I’m tired of paying a small fee to keep my domain name and am going to let it expire. If any of you are interested in seeing any of my future posts, please feel free to connect at jswhite.wordpress.com. That address will work. The sinarmasniletras.org will expire in October. Saludos, JW
Well, the first draft, at least. I sent it off to my adviser today, all 38 pages of it. I’m trying to push into my third chapter as quickly as possible. I know that I’ll be dealing with the eternal return (and I’m bound to use a significant amount of Nietzsche), but I cannot decide which of Valle-Inclán’s texts to use, besides La lámpara maravillosa. I’m thinking about Tirano Banderas, but, to be entirely honest, I don’t know if I want to read the whole thing. It’s pretty massive. Maybe I’ll just stick to his Comedias bárbaras. Chapter 1 used Valle’s long (it’s definitely not ‘short’) story, “Flor de santidad,” some of his poetry, a good chunk of his La lámpara maravillosa, and his Guerra carlista trilogy. The second chapter included all of his Sonatas, his play El marqués de Bradomín, and some sections of Luces de Bohemia. The gist of the third chapter is to elucidate some of Valle’s philosophical approaches to his texts, especially as those ideas lead into his esperpentos. I have some concepts down, but there are still some pretty huge gaps in the outline (such as which of his literary/theatrical works I’ll be using).
So, here’s what my dissertation breakdown looks like (italics means I still have to write the chapter):
- “A Setting Son: Religious Decay and Secularization in Spain” (42 pgs)
- “Past Prowess, Present Impairment: Disfiguring the Don Juan Myth” (38 pgs)
- Philosophy (eternal return, death of God)
- Theater (death of tragedy, esperpento)
Everything will be preceded with an introduction (~15-20 pgs) and I plan to add a conclusion at the end (~15-20 pgs). If every chapter is about 40 pgs long, that means the final version will be between 190-200 pgs, which is acceptable for UCI (must be >170 pgs). This is going to sound crazy, but I want to defend in November. Heaven help me.
Try to ignore the horse figurine behind my head. Here’s a picture of me with one of my all-time favorite mentors and a great friend, Dr. Dale Pratt. He and Dr. Valerie Hegstrom visited Southern California last week with Fernando López del Oso, an up-and-coming Spanish science fiction author. Fernando already has a premio minotauro under his belt for his 2009 El templo de la luna and his newest book, Yeti, does not disappoint. While it is always exciting to receive Spanish celebrities (let’s face it, I find authors infinitely more interesting than movie stars), the best part of the visit was seeing Dale and Valerie. Before describing why I admire them as much as I do, I suppose I should provide some of my background.
Back in 2004 (yes, forever ago), I was edging towards graduation as an undergraduate at BYU with a major in Clinical Laboratory Science and a minor in Spanish. The goal at the time was to become a pediatrician and, given that CLS majors did blood, urine, and fecal analysis, you can imagine that anyone holding that degree was pretty much guaranteed a job. After some years as a lab tech, I planned to make the jump to pediatrics.
A year before, in 2003, something pivotal happened: I went to see BYU’s Don Gil de las calzas verdes. The performance was incredible. I was captivated from the beginning when the actors rolled the massive–yet incredibly mobile–stage/cart to an open space beside the library, set up the simple yet meaningful props, and delivered a smashing interpretation of Tirso de Molina’s classic play. After thoroughly enjoying the performance, I determined that I had to participate somehow in the Spanish Golden Age Theater (SGAT) program the following year, regardless of the schedule problems it might present.
When the call for participants in 2004 rolled out, touting the performance of El muerto disimulado, I eagerly attended the first casting meeting. Upon realizing the demand that the play was going to have on my schedule, I rescinded my earlier conviction and became terribly conflicted: I wanted to participate, but could not commit myself to the time and effort required of all participants, especially given how much time I was already putting into my major. I decided that I would have to shelf the SGAT and move on towards becoming a physician. At the time, although difficult, it was the right decision.
Later that year, I went with my retinue of fellow CLS majors to visit a hospital, where the bulk of us would be hired, to observe a typical day of work in the lab. I was excited; it was a chance to catch a glimpse of what I would be dedicating the next few years of my life to. The experience I had at the hospital, however, was far from inspirational. If anything, it proved to be the determining factor that distanced me from Clinical Laboratory Science altogether. While there, I watched as each lab technician, bent over his/her microscope, carefully and silently analyzed their samples. Alone. All by themselves. Not communicating. I even asked some of them how much they interacted with their colleagues, many of which simply shook their heads and laughed. One (disgruntled) lab tech told me, “it’s me, the microscope, and someone’s s%!$.” Suffice it to say that the visit wasn’t terribly appealing. For me, someone who has discovered that he needs sociability to survive, I had a small mid-of-a-mid life crisis and, after some significant deliberation and prayer, determined that CLS was not my future after all.
