Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Saura / Picasso / Unamuno / Lorca / Lope

“Detesto ‘las sangrientas entrañas aurorales’ del Guernica de Unamuno pintadas sobre ‘el muro blanco de España’ de Lorca, demostrando con Lope de Vega ‘que suele dar gritos la verdad en lienzos mudos’.”

This is just too good not to share with you. It is the "smoking gun" quote that you might find once per chapter at most in your research. I haven't chased down the Unamuno quote yet. It might be from "El Cristo de Velázquez" since it is a perfect hendecasyllable.

Saura (not Carlos but his brother the painter Antonio) complaining about the kitsch surrounding Picasso's Guernica, quoting Unamuno, Lorca, and Lope de Vega.

There ought to be a name for what Saura does here with the Lope quote: the quote seems a perfect way of talking about Picasso: "truth often screams out from mute canvases." But, of course, Lope was not taking about Picasso for obvious reasons. Maybe: "anachronistic de-contextualization."

Monday, November 24, 2014


Juan Goytisolo has won the Cervantes prize, which is kind of the "Nobel" for Spanish language writers. It hasn't always been distinguished, but Borges, María Zambrano, and Juan Gelman have won it, Gamoneda, etc... Serious people. In any given year, the winner of the Cervantes can kick the ass of the Nobel prize winner. This year the Nobel was won by an obscure French novelist, and the Cervantes by ... Goytisolo.

He is one of the most prominent Spanish novelists and essayists of the 20th century, with few rivals in his heyday--the 60s through the present. If I had been a novel specialist, I would have written about him. Brad Epps cut his teeth by grappling with him.

When I first read Señas de identidad I wasn't too impressed. But now I think I was wrong. He is the same generation as the Latin American Boom of García Márquez and Vargas Llosa (Nobel prize winners) and I think he can hold his own with the best of them. He'll never be popular, but that's a good thing.

One of the things Goytisolo did, as a public intellectual, was to turn against Communism and the Cuban revolution. Being gay probably gave him a head start in this regard. He has been one of the only prominent writers to recognize the Muslim contribution to Spanish culture.

His two brothers were also prominent writers: Luis and José Agustín. He was friends with Gil de Biedma and Valente.

Laws of Composition

A chapter cannot have two disparate elements. It can have two sections, if the point is to compare the two things head to head or to a third thing, but it needs to have either one central focus, or at least three. You can have one-act plays, or three to five; or string quartets with any number of movements, but not two. A painting can have three panels or one, but two is more awkward. (There are exceptions. Don't be giving me 100 examples of musical pieces with two movements. I know they also exist but I feel they aren't as typical.)

The reason is that two elements seem to demand two separate chapters, one for each element. So I could have a chapter on Lope, Tirso, and Calderón, or a chapter on just Lope, but not one on Lope and Tirso.

Twins & Wedding

Now that I am writing down my dreams I am remembering them more.

Last night, two twin men, one apparently a clone of the other, needed the same knee operation. The clone graciously allowed the original man to have the operation. He would be married immediately afterwards, the surgeon, a man with short-red hair, rushing downtown, downhill toward a kind of bay to perform the ceremony himself. In this religion, the groom had to be exactly eleven years older than his bride.

This summary cannot do justice to the length and confusion of the dream itself. I don't know whether this is one dream or two, for example. Adding details, up to a certain point, makes the summary more accurate; beyond that, it is pure falsification.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Crime Doesn't Pay

Ok, so I am almost done with the conclusion of the book, so here's something completely irrelevant (to that).

The fictional motorcycle gang depicted on "Son of Anarchy" are gun-runners. They have a highly lucrative business distributing guns from the IRA to other criminal organizations.

Yet they drink Miller Lite, not single-malt scotch. They live in ordinary-looking California ranch houses. They don't take European vacations or drive elegant cars. They don't have nice clothes, wearing instead their leather and denim motorcycle gear. Most of the time, they just ride around on Harleys in order to intimidate or kill people from other gangs. They have power and money, but these are only relevant in relation to their criminality. For example, their power is relative power, in relation to that of the black gang, the Mexican gang, other white gangs (neo-nazis, etc...), and the IRA itself. If they were to stop being criminals, they would not need this power. They have power by bribing local law enforcement, but they only need to bribe the police because they are criminals.

