31 may 2011

Theology and Aesthetics

Once anyone begins using aesthetic analogies to justify religious positions, all is lost. Aesthetics is the realm of the contingent, the subjective, the relative. Mozart, if he were alive, might hate Morton Feldman, but who cares? In aesthetics you can never appeal to a "higher authority" to settle a dispute. You can't go back to an authority figure or a scripture.

Religion is that way too, actually. The difference, though, is that theology arrogates to itself the realm of the non-contingent, the absolute. Its methods are just as relativistic, just as subjective, as aesthetics, but it pretends to concern itself with the truth. So the aesthetic comparison is the liberal's way out. It basically concedes that religion is just a form of aesthetics whose truth claims depend on contingent, arbitrary factors.

Debates about aesthetics are useful and fun because the participants no there is no theology behind these debates. They know that there are limits to how far you can go before you just have to throw up your hands and disagree. Even I know this, despite my embodiment of "Mayhew's Fallacy."

The other place where aesthetics come in handy is because, while we don't know quite what causes it, there is such a thing as religious experience. In other words, subjective feelings that people choose to call by this label. For a person devoid of such experience, aesthetics is the closest comparison at hand.

Bullshit Fields (2)

The second bullshit field I'd like to examine is theology, a field whose main aim is to define the object of its study and sometimes even to prove its very existence. The fact that a whole branch of theology deals with the question of whether God actually exists should give you pause. Theology as a field of study is sheer confirmation bias, inventing its object of study according to an agenda. Of course you can read and explicate texts of other theologians without necessarily making it all up, but any attempt to be an actual theologian is absurd. The object of study is one about which there is no actual knowledge, so it is a little like doing literary criticism without a text, as I've argued before, or judging a figure-skating contest in which there are no actual skaters. I know as much about the object of study as the most accomplished theologian, which is to say, absolutely nothing. Nobody knows a thing. If I am having a theological argument with you, there is no basis on which any claim can be sustained, except what some other text, written by someone who also knew nothing, happened to write.


A new biographical dictionary put out by the Real Academia de la Historia in Spain has, among other outrages, a rather flattering depiction of Franco.They don't use the term dictator for him, for example. One of columnists for El País notes that even Franco knew he was a dictator. Come on.


I give my undergraduate students two options. They can call me "profesor" or "profesor Mayhew," or simply "profe." That gives them an informal option that still recognizes what our relationship is. If they call me by my first name I don't actually correct them, because I don't really care all that much. Instead, I usually announce my preferred form of address at the beginning of the course. That way I get fewer "Jonathans" and "Doctor Mayhews" the rest of the semester.

30 may 2011

Don't call me Doctor

It's a funny thing, but a professor being called "Doctor Mayhew..." is actually a low status marker. In Cal Newport's book How To Be a High School Superstar, which my daughter is reading, I found a confirmation of this. He refers to "an elegant experiment in which researchers called the voice mail of professors in the California public university system. As predicted, the better the school's rating, the less likely they were to hear 'you've reached Doctor...' start the voice mail greeting" (p. 151). It makes perfect sense. If you aren't a physician, you don't need to be called doctor just because you have a PhD. If you feel the need to use the doctor title, you are very insecure.

Nobody Likes an Atheist

The religious ideology in the US is Christian. They call it Judeochristian, but that is just so they can conveniently include the Jews without really doing so. Or include them when it's convenient, and not when it's not. The official line is that everyone should have a religion, but that it doesn't matter which one, as long as you have one (and as long as it's not Islam). If you are not Christian, your religion should resemble Christianity, or be a kind of analogy to it that is readily understood as a "faith." It is curious that "faith" should be a synonym for a religion, because it is, itself, a concept derived from Christianity. It is actually a term of art in theology.

The atheist is hated because he doesn't bet on any horse in the race. The pseudo-relativism that justifies a false religious tolerance sees religious "faiths" as analogous to one another, but the atheists sees that this tolerance does not extend to her refusal to put down a bet. Believers suspect that he doesn't really respect their beliefs, and they may even be right. Logically, they cannot respect the atheist either. "Not betting on any horse is the same as betting on a horse," they tell her. "You have a secret bet that the race itself is not worth running." The atheist sees that the fact that there is not one horse in the race makes the whole race pointless: every bettor is in fact betting against all the horses but one, for completely arbitrary and contingent reasons.

Even atheists hate other atheists, because going too far in opposing the official line seems obnoxious to some, while being too appeasing and respectful is obnoxious to the others. Anyone who tolerates religion a little more or less than I do can become the object of scorn. It's tiresome to have to pay respect to something you just cannot really respect with any sincerity, but it's also tiresome to argue against religion. Very few people want to look like assholes all the time.

Nobody really likes a religious asshole either, but their is a taboo against criticism. Surely the Pope is 10 times the asshole that Richard Dawkins is, but he is the spiritual leader to billions. You wouldn't want to offend them!

28 may 2011

Why Poetry is not Literature

After seeing someone's recommendation on Facebook, I just read an article by my Kansas colleague Joe Harrington on "Why American Poetry is Not American Literature," in American Literary History (1996), written before i even met Joe. Though I woudn't approach the question exactly in the same way, I think he does a good job at explaining the separation between an "Americanist" conception of literature that consists of almost entirely prose fiction, and a separate subfield of "American poetry" with its own set of concerns. Only Whitman, of poets, gets included in the first conception of American literature.

It made me think a lot about my own field. I could write (and probably will) an article called "Why Spanish Poetry is not 'Spanish Literature.'" The reasons for the Spanish case might be somewhat different, but not entirely. The poets I study don't even think of poetry as subcategory of "literature." They's be more likely to see the novel as genre to be studied by poetics in the larger Aristotelian sense. The split is quite profound, in that people studying poetry often seen to have little interest in prose fiction. I'm a case in point: I might go three months without reading a novel if I am not teaching one. My novels of choice are either written by poets or experimental novels that have little to do with the mainstream realism of our time.

I remember one dissertation student we had earnestly explaining that a certain poet was "not only a poet, but also a writer." In other words, a writer means a writer of prose. There are no canonical poets after Miguel Hernández in Spain: no poet who you would expect any Hispanist (not a specialist in contemporary Spain) to know.

