19 dic. 2011


I've been doing the experiment of writing in 25-minute segments on my other blog. Here, I 'd like to do something similar, but without writing as fast as I can. I simply want to produce fluent, thoughtful prose for that window of time and see what I come up with.

Andrew has expressed some interest about my concept of hypercanonicity. For me, a hypercanonical author is one who becomes the object of insatiable attention. In Spanish literature, only perhaps Cervantes, Lorca, and Saint John of the Cross rise to that level. Basho, Shakespeare, Rilke, and Dante belong to this category. A hypercanonical writer is translated over and over again. There will be parodies, adaptations, musical settings. Every detail of the writer's life will be significant. Whereas most literary criticism assumes that the writer's life is irrelevant, or of secondary interest at best, hypercanonical authors often have biographical industries devoted to their lives. No "death of the author" here.

His or her works (usually his) become the object of a critical industry, so that an academic could devote his entire career to such a writer.

On one level, the canon is "what is taught" or "what is studied." Not every work in the canon is in the hypercanon, though. Thus, as Andrew pointed out in a comment to another post, the inclusion of additional writers to the canon (in the name of gender equity for example), has little or no effect on the fortunes of hypercanonical authors. They remain central.

Usually, a hypercanonical author defines a national literature, is central to a larger cultural identity, in the way that Cervantes defines Spanishness, or Dante lives within the Italian language. The hypercanonical author also represents the nation to the entire world (to other nations) , as Lorca does.

The implications of this idea are crucial for my project. To study a hypercanonical author is to deal with a huge ideological residue and a huge number of secondary texts, such as translations. I could not have written a book like Apocryphal Lorca about a writer not in this category. There are always linguistic and cultural issues in translation, but the kind of "Lorca effect" i found in US poetry can only result from a writer who has managed to have a huge resonance in two separate cultural spheres.

Of course, the fact that I have derived benefits in my own career from studying Lorca is also significant. People simply care more about hypercanonical authors than about almost any other topic in literary studies. Even people who barely know who Lorca is have responded with more enthusiasm to my projects on him, because they sense that there is something of interest to a wider spectrum of the reading public.

I don't think my concept is all that original, since it is similar to ideas of the "classic" that many other commentators have discussed. I think I can leverage my concept into something relatively novel when I apply it to Lorca.

Well, my time is almost up now. I think I might have a few more ideas about this subject, especially in relation to Foucault's notion of the "author-function." I would argue that the author function is intensified in the case of the "hypercanon." Or that the definition of hypercanonicity is the intensification of the author-function. How should I use my last 39 seconds? Now 27? I wish I knew how to squeeze out a few more good ideas but now my time is done.

Fielding Dawson

I dreamt I was trying to remember the name of a novelist / short story writer. I finally settled on the name "Fielding Dawson." Dawson, of course, is a real writer, but his work is (presumably) nothing like the work I was reading in my dream, which was more in the David Sedaris genre. I haven't read Dawson, so maybe this dream is a sign that I should remedy this gap.

16 dic. 2011

Chapter 7

The final chapter will reopen the can of worms that is kitsch. The entire book is oriented toward "uses of Lorca." Implicitly or explicitly, I will always think that my uses of Lorca are better than those of others. That's what having a critical perspective means.

So that's the outline of the book. All the work I've been doing it over the past few days has been on this very blog. If I force myself to explain what the chapters are about, then I realize what they are about, even if I haven't thought about it very much.

Chapter 6

Chapter six is on the gay or queer Lorca. Returning to the idea of whether biography in itself has much explanatory power, and wondering why queer theory in the 90s didn't have more impact on Lorca studies, or had its impact very late. I could argue that the queer Lorca remains undiscovered still. I was working on a book at one time (mid 90s) on gay poets in Spain, but the project ended up being a series of articles instead, mainly because I didn't quite know what to do with Lorca. A friend of mine, Enrique Álvarez, ended up writing a book that covers a lot of the ground I would have covered, and quite excellently, but I still feel I have something to say about Lorca. I just realized, while writing this post, that this was "una asignatura pendiente" [unfinished business] in my own scholarly trajectory.

Chapter 5

Chapter 5 is on Lorca and flamenco. What interests me here is the way in which Lorca has been so enthusiastically adopted into contemporary Flamenco music. There is a link to the idea of a performative poetics, explained in Chapter 4, and to a later chapter on Lorca and kitsch. I'm going to have to adjust the order of the chapters at some point to make the argument of the entire book seamless.

15 dic. 2011

Chapter 4

Chapter 4, "Cuerpo presente: una poética performativa" develops the idea that Lorca's poetics is a performative one, with all that that implies. The title comes from a section from Lorca's "Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías." The idea of the presence of the body is key here, because performance requires the body on some level. I'll be building off some astute insights from the Lorca critic Roberta Quance and doing a close reading of the Duende lecture.

14 dic. 2011

Chapter 3

Chapter 3 of "modelo para armar" is about Lorca's influence on Valente and Gamoneda. I will be borrowing a bit from an article I published in Spanish. The title is "la ansiedad de una influencia." My argument is that these poets do not acknowledge Lorca enough, especially Valente. I argue that poets like Lorca and Vallejo present a model of fractured subjectivity, unlike, say Juan Ramón Jiménez with his confidence in the power of language to create an autonomous verbal reality. Valente wants to acknowledge Jiménez but not Lorca, the stronger and more radical model. He (Valente) also puts Neruda over Vallejo, or reads Vallejo in a narrower way. This chapter is going to kick ass.

Chapter 2

Chapter 2 will be on Lorca as a poetic thinker and a modernist poet. It will repeat some of the argument of "Was Lorca a Poetic Thinker" but will also consider his mature work of the 1930s in relation to my concepts of "late modernism."

9 dic. 2011

Vendler vs. Dove

What I find remarkable about Vendler's review of Dove's anthology in the NYRB is the racial animus. It's fine to include Billy Collins or Mary Oliver, poets of negligible aesthetic category, but not a figure as historically significant as Baraka? It is fine to include a mediocrity like Pinsky, but not a significant black modernist like Tolson? A thoroughly unsdistinguished poet like William Stafford is fine, but let's make sure there's not too many black poets! That seems to be the logic behind Vendler's review, which comes back repeatedly to (what she feels is) the overrepresentation of poets from minority groups. Nobody worries about the overrepresentation of mediocre white guys, as usual.

I could criticize Dove's anthology on numerous inclusions and exclusions. Anybody could play that game. No Coolidge? No Irby? Gregory Orr is there but not David Shapiro? Is Alice Notley there? It's a kind of stupid game, in the end, but the way Vendler plays it is particularly inept, devoting special attention to how Dove describes or represents the work of black poets and movements.

Ironically, Vendler is the most high-powered poet to ever champion Dove's own poetry. I guess that's an alliance that is definitively broken.

Chapter I

Chapter One, "Modelo para armar" is an introduction that argues for the necessity of contemporary theory for the study of Lorca. Specifically, I argue for the idea of Foucault's "author function" instead of approaches based on the "life and works" paradigm. In other words, Lorca's biography does not explain his work or its importance, or has very limited explanatory power.

Why? A biography is simply a narrative and interpretive framework that is constructed like any other such framework. It provides one kind of context (among other possible contexts) for interpretation. All interpretation takes place within a context (no context free interpretation) so the idea is not that a particular biographical detail is not (potentially) explanatory, but that this is simply a choice of one context among many. Secondly, the biographical detail does not come with its own interpretation already attached. A fact is not an interpretation of this fact.

Another reason for wanting to use modern theory to interpret Lorca is that modern theory is the theorization of avant-garde poetics itself. To use a life and works paradigm is to be on a level lower, less sophisticated, than that of Lorca himself.

I'm not in favor of theoretical readings of Lorca that apply theories to his poetry or drama. I am not proposing theoretical applications as much as readings informed by the insights learned from theory.

Ok. That's all I got for that chapter so far. I find that if I ask myself what the chapter will say I already know, but I have to first ask.

Lorca: modelo para armar [yet another table of contents]

1. Modelo para armar
2. Los años 30: caminos hacia la modernidad tardía
3. Lorca, Valente y Gamoneda: la ansiedad de una influencia
4. Cuerpo presente: una poética performativa
5. Lorca y el flamenco
6. Aportaciones de la teoría queer
7. Lorca y sus apócrifos: entre Motherwell y Strayhorn

I didn't want all the chapters to have "Lorca" in the title. I've also rearranged the order of the chapters. Chapter 7 obviously needs a better title, but I don't know what the chapter will say yet.

8 dic. 2011

More Followers

Bemsha Swing needs more followers right away or it is in danger of being overtaken by the upstart blog, Stupid Motivational Tricks. You wouldn't want that to happen, would you?

The Literature Haters

The joke back in the day was "the Duke English Department: united only in their common hatred of literature." I have often decried the kind of "empty center" of literary studies, the absence of a firm commitment to the object of study itself. I knew people in graduate school who disdained the primary text, whether through an allegiance to high theory or to crude Marxism. My Latin Americanist colleagues talk about feeling guilty for studying and teaching literature. It seems, sometimes, like anything else is going to be more interesting than mere literature.

Like everyone else, I am interested in a wide range of subjects, from music and film to politics. What literature offers, though, is the total package. It is an art form made of words, so it has an extremely significant aesthetic dimension, but is also inscribed in ideology and history. To be a really compelling scholar in this field you have to have erudition and theoretical sophistication as well as an aesthetic sensibility. It require some serious cultural capital.