This left me at an academic standstill. I was one class (CHEM 352, for what it’s worth) away from completing the equivalent of a “pre-med minor” at BYU and couldn’t fathom taking the course. I knew that I did not want to become a physician. This was not an easy decision. I had been telling people since as long as I could remember that I was going to be a pediatrician. That was just the way that it was going to be. The hospital visit was, in a very real sense, a rude awakening, albeit one that, looking back now, I am very grateful to have had. To make a long story short, I decided to change my major from CLS to Humanities and, realizing that most Hum majors double-majored in another subject, I boosted my minor (Spanish) to a second major. From a CLS major, I went full-bore liberal arts.
While working on my Spanish minor, I took Spanish 339 (intro to Spanish literature) with Dr. Pratt. I remember enjoying the class immensely. It was a pleasure to prepare for and exciting to attend. The lessons were insightful and the books that we read were meaningful to me, a far cry from my chemistry or anatomy textbooks. While the latter texts contained interesting and valuable information, they simply did not resonate with me the same way that Jorge Manrique’s “Coplas por la muerte de su padre,” Ramón Sender’s Réquiem por un campesino español, or Unamuno’s San Manuel Bueno, mártir did. And Dr. Pratt did a marvelous job presenting the texts to a classroom full of literary novices. His voices (if you haven’t heard his don Quijote imitation, you are missing out), his enthusiasm, and his genuine love for literature made the class wonderful. I really feel like that class was foundational for what I’m doing today.
Shortly after dropping CLS, I realized that I would be able to participate in the SGAT program the following year. I sought out the individuals responsible for the program and realized, to my relief, that Dr. Pratt and Dr. Hegstrom were in charge. I scheduled a meeting with Dr. Hegstrom, with whom I was taking Span 441 (Survey Span Lit). This must have been right around the time that I was wandering a little aimlessly. I had just changed my major and really had little to no idea what I was doing, where I would be working, or how I would support a family. I asked Valerie, who patiently listened to me, all of those questions. Looking back some of my inquiries were a little silly, but at the time they were genuine concerns I had: I asked her if I had what it takes to teach Spanish and if I could raise a family on a Spanish professor’s income. Her answer, which seemed a little unusual at the moment, was to open her door and knock on Dr. Turley’s. I didn’t know Dr. Turley at all at the time, so it was kind of weird. When he opened the door, Valerie asked him, “Jeff, are you able to take care of your family with your income as a Spanish professor?” I think he was a little taken back by the question, but after a little explanation and coaxing, helped me to understand that yes, even Spanish professors can have healthy, happy, and successful families. Odd as it may sound, that moment is unforgettable for me. In a sense, it helped me to understand that what I was doing was ok, that I would make it. At the same time, it helped forge a lasting relationship between Valerie and I that I hold very dear. From that point on, she became a mentor for me.
The following year, 2005, my schedule was primed and ready to participate in SGAT. The production, El caballero de Olmedo, was a very ambitious project. As one of Lope’s more popular plays, it had been reworked many times. BYU’s approach unconventionally smashed together a few characters, cut several scenes, and included some novel musical compositions (I never sang, adding to everyone’s relief). I was fortunately selected to play the part of Tello, the play’s gracioso. It was a role that I will never forget. I was learning to act on the fly. I had never done it before, but have always been fairly extroverted, so I didn’t find it too difficult to make a fool of myself (quite literally). That play brought me into touch with some of my dearest friends and colleagues, not the least of which were the two mentors that oversaw the project: Dale Pratt and Valerie Hegstrom.
While Dale and I already knew each other (I was in his 339 class, remember), the relationship was purely teacher-student; we didn’t hang out, eat lunch together, or do any of the things that we’d be happy to do together today. The play changed that relationship. It brought everyone together as a group of actors, scholars, and friends. We all sacrificed enormous amounts of time and effort to make the production as impressive as possible and, from those sacrifices, created lasting relationships.
I participated in SGAT for the next three years of my life (I graduated and started my MA at BYU in 2006), contributing to Las cortes de la muerte, El narciso en su opinión, and El retrato vivo, the works selected for 2006, 2007, and 2008, respectively. The program provided a needed focus and helped me devote my time and energy to something that I loved doing with people that I loved working with.