People in my Field Don't Blog

very much, at least using their real names. I wonder why that is. There are some Hispanists whose blogs I follow, but they are pseudonymous and I don't know all their identities. It never occurred to me not to use my real name to blog, when I started in 2002 and already had tenure. Being out in the open protects me from the fear of being found out. Of course I can't talk about departmental matters or speak of my colleagues in unflattering terms, but would I want to anyway? I assume anything I write will be known to anyone. The few times I've even left anonymous comments I didn't really like the feeling it gave me.

Academics seem particularly drawn to pseudonymous blogging, probably because of the viciousness of academic politics. It wouldn't make much sense for a writer promoting his/her work to blog in secret.

27 may 2011

Young Adult

I never read fiction written for teenagers when I was that age. I just read real books. Kafka or Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut. When I was slightly younger Ray Bradbury. My daughter is having me read The Hunger Games. It's probably better than the kind of things we had available to us back in the day, but I am still glad I read the real stuff.

26 may 2011

Bill Knott is Looking for an Editor

I am obviously not the person to help Knott select his selected poems, but I think that this would be a job for someone sympathetic to his poetics. Check out this post on his prose blog. Knott was a poet I kind of dug when I was a kid when he had that St. Gerard (spelling) mystique going on. I always liked his poem about the only proper response to a child's grave is to lie down in front of it, for example.

So if you are interested, drop him a line, and don't tell him I sent you.


I take it back. This was the article that started me in this direction, of criticizing Spanish poetry of the 1980s. That was in 1992! I am old. What was humorous was someone writing book to refute me and using the 1992 article instead of the 1999 one. If you are going to refute me, at least refute recent me.

25 may 2011

Nostalgia Trip

This one was one of my first publications in a major journal, MLN. I think it still holds up ok after 21 years, though the emphasis on metapoetry sounds a little quaint.

The Avant-Garde and its Discontents

This was the article that got it all started. By all, I mean my career as critic of the so-called "poetry of experience" in Spain. I've got more attention and grief from this than from anything I've ever written until Apocryphal Lorca, which brought me attention but very little grief.

In Which I am Quoted

I'm reading a dissertation from Spain where I am quoted a lot. That's directly related to the reason I'm on the committee, in fact. You would think I would like this, and I do like the dissertation quite a bit, and obviously the student needs to be quoting me, but it puts me in a different relation to the text than if I were not involved at all. I try to see the Mayhew that's being quoted as THE Jonathan Mayhew and myself as just a third person reader with the same name. Seeing your own name in print has the effect anyway.

24 may 2011


A discussion in the comments in Clarissa's excellent new wordpress blog had me laughing out loud. She thought at first that I was a graduate student because I was enthusiastic about what I did, apparently not a quality shared by senior professors in my field. She eventually realized that I was "THE Jonathan Mayhew," not just someone using my name in tribute to the real me. It reminds me of the recent discovery that Scott Kaufman, the blogger, is the same Scott Kaufman who teaches composition at UCI, when he is constantly blogging about teaching composition at UCI.

I confess it. I am still as enthusiastic about my field as I ever was. I never got jaded or negative, and I still am surprised when people have heard of me, since I labor in an obscure subfield of Spanish literature.

Robert Frost on Evolution

A bird half wakened in the lunar moon
Sang halfway through its little inborn tune.
Partly because it sang but once all night
And that from no especial bush's height,
Partly because it sang ventriloquist
And had the inspiration to desist
Almost before the prick of hostile ears,
It ventured less in peril than appears.
It could not have come down to us so far,
Through the interstices of things ajar,
On the long bead chain of repeated birth,
To be a bird while we are men on earth,
If singing out of sleep and dream that way
Had made it much more easily a prey.

The first evolutionary concept Frost uses here is "inborn." He sees the traits of the bird as innate, the product of a biological heritage. Then the speaker of the poem wonders why the bird (this species of bird) has survived, why it is fit for survival. Surely a bird singing in the middle of the night like that would be swooped up by an owl or other nocturnal hunter? So he devises an evolutionary explanation of sorts. First of all, he makes a few excuses. It only sang once, and not for very long. Secondly, he makes an almost tautological argument: if the bird did in fact survive, then singing at night once in a while could not have been too maladaptive. After all, the bird is still there! The argument is not strong, because maybe this particular bird was eaten by an owl the minute after the speaker heard the song. Individuals with maladaptive traits exist, even the the species itself has adapted to a particular habitat.

Evolutionary Change

Now that we've established common descent we have admitted the principle of change. The ancestor of the dog and horse had to change, somehow, into a dog and horse. Common descent implies that species are not locked in to a single pattern throughout the biological time-line.

The next thing that is fairly intuitive is that change has happened. Modern mammals didn't exist during the vast swaths of time when there were dinosaurs. It is obvious that there has been change (i.e. evolution) because of the fossil record itself. Species are born and die just like individuals.

But how does it happen? First of all, descent implies generations, the "long bead chain of repeated birth," in the words of Robert Frost. If individuals just stayed around forever and never reproduced, you couldn't have change. Secondly, you need a certain variability within a single generation, a single population. If every individual were the genetic clone of every other one, you wouldn't have much to work with. What's not intuitive here to the layman is how this mutability can produce such wide variation. Even creationists admit biological variability and small changes, after all. They know that dog breeders have produced breeds of dogs with traits different from other dogs. They just won't accept larger changes. They still believe that species are essentially locked into an immutable pattern. They can't accept that a dog and a wolf are related, or a wolf and a sabre-tooth tiger, and so on up the chain. They will tell you, sure, micro-evoluation exists, but not macro.

But once you get someone to admit a wolf is related to a dog, once you admit that species arose or became extinct, then it's hard to draw a line saying that biological change has a fixed barrier at the level of species. It would be like saying Spanish can change, can have dialects and regional differentiations, but it will never actually change into a completely different language.

The next logical step might be to look at mechanisms of change: selection, adaptation, and the so-called "survival of the fittest."

(Once again, I'm trying to reason all this out just with my extremely limited knowledge. I think people confuse themselves by knowing too much and ignore the intuitive simplicity of some of this. Also, though, I'm trying to understand why evolution is counterintuitive to people who don't readily accept it.)

