31 may 2006

So how useful is it to see a work of literature as an act of *communication*? If I tell a story, what I am communicating is that story. I am not communicating another message disguised as a story. That is, I don't first think up a "meaning" and then encode it in narrative form. Even if I do attempt to do this, it is likely that the narrative code will exceed the message in almost infinite ways. That is, it will include many elements that were not part of my message, but which bear other meanings themselves, some of which may contradict my previous message. Of course, a very simple story could communicate a message without too much extra baggage:

Once upon a time there was a boy who touched a hot stove. He burnt his hand and his parents had to take him to the emergency room.

There are didactic tales like this that, but usually what we value in literature are those extra meaning-bearing elements that are too complex to be the bearers of a single meaning like "don't touch the hot stove."

There is a ton of communication that goes on in any literary work. It's about the most complex tangle of communicative intentions and meanings possible. What is usually isn't is a communication between the author and the readers, that can be reduced to anything less complex than the entire process involved.

The New Critics called this the heresy of paraphrase.
Madrid. Here I come. I haven't been for two years.


I'm wondering how a narrative can bear a meaning. A single meaning. For example, a short story of Raymond Carver that I read many years ago. A group of men, hunters or fishers, find the body of a woman in the woods. They decide that since she's already dead they might as well go ahead with their trip, and they only report the body when they get back. The wife of one of the men's gains some insight into her spouse's character. Anyway, it is hard for me to say that what I care most about here is what Carver might have *meant* by this story. The meaning of this story doesn't belong to him as author in any meaningful sense. He is one interpreter of a story which took shape in his writerly imagination. The story seems so much bigger than any one thing that someone might want to *communicate* by recounting the story.

If such an event really happened and I heard about it, the person I heard it from would not be the owner of the meaning of the narrative. Or if I watched a film of these events, filmed by Robert Altman say, I wouldn't say that film-maker, script-writer, or actors owned the meanings of these narrative happenings. Did Homer originate all the meanings in The Iliad? Can you trace back all the meanings to a single person? Maybe he's trying to make sense of previous events retold to him. There is no original source of meaning anywhere to be found.

I know this is literary theory 101 and might be too basic. I just find doing such thought experiments to be useful in clarifying the issues in a kind of intuitive way. My next obvious target will be the idea of communication. I will demonstrate that literature is not primarily a mode of "communicating" messages to the reader.

30 may 2006

It seems counter-intuitive, then, to imagine the * intentional meaning* of After Lorca as a set of plans or blueprints pre-existing the work, and the interpretive task as one of recovering the author's intentions as they existed prior to the work. The whole process is suffused with intentionality and meaning, but there would be nothing decisive about any possible reconstruction of authorial intention.

Suppose we really found Spicer's blueprints. They would be fascinating, but then we would have to compare them with the work as it actually existed. The prior plan would be another text, and if it contradicted our readings of After Lorca we couldn't automatically give it a privileged status.

So a theory of speech-acts largely relying on short example-sentences does not really apply.

And what kind of a speech-act is a translation, anyway? That's very weird to think about. "What did you mean by translating that text?" Is it the meaning of the text translated? But that is not "my" meaning at all. Is it my reason for translating it? The effect I *intended*?
Ok, we've already established that a literary work cannot have "a" meaning in any meaningful sense. Everything in it is meaningful, but it doesn't add up to any proposition equivalent to "the" meaning.

Now we can establish that what meaning is there, is not the result of some naively conceived authorial *intention.*

Once again, there is a paradox, in that every part of the text is the result of intentional acts. Maybe even accidents and mistakes are intentional in the weaker sense.

Suppose we take Jack Spicer's After Lorca. It is the result of many decisions: to write the book in the first place, to translate dese and not dose poems by Lorca, put them in the order that they are in, write another series of poems not by Lorca and intersperse them here and there, along with some letters by Lorca. Dedicate each poem to a separate individual.

Then there is the *intentional meaning* of each of the poems. The intentional meaning of a particular (intentional?) mistranslation, or the intentional meaning of an entire translation strategy.

Put these things together, you might get *what Spicer intended to do.* But this seems intuitively wrong. What he intended, perhaps, was a fairly open structure that had a variable sense of purposefulness. That is, some things seem more purposeful than others. Some texts might have been "dictated" to him, not originating with him as the speaking subject.

If I dream a line of poetry and then decide to put it in a poem, there are two senses of intention that might be different. The line still originates in my consciousness, but it might not have an intended meaning at all. I might not even know what it really means. On the other hand, you can safely say that it is my intention to put it in a poem and publish it. Any poet knows he or she is not the creator of poetry, but a medium through which poetry operates.