After 3 years of working together in SGAT, Dale and I got to know each other very well. We’ve found mutual hobbies (boardgaming being one of the more quirky ones), similar scholastic interests (I’m exploring Ramón del Valle-Inclán–a key member, like Unamuno, of Spain’s so-called generación del 98–‘s repertoire in my dissertation), and have even performed an incredible air-guitar version of Styx’s “Come Sail Away” together (you’ll have to ask Dale to see a copy of that. Or Vanessa. I think she has it somewhere…). All-in-all, both Dale and Valerie have been integral in me getting to where I’m currently at and will undoubtedly play a part in helping me to get to wherever I go in this profession. I appreciate their mentoring, am grateful for their help, and treasure their friendship. Seeing them last week was like a breath of fresh air, a reminder about why I entered this profession, and a great opportunity to be among friends.
This is really cool. I’ve very recently been following the work of Costica Bradatan mainly for what he says about death (and consequently for his connection with modern existentialist thought–e.g., Simon Critchley, Gianni Vattimo, etc.) and thought that this short (~3 mins) video does a great job showing why I appreciate what he writes: it’s clear, concise, and, to keep with the adage, to the point.
There’s even a nifty bit about being posthuman (or inhuman, depending on how you want to see it). Enjoy!
Buero Vallejo knows what I’m going through:
Antes que a un afán de perfección–el cual, desde luego, también me aqueja–, lo escaso de mi labor puede deberse a lo que yo llamaría la neurosis del hombre [o mujer] de letras. Si por ventura no es eliminado, cualquier párrafo escrito ha de ser reformado y vuelto a reformar; nada raro es, en este maniático forcejeo entre las ideas y el lenguaje, que la versión definitiva regrese en parte a borradores desechados. Y es que, al dubitativo modo machadiano, «nunca estoy más cerca de pensar una cosa que cuando he escrito lo contraria».
Dícese que todo escritor sufre esa neurosis; nunca he logrado saberlo con seguridad. El literato prolífico sería entonces aquel cuyo entusiasmo expresivo no la vence, pero la desborda. Mas yo apenas conozco tal entusiasmo [. . .]. (“Justificación” in Tres maestros ante el público (1972), pp. 8-9)
Writing a dissertation is brutal.
This post is more-or-less me trying to sort out my ideas. My apologies for the length and tangents.
I’ve spent this summer (2012) trying to piece together the skeleton of what I hope to write about for my dissertation. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that I still haven’t completely figured it out. I’m like a (reluctant) kid in a (very bitter, stale, and unappetizing) candy shop. I have a wealth of information at my fingertips and am so hesitant to commit to anything. I don’t know exactly why I feel this way. Maybe it’s because I know what it took to write my MA thesis and my body is viscerally trying to prevent that from happening again; perhaps it’s due to the fact that I haven’t read enough yet to actually start writing (I know that feeling will never pass); or it’s possibly just me being lazy. I sincerely hope that it’s not the last option.
Despite my reluctance, I have been able to decide on some very concrete ideas that serve as foundations for my writing process (whenever that begins in earnest). What follows–and feel free to stop reading whenever you want–are the ideas that I am quite confident will appear in my dissertation.
First, Todd Mack and I had a lovely conversation sometime ago about dissertation topics. I let him know that I was interested in Camus’s philosophical approach. He frankly told me that that was not really going to cut it for a dissertation topic. I needed to decide on an author. I put a lot of time into thinking about his response and narrowed my selection down to a few (for me) necessary authorial qualities: 1) he had to be a playwright, 2) he had to respond in someway to religion (preferably beyond skepticism and doubt), & 3) I had to be able to somehow connect him with Camus. With these criteria in mind, I began considering my options.
My focus as of late has drifted far from the Golden Age–a topic which, while forever dear to my heart, will sadly not factor into my dissertation–and landed squarely in the so-called generation of ’98. I have grown very fond of Unamuno and his doubt-full writings. His agonizing relationship with sincere belief is something that I really appreciate as a scholar. Moreover, I feel like it connects very well with Camus’s own approach to religion. More on that later. Unamuno, unfortunately, is not entirely a playwright. He does have several theatrical works, but they are, for better or for worse, more novelistic than dramatic and, on a personal note, his writings that most appeal to me have to do mainly with his philosophical/religious approach (i.e., the novels and essays), not necessarily his plays. Serendipitously, there is a playwright from the generation of ’98 that, while producing several other genres of literature, is chiefly recognized for his dramatic oeuvre: Ramón del Valle-Inclán.