23 may 2011

Common Descent

The easiest concept in evolution to grasp is common descent. If you take a bunch of varieties of oak trees, you can figure out that there was a common ancestor to all these varieties. And of all trees further back. You can see that a cat is related to a tiger and a lion. There is a kinship there. You can also see lesser degrees of relation among more distantly related creatures, birds and mammals, say. So the classification of animals and plants into hierarchical categories already implies this relatedness. To me this is more intuitive than other concepts in evolution, and more self-evident. We see a similar kind of branching effect in language. Italian and Spanish obviously are different languages but they share a common ancestor. Or styles of rock music. It is obvious that they evolved from common roots, that they bear similarities and relationships through common origins rather than from some individual act of creating various styles all at the same time. Biological life, too, looks more like a thing that developed through a series of changes like that, than like something designed consciously all at once. Evolution had to be invented, by Darwin or someone else, once there was enough knowledge of biology, simply because of the intuitive principle of kinship. You can tell one kind of cow is related to another variety of cow, but less related to a horse. Not even the stupidest creationists try to go against common descent overtly, because it is just too powerful.

Once you admit common descent, though, isn't the rest of evolution just inevitable? All you need after that is a mechanism of change and differentiation, mutability and selection, and a long enough time-scale for it to occur. I'd like to reason this out for myself in entirely layman's terms, since i'm not a scientist of any sort. I actually think it's more important that I understand it than for someone who already knows this kind of thing professionally. A shocking number of Americans don't accept evolution at all, so in this case a simplistic understanding is better than a sophisticated one.

Bill Knott on Music

Spectacularly stupid quote from Bill Knott about music:
I don't like music; I try to listen to as little of it as possible. Anybody who reads poetry can see the ubiquitous self-doubts poets evince regarding the validity/value of their art. Compare that to the eternally smug self-satisfied attitudes exhibited by the advocates and practitioners of music. They take it for granted that music is the highest art, the universal art, the only art that transcends all borders and babels. They never question that given assumption. The arrogance of composers and musicians is insufferable. They really believe Pater's dictum that all the other arts are inferior, that all the other arts "aspire towards the condition of music." But every military that ever marched out to murder rape and destroy was led by what art: were those armies fronted by poets extemporizing verse -- by sculptors squeezing clay -- by painters wielding brushes -- actors posing soliloquies? No, the art that led those killers forth, the art whose urgent strident rhythms stirred and spurred their corresponding bloodlust, was the art to which they felt closest, the art that mirrored their evil egos. That's why they have always put music up there at the vanguard of their war-ranks, because not only is it the emblem, the fore-thrust insignia of their purpose, it is their purpose: it is the condition to which they aspire.

I promised myself I would not go to war (so to speak) against people like this, but this is just too much. I realize poets are not always intellectuals, but a critical-thinking failure this gross call out for correction. To use the existence of military bands as an objection to all music is just beyond the pale. (And I guess he has never heard of patriotic poetry or statues of generals!) Music pretty accompanies a wide range of human activities from mating rituals to religious rites, work, and recreation.

Foe obvious reasons, poets who don't have a deep appreciation for music are barely even poets. If you don't like music yourself, that's fine, but normally you would see that as a flaw in yourself, not a sign of the deep arrogance of musicians.

Bullshit Fields

One bullshit field is so-called "evolutionary psychology." What this field does is to take a given human trait and explain how it was an adaptive trait in the primeval human habitat where humans first evolved, through speculative "just so" stories. Now I believe that human evolved, and that, generally speaking, all the traits we have are (tautologically speaking) adaptive. So the stories are largely pointless. We gossip, say, and we evolved to gossip, because we needed during some earlier stage of prehistory, to figure out what was going on in our small group of hunter-gatherers, so someone wouldn't clobber us on the head with a rock. (I actually heard someone make this argument on NPR a few days ago. I kid you not.)

When it is not merely tautological, evopsych is ideologically obnoxious, since it is always some negative trait that is supposed to adaptive. But if we evolved to do everything we do, why do they only make arguments for the evolutionary advantages of certain traits and not others? Sociobiology is always obnoxious in exactly this way, making the specious argument that you cannot fight against human nature.

22 may 2011

Lorca and 10,000 Hours

Lorca wrote a lot of juvenilia, and it has been published because Lorca is a super-canonical writer. I use the word super-canonical not as a superlative, but as my term for a writer who is so canonical that a drawing on a napkin is deemed worthy of publication. If you found a new manuscript by Dante, it would be a news item. Lorca is a writer in that category. Lorca's juvenilia, plays and poems, is often quite awful. Religious sentimental crap. His first book, Libro de poemas, is still quite immature. His first play after the juvenilia, about a butterfly and some cockroaches, is insufferable. A few short years after that, he was the genius poet of Poema del cante jondo.

So Lorca needed the proverbial 10,000 hours to be good what he became very, very good at. He needed to write a load of crappy work just to be practiced enough as a writer. Sure, some people write for 10,000 hours and are still crappy, so I am concluding that Lorca was working systematically, deliberately, in his practice, that he had some sense of what he was after and was working toward that goal. All of his reading, his work on Flamenco, his musical practice, was also directed toward this same goal.

So yes, Lorca is a genius inspired by the duende, and all that business, but what he was a genius in was figuring out how to get from being a crappy adolescent writer like all of us were, to be the poet and playwright he became.


Coltrane practiced so much that he didn't know who Willy Mays was.

20 may 2011

Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier. Just google her name if you don't already know who she is, an incredible street photographer recently discovered.

I Used To Get Mad

In the old days of Bemsha Swing, I used to get quite angry at (what I saw as) the stupidity of the defenders of the so-called school of quietude, and those who attacked the avant-garde. It's not as though my core opinions have changed all that much, in the type of poets that I like or dislike. I still like Jean Valentine quite a bit, along with Clark Coolidge. I still don't like Tom Clark. My columns are a little more skewed than they might have been, a little less dogmatic, but I still lean pretty much the same way on any given day.

What I've realized, though, is that the more significant arguments are with myself, and that someone will always be wrong on the internet. I don't need to be crushing some idiot every day just because I can.

Another factor here is that some of my most esteemed interlocutors do not necessarily come from my own "camp," so to speak. I'm thinking of Henry Gould, Joseph Duemer, Joseph Hutchinson, and Andrew Shields, in particular, and you, other person or two whose name I should be mentioning here. Not to speak for them, but none is a rabid avant-gardist the way I am (if at all), and I've learned a lot from the way they carry themselves in a debate.

That being said, Simic is still fair game and I will continue to be mad about his review of Creeley.

19 may 2011

Flamenco Sketches

I've been listening to hours of flamenco podcasts. I also have about 15 hours of flamenco in my itunes library. Here's what I like the most so far. This would be a good introduction to flamenco if you want to know a little more.

From the classic period, La Niña de los Peines and Antonio Mairena.

