Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Research / Scholarship / Criticism / Writing

Research, or "investigación" means finding things out. That is the official name of what I'm supposed to be doing.

Scholarship is learning, "erudición." I would prefer to be a scholar (estudioso) than a researcher.

Criticism is the actual name of my own discipline. Literary criticism, to be exact. I am a much better critic than I am a scholar or investigator. My criticism is learned, erudite, but I don't discover or find out new things that nobody ever thought of before.

Writing is what I really do. I am a writer of criticism; that is the medium through which I do literary criticism.

So, I could say I'm a researcher or investigator, a scholar, a critic, or a writer. I am someone who finds things out, who knows things, who criticizes or analyzes the things he knows about, and who writes down and publishes the results. What you call yourself matters.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Learning a new key

I taught myself a new key today, Db, with five flats. When I learn a new key what I do is to figure out the major 7 tonic chord, then go and figure out what each of the other six chords will be for that key. I tried to learn Gb yesterday, but it was difficult because I didn't know Db well enough. D flat is a very warm key that I like a lot. It gives me knew ideas to play in that key, and I came up with a nice sounding melody this morning.

Every key, following the circle of fourths or fifths, will have one different note, so learning a key that is a fourth or fifth from a key you already know will be easy because a lot of it will be the same.

The Shadow CV

Ok. This is my PTR time. (Post-tenure review!). Part four asks for this. Can you tell me if this sounds good. Too boastful in tone? Too modest? Just right? Thanks in advance. (Thomas, Leslie, Bob Basil, Clarissa?... anyone else out there?)

4) Statement of Additional Activities not covered by your CV

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education referred to the concept of a “shadow cv.” Disappointingly, this turned out to be a list of failures and rejections, of scholarly dead-ends, of grant proposals that weren’t funded. Like anyone else in the profession, I have my share of those. Nevertheless, my notion of the shadow cv is somewhat different and, I believe, more interesting. I see the shadow cv as consisting of a list of other activities that are not quite “academic” enough for the cv, but that enrich one’s personal and creative energy in ways that sometimes end up contributing to scholarly productivity in the long run. I am not sure that this is what item (4) is requesting, but I will list some of the items that might appear on my shadow curriculum:

•I am a member of a local group of poets and writers that meets every Thursday, in the tradition of Spanish tertulia. This distinguished group has included the former poet-laureate of Kansas and a well-known translator of Homer and Dante, as well as a Distinguished Professor in the English Department who is one of the top experts on Mark Twain.

•I have been blogging since 2002. My blog is called “Stupid Motivational Tricks,” with the subtitle “Scholarly Writing and How to Get it Done.” Many readers have found my advice useful.

•Since August of 2015, I have been composing songs on an electric keyboard and writing out the music. My goal is to incorporate music more actively into my research interests and find a way of using it more intelligently in my courses on oral traditions in the Hispanic world. While this may seem as though it were a non-academic interest, it dovetails with my interest in Lorca, who was an accomplished musician as well as a poet, playwright, and visual artist. I am moving toward a view of his work that involves a larger conception of his poetics of performance. (Coincidentally, an opera singer recently contacted me and wanted me to be a consultant for a multi-media project she is doing on Lorca’s duende.) I heard of a study recently that found that Nobel-prize winning scientists were far more likely to be involved with creative activities like painting or music composition than non-Nobel scientists. It could be that the Lorquian model of creativity has something to teach all of us.

•I also continue to write my own poetry, but without being too concerned about how much I publish. Some people have also told me that I am a good translator of poetry. This is a long-term interest of mine, and I have published translations from time to time, but my long-term scholarly projects tend to be very demanding of my time. Still, I have in mind to translate a book of Lorca’s poetry, possiby Canciones. I have very definite ideas about how this should be done, and believe I have the capability to do it.

