30 dic 2009

22 dic 2009

I seem to set myself up for certain predicaments in predictable ways--predictable to anyone who knows me but unexpected to me. For example, I wrote a book including an analysis of Lorquian kitsch. Of course, I hate that whole side of Lorca's American reception, but I knew what I was in for from the start. Or should've. Now, with the "writing jazz" course, I realize that I really hate most "jazz literature" that has that exact same kitsch element--and from the same damn period as the Lorca material. All that unbearable hipsterism and evocation of Bud and Bird, all that horribly embarrassing adoration of the exotic other. My god! Oh church of Coltrane! I guess that means it's a good thing for me to teach then! The bad thing is always arguing with people who aren't bothered by all that, always setting myself in opposition to what normal people think.

Of course what allows me to hate in good conscience is that I myself am deluded hipster or flamenco wannabe. I can recognize it in others because I've been there.

I just read a short story that has Stan Getz "blasting away" or something like that. That is just wrong.
Ok. The new Lorca is not going to work as planned. I realized there wasn't enough Lorca there, in my plan, and that I didn't really want to analyze actual poetic works by Lorca very extensively, and that a reader would expect that in a book with Lorca in the title. I realized I was too swayed by the momentum of Apocryphal Lorca and by the potential marketability of the Lorca name.

So it's back to the new modernism project, which will be called something like Modernism and the Paradoxes of Spanish Literary History:.

21 dic 2009

Here's my new chpater outline. I'm trying to get the ideas to flow in the most seamless way possible, rather than write chapter on separate topics. The whole book is one long essay. The trick is to get everything in its proper place, so I'm still shifting material from one place to another, especially between Chapters 1 and 2 and the preface. I have that illusory feeling that the whole book is in my head waiting to be written. Well, not completely illusory. I do know pretty much what I'm going to say, but in working that out in detail new ideas will emerge, things will continue to shift position.

Lorca and Modernity: Paradoxes of Spanish Literary History

Chapter 1: Modernity and its Discontents
Chapter 2: Spanish Modernism and the Paradoxes of Literary History
Chapter 3: Contemporary Spanish Poetry: Late Modernism and the Cutlural Logic of Anachronism
Chapter 4: Alternate Models: Machado, Jiménez, Cernuda
Chapter 5: Play and Theory of Lorca's Duende: Nation and Performance
Apocryphal Postscript
Appendix: Glossary of the Duende

20 dic 2009

The review from Choice, from last August, which I somehow missed:

Mayhew, Jonathan. Apocryphal Lorca: translation, parody, kitsch. Chicago, 2009. 222p bibl index afp ISBN 0-226-51203-7, $45.00; ISBN 9780226512037, $45.00. Reviewed in 2009aug CHOICE.
In his preface, Mayhew (Spanish, Univ. of Kansas) describes this volume as "an exploration of the apocryphal afterlife of [Federico] García Lorca in the poetic culture of the United States." Enhanced by copious notes and an excellent bibliography, this book offers a perceptive, intriguing assessment of the García Lorca created by the postwar generation of American poets. The author delineates links between the "American Negro" and the Spanish gypsy, i.e., the American jazz of the former and the cante jondo of the latter. Although the author considers many poets, Jack Spicer, Robert Creeley, Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch, and Jerome Rothenberg receive more specific appraisal. For example, Mayhew looks at how Spicer's poem "After Lorca" includes correspondence between Spicer and García Lorca from the grave and highlights striking parallels between García Lorca and O'Hara. Mayhew writes that the study of deep-image poetry in both cultures is "too long a detour ... from the subject of this book," and herein lies one of its weaknesses. In an attempt at inclusiveness, the author tends to wander from his established parameters. A book for scholars, not the inexperienced or casual reader. Summing Up: Recommended. With reservations. Researchers and faculty. -- F. Colecchia, Duquesne University

17 dic 2009

I've been trying to figure out why I like Haydn's String Quartets so much, since I was never that big on the classical style. I tended always to go baroque or modern, and preferred Beethoven to Mozart or Haydn. Now Haydn is imposing himself on me in a big way, and the quartets specifically. I haven't even heard them all, but I have a passing acquaintance now with opus 20, 54, 64, 74, 76. (The numbering is confusing, because there are about several systems for this, so I'm just going with the op. #. Each opus has 3-6 quartets, each of four movements, usually an allegro, an adagio, a minuet, and a fast finale, though sometimes the minuet and adagio are reversed.) I guess the best way to account for this would be to go for the most obvious elements first and work my way toward the mystery.

Melody: the music is tuneful and immediately pleasing. That would be good even if there were nothing else. I have his melodies in my head all the time.

Structure: the structures are fairly easy to follow within each movement. You don't need a huge amount of sophistication and you don't get lost. A high degree of intelligibility. You get the feeling that it is accessible to very modest musical intelligences, like my own, but still probably satisfying for greater ones.

Where I find the appeal is in the combination of a kind of quirky unpredictability with seemingly facile and even formulaic structures and cadences. He is never afraid just to go up and down an arpeggio if that is what is called for. He is inventive in the interplay between instruments; it is as though he were writing a textbook on different ways you might write a quartet. Each movement of each work is unique: there is no sense that he could ever run out of musical ideas. Almost every possible mood is there. There is turmoil and spritely wit, bomastic pride, tenderness and even mild anger. I guess it's a cliché to say he doesn't do tragedy, but I don't really miss it.
My book is taking shape. I want it to be a kind of "big picture" book rather than just another book about Lorca. The people I asked for advice on the viability of the project were positive, but two of them said they'd prefer to read a book about several poets rather than one just about Lorca. I'd prefer to write a more seamless essay on Lorca, while dealing with other poets along the way, in order not to repeat what I did in The Poetics of Self-Consciousness and The Twilight of the Avant-Garde. Valente is rearing his head, wanting to be given equal billing with Lorca.

My model of scholarship is agonic. Much as I don't want to be influenced by Harold Bloom, I find that I am always using the language of struggle, conflict, seeing writing basically as an attempt to wrestle with problems.

16 dic 2009

The break that isn't. I have to prepare my two courses for the Spring, one a jazz course I've never taught before. I want to finish the preface to Lorca by Dec. 31; I'm going to the MLA where I will give a talk and participate in interviews. I also have to write a talk I'm giving in Spain in January, and work on this critical edition I'm doing. I have a few service obligations as well, and I haven't even turned in my grades for one course for this semester.

The winter break is probably one of the busiest times in the academic calendar. So if I have between the 14 of December and the 14 of Jaunary "off," (not teaching) that's not really a lot of time.

15 dic 2009

My 2009 book Apocryphal Lorca: Translation, Parody, Kitsch, dealt with the reception of Federico García Lorca in the US, with a focus on poets active in the 1950s and 1960s, such as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Spicer, Robert Creeley, and Frank O’Hara. Given the North-American orientation of this project, I tried to refrain as much as possible from arguing in favor of any one particular view of Lorca himself, positing instead a multi-faceted “author-function.” Still, Apocryphal Lorca did rest upon certain unstated ideas about Lorca and his place in twentieth-century poetry; it was, in fact, a book about Lorca, even though it did not attempt to put forward an affirmative view of his work. As in a drawing exercise in which the student sketches the spaces in between the parts of a piece of furniture (for example) rather than drawing the object itself, I was writing about Lorca by looking at the absence of certain features of his work in his English-language translations.

Lorca and Modernity will bring some of my implicit assumptions to the fore in order to reflect on the question of what it means for Lorca to be (arguably) the single most significant figure of twentieth-century Spanish poetry. Succintly stated, the problem is that Lorca’s poetry is affiliated with Spanish literary and intellectual traditions that view modernity itself with a great deal of ambivalence. The major critical problem posed by his work, in my view, is what to do with these ostensibly “unmodern” aspects of his work. Lorca’s seeming resistance to modernity becomes significant in both the national (Spanish) and international contexts, for Lorca is not only significant within Spanish literary history but for our conceptions of modernism itself.

13 dic 2009

As I was taking a walk today I imagined my footsteps were quarter notes. Then I counted off 8 measures while looking at my watch: about 15 seconds. So the tempo was 128. In other words, a relaxed swing.

10 dic 2009

I ate lunch at a middle-eastern place today and they had Arabia music videos playing on a tv. One began with a hip young guy looking in the mirror and checking his appearance, as though he were about to go on a date. Cut to a young attractive woman in a spacious, well-lit kitchen. She's wearing blue rubber gloves and cleaning this already meticulous kitchen. A domestic goddess? This young woman is also the singer or lip-syncher of the video. A car horn sounds. The man and the woman are seen in a convertible, wearing sunglasses. He is wearing a leather jacket. Their date is to a supermarket, where the man makes women of various ages, customers and employees, faint with a single glance in their direction. The set of the supermarket looks extremely stylized, fake, like everything else in the video. The woman is irritated with her boyfriend and threatens to throw a can of something at him. Next the couple goes to a science-fictiony place where the man is dragged from his car beaten up by people in silver science-fiction costumes. We see him in a hospital bed with his leg in a cast. The video ends somewhat anti-climactically with seemingly random scenes of a picnic...