I have many hours of Camarón de la Isla. "Soy caminante" is an accessible album. Anything with Paco de Lucía or Tomatito accompanying him on guitar is necessary listening. If you don't like Flamenco singing (many people don't) you could just stick to Paco de Lucía.

Carmen Linares, "Antología de la mujer en el cante." This is a two-disk set that anthologizes great flamenco songs sung previously by others. It is a kind of "reference book." Excellent guitar work by a major guitarists. By Linares, also, "Raíces y alas," poems by Juan Ramón Jiménez sung by Linares.

I have recordings by Enrique Morente because he's sung a lot of Lorca. Don't tell anyone, but I don't really like him that much. You might like him more than I do, so don't take my word for it.

Miguel Poveda has made a name for himself in recent years. Start with "Suena Flamenco," my favorite by him.

The free podcast "Nuestro Flamenco" is superb. If you don't speak Spanish and get impatient you can skip the interviews. "Duendeando" has more music and less talking, though the music isn't quite as consistently good. Also free. "Por palos y quejíos" is a more pop-oriented Flamenco podcast, if you like Spanish pop with a slight Flamenco tinge.

Beats or New York Intellectuals?

The New York intellectuals were disillusioned leftists, mostly. They liked modernism in literature and Trotsky in politics, and founded the Partisan Review and later The New York Review of Books. A lot of American intellectual life stems from them, and when many turned rightward they became the neocons. Saul Bellow and other University of Chicago people were like the Chicago branch New York Intellectuals. Bellow wrote a novel about Delmore Schwartz, for example, a poet associated with the New York I's.

The Beats and New York poets, along with the Black Mountain poets like Olson and Creeley, came up in the 1950s and were largely at odds with the NY Intellectuals. Think of what Lionel Trilling thought about Allen Ginsberg and you get an idea of what I mean.

The New York Intellectuals weren't really down with the 60s, the new left and the drug / rock and roll / identity politics / alternate spirituality / antiwar culture. History really left them behind in some ways. The 60s, culturally, was the sociological explosion of what had been a minority culture in the 1950s. Young hipsters or hepcats who dug jazz and got high. That's why they called them "hippies" in the 60s.

These two sides still exist on the left. In this comment thread we see Michael Berubé arguing for the cultural side against George Scialabba. I'm not saying that the debate now is about the same thing, exactly, but it is really a conflict, not between culture and economics, but between two cultures. One rooted in the 60s and all of that, and another in a more European, ascetic tradition.

Old Posts

There's an old post on my blog from May of 2005 that Ron Silliman has linked to, so I've gotten dozens of hits on it today as a consequence. I don't even agree with this post anymore, since it illustrates "Mayhew's Fallacy" in an unattractive way. I'm tempted to delete it, yet I don't want to, because the blog is a record of what I've said and thought since 2002. I rarely delete posts. That doesn't mean I think in exactly the same way as several years ago or even last month.


I was looking for a venue to publish articles outside my area of specialization. Say I want to write an article on Creeley but I don't really care about where it's published. I just want people to be able to read it. I could either have another blog for those kind of articles or house them at KU ScholarWorks, uploading them myself. I could even keep track obsessively of how many people download and read them. I could create a page of links from my other blogs to my page at the KU library. I have this funny idea that I want as many interested people as possible to read what I write, so this would be a good start. One of my articles was downloaded 27 times and viewed 50 in the 10 days it's been up. I don't know the difference between a download and a view, but either way I'm happy.

18 may 2011

Valente / Celan

Another article is up on KU ScholarWorks. And this one. The problem with this is I am addicted to stats. I'll be checking every day to see how many times my articles are downloaded.

17 may 2011

Rothko Chapel

"Rothko Chapel" is perhaps the best introduction to Feldman. It is not an hour and a half long; it is pleasant in its instrumentation; and has a conventionally beautiful melody at the beginning of the fifth section. I love his use of quiet timpani. This was the first piece I heard by Feldman and for years I didn't know much else of him. It didn't hurt that Rothko is my favorite painter, of course.

Once you get used to Rothko Chapel, then you are ready for "Crippled Symmetries." This piece is quite a bit longer, but it is a better introduction to his great, late long works than, say, "Piano and String Quartet" or "Mental Perturbation." It is more sonically pleasant, more calming and even melodic. It is divided into sections, so you can start with one and listen to 15 or 20 minutes. This work will teach you how to listen to more unitary, unsubdivided long works.

Some really short early works might be easy enough to get through, but they are too short to provide enough information for the listener to get used to Feldman's style. "Rothko Chapel," at 24 minutes, is perfect in length in this regard.

There have been whole years when I just wasn't in the mood for Feldman's music. I only wanted music that would stimulate and arouse my nervous system in the more usual ways.

Form and Content

I realize that I have divided the content of my blogs neatly into content and form, with Bemsha Swing a blog devoted to my ideas, and Stupid Motivational Tricks to the prose itself in which ideas get expressed, and the process of writing it. Bemsha is more popular among my readers when I am really posting heavily on it and avoid the most dull of my interests, but Stupid Motivational Tricks is gradually gaining ground and might overtake Bemsha in the near future.

Critical Thinking

One thing I argued in my course proposal turned in yesterday was that "critical thinking" had turned into a sort of formalism, where mastery of the forms of academic discourse replaced a real engagement with great minds and rigorous forms of discipline. I see this tendency in Graff's Clueless in Academe, Fish's How to Write a Sentence, and possibly in Nussbaum's Not for Profit (though I'd have to read this book more carefully first to say this with confidence), in Clueless in Academe, etc...

Critical thinking and academic writing are abstract ideals that, when disconnected from specific forms of thought, tend to become reduced to shells of themselves.

This follows my article "What Lorca Knew: Teaching Receptivity" which argued against Graff's formalism. There I advocated for an engagement with the "raw materials" of the humanities, poems, paintings, performances, plays, pieces of music, whether that engagement took the form of academic argumentation or not. Of course, I was making an academic argument myself. That doesn't make me a hypocrite, because I do value critical thinking and all the rest. I just don't see it as a panacea.

I Get Email


I'm YYY. I was just wandering [sic] what your stance was on poetry. What
do you think of it, what do you think it's for? Society, expression,
just to make a point or to fill a void?