In short, the process of creating any work of art is too complex, involving too many levels of intentionalilty and the surrender of intentionality, for it to be meaningful to talk about the intention of a work as a single entity.

29 may 2006

No dull prosody lectures today.

28 may 2006

"En l'air un cerf-volant marche à souhait; il plane en ocsillant, instable, inquiet et campé vers le silence, assez haut; il est découpé en forme de ballon sans passagers, et flotte soutenu par le vent rapide qui le frotte; il présente l'aspect d'un mince aérostat en détresse, penché, monstrueusement plat..."

That's seven lines (for those without French, it's about a kite[ 'cerf-volant' ] buffeted by winds, looking like a hot-air balloon without passengers, etc...) .

You might imagine it divided up into syntactical units like this, but then look where the rhyme words fall in bold:

"En l'air un cerf-volant marche à souhait;

il plane en ocsillant, instable, inquiet et campé vers le silence, assez haut;

il est découpé en forme de ballon sans passagers,

et flotte soutenu par le vent rapide qui le frotte;

il présente l'aspect d'un mince aérostat en détresse,

penché, monstrueusement plat..."

Where is the caesura in all of this? I'm glad you asked. This time I've marked after the sixth syllable of each line.

"En l'air un cerf-volant / marche à souhait;

il plane en ocsillant, instable, / inquiet et campé vers le silence, assez / haut;

il est découpé en forme de ballon / sans passagers,

et flotte soutenu par le vent / rapide qui le frotte;

il présente l'aspect / d'un mince aérostat en détresse,

penché, / monstrueusement plat..."

It looks like the only rule Roussel follows is not to have the sixth and seventh syllable in the same word.
So about that wandering caesura. . .

The alexandrine is a structured around a break in the line at syllable six. It's two symmetrical six-syllable lines.

"La fille de Minos / et de Pasiphaë."

Classically, rhymes must alernate between masculine and feminine. A feminine rhyme is one that ends in a mute "e." "Vu" and "Vue" are pronounced exactly the same, yet one would be masculine the other feminine. You can't rhyme "sue" with "vu." Very strange. Rhymes must be both phonetic AND, to a certain extent, visual (or grammatical).

Victor Hugo breaks up the Alexandrine line in his theater by placing the caesura at other places, so that we can have combinations of 4+8. That's considered scandalous. Baudelaire is much more classical, the caesua tends to fall smack in the middle again.

Roussel seems very classical; his rhymes are alternated in the classical fashion, and fairly inventive. But he enjambs quite a bit, and the caesura is all over the place, so phrasal length is also all over the place. (The wandering caesura is also a form of inner enjambement). The rhymes then become more prominent because they mark the 12-syllable period that is otherwise fairly difficult to "hear." Added to this is the flat, prosaic nature of the descriptions. It's a "content" that we don't expect to find in this particular verse-form. There's a complex play of prose/verse and prose/poetry. The "poetic" effect comes from the multiple shifts and tensions among multiple factors.

A translation would not just destroy the alexandrines, and the subtle metrical effects of the alexandrines, but also the play among all these particular factors. The meter is implicitly intertextual: it evokes Hugo and Racine. This is a large part of what I read poetry *for*, so I have a hard time with translations generally. Not with translations, which I might love for their own qualities, but with the idea that I am somehow reading the poet whose work has been translated. Even with a good translation, I am not reading poetry written by Li Po if I am reading it in English That is a vile lie.


Reading translation is a different language game. For example, I might have at my disposal anywhere between 4 and 12 versions of any given haiku by Basho. The monolingual Japanese reader only has one. I might feel sorrow for this reader, with that one original version. I have *more.* He or she cannot enjoy this particular kind of comparative reading.

27 may 2006

I have this blog set up for my fall translation course:Traduction.
I was going to write a long post on the "wandering caesura" (coinage David Shapiro) in French poetry, what I like to call internal enjambement, with reference to Raymond Roussel. This short post will have to do.

26 may 2006

I have about 2000 words of lecture notes and questions for one class, 3000 for the other. I have to prepare my fall classes in May because I'm going to be incredibly busy right before, not to mention during. Not that I lecture that much. I certainly never lecture from notes. I do need to present a few things in a semi-coherent, semi-organized way though. In between writing this out, I will pause to give you some tidbits that don't fit in the lecture notes.