Their possibility of meeting a violent death is quite high. They are also frequently kidnapped, as are their family members. They derive no enjoyment from their supposed wealth, living instead the perfect lower-middle class life-style when they aren't killing or getting killed. Sometime they can't even sleep at home because they have to lock themselves in the clubhouse for protection. They get to ride their motorcycles around, which might be fun, sure, but they could do that in the same exact way if they simply ran their "front" organization, which is an automobile and motorcycle repair shop. I suppose they could do their other hobbies on the cheap too, like getting into fist fights with one another or getting tattoos.


The leader of the gang has the noble ambition of getting it out of serious crime, or at least making its "legitimate" businesses semi-legal escort services and pornography, instead of arms trafficking. It turns out that getting out of crime is just as dangerous, because it upsets the balance of power, so the plan to go straight leads to further violent deaths and dismemberments. Members of his MC are killed, and they have to kill others as well. The conceit is that one last massacre is needed in order for the Sons to go legit. Of course, the violence just gets worse.

The show has you identify with the leader of the gang because he is "nobler" than anyone else in a similar position, and because the other gangs are more brutal than his own. He is modeled after Prince Hamlet, in a pretty obvious way, and like Hamlet leaves carnage in his wake.

"This is a book which complains about bad writing in the Social Sciences."

That, not unexpectedly, is the first sentence in a book about bad writing in the social sciences. (H/t to Leslie.) It is itself an example of execrable writing, although the author was probably proud of it, since he avoids the passive voice and is clear in his ideas.

What is hideous about it is its utter tone-deafness. It sounds robotic and unidiomatic, and the third person verb weirdly places the authorial voice off to one side. It is his book after all! The author is probably the victim of Orwellian advice about avoiding extra words and forms of the verb to be.

The rest of the first paragraph is just as bad. He switches from "the author" to "I" to "somebody," to "anybody," back to "the author" with no rhyme nor reason:
The author is not someone who is offering criticisms as an outsider looking in upon a strange world. I am an insider, a social scientist, and I am publically criticising my fellows for their ways of writing. Anyone, who does this, can expect to have their motives questioned. Readers may wonder whether the author is embittered, having seen younger colleagues overtake him in the race for academic honours...
The "anyone" with singular "their" is ok, I guess. Pullum and Liberman have convinced me so. Still, it seems infelicitous in this context, with all the other shifting going on.

What is lacking in such writing, very simply, is the "ear." If he had read the paragraph aloud to himself the "author" would have been struck by the awkwardness of "ways of writing"; he would have eliminated the commas around the phrase "who does this." He might have been struck by the stark contrast between a too-pithy opening and a wordy, redundant restatement of it a sentence later: "I am publically criticizing my fellows for their ways of writing." Fellows sounds off to me, but that might be a Britishism.

The concern with false motives is distracting. First, the hypothetical reader thinks that it is written from the perspective of an outsider. Once that concern is dispelled, the reader will think that it is an embittered insider. I guess this is another British strategy of self-effacing humor that I don't appreciate. Why not go directly to the point?


The ear, then, is the writer's inner guide to rhythm, tone, perspective. It might be the grammatical ear of the native speaker, the prosodic ear of the poet or master prose stylist.

My revision?
Writing in the Social Sciences is notoriously bad. The aim of this book is to diagnose this malady and suggest some possible remedies. My perspective is that of a veteran insider in the field...

Bible Interpretation

In this dream I was at a table in a restaurant or coffee shop and I explained quite eloquently to a small group of people I didn't know why Christians did not know how to interpret the Bible, especially those involved in "Bible Study" groups. I said that they imposed their theology unto it in a way they had been taught and used Bible passages as "proof texts," without reading in context. They didn't know how to read.

This is really what I think, and my explanation of it in the dream was correct and coherent. The group of people neither accepted nor rejected my explanation, since my dream took another turn after that.