7 dic. 2011

Another Review

El libro toma su título del quinto capítulo: “Apocryphal Lorca”, en el cual se estudia la obra, After Lorca (1952) de Robert Creely y especialmente la homónima de Jack Spicer, de 1957. De ésta se nos señala que “no solo es el ejemplo más extendido y complejo de apócrifos lorquianos en cualquier lengua sino un trabajo crucial en su desarrollo como poeta y consecuentemente uno de los más significativos trabajos de poesía estadounidense de posguerra”. Mayhew, que es un estudioso sobrio y mesurado, fundamenta estas elogiosas afirmaciones en tanto indaga en la génesis de la obra. Este capítulo es profundamente interesante, el logro del entendimiento extenso pero minucioso de un fenómeno poético en que confluyen la lengua castellana y la inglesa.

Modelo para armar

1. Lorca: modelo para armar
2. Lorca en el pensamiento poético español del siglo XX
3. Neopopularismo y vanguardia: la discutida modernidad de Lorca
4. ¿Un Lorca “queer”?
5. Los años 30: caminos hacia la modernidad tardía
6. Cuerpo presente: una poética performativa
7. Lorca y el flamenco
8. Lorca, Valente y Gamoneda: la ansiedad de una influencia
9. Lorca y sus apócrifos: entre Motherwell y Strayhorn

I think 3 and 5 might have to be one chapter. I'm not sure yet. The critical problems to be discussed, in order, are the relevance of poststructuralist criticism to Lorca (why we should approach Lorca as modern critics rather than as "life and works" positivists"), Lorca himself as a poetic thinker, the apparent or real dichotomy between Lorca as neopopularist or folklorist and as an avant-garde poet, Lorca and queer theory, why hasn't it been done more?, Lorca as a modernist poet, in relation to other modernist poets of other nations (where does he fit into literary history?), his 'performative poetics," his relation to flamenco, his influence on Valente and Gamoneda, and a revision of the ideas of apocryphal or kitsch Lorcas. Whew, I have my work cut out for me. Arrogantly enough, I think I can write this book and do it well. Not only that, only I could write it. Not only that, but the book sprang into my head almost fully armed, and when I sit down to write it the words simply flow out of me.

A New Chapter

I added a new chapter to the plan of my book in Spanish on Lorca. I realized that I was missing a chapter on "queer Lorca," so to speak. That would have been a pretty conspicuous absence.

I don't want to do another book on Lorca that analyzes Bodas de sangre, or Romancero gitano, all over again. There are enough books that take his poetic or theatrical works and devote chapters to them. Rather, what I want to do is a book about critical problems in Lorca criticism. Honestly, I don't think I could come up with a new interpretation of Yerma. Well, I could, but its novelty would not be sufficient to justify it. There are diminishing returns to the interpretation of canonical works. On the other hand, I am very confident that I have a lot to say about Lorca from many angles of vision.

6 dic. 2011

Kitsch, Adorno, and Greenberg (and Mayhew's Lorca)

I guess I am going to have to tackle Clement Greenberg on modernism and kitsch, along with Benjamin on mechanical reproduction and Adorno on jazz, in my essay (chapter) on Lorca and kitsch. I am going to bring in some flamenco too, making an argument about flamenco re-appropriations of Lorca, in Enrique Morente, for example.

Two arguments I want to avoid making: that kitsch is simply "bad taste," that it can be dismissed. That modernist dismissals of kitsch are simply wrong because of their elitism, etc... Both of those arguments are too easy for me. I'm interested in how a mass or popular art becomes a highbrow artform.

I have to find a third argument there somewhere. I am rather excited about finding a perspective that builds on Apocryphal Lorca but that does not simply repeat that argument. In that book, kitsch was simply the logical extreme of simplistic American readings of Lorca. Now my perspective is a little more nuanced, since I will no longer be holding up the non-kitsch readings as superior.

So I guess those 120 hours of listening to flamenco podcasts was "work." I feel much less lazy now.


The last chapter of a book should be the first chapter of your next book.

3 dic. 2011


My Lorquian trilogy will consist of Apocryphal Lorca, What Lorca Knew, and Lorca: modelo para armar.

The first studies Lorca's "afterlife" in the US. The second will situate Lorquian poetics alongside the late modernism of Zambrano and Valente (among other things).

The third will be a compendium, in Spanish, of my latest thinking about Lorca. My only doubt, now, is whether there is enough Lorca in What Lorca Knew to justify the title. It is such a great title, I have to use it, but maybe I should take out one of the unwritten chapters and put in something about Lorca instead?

When I say "my only doubt" I realize that that sounds rather arrogant. Today, however, I am in a very self-confident mood, so all my usual doubts are not at the forefront of my mind.

I had wanted to do a kind of updating of Apocryphal Lorca, just a brief chapter called something like "Lorca and Kitsch Revisited." If I did that, then I would be able to increase the Lorca quotient of the second book enough to justify the title. I wouldn't want the reader to pick up the book and feel defrauded by the fact that only one out of ten chapters are about Lorca! Now 20% is enough, I think.

Crudely put, the argument would be that Lorca to Lorquian Kitsch is as modernism to postmodernism. I know even mentioning postmodernism nowadays is cringe-worthy, so I hope you understand I am speaking in shorthand.

2 dic. 2011

Musical Criticism

Here is an excellent post by a wonderful composer and music critic--a post with rich implications for literary criticism.

1 dic. 2011

Mustache or Not?

Time to vote: Mustache or no mustache? What is your preferred look for one of your favorite bloggers?

Bus Mindfulness Meditation

Here is a bit of "creative writing" for the day:

As you are waiting for the bus, direct your attention to the sensations in your body, beginning with your breathing. Just be aware that you are breathing. Do not close your eyes or shut yourself off from the outside world. If something annoys you, just accept that feeling of annoyance. When your bus arrives focus your attention on climbing the steps carefully and finding a seat on it. When you are settled in, keep your eyes open and become aware, once again, of your breathing. After a few breaths, look around you and take note of what you see and hear. Simply be attentive to what is around you, without judging it or dwelling too long on any particular object of attention. There may be smells worthy of note. Direct your attention to the sensation in your body, your feet on the floor of the bus, or how the seat feels. Make no particular effort to be relaxed or calm, just make not of what you are feeling and perceiving. Now do a brief scan of the thoughts in your mind. Just make note of what is there. When your bus arrives at your stop, make sure you collect all your belongings and dismount carefully from the bus, thanking the driver as you step off.

30 nov. 2011

Morton Feldman

Here is the second poem I have written this morning. This too, is unlike anything I have ever written, though it bears some relation to "Page of Prose" and "The Complete Sentence Game."

This is a poem called "Morton Feldman." I hope you like it. My original plan was to write a series of poems using titles from Feldman's music, like "Rothko Chapel," "For Frank O'Hara," "The Viola in My Life," or "Crippled Symmetries." I would use these titles and write to his music. But how could I write to his music? Dancing to music I understand, although I do not do it well. There is a relation between the musical pulse and the movement of feet and body. Most people understand this relationship. Writing to music is something different from that. I could write about the music, I suppose, but what would be the point of that? Assuming I have something to say about this music, I would probably not use a poem to say it. This poem least of all. So in place of the series of poems written to titles of Feldman's music, I have written this explanation of how I could not write these poems.

I hope you have enjoyed my poem "Morton Feldman."

Frank O'Hara and Me

Here is a poem I composed in my head as I was trying to get out of bed this morning. Once I showered and shaved and dressed, I wrote it down in this blog post. It is unlike any poem I have ever written.
Frank O'Hara and Me

I have outlived Frank O'Hara by eleven years,
Lorca by thirteen.
Spicer, too, dead at forty.
Fiercely devoted to them, I am unlike them,
less talent, drinking less, not gay,
with a daughter who plays Mahler.
Their work flows through me
like Mahler through Julia's trumpet,
"the inexorable product of my own time"?
A time that is also mine.

29 nov. 2011


I went to a reading the other night in which a woman read a short-story in an invariant voice. It wasn't technically a monotone because there was some variation of pitch, but it was the same variation of pitch and the same tempo throughout. Every sentence got equal weight. It was deadly.

The other reader seemed to go on too long reading his undistinguished poetry. I don't think you should use the phrase "in terms of" in a poem unless you are being ironically prosy in a John Ashbery mode. I don't think you should introduce a poem by saying that it is going to go over the audience's head. I don't even think he meant that to be insulting.

I guess I don't really like readings that much aside from the social aspect. Egoistically, I like reading myself rather than listening to other people, unless they are actually better writers and readers than I am.

I often record myself and listen critically to what I hear. I have a tendency to drop words and to fall into a predictable intonational pattern, among other numerous flaws. I am not saying that I am the perfect reader, but I am still a whole lot better than a lot of readers I hear.

25 nov. 2011

My Book For Free

Here is a link for the open access version of my "other" book.

Of course, I was staring at the page for ten minutes trying to figure out how to download the book before I realized that I had to click on the PDF reader icon.

17 nov. 2011

300 Pounds

My book, not my book on Lorca but my other book, will be available on an open access site at something called JISC in the UK. This is good for me, since I get a small sum of money and also get more readers for my book, which was priced out of the range of any normal academic. I'll let you know when it's up there.

The good thing is that this book was overshadowed by my Lorca book, so this allows the playing field to be leveled a bit. Even in my own mind, I was not giving myself as much credit for this book, which included some really kick-ass studies of contemporary Spanish poetry. Simply because the same year I kicked a little more ass in another book.

Critical Thinking Exercise

This post from a while back had me thinking about a common statistic reported in the media and on blogs about the life-expectancy of former NFL players and the danger of getting decaf[?] espresso in the late afternoon.

Studies have shown that 80.4% of of statistics are highly misleading if not false.

Carbon Free?

There's one kind of expensive Scandinavian notebook I like to use that advertises itself as "carbon free." I wondered at first what the paper was made out of, because I think it's pretty hard to make paper without using some sort of material that has carbon in it. Maybe it was plastic? But isn't that made from petroleum, an organic product too? It didn't seem like the paper was made from rock or glass, or other sorts of mineral or inorganic material.