Two classes: translation for undergradates. / modern Spanish poetry for grads

25 may 2006

It's pretty obvious to me that a poem can't have a "meaning." A sentence can have a meaning, that is, an equivalent sentence that we might agree means pretty much the same thing. Two sentences have two meanings. The meaning of this sentence followed by that sentence is not the meaning of either sentence, or both put together, but something else: an interpretation of why that sentence follows the other one. The meaning of a Faulkner novel is not the meaning of all of its sentences put together, or the sum total of all the meanings of the words. It is pretty improbable that all these sentences, put together, would add up to a single "signified," a concept that could be summed up in a "meaningful" way. All the elements are meaningful, but there is no one "meaning." Nobody could even hold so much information in his or her head. Imagine Faulkner recites his novel from beginning to end and someone asks, what did you mean by that? A single assertion like, "we are all doing to die and life is tragic" would not be a plausible "meaning" for an entire novel. It just seems off scale. A paraphrase of a novel is another novel, just like the meaning of a sentence would be another sentence. But no two novels mean the same thing. What did you mean by Light in August? Oh, what I meant was, As I Lay Dying.
I need your help. Give me a "critical problem" in the comment boxes below or by email if you aren't a blogger blogger. A critical problem is something that bothers you when you read, a discrepancy or contradiction, a paradox. Something that would be a good start for a critical essay. I have my own examples, but I'm afraid they might bear too strongly the marks of my own idiosyncracy. I want to impress on my students the necessity for starting with a critical problem when they write.
I hate the "Pound-Williams Tradition." Don't you?

I respect all the poets in this so-called tradition, I even like the tradition itself for the most part. What I don't like is the idea that there is this single line of transmission. I would rather have a Pound-Williams-Roussel-Artaud-Stein-Breton-Rilke-Brecht-Larrea-Vallejo-Yeats-Stevens-Cavafy-Pessoa-HD-Djuna Barnes-María Zambrano-Char tradtion. Maybe that name's a little too long, but you get the point. Why measure poets by their proximity to Pound and Williams? El mundo es muy ancho.

Surely a lot of poets get overvalued because they are in the P-W Tradition. They play for our team. PW is worse than PC.
Is any blogger as intimidatingly intelligent as jane Dark? The way he just nails it time after time, whether it's about movies, music, popular culture generally, or politics. And a poet too...
The taste, the entire aesthetic universe, of any one individual is Andorra, it's Belgium in the best case. It's a small insignificant country. It's poetry, literature that's the world, the universe of possibilities. Most people rule out whole continents. Not being interested in a few Poish imports doesn't mean I don't think that Polish poetry is probably just as rich as any other. Most readers are very limited, just by the linguistic factor alone. Only knowing a few languages is an extreme limitation. It would be like only eating yams and pork. Two foodstuffs. If you only know English, that's even worse. If you only know English you don't even know English.
Yes, I'm dogmatic, but people come here in search of dogmatic opinions.
Why are "syllabics" in English lame? That is, why do I think them lame? Most of the time?

For a measure to be relevant, it has got to be perceptible in some sense. A Gestalt. It can't just be a number of something. Nobody I know of can hear Marianne Moore's syllabics. It's something that worked for her, in terms of producing the texts that she produced, but it isn't that relevant to the reception side of the equation. If it weren't in syllabics, it would still be what it is, which is prose divided up into lines of more or less equal lengths. It isn't meaningful in rhythmic terms at all.

Lame in the sense of limping along lamely. it's a yardstick, not a true measure.

Syllabics could work, of course. Very short lines would make the pattern more perceptible, but I'm not really convinced. It's like a course in the catalogue that's never really offered, but is theoretically part of the curriculum. Someone could find a use for its someday, but it's not that relevant. Don't even get me started on teaching children to write "cinquains."
Jordan asks, are there writers duller than Milosz and Herbert? Surely not, though I can't say any poem by Herbert has even registered on my consciousness. Maybe Mark Strand is duller. What was it with the interest in Eastern European poets during the cold war? I wonder what domestic agenda that was serving! We were often told that in those countries poetry really MATTERED. Proof was that the writers were censored or exiled, or worse. There was a kind of envy: if the government cracked down on me, it would prove I was really important. But what makes a poet interesting and relevant is not some force from outside cracking down on the poet. I could take the dullest poet and create a factitious biography. Would that make the poems better?


