's history rather problematic, but that is for another day.

Anyway, Paul Julian Smith, one of the major Lorca critics I have to tackle in my book, uses both Freud and Foucault. His Foucauldianism lets him not deal with Lorca much as a biographical subject at all, but as an author-function. So far so good. But then psychoanalysis is not attached to any human subject at all: it becomes a free-floating hermeneutic tool. That's great, because it is lame to psychoanalyze Lorca as though he were on the couch a few feet from you. On the other hand, it makes psychoanalysis even more arbitrary than before, because it is not a theory of anyone's mind anymore. What is it? What is it doing?


Where do people without blogs essay their ideas? Or those who use their blogs but don't talk about the ideas they are working on?

Friday, February 22, 2013


Twain, who said "when you catch an adjective, kill it," could not do without them either for more than a sentence. Here are his adjectives and adverbs:
So the longer I went to school the easier it got to be. I was getting sort of used to the widow's ways, too, and they warn't so raspy on me. Living in a house and sleeping in a bed pulled on me pretty tight mostly, but before the cold weather I used to slide out and sleep in the woods sometimes, and so that was a rest to me. I liked the old ways best, but I was getting so I liked the new ones, too, a little bit. The widow said I was coming along slow but sure, and doing very satisfactory. She said she warn't ashamed of me.


“O'Hara's and Ashbery's innovation was to be able to pass with each other from the high to the low, to gather in their net such disparate fascinations as French Surrealist poetry, Hollwood's 'Guilty Pleasures,' Japanese Kabuki and Noh, Schoenberg's twelve-tone compositions, Leger's geometric paintings, Looney Tunes cartoons, and Samuel Beckett's spare prose.”

From Brad Gooch's biography of O'Hara. This was pretty much the origin of what we now call "postmodernism." Frank O"Hara didn't invent it, but he pretty much embodied it in its earliest form (that I know of).

It is not just an interest in popular culture. Everyone like pop culture, after all. It is the ability to shift easily and rapidly between recondite modernism and pop culture. It's not as though the difference is obliterated, either. To be a good postmodernist you have to have modernism under your belt. It's not an anti-elitist position, really. You still have to know your Beckett (or Ashbery). The emphasis usually falls on the greater acceptance of mass culture, but really it is more complicated than that.

The corner of my eye

The other day, sitting at my desk, I glimpsed sight of a book on the bottom shelf of one of my office bookcases. Without knowing what book it was, since it was too far to see, I immediately knew it was a book by Paul Julian Smith, just by the look of it. I didn't even remember owning it, but I took it off the shelf and found that it was Laws of Desire. I found a quote from it for my book.

1st page of bibliography

Antin, David. What it Means to be Avant-Garde. New York: New Directions, 1993.
Auslander, Philip. The New York School Poets as Playwrights: O’Hara, Ashbery, Koch, and Schuyler and the Visual Arts. New York: Peter Lange, 1989.
Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books, 1969.
Bernstein, Charles, ed. Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Binding, Paul. Lorca: The Gay Imagination. London: GMP Publishers, 1985.
Bloom, Harold. The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. Second Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973. 1997.
--- . Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds. New York: Warner Books, 2002.
Brown, Joan L., and Krista Johnson. “Required Reading: The Canon in Spanish and Spanish American literature.” Hispania 81.1 (March 1998): 1-19.
Casado, Miguel. La experiencia de lo extranjero: ensayos sobre poesía. Barcelona: Galaxia Gutenberg / Círculo de Lectores, 2009.
Cernuda, Luis. Pensamiento poético en la lírica inglesa: siglo XIX. Mexico City: Impr. Universitaria, 1958.
--- . La realidad y el deseo. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1964.
Davey, Nicholas. Unquiet Understanding: Gadamer’s Philosophical Hermeneutics. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006.
De Man, Paul. Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971.

I don't know whether this looks like the first page of a bibliography of a book on Lorca. There is only one study of Lorca listed here, and not a very good one. The bibliography is sort of the foundation for the scholarly work. Everything on a list of works cited, that will end up being about 15 pages, is something that I know well, that I've thought about, that I'm responsible for knowing. Looking at someone's bibliography also gives you an intellectual profile, in a way: this is what I have been reading for the past five years while I developed this project. You can tell things by the average date of publication, or whether there is more material in English than in Spanish. I'm sure I'll works by Andrew Anderson as I move forward, so this will not be the definitive first page. It just gives me an idea of where I'm at.

More Adverbs

We know the asinine advice "write with verb and nouns, not adjectives" comes from Strunk and White. Let's see how White writes:
Fern couldn't take her eyes off the tiny pig. "Oh," she whispered. "Oh, look at him! He's absolutely perfect."

She closed the carton carefully. First she kissed her father, then she kissed her mother. Then she opened the lid again, lifted the pig out, and held it against her cheek. At this moment her brother Avery came into the room. Avery was ten. He was heavily armed -- an air rifle in one hand, a wooden dagger in the other.
The adverbs of manner give the spice and emotion to this writing. Fern's attitude toward the pig Wilbur, (absolutely perfect), her loving care of the pig (carefully), the delicious irony of "heavily" armed. The adjectives are also essential here, tiny, wooden, perfect. White's writing is not any worse for not following his own lumpheaded strictures. Nor is this a matter of a "rule" that you have to be an expert, already, to break. You cannot even begin to write well if you deprive yourself of an important tool. This short passage also contains three forms of the verb "to be."

I guess you could ruin the passage by adding a few more adverbs of manner. "she tenderly kissed her father..." But so what? Nobody has ever made the opposite claim, that where adverbs are concerned, the more the merrier.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Oven Bird

Conventional wisdom based on third hand rumors of Strunk and White say that you should write with verbs and nouns, not with adjective and adverbs (well Strunkandwhite does say that!) that you should avoid using the verb "to be" as much as possible. I've bolded all the forms of the verb to be and all the adjectives here. Aside from to be, Frost uses a few other verbs, like hear, make, say, go, come, name, cease, sing know, and frame. He doesn't avoid adjectives, though there aren't adverbs obvious to me at first glance. He uses the verb be exactly six times in a sonnet of 14 lines, and about 11 or twelve adjectives. It depends whether you count nouns modifying other nouns like "midsummer" as adjectives or not. If you read the poem without knowing there was a dumb prejudice against this humble and useful verb, you'd think it wonderful. If you read it with the prejudice in mind, you'd still think it's wonderful and the prejudice stupid. Even if you only count clearly descriptive adjectives there is no sign that the poet was avoiding them, since he can't write four lines in a row without one.

THERE is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.


In what I'm writing today I noticed that I used "I suggest" or "this suggests" quite a bit. This indicates (or suggests) that in this particular piece of writing I want to make suggestions, or recommendations that people think in a certain way, or intuitive sorts of reasonings. Of course, I'll change this so it doesn't become overbearing. I have 7 uses of that or related words in 11 pages, which is entirely too much.


The larger point is to look at the work these "working words" are doing: argue, suggest, examine, exemplify, represent, contend, demonstrate, explore, negotiate, deal with, say, treat, explain, explicate, analyze, enumerate, take into account, think through, account for, and many more... Those are the words that embody (there's another one) the ways in which we represent out intellectual labor to ourselves and others in words. Typically they would be found in sentences where one is attributing an argument (or putting it forth), or explaining what the whole paper is about: "This paper explores the ways in which..." "In this essay I negotiate the conflicting claims of..." "I will suggest that Johnson fails to account for the ways in which Jones delineates the boundaries between..." You'll want to use those words thoughtfully, to avoid the perfunctory tone they can acquire. One tip is to use the one you mean, not some other word that just sounds vaguely academic or academically vague. Another is to bypass signposting in favor of more elegant solutions.

They are very handy when you want to be able to express quickly an idea and make it sound academic-sounding.

Another fragment from the Iowa talk

When I offer value judgments, juicios de valor, about particular poems, musical performances, or paintings, I do so not in order to impose my judgments on you, but rather because my reactions lead me to a certain kind of critical insight that would otherwise be unavailable to me. I’m hoping the insight will still be intellectually stimulating even for those who might disagree with the underlying value judgment.
I think of my aesthetic sensibility as a kind of barometer that I can consult when reaching for other kinds of information. While it is hard for me to imagine that people don't agree with me at all times on every judgment, they might occasionally do so. So that is a useful hedge or bandaid for that problem. You don't have to agree with me, but look at what I discovered by holding that supposition.

Beginning of Iowa Talk

Billy Strayhorn was a collaborator of Duke Ellington, writing compositions identified with the Ellington Orchestra, most famously his theme song “Take the A-Train,” as well as impressionist-sounding instrumental numbers like “Chelsea Bridge” and “Rain Check.” If Ellington is one of the most prominent American composers of the twentieth century, then Strayhorn is as well, since many compositions associated with the better known band leader were actually collaborations between the two men.