Of course I realized after a few seconds or minutes that they meant that the paper was produced in a way that didn't burn any carbon-based fuels, not that it didn't contain, itself, any carbon. My literal-mindedness again.

15 nov. 2011

Crash Blossoms

Language log sex quiz crash blossom


I thought of a pretty good idea to write an article about kitsch, a concept that has a strategic place in the title of my book Apocryphal Lorca: Translation, Parody, Kitsch, but that requires further development.

The elements of kitsch are secondhandness, but also a nostalgia for origins. Take the tin-pan alley song "The Birth of the Blues." It is not a blues song itself, but a pop song in another form that is about the blues. Specifically, about its origin or birth:
Oh, they say some people long ago
Were searching for a diffrent tune
One that they could croon
As only they can

They only had the rhythm
They started swaying to and fro
They didn't know just what to use
That is how the blues really began

They heard the breeze in the trees
Singing weird melodies
And they made that the start, the start of the blues

And from a jail came the wail
Of a down-hearted frail
And they played that
As part of the blues

From a whippoorwill
Way up on a hill
They took a new note
Pushed it through a horn
Until it was worn
Into a blue note

And then they nursed it
They rehearsed it
And then sent out that news
That the Southland gave birth to the blues

The secondhandness and the evocation of origins are in tension. The endless repetition of the song, the numerous versions by Sinatra, Armstrong, Sammy Davis Jr, and Crosby, add layers of kitschiness to it. There are other non-blues songs about the blues, like "Lady Sings the Blues" and "Blues in the Night," or maybe even "Mood Indigo."

That's an easily identifiable case. But what about a real blues song that becomes kitschified? Or what if there is no origin there at all? The search for origins itself gives rise to secondhandness. What if Lorca is already kitsch, and the kitschification of him is simply a logical next step?

To condemn kitsch is to commit oneself to some notion of the non-kitsch, the authentic, yet the search for the authentic is already part of the mechanism of kitsch. I feel I'm reinventing deconstruction here. You know, one of those aporias.

Even though it's misinterpretation, mistranslation all the way down, I still feel that there is an aesthetic judgment to be made. Some aesthetic appropriations breathe new life into the original material. Mingus's music, for example ("Better get hit in your soul"). Some of Ellington's reinterpretation of folkloric materials.

Whenever you feel embarrassment, or that something is in "bad taste," then something interesting is going on. I find the lyrics to "The Birth of the Blues" intensely distasteful.

So my essay would have two parts, one on Lorca and one on jazz. I plan to make this my traveling piece, so I could give it various places where I am invited to speak, Iowa and Belfast for example.

8 nov. 2011

The Complete Sentence Game

It occurs to me that The Complete Sentence Game could be an entire book, at least of chap-book length. I tend to think in terms of short, chap-book works of poetry, like The Thelonious Monk Fake Book. Maybe 20-30 pages. Aren't those much more readable than the typical 60 pages format for a book of verse? What perverse publisher or tenure committee thought that one up?

7 nov. 2011

Pop Art?


I spent all of Saturday at the Ken Irby celebration. Pierre Joris, Lyn Hejinian, and Ben Friedlander flew in for it, giving talks about Ken's work, along with local luminaries Denise Low and Joe Harrington. Megan Kaminsky and Billy Joe Harris did the emceeing and organizing. The five poets (Lyn, Pierre, Ben, Denise, Joe) also gave a reading, and Ken himself gave a masterful performance to conclude the daytime events. Then we went out to eat and finally had a reception at Billy joe and Susan's house. My role in the celebration was minimal, as the designated introducer of Pierre Joris. It was great for me to be able to meet Lyn Hejinian and Ben Friedlander in person as well.

When I arrived at Kansas more than 15 years ago, Ken Irby was not even on the tenure track. Inexplicably, I did not even meet him until I had been here a few years and decided to organize the poetics seminar. Now he is being promoted, very belatedly, to full professor at the age of 75.

Ken told me he liked my reading the other night. This was great (for me), because Ken is a wonderful reader of poetry, one of the best I've ever heard in person. In fact, I'm trying to think if I know of anyone who reads poetry any better than that. I am listenable, but not in that league at all.

3 nov. 2011


In class yesterday we talked about ur-proverbs. The students had never seen the prefix ur- so that took a while to explain.

An ur-proverb would be a sort of "proverb-behind-the-proverb." We came up with several:

The individual is defined by the social group with which s/he is identified.

Life is unfair. Powerful people will have their way.

Older people are wiser.

Pragmatic intelligence (shrewdness) is extremely valuable.

People behave in predictable ways.


I was walking down the street and a woman approached me and said: "you have a good chance of getting the violoncello seat in the orchestra now. There has been a lot of attrition." I tried to tell her I didn't play the cello. She had confused me with someone else.

2 nov. 2011


The flarf orchestra has landed.

Jackie McLean

Jackie McLean is perhaps the major saxophonist I know the least. I can situate him somewhere close to Cannonball Adderley or Art Pepper, with those long flowing phrases. He has a distinctive sound. For whatever reason, I haven't made a concerted study of his work yet. Now I'm able to do so because I have the spotify service on my computer.

1 nov. 2011

Not My Musics

Disco, Country and Western, rancheras (or Mexican music generally), metal, grand opera, and zarzuela are not my musics. New Age and electronica, trance, etc... are not my music, nor is hip hop. Renaissance music is not to my taste, generally speaking. I despise Dixieland revival music. I don't like folk songs or military marches much.

Within this general category of "not my music," it's obvious that there is some good music that I might even enjoy hypothetically, but I simply have too many musics that I need to be listening to instead. I do use the radio program "Music From the Hearts of Space" as a sleep aid on Sunday night. I set it real low and go to bed at 11, and set my stereo to shut off exactly at 12. This New Age music program is very relaxing, but I don't use it for listening purposes.

31 oct. 2011

My Musics

I am interested to some degree in about five main kinds of music.

(1) Jazz, basically all of it from the beginning through the present day. Within the jazz tradition, I have many sub-interests, but my main love is everything from Lester Young to the death of Coltrane.

(2) Everything known as "classical" music from Baroque to Morton Feldman. Here my erudition is not as extensive, so I am always happy to hear new things. I rarely dislike any canonical composer, but my main love is J.S. Bach.

(3) If I could play in a band, however, I would play conga in a salsa band. My 3rd kind of music is anything Afro-Cuban. I can play a bembe or tumbao, or a martillo on bongos. I love the polyrhythmic complexity of this music.

(4) I also am developing my knowledge of Flamenco. I am pretty familiar now with the canon of La Niña de los Peines through Miguel Poveda.

(5) Would you like to guess what my 5th music is? That's right: classic R&B and Soul, with some neo-soul thrown in.

These are listed in approximate order of my knowledge and level of interest. If I had to list a 6th, it would be classic rock, including things that I half listened to when I was in college. Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac were big back then.

So you understand my problem. There is only one of me and six kind of music I want to be listening to at any given time. I am lucky I never developed an interest in opera or bluegrass.


Herbie Hancock started off with a lengthy version of Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" on acoustic piano. Then he played a lengthy version of his own "Dolphin Dance," one of his most beautiful tunes. He gradually switched from acoustic piano to his electronic gear, so that by the end of the night he was mostly playing electronics, jamming to his prerecorded grooves. He played "Canteloupe Island" and the audience ate it up. At the end he was playing a keyboard strapped around his neck with which he could get guitar-like effects by manipulating some buttons with his left hand. I kind of went into a trance during the whole concert.

30 oct. 2011

Hispanic Issues: What Lorca Knew

My article, "What Lorca Knew" is now available on line at Hispanic Issues On Line.

I haven't read the rest of the issue yet, so I don't know what the other contributors have to say.


I'm going to see Herbie Hancock this evening at the Lied center here in Kansas. I try not to miss any visit by a "historic" figure like this. He played with the great second Miles Davis quartet of the 60s (with Shorter, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams). He also played on classic Shorter albums and with other members of this group on "Empyrean Isles," one of the greatest jazz albums of all time. He was on the ground floor of the fusion movement which also developed, mostly, out of the same cauldron of the Miles Davis groups of the 60s. It probably doesn't matter that I don't love every thing he's done, since he's Herbie Friggin Hancock.

28 oct. 2011


My poetry reading went over very well. I haven't given a reading in a long time, and some of my Lawrence friends have never actually seen me read in public. I read two of my Gelman translations, then played the Complete Sentence game before an audience for the first time. The Beaches of California series got some laughs. Then I read some of the Thelonious Monk sequence, "After Michael Palmer," and "Mayhew's Mood." Not explaining anything let me read more poems that I would have otherwise. I realized I am actually a pretty good performer. I could really feel the audience with me. It didn't hurt that a third of the audience consisted of close friends.

The other poet, Cheryl Tallant, was also a good reader, so overall it was a great evening. I might have been allergic to the bookstore cats because I woke up at 2:30 a.m. with allergy attack.

27 oct. 2011


This is an interesting comment thread. To what poetry to turn to in search of solace? After reflecting about it for few moments, I discovered that the answer for me was Robert Creeley. Notice that this is a different question from who is your favorite poet, or the one who has influenced your own poetry the most, etc... What poet do you turn to in times of need?

Don't Explain

Poets, don't explain your poetry in your poetry reading. Just read the damn poems. Nobody cares how or why you wrote them, or when or where. If the poem needs an explanation, you haven't written it well enough. If it needs an anecdote, then put the anecdote in the poem itself. If your explanation is better, more engaging, more interesting, than the poem, then your poem is no good anyway. Toss it.

Today in my reading my plan is to read some translations of Juan Gelman, selections from "The Beaches of Northern California" and "The Thelonious Monk Fake Book," and "After Michael Palmer." I might do "The Complete Sentence Game" too, which is a poem that is improvised and takes a different shape every time.