Notorious for his esperpentic theatrical works, Valle-Inclán’s main dramatic technique is sharply satirical: frequently ridiculing religion, often rebuking societal apathy, and always deriding the banality of Spanish life at the turn of the century, no topic escapes his scornful pen. This takes me to my second foundational idea: the esperpento. To be honest, I find these plays dreadfully disturbing. Their content is the stuff of nightmares–rape, murder, rotting corpses–and to imagine it as a spectacle is indeed gruesome. And yet (as one of my professors says)…I can’t stop reading it. It is hard for me to pinpoint exactly what draws me to his theater–like a fly to a (pardon the simile) pile of feces–, but I feel like there is something there, far beyond the plays’ shocking content; an ultimately frustrated scream coursing through the cloudy undercurrents of his works, a feeling of deprivation–social, national, even personal–bleeding out from the depths of his soul. My goal at the moment is to find out why Valle is writing his esperpentos. I already have some ideas, but they still need to get hammered out.
So, Valle-Inclán is my author of choice and his esperpentos are the texts I’ll be working with. My third foundational idea has to do with the effects of nothingness. This is where I wax philosophical, so please bear with me. I feel like Valle-Inclán is experiencing a truly bottom-of-the-barrel moment in Spanish history. The very time when his esperpentos are successful coincides with a period of intense political strife, widespread economic hardship (sound familiar?), swift aristocratic decline, and profound religious disillusion. I wonder, to be fair, how many Spaniards are sensitive to Spain’s dilapidated condition, and how many simply live in blissful ignorance. For those in the latter group, Valle’s esperpentos could have a shocking effect. In short, I think that Valle is exacerbating the Spanish situation in his plays. In so doing, I feel that he is throwing down the glove, proclaiming to the public that, “there you have it! Nothing, we have nothing!” What I find unique in Valle is that he assesses the Spanish situation thoroughly (albeit satirically), but offers no solutions. He is nothing like Buero Vallejo, who 30 years down the road will constantly and subversively plead for societal action. Rather than seek for a solution to the problem, I want to understand what Valle personally does to respond to his deplorable situation. How does he cope with it?
To be fair, this is really as far as I’ve gotten. I don’t know where I will end up, but I do know that I will be writing about A) Valle-Inclán, B) his esperpentos, and C) the effects of nothingness (political, religious, or otherwise) in Valle’s works. While I call these ideas foundational, even foundations are prone to shift and slide with the next earthquake. We’ll see in the next few months where I end up. At the moment, I am studying Spain’s religious situation at the end of the nineteenth century. What role did Catholicism play in politics? Were there instances of religious corruption and abuse, especially in Galicia (Valle’s home province)? What was the general mood of Spaniards towards religion at this moment? I’d like to have the first draft of my first chapter completed by the end of this quarter. That gives me 10 weeks. Better get busy.
“Everyone knows that lumberjacks rarely talk” (A Thousand Plateaus 69)
Before I try to paraphrase the locura that I embarked on the last fall quarter, let me give some background to this paper. I took a class with the Barbara Fuchs (yes, the same one I have cited twice in this blog already) at UCLA last fall and have been amazed at how much her teaching resembles her writing; i.e. both rely heavily on skepticism to validate their points. Take for instance this quarter–the course title is “Picaresque Itineraries” and, as you likely have already surmised, we have studied Lazarillo de Tormes, Guzmán de Alfarache, and a slew of other books that I never even knew had picaresque connections (La Celestina, Naufragios, etc.). With what objective in mind? None other than to propose that reading in the picaresque vein makes us suspicious as readers. Not only that we begin to doubt in the narrator’s credibility, but in the very fabric of the text itself–did it/could it even happen/have happened? Her conclusions went far beyond my paltry summary here, but to emphasize my point (that her teaching resembles her writing via a skeptical mentality), I was impressed. Onto the paper topic…
I initially submitted an unfortunately simple abstract (hey, it was the night before, the deadline was looming, and she had already expressed frustration with my first proposal. I was pretty desperate) based on some well-documented connections between existentialism and the picaresque (a broad topic that, as I have learned, would fare far better in a book than a 15 pg. grad paper). My major thrust was to disprove one of the critics, who associated the picaresque hero with Camus‘ rebel in a very subjective sense. Suffice it to say that the abstract proposal was too simple and, in a very Fuchian (yes, I made that up, please feel free to widely distribute) way, it became skeptical fodder.