After I turned in the final version of my book Apocryphal Lorca to the publishers, I began to prepare to teach a course on jazz for the Honors Program at the University of Kansas. Reading two biographies of Billy Strayhorn, I came across (to my delight and horror) story that should have been included in my book: Strayhorn had set to music texts for a production of Lorca’s Los amores de don Perlimplín y Belisa en su jardín, at the Artist’s Theatre in New York. I was horrified at my discovery, of course, for the simple reason that it was too late to include this information in my book. (I had other jazz references in my book, to Miles Davis and Ralph Ellison, but this anecdote had escaped my attention.) Delighted because this anecdote confirmed many of its central central themes: Strayhorn was an openly gay black man during the exact period at issue in my examination of Lorca’s impact on American culture, the 1950s. I had included sections on gay and African American responses to Lorca, along with two chapters on poets of the New York school of poetry, poets who were also involved in the Artist’s Theatre in which Don Perlimplín was produced. Frank O’Hara, the subject of one of my chapters, had also written a play for this small theater. The production of Don Perlimplín in question featured an all-black cast in 1953. Press reports were few and negative.

The New Historicism has taught us both the value and the limitation of the “suggestive anecdote” as a critical framing device. “Strayhorn’s Lorca” is typical in numerous ways of the American reception of Lorca. The problem is that Strayhorn’s music had very little resonance for the later—or even the contemporaneous—reception of Lorca’s work in the US. The music was mostly forgotten until a portion of it was rescued by a Dutch musicologist and biographer, from whom I learned of it, and recorded the Dutch Jazz Orchestra. It had a escaped the attention of a Lorca scholar with a fairly extensive amateur interest in all things Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.

Despite the obscurity of the anecdote, it does provide confirmation of my contention that Lorca is a kind of multi-cultural hero ...

Pedagogy, A Humble Brag and a Non-Apologetic Apology

I am not a skillful pedagogue. Arrogantly, I think that it is enough that students are exposed to a mind like mine. So the problem is one of making sure they are exposed to it. So I have to very careful to design courses in which I can offer my best self. I have to prepare for each class with enough forethought so that the opportunity for the exposure is there. If I am prepared I don't have to worry once I am in front of the class, because flaws in performance are not particularly fatal as long as I can make 90% of the time extremely meaningful.

One of my flaws is that I come up with new ideas in class, so I can't remember the name of a book, for example. It never occurred to me before that I was going to need to refer to this book in class, of course. I need to refer to it because a question from a student made me make another connection.

I will still stand behind my pedagogy, as imperfect as it is. I am sorry to have to express it as a humble brag, and that my apology is not apologetic enough.

Exemplary Narratives / novelas ejemplares

It's a snow day so I will be blogging from home all day long. I can't go anywhere and won't risk it. My car is stuck so I would be wading through 8 inches of snow and counting.


In theory class yesterday I made a comparison that I don't know is valid, but one that seemed suggestive to me at the time, and still does the next morning. In his article "Theory Choice," a defense of his book TSOSR, Thomas Kuhn points out that famous experiments like Foucault's pendulum have an exemplary status in science pedagogy that they don't necessarily have in scientific discovery or justification. They are taught to students because of their clarity and elegance, but the real history of science is much more messy.

I compared those kind of experiments to the famous stories of literary history, like Rubén Darío's visits to Spain, where he brought modernismo there, or Boscán's suggestion to Garcilaso that they experiment with Italian meters--or Kant's missing his walk after reading Hume, in another context. These are pedagogically striking stories, easy to memorialize and understand. I'm not suggesting that they are false or overly misleading, just that literary history does not develop (mostly) through such memorable episodes. What is misleading is the status given them. They stand out precisely because they are good stories, where messier accounts wouldn't.

Other examples:

The generation of 98 reacting to the Spanish-American war.

Cervantes inventing the modern novel.

Huidobro's visit to Spain bringing the avant-garde with him.

Langston Hughes leaving some poems for Vachel Linsday at a restaurant.

Any story of the "discovery" of hollywood star in a drug store.

Whitman sending his poems to Emerson.

Frank O'Hara meeting Ashbery at Harvard.

Rimbaud running away from home and joining the commune.

Pound editing the Waste Land and offering suggestion for Yeats' poetry to make it more modern.

Since we are in literature, we like these anecdotes because they are really good stories, like those invented by a skillful novelist. It is literary history, history made into a genre of literature.

Maybe I shouldn't even be that suspicious of them. Maybe it does take these striking moments of interruption of the norm to make a literary revolution. So I'm resisting what might be an insight of mine because it reminds me too much of that Marxist voice in the back of my head that says that we are exaggerating the importance of these "exceptional" moments. So I'll present those two perspectives and leave it there.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

the cold and rook-delighting heaven

One idea of poetry is that it lifts you out of ordinary perceptions, with the abruptness of Yeats's "cold and rook-delighting heaven," banishing "every casual thought of that and this." It's got to have that shock to it. But people who don't understand poetry think of that as a kind of aery nothingness, an ethereal kind of concern that doesn't touch them. Then again, some poetry does have that ethereality without the shock, so in that case the poetry skeptic is completely correct to be suspicious. "I too dislike it," responds the poet. In other words, most poetry doesn't seem to live up to that. It doesn't fulfill the function of poetry, but remains simply a stand-in, a place-holder, an alibi, a sorry excuse. This also has to exist, because without it there would be no poetry of the other kind either. It could be a way of lowering the bar and making poetry less scary, although more confusing too.

Of course, I would say that ordinary life is also full of such moments. In other words, those moments of revelation do not reveal a supernatural kind of thing, but life itself in all its awesomeness. You can't just reduce poetry to a Billy Collins triviality, just in the name of making it more accessible to people who don't want that encounter with something more jarring.

When I read Spicer again after a long time, I get that frisson once more.

Master narratives: The Course

This is what I have so far. It still needs a lot of work, but I haven't even looked yet to see when I am giving a seminar next:

The aim of this graduate seminar is to undertake a critical examination of the master narratives of the field of Hispanism itself through a reading of significant primary and secondary sources. Master narratives, in this context, involve overarching historical assumptions about the history, culture, and literature of the Hispanic world, assumptions that shape our research projects. A critical examination entails some degree of skepticism and distance, even when the temptation might be to simply choose the best of these narratives. The point is neither to dismiss these narratives out of hand nor to become blind adherents of any given paradigm, but to examine the ways in which they have given our field its current identity, in ways we should be more aware of than we are. Some of these narratives are cast negatively, taking the form of "Spain never had a genuine X." Many emphasize historical fissures, discontinuities, and the uneven development of modernity. In some cases, a master narrative might be more optimistic, imposing a spurious ideological unity on a more heterogeneous reality. One example is the influential Américo Castro version of Spanish history, "la morada vital," that Carlos Fuentes re-articulates in his popular book El espejo enterrado. The hypothesis of the course is that the master narrative of master narratives can be defined as the "struggle for modernity," in both Spain and Latin America.


Because the topic of the course is the metadiscourse of Hispanism itself, the line between primary and secondary sources will be borrosa. Many of the texts read in class will belong to the genre of the essay, like the "artículos" of Larra, Lorca's lectures, or the prose writings of José Lezama Lima. We will also look at the academic articles included in Mabel Moraña's Ideologies of Hispanism and Epps and Cifuentes' Spain Beyond Spain, and similar reflections by leading scholars in the field. Novels, plays, and books of poetry are also relevant to narratives of Hispanism.

The readings, roughly, will fall into three equally weighted categories: (1) those concerned primarily with peninsular Spain, from Larra to Subirats, passing through Menéndez Pelayo, Menéndez Pidal, the generation of 1898, Américo Castro, Lorca, Valente, Goytisolo, and Eduardo Subirats. (2) Narratives of the Americanness of Latin American Literature and the formation of national identity. José Martí, Borges, Lezama Lima, Doris Sommer.(3) Narratives that attempt to bridge the gap between the two continents, creating transatlantic accounts of Hispanic culture.

Formalism [lecture notes]

Even the study of prosody needs to take into account the meaning of words. You wouldn't study prosody of a language you didn't know. You could, but you would be doing linguistics and not literature. To learn how Mallarmé empties language of meaning, you have to learn French first. Where learning French means learning signs in French, the combination of signifiers and signifieds. It follows that formalism and structuralism, and various kinds of "pure poetry," entail a kind of shift of emphasis toward the signifier, but the sign is still that bond between signifier and signified, even when fractured. It's a kind of pull in one direction, but a pull effected by semantic means. Usually you know that the poem aims to be autonomous from the world because the words of the poem are telling you that, through the meaning of those words, just like you know that a poem doesn't care about its own form because the words are telling you "I'm not one of those poems about roses and stuff like that, no, I am a poem meant to change the world." That poem could be just as beautiful, formally, as a poem that affects to turn its back on worldliness.

