Category Archives: Questions

Unas preguntas televisivas — on culture and human nature

My current television fascination is the European Borgia (not to be confused with The Borgias) — I want to be Césare Borgia, move to Barcelona, and ask Dame Eleanor Hull whether this program offers a realistic depiction of the culture of the time, and to what extent human nature and the conditions of life for most people have, or have not changed since then.

However, on the recommendation of Hattie I have also seen some episodes of In Treatment and I am horrified. This is supposed to be a realistic show about psychotherapy but the characters, including the therapist when he sees his own therapist, are amazingly devoid of self-awareness, and they lie constantly. I would not even say they were deluded, I would say they are alienated, dishonest and self-serving. Are modern people really like this? Is this how they assume others are — and is that why I have difficulty understanding so many people?

The year 1500, when the Borgia show is set, is more overtly savage and people are devious for political reasons, and many characters are conflicted, disturbed, or both, but everyone seems so much more whole. I was always taught the present was better and the past, especially this past (with the Inquisition and all), was worse, but where I live there were people broken on the wheel in the 18th century and burned at the stake, with crowds watching, in the 20th.



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Getting that MLA proposal down to less than 1000 words

Vallejo: Language Itself [I am not sure this title covers it, but a better one is not coming to me, and this has been improved since I posted it … but I am still interested in the question of the title]

Borges said Quevedo was a poet of language: “La grandeza de Quevedo es verbal” (“Quevedo,” Otras inquisiciones, 1952). His contemporary César Vallejo was a Quevedo disciple in his youth, and some of his later language experiments are more Quevedian than avant-garde. This panel considers Vallejo as a poet of language itself, rather than as an “expressive,” or ethical or political poet as has been most traditionally done. Such thematic readings are essential for a politically committed writer whose work uses a great deal of autobiographical material and also closely engages the intellectual life of his time. But the strong emphasis in Vallejo’s critical tradition on his personal circumstances, his vocabulary of pain, and his leftist politics also works reductively, as does the focus on image at the expense of intertext and sound. Vallejo’s language consciousness is well recognized, but is part of his difficulty still an effect of evading questions of textuality? Our papers present close readings not motivated by the most commonly invoked thematic clusters in Vallejo criticism (orphanhood, poverty, suffering, displacement, mestizaje); we contend as well that a focus on language also reveals Vallejo as a more affirmative poet than he is often considered to be. We are particularly interested in the ways in which Vallejo’s use of fragmentation works to create not a static composition but one that seems to transform itself as it is read. We note in addition that although Vallejo criticized the coldness of much avant-garde writing (“Hacedores de imágenes, devolved las palabras a los hombres,” he wrote in “Se prohíbe hablar al piloto” [Favorables París Poema 2, October 1926]), and while his work has an immediate affective and even corporeal impact, the difficulty of his texts has much to do with their intricacy at the level of intellect.

César Vallejo died in 1938 with much of his major work still unpublished. He has since emerged as one of the most important writers in the Spanish language and as a major figure in world literature. Recent English translations of poetry and prose include Seiferle (2003), Eshleman (2006), Mulligan (2011), Gianuzzi and Smith (2012), and Malanga (2014); additional projects are underway. In 2011 Michelle Clayton published a major study in English; Stephen Hart’s new biography appeared in 2013. Much progress has been made on the collection and edition of his writings in narrative, theatre, and essay as well as poetry. New documentation includes Juan Fló’s discovery of early manuscripts of the later poems (Fló and Hart, eds., Autógrafos olvidados, 2002), Alan E. Smith’s facsimile edition of España, aparta de mí este cáliz (2012), and Andrés Echeverría’s compilation of Vallejo’s correspondence with Pablo Abril (2013). Since most of his writings in Spanish are at last available in responsible editions, research on Vallejo is now possible in a way it had not been earlier.