5 dic 2009

I made the mistake of reading something by Ortega y Gasset yesterday. I wanted to look again at the essay on Andalusia. The idea about the essential laziness of the Andalusian culture is pretty damn intolerable. Ortega is no hero of mine, and neither is Gasset. (That's a joke.) I'm thinking this whole tradition of Spanish philosophy is pretty hard to take, from Unamuno to Zambrano. I know I should like Zambrano, because she is important to a lot of people in the general vicinity of things that I otherwise admire, but I cannot take her either. Her writing, her ideas.

It's interesting (to me at least) how a lot of things I write about, I'm approaching from the posture of irritation and resistance. I actually don't think good criticism can be entirely appreciative. You've got to hate something about the writer you're dealing with, or something in the existing criticism. Take Valente, about whom I've written practically a whole book, if you add up all my chapters and articles. I think he's very important, and I admire a great part of his work and what he stands for; yet I also find him profoundly irritating.

On the other hand, I couldn't spend my life studying Ortega (or Gasset). You have to have a core respect for the object of study.

3 dic 2009

Scholarly writing has more or less migrated to the SMT blog. I'm moving the best of my previous posts and stupid tricks over there. Substantive posts on literary matters will mostly be at Arcade, in a slightly more formal register. Bemsha II will soon start up: it will be the blog for my jazz course. Very brief observations will be hosted at Facebook, only for my 60 "friends." The original Bemsha Swing will remain open for business too, for other ad hoc blogging projects and as my basic on-line diary and page for advertisements for myself.

2 dic 2009

What if, by moving one's fingers one letter to the side while typing, one could produce a language still intelligible, instead of this: Ejsy og. nu ,pbomh pmr d gomhrtd pmr ;ryyrt yp yjr dofr. ejo;r yu[omh///
The closest I'm coming to an 18th century term for "classical" music is the "Galant Style." Descriptions of this style make it sound a lot like "classical," but obviously it is not an exact synonym, being somewhat more narrow in its usage. In other words, not all music that we call "classical" (in the narrower sense) is galant, and possibly some galant music we might even call "baroque." Of course, I still don't know what the baroque-era term for baroque was, if any. I suspect I'll find a series of narrower terms for specific styles, some tied to national or regional ideas.
I have a new blog, Stupid Motivational Tricks, to which I will be migrating some of my posts on scholarly writing. The blog will itself be an SMT designed to help me get this second book on Lorca done. If you read Bemsha mostly for scholarly writing tips, you will want to follow SMT as well (or instead).

30 nov 2009

What did Bach call his own style of music? How about Mozart? They didn't think of themselves as "baroque" and "classical" respectively. (As I understand it those terms were applied retrospectively.) Then what were their own names for their music, if any? If they didn't need a name, what does this mean about these periods?

27 nov 2009

Today's SMT is to let your writing neuroses work for you instead of against you. Imagine if you were shadowed by an obnoxious person who was constantly telling you you couldn't do what you wanted when you wanted. You're about to work on something and this person says, sorry, you aren't allowed to work until a half hour after dinner, or when the sky is cloudy, or when you aren't waiting for the plumber, or haven't had an argument with a family member for 24 hours. Pretty soon you would tell this obnoxious bully to get lost. Yet chances are you are already doing this to yourself, with arbitrary and restrictive rules, some of which you probably aren't even conscious of. You feel your best work will be done under ideal conditions.

Those rules are the product of cognitive distortions. What you want to do instead is substitute a new set of neurotic rules that are actually not counter-productive. Go through your current rules and find the one or two that actually helps you. Keep those. Then invent a few more along those lines. I'll give some examples in a subsequent post.

24 nov 2009

Jazz is not "America's classical music." Just think about it a moment. It's kind of like the "champaign of beers" logic. All the prestige in the comparison comes from classical music and flows toward jazz. The terms cannot be reversed: you can't call Mozart an Austrian jazz musician, can you? The phrase is based on a dehistoricized construction of classical music, a term that wasn't even used until well into the 19th century, and a dehistoricized view of jazz as well--one that tries to sever the links between jazz and various forms of popular music. It's a purely aspirational sentiment meant to improve the prestige of jazz by associating it with already prestigious forms of music.

You don't need to "make a lady" out of jazz, improve it to make it more classical. Once you start calling it America's classical music you get Wynton Marsalis.

23 nov 2009

As a teenager I suffered from rather serious "ear worm," but it tended to be lines of poetry that got stuck in my head rather than music. The two worst cases were

"Jersey-Guernsey in sombre and illustrious weather," from a poem by André Breton, and the beginning of Pound's translation of "The Seafarer;"

'MayI for my own self song's truth reckon / journey's jargon. How I in harsh days / hardship endured oft."

I just could not get those out of my head for months at a time. I'm still prone to that, and today the line that got stuck is "Este que ves, engaño colorido" from a baroque sonnet by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. I have also had one or another movement of a Haydn quartet echoing through my head. If you asked me at any given moment what music was playing in my head, there would be something there. I cannot really shut it off. The most I can do is interrupt it for a moment or consciously switch to another tune. Since I am not a great musical intelligence I tend not to be able to play the whole movement through in my head, and I get frustratingly stuck on a few fragments.

One thing that help is to memorize a whole poem: then at least if I the first line pops into my head I know the rest of it.
Study Hacks is a good blog about the work part of academic work, whether it be an undergraduate trying to complete a degree or a faculty member. (Hat tip to Jordan Davis.) Many of the principles this blogger enumerates are ones that I have found, independently, to work for me. For example, the distinction between "hard work" and "work that's hard to do."

He (Cal Newport) advises students to become experts in their majors rather than running around doing a thousand different things or taking outlandish course overloads and quadruple concentrations. He has some books on study habits that I haven't read, but if his study tips are the same as those on his blog then I would recommend these books highly.


How much work does the academic job take to do? I would say that if you teach six hours a week, you need no more than two hours, on average, for every hour of class, including grading and preparation and consulting with students. Some weeks it will be more, some less. So that's 18 hours for a 2 course load. [For a four-course load it would be 36, but some of the preparation time will be duplicated (multiple sections of the same course) or some of the material will require less preparation (more basic classes) in the kind of institutions with 4/4 loads.] So if you teach 2 courses a semester that's 18 hours a week. If you are actually writing anything during the semester, that leaves 22 hours during the working week, during which you should be able to fit 10 hours of writing and maybe 2 of going to the library. You still have 10 hours left for service assignments, meetings, lectures, dissertation chapters, etc... If you're like me, though, you won't be writing 10 hours a week unless you have an impending deadline or you are on a research grant. If we all wrote 10 hours a week all the time everyone would have 15 books.

Something does not compute. It is actually very hard to keep track of time, since only classes, office hours, and meetings are scheduled, and work takes place in the office, at home, in the library, and in the coffee shop, and any time between dawn and midnight seven days a week. The diffusion of time and space makes things easier in some sense, but less easy in another, since the work expands to fill the time available for it. From the point of view of the non-academic, we are never working, whereas from our point of view, we are always working.

Newport recommends deep focus: highly intense work for short bursts. That's probably the best for academic work. Teaching is intense, and so is writing. If you measure your work in hours, boasting about how many hours you work, you are not really giving your time its proper value at all. Better to count the hours you actually produced something worthwhile.

I recommend treating your academic job as a 9-5 gig, as far as that is possible. Start on Monday doing as much as possible of the week's work on that day. Start priding yourself on efficiency and quality rather than on the quantity of hours or how late you stay up.

It's possible that I'm just a bit smarter than you and so my advice won't transfer. Newport, however, offers similar principles to everyone who looks at his blog or buys his books. He believes good students are just like anyone else, but have learned how to channel their energies more effectively. I'd say it's even more important to work in this way if you're not smart, since efficiency becomes all the more important. Honestly, though, a lot of what we call being smart is simply putting these principles in action in the first place.
Another review of the Lorca book is up.
As you age you lose some mental quickness, sheer speed. You can also become less open to new possibilities, more set in your intellectual habits, and less quick at learning new material. It is quite possible that I was more brilliant twenty years ago. I look back at my first book and wonder how I could have been as smart as the person who wrote that.

On the other hand, you can gain erudition and experience, become smarter in other ways. In fact, if you aren't doing this then you will have only the negative effects of the slowing down process without the added benefits. Imagine if you could play competitive tennis at a high level up to the age of 60. You would have an edge in experience and knowledge. If your physical decay was only slight, then you would beat everyone else. In scholarship, the equivalent of 25 in tennis is probably about 45: that's the age when your mental faculties haven't atrophied yet, but you've gained a lot of experience / knowledge. The good thing is that you can actually keep some of that mental flexibility and acuity and even increase some capacities that don't depend wholly on sheer speed and memory.
Here's a radical idea. Have only one project at a time. (On the website of my former colleague I notice there are about 5 projects s/h/e has been doing in the last five to ten years, with zero books published.) Work on that project all the time. ( Don't wait for a block of two or three hours or the perfect atmospheric conditions.) Don't work on anything else substantial until you have finished that one thing. Right now, for me, it's my MLA talk. If I work on it a little today, a little tomorrow, and so on I can finish it by a week from today. Then I can do my syllabi for next semester, then my talk on Ullán for Madrid in January, and finally my critical edition. January all I will have to do is teach my courses and go to Madrid. After that I will write my book Lorca and Modernity, taking on absolutely no other projects, even book reviews.
I've been thinking a bit about academic work and the question of efficiency. There are two views that are somewhat misguided, in my view. The general public thinks that university professors hardly work at all. A few hours of teaching a week, summers off... You get the idea. The average faculty member, in defense against this kind of thinking, will emphasize how many hours s/h/e works--60, 70 a week? The mistake on both parts is to think of academic work in terms of hours rather than in terms of work accomplished. Think of it this way: we are evaluated by teaching evaluations and by scholarly productivity, not by the number of hours worked. If I publish more than you do, and in better journals and presses, then I don't really care that you are working 50 to my 30 hours.