I'm reading La Vue, Le Concert, La Source in French. (Raymond Roussel.) It's fun to look up words in the dictionary, and fun to just read without looking up anything too. Each has an identical structure. The narrator looks into a picture, a photograph, a water-mark on hotel stationery, a label on a bottle of mineral water, and find amazingly hyper-realist detail. He describes many dozen characters, each distinctive in personality but each, ulimately, a cultural cliché. The son who is the sole support of his mother, he skips meals and gives a few private lessons for very little money. The woman who is trying to marry off her daughters. The old guy, not too bright with a lot of money, tells the same story over and over again; everyone flatters him in hopes of an inheritance. it's like a compendium of types, most of whom no longer exist but that are still somehow recognizable. There is also some visual detail: a description of a leather glove, the creases reflect the places where the hand has moved most frequently. A girl playing with sand on the beach; a lock of her hair is blowing in the wind in a way that should annoy her, but she pays no attention. This takes quite a while to describe. You would think it would all be extremely dull, but it's not.

Koch translated one of these works, but the rest I believe have never seen English. The effect in French comes from the perfection of the alexandrine couplets, with alternating masculine and feminine rhymes, in contrast with the seeming banality of the content. Roussel ocassionally comes up with interesting poetic effects, but often it is pure prose--except for the fact that it's in verse. Foucault has some interesting observations about these works too. Robbe-Grillet was going to title a novel La Vue, after Roussel (it became Les Jalousies.) Surrealists, Oulipians, New York School poets, nouveau romanciers, poststructuralist critics, have all been devoted Rousselians. He's the secret "Source" of avant-garde poetics. I'm more interested in him than in Gertrude Stein, who often exploits a similar kind of banality.

24 may 2006

I had to stop with Olson because he was just too painful.
LA Times Sorrentino obit quotes me. I don't always talk in clichés.

The characteristic Sorrentino expression, "God knows..." God only knows how many times it appears in his writing. But what does God know?
I'm reading Poeta en San Francisco. (The book of poems as well as the blog.) I got the book because of the Lorquian resonance of the title, hoping it would fit into my book project, at least as a reference. I may not have that much to say about it in my Lorca book, beyond a paragraph or two, but I do like its trilingual macaronics and its sharp edges. At least I know Spanish and English.

It's anti-orientialist, thus reverses the trend of orientalizing readings of Lorca. There's not much about Lorca here, but I believe I can make a rough analogy. Poeta en Nueva York / Poeta en San Francisco. Lorca / Barbara Jane Reyes. Spanish poet / poet from former Spanish colony (Islas Filipinas). Both poets looking at racial dynamic of American, coastal city.

23 may 2006

My thoughts about Sorrentino's poetry are stil not clear to me. I'll try to reformulate them soon.
Pedantic fact of the day

It is not true that the Japanese haiku has a pattern of 5-7-5 SYLLABLES. It is a language timed not by syllables but by "mora."
For example, the word "hon," or book has one syllable but two moras. The "n" sound at the end counts as a mora. The same goes for what we might consider a "long vowel." It is counted as two moras, not one syllable. "Basho" has three moras.

Furthermore, the haiku is not written out in "lines" of verse. It's usually just written from top to bottom in one continuous column.

The introduction to Kerouac's haiku asks us to care about what contemporary haiku poets in English think about his efforts in this genre. But is anything duller than writing haiku in English and calling yourself a haiku poet? The only thing worse is telling school children to write haiku with an irrelevant syllable count. Irrelevant to Japanese, because Japanese doesn't count "syllables." Irrelevant to English because syllabic verse is usually very lame.

I do think that if a writer like Kerouac or Richard Wright practices the genre with some assiduity, there is a point in looking at their works seriously.
Sorrentino Notes

In Sorrentino there is that fundamental seriousness about writing. Not seriousness as opposed to the comic, because of course he was a brilliant comic writer in the Beckett/Flann O'Brien mode. I'm talking about a fundamental integrity of the WORD. If postmodernism means a kind of softness or weakness, a relaxation of modernist rigor, then Sorrentino is no postmodern.

There's a kind of working class realness to his aestheticism. It's not the aestheticism of the leisured class or the WASP gentility of Harry Mathews. (Of course, he also liked Mathews' work, as do I.) An attack on Marianne Moore pegged her as a writer out of touch with reality. He also loved WCW's prose fiction, which is in the realist mode as well. There's a paper to be written disambiguating his particular committment to the real from his distance from other modes of literary realism that he despised.

Is he a better metafictionist than Barth? I think his metafiction is oriented in a different direction, toward an ethical critique of the fake, the unreal, the sham. So if fiction is a sham too, then you better write a kind of fiction that doesn't pretend to be something it's not. It's going to advertise its artificiality.

Are some of his fictions "thinner" than others? Possibly so. I wouldn't put all on an equal plane, and there are some that I haven't re-read in many years. There are even a few I've never read.