I guess this is just a spambot (or whatever you call them), and not a sincere question. For me, poetry is a kind of defense against mediocrity and stupidity. It's a defense against people or machines who send out emails like that. If a poem of mine could silently murder a spambot like that, I would be quite happy (assuming that a real person did not write that email to me). A poem can do very little against a dictator or an earthquake, but it can raise the level of human intelligence. Nobody really knows what poetry is for, but I know that it heightens one's consciousness of the sense of wonder of being alive at all. Perhaps this feeling is behind my contempt for those who deliberately debase the art form. If poetry is a defense against mediocrity, then mediocre poetry at best is a place-holder, something to occupy the place until the real thing comes along, and at worst a direct affront.

16 may 2011


I was reading an interview by Valente, who said that Webern had influenced him as much as any literary intertext. He also mentioned Klee and Kandinsky. We saw some examples from Creeley in posts recently. I think many poets (Lorca, Frank O'Hara, David Shapiro, Valente, Creeley) approach poetry as a closely related sister art to painting and/or music. (Usually both.) I can't say most poets do, because I can't back that up, but a lot of the poets I have been most attracted to have done so, and that's certainly a key to the way I have read them as well, ever since I read Perloff's Poet Among Painters.

Yet this is not easy to do as a critic. I never liked facile approaches, like saying "he's trying to with words what x did with paint." I never liked mere juxtaposition or shallow analogies. Sometimes, too, I see where the poet has paid homage to a work of music, but I don't have a lot to say. With Valente's homage to Couperin, for example. Why this musical version of Trois leçons de tenèbres and not that of another composer?

Education Works

Have you seen stats for unemployment rates correlating with educational level? It runs about 14% unemployment for those without High School Diploma, 9.7% for High School, 4.5% for college degree, and even better for advanced or professional degrees. Pretty much, some college is better than no college, graduating from college is even better, and so on. The differences are pretty stark. A PhD overall (though not in Humanities) yields about a 2.5 unemployment rate. And all this is in a bad economy. Incomes for people who are employed also improve, on average, with educational attainment. It is people in my profession, then, who hold the key to employment and success generally. As a graduate professor, I train people who in turn will train others. The social scorn for people in my profession is something difficult to understand. People want their children to get into good colleges and universities, yet somehow the college professor can be a figure of deep distrust.

13 may 2011


dictionary fail from Language Log.

Creeley on ...


To try to answer Vance's question a little better:

What I was trying to make clear was that jazz gave me a model for rhythmic patterns and possibilities finally more useful than what I was getting from the usual 1940s models of what was supposed to be good poetry. A lot of it was, in fact, terrific—[William Carlos] Williams, [Ezra] Pound, [Wallace] Stevens—but none, with the exception of Williams, came close to the way I’d say or write things.

It was the phrasing, the cadence, that most occupied me. Something as simple as a “backbeat” was curiously outside the usual concerns of poetry. Everyone was talking about “meaning,” or “figures of speech,” “ambiguity,” etc. I was interested, literally, in sound and rhythm, no matter what I then thought about it or even knew. I listened to the classic records of the period—all the stuff coming up to bebop and then the great initial releases circa 1945 of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, [big] bands like Tadd Dameron and Boyd Raeburn, singers like Sarah Vaughn. I’d track, not didactically, as with a ruler, but intuitively, “by ear,” as poet friend Charles Olson put it, all those shifts and changes, all built usually on the most simple of melodic lines. I wish some poet then had been doing with “Mary Had a Little Lamb” what Bird was doing with “I’ve Got Rhythm”!


The other Jonathan Mayhew.

I Get Email

Dear Jonathan,

My name is XXX and I’m a contributing writer for diplomamill.com. I came across your blog recently and I think it’s great that you offer such eclectic and interesting commentary on a wide range of neat topics.

I was wondering if you accept guest blog posts because I would love an opportunity to write an article for Bemsha Swing. The main idea of the piece would be to discuss how the online PhD is changing education. As PhDs are traditionally very advanced degrees that require a lot of face-to-face interaction amongst peers and professionals, the online PhD has evolved in a different way while still remaining credible. I’d like to discuss what it’s like to get a PhD in a foreign language online, with the hopes of showing that there are options for people who want to get a PhD, but who feel hampered by the collegiate atmosphere. The article would also highlight some of the major differences of a virtual degree.

Please let me know what you think of this idea. I’d be happy to provide writing samples if that’s necessary.

It would be great to hear from you!

All the best,

My response:

Dear XXX:

Sorry. Call me old-fashioned but a lot of what a good PhD program does is face-to-face mentoring. In today's very competitive academic marketplace you have to be very committed to get a PhD. Since the PhD in Spanish mainly is a degree for future Spanish professors, I don't see how someone "hampered by the collegiate atmosphere" is going to cut it. On-line PhDs are not in fact, "credible." Did you really think a credible academic blogger would provide free advertising for a diploma mill?


Jonathan Mayhew
Professor of Spanish
Department of Spanish & Portuguese
1445 Jayhawk Blvd.
Wescoe Hall, RM. 2650
The University of Kansas
Lawrence, KS 66045-7590

Ah de la vida.
Y una sed desmedida me apresura,
y un hondo amor, y un derredor urgente.

--Luis Feria

Of course, I assume the person writing me is not even a person, but a spambot of some kind. The diploma mill in question does not offer a PhD in Spanish, though they do offer fake degrees in nonexistent fields like "theology" and "professional studies."


We tend to see reality through stencil views, through stereotypes. It is hard to see things as they really are. In literature, the tendency is even greater, because of the subjectivity of response and the vagaries of memory. Think of a writer you really know well. Ok, now define the stencil view, like this.

O'Hara: casualness, didn't care about his poetry that much.

Ginsberg: Howl. Made a big scandal. Some drugs and Buddhism.

Dickinson. Weird punctuation. Reclusive eccentric.

Now compare your complex vision with the stencil. If you really know anything at all your vision will be far more complex than the stencil, so much so that the stencil will actually be wrong, the opposite of what you really think.

12 may 2011

Creeley on Sound

For me sound -- Pound's "Listen to the sound that it makes" -- has always been a crucial factor. That's why jazz back then in the mid-forties was so useful -- it let me hear ways of linking, how 'serial order' might be played, what a rhythm could literally accomplish. I wasn't getting that from the usual discussions of poetry at all. Anyhow I write and read my own poems as sounds and rhythms -- and that is a crucial part of their fact. One gets phrasing from all manner of source, people talking in the street, Frank Sinatra, and so on. Jack Kerouac is a terrific instance albeit he hardly took to the stage with any pleasure. But anyhow I write poetry to be spoken, I speak it when I write it -- like Bud Powell playing piano.