I had a colleague at a previous institution who was always harried and over-worked. I'm sure this person did a lot, but what exactly was the result? How come her book was never actually completed?

The real problem is that the most time-consuming things are also the least compensated, falling outside of the teaching / research paradigm. Editing a journal, for example, is extremely time-consuming, yet won't get you promoted.

20 nov 2009

Dear students:

I am not smarter than you.

True, I have read more books, accumulated more cultural capital. My thought is more nuanced and sophisticated; I can articulate my ideas better in both speech and writing, in both Spanish and English. I know more than you about many, many things, and can do the New York Times crossword Saturday puzzle faster than you, who can't do it at all. Generally speaking, I approach things in a more intellectual way, and have developed mental capacities and skills beyond what you are capable of. I have a better memory than you, better "critical thinking" in all dimensions. I can concentrate for longer periods of time and focus more intensely on things that interest me. I have learnt and forgotten ancient Greek...

Ok, so maybe I am smarter than you after all.

Yet the ways in which I am smarter result from my habitual actions of the course of many years rather than from some inherent capacity that I have and you don't. About half of my advantage over you is analogous to physical conditioning; the other half is analogous to the accumulation of wealth. (Very little has to do with a number on an aptitude test. Your number might be bigger or smaller than mine; I really don't care.) Being smart is more like a decision (or series of decisions) that you make than like some nebulous capacity that you have. You can be smarter than 90% of your fellow students simply by reading. You are Spanish majors, but how many of you have ever read a novel in Spanish not assigned for a class? Yes, I understand that you don't like literature. If you read some novels, however, you will learn those vocabulary words that escape you when you are trying to express your thoughts; you will internalize some grammatical principles that have escaped you and learn about the history and culture you claim to be interested in.
Here's an example I like to use. Vallejo, like Quevedo, uses a lot of word play. The phrase "proso estos versos" plays on the antithesis "prose / verse." Literally, "I prose these verses." When a translator writes something like this, "I set down these lines," or "I write these verses," the trope of antithesis is erased. I really don't see a defense for this kind of translation. "First, do no harm" should be the beginning of the Hippocratic oath for translators.

Two other instances of dilution in the Bly translation: "aguacero," which is a sudden downpour, becomes "a rainy day." "Soga" should be noose instead of merely rope. It is true that if you look up "soga" you will get rope as a possible translation, but culturally and idiomatically, proverbially, the soga is a noose.
Constraint in Translation

An original text might be subjected to certain constraints. Rhyme schemes, metrical rules, Oulipean constraints, etc... The English translation of Perec's La disparition leaves out the letter e, respecting that constraint. Usually, however, translators simply ignore the degree of constraint in a text. The complicated rules of classical Chinese verse, or the alternation of feminine and masculine rhymes in French. The classic case is using approximate or half rhyme as an equivalent to a rather intensely constrained variety of rhyme.

18 nov 2009

What about a theory of poetic translation that was tropological, that aimed for the preservation of every antithesis, metonymy, litotes, catachresis, etc... in the poem? If we take the rhetorical, tropological structure of the poem seriously, what would that mean for translation? (Assuming prosody is pretty much a lost cause in translation.)
I've always wanted to do a history of the Spanish lyric course, beginning with medieval cancioneros and romanceros, going through Garcilaso, Fray Luis and San Juan, Quevedo and Góngora, Bécquer, JRJ, Lorca, Guillén, Claudio Rodríguez, María Victoria Atencia, and Olvido García Valdés. I'd probably put in some Latin American poetry as well. It would basically be the canon. Not that there's anything wrong with that. My course in the spring is similar, but emphasizes popular poetry in the anonymous traditions. You would really need two semesters: one for poetry with an author and another for poetry without.

17 nov 2009

Dilution is what I like to call the general effect in translation of flattening, watering down, blunting the impact, or erasing the tropes of a poetic text. It is a similar concept to Antoine Berman's term "Qualitative Impoverishment" ("Translation and the Trials of the Foreign," in Venuti's Translation Studies Reader), but my term encompasses a wider range of effects. I view dilution as a general tendency in translation in general, even in otherwise good translations. In other words, translation in general tends to go in this direction, and readers generally tolerate this. I will use some examples from Christopher Johnson's recent Quevedo translation (Selected Poetry of Francisco de Quevedo), published by the U of Chicago P. This is not a bad translation at all, in the sense that it is both readable and accurate. It comes recommended by very highly regarded specialists.

Another disclaimer is that Quevedo is the preeminent poet of verbal wit. His effects are not inherently "translatable "in the conventional sense. Furthermore, there are other values in translation other than preserving the original poetic force of the text. Readability, "fluency," rhythmic grace, etc... A translation that didn't dilute might be much less acceptable to many readers. My point is that we should know what it is we're missing. Hence my nitpicking comments, beginning with several things in the first poem in the book, the famous sonnet beginning "Ah de la vida.."

'Aquí de los antaños que he vivido."

"Help, here are the years I have lived."

There is a play on words: antaño means somethings like 'yesteryear" or "formerly," whereas the translator treats it as though it were simply "años." Quevedo makes an adverb (antaño) into a plural noun.

"Falta la vida, asiste lo vivido"

"Missing is life, existence remains"

"Lo vivido" means "what has been lived," the sum total of past life. Quevedo uses words from the same family (vida, vivido) to hammer home the antithesis. The word existence has no sense of pastness about it. The syntactic parallelism disappears, because the translator has inverted the word order in one phrase but not the other. The original is more vivid, with the verb asistir being the perfect complement to faltar. "Life skips class, the lived attends."

"y no hay calamidad que no me ronde"

"and everywhere calamity awaits"

What Quevedo says is that "there is no calamity that doesn't lie in wait for me." That's a much stronger statement. Waiting (or awaiting) is much blander that the verb rondar. Here is means something closer to threaten. Good iambic pentameter, though.

"y he quedado / presentes sucesiones de difunto"

"and so I succeed my dead self again."

I think part of the verbal wit is in the plural noun "sucesiones." The self lives in a series of present moments, in each of which he is essentially a dead man. In the translation, this becomes a single event.

In the sonnet beginning "Miré los muros de la patria mía" Quevedo creates a powerful structure by using a series of verbs in the preterit at the beginning of the first three stanzas: "Miré los muros," / "Salíme al campo" / "Entré en mi casa." The translator varies this, inserting some present participles, and dismantles the effect. In another poem translator uses the word "lesson" to translate "escarmiento," a much harsher word. It does mean "lesson," but in the sense that getting beaten up is a "lesson," in other words, a harsh punishment or very stern warning. I would suggest a word like "scourge."

11 nov 2009

One thing I've been doing a lot of lately is not collecting stamps, coins, and firearms. My weekends are spent not golfing, fishing, and hunting, while my weekday evening are devoted to not going to the bowling alley. My wardrobe consists of clothes other than stiletto heels, kilts, and baseball caps, while my diet consists of food other than lobster and jello. I spent a lot of time not going to the movies or watching nascar races on tv. but I think I spend even more time not smoking a pipe, knitting, and shooting skeet.

Among the religions I make a point not to practice are Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, and Shinto. I am thinking of also not practicing Taoism. When I get a little time I'll start not doing that, but I am very busy not playing ultimate frisbee right now. In fact, in the time I spend not doing that I could probably take up the non-practice of animism and start not doing many other things as well. While I have been known to ride a bicycle, it curious that I actually spend more time not doing so. In fact, I sometimes attempt to not ride a bicycle at the same time as I don't play a cello, a violin, a flute, and a clarinet. As you can imagine, this gets a little tricky!

8 nov 2009

In my MLA talk I'm making the argument that Venuti's notion that "translation today bears little sign of these [modernist] developments" (The Translator's Invisibility [2nd ed.] 164) has to be questioned. Yes, there is a whole swath of mainstream translation that receives little influence from more radical Poundian principles. What Venuti unwittingly minimizes, however, is the entire phenomenon of the postmodernist poet-translator from Spicer to Rosmarie Waldrop. It is true that he mentions some of these significant names in passing, but he prefers to see translation as marginal and victimized rather than as central to modern poetics as a whole. Take away translation, and we have a mutilated modern/postmodern poetics. Maybe this modernist poetic practice of translation is marginal within the total universe of translations, but it is central to American poetry itself. Poet-translators employ a huge range of techniques, from Richard Wilbur on one end of the spectrum to Rothenberg on the other.

If we take "translation" as our area of concern, then modernist translation (as defined by Venuti) is a small part of the whole. Yet if we take "modernist / postmodernist poetics" as our area, then translation becomes absolutely central. You have to be able to see the duck as well as the rabbit.

Venuti's emphasis on the binary opposition between fluency and its discontents also has the practical effect of putting all "fluent" translations in the same category. Yet surely all "fluent" translation are not created equal, and there is a huge continuum of practices between the fluent and the obtrusive. Venuti's deep distrust of theories that make the translator invisible has the paradoxical effect of making certain kinds of translation less visible. Maybe interesting things are happening in Marianne Moore's LaFontaine, for example. Someone should look at that. Isn't that another variety of "modernist" translation?