—All these references are from 40 years ago…why? Why do you want to talk about this today? How does this contribute to the critical discussion between the picaresque and existentialism (a conversation that admittedly has been long dead)?
—Uh…um…uhhh…I don’t know. I like Camus. His name rhymes with Shamu.
No, I did not respond that way, although maybe that would have been a better topic to deal with: “Shamufying Camus: How to Make Sexy Rhymes Out of Big Names in Philosophy.”
I spent the next few days agonizing over what I was going to write when the idea hit me like a [insert your favorite simile] to base the study on the un-canonical connection between the picaresque and existentialism. Historical interlude: essentially, picaresque criticism took a hard look at the notion of picaresque as “genre” in the 1970s. Big shots like Ricardo Guillén, Fernando Lázaro Carreter, and other critics all began questioning the efficacy of describing the picaresque as a genre. The generical (please forgive my adjective–it’s not in the OED, but I mean having to do with “genre,” not over-the-counter drugs) framework, as a decaying formalism (a hot topic in the 70s; cf. Hayden White) concludes, is pretty sketchy, after all. With an apparently limited selection of picaresque texts to choose from, critics began asking what the underlying motifs, themes–anything, really–were contained under the “picaresque” label. I have to recommend Guillén’s 1961 (I know, I’ve been saying “70s.” But, true disintegration of the genre doesn’t rear its head until essays like Daniel Eisenberg’s “Does the Picaresque Novel Exist?” (1979) appear–the 70s make for an easy middleground) study, “Towards a Definition of the Picaresque” for a brilliant synopsis (however deficient, as many other critics remark) of some common picaresque characteristics (e.g., the pícaro as orphan, mischief-maker, and social climber all rolled into one). The generical fuzziness appears, in large part, due to the variety of texts that have been clumped together as picaresque. The reality, as many critics argue, is that these texts stand independently from one another as great works of literature and that the picaresque is, in and of itself, not a closed genre; latter novels seem to catch the picaresque ‘wave,’ e.g. Cela’s La familia de Pascual Duarte, and yet are not included in the classification. Oh my, I didn’t realize until now how long this paragraph is. My apologies.
This is my connection to existentialism; just as the picaresque has been relegated to a genre, so has existentialism been limited to a philosophy. It seems that philosophers want to restrict existentialism to thinkers between Kierkegaard (this starting point has its own problems that I’d love to get into detail on in the comments) and Sartre, which is true, of course, but also just as confining as creating a merely picaresque category. If we apply the same deconstructive thought that the picaresque genre has undergone to existentialist philosophy, the best conclusion can be that there are writers who use existentialist ideas (only because they resemble each other in their philosophies–e.g., the absurd, meaninglessness, authentication, etc.), regardless of the time of their appearance. In this sense, Kierkegaard is just as “existentialist” as Sartre, who is just as “existentialist” as Gianni Vattimo (or Jean-Luc Nancy, for that matter).
My conclusions, however simple, are that the “picaresque” and “existentialist” labels cannot be considered exclusive to a specific period of time. No style (or philosophy, for that matter) is chronologically copyrighted or temporally restricted. Perhaps the problem is not so much the time that we associate with genres or philosophies, but rather due to our penchant for making categories. It’s like we’re infected with–or maybe recovering from (cf. Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition)–some kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder of forming cute little boxes to put writing styles and ideas into.
And here’s the picaresque category: Lazarillo, Guzmán, Estebanillo…but there is no way I’m putting Pascual Duarte in here. He’s tremendista, sorry!
I doubt that it’s that facile, but you get the idea. Anyway, that was my paper topic. And what I hope to be my resurgence to the blogosphere.
So there is a link to this very cutesy story about Lebron James’ decision fiasco and how it changed the lives (for the better) of the kids at the boys and girls club. It’s not a video (just a screen capture), although the link will take you to the story.
I especially like the subtitle “The kids of the Boys and Girls Club recall ‘The Decision’ much differently than most.” Especially this kid:
Howdy all. It’s been forever.
So, my good friend Todd has been publishing book reviews on his blog. Perhaps I’ll do the same. I just finished this book, based on some very suspect encounters between Albert Camus (a major part of my prospective dissertation) and here is my review. Just so you know, the book is split into two halves, the first half is really all that interested me. The second had to do with the insights gained through experiences with persons other than Camus.