26 oct. 2011

More Than Cool Reason

I am using More than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor by Lakoff and Turner, in class today, but re-reading it this morning I realize that what I think is very easy reading might be challenging for undergraduates. It is a very good book, written in a highly accessible style. The concluding chapter deals with the interpretation of proverbs in terms of four main concepts, Grice's maxim of quantity, the 'Great Chain of Being," the "GENERIC IS SPECIFIC" metaphor and the folk belief in the nature of things. Easy stuff, for me, but it won't be for them.

25 oct. 2011

How Good A Poet Am I?

A kind of question like this cannot be answered. In other words, for oneself, in judging one's own poetry, there is no way of knowing. The exception is someone really, really good, like Frank O'Hara, who knew he was good in a more absolute way. I think Keats knew he had done it, for example. You cannot depend on friends either, because they will tell you your poetry is fine. One mystery is how poets who began to write crappy poetry in their youth still somehow knew that they had it.

The doubt about whether you are good enough is psychologically intolerable, because most people view talent as a kind of absolute "it" that one either has or doesn't. My own solution is not to be a "professional poet" whose ego depends on how good I am. I believe I am a better poet than you are, but this claim has no real consequences. I don't have to ride the wave of my poet's ego.

Replacement Poetry

I realized that a lot of the poetry I will read on Thursday at the "big tent" follows the procedure of replacing text with other text, whether through translation, erasure, or using titles taken from other sources and reinterpreting them completely, as I do in my masterpiece, The Thelonious Monk Fake Book.

I have a harder time writing without some pretext, some spur, some organizing principle. The poem "Mayhew's Mood" is an exception, aside from the title that refers to "Monk's Mood" and "Parker's Mood." The organizing principle there is simply that of a diary of emotional states.

20 oct. 2011

Sea Surface Full of Clouds (ii)

When i was very young I looked at book that Harold Bloom had just published on Wallace Stevens. Of course, I looked up what he said about "Sea Surface Full of Clouds," and of course he dismissed the poem in a kind of high-handed way, as "the famous and overrated set piece of 1924." The most experimental side of this great modernist poet interested Bloom not at all. So I developed a dislike for Harold Bloom at that point. If he couldn't tell me something interesting about this poem, then I no longer trusted him. Of course, I was probably 20, so what did I know? It was a kind of arrogant position for me to take. On the other hand, I wasn't about to bow down to some critical authority either. At what point was I going to have opinions of my own, if not right then?


See here for information on the Ken Irby celebration at the University of Kansas.

Sea Surface Full of Clouds

One of my favorite poems of all time is "Sea Surface Full of Clouds," by Wallace Stevens. Each section of the poem is the same poem, essentially, with different elements substituted in certain slots. For example, the word chocolate will get a different adjective each time: "rosy chocolate," "chop-house chocolate." I've often wanted to write a poem like that, and I think I will do it in advance of the big tent reading a week from today at the Raven bookstore here in Lawrence.

Comparative Disadvantage

I wonder how the bottom 10% of the bottom 1% feel. This 0.1% of the population, tenth of the tenth, is lumped together with the other 9% of the top. But how much does a person in this group have in common with someone in the top 0.1% of the nation? Not very much. On the other hand, the bottom half of the top 2% is safe from the public outcry. Yet they are separated by a very thin line from the bottom half of the top 1%. At least the 1% of these two groups at the margins are almost indistinguishable.

19 oct. 2011


The course outlined below would allow me to deal with American jazz, soul, and poetry; Spanish poetry and music; and Afro-Cuban music and poetry. Really, it would allow me to draw on many things of interest to me. It would be like Miles meets Lorca.

Ida y vuelta

I've been a bit under the weather of late but when I come back, like today, I am ready to kick ass again, sharing my brilliance with the world, or the small segment of the world that reads this blog.

My current plan for my next graduate seminar is "Canciones de ida y vuelta: entre el son y el flamenco."

The concept of "ida y vueta" or "round trip," refers at the first level to styles of flamenco with strong Latin American influences, like the "rumba catalana." The course, though, will take into account any kind of "double cross-overs."

I. From Flamenco-influenced poetry to poetry-influenced flamenco.

2. From Spain to Latin America and back, the "cantes de ida y vuelta."

3. From son and rumba to jazz and soul and back again. Dizzy Gillespie, Machito, Ray Barretto.

4. Jazz and flamenco fusions...


More of a culture course than a literary one... I am redeveloping my handdrumming skills and hope to have them up to a decent level by the time I get to teach this course. I am ok on congas and getting some cajón and bongo chops as well. I know some cáscara and campana rhythms pretty well too.

13 oct. 2011

Cambiaste oro por plata

You replaced gold with silver.
I replaced the fibers in your clothes.
You ate my plums.
I ruined your make-up.

You rewrote my prose.
I rewrote your prose.
You rewrote my prose.
I rewrote your prose.

Listen to what they're saying.
What they're going around saying.
Listen to it.
Listen to it.

After Michael Palmer (iv)

This time I won't start with any particular MP poem. Instead, I'll just write a poem as though I were imitating MIchael Palmer.

Your praise! I've kicked the ladder down.
My dive will have to be very precise.

If you could notate that sucker you'd have something.
As it is, you got nothing.

Said the foolish person. But he was right.
A 360 leaves you facing the same way.

Now a 370...
Then the connection was lost.


The first subject that interested me was history. In 3rd grade, I checked out all the books I could carry from my elementary school library and read them all. Naively, I just wanted to know everything that ever happened. Before then I had been a slow student. I could never do the busy work fast, and still can't. Just reading those history books was a revelation. That's the exact moment when I became an intellectual. Interesting that this is about (in other words, exactly) the same time I started to question religion. Just getting a larger perspective makes you question the provincial realities of your own time and place.

The Road To Unbelief

This will not be a piece about arguments for or against belief, but rather an account of my particular path as I best remember it. I remember thinking the whole thing was a little bit suspect from the beginning, at around 6 or 7, but I attributed this to the fact that I was in the little kids Sunday school, where they were giving me the baby version. I assumed that I would get the full account later on. When I graduated to the general meeting, with adults and children mixed, I was disillusioned. There really was nothing much there. The next step in disillusionment was my baptism and confirmation. You were supposed to feel the holy ghost descend on you, and it didn't happen for me. It seemed to happen for everyone else, as they told it, but for me, nothing.

I read the bible when I was 8 and 9, more or less completely. It was a great story. I really like how the Israelites went to war to reclaim the land promised them. What troubled me, though, was how irrelevant the vast majority of this text was to anything in the modern religion that was supposed to be based on it. I was also troubled that a sin could be something that you merely thought. That seemed very unfair, because "bad thoughts" would pop into my head that I had no control over. I may have had some form of OCD. I really cannot stand to be watched like that. I would still find it intolerable to be judged for private, interior thoughts that are mine alone. I honestly don't see how anyone could tolerate that for one second. The next step was realizing that there were different beliefs. My church was the correct one, according to its members, and all others were wrong. But didn't an accident of birth place most of them in this church? What if none of the denominations were right? What if it was all made up? I read Of Human Bondage around this time. The hero Philip, prays to God to cure his club foot, and nothing happens. There seemed to be a disjunction between a world described in the Bible, where God comes down and converses with people, telling them what to do, and real life as I knew it.

So by the time I was 10 or 11, I was an atheist, as I remain today. I tried to believe in it for a few years, between 10 and 16, with no success. Being who I am, it was impossible to convince myself. The main factors were (1) lack of intellectual depth, even when I had graduated to the adult version (2) actually reading the Bible (3) no visit from Holy Ghost, (4) intolerance of an intrusive deity as thought police, (5) the contingency of having been born into a particular religion, and (6) reading a novel. Of these, probably 3 and 4 had the biggest impact. Later on, I gathered more reasons for not believing, but these were secondary in my case. I didn't have to learn about evolution or cosmology.


I remember clearly what it was like to believe as a child, just because your parents or other adults told you something was true. I don't believe any adults really believe like that. A second form of belief, emphasized in my particular religion-of-origin, is a kind of fervent inner conviction, that is supposed to arrive at confirmation, and once again when you read a certain sacred text and pray for this burning in your chest to arrive. This particular form of belief never occurred, for me. A third form might be a kind of "moderate" feeling of comfort that comes with familiarity with ritual. Finally, a fourth modality of belief is apologetics, a set of usually bad arguments. I would have been a great apologist, (if I were a dishonest person) because I am a nonbeliever. I think most apologists are nonbelievers, uncomfortable with their nonbelief, who need to convince themselves through spurious, intellectually dishonest arguments. Scratch an apologist and you will find a liar.

Brain Surgery

on Elsewhere

12 oct. 2011

The Cleaner

Samuel L. Jackson stars in this tense thriller (2007) directed by Renny Harlin. Jackson has a business of cleaning up blood stains in houses where someone has been killed. He gets a job, with the catch being that he is unwittingly cleaning up a murder before the police have been there, and presumably set up by some corrupt elements in the police force itself. Eva Mendes is gorgeous in the female lead, but not a good actor. Ed Harris plays Jackson's ex-partner on the police force. A good but not great film. The Freudian symbolism of washing / cleaning is hammered home in an unsubtle way.

Out of Arguments

I am almost out of arguments. I've left some out, like the argument from design and some weird probabilistic sleight of hand. Either I don't feel like considering those or I don't feel competent. Not that that has ever stopped me.

11 oct. 2011


Mel Raido stars in this 2008 British film directed by Neil Thompson. He is is beat up by a thug in a bar in front of his children and begins training in a boxing gym. I like films like this with a consistent style. Nothing too high-brow here. The violence, in fact, gets a little much. Still, it's a good little film.