5 nov 2009

Our conference starts this evening. In the meantime, I did laundry and wrote 900 words of my MLA talk in about an hour and 15, will have lunch then tackle a friend's poetry manuscript. My talk is turning into an indirect response to Venuti's review of my book. The final version will await my next free day. It's interesting that I think I need a whole day to write for an hour and 15 minutes.

4 nov 2009

Two centenarian deaths: Spanish novelist Francisco Ayala and French structural anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss.
A new post on Arcade where I talk a bit about my response to Venuti's review.
Right before the recital of the poem that made Amiri Baraka lose his laureateship he was singing the Monk tune "Misterioso." Another poem was accompanied by "Monk's Mood." I bet only Ken Irby and I and a few other people in the SRO audience got those references. This blog isn't called Bemsha Swing for nothing.

I'm wondering if my Haydn obsession isn't a reaction to preparing the jazz course, in that jazz has suddenly become "work."

3 nov 2009

Ok. I'm on face book but I won't twit. That's where I draw the line.
Should I facebook? What do you think? I've been resisting it up to now. Surprising, because I was an early blogger. A lot of my colleagues are on it and they were saying I should, but I don't know. Will it eat up my time?
Someone coming to our Mid America conference on Hispanic Literatures (MACHL) this weekend is going to be talking about Ullán. This is unusual because almost nobody works on him in this country. I also recognized a title of another talk, and looked in my files: I had reviewed this same talk in its article version for a journal--anonymously.

I'm going to be introducing our keynote speaker, the Spanish philosopher Eduardo Subirats, seeing many old friends and making some new ones.

The profession can be very isolating, in that, for instance, my university is not going to hire someone else in my same field just to keep me company. I'm it for Spanish poetry here. It was nice to have Margarita here for a few months, but now I'm back on my own. The good thing is I have conferences in November, December, and January.

We have an expression, "caer en saco roto." Something like "falling on deaf ears." A lot of scholarship in the humanities falls into the torn sack, and maybe deservedly so. That's why the few opportunities for actually having a conversation with someone who's read my work and has actually read the poets I am working on are so valuable.

Since I'm kind of a loner anyway I have to make a special effort to have a wide network of people. When I forget to do this or don't have the energy to travel I suffer greatly. On the one hand, being a loner allows me to work alone and get things done--something that would drive many people crazy. On the other hand, I'm in a situation where most of the people who actually know something about what I'm working on are thousands of miles away, where i can go months in virtual isolation.


Baraka's talking about Barack today at 7 at the Kansas Union. That should be interesting.

2 nov 2009

I have three relatively short writing projects: MLA talk in Philly about Paul Blackburn (see you there); intro to a critical edition I want to do; talk in Madrid in January about Ullán. I've decided to try a different method of working. I have Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday, and the following Tuesday more or less free. Tomorrow, Tuesday, I am going to see how much I can get done on Ullán. Thursday I will devote to Blackburn, and Sunday to the critical preface. Tuesday I will back to Ullán. In other words, every free day I will work on one of these projects in rotating fashion, for the rest of November or until I finish them all. This is not how I usually work, but I don't want to get bogged down on any one thing. The idea is to devote one day to try to get as much as possible of one single task done. In other words, I can probably do about 80% of any of these projects given one free day, so I'll need about 6 days in toto.

1 nov 2009

Time for the November Lorca giveaway. The first person who emails me with her US mailing address at jmayhew "@" ku.edu and gives me a "good" reason why she deserves the book Apocryphal Lorca will get a copy. No requests in comments this time: it can be embarrassing to ask for something. I'll announce the winner shortly.

Since all the winners so far have been of the male persuasion, this month's copy will go to the other gender, as my pronouns above imply.

[We have a winner! Maryrose Larkin.]

31 oct 2009

My worst article was probably one I wrote for La alegría de los naufragios. It was a fairly crude polemic against the poetry of experience. A few have taken issue with it: Jenaro Talens from a perspective sympathetic to my own, and Rafael Morales from a perspective unsympathetic. Of course, since it was in Spanish and published in Spain, I am known for that. I have four books published but that one little article has had more impact, because a lot of people don't or won't read English. I don't really regret writing it, and writing it the way I did, because it's had an impact, and the basic point behind it is a valid one. I don't blame Jenaro, who is a friend of mine, for criticizing the crudeness of the attack. This worst article of mine is based on another one in English that made the attack in more measured and convincing fashion.

Matthew Marr, of Penn State, seems to be a nice guy. He wrote a book arguing for the vitality of the poetry of experience, and taking me to task a bit. The only problem is that he ignores my principal article, using instead one from a few years before that is the final section of my second book (rather than the first section of my third book).

I really want to be known for the Lorca book, and the fifth book not yet written on Lorca. It is a little funny that even people in Spain who think I am great know me for my worst article.

30 oct 2009

The worst reason for not liking something is that you think it is "elitist" to like it. Then you're letting yourself be blackmailed by the idea that somewhere else, someone else wouldn't be able to enjoy it. Has that ever happened to you?

28 oct 2009

What I was trying to get at yesterday was that I have two ways of listening to classical music (I mean here classical in the narrower sense of 18th century). I can hear at as conventional, nice-sounding, structurally cohesive music, but without really being engaged with it beyond that, or it can really get to me. For whatever reason, Haydn's opus 54 and opus 74 (string quartets) that I've been listening to lately have just totally floored me. They are as sublime as anything in Mozart. I had only before heard Haydn the first way, as pleasant, upbeat, witty, and structurally balanced music. Nobody told me that Haydn was like this. The world was holding back this music from me until I was ready to hear it. What gave me the hint was the Mozart dedicated six of his most accomplished string quartets to Haydn. I thought that Haydn must have written something interesting in this genre.

It's the same with the baroque, one of my favorite periods of music. Some baroque music I hear as mere "scrubba scrubba."

27 oct 2009

"The item(s) you requested or a bibliographer identified on your behalf are now available at the location(s) shown below."

I got that in an email today from the library and parsed it as meaning "Either the items you requested ... or a bibliographer (who was identified on your behalf) are now available." So i would go down to the library and pick up either a book from interlibrary loan or my own personal bibliographer. Obviously it means "The items that you requested, or that a bibliographer found for you based on such are request, are now available." Even when I know what it's supposed to mean I still see it as "a bibliographer identified" rather than as "the item ... a bibliographer identified."
My "classical" music obsession are very few, but very intense. Bach's unaccompanied cello and violin works, along with the Goldberg Variations. Mozart's "Haydn" string quartets and Haydn's own string quartets--the half dozen of them I'm listening to right now. The music of Morton Feldman.

Beyond that I like the standard orchestral repertoire of Beethoven, Brahms, and Mahler, Stravinsky. I prefer the concert hall for orchestral music and my own private space for chamber music, etc... I like or actively tolerate most canonical composers, but am not too fond of Benjamin Britten.

To be an obsession, the music has to get to me. It has to get me, understand me at a deep level and anticipate what I want out of it.

The way I "understand" music is pretty elemental. For example, I might be saying to myself: "Here's the main theme, four bars of question and four bars of 'answer.' Then that's repeated. Here comes the cadence. Here's some 'stalling' for four measure. Now here's the main theme in a minor key. Some complication of all that. Return to the main theme. Some conclusive sounding stuff to let you know it's about to end, then a little more of that, then it is really ending." In other words, I listen structurally, rhythmically, and thematically, responding pretty much to standard tension/resolution and simplicity/complexity sorts of things.

The Endellion Quartet has a recording of some Haydn quartets that is superb: both the music itself and the performance. Opus 74 # 2 in F Major is a wonderful piece. The 2nd movement, an "andante grazioso" gets me every time. The timbre of these players here is extraordinarily "sweet," which seems to fit the music nicely.

26 oct 2009

This is my 6th post today, but I've yet to get a comment. What's wrong with you people? I can't get arrested on this blog today.
As readers of translation we (and I include myself here) are too often like parents who alternately over-indulge and abuse our children. We are usually far too complacent, yet at times given to irrational rages. We forgive many big transgressions while harshly punishing trivial infractions of arbitrary rules. We are over-attentive, over-bearing, yet distracted by comparisons to the original. Either we forget we are reading a translation, or we can't stop thinking we are reading only a translation. We rely too much or too little on our own aesthetic compass; we are over- or underinvested in translation theory. The search for a happy medium leads only to incoherence. There is no possible "balance."
I'm going to do an experiment in class today, to measure the entropy effect in translation. I know entropy has a technical definition in information theory--one that I don't understand. What I mean by entropy here is simply the loss of information. I've written down some sentences on index cards.

How my parents managed the sleeping arrangements is still a mystery to me.

I am afraid that my reasoning will not convince many people.

I want to write, but only foam comes out.

Their departure was complicated by Marshall's discovery that the electricity was still on in half of the house.

The dreams of youth are replaced by the dreams of middle age and maturity.

Weaker and weaker, the sunlight falls / In the afternoon. The proud and the strong / Have departed.

Some are prose and some poetry, you might recognize lines from A Nest of Ninnies and Wallace Stevens. but that doesn't make too much difference. A student will translate these sentences into Spanish, on another index card, a second student will translate this Spanish sentence into English again (without knowing what the original sentence was) and so on. In other words, the game of 'telephone" or "Chinese Whispers," but using translation.