Even with prosody, it is the meaning of the words that are telling you how they are meant to sound. Sound doesn't imitate sense, rather sense tell you how to interpret sound. Formalism does lead back to a kind of motivated sign. Even in structuralism, there is a return of motivation (in Benveniste and Genette, for example).

Lévi-Strauss says that myth is translatable, in the way that poetry is not. It survives bad translation, because the structures are what matters, not intimate union between signifier and signified.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


I am having a hard time separating my time between service, teaching, and research in order to track my hours efficiently. Service tends to be writing an email or two in short bursts. It is more distraction than dedicated time. I am typically in the office for extended stretches doing a variety of things. I might suddenly remember something and interrupt myself. I don't mind, usually, but for the fact that then I don't know how much time things really take any more. Today I started an MLA abstract, finished reading a book by Ortega and put in one quote for my chapter from that, read some theory for tomorrow, met some students to help prepare for the MA exam, maintained some correspondence about lectures I am organizing, or giving, went through some boxes of books in my office--among other things. This in a 9-3 day, though I'm sure I'll do more reading at home.

Ortega v. Lorca

If you see Ortega as the main Spanish modernist, you will reach certain conclusions. If you filter your reading of Spanish modernist literature through Ortega.

If you see Lorca as the main Spanish modernist, you will come to other conclusions. If you don't filter your reading of Lorca through Ortega, especially.

At the same time, you should at least consider the argument for filtering his work through that of an Orteguian sociology of elites and masses. Then reject it.

You could almost write an article called "Ortega or Lorca: Whose Modernism?" After the model of Perloff's "Pound or Stevens: Whose Epoch?" In fact, this article just formed itself in my mind.


A colleague retiring soon left some books out on the table for people who wanted them. I picked up España invertebrada yesterday afternoon as I left work because I need to refresh my memory about discourses of Hispanic exceptionalism. So far, Ortega y Gasset has defended imperialism, militarism, and Castilian separatism. He condemns the Spanish military, but only because they have no wars to fight. He is scornful of Catalans, Basques, and Galicians. And Andalusians. Looking ahead to the second part, which I haven't read yet, it looks like he is going to develop the elitism that would later lead to La rebelión de las masas. Why is Ortega considered a liberal? I hate not only his ideas, but his entire rhetorical style. He is pompous and overbearing, even in moments of seeming humility.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Eye vs. eyes

The linguist John Sinclair points out that the usage of eye vs. eyes does not overlap very much. In other words, the plural for the eyes in the body, but the singular is rarely one eye, but is used rather in a series of conventional phrases:

an eye for an eye
an eye for detail
with an eye toward ...
a keen eye
a good eye
keep your eye on the ball


So to understand eye as merely the singular form of the noun eyes is to misunderstand basic Engish usage. When the singular eye is used for the anatomical eye, then it is usually in the context of disability or injury.

This kind of linguistic fact does not come out in dictionaries, typically, but rather through the study of large corpora of actual linguistic usage.

Monday Breakdown

1 hour teaching prep

1:20 meeting (service)

40 minutes teaching prep

1:15 class

15 minutes meeting with student

1 hour: lunch with chair and working on service issues

(half an hour of research mixed in there at odd moments)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

More Spicer

So I have a new idea to introduce a separate brief section, really only four paragraphs or so, into Chapter 1 that deals with Spicer's interpretation of the duende. Interestingly, he doesn't use the word duende, because it hadn't yet become a cliché. Yet his rhetoric of ghosts and dictation pull in that direction. I I can look at his letters to Lorca, instead of merely analyzing his apocryphal translations, as I did in Apocryphal Lorca. It is in these letters that the dialogue with Lorca's poetics takes place, I can argue. Then I can compare that kind of poetics with what Valente and Gamoneda do.

That was my new idea of the day.


I ended up working a lot more than three hours for Friday, Sat. and Sun, so my total is inching up to about 50 for the week. Fifty hours is 7.1428... (let's say nine minutes), 7 times a week. It is helpful to know there are 168 hours in a week. Sleeping twelve hours a night gives you 112 waking hours. So 56 hours means working half the time you are awake. I think 50 is about my maximum, for a week we have a job candidate.


My other idea was to look a little more closely at narratives of Spanish romanticism from Flitter to Silver. I just read a harsh but convincing review of Flitter's book by Noel Valis. It is interesting to see how the arguments about the ideology and authenticity of Spanish romanticism are going to play into my book.


There is a way of writing that I sometimes practice. I don't know a lot about something so I write only a paragraph about it as a kind of placeholder. Then I do research and write five paragraphs instead. But then I end up condensing that material back into one or two paragraphs that are much better-researched than that placeholder paragraph was. So when you tell a student to write 10 pages? Is it 10 pages of place holding, of padded research, or of condensed research and thought?

Spicer writes some letters to Lorca

Here's one that bears repeating. Might be an epigraph to my book:

In my last letter I spoke of the tradition. The fools that read these letters will think by this we mean what tradition seems to have meant lately—an historical patchwork (whether made up of Elizabethan quotations, guide books of the poet’s home town, or obscure bits of magic published by Pantheon) which is used to cover up the nakedness of the bare word. Tradition means much more than that. It means generations of different poets in different countries patiently telling the same story, writing the same poem, gaining and losing something with each transformation—but, of course, never really losing anything.
And another one:
Dear Lorca,

When I translate one of your poems and I come across words I do not understand, I always guess at their meanings. I am inevitably right. A really perfect poem (no one yet has written one) could be perfectly translated by a person who did not know one word of the language it was written in. A really perfect poem has an infinitely small vocabulary.

It is very difficult. We want to transfer the immediate object, the immediate emotion to the poem - and yet the immediate always has hundreds of its own words clinging to it, short-leved and tenacious as barnacles. And it is wrong to scrape them off and substitute others. A poet is a time mechanic not an embalmer. The words around the immediate shrivel and decay like flesh around the body. No mummy-sheet of tradition can be used to stop the process. Objects, words must be led across time not preserved against it.

I yell "Shit" down a cliff at the ocean. Even in my lifetime the immediacy of that word will fad. It will be dead as "Alas." But if I put the real cliff and the real ocean into the poem, the word "Shit" will ride along with them, travel the time-machine until cliffs and oceans disappear.

Here's another one:

I would like to make poems out of real objects. The lemon to be a lemon that the reader could cut or squeeze or taste--a real lemon like a newspaper in a collage is a real newspaper. I would like the moon in my poems to be a real moon, one which could be suddenly covered with a cloud that has nothing to do with the poem--a moon utterly independent of images. The imagination pictures the real. I would like to point to the real, disclose it, to make a poem that has no sound in it but the pointing of a finger.

We have both tried to be independent of images (you from he start and I only when I grew old enough to tire of trying to make things connect), to make things visible rather than to make pictures of them (phantasia non imaginari). How easy it is in erotic musings or in the truer imagination of a dream to invent a beautiful boy. How difficult to take a boy in a blue bathing suit that I have watched as casually as a tree and to make him visible in a poem as a tree is visible, not as an image or a picture but as something alive--caught forever in the structure of words. Live moons, live lemons, live boys in bathing suits. The poem is a collage of the real.

But things decay, reason argues. Real things become garbage. The piece of lemon you shellac to the canvas begins to develop a mold, the newspaper tells of incredibly ancient events in forgotten slang, the boy becomes a grandfather. Yes, but the garbage of the real still reaches out into the current world making its objects, in turn, visible--lemon calls to lemon, newspaper to newspaper, boy to boy. As things decay they bring their equivalents into being.

Things do not connect; they correspond. That is what makes it possible for a poet to translate real objects, to bring them across language as easily as he can bring them across time. That tree you saw in Spain is a tree I could never have seen in California, that lemon has a different smell and a different taste, BUT the answer is this--every place and every time has a real object to co-respond with your real object--that lemon may become this lemon, or it may even become this piece of seaweed, or this particular color of gray in this ocean. One does not need to imagine that lemon; one needs to discover it.

The Big Easy

I remembered in the film The Big Easy a particular scene where the detective goes to an Aikido studio in New Orleans and gets repeatedly thrown around by a woman. The only problem is that I saw the film yesterday again and this scene appears nowhere in the entire movie. I kept waiting for it and about 15 minutes from the end I reconciled myself to the fact that this scene must have been in another movie.

Just so...