Death Wish / Death Wish 2

This 1974 Charles Bronson vehicle has a score by Herbie Hancock. Bronson, 'Paul Kersey," plays an architect whose wife and daughter are attacked in their NYC apt. He is a conscientious objector an "bleeding heart liberal" turned vigilante, killing muggers with a few elegant shots.

A few years later, Bronson is living in L.A.. After another crime, in which his house keeper and daughter are killed, he becomes a vigilante once again, hunting down the criminals and shooting some other muggers too.

These low-brow revenge dramas are my guilty pleasure these days. I can't recommend death wish 3 and 4 though.


Few other forms of artistic expression are as hemmed-in as poetry, with its dependence on extremely sophisticated knowledge of a particular linguistic code. It's not just that you need to know the language, but that you have to know it well, in a nuanced way. It's true that you can be deaf to certain foreign traditions in music, or blind to iconographic traditions, but I think those could be learned much more easily than an entire foreign language.

Novels don't present the same problem, unless they are actually dependent on language. A great many are not (particularly).

Don't bother mentioning translation to me. I've heard of it, in fact. That's not really the solution, but simply another way of naming the problem. By the same token, without poetry, the problems of translation become trivial ones.

Translation of a Religious Poem

by Luis Feria.

I had not only forgotten this poem, but have no memory of translating it or of the brilliant analysis I did of it.

Big Tent

I will be reading in this series toward the end of the month. Probably selection from The Beaches of Northern California and AFter Michael Palmer.

Bad Arguments: Nobody Believes It Literally So What's The Big Deal

This argument states that the atheist's target is a straw-man. Most religious believers believe "moderately" or not at all. They like the incense, or the family values, or whatever and don't trouble themselves with whether it is true, or with nicer points of theology. Theologians, on the other hand, have developed super-sophisticated models in which you don't really have to believe any of it literally. It's all metaphor. Everyone knows you shouldn't take it all that seriously, and it only the earnest and naive atheist who makes the mistake of actually looking at religion as though it were something to believe in. (Oh, and a few "fundamentalists" who are like the atheists in the extremity of their position.)

Do I really have to demolish this argument? It is the classic bait-and-switch. Once you criticize religion, it dissolves into nothing, but once you stop your criticism it rises up again triumphantly.

Bad Arguments: Atheists are Extreme

Are you enjoying this series? I am. I guess no one reads this blog or else I would have a zillion comments.

Today I'd like to address the idea that atheism is "extreme" in the same way the religious fundamentalism is. This is the well-known "extremes meet" kind of argument. As I've stated before, if religion actually has some truth to it, then it should be taken very, very seriously. I mean, if it is really true that Jesus died for our sins, or whatever, that is a hugely important fact about human history. It doesn't make sense to believe it "moderately," or see it as a vague feel-good metaphor that you can take or leave. On the other hand, if it has no truth to it at all, then it is pretty ridiculous and harmful nonsense. It is kind of hard to have a moderate, non-extreme position between those two poles of belief or non-belief. So in a sense, I do agree with the Christian fundamentalists that it truly matters whether you believe or not.

I remember being told by a guy, who heard that I was professor literature, "You must like to read, then." Well, yeah. I almost asked a few ministers I met casually, "Wow, you must be kinda religious to do your job." I thought better of it because I am polite guy.

In my view, however, it is not dogmatic or extreme to refuse to believe in something you really don't have plausible evidence for. The two positions are not symmetrical in that sense. Even a very hard-core in-your-face atheism is still just a non theism, a refusal to buy into what almost everyone else is saying. It only looks extreme because of the huge dominance of religion in modern culture. Most atheists don't even spend a lot of time on atheism per se. It's more like something we don't do rather than something we devote energy to. Atheism is religion in the sense that not collecting stamps is a hobby, someone once said. In other words, it's more of an absence than a presence. It only becomes "extreme" when we actually decide to make a point of it, as in these posts of mine.

10 oct. 2011

Bad Arguments: Christianity is Unique

This argument, common in apologetics, is that Christianity is unique because it can be historically verified in ways that other religions can not. Appeals to historical documentation and eye-witness accounts bolster the faith of those who need a bit more evidence for their belief. The problem here is that the so-called historical evidence is just tenuous enough that someone investigating it, from a Christian point of view, is likely to go too far and realize that the evidence on the other side is a bit more convincing. Maybe not, but that is a risk. Once you make it make a religion subject to empirical proof, you make it subject to empirical disproof too.

Much of these arguments are the circular, "bible-said-so" kind of thing anyway. It seems awful convenient that the evidence happens to have been collected by those who wanted it all to be true.

I've always maintained that the surest road to disbelief is simply thinking about religion in a serious way, whether subjecting it to the most banal sort of scrutiny, the same you would use to try to figure out anything else, or to serious scholarly inquiry. Start at the beginning. Why does God prefer one kind of sacrifice to another? Why does he choose one group of people over the other? Why does he change his plan millions of years into the game? None of it makes the least amount of sense, and it is kind of amusing to watch brilliant people tying themselves up in knots to explain it.

9 oct. 2011

Recent article on Lorca

Was Lorca a Poetic Thinker?.

An older post

with some relevance to my recent ones on religion. and that is also relevant to this recent post by Clarissa.

Bad Arguments: Science Cannot Explain Everything

The argument from the inadequacy of scientific explanation is laughably weak. First of all, science is in the business of explaining how things work in the natural world. Religion has nothing to say about anything a scientist might want to know. How does a cell divide? How large is the moon? How does gravity work? Only science can provide answers to scientific questions. So the fact that science has not explained any particular thing does not leave a gap for a religious explanation. The "religious" explanation, in fact, is identical to a scientific one, in this case: "we don't know (yet)."

From this perspective, it doesn't really matter whether scientific inquiry has explained 5% of what we might want to know or 95%. Since religion has explained nothing at all about the natural world, it seems illogical to chalk up the other 95% or 5% to a non-existent religious explanation.

I would say, in fact, that religion and science are in completely different businesses. The only reason to talk about them in the same breath is that religion provides one of the only possible motivations for questioning the findings of science. Suppose you thought thunderbolts were thrown by Zeus. A scientific explanation of thunder might make you question your religion so you might get defensive. In the modern world, most people do not even use religion as a source of explanation for almost anything related to the weather, but there are still some areas where religion provides resistance to scientific education.

8 oct. 2011

Bad Arguments:Not Believing in Religion Commits You...

Not believing in religion commits you to blind adoration of science, or the perfectibility of humanity, etc...

I don't think so.

Science is the best way of gaining knowledge about the natural world. Nothing else even comes close. Certain religious people deny some scientific knowledge for religious reasons. In fact, there are few reasons for denying scientific findings that are not religious or political. All it mean if you aren't religious is that you probably won't question science for non-scientific reasons.

Not believing in religion does not commit you to any given form of humanism or human "progress." You can be non-religious but also quite pessimistic about humanity.

7 oct. 2011

Bad Arguments: Religion is a Practice, Not a Set of Beliefs

One common "escape clause" I've seen is defining religion as a series of practices rather than a set of beliefs. The idea is that people perform ritual actions and participate in collective activities that make them feel good, but don't really worry about whether deep down any of it's based on any truth. The argument is that only the atheists get held up on the truth claims aspect of all of it.

This would actually be a not-bad argument for many religions and religious practices. Who could object to some harmless rituals? It is a very astute defense of religion, aside from the fact that it concedes a heck of a lot, considering the humongous rhetoric of truthiness that the dominant religion in Western Culture hammers home again and again.

13 Ways

I woke up the other night and tried to reconstruct "!3 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" in my head. The next morning I tried again. I missed a few sections, the bawds of euphony, icicles filled the long window, and the final part, it was evening all afternoon. And, of course, I didn't get anything in the right order. Is there any poem greater than this?

6 oct. 2011

The Nobel Goes To

Tranströmer. What was I just saying about giving it to figures who were more relevant in the 1970s, like Varguitas last year? TT was translated by Bly and enjoyed a vogue 35-40 years ago. They probably had more information in Sweden about his health and realized it was now or never for the local hero, but this kind of award just makes literature seem even more irrelevant than it already was.

Steve Jobs and "Structures of Feeling"

I remember when Jobs left Apple for a while, and the machines became lifeless and dull. They still were still Apples, but they were not, somehow. I think they allowed other people to make computers using their operating system, but they were crappy and did not have the design elements needed to inspire. Their market share fell gradually during this period.

Since I spend most of my day with my mac devices of various sorts, my macbook pro, my ipad, my ipod, my desktop mac, it would be hard to say that anyone else has had more influence on my everyday life and creative habits. The "structures of feeling" (Raymond Williams) of our time flow from a corporation that this man founded.

Bad Arguments: No Religion, No Morality

If morality is based on religion then why do we reject (or explain away) religious teachings if they conflict with our ethical principles? People always bring their religious codes into conformity with their ethical principles. When they do the opposite, they are reviled as fundamentalist bible-thumpers.


I don't spend hours watching baseball games. I don't have a tv in Kansas, for one thing. Nor do I follow the progress of the regular season. I just don't care enough about any particular team or player. I do like a few things about baseball, though. I totally get the attractions of the sport.

Purity. I like the separation between the game and everyday life, the way it has its own terms that must be respected. This might be true for any game, but I feel it particularly with baseball. Purity is an absolute illusion, but a comforting one.

Situation. I like that, at any moment in the game, there is definable situation. It is the bottom of the seventh. The home team is behind by one run. There are two outs and a runner at first. The count is two and one. The next batter up is a left-handed power hitter... You can even "watch" baseball on the radio, since the situation counts for so much. Football has this situational aspect too, unlike fluid games (soccer, basketball, hockey) in which the situation is always more or less the same: one team has the ball for a while and is trying to score.