The question will be, how many translations are necessary to obliterate the message? Or, put another way, how long can the original message survive? The students are advanced (senior level) students mostly majoring in Spanish. We could imagine perfectly bilingual people, who could translate back and forth with minimal entropy, or at the other extreme, students so inexpert at the 2nd language that entropy would be immediate and fatal. I'm interested in that middle range. I'll report back after class. Stay tuned!

[Update: Here are the sentences after seven translations:

How my parents have been driving the sleeping rules is a mystery to me.

I want to write, but my only pen is out.

I am scared that the person I know will not convince many people.

The exit was complicated because Marshall discovered that there still wasn't electricity in the house.

The dreams of the children have changed with the maturity of the teenage years.

Dimmer and dimmer, the evening sun falls. The pride and force have disappeared.

Most of the quotes suffered at least one fatal error, usually the result of a single, identifiable slip-up in the chain. In other words, it wasn't a gradual entropy, but a single person committing an outright misinterpretation. We were able to trace the process and see exactly where the misreadings occurred. There was a process of rationalization, where the idea of foam coming out of a pen changed to a more quotidian notion of a pen being out of ink. Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery/ Schuyler suffered the least damage, it seems to me. Maybe there's something in the poetic message that makes it more resilient to entropy.]
I'm not very good at botanical readings of Lorca.
One of the main scholars I have to deal with in this next project is Philip Silver, now retired from Columbia University. He presents a theory of modernist inadequacy in La casa de Anteo, a theory of romantic inadequacy in Ruin and Restitution.

(Silver was probably the main contributor to the study of Spanish poetry among US academics in the generation right before mine. Unfortunately he wasn't much of a mentor to me. Although he's invited me to contribute to a few collections of essays on Claudio Rodríguez, he never really offered to take that role. The person who did try to actively mentor me was another scholar, whose understanding of poetry was rather antithetical to mine. He brought me to Kansas; we were very good friends for a while, but I think the tensions got the better of us in later years. We never had an official falling out, in fact I had to organize a major symposium for him, and to teach his class when he got cancer, but it was very hard on me. At a fundamental level I just could not respect him as a scholar. It was not just a matter of disagreement, because I might disagree with Silver too in some cases. I felt that he just didn't have "it." I also feel his influence on the field is deleterious. He didn't like Silver--partly, I think, because he knew Silver was at a different level.)

It is interesting that in La casa de Anteo Silver studies Lorca's theater--in a book otherwise about poetry. That creates an opportunity, in a way. The best critics have often side-stepped Lorca's poetry and written about the theater instead.
Spanish literary history has often been narrated as a series of lacks or absences. What is absent or problematic, in such accounts, is modernity itself, high Romanticism, or the Enlightenment. From the point of view of a Hispanist (in other words, non-Spanish specialist in Spanish matters), this becomes doubly problematic: why specialize in an area of the world defined by its deficiencies? Usually the answer is that we Hispanists are motivated by our identification with the liberal Spain repressed by the other Spain. Things are not that simple though. After all, aren't we attracted to the region in the first place because of its exotic backwardness?

Nowhere are these contradictions so strong as in the study of Lorca. The generation of intellectuals right before Lorca despised bullfighting. In a Baroja novel a taste for the national festival usually marks a character as brutish. It is hard to reconcile Lorca with any convenient idea of modernity.

25 oct 2009

Review of my book by Heriberto Yépez. This one is in Spanish:

.... Se trata de Jonathan Mayhew y su extraordinario estudio Apocryphal Lorca. Translation, Parody, Kitsch (The University of Chicago Press, 2009). 

Esta obra se ocupa no de García Lorca sino de cómo los escritores estadounidenses han reinventado a Lorca, desde Spicer y Rothenberg hasta O’Hara y Koch. Asimismo, es una discusión de la Deep Image —¡cuánto hay que desmenuzar de ese capítulo!— y la manera en que la poética norteamericana se ha apropiado de lo lorqueano (o lorcaesco) y del concepto de lo “otro” que éste representa. Éste es un libro repleto de sutilezas, de tesis, apuntes, datos. 

Si alguien quiere comenzar a entender la poesía norteamericana de posguerra, este libro es una vía para aproximarse a esta tradición desde un ángulo inesperado, un Lorca que, en muchos sentidos, parecerá irreal a los lectores latinoamericanos típicos, el Lorca del duende, esa teoría lorquiana que es menor entre nosotros y fue protagónica en el imaginario de la poética en Estados Unidos.

In other words: "What I'm talking about is JM and his extraordinary study AP.... This work is not about García Lorca but rather about how US writers reinvented Lorca, from Spicer and Rothenberg to O'Hara and Koch. It is also a discussion of the Deep Image--how we have to read this chapter in detail!--and the way American poetics has appropriated the lorquian (or lorcaesque) and of the concept of the "other" that it represents. This book is full to the brim of subtleties, of these, of facts. If somehow wants to begin to understand postwar American poetry, this book is a way of approaching this tradition from an unexpected angle, a Lorca that, in many ways, will seem unreal to typical Latin American readers: the Lorca of the duende, this Lorquian theory that is more minor among us and that was the main thrust in the imaginary of US Poetics."

23 oct 2009

If time travel is possible, then it has already been invented. We would already know about it because "they" would have come back to tell us about it. We would already be doing it. In fact, this would be true not only of time travel itself but of all technology. No more stone age tools, if all it takes is one person from the future going back to introduce the most advanced possible technology. Time travel is the negation of time itself. We cannot say "at some point in the future we will learn this," because there is no future anymore. There is not such thing as a "not yet." There is no past either, needless to say.

If time travel exists in its stupid science fiction modality, then other times are other places that exist right now as we speak, somewhere else. The third century B.C. is like a place one can go visit. But then again, every year in this century, every month of this year, every day--down to the most minute subdivisions of time--are places to which one could "travel." But in a sense, then, we are already there, in each place, and each time/place exists right now. If I go to 1964 then I would be myself in 1964. That's who I am in that temporal context. Otherwise, if I go back to a time where I actually existed, but am still myself now doing that, then there are two selves looking at each other. Or there could be infinite selves, since time travel posits that every moment of time exists simultaneously to every other moment--displaced along some spacial dimension.

To travel to a place where I did not or will not exist as myself, on the other hand, is still to posit an intolerable duplication of reality at the molecular level.

The problem with SF is that it doesn't take its ideas seriously enough.
I got my copy of Vanitas with a very short essay by me on Lorca, translation, and prosody. Of course my first reaction on seeing was this was realizing that I spelled Zukofsky Zukovsky. I thought I had transcended that particular mistake. I really hate people who write Zukovsky, along with idiots who write The Wasteland or Finnegan's Wake or Alan Ginsburg. Those are mistakes I would never, ever make. Except with Lewis Z, for some reason. (I mean Louis, of course). I would never write Harry Matthews when everyone knows it is Harry Mathews. I would never write Thelonius instead of Thelonious either.

I would never refer to Leonardo Da Vinci as "Da Vinci." You have to say "Leonardo." It's just one of those things you have to know. You don't ever call San Juan de la Cruz, "De la Cruz" or Garcilaso de la Vega "De la Vega" or Fray Luis de León "De León." It just isn't done.

Bérubé reviewed some book about why the humanities matter, or some such crap, by an Ohio State professor who thinks that Leonardo was influenced by Newton's ideas on gravity. That's a little worse than calling Leonardo "Da Vinci," because, as others have pointed out, Leonardo was long dead before Newton was born. The guy lives in a bizarro universe where Edward Said is not sufficiently sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. But, of course, he is the champion of objective reality against postmodernism. Go figure.

Anyway, the Vanitas issue is worth checking out, apart from my deeply flawed contribution. At least I didn't talk about Lorca's influence on "Da Vinci."

22 oct 2009

I have a new post up at Arcade describing my new book project.
I was reading The Anxeity of Influence while my students took an exam and got to thinking. It's such a useful concept--apart from the fact I can't stand Bloom's writing and many other things about the book. In other words, I have an anxiety of influence about the anxiety of influence. Margarita, a student from Spain who's come to work with me for a few months on her dissertation, has found it useful, though in her case it is a question of a weak poet with weak misreadings of much stronger poets. My Apocryphal Lorca is a Bloomian book, en el fondo y hasta cierto punto.

I know Rothenberg wrote about Bloom as the angel of death, deciding who gets in the canon and who doesn't. But when I turn to Rothenberg's reading of Lorca, isn't it just a weak misreading of a strong poet? It's hard to avoid that conclusion: it just stares you in the face.

Here's the thing: it is hard for me to avoid the idea that certain poets matter more than others. You feel that with Bloom, that he gets that. Of course, this all depends on a prior sense that poetry itself matters. You feel that in the writing of Bloom, Vendler, and Perloff, despite their differences. There's an intensity there. I also feel that it's worthwhile to be a strong critic. I am self-aware enough to know it's also a little ridiculous; as Sibelius said, nobody ever erected a statue of a critic. That keeps it in perspective a little.

One thing I've always thought is that criticism should be at the level of the poetry it's about. Bloom knew that, even if we judge his own criticism not at that level. In other words, you have to bring all the erudition, critical intelligence, and poetic culture at the most profound level that you can muster.