11 may 2011

Creeley Read This Blog By the Way

RC: I much like the quickness of exchange (for which read "publication") it provides. I truly think the more, the merrier -- and let one's own perceptions and needs make the relevant connections. Pound said years ago, "Damn your taste! I want if possible to sharpen your perceptions after which your taste can take care of itself." It's as if someone has finally opened that bleak door of usual discretion and habit, and let in a great diversity of response, proposal, everything. Two blogs I value indeed:



I am very interesting in things that can be given names. Perfumes, brands, horses, people, stuffed animals, poems, breeds of roses or tomatoes. Ever since I read Plato's Cratylus. Or probably even before that. There ought to be a book about that. Or can we just sit back and enjoy the names themselves?

Mayhew's Fallacy

"Mayhew's fallacy* is the idea that everyone, if sufficiently exposed to the excellent sort of poetry that I prefer, would prefer it to the less adeptly poetry they now prefer. If you like Kenny G., you probably just have not heard enough Coltrane. In other words, it's the Kantian universalization of my own individual preferences. Other people probably do this too, so even calling it "Mayhew's Fallacy" is a fallacy, but I think I am particularly good at it, or bad, if you prefer. First of all, I really do have better taste than almost anyone else,** and am much more stubborn about admitting that Mayhew's Fallacy really is a fallacy. In other words, I know "objectively" that what I am doing is an illegitimate projection of my own ideas onto everyone else, but I still cannot help doing it.

In my defense I can say a few things. I don't really have the power of coming over to your house and imposing my taste on you. The writing that emerges from "Mayhew's Fallacy" is lively and provocative. Finally, I really am smarter than you and you could learn a lot from me.***


*The coiner of the term "Mayhew's fallacy" was the poet Tony Tost, if I remember correctly.

**Tongue in cheek.

***Again, mostly tongue in cheek. If you are reading this blog you are probably extremely smart already. Just sharing my interests puts you in that elite category, right?

The Minimal Gesture

You grow with a poet. I was reading Creeley at 15 and at 50 I still am reading him. His work has grown with me. As I get more subtle in my thought, get to be a better reader, Creeley gets better too. He is not a writer to be left behind. If you knew him only at the level of English-department comprehensive exams, say, you would think of the early work about domestic difficulties, the association with WCW, and leave it at that.

It is easy to dismiss the apparent slightness of gesture, the understatement, as a mere abdication of responsibility or as a self-indulgent descent into triviality. I imagine the horror of Simic at realizing that Creeley had written so much. A Collected Poems, in two volumes, of a writer known for his brevity and early anthology pieces. A nice man (in his later days) who had some "interesting ideas about literature." It never occurred to him that a writer like Creeley teaches you how to read him. If you are just looking for the 50 pages of lyric condensation, you might be making a mistake. Of course, Creeley does have that 50 pages (actually much more than that), but he also has the throw-away poems.

I'd compare him to Morton Feldman if I had more time and energy today.


Here is my first paper on the KU open access site ScholarWorks. I'm hoping to have another five papers up there very soon.

The great thing is that there will be stats of downloads, so I can see who in the world is reading my work through this forum.

Update: Here is another one. I just wish they wouldn't have me listed under two different names.

Creeley vs. Simic

Look at how remarkably better a typical poem by Robert Creeley is than one by Charles Simic, with his lazy similes (shiver like straw) and his clichés (meek little lamb), his attempts at portentous, meaningful statement (like the last heroic soldier / of a defeated army). I'm embarrassed even to cite such phrases. All day long! The huge shears coming after the little lamb! The truth is dark under the eyelids! Give me a break. Simic is vaguely existential, Creeley is quietly specific and far more subtle. Compare the histrionic gesture of staying out a few minutes longer in the cold, and the subtlety of remembering overheard sounds of many years ago. Compare the subtlety of Creeley's music against the tuneless ear of the younger poet.

I will never forgive Simic's condescension toward Creeley in The New York Review of Books. Here was an opportunity to be generous toward a true master, and Simic chooses uncomprehending condescension. He could have learned something from Creeley's art if he had tried.

Simic's poem isn't even all that bad, you'll say. It's exactly what they teach you to write in the creative writing class, in fact. The similes, the vague portentousness straining after the "deep image," the "all day" or "all evening" cliché, the bare branches and little lamb, the first snowflake of winter. That makes the contrast all the more stark.

The truth is dark under your eyelids.
What are you going to do about it?
The birds are silent; there's no one to ask.
All day long you'll squint at the gray sky.
When the wind blows you'll shiver like straw.

A meek little lamb you grew your wool
Till they came after you with huge shears.
Flies hovered over open mouth,
Then they, too, flew off like the leaves,
The bare branches reached after them in vain.

Winter coming. Like the last heroic soldier
Of a defeated army, you'll stay at your post,
Head bared to the first snow flake.
Till a neighbor comes to yell at you,
You're crazier than the weather, Charlie.


I can't speak so
simply of whatever
was then
the fashion

of silence
everyone's-- Blue
expansive morning
and in

the lilac bush just
under window
farm house
spaces all

the teeming chatter
of innumerable birds--
I'd lie quiet

to go to sleep late
evenings in summer
such buzzes settling

of birds--The relatives
in rooms underneath
me murmuring--
Listened hard to catch

faint edges of sounds
through blurs of fading
spectrum now out
there forever.

10 may 2011

Negative Review

Here is a very negative review of a book by the writer Tao Lin, Shoplifting From American Apparel. I found it re-tweeted by Tao Lin himself! I have read a few other things by this author so I have a hard time believing the book could be this vile. The reviewer, frankly, comes off as an idiot. First I thought it was a parody, and that the reviewer had actually liked the book quite a bit, because she goes through all those stereotypical moves at the beginning of saying that she is not one of THOSE reviewers who trashes all the avant-garde books. I guess parody and the real thing become hard to distinguish sometimes. It reminds me of one of those evangelical Christians, whose discourse is so over-the-top that it cannot any longer be parodied. Frankly, this kind of review makes me want to defend the book even without reading it, and to become a staunch defender. If people like this don't like his book, it must have some value, right?

The reviewer is looking for existentialism 60 years too late, confusing the character with the author, and generally showing how angry writing is rarely convincing. The bluster just gets in the way of clear thinking.

Compare this writing to a lucid essay on the novel by Tao Lin himself. Whose judgment do you trust more, just on the basis of the prose style itself?