Two more things about translation

There are two objections I have to certain kinds of translation theory and practice:

1) Very sophisticated translation theory often leads to (or justifies) translation that is at the opposite pole from my own aesthetics. All the emphasis on translation that contains a "domestic residue" and the like, or that transforms the target language in a certain way, all of that ends up producing poetry that is not good poetry. I approach the translation of poetry in a radical way: I think that, without mistranslating in any way, the main criterion should be the aesthetic quality of the translation. So I approach translation through poetics, rather than subordinating poetics to translation theory. Sorry.

2) Secondly, atheoretical translation does the same thing: it justifies questionable translation decisions, but now based on the translator's ad hoc decisions.

Now you will say that of course my aesthetics and poetics are mine alone. They are not compelling for other people. The proof of that is eminent translators translate in ways I find odious, and others accept these translations as valid. Rothenberg, for example, when translating Lorca: if Lorca says "a river of gold" then he will say something like "a river made of gold." Or Lorca's "oro" will be "pure gold." Extra words added to rationalize Lorca; little touches to make him sound cuter; added punctuation that interrupts the flow of the lines; enjambments in a poem that imitates a folk style where enjambments are rare; the destruction of syntactic parallelisms; the use of weaker, more abstract words where Lorca's words are concrete. I could go on and on. I have gone on and on.

It would be cheating to say that this Lorca's poetics as well? Ok, then I will cheat. The original text has an aesthetic integrity. The translation should not only be a good poem in its own right (to cite the cliché) but be a good poem in the same way that the original was good. So a good translation of Quevedo (a different aesthetic from Lorca's) should be verbally witty. Góngora should be baroque, not plain-spoken.

Lorca was a modernist: his best early poetry exemplifies Pound's ideas in "some don'ts for imagists": use no extra words, don't follow the metronome, direct treatment of the object, don't say "dim lands of peace." All that good stuff. Secondly, Lorca follows the best of the anonymous lyric tradition, which derives its aesthetic value from extreme simplicity. No words are wasted there either. There are some childish and kitsch-like things going on there, too, some impurities that might lend themselves to a more varied approach, but not to the degree that would introduce extra words when Lorca is being austere.

Once again, I feel that mine is a minority position. The ungenerous alternative would be to think that those who don't translate as I'd like them to have no talent. I think that they could have talent, but simply don't share my aesthetic preferences.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A translation

El campo segado
y la luna disuelta.

Por el aire van los sueños
de las semillas.

Espiga azul
y amapola blanca.

Mi alma,
una sola
flor delirante.

El campo segado
y la luna disuelta.


The field reaped
and the moon dissolved.

Through the air go the dreams
of the seeds.

Blue ear
and white poppy.

My soul,
a single
delirious flower.

The field reaped
and the moon dissolved.

Thursday, February 4, 2016


I am a addicted to certain kinds of sonority and tone colors. I guess what I try to do is to make the music sound chromatic, but using mostly the notes of a diatonic scale. I decided to stop worrying that all my songs sound similar, since I am only writing for my own amusement anyway. I am impressed that I can do it at all.


I am writing this new song and Ab, with the Bridge a fourth up, in Db. At that point I will know most of the flat keys (F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db...) and all the accompanying chords that go along with those keys. I used to wonder how a key could have six flats if there are only five black notes on the piano. I still wonder that. I guess I know how it happens, but it still seems odd. But any way, Db, with five flats, will basically give me command of the entire keyboard, so I won't worry about Gb /F# for now.



I decided I like luminosity. By this I mean that pristine quality of the anonymous Spanish lyric of the middle ages:

Dentro en el vergel
dentro en el rosal
matarme han

Or of Saint John of the Cross, or Miguel Hernández's Romancero y cancionero de ausencias. Lorca, needless to say, achieves this quality as well. "Si muero / dejad el balcón abierto..." In another register, Vallejo's "El momento más grave de mi vida..." Or Joseph Ceravolo at his best.

It's not the only thing I like, of course, but I'll take perfection over imperfection every time. The cult of messy "process" tell us not to overvalue such things, but, of course, it's hard not to.