I discovered him from Imaginary Qualities of Actual Things. I recognized the book's title as a phrase from WCW, so I pulled it down from the stacks. Then Mulligan Stew came out. If you only know Mullgian Stew, you don't know Sorrentino. You might peg him as a writer of postmodern fictions of the Barth, Gass, Barthelme ilk. You wouldn't be wrong, but I think there are other dimensions of his work you'd be missing. I don't want to make invidious comparisons and say Sorrentino was better than most of these others. He's certainly closer to my sensibility than most of them, maybe because of his connection to the Great Moderns and the New American Poetry.

His poetry often struck me as the poetry of someone who knew how to write but was not a poet per se. He's better than a lot of other poets, of course. His sequence of poems about Corpus Christi Texas is priceless. It was place he hated, and he make it known. He hated Reagan, all forms of hypocrisy and bullshit.

He admired Williams, Spicer, Bronk, Creeley, O'Hara, Koch, Olson, Beckett, Joyce, O'Brien, Borges and Cortázar. He liked the novels of Henry Green. He liked Roth but not Updike. You definitely knew he liked and didn't like. His piece on John Gardner is one of the classic attacks in literary criticism.

How about that undercurrent of misogyny in his work? It's an interesting issue. I certainly sense it enough so that it becomes an annoyance, if I'm reading large swaths of his work. On the other hand it's possible that it's part of a larger pattern of satiric misanthropy.

He hated all forms of "PC," and had a difficult time with students from the Modern Thought and Literature Program at Stanford, with their Marxist Theory. Maria Damon was one of them at the time. I always liked Maria, but was not too fond of some of the others in that program.

Perloff recounts that Gil had reservations about hiring a certain Joycean, and a member of the English dept. said "What does Gil know, he's only a writer." But of course his knowledge of Joyce was immense, as Marjorie points out. If all writers were like that, we wouldn't need critics at all.

19 may 2006

According to Silliman's blog, Gil Sorrentino has passed away.

He was my teacher at Stanford. I owe my first critical publication to him. I wrote papers on Koch and O'Hara for him as well as my article on WCW.

He was certainly in the tolerate no fools category--something I respected. Why he tolerated me is another question. I guess he was making an exception. Maybe it was because I saved his WCW seminar by always having something to say. He had never taught Graduate Courses before and was certainly out of his element--pedagogically that is. He certainly knew Williams backwards and forwards. He is "GS" in Paterson. Author of the letters signed "GS." Bet you didn't know that.

Maria Damon was in class the first day. She didn't like the fact that he was making male modernist poets like Williams into martyrs, complaining about how neglected they were. But it is important to realize that respect was very late in coming to Williams.

I also met my best Grad school friend, Bob Basil, in that class. Bob occasionally comments on this blog, using the name "Bob."

Gil didn't like teaching writing. He told me with scorn in his voice that the people in the writing program actually wanted to be professional writers and publish in the New Yorker. He made it sound an ignoble goal.

He loved Sonny Rollins.

I loved his ironic spoken "scare quotes." He was a funny guy. In Baraka's memoirs there is a thing about Gil, where Baraka is excited about the Cuban revolution and Gil says something about how he isn't crazy about all those guys in military uniforms. Kind of prophetic, in a way.

He didn't like the SF bay area much. Moved back to Brooklyn later.

His novels are better known and maybe even better than his poetry. Yet I still view him as a poet. I picked up some first editions of his works when I was in New York last Spring.

18 may 2006

Mayhew's Guide to Spanish Versification
Auden's phrase "Still waters run deep" is translated, by Spanish poet Gil de Biedma as "la cabra tira al monte."

This is not even the case of finding a cultural equivalent. The two expressions are not even close to being equivalent in meaning. Yet, in a free version, this seems fine to me. Auden is quoting popular discourse, stringing together clichés.

At last the secret is out, as it always must come in the end,
The delicious story is ripe to tell to the intimate friend;
Over the tea-cups and in the square the tongue has its desire;
Still waters run deep, my dear, there's never smoke without fire.

Behind the corpse in the reservoir, behind the ghost on the links,
Behind the lady who dances and the man who madly drinks,
Under the look of fatigue, the attack of migraine and the sigh
There is always another story, there is more than meets the eye.

For the clear voice suddenly singing, high up in the convent wall,
The scent of elder bushes, the sporting prints in the hall
The croquet matches in summer, the handshake, the cough, the kiss,
There is always a wicked secret, a private reason for this.

En los cafés de la plaza / las lenguas la están corriendo
--Que la cabra tira al monte / y nunca hay humo sin fuego.