Why I Don't Work on Fiction

I believe narrative prose fiction has become a default mode for the academic study of literature, especially study focussed on the contemporary period. When I first started, I was interested in contemporary literature. It seemed dumb to me not to be interested in one's own time. It would be like thinking of a contemporary of Cervantes who was indifferent to Cervantes and only wanted to read Berceo. That still seems dumb to me, and I do have inquietudes contemporáneas too. Yet I also feel the need for a historical dimension to my thought. To specialize only in the last 10 years seems to be a mistake. I remember a few jobs candidates from a few years ago whose historical consciousness of Latin American lit did not extend as far back as Puig. The 70s were ancient history. Or maybe I'm just too old now.

Anyway, there is nothing wrong with studying fiction, but I don't like seeing it as the default, because from the historical point of view it only becomes that in the 19th century. It is a recent form, and would not have been seen as dominant until the realist movement at the earliest. After that, the novel bifurcated into modernist novels, which are really more poetic in character (Woolf, Joyce, or Faulkner), and the persistence of a realist mode. Most contemporary novels that people read today are 19th century realist novels, whether written in the 19th, 20th, or 21st centuries.

Since more people study fiction than anything else, I don't believe that I have to do so also. I wouldn't be necessarily better at it than other capable scholars and critics, and I am not particularly interested in narrative realism or "representations" of things. I only really like texts that are modernist or avant-garde in some way. The fact that fewer people are interested in poetry means that poetry is probably more interesting. Poetry is a genre where, if you are interested in it at all, you will become friends with the poets. I know people like David Shapiro, Ken Irby, and Kasey Mohammad personally. Or Olvido García Valdés and Eduardo Milán. In narrative I would just be one more above average scholar. In poetry I can be distinctively myself.

With the Boom in Latin American literature it seemed that narrative had become more interesting than poetry. The creative energy of modernist poetry had poured into prose fiction. In contrast, a lot of Latin American poetry was stuck in a conversational "anti-poetic" mode. Nicanor Parra's anti-poetry is parasitic on poetry poetry. In other words, it came as a refreshing deflation of the grandiloquence of Neruda, but once it became a norm it fell flat (I am borrowing this argument from Milán). So I think I could have been a Boom specialist, although then most Latin Americanists I know think that is kind of passé now. I think I could be happy reading novels from Rulfo to Puig, who are more interesting to me that Oscar Hahn or many other Latin American poets.

Peninsular narrative is not that great after Clarín. Benet and Goytisolo cannot match up to their Spanish American counterparts, and a lot of novels written in flat prose telling very ordinary stories just bore the bejeezus out of me. I must don't think all the novelists whose names begin with M are very interesting. (Merino, Millás, Marías, etc...). There isn't a great Spanish modernist novelist. Miró should be interesting to me, but I can't imagine devoting my time to him.

Poets (or at least the ones I happen to study) do not see fictionality as a major component of their writing. They are not creating alternative realities, but are interested in this reality, reality itself. You don't have to go through the wardrobe because Narnia is in the here and now. That is why my religion is the here-and-now, not some magical alternative that comes later and is supposed to make everything better.

Great poetry is hardly even metaphorical. The lemons are real ones, as Spicer says in After Lorca. Just like Tapies's mud is real mud, not a painting of mud. Now I realize I have written this post and come up with a new idea about Lorca, without even meaning to go there.

So that is why I don't do fiction so much. I have no desire to convince other people not to write on fiction. If you don't get why poetry is where it's really at, I cannot convince you. Nothing is worse than someone writing about poetry who doesn't really get it.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Today I was much more relaxed (for personal reasons we won't get into) and I went to coffee shop without my computer. I felt so good I planned tomorrow's work in the office, and saw how I could get even more done. The solutions to my scheduling snafus suggested themselves to me of their own accord. I went home and even got some unplanned writing done. Being relaxed is a much more efficient way of getting things done.

Psychoanalysis / Henry James / Deconstruction / Postmodernism / Religion

I am interested in missed encounters, misrecognitions, and the narcissism of small differences. All the related phenomena in which people don't notice obvious connections between similar things, or misunderstand what things are about in ways fairly obvious to anyone else. Lack of self-awareness in otherwise very self-aware people. Or inexplicable differences in the way two people similarly situated view the same thing. I don't know what to call this complex of phenomena. When I try to name it, I can only come up with words like "psychoanalysis," or "Henry James." It could be a deconstructive viewpoint.


Because, really, people who denounce postmodernism as being some facile evasion of a super obvious notion of the truth. Well, these people do not realize that reality is like that. All these fictions that surround us. All the cognitive dissonance. The most vociferous in denouncing postmodern relativism are typically those who buy into the most bizarre fictional narratives, like religions, for example. I don't mean to demean religion or any particular versions of it. My test is a fairly straightforward one. Think of the most bizarre religious cult possible, one that to anyone who doesn't belong to it would be very silly. Now your own religious belief system probably looks exactly like that anyone who doesn't actually hold it. If it is large and mainstream and prestigious, then people will generally not call it silly any more, but that's a sociological fact. If you are at all self-aware as a religious person you will be a relativist yourself, realizing that the whole thing is a useful fiction, and not really insisting on the silly parts at all. In fact, earnest religious moderates are always telling me that the silly parts are silly and that nobody believes them any more.


A lot of graduate students who just kind of drifted into graduate study and are not particularly independent in their thinking do a default field. The default field is usually narrative with a few films mixed in, contemporary, and topical. Representations of x in novels and films in two South American countries (or in Spain). X could be neoliberalism or dictatorship or narco-trafficking or whatever else is topical right now. So it's kind of a sociological approach in which novels (or films) represent mimetically a social reality of the day. There is not a lot of historical depth. The use of theory can also be rather instrumentalist.

I'm not saying this is all bad. It does explain why I don't direct more dissertations, though. I'm happy to be a reader on them, but they don't correspond to my vision of literary research in my field.


Research is the general name for what we do, and also the name for a particular part of what we do. Research at the most literal level means gathering information from sources, as in "library research" or "archival research."

The rest of what we do is think, interpret, theorize, write, and edit. There are people who are good at tracking things down but not good at thinking or writing. One person I know is very good at research (tracking things down) and also very good at writing, but he is not a particularly good thinker or interpreter. Another person I know is a good thinker, but not a good writer, and not very handy in the archives either. I am not as good an archival researcher, but am very good at thinking, interpreting, and writing. The three of us together are all top scholars in 20th century Spanish literature, so it is possible to get ahead without being excellent in all three dimensions: finding things out / thinking through problems and interpreting texts / writing your books and articles.

L'esprit de l'escalier

In a dissertation defense once, a student said her aim was to give voice to the indigenous poets that she was studying. I should have said, no, these poets already have a voice, your aim is to represent their voices to an academic audience, to show how they can be studied in that context. Still a worthy aim.

Friday, February 15, 2013


Ronald Dworkin has died. I respected him, but disagreed, respectfully of course, with his denunciation of Citizen's United. This is tricky, because I am political liberal, and the decision of the SCOTUS in the case was by the conservative. I ought to be against the decision, but I am not. I view it as a straightforward First Amendment case. I'm no free speech absolutist, but I think Citizen's United is correctly decided from a constitutional perspective. Of course, what do I know? I'm no constitutional scholar.

Dworkin writes:
Decisions on these and a hundred other issues require interpretation and if any justice’s interpretation is not to be arbitrary or purely partisan, it must be guided by principle—by some theory of why speech deserves exemption from government regulation in principle. Otherwise the Constitution’s language becomes only a meaningless mantra to be incanted whenever a judge wants for any reason to protect some form of communication.
So to protect free speech, the burden is on the judge to have a particular theory about why particular speech "deserves exemption" from the government? I think the burden is on the government to prove that it has the right to regulate speech. The idea of judges running around arbitrarily preventing the govt. from protecting our speech is just bizarre. Of all speech issues, moreover, the most protected is political speech. Thus there is an extra special burden put on restrictions of political speech.

Opponents of this decision often rely on the idea that corporations are not people. So a corporation or a union should have no rights. Yet surely people have a right to form associations (like unions or non-profit corporations) in order to put forward certain views? The New York Times is a corporation, and should have 1st Amendment rights.

The other argument I hear is that this decision is based on the fallacy that "speech is money" or "money is speech." The idea is that the govt. has a right to regulate money spent, and that regulating money is not automatically regulating speech. But I don't think that this argument holds water. The only purpose of regulating money, in this case, was to restrict the ability of a group to get a message out. By saying you can't spend money to get the message out, you are effectively saying you can't get the message out at all. Once again, the so-called "conservative" majority on the court saw this issue very clearly. Dworkin does not seem to see this basic issue here at all.