Duels. I like the contest between the pitcher and hitters. It is situationally complex, especially if there are base-runners and a secondary duel involving an effort to keep a runner from advancing.

Excitement against a backdrop of tedium. The normal mood of a game is tense tedium. Most of the players are doing absolutely nothing at any given time, either waiting to bat or standing out in the field waiting for a ball to be hit to them. When something happens, it happens very quickly. Most at-bats end in the failure of the batter. A large percentage of runners are stranded. Scoring is relatively difficult and requires patience.

Nuance, expertise. I like it that the game is opaque or dull to someone without some level of familiarity. I am far from an expert, but I do like those finer points.

5 oct. 2011

More Bad Arguments: Religion Has Done More Harm Than Good To Humankind

It may be true that religion has done more harm than good. It would be kind of hard to demonstrate a proposition of the magnitude, because religion is so intertwined with other aspects of human life that it is impossible to conceive of a human history without it.

Even if religion has done harm, or even if it is neutral in its effects, it could still be true. Whether a religious doctrine is true or not is independent of whether it is harmful or beneficial to humanity. Usually, though, religious people want to argue for the benefits of religion (even if it cannot be shown to be true). It is equally fallacious to say that religion is true because we want it to be, as we will see tomorrow.


I finished the Ben Loory book while my students took an exam. It is every bit as light-weight as a thought it would be. It made me want to write fiction, though, because I know I could do better. My worst ideas are more interesting than this.

More Nobel

The Nobel prize always looks for the uplifting, "idealistic" factor or the big pay-off in politico-cultural terms, like a writer protesting against an oppressive regime. "Not that there's anything wrong with that." It can't be a prize for the best writer, because there is a kind of grandeur in older ideas of the writer as intellectual serving larger causes. Not to mention the pride of national literatures or the desire to acknowledge that not all writers are Europeans or Americans. All these great motives combine to create a prize that confers enormous symbolic capital. The Nobel prize is liquid Pierre Bourdieu in highly concentrated form. It makes cultural capital visible and also constructs it. reminds us of it.

The problem is that this model of the writer intellectual seems rather dated. A winner like Saramago exemplifies this particular model, but are there many Saramagos left? Hence Bob Dylan as 5 to 1 favorite in this horse race. A cynical popular entertainer who once had a moment of political relevance, five decades ago, would be the perfect winner. If I were betting, though, I'd go with Adonis, because of the tie-in with the Arab spring. (If that's not too obvious.)

How To (Learn To) Scan A Poem

First, type out the lines as a prose paragraph.. This is a crucial step if you are a beginner, because most people start off by trying to fit the language into what they think the meter should be, instead of actually hearing the language as it is. All of a sudden they start putting stresses in strange, unnatural places.

Now read the paragraph aloud a few times in as natural a way as you can. Make a recording if you want.

Now circle or highlight all the content words. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs. Make sure you know which syllable is accented in each of them, if any are unfamiliar. Every content word will have stress on one of its syllables. Listen to your recording and see if you have stressed any of the other words, like pronouns, prepositions. Suppose one like is "He is hiding under the table." There is no question about hiding and table. Did you stress is, under, the? Mark the other words you might have stressed.

By now you will have a good sense of the natural linguistic prosody of the poem. In other words, the way a naturally-speaking native speaker of the language (or competent 2nd-language speaker) would pronounce those sentences. You are almost done and you are miles ahead of almost anyone else.

Now get out the original poem, before you wrote it out in prose. Read it again outloud, naturally. Don't pause at the end of lines (very much) unless there is punctuation, but note where the line breaks are.

Now start to listen to see whether you hear any patterns, and observe whether these pattern happen to coincide with your vague memories of meters. At what point does the pattern you perceive not line up exactly with the stresses you've already determined? Does that make you want to speak the line in a less natural way ? Or does it make you want to ignore the pattern? Find a way of saying the line that makes it sound good without either emphasizing or de-emphasizing the meter.

There, now you are done. If you go any further than you will get severe headaches.

"criterion referenced assessment"

When I see a phrase like that I want to scream. If someone is working in education, they should not use soul-deadening social science jargon like that.

Flann O'Brien's


The Third Policeman is one my favorite novels of all time. Of course there is also At Swim-Two-Birds, which gave birth to Mulligan Stew. Back when metafiction was all the rage... Sorrentino loved Flann O'Brien, and I did too when I was studying with him.


On parle de Bob Dylan comme un possible prix Nobel de la littérature. Je me comprends pas. Je préfère Lorenz Hart, à vrai dire.

4 oct. 2011

How to Play Rock Beats on a Hand Drum

I got this book about how to play some standard beats on a hand drum, like a conga or djembe or even a cajón. It is Hip Grooves for Hand Drums by the Dworsky / Sansby husband and wife team, who have penned many a book on hand drumming for the earnest amateur or developing semi-pro.

One way is to alernate hands, rlrl, etc..l and play the bass drum as a bass tone, the snare as a slap, and use tones as fills. You can play either 8th not or 16th note grooves like this, so most of your bass drums on one and three or your snare back-beats on two and four are played with the right hand.

Another way is to play a basic "tumbao" conga pattern and modify it a bit with slaps that also happen to fall on the 2s and 4s. They have some cool 6/8 beats too. So if you wonder what the strange sounds coming out of my office or apartment are, you can stop wondering.


Is the Nobel prize for Literature still relevant to anyone? I don't remember any winners in the past few years aside from Vargas Llosa, but I'm in a Spanish department so I would notice that. A prize in the first decade of the 21st century doesn't seem that relevant for a writer who made his main contribution in the 60s and 70s. My undergraduate Spanish majors didn't even know he had won the prize two weeks afterwards. When I asked them what writer had just won, they said "Gabriel García Márquez." An obscure writer who wins will just slip back into obscurity after a burst of publicity.

More Bad Arguments-I believe it because it is absurd

Imagine an argument between two theologians. You are listening to them going back and forth. How do you know which one is right? They can appeal to nothing but the discourse of other theologians. One might have a more cogent interpretation of some other, previous theologian, but there is no way of saying that one is closer to the truth in any absolute sense. They are arguing about something that nobody knows anything about. You can't even say that the one with the most consistent, non self-contradictory argument is gaining the upper hand, because self-contradiction can be a winning move in the game. Credo quia absurdum est.

3 oct. 2011

Bad Arguments--I Know It To Be So

Arguments for religion, or any particular religious belief, based on deep inner conviction cannot convince any other person who holds other beliefs with equal fervency. Subjective feelings are just that, subjective.

Ivresse du pouvoir

This 2006 French movie directed by Chabrol, known as "Comedy of Power" in English, stars Isabelle Huppert as a judge investigating corruption in a French corporation. The featured actress is lovely and carries the movie on her back, but the storytelling is dull, preachy, and anticlimactic. The movie also lacks a distinctive visual style. The movie sets a lightly comic tone, without being actually funny in more than a few places. I wonder why French movies are not better than they are?

A French critic agrees with me:
Malheureusement, le film se déroule dans un rythme pépère, sans accroc serait-on tenté de dire. On n’est pas loin, en plus malin peut-être, d'un divertissement d'un dimanche soir où l’on ne saurait pas trop quoi faire. Le tapis se déroule tranquillement, on est gentiment pris par la main, merci, et les petits détails plus ou moins rigolos, sûrement inspirés par des faits réels (cf. les survêtements de Berléand) jalonnent sans souci le métrage. Mouais. Côté mise en scène, c'est aussi le long fleuve tranquille. Les petits mouvements de caméra sans conséquence sont présents quasiment tout le temps, sans que ça change quoi ce soit donc, et les champs / contrechamps, ni jolis ni honteux (plutôt ternes, quoi) se succèdent sans fin. On ne risque pas le bourrage d'yeux, en quelque sorte.

I just realized that Chabrol also directed a movie named "Inspector Bellamy" that I also saw and didn't like.

2 oct. 2011

Bad Arguments--Relativism

"Religion" in general cannot be true. If there is such a thing as religious truth, then not all religions can be equal. It is a bad argument to say that one's one religion happens to be the true one, because nobody has any way of knowing that. On the other hand, once the believer admits that any religion in general is a fine thing, that commits her to a position of hopeless relativism.

1 oct. 2011

Le pari de Pascal

Although I reject Pascal's wager, for the reasons I explained in the last post, it must be said that Pascal was a brilliant mathematician and that his idea is one of the first applications (if not the first, I really have no idea) of game theory to theology.

Suppose you had to calculate the probability of there being a Christian God who would send an non-believer to hell automatically. Someone living in Pascal's time and place would probably think that was fairly probable, even if not certain. Even if someone had some doubts, the typical 17th century Frenchperson probably wouldn't put the probability at zero. So the question is how low the probability would have to be to simply take the risk. Imagine a game of Russian Roulette. Suppose the revolver had, not six chambers, but 100. Would you play? How about 1,000? 10,000? If the revolver has two chambers, with a bullet in one of them and not the other, almost nobody would play Russian Roulette with it, or if three of the six chambers contained bullets.

So for people raised on hellfire and damnation, Pascal's bet might seem like a pretty good deal. Why wouldn't you refuse to play Russian Roulette with the fate of your eternal soul? Remember, according to Pascal, you lose nothing by believing, even if you are wrong.

The fallacy comes in thinking that the religion that your parents or your community happened to use to put the fear of God (so to speak) in you as a child has more probability of being true than any other one. In other words, if you were a Hindu raised in India you would vastly overrate the probability of Hinduism being the true religion. It is easy to see that for Hinduism, but much harder to see that from within one's particular culture. So really one would have to place bets on different horses, not just one, and then the whole scheme falls apart. Remember that believing in the wrong God is an explicit violation in the monotheistic traditions.