"La cabra tira al monte" means "the goat runs back to the mountain." In other words, things return to their natural state, you can take the boy out of the country but you can't take the country out of the boy. It's used to describe someone who returns to their wild ways after a period of seeming reform. [Literally, it is the observation that goats will tend to run up hill in search of better grazing.] The expression seems so prototypically Spanish that it allows Gil de Biedma to leave behind Auden's world of croquet matches, golf outings, and tea houses. There is a difference between café on the plaza and tea on the square. Gil de Biedma uses the "ballad" form, the "romance." This also makes the poem seem as though it were written originally in Spanish; it domesticates Auden's very British sounding poem.

We find Jaime Gil de Biedma's poem in a book by Jaime Gil de Biedma, not in a book of Auden's poetry translated into Spanish. Auden's poem might possibly be judged to be better than Gil de Biedma's, but not because a translation is necessarily inferior to the original.

I've always found it interesting that people do not know what proverbs mean. They could not always explain the meaning of a proverb in the absence of all context, even though they might be able to undestand it when they hear it in a particular situation. "Still waters run deep" seems simple enough. But does it mean "Watch out, though the situation seems calm there is danger lurking"?
Been busy. We're selling my house in St Louis, trying to find another one.


Julia's first trumpet solo was fantastic. She played "The Young Maestro."

16 may 2006

I'm working on a guide to Spanish versification. Just for my own amusement, I'm just collecting all my observations from many years of study. I'd be glad to share it. It's written in English, since I thought it might be of interest to some who don't know Spanish well. I'd be glad to share it as an attachment with anyone interested. It's at about 3,000 words and growing. Eventually it will be on line some place. It's written in a FAQ format, so send me your questions.

15 may 2006

It would be pretty cool to be interviewed by Tom Beckett.
I fear the poetics seminar is no more. I cannot keep it going any longer. The outside visitors have been great, but the innner ciricle of people willing to give talks and attend regularly is small, and after a while we've all had our say so the exercise becomes redundant.

12 may 2006

"Abolir" [abolish] is a defective verb. It can't be used except in certain persons and tenses. You can't say "Yo abolo*" or "yo abuelo*".
I found first editions of Lorca, Guillén, and Alberti just in the stacks of the library, but the rare book room doesn't want them. Go figure. If I hadn't rescued them they'd go to storage.

11 may 2006

Both Lorca and O'Hara have an elusive, protean sense of self. This leads to problems for critics who want to define either of them in a single way. Lorca can seem immature, evasive, precious, kitschy... O'Hara, frivolous, campy, immature, precious, gay. It is surprising reading through a compilation of O'Hara reviews and essays ("To be True to a City") to see how often critics use the words "gay" and "gaiety"--in their original sense, not as references to homosexuality--though this too is implied of course!

Simplistically, I'd have to say that the gay poets understand the vicissitudes of Lorca's self in a more complex, empathetic way. O'Hara, Spicer, Duncan, as opposed to Creeley, Rothenberg, Koch. (Lorca was killed at age 38. O'Hara and Spicer died at 40.) That is, they see Lorca's problem as fundamentally a problem of self-definition. The straight poets see Lorca in more orientalist terms, as identified with the essence of Spanish culture, where Spanish culture is identified with the Andalusian gypsy.

10 may 2006

To read at all is to have insights about what you are reading.

Would that that were so!!
Estimated total sales of the FGL Selected Poems of Lorca over the past 52 years (New Directions): 180,000. Slow and steady wins the race.
My favorite mistake from a student paper this year: "Gabriel García Lorca." (AKA Federico García Márquez.)
Borges argues that the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in Fitzgerald's version is a hybrid text, one that is produced by neither Fitzgerald nor Khayyam alone. That these two authors might not have even liked each other if they met in person, separated as they were by time, space, and culture, yet they became "one poet." The Rubaiyat is a Victorian English poem, not the translation of a Persian poem of the eleventh century. (Yet it is also that.) There is no reason to suppose that the original poem enjoys any kind of special status vis-a-vis the translation.

9 may 2006

Presuponer que toda recombinación de elementos es obligatoriamente inferior a su original es suponer que el borrador 9 es obligatoriamente inferior al borrador H-- ya que no puede haber sino borradores. El concepto de texto definitivo no corresponde sino a la religión o al cansancio. JLB "Las versiones homéricas."

To presuppose that any recombination of elements is necessarily inferior to its original is to presuppose that draft 9 is necessarily inferior to draft H--for there can be nothing but drafts. The concept of a "definitive text" applies only to religion or to weariness.
To see the original as superior to the translation is a kind of superstition, according to Borges. It's like seeing the original as a sacred text and seeing all translations as inferior copies of it.