We aim to contribute to renewed scholarly work on this author who has become monumental without being fully read. We also hope to support the growth of Vallejo studies from an international and comparativist standpoint. This is important since given the translations and the global power of English, it is desirable that Vallejo’s critical traditions in Spanish, English and other languages remain in contact with one another and that the work in Spanish be known outside Peru. In addition Vallejo himself, the traveler with an Andean substratum, writing in Paris about Peru, Russia, Spain, worked from this point of view. Especially with the complex situation of his editions and manuscript tradition, it is essential to follow the networks through which his texts circulate, across languages and borders. The panel engages the Presidential theme “Literature and Its Publics” in that all presentations address questions of readership and audience.

The first two papers offer new readings of well known texts, giving very close attention to verbal play. Pedro Granadós’ “Trilce/Teatro: guión, personajes y público,” focuses on Trilce (1922), Vallejo’s most linguistically daring collection. Granados first shows how Trilce works as a theatrical or performance text, and then considers one of the specific audiences with which this collection enters into dialogue: the journal Colónida (1916) and the Colónida movement that grew up around it. Alan E. Smith’s “Looking for ‘Hallazgo de la vida’” examines the prose poetry of Vallejo’s early Paris years, some of the poet’s darkest, arguing that these are in fact affirmative texts and showing how they work to recover both the human figure and pathos.

The following two presentations focus on translations, adaptations, and Vallejo’s influence on contemporary literature and art. Jonathan Mayhew’s analysis of translations ranges from the earlier work (Los heraldos negros, 1919) to España, aparta de mí este cáliz (1938), drawing contrasts with translation projects on Neruda and Lorca. Vallejo’s modernism, he argues, is characterized not by visual imagery but by what Ezra Pound called “logopoeia,” or the “dance of the intellect among words.” Finally, Stephen Hart examines the poets who commemorated their ‘audience’ of and with Vallejo in a number of poems, focusing mainly on the poems Pablo Neruda dedicated to the Peruvian. His discussion also refers to the novels which have resurrected different aspects of Vallejo’s biography – Juan José Saer’s La pesquisa (1994), Roberto Bolaño’s Monsieur Pain (1999), Luis Freire Sarria’s César Vallejo se aburrió de seguir muerto, Eduardo González Viaña’s Vallejo en los infiernos (2007; English translation César Vallejo’s Season in Hell, 2015) and Jorge Nájar’s Vallejo y la célula Nec plus ultra (2010) – as well as films such as Roy Andersson’s Sånger från andra våningen [Songs from the Second Floor], and Fernando de Szyszlo’s artwork. Questions implicit in Mayhew’s presentation and explicit in Hart’s are what we mean by “public,” and what forces are at play when we talk about the influence a writer wields over other artists.

Papers will be posted online ahead of the convention. In the session, however, they will not be read, but rather summarized and explained. Each presenter will prepare a handout of relevant quotations for the audience, to facilitate assimilation and discussion of their analyses and arguments.


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Good and bad news: evaluations

“Takes pride in teaching well, and makes it a point to meet students where they are. This is good; unfortunately, it is rare.”

I am not sure what to think. Can this really be so rare?


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A curious conversation

I must renounce fretting over my participation in our foreign language program for Lent at least, and ideally forever. In relation to my distress over this, however, I had a strange conversation today.

I am told that most faculty became faculty because they loved their professors as undergraduates and wanted to be just like them, to recreate the college experience for future generations.

I was not like that. I did not love the faculty, I was merely interested in their work and what they had to say. And I liked the atmosphere of a large research organization, where everyone was working on something. And I thought having classes, going to class, was just one natural part of that — an integral part, but a part. So I wanted to keep on working in such an environment.

This is a really, really different attitude than what appears to be the mainstream one and you can tell I am a coldhearted scientist.

What do you think — is my attitude so very unusual?



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My OS is terribly corrupted

I cannot update system software because third party repositories are interfering — my package system is broken. I must also say sudo apt-get install-f in the terminal, and have it understand and act on this, which it is not doing.

