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.]