9 may 2011


I've always been fascinated by naming. Take this taxonomy of SUV names. Igor is a pretty sophisticated company that gives names to things for commercial purposes. Their own name illustrates the fact that you can give negative-sounding names to things and still be appealing. One example they give is "yahoo," a successful company whose name means a rude or violent person without very much cultivation. I used a similar principle for "stupid motivational tricks," which seems to have entirely negative connotations of unintellgience, corny motivational speakers, and deceitful trickery. Apparently, a negative name is more provocative and hence more attractive to the brain.

If I were to work for any kind of commercial enterprise it would be for Igor.

Horse, Dog, or Cat Name?

Waylon Jennings
Perfect Winter
The Secrets Out
Sky Rocket

John Ashbery Poems or Kentucky Derby Horses?

Animal Kingdom
The Skaters
William Byrd
Comma to the Top
Decisive Moment
Girls on the Run
Dialed In
Midnight Interlude
Ice Cream in America
A Waltz Dream
Weather and Turtles
Toby's Corner
Twice the Appeal
Uncle Mo
About to Move


I have been very fortunate in having very good commenters on my blogs. The top ones, in recent months, and in no particular order of importance, have been Vance Maverick, Clarissa, "Profacero," Thomas, Andrew Shields, and Sarang. Vance Maverick I know very little about, but he has also been known to comment on other, more high-profile blogs like Langauge Log and Crooked Timber, and probably others I do not read. Clarissa and Profacero, like me, are Hispanists. Thomas B, who lives and works in Denmark, runs a blog very similar to Stupid Motivational Tricks, and another parallel to Bemsha Swing. In fact, his blog Research as a Second Language was the inspiration for Stupid Motivational Tricks. Andrew, like me, went to [Graduate {actually he was undergraduate while I was grad}] School at Stanford. He work in Basel in Switzerland, and, like me, loves jazz and poetry. Sarang is a graduate student in physics who also knows a hell of a lot about 17th century British poetry. There is no connection, as far as I know, between any of these six individuals, aside from maybe answering each others' comments. Geographically, they represent a diverse group, if we consider where they live or where they hail from originally. Two have lived in Canada, for example. Only one of them have I seen in the flesh.

You, too, can be a part of this select group. If I've left you out here it is because of quantity, not quality. I haven't had a bad or spam comment on my blogs for quite some time.

6 may 2011

How To Be Feminist Man


Ok, that's a little too simplistic. What I mean is that feminism doesn't really need you if your main aim is to prove how feminist you are, to make a spectacle of your guilt or rectitude, or to make women like you or want to sleep with you. Feminists (the female type) don't really like having to placate or take care of the feelings of men who want to be feminists. (Or so I've been told.)

Don't tell women how to be feminists, or that they are too feminist, or not feminists enough. Don't be condescending or dominating. Don't be a "concern troll," rolling out your alleged feminist bona fides in order to then make anti-feminist points. Don't speak for women and treat your contribution as special. Women, especially feminist women, really know how to speak for themselves exceptionally well.

Don't write for other men telling them how to check out women without being too obnoxious. Don't go around trying to prove that there are "good men." Women (surprise!) already know this.

Continue to enjoy your normal manly pursuits. If you like baseball, or bebop music, just enjoy them, even if they are fields dominated by men. You aren't any more or less feminists based on your taste for basketball or Bach. Nor do you have to be interested in things just because you think women are. Who cares?

The main thing is to treat women like you would other human beings. Making an ostensible show about being a feminist means that this is still a novel concept for you. You can speak out on feminist issues, of course, but don't make it about yourself. Encourage and mentor women, the same way you already probably do with men.

Finally, although it may seem obvious, don't sexually insult women just because you think it's safe to do so. Sexually insulting a conservative woman, or a class of conservative women, might seem fine, because those women oppose the feminist agenda. But you are not really hurting those women in particular, but all women. Just don't do it. You don't need to.

Naturally, these are just my opinions. it is my blog, what did you expect? You'll have to figure out an approach that works for you. The two main points are, don't make it about yourself, and don't be a sexist jerk, like many men who claim to be feminists.

5 may 2011

Between Hirsch and Graff

I dislike both Hirsch and Graff (not the men, whom I've never met, but their ideas), Graff for his contentlessness, Hirsch for the opposite reason.

Graff advocates for a kind of contentless argumentation, saying that what you are talking about doesn't really matter as long as you can formulate an acadically well-formed essay.

Hirsch has argued that this contentlessness has had ill effects on American education. You can teach critical thinking skill until you're blue in the face but if you don't actually know anything, those won't take you very far.

So I should like Hirsch, but I find those dictionaries of cultural literacy insufferable. It turn out that the content you are supposed to know is completely trivialized.

4 may 2011

Old Table of Contents

I found an old table of contents from Dec. of 09. It made me realize that 18 months is a long time, and how much progress I've made on this project. I hardly recognize anything in this older plan.
Chapter 1: Modernity and its Discontents
Chapter 2: Spanish Modernism and the Paradoxes of Literary History
Chapter 3: Contemporary Spanish Poetry: Late Modernism and the Cutlural Logic of Anachronism
Chapter 4: Alternate Models: Machado, Jiménez, Cernuda
Chapter 5: Play and Theory of Lorca's Duende: Nation and Performance
Apocryphal Postscript
Appendix: Glossary of the Duende

3rd Batch of Feldman Notes

I gave an exam today, so naturally I came up with a lot of ideas while the students were writing.

Let's look at Feldman's approach to musical elements.

In articulation, he emphasizes decay over attack:
This is perahps why in my music I am so involved with the decay of each sound, and try to make its attack sourceless. The attack of a sound is not its character. Actually, what we hear is the attack and not the sound. Decay, however, this departing landscape, this expresses where the sound exists in our hearing--leaving us rather than coming toward us.

In dynamics, soft rather than loud. And very, very soft, ppp.

In tempo, slow rather than fast. He liked the tempo of about 60bpm.

In structure, development, his music is static rather than directional. There is little or no narrative or movement forward.

In rhythm, duration rather than ictus.

In the construction of phrases, isolated notes or clusters rather than linear phrases.

In musical gesture, nuance rather than bombast.

In timbre, a kind of ghostly presence rather than the stencil or stereotype of the sound.

In other words, he has a consistent approach to music evident in all of these dimensions, so that if you put loud, fast, articulated, developmental, etc... in one column you would find he avoids all of those things. His music is the anti-bebop.