I will resolve these things when I return from the tropics — I am going to Miami — but I am not sure whom to ask. I need a boot disk but the boot disk I have, if I find it, is not for this version of the OS.


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Someone agrees with me on composition and the introduction to literature, Dieu merci

Q. Do you have comments on the idea that “literature is not for everybody, and should only be taught in literature classes” — ?

A. That idea makes me mad. I could point to cognitive theory, which makes the argument that literature is an important way we develop our ability to empathize with people who are not like us. I could point to the fact that “literature” in the sense of “storytelling” has been a part of every major culture, even non-literate ones, and every single student in our classes needs to learn how to understand what other people are doing when they are telling stories (and to identify it when it happens) because it is embedded in our advertising, our politics, our leisure activities, and yes–our art.

Literature should no more be limited to “literature classes” than math should be limited to “math classes.” We use math to understand physics, chemistry, sociology, psychology, and yes, even occasionally literature. The case of literature is the same (Flatland is a good example).

A. The Research Compliance Committee has determined that literature is too dangerous for general access, and must be handled according to strict guidelines, using proper and approved reading methods. Literature courses focusing on such methods are the most responsible way to expose students to working with literature, but other courses may be approved on a case-by-case basis by the Committee.


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On Language Log

First, do you think Language Log is incredibly pedantic and literal minded to feel as they do about Orwell and about The elements of style, or am I simply not modern and/or not doctrinaire enough as a leftist? I really want to know.

Second, I submitted to Ibbetson Street but not Slipstream. And that is enough for now, I will look at journals in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Miami, perhaps even here in Maringouin. I have to subscribe to the places I have submitted because I cannot see them here easily, otherwise, and I always say do not submit where you do not read regularly. I keep liking, have always liked the poems in TriQuarterly, the tension in them, but I do not think I reach their quality and my ideal for professionalism at least, continues to be the Beloit Poetry Review because they are interested in the poem and not the author. And my opinions in these matters have not varied since college, which I find amusing. (I would like to just think about poetry at this moment. I would like to have so many lives.)

Third, I woke up this morning thinking that if my life were ideal it would not be very different from what it is. Certain major details and features would change but the only major change would be that the university would treat me like a valued colleague, not like a prisoner, abused dog, slave, resented poor relation, or the other McDonaldized ways they come up with to treat the three research faculty there are in my field and the myriad instructors.

In college and graduate school, and in the R1 places I worked, they did not act like this. I had impostor syndrome in college, of course, because my family (my mother) did not seem think I was qualified to be studying where I was and also (my father) did not seem to think my degree was valid becaue I had not paid for college entirely on my own. But the university did not seem to think like that until they started caring about me, which was when it became obvious I would finish the PhD. That was when they started in with the cant about how I was arrogant and my work was bad.

It becomes clear that I really, definitely, internalized all of these things and more and must really, definitely, react instead. I have been told I scare people and hurt them because they can tell I see through them and because I am psychologically so much freer than most, and because I am more intelligent, and because really intelligent people respond to me. I feel so guilty about those characteristics I have, the people they have hurt, when I had nothing against them.

These things are why it is important for me to be in good environments — environments where it is not considered arrogant or cruel  to be intellectually oriented, and where people are able to great each other with genuine respect. I have, it is clear, to treat my own self with more respect than I do but it is difficult in negative or deprived environments and any sociologist could confirm that: the academic advisors base what they say, I find, on wishful thinking in the same way as the self-help industry seems to do.

Nonetheless I do wonder whether it is possible to end the self-torture in which I obviously indulge … this at the very least. I woke up in the middle of the night last night, it was beautiful clear weather, and learned about this resident artists’ program which I have already discussed. Just thinking about it, thinking about being there and working like that, I felt like such a different person, but that identity seemed so close, almost within reach.



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