Thursday, October 23, 2014

Rare Creativity?

I often wonder whether creativity is actually pretty rare, hard to find. It's all very well to talk about "creative writing" as a field of studies, but most of it turns out to be very uncreative in the more profound sense. Even a very great writer might at some point just fall into uncreative self-imitation. Periods of intense creativity are also very rare in human history. You can have hundreds of years in which nothing much is actually created.

It's hard to have an original thought.

I'm sure I'm wrong about this, that the very way I'm setting up this problem is question-begging in the extreme. Still, I can't help feeling that this is so. I think that roughly from Garcilaso through Calderón in Spain is an extraordinary outpouring of human creativity in literature. Literary modernity, from Baudelaire through Vallejo, Beckett, and Celan, is another one. The T'ang dynasty...

So the idea is that mediocrity is the norm, and that there are these upswells of something better, from time to time. Once you known what this looks like, it's hard to take seriously a period in which everyone just walks around pretending that mediocrity is something of real value.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Contra Guernica

I found a book today called Contra el Guernica by the Spanish painter Antonio Saura (1930-1998)(brother to Carlos the film director.) It's not really an attack on Picasso's painting or on Picasso himself, though sometimes it is disguised as that, as much as on the use of the painting as political and cultural capital. It was first published in 1982.

It is an amazing book. Every sentence starts with a verb meaning "I hate": detesto, odio, desprecio... It admits of at least three readings: an attack on a sacred cow, an attack on those who made it a sacred cow, an ironical and ambivalent homage to Picasso.

This is pretty much what I want to say about misuses of Lorca. The preface by Félix de Azúa is also brilliant. I was thinking I could cite this book and transpose the analysis to the sacralization of Lorca.

After all, Guernica and Lorca are the two major symbols of THE TRAGEDY OF 20TH CENTURY SPAIN. They are sacred cows in a very similar way. This I think should be the conclusion to my book.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Science Fiction

My idea for a science-fiction novel is very simple. An old person walks by a group of young people talking and realizes that they are speaking an inhuman, alien language. How did this occur?

The infiltration of the aliens has been very slow and subtle. Almost unobjectionable. All this begins in a small town in a wooded area. The human survivors of the first contact never speak about their experience, but begin to notice incremental changes over the years. The influence spreads through the surrounding towns and the city is largely indifferent, until enough of the younger townfolk move to the provincial capital. And so on. There is no resistance, since only the very elderly can notice what is happening. Even the middle-aged become complacent (even!) since they have developed a degree of tolerance. In one or two generations, the bloodless conquest is complete.

Only a traveller returning home after many years will notice that something is amiss. Perhaps this traveller could narrate the events?

The novel admits of two interpretations: as a science fiction novel in which the aliens are an invisible presence, or as an allegory of the passage of time.

I realized I blogged before about this novel here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


I'm in ORD, having left from MCI, and will arrive tomorrow morning in MAD. I hope my luggage will arrive there too.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Wikipedia page?

I've noticed that some of my colleagues and friends at KU have wikipedia pages about them. Some of them are less distinguished than I am, or about the same; some, of course, are much more so. In short, it is fairly typical of someone to have an article on wikipedia as an academic, sometimes as just an Associate Professor with a single book at a Great Plains University. It's still a minority, but I am going to keep watching this.

I don't have one about me, and I'm certainly not going to write one about myself, though I imagine someone with a vested interest has to have taken the effort to write articles about relatively obscure academics like some of my colleagues. (There is only one from my own dept. and it is not necessarily who you would expect.) It seems clear that the "notability" criterion has become quite relaxed of late.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Quiz

How well do you know Jonathan?

1. What specific thing does Jonathan have in common with the baseball player Cal Ripken, Jr?

2. What type of headgear would you see him wearing?

3. Who is he writing a book about?

4. Define "Mayhew's fallacy."

5. What is a "Mayhewianism"?

5 answers correct: you are Jonathan! Or someone who knows a lot about him.

4: you know him very well.

2-3: not so much

0-1: who are you again?

The Talk Concludes!


In both Lorca scholarship and in theatrical homages to Lorca’s legacy, then, there is a tension between the proliferation of multiple “Lorcas” and the centrality of a relatively monolithic Lorca myth. My own approach to Lorca—and to the problem of romantic / modernist individuality that is the topic of this symposium—remains in continual negotiation between these two forces. It is all well and good to question the Lorca myth itself, but without this myth, and the romantic paradigm that underlies it, we wouldn’t be talking about Lorca in the first place, and the we would not have witnessed the marvelously creative proliferation of individuated Lorcas. I have often attempted to call attention to the over-simplifications of Lorquian kitsch, to the grotesque interpretations of his martyrdom and necrology, to the sentimentalities of elegy. In the larger picture, however, it becomes difficult if not impossible to police the boundaries of his legacy, or to have a Lorquian legacy free from sentimentality or kitsch. I have suggested that we remain open to a plurality of perspectives while being wary of oversimplifications, overspecialized approaches, and alibis that move us away from the distinctiveness of his artistic accomplishments.

Lorca subjectivity should not defined by a single explanatory key, such “the conflict between homoexuality and traditional Catholicism.” The problem is not that this view is wholly mistaken, but that it is artificially limiting. Lorca himself, we should remember, rejects monolithic conceptions of his own poetics:
es imprescindible ser uno y ser mil para sentir las cosas en todos sus matices. Hay que ser religioso y profano. Reunir el misticismo de una severa catedral gótica con la maravilla de la Grecia pagana. Verlo todo, sentirlo todo. En la eternidad tendremos el premio de no haber tenido horizontes.
[It is indispensable to be one and to be a thousand so as to feel things in all their nuances. To be religious and profane. To join the mysticism of a severe Gothic cathedral to the marvels of pagan Greece. To see, to feel it all. In eternity we will reap the reward of not having had horizons.]
This conception of Lorca, while authorized by his own words, might be self-serving, in that it simply makes the author over into our own image: a plural, multivocal postmodern subject, the heir to the visionary company of great romantic and modernist poets but uniquely open to multiple readings. In this sense, I may have fallen prey to the same idealizing impulse I have criticized elsewhere.

By the same token, my critique of the “alibis” and displacements of Lorca studies might be subject to a parallel critique. Doesn’t Lorca’s own work invite us to read it “elsewhere,” to interpret it through a series of slippages and displacements? Do we really ever read Lorca for what the texts seem to be saying on the literal level? My final thought, then, is that it impossible to purify the study of Lorca by excluding approaches that displace the meaning of his work onto extraneous concerns. The best we can do is to honor Lorca’s memory by approaching him with the best version of our own subjective experience. In this sense, our postmodern culture will get the Lorca that its deserves.