Dworkin argues for the necessity of a well-informed electorate. That's a great ideal. The idea is that if too much money from a certain source or sources is allowed (or too much speech?) then the electorate will be less informed. The problem here with his argument is that even partisan speech that leads to ignorance is constitutionally protected. You can't just rig the system for an ideal result.

He also argues that you just sweep away rights because the vehicle people choose to express them is a corporate entity.
Kennedy tried to appeal to this understanding of the First Amendment to justify free speech for corporations. “By taking the right to speak from some and giving it to others,” he stated, “the Government deprives the disadvantaged person or class of the right to use speech to strive to establish worth, standing, and respect for the speaker’s voice.” But this is bizarre. The interests the First Amendment protects, on this second theory, are only the moral interests of individuals who would suffer frustration and indignity if they were censored. Only real human beings can have those emotions or suffer those insults. Corporations, which are only artificial legal inventions, cannot. The right to vote is surely at least as important a badge of equal citizenship as the right to speak, but not even the conservative justices have suggested that every corporation should have a ballot.
This reasoning seems bizarre to me. (Dworkin's, not Kennedy's). First of all, speech is not like a ballot. I can speak as much as I want, but I only get to vote once. Even if every fortune 500 company had a ballot, that would be only 500 votes and would have no effect at all. If people want to put their money together in a way to organize themselves financially to have "more speech," I cannot see why the govt. has the right to stop that. A liberal billionaire could have a corporation that promotes liberalism or even Marxism.

My view is that the first amendment protects speech and the press generally. It applies to me if I write a poem without any ostensible political content at all, or a political protest poem. You shouldn't have to justify on a case by case basis why the govt shouldn't regulate any particular kind of speech. So I don't need a theory to say I can write this poem with no fear of censorhip, or spend money to self-publish it a los cuatro vientos, even setting up a corporation to do so. By looking at several narrow theories of why we need the 1st amendment, Dworkin misses the larger picture that no censorship should be the default position. In other words, the span of the amendment is larger than any particular justification or set of justifications that explains why we need it.

Whenever I make this kind of argument, I feel dumb, because it seems so obvious to me that I am sure I must be missing something that all good liberals like me ought to see.

Here is one liberal who agrees with me. And another.

Opening Paragraphs

I looked at my opening paragraphs of 4 out of 5 Chapters, my introduction, and my preface. (I didn't write one yet for one of the chapters.) I am very happy and I don't think it's just because of the pretty Baskerville font. I really think (right now) that they are well written and provide a good frame from which to hang the book. These six paragraphs. If I can be happy with seven paragraphs then I will be happy with the project as it stands.

My goal for end of Feb. is to finish the introduction and 1st chapter, complete with all notes and references. Those are three beginnings: preface, intro, and chapter 1. The main work now is tracking down every last quote with a page number, putting every source quoted in the bibliography, for at least that part of the book, as I develop ideas for chapter 2.


Mayhew is almost a caricature.

I remember thinking

I could teach Lorca but not work on him. He was too problematical and confusing. He was a problem that I couldn't get a handle on. Then I did work on him, with an unpublished paper on the Ode to Whitman, which will now be the core of a chapter once I reconstruct my argument. Then I gave a conference paper on Yerma once.

Then, finally, after many years, I decided that I would work on Lorca, but only through the medium of American poetry and culture. So I was evading the issue. Now I am seeming to confront it head on, but still not analyzing too many Lorca poems. Maybe at some point I will be a good Lorquista.

I want to create Lorca in a certain idealized way. I don't want to be too tied down by other people's preconception, though I seem quite attached to my own. In order to keep my Lorca purified, I have to represent him in a certain way as unrepresentable. The duende becomes an allegory of the unrepresentable itself in chapter 1, but then I go back and read it as a narrative of cultural exceptionalism in chapter 2, deliberately bracketing some of the complexities of the text in order to do so.

I think Paul de Man does make sense: a general theory of literature is often at odds with the results of this theory when applied to literature itself. This is the thesis of Blindness and Insight. He demonstrates this with varying degree of felicity in the essays of the book, but I'm not interested here in his examples but in the more general principle: I might think I'm doing one thing, but really I'm doing something else. Not only that, but that something else should be more interesting than what I think I'm doing.

Poetics of Self Consciousness

A guy wrote a book recently called Lorca, the poetics of self consciousness. It is a very good book, but I don't recognize it as being about the poetics of self consciousness. I wrote a book in 1994 called the poetics of self consciousness, twentieth century spanish poetry, where I didn't talk at all about Lorca. I just couldn't deal with Lorca at this point in my development as a scholar, and with the theoretical framework I was using. I should have, but I didn't. The newish book on Lorca by this other good scholar doesn't cite my book with a quite similar title. He shouldn't, maybe, because I don't deal with Lorca.

So we have a series of interesting méconnaissances. I am fascinated by such moments.

*For some reason I can't see what the other scholar as doing as being about poetic self-consciousness, as I understand it. I recognize that the book is well-researched and has interesting things to say about Lorca's poetry, but it doesn't seem to get at what I would say about Lorca and his poetics. That's good, because he hasn't written my new book about Lorca. I feel ungenerous in not wanting to admit that his understanding of the words of his own title might be perfectly valid. I cannot be the one to decide this question one way or another, because I am an interested party.

*He could have at least nodded in my direction, since he used my title for a book in my field, I feel. I felt kind of a frisson of non-recognition when I first saw the title. Yet I also feel that I shouldn't have written a book on several Spanish poets without putting Lorca in, so I have to forgive him for borrowing my title without realizing it. I have a hard time forgiving myself.

*And if he had nodded in my direction, he could have noted how I didn't include Lorca and should have, and explained why his particular understanding of the words the, poetics, of, and self consciousness differ from Mayhew's. Clearly they do, because Mayhew doesn't quite recognize how this other guy understands this language.

*So is my real issue with my 34-year old self who published this book? Is it with my own ego who would have liked to be mentioned? I always feel I got away with something by not including Lorca in a book that should have, and nobody ever called me out on that. I had a chapter on fucking Jorge Guillén, a poet I don't even like. I should have written an article on Lorca for PMLA, not him.

*On the hand, I had to work up to doing Lorca. I was simply not ready when I was 30-33 and working on this other book. I wasn't a mature enough scholar yet. Much better to publish it when I was 48. Which I did. I couldn't have written what Lorca knew until I had written apocryphal Lorca, so I certainly couldn't have done what Lorca knew before I wrote the poetics of self consciousness. Lorca would have taken over the book.

*So I can add a nice little palinode to my book, explaining why I failed to recognize Lorca's self-conscious poetics when I wasn't a mature scholar.

*I published two books before I was 35. So my scholarship was always ahead of my maturity. My mind, my critical acuity and such, was way in advance of my erudition. It still is, maybe. When I look at what I did with Claudio, in my first book, I have to say that I was smarter then than now, in some ways. Working out that theory for myself. But now I am really smarter, in fact, because I still know what I knew then, only more so.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


After a job candidate talk yesterday, I asked a question. From this question and the job candidate's talk, my colleague Vicky U arrived at the topic what she said will be her last seminar at KU: avant-garde and the city in Latin American Literature. That was kind of a cool thing to have happen. I do try to ask really good questions after a talk.

Spanish poet...

"Spanish poet Rubén Darío..." (from p. 70 of Peter Nichols's Modernisms: A Literary Guide.) I can't get to exercised, because anyone can make a mistake. I once identified the Beloit Poetry Journal as the Beloit Poetry Review, or vice-versa. (I don't remember what the correct version is.) We are fallible as scholars. Still, I can use this to point out that Comp. Lit. type scholars of modernism don't necessary have the Hispanic world in their sights.


Ok, so I have 9, 7, and 10 hour days this week. Let's see how Th will stack up.

8-9. Research and writing at home.

10-11. More of the same. Some blogging.

That's three hours.

11:45-2. Lunch with candidate, misc. / meet with candidate. two more hours.

2-2:30. Lorca

4-5: Candidate's talk.

So I will do a 6-hour day today.

So: 9 / 7 / 10 / 6 1/2 = 32 1/2. I will probably work an average of three hours a day on Friday, Sat, Sunday, for a grand total of 41.5. With a time range between 3 and 10 hours a day.

I will have gotten a lot of writing done, fulfilled my service as member of lecture and graduate committees, taking my responsibility seriously to evaluate job candidates; taught my theory very well; graded a full set of undergraduate papers and taught that class well too. So, yes, I think 40 hours is about right. The theory course is three hours, and takes more than three hours to prepare, even if I am teaching texts I have taught before.