On the other hand, only a worthwhile text really stands up to translation at all. In other words, many of the questions we need to ask only "work" if we assume some value in the original text.

What if we saw two versions of the poem, in different languages, and weren't told which was the original and which was the translation? Then we would have to judge each one on its own terms. Maybe the "translation" would end up seeming crappy, or maybe not. It would kind of depend.

The corollary of this is that we would demand more from translations, not less. That is, we wouldn't allow the "translation excuse" any more.
I picked up a copy of Bookforum over the weekend. It has Rushdie on Beckett, Bernstein on Guest, Gerald Early on jazz. All in all, about five or six articles that I really wanted to read right away. It struck me that this is what the New York Review of Books could be if it wanted to. That the NYRB or the NYTBR could open up its pages to reviews of Joshua Clover's new book Totality for Kids, or have an article about Barbara Guest by Charles Bernstein.
After Tony Robinson

I used to be smarter and have more ideas, as evidenced in this post.
Here's a mystery of translation. Why don't we feel the need to read works written in our own language in foreign translation? I have a few books by Kerouac and Frank O'Hara in Spanish, but I feel no need for the experience of reading them. They are more like curiosities for me. I know the obvious answer to this enigma: I have access to the originals. The translation adds nothing. But this doesn't quite satisfy me. I do feel the need myself to translate certain texts into Spanish, for my own reading pleasure. Maybe it has to do with the kind of texts.
Any book on my shelf gives me the illusion that I could take it down and it would offer me something indescribably wonderful--if only I was in a receptive state. Even if I've taken it out many times before and been disappointed, or thought that I had exhausted it. If it's a book I once spent a lot of time with, then the pleasure of re-reading is double. There's a pleasure in forgetting and rerembering.
That's one of Borges' approaches to translation: read for the domestic agenda (his essay on the Translations of the 1001 Nights.) The more the domestic residue dominates the translation, the more interesting it is for studying the target culture. By the same token, the further we get away from the time of the translation, the more the domestic agenda becomes obvious. It is not that our translations of Homer are closer to Homer than Pope is, but that we can more clearly see how Pope is a product of his own time. His 18th-centuryness gets in the way of our interest in the 8th century B.C. Our own twenty-first centuryness is not such an obstacle, because it is invisible to us.
Lawrence Venuti (in many books and articles) puts forward a dichotomy between domesticating and foreignizing translation, obviously preferring the latter: translations that make the text stranger rather than emphasizing the familiar codes. Another opposition: between the "fluent" and the "heterogeneous." I tend to sympathize with his position, but I like "fluent" translations as well. Since even "foreignizing" translations serve a domestic agenda, I don't necessarily see the dichotomy as sharply drawn. All translation secretes a kind of "residue" of domestic interest (Venuti's word). In some cases, this residue is foregrounded and cannot be ignored; in other cases, it conceals itself and must be teased out.

Here's an example. A translator uses the phrase "from sea to shining sea" in a translation from the Spanish poet Jaime Gil de Biedma. Here is a deliberate attempt to frame the Spanish poem in "domestic" terms. That phrase has nothing to do with the original context--only with the domestic, American reception. It wouldn't even work for a British reader unfamiliar with the song "America the Beautiful." I am not wholly opposed to such moves, but I don't feel it works here. The strain after a cultural equivalent is both domesticating and misleading. It's like saying "insert nationalist discourse here." if you were translating into French you'd say "enfants de la patrie."

If you read Venuti closely you will see he's really subtle, and doesn't ever assert this dichotomy in crude, good/bad terms without qualifying it in some interesting way; at the same time, he tends to be fixated on a few key ideas. What I do appreciate is the way in which he cuts across the grain of traditional thinking. I often find the reflections of translators on their craft to be incredibly banal and naive. Venuti's perspective is a useful corrective.

5 may 2006


Like an Updike housewife willing to have sex with the amorphous Protestant Pastor or unpleasant dentist

And willing to have her sex-acts described in purple prose

It's the permissive 70s; it's ok to covet thy neighbor's wife and bomb Vietnam

Guilt is good for the soul; therefore a certain quantity of sin needs first to be committed

The Pastor's wife is screwing the hippy Assistant-Pastor, who is against the war in Vietnam

(I'm a teenager reading this for its unsatisfactory Protestant pornography

A few years later I'll read an explanation of Updike's ugly theology in the New York Review of Books

And a memoir by Updike on why he thought the war was so noble)

The Pastor who narrates this novel is sent to a re-education camp for sex-offending ministers; really more like a spa

