Wednesday, October 1, 2014

10 years of lectures

Papers and Lectures:

“Entre Celan y Lorca: modelos para una modernidad futura.” Coloquio “Celan en España. University of Extramadura, Cáceres. May, 2015.
“Lorca’s Musical Legacy: From Strayhorn to Golijov.” ACLA Convention, Seattle, March 2015.
“An Elegy for Lorca Studies.” Keynote address for the Symposium Finite, Singular, Exposed: Who’s Afraid of the Modernist Invididual? University of Córdoba, October 2014.
“Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Poetics of Cultural Exceptionalism.” LASA Convention, Chicago, May 2014.
““Fail Better”: The Race to the Bottom in Contemporary Spanish Poetry. MLA Convention, Chicago, January 2014.
“New York Lorcas: From Motherwell to O’Hara.” King Juan Carlos Center, New York University, April 2013.
“Postmodern Lorca: Motherwell, Strayhorn, García Montero.” University of Iowa, March 2013.
“Open Secrets of Scholarly Productivity.” Southern Illinois University, Edwardville. October, 2012.
“Modernism and Cultural Exceptionalism: From Miguel de Unamuno to José Lezama Lima.” CUNY Graduate Center, March 2011.
“Las ínsulas extrañas: Late Modernism in Spain and the Latin American Connection.” MACHL, St Louis, November 2010.
“De la luminosa opacidad de los signos.” Symposium on José-Miguel Ullán. Círculo de Bellas Artes (Madrid). January, 2010.
“Blackburn’s Lorca: Modernist Translation Redefined.” MLA Convention, Philadelphia. December, 2009.
“Theory of Timbre: Wittgenstein, Lorca, and Barthes.” Philosophy and Literature Seminar, Hall Center for the Humanities, November 2008.
“Luis Feria y la otra generación de 50.” Symposium on Luis Feria. Tenerife. May 2008.
“Frank O'Hara''s LORCAESCAS.” Univesity of Virginia Conference on Hispanic Poetry. November 2007.
“Lorca en los Estados Unidos: malentedidos y apócrifos.” Asociación Internacional de Hispanistas, Paris. July 2007.
“Valente y Beckett: influencias y afinidades.” Cátedra José Angel Valente, Santiago de Compostela. March 2007.
“Intravenus, by Amalia Iglesias and Lola Velasco: Collaboration and the Resistance to Commodification.” MLA Convention, Philadelphia, December 2006.
“Lorca and Translation: The Domestic Agenda.” MACHL, Columbia Missouri, November 2006.
Panel Discussion on Kenneth Koch. AWP Convention, Austin, Texas. March 2006.
Presentation of a Translation of Intravenus. CCCP Conference. New York, November 2005.

Statistically rare events

Statistically rare events can assume vast symbolic significance in the narratives we forge to explain how things work. And it's hard to argue against this tendency, because statistically rare events are more psychologically salient. Not only that, but a single traumatic event has the effect that it does; it is dumb to point out that it is rare, after the fact.

Some things that seem rare actually aren't. Take, for example, presidential assassinations. Of 44 presidents, 4 have been assassinated, or one in 11. There have been many more attempts, and vastly more threats. So if we consider that in terms of homicide rates per 100,000, that is almost 10,000. So Obama is 294 times more likely to be killed than the average African American. Of course, it is hard to calculate that, because we are comparing 18th to 21st-century presidents. Let's say, though, that since Andrew Jackson, being president is physically risky job. Recent lapses by the Secret Service aren't very reassuring.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Critical Thinking Exercise

There are more than 6,000 African-American homicide victims a year. That is a very, very high rate, of about 34. (Those rates are usually given in numbers per 100,000.) The overall rate for the US is about 4 per 100,000. A civilized country like Spain as 0.8 per 100,000. A very violent country like Venezuela has 53; Honduras is worse.

Police killings of African Americans are in the range of about 100 per year. So what percent is that of total homicides. Let's see... [does math in head]: 1% is 60, so 2%, rounding up a bit.

Since we don't want police to kill unarmed civilians at all, even one such person in this category is too much. We are outraged, justifiably. It is an abuse of state power, and that brings greater outrage, because it makes all of us complicit in the crime.

Most child abuse is not by the hand of priests. Yet we are more outraged by their abuse than by almost any other set of child abusers. Why is that? The church is supposed to be better than that. So outrage at those scandals is actually a back-handed form of respect: we respect those institutions implicitly, police or church, and hold them to a much higher standard. Suppose parents habitually dropped their 11-year old boys and girls off at pool halls or strip clubs and other places of ill-repute. Yes, you would pretty much condemn that as bad parenting. We expect the Catholic church to be better than a pool hall. It might actually be safer than the pool hall, but when it isn't our reaction is predictably stronger.

The conservative argument attempts to minimize the importance of police shootings by comparing them to the much vaster numbers of killings, the 98% that is not at the hand of the police. The typical liberal argument carries the false implication that the police are the main killers of black people. Both those narratives are really kind of dumb. We are right to be outraged by any abuse of state power, and it doesn't matter very much that this is only 2%. On the other hand, if our main concern is with the violent loss of human life, then the other 98% is also significant.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Who's Lying

Who's Lying?

Mestre --Citroneta azul


En una citroneta azul
haciendo sonar el claxon de la luna
voy de regreso al pueblo donde mis amigos
salen cada noche a esperar los ovnis.

Sueñan en el cielo las estrellas
y las fugaces sombras de las niñas muertas
elevan en los prados sus cometas
con recados para los platillos voladores.

Todo esto se podría decir de otra manera
si allá tras las cortinas del espacio
existiera el silabario, el colibrí, la esfera
del vagabundo aerolito de los pájaros.