What I haven't gotten to yet is his approach to melody and harmony. The exam was only an hour and 15 minutes. I would say he that his sequences of short clusters are anti-melodic. He doesn't compose very many tunes that go up and down the scale. Harmonically, the music does not build tonally in the classic style, nor does it follow a 12-tone, serialist technique. What I don't know yet is what it does do.

These are very crude judgments so far. I'm just trying to figure out what I know so far, and it could be that what I know is partially mistaken.

More Feldman Notes

(6) I like that anti-ideological spirit in Feldman. It is not anti-ideological in the cheap postmodern sense--which is just a reinstatement of another ideology. It is not "anything goes." Neither was Frank O'Hara, despite facile readings of him. In contrast, Cage's seeming openness is very ideological, very didactic.

(7) Duration is a key concept. How long something lasts, whether a note or an entire composition. In a comment on the last post, Vance Maverick has noted the extremes of brevity and length in his early and late compositions, respectively. The early sequence "Durations" might hold a key to this concept.

(8) If you didn't know the early pieces were indeterminate, would you think of them that way when you heard them?

(9) I'd like to do an amateur essay on Feldman. Obviously I could do nothing else, lacking the technical ability to do the non-amateur kind. But it would still be about the music, not just about his connections to literary and painterly comrades from Guston to Beckett. I think he was writing music for me, not just for musicologists. Nor do I think of this as "cerebral" music.

(10) Another approach would be a sort of nationalist, Americanist reading. This strain is evident in Feldman's writing, but is it what most interests me? Only very indirectly.

(11) What does Feldman mean for my other writing projects? Will he be roped in for some project in which I can speak from the point of view of the expert academic? Would this be a good or bad thing?

3 may 2011

Feldman Notes

One of my persistent obsessions is the music of Morton Feldman. Here's a few things I know.

(1) He liked to give names of instruments or dedications as the titles of his works. "For Frank O'Hara" or "Piano." The other main category of title refers to the process or structure of a piece: "Projection," "Crippled Symmetries." He tends to avoid the names of musical genres in the title--like "Waltz" or "Sonata."

(2) He is a precursor of miminalism, but I find his music quite different from most minimalism. It is hypnotic, but does not depend as much on rhythm. It is more introspective, less facile, more involved with visual and poetics arts.

(3) I like him better than Cage because the music seems less didactic, less theological.

(4) He uses a lot of percussion, but not for rhythmic or bombastic effects; more for timbre and texture.

(5) He was an interesting writer, and his writing still provides the best entrance into his musical world. His writing is interesting even if you don't know his music. In this, he is like Cage, but once again, I am more interested in Fedlman's writing than in Cage's.

University Scholars

I met with the Honors Program director and Assistant Director today. They seemed open to my idea for the course on Cultural LIteracy. Amazingly, I got this idea before I knew that I could apply to this program to teach it. The same thing happened with my jazz course for the Honors Program.

"Allons enfants"

Mes étudiants n'ont pas reconnu la phrase "Allons enfants de la patrie," citée dans une chanson du "cantautor" Sabina. Est-que ils n'ont jamais vu le filme "Casablanca"? "Allons enfants de la patrie / maldito mayo de París."

2 may 2011

Why I don't Talk About Politics Here (A Couple Reasons)

My political opinions are utterly banal. They are probably your opinions already, unless you are a raving conservative birther idiot or part of the idiot left. There are many political bloggers who are more informed of the granular details of contemporary politics, or more interested in getting into debates about very specific issues. My disgust for any kind of right-wing politics is visceral, but I don't need to reiterate it endlessly on twitter or face book, since it is probably identical to yours. I like to write about other subjects much more. I get upset whenever I actually think about politics for too long.

How to Learn a Language

Here's how I would learn a language.

(1) Exposure to vast amounts of authentic speech. I would listen to hours and hours of oral input. Not (only) language tapes, but authentic material, newscasts, podcasts, anything I could find. I would do that for maybe a month first, without even trying to understand a word of it. I would continue to expose myself to vast amounts of speech during subsequent stages of the process.

(2) Next, I would learn the correspondence between writing and pronunciation. I would learn how to produce the sounds of the language based on the writing system. I would practice reading the language aloud, with a native speaker there in the room to correct me. This gives me the ability to read aloud, even from texts i do not yet understand.

(3) Now I am ready to learn the basic vocabulary, the 300-500 most commonly used words, and to look a bit at the grammar.

(4) Now my approach would be to speak the language with anybody that I could, as much as I could, and to read the easiest books that I could find. Translations of stupid self-help manuals, or of The Harry Potter series. Easy books reinforce the basic vocabulary, the words that are found on every page, while exposing the reader to many unfamiliar words as well.

Since I am naturally very good at grammar, I wouldn't need to emphasize it at an early stage. I would maximize my written and spoken input as much as possible, and emphasize prosody and phonology. Once I could read fairly fluently and had a feel for the grammar, I would go back and learn it more formally. It would be important to learn intonation and phonology before I started reading, so that when I read I would be hearing the language correctly in my head. I'm amazed by advanced level students who can't read Spanish aloud in a comprehensible way.

My approach is not backed up by very much specific SLA research that I know about, since I don't really know this field. Nevertheless, i am a successful language learner. I never took a language class in college in which I did not earn an A, and that includes French, German, Latin, Greek, and Spanish. I can also read Italian, Catalan, and Portuguese. My colleague who is a second-language acquisition specialist agrees with me that a lot of input can never be a bad thing. I know little babies learn prosody before any other aspect of a language.


Je poudrais écrire ce blog en Français. Pourquoi pas? Le problème, évidemment, c'est la possibilité de faire plusieurs erreurs. Et quand on dit "possibilité" ... Chaque parole est pleine de risques. Je voudrais écrire en français sans peur, mais c'est impossible.

Poudriai-je expresser mes idées, plus ou moins? Je pense que oui. Avec difficulté, mais je pense que je serai capable de le faire, sans penser en orthographie, en grammaire. Je ne cherche pas la perfection, seulement la compétence. C'est utile pour moi: je voudrais sentir sympathie avec mes étudiants, qui sentent la peur de ne pas savoir écrire bien en espagnol, par exemple. Si je pense en la difficulté de faire cela pour les pauvres...

Autre problème est que mes lecteurs n'entendent pas le français, ou préfèrent ne pas lire mes pensées dans cette langue.