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.