Where he can write up his sexual experiences in florid New Yorker prose

He'll be re-assigned to another congregation, I suppose

A bad air quality day; I can't catch my breath all evening

At five in the morning I still can't breathe so I start to compose this unpleasant memoir of reading Updike novels in the 1970s. . .
Plagiarism really isn't the same thing as copyright infringement, although a partricular case might be both things at once. If I publish a pirate edition of a book by William Bronk, that is infringement, but not plagiarism. If I publish as poem as my own, that Bronk really wrote, that is plagiarism and infringement as well. If I plagiarize something whose copyright has expired, that is still plagiarism even if nobody has standing to sue me for it. If I plagiarize a few lines, but not anything lengthy or significant enough to be sued over, that is still plagiarism. If I read an article in the PMLA and write my own article, with the same ideas but completely different words, that is plagiarism, but have I infringed copyright?

If I cite something in a footnote, with proper attribution, that is not plagiarism; but if it is a complete, self-contained poem then I might need permission not to infringe on a copyright, according to some interpretations of the law.

Infringement is reproducing a text without permission, in a way that damages the interests of someone who owns that text.
Plagiarism is misrepresenting the authorship of ideas, phrases, sentences. It's easy to see why these two concepts are confused.

4 may 2006

I've noticed with many plagiarism cases in the media in the last few years, both here and in Spain. Often, the plagiarist is not directly responsible for plagiarism because someone else has done the work, a ghost writer or assistant of some kind. So the exposure of plagiarism really exposes much more: It wasn't me, I didn't write it in the first place!
"Da Vinci" is not Leonardo's last name! Just had to get that off my chest.
I found another piece of the puzzle. Frank O'Hara's "Young Girl in Pursuit of Lorca."
I realized how ignorant I am. I know almost nothing about Noh theater. In other words, I know no Noh.
Reading the most recent issue of the PMLA: I still don't know whether poetry is a rare or a common occurence.

It would seem to be all around us, but yet not where you might think, naively, to look for it.

3 may 2006

Some of the modes, genres, forms, and authors that Frank O'Hara was making reference to in his Early Writing.

Pound. Joyce. Auden. Hugo. Shelley. Wordworth. Stevens. Woolf. Faulkner. Donne. Pirandello. "Lorna Doone." Max Ernst. Herrick. Webster. Hemingway. Gide. Proust. Williams.

Epitaph. Aphorism. Parody. Pastiche. Triolet. Nursery Rhyme. Sonnet. Litany. Pastoral. Prose Poem. Diary. Memoir and autobiography. Short-story. Suite. Ecphrasis. Dialogue. Eclogue. Dirge. Song. Blues. Torch Song. Concrete Poetry. Theme and Variation. Ballad. Macaronics. Poems in foreign langauges (French and German.) Archaism. Homage. "Vowel poems." Madrigal.

A lot of the writing seems "not very good." The prose is much better than the poetry, in fact. The fascination is with seeing someone who is self-consciously, very deliberately, developing a style. Like trying on clothes in a dressing room. Not everything is going to fit or look good, but at the end of the process he knows what's going to work and what's not going to work for him. The "academic" Audenesque style of the day is not going to be a good fit, but is going to a tool in the tool-box when used parodically. There's another more plain-spoken, less precious voice that emerges from time to time. That's going to be his "sincere" voice. And there's a Pasternakian romanticism that we'll see later on.

We're talking about the late 40s here. And the full range of his poetry was not to become very well known until after 1971 and the Collected Poems. No wonder he saw his work as so far in the future. The world in which his poetry would even make sense did not yet exist. It was not comprehensible. I don't mean that the words on the page were incomprehensible, but that what he was doing simply made no sense at the juncture. Now we have had second-generation New York school and flarf it is (relatively) easy to see what he was doing.
The fragility of things terrifies me!
Guest Blogger, FO'H

The Children in Key West stay up till all hours of the night to watch the sky. The sky is nearer to the earth in Key West than anywhere else. The moon is bigger in Key West than anywhere else

2 may 2006

I'm too busy to blog, so I'm calling in reinforcements.

Guest Blogger: Frank O'Hara

If one could only manage not to think. Life might become bearable. The less one thought, the less one might mind anything. If one never thought one would never care to write; one would never have anything to write.


I wonder if one couldn't do something rather good with Christopher Smart's feelings for toads. Present it as the result of a youthful indiscretion, perhaps?
It's a certain level of immersion, of absorption, in the subject matter that makes the difference. It's that level of seriousness and committment that sets certain people apart from the crowd, not being smarter.