(For example, how do I know for a fact that the ancient Egyptian Gods are not the ones really in charge up there? It seems ridiculous to even pose the question, but that is simply because there are no ancient Egyptians anymore. How would I evaluate betting for or against the existence of Egyptian Gods? For me, that gun has no bullets, so I don't even worry about it.)

Bad Arguments--Pascal's Wager

Pascal argued that if you bet against God and there turns out to be a God, then you would go to hell. If you bet the other way, and there was a God, you would be in good shape. If there is no God, you lose nothing by betting there is.

This is a stunningly cynical argument, designed to prey on the lingering doubts of those raised as a believers. With that ghost of a voice in the back of your head saying, "maybe it is true after all," you play it safe. Although Pascal hated the cynicism of the Jesuits, he produced a Jesuitical argument in this case.

I could no sooner believe in a religious doctrine to make a "wager" than I could affirm that Australia is in the Northern hemisphere. In either case I would be pretending to believe something. You can see why apologetics leads straight to atheism.

30 sept. 2011

The Argument from the Futility of Arguments

This argument, which I don't know whether to call good or bad, is that arguments about religion (for or against it, or within it) do not have the power to convince anyone. If you want to believe, you will, and it doesn't matter whether your arguments are particularly good or not.

Bad Arguments--Religious People Are Evil

To right the balance a bit, I would like to examine a fallacious argument against religion. The idea that religious people are much less moral than atheists. The jails are full of religious people, not because they are worse than others, but because less-educated people, who tend to be incarcerated at a higher rate, tend to be believers. In truth, believers and non-believers are about the same in this regard. Believers often derive morality from religion, and non-believers don't. That is about the only difference.

People argue that religious wars derive from religion. So they do. But all this shows is that religion makes no difference one way or another. Slaveowners and abolitionists were equally Christian, and equally willing to go to war.

Inadequate Analogies: The Argument from Aesthetics

People arguing religion with me often use analogies from aesthetics. The argumentative move consists of comparing a religious text to a novel, or a religious preference for an aesthetic one. There are a few reasons why this argument falls flat on its face. In the first place, everyone recognizes that aesthetic preferences are personal and subjective, and inarguable at some level for that reason. If religion were that, and only that, nobody would have a problem with it. There aren't people writing books saying how nobody should listen to music or look at art.

Religion does two things that art doesn't. It makes serious truth-claims, and it organizes people into groups devoted to those claims.

For example, my judgment in the Harry Potter novels does not depend on whether Harry Potter really exists or not. In fact, I'm pretty sure he doesn't, but that doesn't effect anyone's judgment, because everyone knows this. It's a made-up story. If it were a religious text I think it would be treated quite differently. Reading it would be a religious duty, and belief in its truth claims would be a test of devotion. People who said it was made up would be ostracized from the community.

So go ahead and use aesthetic analogies, but be aware of what their implications are.

Mtheny / Grenadier

I saw guitar demi-god Pat Metheny play with bassist Larry Grenadier last night at Liberty Hall here in Lawrence. He played a lot of guitar on several separate guitars, including a technologically advanced one with many bells and whistles that allowed him a great number of special effects, and a semi-acoustic-looking one that let him play a gentle flamenco-like song. They played several tunes I recognized from some of the trio albums in which Metheny and Grenadier played with drummer Bill Stewart.

The last time I saw PM he was in a trio format with Antonio Sánchez, I think, in the same hall. Curiously, I didn't miss having a drummer in this case. I have never seen Grenadier in person so this was a good experience for me.

Bad Arguments: "A Religion of Peace"

No religion is a "religion of peace" if it has a long history of war-like activity. You can't take the peaceful parts of it and say that that is what it represents. If its adherents are war-like over several centuries, if various sects of the religion wage holy war against one another, etc... I'm not talking about conflicts like WW I, in which a lot of the participants just happened to be adherents of a few of the major monotheistic religions, but about the Crusades and other conflicts in the name of religion.

Actually though, the fact that Christianity did nothing to stop secular wars, in societies where almost everyone was ostensibly Christian, is also pretty damning.

Your religion is a religion of peace, when you happen to be at peace, and a religion of war when you are at war. Religion is orthogonal to war and peace. That, in a way, is more terrifying than anything. Think of a French Catholic shooting against a German Catholic in the trenches of the Great War. Their religion simply makes no difference at all in this situation.

29 sept. 2011

Pretty Good Arguments: The Argument from Awe

It is awe-inspiring to be alive and conscious. Even ordinary existence is awesome in this sense, but the contemplation of the natural world and of great works of art adds even more such awe. This is a religious or quasi-religious feeling, though I think that I, a non-believer, feel it more intensely than most people I know. Even when I am intensely depressed I never stop feeling it. I think this feeling of awe is the true "subject matter" of all poetry and music. Or, to be more precise, it is the only subject matter that I really care about.

The religious view of awe interprets this feeling as evidence of something that produces the awe, some deity of some kind as the ultimate source of "the awesome." This is a pretty good argument for religious feeling, though of course a feeling requires no intellectual justification at all. Just as religion can be metaphor for the unknown, it can be a concrete name for the marvelousness of merely existing.

Bad Arguments-True Religion

One spectacularly unsuccessful argument is that there is a true core of religion residing in the hearts of true believers and in sacred texts that is immune to the corruptions of actually existing religion. Any critique of forced conversions of indigenous populations to another religion, or religious wars, cannot touch the true core of the religion.

Religion, as I'm defining it here, is religion as it actually exists and has existed in the world, not some idealized version sanitized and modernized according to contemporary standards.

Philadelphia Squirrels

I dreamed I was in Philadelphia. It didn't look anything like the real city where I've been several times, but that's where I thought I was. People were interacting in strange ways with a large number of squirrels. Some had them on leashes. Other were holding them as they jumped through the air, getting a lift from the squrrels, etc... The animals were quite docile, and I remembered wondering why they didn't fight against the humans holding them.


Later in the night, my father came back to my childhood house. I was showing him how we hadn't altered his study at all. I opened a rare edition of Quevedo that I had acquired, but the text was illegible. My father died ten years ago, so a visit from him in a dream is always welcome. Interestingly, the study actually no longer exists, because my parents knocked out a wall of the house. The study in the dream was the small room that was once my father's study and later became my brother's bedroom.


The third dream must be censored, unfortunately.

A Possibly Good Argument: Religion as a Metaphor for the Unknown

John makes a very good comment to the last post. "Religion is a metaphor for the unknown." (My paraphrase.) I agree with this completely. My own position toward religion is a kind of radical agnosticism. If God is metaphor for the unknown, nobody knows anything about God. There is no positive knowledge. I don't have a "faith" or "belief" in a proposition that there are no Gods. Rather, I am rigorously non-theistic in terms of the entities that I do think exist, and agnostic about the possibility of knowing anything for sure. I think it is pretty pointless to argue about whether Christianity has a .2% chance of being the right answer and Hinduism a point .3% chance. People's metaphors are worthy of respect as long as they aren't taken as anything more than metaphors. If you think yours is better, it is like thinking your spouse is better than someone else's. You are correct about your spouse, but I am also correct about mine.

Of course, religion, historically speaking, is not an individual choice of that sort, but a communal organization of life. It is only late in the game that the idea of personal belief as a individualistic choice comes into play, the product of Protestantism and later of secularization itself. That might be a topic for another post.

28 sept. 2011

Niño Josele

This tribute album to Bill Evans comes highly recommended (by me). It is very listenable as long as you don't expect it to be improvised jazz.

Bad Arguments-The Courtier's Reply

The "Courtier's Reply" is the argument that a high degree of theological sophistication is required to contest religious belief. Basically, theologians spin self-contradictory and often meaningless arguments that are ignored by the average religious believer. In fact, theology school is often the first step toward atheism, since really, really sophisticated theology is all but indistinguishable from atheism, making no real claims about anything.

Theories of the Proverb

So today for class I want to develop a half dozen theories of the proverb. I don't mean a theory that will explain everything, but just a half-way interesting idea. I'm doing it on my blog first because I am too lazy to come up with these ideas as part of my working day. If I do it on the blog it's just part of my blogging hobby and will be sheer play. and hence be much easier.

1. Proverbs are a form of cultural competence, or the place where linguistic and cultural competence meet. They draw on cultural concepts that are widely shared like Dios or pan (God; bread).

2. Proverbs are part of daily life; they are pragmatic and refer to ordinary experience, like the weather, eating, drinking, human relationships, animals that might be observed around the house or barn. They have a semantic field confined to the everyday, and have pragmatic implications.

3. The meaning of a proverb is its use, not the meaning of its semantic elements.

4. Proverbs are instantiations of conventional metaphorical schemata, like "The Great Chain of Being" as explained in Lakoff's and Turner's More than Cool Reason.

5. Proverbs have a definite ideology, when viewed as a whole and not individually. This ideology can be described as "cynical conservatism." In other words, wisdom is following the accepted path, but being distrustful of human motivations.

6. A proverb has to "click" or "snap" prosodically and structurally. A proverb is a small poem.

7. [Your job, dear reader, is to come up with the 7th idea.]

27 sept. 2011


I began several months by downloading about 30 hours of Flamenco podcasts. When I discovered two more programs, I had quite a few to listen to, about 90 hours when I was the furthest behind. Now I am down to about 20, but the catch is that I six hours more every week, so I have to listen to seven to actually make headway during any given week. I've listened to all of the "Nuestro flamenco" broadcasts of 2011, except for 20 minutes, and most of the "Duendeando" and "Entre palos y quejíos" as well, for 2011 and a part of 2010. I've learned a lot, but not a lot, maybe, in proportion to the number of hours I've spent. I don't really care that it's inefficient, because I am also enjoying the music and the interviews. I have to think of the next step of the project after I am caught up in my listening. I guess it would be designing the course in detail by compiling a bibliography of readings.