Every day we get a KU today email, and I think another one too, of KU news. Then there are other messages from the provost or chancellor of absolutely no content except the soothing but not really soothing sort of "we have a mission and are trying to be excellent." We cannot block those. Multiply that by every working day, and every employee of the university. Even if it only takes a three second to see what the email is, evaluate whether it is important, and delete it. So that is hours and hours of time over the course of a year. Now divide those hours by the average hourly rate. The emails seem relatively inexpensive to send. Just the salary of the person who compiles them every day and some overhead costs. But the cost of reading them is enormous. Also, it is not cost free from an informational perspective, since any really vital information will be lost in the swill of mere information.

What do you compare?

This question is inevitable if one's major or PhD area is Comparative Literature. It sounds stupid to me when I hear it, but every person I've ever met who isn't an academic studying literature has asked me that question. What I compare are modernist poetics. Even though only one of my four books is a Comp Lit book, I still am a Comparatist, in my self definition.

To be that, you have to actually master a particular field. In my case, I am a Hispanist, and have only worked in Spanish depts, though my dream job, of course, is professor of comparative poetics and percussion. If I weren't a legit Hispanist I wouldn't be a good comparatist either. I hate comparatists who don't master any of their fields well enough.

You also have to master at least one other field. In my case, that is the literature of my own nation. So I could be an Americanist teaching courses in modern American poetry tomorrow, without having to retrain myself. I know Donne and Blake too, and some Shakespeare. I despise comparatists who can't hold their own in second field. I don't mean just knowing it at the wikipedia level, but being able to have actual ideas based on a specialist knowledge.

Thirdly, you have to have reading knowledge of some other traditions. I know French pretty well and can read novels and poetry and criticism in that language. A lot of Hispanists have really good French, but the reverse is more rare. I couldn't be French professor, though. I can read novels in Italian and Portuguese too. So maybe I am a romance philologist, though not a particularly erudite one. I might be as close at it comes for 2013.

Fourthly, you have to know something about literatures you don't read in the original. I know about Cavafy and Basho, or the history of translation of Chinese poetry into English. Y un largo etcétera...

The scholarly base for a comparatist should also include some intellectual history and philosophy. You should be able to teach Western Civilization, or comparative religion at a basic level, with a few weeks of prep time. You need some literary theory too.

So now on a chapter about Lorca's poetics of cultural exceptionalism, all this comes into view. It is handy, in the Heideggerian sense. I can talk about Cavafy and Barthes and Pessoa intelligently enough to make some comparisons. There's a depth there, one would hope, in that I'm not just looking up a Greek poet I just heard about the day before yesterday and doing some lame-assed "comparison."

Ironically, I might seem less qualified for comp lit type jobs than someone who "compares" more but doesn't have quite the depth of reading.


I am not a good mechanic. In fact, I am far from even aspiring to mere competence. I can hardly do anything. Yet I read once in a book on car maintenance about the problem of getting a tight bolt or nut or something loose. The problem is that there is a little tiny thing that you have to get loose. There is a lack of proportion between the smallness of the object and the largeness of your body. It might be in an awkward place. You might have strong muscles that cannot be applied elegantly to the particular mechanical problem. The trick is to be able to channel the entire strength of your body (or enough of it) toward that particular task. The shoulder, for example, is stronger than the wrist. The entire turning motion of the body is stronger than the mere shoulder. Think of throwing a ball using just the wrist, the elbow and the wrist, the shoulder the elbow and the wrist, the legs the hips the shoulder the elbow and the wrist... In the same way, if someone grabs your wrist, do not worry about the wrist and the strength of the grip holding you, relax your wrist completely and simply step back and pivot with full weight of the body. (Or so I'm told. Please don't take mechanical, ball-throwing, or martial arts advice from me.)

Just so in scholarship, it is helpful to address a seemingly small but difficult task by marshaling the entire strength of the mind. If you direct your whole effort toward something, it becomes much easier. Things get inordinately hard when you want them to be too easy and you get impatient. Try to work on one paragraph or knotty sentence at a time, slowing yourself down. The effect will be that it becomes easier and hence faster in the long run. Solve one small problem at a time.

A coupla paragraphs from chapter 2

The German singer Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who represents the conventionality of the pheno-song, plays the straw man in Barthes's argument. The contrast between the two singers is also a contrast between two national cultures (French and German) with their two genres of vocal music (mélodie and Lied), and perhaps between two generations of singers: Panzéra was born in 1896 and “FD,” as Barthes calls him, in 1925. His use of a German singer as bête noire is significant, since he is making an argument specific to French language and culture rather than proposing a universal aesthetic principle. Since Barthes is proposing an aesthetic criterion intimately connect to his own libidinal relation to the French language, the concept of the grain is untranslatable, untransferable to other cultural contexts. It also draws upon hoary romantic notions of national essences, creating a potent mixture of personal idiosyncracy and cultural exceptionalism similar to that of Lorca’s. Barthes’s personal response to Panzéra, however, also invites comparative and universalizing gestures. Translated into English, and read by many who have never heard a recording by the Swiss baritone, Barthes’s essay acquires other meanings untethered from his libininal response to this music.

“The Grain of the Voice” is one of the few essays that Barthes dedicated to lyric poetry, but it is “about” poetry only in a very specific sense: the genre of the mélodie, exemplified by composers like Debussy, Ravel, Duparc, and Fauré, consists primarily of settings of French romantic and symbolist poets like Hugo, Baudelaire, and Verlaine. The words whose phonology Barthes savored in Panzéra’s performances, then, were those of this canonical French lyric poetry. He had an intimate connection to this poetic tradition, experienced through a particular style of performance to which he felt a personal attachment.

Marjorie Perloff notes an oversight in Jonathan Culler’s explanation for Barthes’s habitual neglect of lyric poetry. Culler had argued that Barthes is suspicious of poetry because of its identification with “plenitude” (Perloff, Poetic License 17). Perloff suggests that we look for the French theorist’s engagement with the “poetic” elsewhere: “not in the conventionally isolated lyric poem, so dear to the Romantics and Symbolists, but in texts not immediately recognized as poetry”(ibid. 18). This is a keen observation, but both Perloff and Culler are perhaps forgetting a peculiarly regressive or sentimental aspect of Barthes’s sensibility, one evidenced in his love of the mélodie and other late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century pleasures. This facet of Barthes’s work, of course, becomes increasingly strong in the final phase of his career.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


What Lorca Knew: Fragments of a Late Modernity















Now my major task is to get my anxiety under control. But the problem is that I still respond to every other situation in the same way. I am stuck in the anxious mode, no matter what I am doing. Even after the specific stimulus that was causing me anxiety disappears, the physiological symptoms of anxiety remain, so resolving particular problems does very little good. I am least anxious when writing my book and teaching class. So once again, the work is a salvation of a sort. Preparing to teach makes me anxious. I was anxious at swing dancing club yesterday, though doing the steps made me less anxious. I don't seem able to make the transition from learning the steps to actually dancing. I cannot give myself up the the rhythm.

I am nervous doing errands: can I get everything done on time? Anxiety can feed procrastination, and vice-versa. Sometimes I try to get everything done as quickly as possible, as though a given task were something almost impossible to complete when in reality I have plenty of time. In this way I distort my own perceptions of time and make myself less efficient.

I can appear to be highly functioning. I am, but at what cost?

I think I need the following:

exercise at least 3 times a week

dance, play drums, or sing every day

meditate at least 3 times a week

continue to work on new duplex: I got a welcome mat yesterday and hung a picture. Home has to be a place I can relax

declutter office, make it a more relaxing work environment

The Return of Motivation

Saussure (not "de Saussure," idiot theory anthologist) defined the sign as arbitrary, yet a significant part of structuralist theory explores the opposite perspective: Benveniste's "The Nature of the Linguistic Sign" and possibly his work on Baudelaire, Genette's Mimologiques... This is the return of the repressed, the repressed being the idea of the motivated sign. Literature itself is based on the ideas that literary forms, the particular way in which something is expressed, are not arbitrary. Structuralism can only function as a method of analysis by overturning Saussure's most basic principle.

Profanity is Deictic

In reference to Benveniste's "The Nature of the Linguistic Sign." The use of taboo words of any sort expresses the attitude of the speaker, the "I" of the sentence, whether or not this I speaks in 1st person. To exclaim "¡madre de dios!" or "joder, macho" is to talk about one's self, to situate one's self deictically. Benveniste does not mention "swear words" in his essay, but they illustrate his point. Another class of profanity is directed directly at a you.

Thus I link this morning's class to this afternoon's.


I will just count today as 9-7, or 10 hours. I got here at 8, but first conducted personal business.

So that is 9 hours for Monday, 7 for Tuesday, and 10 for Wed.