Yo no espero otra luz que la tristeza
de quien regresa a una escuela abandonada
donde aletean todavía en la pizarra
las mariposas blancas de la melancolía.


In a blue Citroen
honking the horn of the moon
I'm going back to the village where my friends
go out every night to wait for UFOS.

The stars are dreaming in the sky
and the fleeting shades of dead girls
fly their kites in the meadows
with messages for the flying saucers.

I could say all of this a different way
if there behind the curtains of space
there were there the syllabary, the hummingbird, the sphere
of the vagabond meteorite of the birds.

The only light I hope for is the sadness
of someone returning to an abandoned schoolhouse
where the white butterflies of melancholy
still flutter on the chalkboard.

Even More on Salaita

Chancellor Wise of UIUC, and the board of trustees as well by implication, has said that the (de)hiring of Salaita was due to the manner in which he expressed himself, not the content of his political views. Clearly the university cannot say that it is the content of his speech, since that is protected under the 1st amendment and academic freedom. So the argument has to be that it is the way in which the message was framed. It is a violation of tone, or etiquette.

I think that Salaita would not have been de-hired if he had tweeted in a different tone, or avoided skating on the the edges of anti-Semitic discourse in an ambiguous way. After all, a lot of the existing faculty members at Illinois are pro-Palestinian.

Here's where it gets a little tricky. Universities cannot discriminate against viewpoints (theoretically). But they discriminate against people either, based on religion, race, et... So a willingness to skate on the edges of hate speech would make someone a difficult hire for any university. Of course, UIUC has employed a racist (allegedly). I think they could not have legally fired him, even though I would not trust him to treat non-white students fairly. If this individual were hired by a department and the chancellor got wind of his views before the board of trustees voted, would she intervene?

Racism, as a political view, is protected, but discrimination based on race is illegal.

So, in this sense, the decision to de-hire Salaita does depend on a parsing of his tweets for both tone and content. If the university lawyers can argue that his tweets are hate speech, and thus that he is likely to discriminate against students of a particular religion, then they might get a sympathetic hearing. The problem here: I myself, who abhor Israeli policy, saw his tweets as anti-Semitic. (I am anti Israeli and philo-Semitic.) I had to read and argue with others over the course of many days to even see why the other interpretation, the intended one, was likely. I got impatient with people who said that the intended meaning was somehow obvious. Since I think I'm pretty smart, you can see where equally and less smart individuals, or those motivated by malice, could, like me, need a lot of convincing to see that they are wrong.


The central analogy justifying Salaita's hire, and a lot of his own work. is that Palestinians and Indians are both indigenous in a parallel way, both the victims of "settler colonialism" in their respective situations. This analogy breaks down at some key points. For example, some Jews are also indigenous to Palestine. Others, Sephardic or Arab Jews, were kicked out of Arab countries (or left voluntarily, seeing the writing on the wall) after the founding of Israel. They are indigenous to Med. region, whether Morocco or Turkey, but not to Palestine / Israel, except by their distant ancestry of course.

We can see this as a reshuffling of populations in the wake of the dissolution of the Ottoman empire and the end of WWII. How does this compare to European colonization of the New World? Not very exactly. Where does this tie to classic discourses of anti-Semitism? The idea that Jews are not indigenous to anywhere, that they are rootless and cosmopolitan. Of course, this rootlessness stems from the fact that they were kicked out of everywhere. A Syrian Jew living in New York could probably trace her ancestry to Spain.

My final point here is that Anti-Semitism is a real thing. It's not just some cloak exploited by the Israeli govt to exempt itself from criticism (though it is also that). The emancipation of Jews happened relatively late in European history. People like Martin Luther were violently anti-Semitic, and this was not even seen as controversial until after the Holocaust. We're still trying to get a Facebook page on Jewish ritual murder taken down, under their own policy about hate speech.

Sunday, September 28, 2014


Jussives are indirect wishes or commands. Long live the queen, things like that.

Let's look at two controversial tweets:
The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.


You may be too refined to say it, but I'm not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.


Both make implicit reference to very recent acts of violence, a mass shooting in a Navy shipyard and the kidnapping and murder of three West Bank settler teenagers. Both take the form of wishing violence on a group of people (literally) but less literally, what they probably meant to say is something more like this:

"If NRA members' own children were victims of gun violence, maybe they would understand the effects of the policies they lobby for." [This is dumb anyway because many gun owners and NRA members already have dead children as a result of guns.]

"Those right-wing settlers are an awful obstacle to peace. They are taking over land that belongs to the Palestinians. They shouldn't be there in the first place so I'm going to save my compassion for the Gaza strip."

A jussive of this type is one step below a threat. It's something like an indirect threat. If you don't object to these utterances, then would you change your mind if it were something like "I wish a few more asshole abortion doctors would go missing" (after the murder of one of them)?

Of course, the intention of these tweets according to their authors (and defenders) is to make a political point in rhetorically strong and expletive deleted way. The argument is that nobody would take them as actual threats or incitements to violence, or sincere desires. Guth doesn't want anyone else to be shot, simply for more recognition of the consequences of gun violence. Salaita doesn't want every settler to be kidnapped and killed, but for the settlements to be dismantled, etc... The pro-life tweeter would say he just wants abortion to be illegal...

Because in their literal form such utterances are desires for more violence to occur, they stand at the very crossroads of where incivility (or mere rudeness, lack of social refinement) is separated from "fighting words." Where you draw the line, dear commentator? What I argue should be protected (as academic freedom) is different from what I personally respect as a form of utterance. I am pretty dogmatic both that all forms of expression should be protected, and that these particular tweets are vile. After all, this form of freedom only exists if it protects utterances that numerous people would object to.