Bad arguments: True Because I Want It To Be

A lot of people want their religion to be true. They desire what they believe to be true to actually be true. This desire, however, has no effect on the actual truth. Wishes have no weight here, even if the alternative makes you upset or drives you to despair.

Bad Arguments --the Ontological Proof

I will be examining some bad arguments in favor of (and against) religious belief in this blog. Once in a while I might find a good argument.


The ontological proof, associated with Anselm and later with Descartes, begins by imagining a perfect being. What would this perfect being be like? It would be all-knowing, all-powerful, etc... And to be really perfect it would have to exist. Therefore such a perfect being does, in fact, exist.

Now the spectacular flaw in such an argument, as Kant pointed out, is to view existence itself as a predicate similar to others. In other words, you cannot begin by imagining a being and then forget, at the end, that it is a fabrication of your imagination. Imagine a perfect swimming pool. It would have to bring together certain characteristics considered ideal in a pool. The water would always be the perfect temperature and would never be dirty; it would never allow anyone to drown it, etc... We cannot then add to this list of predicates that this swimming pool must also exist, and that therefore there is such a pool somewhere.

24 sept. 2011


Luisa Puenzo directs this 2007 Argentine movie about a teenage hermaphrodite. Ricardo Darin plays his/her father. This was an excellent movie in all respects and comes highly recommended. I like films like this that cast a single mood.

22 sept. 2011

A Motif

A certain time-traveler is sent back in time to assassinate Hitler. He decides the easiest way will be to go back to when Hitler was a baby in the cradle. No bodyguards, no fuss. When he arrives back at his own time, after fulfilling his mission, he is immediately put on trial for killing an innocent child. He tries to explain the evil that Hitler represented, etc... but the entire history of the world has been altered by his act, including his own orders. He himself does not understand what he has done, since his memory of learning of Hitler's evil in school seems like a bad dream. After all, he has never learned of Hitler, because Hitler was no longer a historical figure.

Stories for Nighttime / And Some for the Day

I received a free copy of this book by Ben Loory, published by Penguin. My first impression is that it is way too facile, taking the Lydia Davis or Paul Auster mode of postmodernism and making it even "liter." He is very smart to figure out that this was a place to go here, a niche for a dumbed-down postmodernism. If you know Borges, then Auster is not impressive. If you now Auster, than Loory will not be impressive either.

Of course, LD is far better than Auster so I don't mean to insult her, but Loory seems to be imitating her more than her ex-husband. The first story in the book is a blatant imitation of the opening of If On A Winter's Night a Traveler.

My impression might change as I get further into the book.

The Pure Products

I woke up at night with my cough, as has been happening lately. I have a sinus infection, which explains some of my recent difficulties. Insomnia is rare with me, but I couldn't get back to sleep. I reconstructed WCW's poem "For Elsie" in my mind, almost perfectly. Checking this morning I realize I left out two words "to work in some hard-pressed / house in the suburbs..." I had shortened this phrase to "to some hard pressed / house in the suburbs." I had a conversation about the poem recently with Denise Lowe, former poet laureate of Kansas, and had a slight advantage because I happened to have memorized the poem at some point in my life, and then rememorized it.

Curiously, I think the omission of those two words makes the poem better.

Then I tried to work out a 4 against 7 polyrhythm. I fell asleep before I could solve that one. Mathematically I knew what it had to be, but I couldn't get it to fall into place as a real rhythm, one that I could feel.

21 sept. 2011

Suddenly (1954)

Frank Sinatra in a suit and fedora arrives in the small town of "Suddenly" to assassinate the president, who will be passing through there.. He and his henchman take over a house on a hill overlooking the town square, taking as hostages a retired secret service agent, his daughter (a war widow), and a young boy (her son), as well as the town sheriff.

Hostage situations provide good drama: a confined, stage-like place, an automatic situation of power and dominance, ready-made conflict. Sinatra is very good in this role, and doesn't even sing.

20 sept. 2011

Thick As Thieves

There are at least a few movies with this title. This 1998 one features Alec Baldwin as a criminal who is brought in to Detroit to steal some plates used to print food stamps. He is double crossed by some local Detroit gangsters (one played by Andre Braugher) and has to kill two corrupt cops. He then goes on a rampage.

It is a pretty crappy movie, with bad dialogue and lame, half-hearted attempts at humor. Not recommended.

Widsom of Crowds

I like reposting this once in a while, one of my best ideas ever:

The Wisdom of Crowds in Translation.

The fiendishly simple idea is that the best translation is going to be a kind of consensus version derived from the average choice of a large group of translators. A good poetic translator with a great knowledge of the source language as well may or may not come up with something that approaches this statistical prevalence. If sh/e does, fine, but if sh/e doesn't, the crowd is still probably correct.


I'll be playing conga outside today from 4-5. Just come to Wescoe Hall outside the Spanish dept and listen for the sound of... amateurish conga playing. This is gong to be a regular thing, Tuesday and Thursday at 4ish, and Wed. at 2:30. I did it a few years ago but unaccountably stopped.

19 sept. 2011

Film Aesthetics

Although I am not a film guy per se, I am very sensitive to film aesthetics: the look of a film (lighting, landscapes, costuming); the film score; the style of acting; the quality of dialogue. While Cantet's "Human Resources" is a very good film, I got no joy out its earnestly flat socialist realist style. I like the urban style of blaxploitation movies of the 70s, with their R&B soundtracks and overthetop costuming.

It's hard to beat classic hollywood film before the arrival of technicolor. I can't get enough of the stylized look of Back and White films of the 1940s. Of course, you can't just make a black and white film today and have it come out like those. Woody Allen tried it with "Manhattan." Others have too, but it isn't quite the same, is it?

Broken Symmetries (After MP 3)

Church bells announce a fire in the photo lab.
"Cultural Studies" is soon there with his buckets.

"Egg Roll" watches from the sidelines.
"Weather-Beaten Skeleton" can do nothing.

Do you want a piece of me?
Have you read Stones of Venice?

The stones appear there as themselves.
Those rains brought these muds.

Your tone is excessive, they said.
But it was what I was saying they hated.

They didn't like my insistence.
They didn't like me.

Those over-cautious bells, afraid to ring out the changes.
Or was it a problem with the entire system?


I admire the poetry of Michael Palmer very much, but it is not the kind of poetry I would write. I like more humor, more spoken language, and more directness. What I do in these poems, then, is to erase his and write mine on top of them, leaving nothing of the original except for a few "trace" words. I couldn't do this with a poet whose poems I would want to write, nor with a poet who holds no attraction for me at all. For some reason I cannot write out of myself, only in reaction to something already there. I fear the explanation is otiose, because if it is more interesting than the poem, it sinks it right there, but if it is less interesting, who needs it?

Clothes That Fit

I recently watched two movies from the 1950s, "The Bad Seed" and "Appointment with Danger." Watching them I couldn't get over how well the clothes fit the lead actors in both of these movies, Nancy Kelly and Alan Ladd respectively. Kelly's silhouette from head to toe was just exquisite in whatever clothes she wore: always that unbroken line down to the floor. Ladd's suit seemed like a second skin. Call me superficial, but that was what my attention was most drawn to, even though I'm far from a fashionista. There is something that is just not replicable in later movies that try to recreate the retro look of the 40s or 50s. You can't just slap a fedora on Kevin Costner and expect him to look like Bogart or Ladd.

18 sept. 2011

Inspector Bellamy

This 2009 film starring a bloated Gérard Depardieu was directed by Chabrol. I had a hard time getting through it, with its twitchy, aimless plots and subplots. Depardieu is an aging famous police detective who is supposed to be on vacation or totally retired. He gets involved in a case when the murderer contacts him. This could almost work, were it not for the competing subplot of the relationship between Depardieu and his ne'er-do-well half-brother. I kept wishing that I was watching a movie with Al Pacino or Jack Nicholson in this role, someone who could give it some energy.

Human Resources

This 1999 film by Laurent Cantet is subtle look at family and class relations. The Socialist Government of France is introducing the 35-hour work week, so a bright college student takes a summer internship at the plant where his father works. His job is to help design the implementation of the 35 hour week (down from 39). Of course, this is an ostensibly progressive reform, but the union, headed by a wonderful firebrand of a woman, about 65-years old, is justifiably suspicious that management will use the reform for nefarious ends. Why not automate the plant and get by with less manual labor, and fewer laborers? The management trainee, Franck, moves from naivety to activism and conflict with his own father, a gentle and compliant factory worker.

While seemingly a dull subject for a film, it is well done. Of course, conservative governments in France have since eliminated the 35-hour work-week.

(Thanks to The Spanish Professor for this film recommendation.)

The Forgotten

This film, directed by Joseph Ruben, was released in 2004 and stars Julianne Moore as a mother who is in therapy for the tragic death of her son. Soon, it seems she is losing her mind as all evidence of the son's existence is erased. Her therapist and her husband both claim her son Sam never existed in the first place. Soon, she is running from Federal Agents and space aliens. Somehow, the aliens who have the power to rapture people from the earth instantaneously have trouble with the Power Of A True Mother's Love. A good premise for a movie, but the ode to motherly love at the end takes the movie into ideological fantasy.

17 sept. 2011

Por bulerías

The basic 12 part count of Flamenco rhythm:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

See here for more details.

What's interesting here is that rhythms divided into 6 (or 12) beats are divisible by both 2 and 3, so they lend themselves to polyrhythms. Notice the way the accent on the third beat throws the whole compás into asymmetry. Otherwise all the beats would be on the even-numbered offbeats.

Compare the afro-cuban bell pattern in 6/8 time:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 .

Something similar happens there. One, three, and five are accented in the first part of the pattern, then the last note of that first part fall on 6, then 2, 4, and 6 in the second half. Both are twelve-beat cycles, so counting them as two groups of six or one of twelve is six of one thing and half dozen of the other.