Th. will be meeting and lunch with a job candidate, and the candidate's talk, plus whatever else I can get done. Friday I have free from obligations, so I will do more theory reading, etc...

I will come up with a total for Monday - Sunday, without breaking it up into teaching, research service. I'll try to do that next week.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mere Competence

Here is what I came up with with the search mere competence on my blog.

The idea is a very simple one. You stand out just by being competent, because you can't take that for granted in the least. If you do the high school stuff, like marshal good evidence for a meaningful, well-articulated thesis, you will publish articles. I review articles all the time that shouldn't have even been sent to a journal at all. Imagine an article that doesn't really have a point to it, is just a bunch of information strung together. These are by people with PhDs, who know a lot of shit about their field, but they don't know how to write an article yet. So I am overjoyed when I get something competent, that I can work with to get to the level of being publishable in a revise-and-resubmit.

You don't have to compete with people to be competent, because those who aren't aren't even worth bothering with.

Once you are competent, then you are free to make your work even better, because who wants to be merely competent. I don't happen to think Helen Vendler is brilliant. What she does is look at some poems and ask, what are they doing? She writes well and has made a career out of having some actual ideas about poets, what makes them distinctively themselves. She is not theoretically informed; basically, a New Critic. Yet she has risen to the top of her field with traditional style and theme criticism on canonical authors.


Put another way, being competent means you are doing what you are supposed to be, on the positive side of the ledger. Once you are at that level, it is hard to be merely competent because it is extremely dull. That is where the fun really starts, then.

Basbøll Hits Home Run

Proving you can mitigate confusion in the minds of lay readers is not the purpose of grad school. Nor, frankly, should grad school be preparing you for work outside academia. It should be your first serious attempt to work inside academia. If you fail, you can find something else to do. Many people have changed careers. That does not prove that the first career they chose was "broken".



Apocryphal Lorca: Translation, Parody, Kitsch (2009) is “not a book about the Spanish poet and dramatist Federico García Lorca” but, rather, an exploration of Lorca’s problematic reception among poets in the US, including Jack Spicer, Robert Creeley, and Frank O’Hara (xi). In this sequel, What Lorca Knew: Fragments of a Late Modernity, the subject is, once again, the poetic afterlife of one of the great poets of European modernism. In this case, I have written a book that is more directly about Lorca, but my focus remains on his lasting presence in literary culture rather than the interpretation of his works. Instead of limiting my scope to American poetry, I have chosen a set of critical problems relating to his critical and poetic reception in his native Spain, and to the academic industry devoted to his work around the world.

Unlike many other books on Lorca, What Lorca Knew does not consist of interpretations or explications of individual plays or books of poetry. I have not put forward new interpretations of Romancero gitano, Bodas de sangre, or Poeta en Nueva York—although I cannot rule out the possibility of doing this kind of work on Lorca in the future. Instead, I have examined various dimensions of his ongoing cultural legacy, with particular attention to the ways in which his poetry is re-imagined in “hermeneutical situations” of multiple kinds.

These situations are, in principle, endlessly varied, but I have chosen three main areas of concentration. My primary interest is in Lorca’s poetics, especially as they take shape in his lectures on Flamenco music, Spanish folklore, and the duende. My aim here is to treat Lorquian poetics as the self-conscious construction of a poet who knew what he was doing, rather than as an anti-intellectual and naïve genius. Having defined “what Lorca knew,” my second aim is to study the ongoing influence of Lorquian poetics in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, with particular attention to his influence on two rival schools of contemporary Spanish poetry, whose uses of Lorca are diametrically opposed. I also remain interested in the larger cultural uses of Lorquian poetics, both in Spain and in the United States. Finally, I am interested in the academic reception of Lorca in relation to this poetic and cultural legacy: my hermeneutic construction of Lorca’s self-conscious poetics requires that I, too, remain self-conscious of my own position as an academic specialist in the field.

Together with Apocryphal Lorca, What Lorca Knew forms part of an ongoing larger project that I am calling Lorca / modelo para armar [Lorca / model kit]. (A projected third volume will be devoted to his major poetic works.) This title comes from a novel by Julio Cortázar, 62 / modelo para armar, which in turn is derived from Chapter 62 of Rayuela [Hopscotch]. The point of seeing Lorca in this way, quite simply, is that an author of this type is a construction rather than a truth or essence to be discovered. This assertion should hardly be controversial, but it leads to some unexpected conclusions. The hermeneutical enterprise does not engender a better understanding of who Lorca “really was,” but to an open-ended exploration of what he might mean for us. I agree with the assertion of Luis Fernández Cifuentes, who finds more convincing those studies of Lorca those “que han preferido rastrear los caminos de la ambivalencia, los puntos de resistencia al análisis, los equívocos, diferencias y contradicciones en el modo específico de producir significados que distingue a su obra” (Estudios 10) (that have preferred to trace the routes of ambivalence, the points of resistance to analysis, the mistakes, differences, and contradictions in the specific mode of producing meanings that makes his work distinctive).

I have taken the title What Lorca Knew from What Maisie Knew, a novel by Henry James. This novel is focalized through the perspective of a sensitive and perceptive child who only gradually comes to understand the relations among the corrupt adults in her life, following her parents’ divorce and remarriages. Lorca’s authorial persona has often appeared to be child-like and naïve. The question of what Lorca knew, then, is the question of whether he develops a self-conscious poetics that can be place on the same level as that of other modernist poets like Wallace Stevens or José Ángel Valente.

The first stage in this exploration of Lorca’s poetic legacy is a “Hermeneutical Introduction” that uses theorists from Gadamer to Bloom and Borges in order to define an approach to his work that is grounded in the romantic tradition to which he himself belongs.
Chapter 1, “Was Lorca a Poetic Thinker,” tackles the question of the relation between Lorca’s thought and the specifically “hermeneutic” poetics identified with the concept “pensamiento,” developed by José Ángel Valente and other poets of his school. Valente only recognizes a few Spanish precursors of his poetry of thought—Antonio Machado, Juan Ramón Jiménez, and Luis Cernuda—along with the philosopher María Zambrano. Lorca’s poetic thought is strangely absent from this lineage, so my task is to restore him to his rightful place through a reading of his lectures, including his pioneering text on Flamenco music.

This chapter will culminate in a re-reading of Lorca’s lecture “Play and Theory of The Duende.” The duende has been at the center of Lorca’s hermeneutic reception, both in the US and in Spain. Instead of seeing it as a mere alibi for an anti-intellectual poetics, I argue that it is a complex theoretical concept in need of careful explication. Chapter 2, “The Poetics of Spanish Cultural Exceptionalism,” will re-situate the duende lecture in the context of other attempts, before and after Lorca, to define what is distinctive about Spanish culture and history.

Chapter 3, “Lorca in Contemporary Spanish Poetry: The Anatomy of Influence,” continues to explore the extent to which Lorca remains an influential figure for three poets whose work defines the late modernist poetry of the later part of the twentieth century, José Ángel Valente, Claudio Rodríguez, and Antonio Gamoneda. Valente’s debt to Lorca is largely a concealed one: he echoes Lorca’s duende lecture even as he continues to dismiss Lorca’s entire generation as lacking in poetic “thought.” Gamoneda echoes Lorca by transposing an imaginative vision from Andalusia to the snowy landscape of León. Rodríguez, finally, is a Lorquian poet because of his pragmatic knowlege, the way in which his poetics relates to lived experience or Aristotelian phronesis.

Unlike Apocryphal Lorca, What Lorca Knew is not primarily devoted to the presence of the Spanish poet and playwright in North-American culture. Nevertheless, Chapter 4, “Postmodern Lorca: From Motherwell to Strayhorn,” returns to the scene of the crime in order to discuss the problems raised by the reception of Lorca, a classic modernist author, in the postmodern period. My case studies here are the rise of a camp aesthetic in the work of Frank O’Hara; “Elegy for the Spanish Republic”—a series of canvasses by the Abstract Expressionist painter Robert Motherwell—; and some incidental music written by the American composer Billy Strayhorn for the production of a Lorca play. These examples exemplify some of the unpredictable ways in which the reception of Lorca in the late twentieth and early twentieth centuries is conditioned by a postmodern compulsion for the repetition and re-purposing of modernist motifs.

The subject of Chapter 5 is the biographical and critical “construction” of Lorca’s homosexuality. This remains an unresolved question for Lorca studies. Despite the best efforts of critics like Paul Julian Smith and Enrique Álvarez, Lorca’s status as a sacralized, hypercanonical author has been an obstacle to approaches informed by the queer theory of the 1990s and beyond. An “epistemological” approach, following the model of Eve Kosofky Segwick’s deconstruction of binary oppositions in Epistemology of the Closet, produces very different conclusion from an approach that takes its cues from a naïve reading of Lorca’s biography.