20 oct 2009

I got my copy of Principios modernos y creatividad expresiva en la poesía española contemporánea today, with my article on Lorca. The rest of the book pretty much backs up the high modern line that I have been promoting, but mine is the only article on Lorca in it. This made me think that my perspective is still based on my own American Lorquismo. For example, in Spain it is Jiménez--a poet for whom I feel little affinity--not Lorca who is considered the great high modernist icon.

I am the only American critic in this volume, and only one of two teaching in US universities. This is a familiar position for me.

So I guess I am in the position of arguing that the preference for Jiménez over Lorca is--not exactly a mistake--but an oversight. JRJ with his tiresome narcissism and his dire influence on the worst kind of "essentialist" poetry. Surely the worst part of Valente and his followers comes from Jiménez--and the best from Lorca, but indirectly. Why do Spanish readers admire some of the worst parts of their own tradition, like Cernuda's later dramatic monologues? They obviously need me to set them straight.


After hearing the St Louis symphony play the 1812 Overture on Saturday and the SLSO Youth Orchestra on Sunday playing Shostakovich, Bernstein, and Wagner, I was a little overwhelmed by orchestral bombast. The KC Youth orchestra in for a visit did Berlioz. It's enjoyable to a degree, and bombast always gets standing ovations. 19th century orchestra music is loud and always ends with a bang.

14 oct 2009

Negotiations for my critical edition of a certain work of Lorca are going well. I don't want to jinx it by telling you what it is right now, but it will come out from University of Chicago Press if all goes well.

10 oct 2009

Lorca and Modern Poetry [working title]


I. Lorca and Modernity. What does it mean for modern poetry, for modernism in Spain particularly, that Lorca is the major figure identified with Spanish modernism? Explore other kinds of paradoxical forms of Spanish modernity in Unamuno, Zambrano.

II. Vicissitudes of the Duende. Explore Lorca's poetics of performativity from the inside out, beginning with a close reading of the duende essay and supplementing it with readings of other of Lorca's lectures.

III. Lorca and Contemporary Spanish poetry. His seeming non-influence on major Spanish poets--but the way in which the same paradox of modernity / non-modernity repeats itself.

IV. Apocryphal Postscript. A revision of my own views, from a slightly different angle. Answer to my critics, etc...

I think it could be a book. I'm conceiving it almost in dissertation style, with three 40-page chapters. Instead of an introduction, I want a very short preface and a first chapter which serves double duty as an introduction and 1st substantive chapter. As with Apocryphal Lorca, it won't be articles first. It will be through-composed rather than stitched together later.


When I was in my early 30s, I thought I had pretty much arrived. I was publishing in PMLA and MLN. My second book came out in '94, before I turned 35. Someone said once at one of those tenure meeting years ago, about I forget whom, that you have to be 40 to be a mature scholar. I kind of scoffed at that, because I thought I already knew a lot at age 36. Now, though, I realize I didn't know very much. My second peak, which I'm still enjoying, was in my late 40s. I still feel I don't know enough, but that it was precisely by plunging in and learning on the job that I got where I am--writing beyond myself, as it were. It's writing the books that made me erudite.

9 oct 2009

The new collective blog(s) Arcade are open to the public now. I am an Arcade author and am excited about it. I wrote a few posts during the development phase, when it was closed to outsiders. Check it out and let me know what you think.

8 oct 2009

I'm in a bit a of a lull. I could be writing my fifth book as fast as possible, but I don't want to rush it at this point. I have to write an MLA talk on Paul Blackburn, a talk on Ullán to give in January in Madrid, and to complete a large departmental paperwork task that I cannot even talk about beyond that. Giving myself a break from writing is actually excruciating, since I am happiest when most productive.

I would really love to undertake some collaborative work. The one problem with scholarly writing is that it's rather isolating. It would be fun to write an article with someone else for a change. But who? And what exactly would be the interchange?

I'm going to do a really major article on Lorca's duende lecture, which is going to be the centerpiece of book 5. In fact, here as I think of it, I really need to do another book about Lorca instead of rewriting book #3.

It would include the following:

Preface, Introduction.

I. Huge, major essay on Lorca's duende article. "Lorca's performative poetics."

II. ???

III. Section on Lorca and contemporary Spanish poetry. Influence on Valente and Gamoneda. The way Lorca is present/absent from Spanish poetry after Lorca.

IV. Postscript to Apocryphal Lorca. A kind of follow-up on Lorca and translation / reception theory. Answer to my critics?

Where the question marks are would inserted some other reading of Lorca's poetry, from an angle yet to be determined, or the piece that would make this a book rather than just a series of unrelated essays. So I have three ideas, which I already know how to pursue more or less, along with a general direction: Lorca in performance / reception. Dynamic readings of him.

Maybe I'm not in a lull after all. This blog post has been very productive.
Why is García Lorca known as Lorca rather than García?

García is like "Smith"--the most common surname in Spain. We have two María Garcías among our graduate students. Lorca, on the other hand, is unusual and hence distinctive. (There is a town called Lorca.)

Generally, the paternal surname would be used alone, or in combination with the maternal one. According to this convention I would be Jonathan Mayhew Ellsworth, or Mayhew Ellsworth, but never just *Jonathan Ellsworth or *Ellsworth. You cannot say *José Gasset. It has to be Ortega y Gasset. (My actual name is Jonathan Ellsworth Mayhew, and Ellsworth is my mom's original last name.)

The exception is when the maternal surname is so much more distinctive, as in García Lorca or Pérez Galdós. These names get shortened to Lorca and Galdós, because García and Pérez are like Smith and Jones. You still can't say *Benito Galdós or *Federico Lorca. That sounds funny.

With García Márquez, the maternal surname is distinctive enough to be used. Nobody ever says just Gabriel García. On the other hand, in Spanish he is referred to by both names, not as "Márquez. The "English Department" pronunciation is Mar-QUEEZ, with the accent on the wrong syllable.

7 oct 2009

Some key paragraphs from Venuti's review, in the October 2 TLS:

The great merit of Mayhew's study is his sustained effort to document and interrogate Lorca's reception, unique among American encounters with foreign literatures in its nature and extent. For Mayhew, the American Lorca is largely an apocryphal figure, a cultural stereotype that was fully assimilated into the American idiom. Like all stereotypes, the Americanized Lorca is reductive: the poet's life is equated with his homosexuality and his murder by Franco's forces, and his oeuvre, whittled down to his essay "Play and Theory of the Duende" and a small group of poems from Gypsy Balladbook and Poet in New York, becomes indistinguishable from a romantic image of Andalusian folk song and so-called Spanish surrealism.

"Lorquismo", in Mayhew's coinage, serves an ideological function, enabling American poets to resist the repressiveness and conformism of the Cold War era. It is pressed into the service of anti-Fascist and anti-capitalist politics, African American and gay male identities, ethnopoetics, urban working-class experience, and the Jungian-inspired deep image. Mayhew's critique is most revealing when addressing Lorquismo in its historical moment. He points out that its agenda, although opposed to McCarthyism, likewise expresses an "American exceptionalism", the nationalistic view that the US can best deploy the cultural imports needed to revitalize Western nations. His evidence includes Bob Kaufman's anti-racist yet patriotic poem "The Ancient Rain", where Lorca is invoked among American historical figures from Crispus Attucks, Washington and Lincoln to John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.

The defects of Mayhew's study hinge on his method. His choice of the word "apocryphal" is the first ominous sign: it implies a canonical interpretation of Lorca, and for Mayhew, a professor of Spanish literature, that can only be found in the academy. He complains of the "American popularizers" that "Their aim is not the scholarly one of understanding Lorca as he really is, or Lorca in the context of the larger Hispanic literary tradition". That phrase, "as he really is", is telling.

Mayhew's opening chapter brilliantly clears away the stereotypical notions of Lorca, but it also registers a sophisticated awareness that his own interpretation is a personal preference informed by an academic critical orthodoxy, at once post-structuralist and postcolonial. Thus he asserts that "'Lorca' is a complex author-function", whose "own vision of the gypsies is already that of an orientalist". Yet to expect this sort of interpretation from US poets during the Cold War is anachronistic at best.

I agree completely with that last sentence. In fact, my aim (I thought) was to show how we couldn't have expected that kind of interpretation. I realize now that my own agenda gets in the way of a strictly historicist vision, so that I appear to be criticizing the reception from an anachronistic perspective. Yet in a certain way I needed my own agenda as "leverage" in the first place in order to come up with the insights that I did.

All in all, it's a nicely balanced review that I'm quite delighted with. We always say that we want to have a serious debate about our ideas, but this rarely happens. You need someone smart enough to tell you why (he or she thinks) you are wrong, in a way that can be taken seriously. I often have the sense of having "gotten off easy."

3 oct 2009

I'm reviewed in TLS. I haven't seen the actual review yet, by Lawrence Venuti, but my name is spelled right in the TOC.

28 sept 2009

I'm going to give my anonymous poetry course next semester again, focused on the three genres of romance, the refrán, and the canción. Of these the canción or song is the most diffuse in it definition and will come last. The romance or "ballad" will begin the course, followed by the refrán or proverb.

I made several mistakes last time: I had students read the Celestina as an example of how the refrán was used within a literary work. The problem is I didn't allot time to properly teach the Celestina, a semi-difficult and longish late medieval work, so that was largely a waste. Secondly, I over-emphasized flamenco and too many students attempted to do exactly the same kind of paper. I didn't give enough guidance on choosing paper topics. Even though this is a senior class and everyone taking it is graduating with a major in Spanish, they can't really come up with a research project. I badly handled a few C students. I had the students give presentations, and, given the similarities among topics, these presentations were repetitive.

