19 dic 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fielding Dawson

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

16 dic 2011

Chapter 7

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

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

Chapter 6

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

Chapter 5

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

15 dic 2011

Chapter 4

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

14 dic 2011

Chapter 3

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

Chapter 2

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

9 dic 2011

Vendler vs. Dove

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

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

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

Chapter I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 dic 2011

More Followers

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

The Literature Haters

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

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

7 dic 2011

Another Review

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

Modelo para armar

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

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

A New Chapter

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

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

6 dic 2011

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

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

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

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

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


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

3 dic 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

2 dic 2011

Musical Criticism

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

1 dic 2011

Mustache or Not?

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

Bus Mindfulness Meditation

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

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