The concluding chapter of What Lorca Knew, “Elegy for Modernism,” brings together several thematic strands running through the book: the elegiac strain in Lorca’s own poetry, the nostalgia for modernism in Valente, Gamoneda, and Motherwell, and the ways in which the genre of elegy enacts the late-modern fracturing of subjectivity. The central question posed in this book is the continuing survival of modernist poetics after the end of historical modernism--from 1939 to the present day. Because of Lorca’s centrality in twentieth-century Spanish poetry, it is his work that provides us with the best interpretative material to decipher our own “fragments of late modernity.”

Tueday at Work

8-8:15. I read some Heidegger at home. Then do errands.

8:49. In office. I grade papers and get myself organized. Respond to an email about MLA panel. A student comes in at 10:30. I continue to grade.

10:47. I read more Benveniste for tomorrow.

11:37. Been reading theory for an hour. Time for lunch.

11:58. I'm back in the office. I decide to make outline for theory class tomorrow. That takes about half an hour, but I will fill in more ideas tomorrow before I print it. I decide preparation takes about 3 and a half hours for a 3 hour theory course. Reading the material, making notes, printing things out, organizing the actual class time. I'd rather have more material than less, even if I don't get around to everything I planned. I grade some more papers. Write some official letters and emails. It is 13:01 and I haven't done research yet today. Hence the poverty of ideas on this blog today.

13:36. I have finished the preface and a draft of the acknowledgments. That was my goal for Feb. Now I will revise my goals. I look at the Intro to see what I have left to do on it. I think I can finish that by end of Feb., so my plan is moving up. The only difficult thing will be getting references in line and translations done. It is now 13:53.

14:12. I need a break now.

15:23. I took a brief break and then resumed grading papers (till now). It was interesting to see that some students did the assignment exactly as I had envisioned it, others took a somewhat different approach and did fine as well, a third group did it as I asked, but rather literally and badly, and a fourth didn't do what I asked, and didn't come up with a good alternative either. Where is Hjemslev when you need him?

15:40. Done grading all I have to grade (aside from two papers I don't have yet). This has been a heavy work day despite having no classes to teach.

15:57. I could justify going home now and reading there in more comfortable setting. I have done all my office work. So let's say 9-4 is seven hours. I am happy my home is now more comfortable than my office.

Monday, February 11, 2013

At Work

This week I will keep track of time but look not only at what I do, but what I do "at work" when I am actually also "at work" on something. I want to see the total number of hours, so I will make note of that at the end of the working day.

8:46. Arrive in office from bus. Check email. Find documents in file for teaching today. Print them out. I grade an essay and look at the the other ones turned in to me. I do work in conjunction with my role as chair of grad studies. All of a sudden it is 9:46.

Now it is 10:38. I've reserved a room for a meeting, sent out an email about that meeting. Written about 250 words of really good prose on Chapter 3 of Lorca. Teaching, service, and research are integrated today.

Now it is 12:21. I've taught my class and am back in the office. I got rid of 7 emails, only one of which demanded a response. I haven't even taken a break today, though I did look at my favorite blogs very briefly. Back to Lorca.

I've decided all blogging is also going to be considered work. What I do here is organize my own thoughts about my organization of my own time and the material I'm working with. Even tangents are tangents from the work, arising out of the work. I've decided that Chapters 1-4 will be a coherent whole that I will work on this semester. 5-7 will be for the summer and fall. So that is February, March, April, May. I am assuming that I don't have much left to add to 1 and 2, so the bulk of the work will be on 3 (cultural exceptionalism) and 4 (the anxiety of influence). Each of those now has about 14 pages, so they are about a third done. I will try to force myself not to skip ahead to 5-7. I would be happy if I got really polished versions of 1-3.

I pull down The Labyrinth of Solitude. That is a cultural poetics of Mexico. For some reason I have it in English.

I read part of an essay by Luis Fernández Cifuentes:
... what Ortega presents as a natural, ageless, unalterable Andalusian condition may turn out to be nothing short of what recent critics and anthropologists, working on a wide array of documents, define as ‘la creación del mito andaluz’; ‘la imagen que gestan en España y Andalucía los viajeros [extranjeros] decimonónicos’ (López Ontiveros 1988, pp. 31–35) or, more precisely, ‘una corriente exotista europea ... que, sin mayor preocupación por la exactitud de lo que postula, ofrece una imagen distorsionada de España monopolizada por lo gitano-andaluz’ (Torrecilla 2004, p. 60).
This is obviously right. In fact, the risk is not seeing beyond this. If all Lorca is a self-orientalizing Andalusian, there is little hope.

12:56. Lunch.

13:27. Back from lunch. It would make sense to read Benveniste now. I read one article, then look him up on the internet. I learn he wrote a book about Baudelaire:
Ce qui frappe d’entrée avec ces manuscrits, c’est le décalage par rapport au structura­lisme ambiant des années 1960. Loin des écrits de Roman Jakobson sur la poésie, de Georges Mounin sur René Char ou de Jean Cohen sur la langue poétique, Benveniste est, dans ces notes,d’une étonnante modernité : avec la langue poétique de Baudelaire, c’est une mise en œuvre de la « translinguistique des textes, des œuvres » qu’il engage, comme il en avait annoncé le programme dans le premier numéro de Semiotica; c’est aussi une réflexion sur la langue émotive, menant ainsi à leur terme les propositions de sa linguistique énonciative.
I make note of my previous lack of intellectual curiosity with respect to EB. In my defense: his book on Baudelaire wasn't published last time I taught theory. I learn a new word: "décalage" is a gap.

13:55: A student comes by for a signature. I look at material for the meeting. I realize I'm missing one document so I find it and print it out. I read an interview with Benveniste, then an article by Searle on Chomsky from 1972. I'm trying to get at the difference between structuralism and Chomsky on layman's terms. It is quite odd as a literary critic to learn the outmoded linguistics that underlies Lacan and Derrida. Culler confused issues when he tried to build a structuralism on the back of Chomsky's competence.

I refresh my memory about the Chomsky / Skinner (non)debate. While Ch is not a structuralist what he is, even more, is not a behaviorist. I read an attempted refutation of Chomsky's criticism of Skinner.

Chomsky's argument is that taken literally, the vocabulary of stimulus, response, reinforcement etc... can tell you almost nothing about language. When stretched, however, shoehorned in a metaphorical sense to cover "verbal behavior," these are no longer technical scientific terms. This is a brilliant argument. "The hypothesis of Verbal Behavior is simply that the facts of verbal behavior are in the domain of the facts from which the system has been constructed." Argues MACCORQUODALE. But that is the precisely the hypothesis that Chomsky refutes.

15:08. I look at my table of contents. My book is now called What Lorca Knew: Fragments of a Late Modernity. Yes! That gets at it exactly. I stole that title from a previous title of another book I was going to write: this one, true, but in an earlier incarnation.

15:15. Meeting.

15:30. Meeting is over. When I run a meeting it tends to be fast and efficient. I work on a plan of action for Lorca book. It is really important for me to be able to envision myself coming to the conclusion of the book in a finite period of time. Let's say the end of 2013. I straighten up my office, then take bus downtown at 16:10.

I get about half an hour of reading done downtown.

21:22: Back at home, after watching part of the game downtown. I get a ride home from an amiga. I should read some Heidegger now.

22:39. I call it quits. Let's say seven hours in the office, plus two hours of reading. Grand total for Monday is 9 hours.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


In 2011 I defined my research agenda like this:
My research agenda, for example, is explaining the development of late modernism in contemporary Spanish poetry and fusing together strands from intellectual and literary history through the work of authors who belong to both. It has several components and dimensions, some related to intellectual history, some to poetics, some to the work of specific poets or essayists. Some of the individual ideas I get in relation to this project might fizzle out and go nowhere. If I had to rely on one idea at a time, I would get very frustrated. If an idea didn't work, I would have to go back to work from scratch on another atomistically conceived idea. It would be easy to waste time, because an idea that went nowhere would have no interesting consequences if it weren't conceived as part of a research agenda.

Even poets work like that. Each of the poems in Lorca's Romancero gitano is not a lightbulb flash. Rather, he had the idea of fusing an elaborate neo-gongorine style with the anonymous ballad tradition and creating a series of gypsy characters. Working on that project, he came up with several secondary ideas based on previous snatches of folkloric and mythic material. He developed techniques that he used in several of the poems in the book. A dialogue (or interpellation) between the poetic narrator and the protagonist of the poem, for example, occurs in at least three poems. The flash of inspiration for Lorca might have been seeing that a technique he has already used once might work again in a different context.
I'm happy that I still agree with this description. There hasn't been too much "drift."