Students in my courses often don't know what to do with what I give them. That is a key problem in my teaching. I have a hard time telling people what to do in the first place, but undergraduate students need very firm guidelines. I need super-rigid assignments that bad students can do adequately and good students can excel at.

25 sept 2009

I have a pretty good idea for a Lorca book. I can't tip my hand right now because it is a simple idea that could be stolen by someone else--the kind of thing whose value is largely in my having thought of it before someone else did. I'll keep you posted if it goes anywhere, once the pieces are in place. Someone who received a complimentary copy of AL gave me this idea without even meaning to--which shows that the Lorca giveaway is paying off in unexpected ways.

21 sept 2009

If you are writing a memoir, write the memoir. The post below is about how to avoid two complementary fallacies:

My desk has to be completely clear of all other tasks in order to devote any time at all to the memoir. (This will never happen, so nothing will get written.)

I am writing my memoir this year; I can't be troubled to do a single other task.

My method frees time by making minor tasks more efficient.
Just as you should have an organized work space, you should also design your time, develop a time design for your work. I know that I am vastly inefficient in some respects, but still manage to get things done. If you are relatively inefficient, then even a modest change can be significant. If you are already 98% efficient, on the other hand, changes are less likely to make a difference. What I'm suggested here is that you change from your 20% efficiency rate to about a 40%.

My basic time design is to pre-crastinate on Sunday evening. (pre = before; cras = tomorrow). I make a list of things to do Monday morning, and then, if I can, I do a few things before Monday morning. Then, Monday, I do as many things as early in the morning as I can. I teach on Monday till 5:20, so I just fill the day with useful tasks as much as possible and don't do anything productive after 5. Tuesday, I work until about noon. Then, I do another pretty intense day on Wed. Thursday, Friday, Sat., I do specific tasks, read and reflect on things, but don't put in solid whole days of work. Then I begin again on Sunday.

A few general principles:

Efficient work is oriented toward tasks rather than time. What is better: working 2 hours and getting five things done, or working 7 hours and getting about 3 or for 4 things done? Since tasks expand to fill the time alloted, it is better to allot less time rather than more to any particular set of tasks.

Ever notice how service is worse in a restaurant when it's not busy? Being more busy increases efficiency. Your server will bring you the food faster if she has 10 tables full of customers. Of course, this principle only works up to a certain point. With 30 tables you will never get fed.

If I get an article to review I tend to do it right away. I open the envelope and start reading the article. The next day, first thing, I write up the review. The more tasks that can be handled that way the better. The explanation is a rather obvious one: you lose time by having to refresh your memory and approach the task three or four separate times over the space of a month. You also clear mental space by not having as many things hanging over you, and save time by not having to keep track of extra tasks.

Many things are quite dull. Filling out a conflict of interest form, ordering a parking sticker, etc... I do dull tasks like that as quickly as possible.

Laziness is the friend of efficiency. Inefficient work is much harder to do, because time and energy is wasted on avoiding work. The fact that I am lazy, then, makes me want to be more efficient.

14 sept 2009

Sonny Rollins got his nickname "Newk" from his resemblance to Brooklyn Dodger pitcher Don Newcombe. The story is a taxi driver thought he was Newcombe (or "Newk") and he played along for a little while. The irony is that now Rollins is probably much better known than Newcombe.
How to listen to a jazz solo (without knowing much about music theory)

1. Start by mapping it out. What is the form of the song? Is it 32 bars in AABA or ABAC, or a 12-bar blues? Listen to the solo while counting out the measure and hear it as successive 8 measure phrases. Play the original melody of the song in your head while the solo is going on, or simply count out the measure like this: 1234, 2234, 3234, 4234...

2. Now categorize the principal techniques, like melodic paraphrase, ornamentation, etc... What kind of a solo is it? How inventive or formulaic does it sound?

3. Measure the intensity levels. Where is the player just coasting along? Where does he or she reach a peak of intensity? How is this peak signaled? (e.g. playing higher, faster, more repetitively)? What is the overall shape of the solo? What is its beginning middle and end? Is the solo well-organized, does it tell a story, or is it kind of random sounding?

4. How does the player use space and silence? How long are the typical phrases? For example, is an 8-bar phrase just one continuous stream of swung 8th notes? Where are phrases marked in terms of the ONE? Listen for the spacing of the intervals, the upward and downward movement, the swing, the "lilt," etc...

5. How clear or opaque is the relation of melody to harmony? Here I get into trouble because I don't know anything about music theory. If you're like me, you will experience this step as simply a subjective experience of the degree of dissonance or harmonic complexity. Of course jazz players are playing for listeners, most of whom won't be musicologists, so your subjective reaction is good enough for me. Sometimes I have a name for what I hear--like I know the B section of Bemsha Swing is the same melody a fourth up. Usually, however, I don't have a name for what I am hearing.

I'd love to do this for you at some point if I have time.

11 sept 2009

It looks like this article of mine is finally coming out. I hope they send me a copy because it is 85 euros to buy the book. Once again I'm the only US scholar in a book like this.

9 sept 2009

On Wed of last week I didn't announce the reading assignment, but it was in the syllabus, listed for 9/9/9 under the name of the author and the title of the article. The article is included in the only textbook that the students bought for the course, The Translation Studies Reader. Today, the next class after that (since we had no class on Monday for labor day), only one student had found and read the article. This is the first article we were reading from this volume, so the students did not make the connection that this was the reading assignment for today. Nobody sent me an email over the break to ask what the assignment was going to be, or where the article was to be found. Few even had the book with them in class. I had a dialogue with the one student (out of 17 present in class) to do the assignment, gave a mini-lecture, and guided the discussion toward more general points that could be discussed without having read the assignment. I got through the 75-minute class somehow and I think it actually was a fairly good one--which means it would have been great with a group of prepared students. I learned two things: I can teach a good class under less than ideal conditions, and you have to be very explicit with this group of undergraduates, to the point of painfully explicit over-obviousness. If there is an assignment due, you have to announce it. You have to tell them explicitly what to do even if it is obvious. You should say: "Read Annie Brisset's article on page 3XX in The Translation Studies Reader and come prepared to discuss it." It didn't seem productive to go RYS on them and send them home, even though I had a sore throat. It's a funny group that way--we can have a decent discussion even if they aren't prepared in the least, but they aren't particularly resourceful about figuring things out. We'll see how exercise 2 goes on Monday.
What's with all the overrated Russian women tennis players? Maybe if you win the open and wimbledon the same year, Serena, you will be rated higher than Safina, who's never won a slam event ever. And how did Murray get to be a two-seed. What's he ever won? It looks like Oudin and Serena in the women's final, Fed and Rafa in the men's, unless Clijsters wins it all.
Julia got in to the St Louis symphony Youth Orchestra. She was convinced she hadn't got in, even though she did ok in the audition (not ostensibly blowing it at least), because everyone else auditioning was a 17 or 18 year old guy and she is a 14 year old, 4'11" girl. The judges, though, were behind a curtain and couldn't see age / gender / height. You know she didn't get in on sympathy either.

We also got some soundproofing insulation in a room in our basement put in this weekend, which muffles the sound of the trumpet considerably, which is a good thing since she's gone from the "have you practiced yet" phase to the "can you please stop practicing" phase, from parents reminding her to practice to "Mom doesn't let me practice enough."
The connection between Monk and Tatum would be worth while following up. These are the main similarities in their solo styles:

Reliance on stride patterns. Both play the melody of the song, with only melodic paraphrase and ornamention. Neither just blows over the changes like Bud Powell.

Breaking the stride pattern through heavily ornamented and rhythmically irregular playing, rubato.

Some similarities in ornamention: use of runs.

Use of dissonant or colorful chords; imaginative reharmonizations.

Preference for standard tunes. (Check to see what tunes were recorded by both; see if Monk refers to any of Tatum's ideas while playing "Tea for Two.")

The differences:

A different touch on the piano. Tatum's more fluid, virtuosic, and conventionally pianistic. Monk's percussive and unconventional.

Monk will often play a standard tune more "ironically," with the feeling of playfully going back in time, as in his reading of "Dinah." In fact, it is mainly the difference in epoch (though these overlap) that defines their differences.

You could also point out that Monk's rubato is not Tatum's rubato. Monk creates a kind of uncomfortably hesitating quality that is foreign to Tatum. Despite the similarities it would be hard to confuse one pianist with the other.
The phenomenon of "swing" has received a lot of attention. Does it swing or doesn't it? Today I'd like to consider another quality, which I am going to call the "lilt," a rapid up-and-down motion seen in stride piano and in later forms of jazz as well.

(I'll get to my related consideration of "swing" in a subsequent post.)

The "lilt' tends to produce a "two" feel rather than a swinging "four." In other words, the measure of 4/4 time is divided into two parts and each part into two. It is seen most obviously in stride piano, earlier forms of swing, and the solo piano of Thelonious Monk and Art Tatum. (Both Tatum and Monk return constantly to the stride left hand in their solo playing; Monk's composition "misterioso" is based on a lilting up and down pattern.) Other players with a perceptible lilt would include Benny Carter and Gerry Mulligan. Taken less literally, the lilt can involve any perceptibly rapid alternation of high and low notes or even longer phrases. When Coltrane plays a very fast blues the tension and release happens very quickly in the twelve-bar form and produces a kind of lilting effect.

In poetry we can see the lilt in the up and down movement of the Spanish alejandrino.

The opposite of the lilt would be a relatively flat melodic and rhythmic contour, with more forward movement and less "up-and-down."

What's interesting here is that the lilt survives in jazz even though the general movement of the music is away from the corny sounding up and down, two beat. The lilt catches the ear and creates a bouncy exuberance. The flatter sounding four beat can sometimes fall into a rhythmic pattern of "one one one one one one one one"--dull sounding to some ears. The cloying sweetness of the lilt can be tempered, disguised: with dissonance and rubato in Tatum or Monk, for example. Think of how Tatum goes in and out of the stride pattern, or creates tension through rubato passages and then resolves the tension by going back to that bouncy stride left hand. Monk does very similar things, even though his ornamental breaks are less conventionally virtuosic.

5 sept 2009

The winner for September is... John of the Utopian Turtle Top blog, for his very good set of reasons why he deserves a copy of AL. Please send me your postal address and I will direct amazon.com to send you a copy.

3 sept 2009

My daughter's a pretty fine trumpet player. She auditioned for the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra this evening, with some heavy-duty orchestral excerpts from Shostakovich, Stravinsky, and Rimsky-K. She also found out tonight that she got into another orchestra, the Young Persons' Symphonic Orchestra at Webster University's community music school, which is conducted by St. Louis Symphony tympanist Richard Holmes.

The funny this is she thinks she blew her audition for the YPSO, but she got in anyway. On the other hand, she did well in audition tonight for the SLSO Youth orchestra, which theoretically should be harder to get into. Since she's only 14 and a freshman in high school, she has more chances to get in if she auditions again.

2 sept 2009


Gerry Mulligan Meets Ben Webster

Mulligan liked to do these "meets" albums. He did an excellent one with another Ellington sideman, Johnny Hodges, and with Monk--among others. Mel Lewis plays drums. The combination of two distinctive sounds is what makes this album great. Mulligan's joyful, bouncy, and exuberant lilt, played with that baritone fullness, and Webster's whispery wistful attack. Both players have a little raspiness, though of course Mulligan is much "smoother." I don't know that this is the greatest either played, but it's a very tasty outing.

Their version of Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge" is excellent. "In a Mellotone" is also from the Ellington catalogue. "Who's Got Rhythm" is a "Rhythm Changes" tune, taken at a very swinging medium tempo. They also do a version of Cole Porter's "What is this thing called love."
Here is a rubric for evaluating a translation, that I used before in my translation course for undergrads.

(a) Evaluate the "target language."
(b) The" domestic residue."
(c) Compare the translation to the original.
(d) To what degree is "translation" itself visible.
(e) Compare to other translations of the same text.
(f) What is the overall strategy?

¿Cómo leer una traducción?

a) Evaluar la "lengua de llegada" de la traducción. ¿Qué tipo de inglés (o español) es? [Puede ser, por ejemplo, americano o británico, mexicano o argentino-- o "neutro," sin señas de identidad.] ¿En qué registro está? [formal, informal, coloquial, académico, literario...] ¿De qué época es? ¿Hay un lenguaje homogéneo o una mezla de discursos? ¿Se preservan palabras o topónimos en el idioma de origen? (Por ejemplo, ¿se dice "Sevilla" or "Seville"?) ("take a siesta" or "take a nap.")

b) ¿Cuál es el "residuo doméstico" de la traducción? ¿Hasta qué punto es visible (o invisible)? ¿Hay un intento de llegar a un público determinado? ¿Cómo se pone de manifiesto este intento? Ubicar la traducción en el ambiente cultural donde se ha producido. ¿Hay otras traducciones de la misma autora en la misma época? ¿Es frecuente traducir de este idioma de origen en la época en cuestión? ¿Qué información al respecto nos es disponible, aun sin haber visto el texto en su cultura y lengua de origen?

c) Comparar la traducción con la versión original. ¿Qué elementos problemáticos existen en el texto? ¿Qué solución ha encontrado la traductora (el traductor)? ¿Hay errores de comprensión? ¿Hay momentos de extrañeza en la versión traducida que suenen perfectamente normales en el original, o vice-versa? ¿Se puede decir que el efecto es "igual" para un lector original y un lector que lo lee solo en la lengua de llegada?

d) ¿Encontramos un esfuerzo por normalizar el texto, ajustarlo a normas domésticas? ¿Vemos señas obvias de la traducción, o perdemos de vista fácilmente el carácter traducido del texto? ¿Cuál es la estrategia global de la traductora? ¿Es más bien domesticadora o extranjerizante? ¿Hay factores ideológicos? ¿Hay distorsiones obvias?

e) Comparar la traducción de otras versiones, si existen. ¿Estas traducciones desempeñan funciones semejantes, o hay diferencias de estrategia, de público? ¿Cómo se justifica, en este caso particular, una traducción más de una obra ya traducida muchas veces?

f) Llegar a una conclusión global sobre la traducción en su contexto histórico. Se puede ver que la evaluación de la fidelidad de la traducción forma solo una parte pequeña de la lectura y evaluación. Interesa saber más la fuente de la distorsión que decir simplemente que la traducción no es correcta.
I assigned an exercise for my translation class: choose a paragraph of English prose and analyze it for style, register, tone, etc... What linguistic elements show when and where it was written, etc... The students were to stable a photocopy of the original, and write a paragraph of their findings, not a list of the elements they found. I recommended that they not choose a fairly bland paragraph of contemporary American English. Of the first four exercises I looked at I found the following problems:

Two translated the paragraph into Spanish, which I hadn't told them to do.

Two gave me copies of the book rather than photocopying the page.

One made a list.

One chose a bland paragraph of contemporary American English.

One thought that Virginia Woolf was writing in American English.

Two chose paragraphs that had been translated from another language into English, making them unable to follow the spirit of the exercise. Although I didn't tell them not to use a translation, you can't look at a translation of Galileo and see that that it was written in the 17th century, because the translation erases these factors. I should have explicitly stated I didn't want translations.

Of the fifth and sixth ones I just glanced at one used a paragraph of Dumas and the other made a list. I am going to give an A to anyone who followed the damned instructions and did a creditable job of looking at the style of the text.

My oral and written instructions stated that the purpose of the exercise was to do a pre-translation analysis to look at how difficult something would be to translate into Spanish from English, so I assumed they would choose texts written in English originally, but in teaching you can't assume anything. If they can't follow explicit instructions you can't expect them to follow implicit expectations.

I don't really want to be grading on students' ability to implement a junior high school skill: following the instructions. Yet the exercise does not work as well if you don't follow the instructions and understand why the assignment was designed. In other words, the junior high skill is needed as a prerequisite.

1 sept 2009

Ok. It's time for another Lorca giveaway. You can earn your very own copy of Apocryphal Lorca by giving me a "good" reason in the comments below. US postal addresses only this time. Contest closes September 4 at 11:59 p.m.. I reserve the right to award anywhere between zero and two copies of the book. This will be a monthly event until the end of 2009, at which point I'll see if I think it's worth while continuing.

A good reason might be something like: "I will make sure it is reviewed in Book Forum" or "I will review it on Goodreads and amazon.com and on my own blog." Or, "I live 200 miles from the nearest library that owns this book" or "I have been reading your blog since 2002 and have never 'won' anything."

30 ago 2009

Suppose you set your ipod on shuffle for a five hour drive and listened to 60 songs, out of a total of 3,000 (2%). How many times would you have to repeat the operation to hear all 3,000? (If you began again with a random, non-repeating selection each time, and never skipped a song or changed the playlist.)

The first time you would hear 60 "new" songs, 100%.

The second drive, you would be working at 98% efficiency, and hear an average of 58.8 new songs.

The third time, you would have heard 118.8 songs already, so now you are working at 96.04% efficiency. You will hear 57.624 new songs out of the sixty you listen to. Now we've heard 176.242. And so on. You fourth trip you'll be at an efficiency of slightly over 94%, for example, you'll add 56 songs. It seems like you should be able to finish in no time. After all, if you set it in one continuous shufflle you could finish in 50 sessions of 60 songs each.

Suppose you keep doing this a while, and have heard half of your songs. By this time your efficiency will be 50% for your next trip. In other words, about half of the songs you will hear are ones you've heard before, and half will be new. Your efficiency = 100 minus your rate of completion, so if you've heard 90% your subsequent efficiency will be down to 10%.

If gets worse. Suppose there's only one song left you haven't heard. Your efficiency rate is now down to .03333%. That's the percentage of new material in your randomly chosen play list. You basically won't hear your last song until you take an average of 300 more trips. Of course, some songs you will have heard multiple times, but that last song will be elusive. Of course, there's nothing that makes that particular song more elusive than any other, because it wasn't the last song until it became the last song. It is as likely to show up as any other song given song on any given trip. it might seem perverse that you have to listen to that other damn song over and over again, but yet somehow cannot complete the set of 3,000 with the one remaining song.

That is because true randomness is no respecter of past events. It's not going to go out of its way to choose new or old songs, because the randomizer doesn't know what it played the last time. At the end of the process there are simply 2,999 "old songs" and 1 "new" one, and chances are many of those "oldies" have been played multiple times, since efficiency (defined as percentage of new material) has been getting lower for quite some time.

At least this is more or less what I worked out in my head as I drove five hours and heard 60 random songs on my ipod.