I don’t know what to make of this text. Mumma is a Methodist minister from Ohio that incidentally taught some sermons at a church (the American Church) in Paris on days that coincided with Marcel Dupré playing the organ. Albert Camus visited to listen to Dupré, and apparently was so impressed by the sermons given by Mumma that he organized several lunch dates with him to discuss everything about the Bible and faith. Mumma admits to embellishing some of Camus’s words, but clarifies that “the report is [not] verbatim. I am guilty of putting a few words into my acquaintance’s mouth–and, for that matter, my own–to better capture the essence of our sessions” (4). I suppose the question is how well did Mumma “captur[e] the essence”? Perplexingly counterintuitive to one of existentialism’s chief claims (existence precedes essence), I am bewildered by how simple Camus’s speech is in this text. In the conversations between philosopher and minister, Mumma clearly has the more floral conversation. In addition, Camus practically agrees with everything Mumma has to say. I struggle to believe that their conversations were that simple. In fact, I struggle to believe that they happened at all.
One thing that can be said for certain is that Mumma finds a corollary between Christian belief and Camus’s notion of the absurd. The very fact that Camus insists on living in spite of life’s absurdity (its pointlessness, its insignificance), implies that there is something worth living for. While Camus would posit that something in the fact that life is precious in and of itself (i.e. it is worth living because it is all that we have), Mumma confirms that life should be lived in a moral, ethical way because A) God has commanded it and B) there is a reward for it in the hereafter. I think that the vital philosophies diverge paths, especially in the form of living. For Camus, life should be lived passionately as if every moment were one’s last (examples include don Juan, an actor, and the conqueror. All are passionate, but not necessarily good, beings). For Mumma, life should be lived humbly, meekly, and Christ-like. There is very little self-interested passion involved in Mumma’s formula–all people are commanded to be good, frequently at the sacrifice of one’s passions.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because, in the face of despair, we have both found reason to hope. We both, above all, value life.” (84)
A big sorry for not posting in something like 6 months. I have about 4 posts that are half-finished, but not quite ready for publication. Here is what has kept me busy lately (besides preparing for AHCT (Chamizal) and MSH this year):
My reading list. I have not yet quite created it, but feel pretty certain that the few books that I have already read and taken notes on will be there. Hence, I include them on my website. I still have to create my prospectus (likely by next quarter), get it accepted (likely the following q.), and then defend it (i.e. take my exams; likely in spring 2012).
Time to put my nose to the grindstone, as “they” say.
So I’ve been directing a reading group based on Kierkegaard and Unamuno this summer. It all happened because a daring MA student asked me if I would give her some pointers on Kierkegaard at the end of the last winter quarter. Perhaps she asked me because our professor for some reason thinks I am the departmental brain on all things Kierkegaard. I don’t know where he got that idea and, to be totally frank, I’ve only read three of his books. One thing I suppose that semi-qualifies me is that I’ve read a lot about him (which is a far cry from stuff by him). Anyway, I was flattered by the request and have subsequently been spearheading this reading group. So far, we have read Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, Unamuno’s La agonía del cristianismo and San Manuel Bueno, mártir. We are reading sections of Kierky’s Either/Or for Tuesday. Each meeting so far has been great: the MA students do all the readings (I never assign more than 120 pgs. (that’s soon to change when we do Niebla)) and the conversation is excellent. The group generally lasts 1.5-2 hours at a time. So far, it has been a great way to keep the limited literary knowledge I have nice and sharp.
Enough background. I’m typing this post to try to point out the strange (although definitely appreciated) learning phenomenon that occurs while teaching. I mean, after each discussion, I always feel so enriched, not that I’m some “gifted scholar,” but rather that I have learned so much from the preparation and the dialogue, likely a result of the great effort put forth by each of us to really understand what we read. And, when you have to lead a discussion, you better be certain that you know what you are going to say. This has been a remarkable experience to be able to try to put into my own words what I think these philosophers are getting at. It is difficult, requires a lot of outside help (three cheers for JSTOR), and heaps of preparation time. But it is absolutely worth it. I can honestly say that I feel comfortable discussing Unamuno’s unique version of Christianity, or Kierkegaard’s agonizing desire to have the faith of Abraham. I don’t know what else to blame my confidence on except the fact that I have had to prepare to lead the discussion in the reading group. I have had to–to a certain extent–teach the material. And that is what I’m getting at: when we teach something, we really learn it.
From personal experience, teaching Spanish has quite literally made me both a better speaker and writer in Spanish (not English, but that is probably pretty obvious by now). It’s like teaching has really forced me to learn the language, and consequently made me capable of explaining the material, even boiling it down, for my Spanish class. I suppose that I try to present it as I understand it–and oftentimes I misunderstand it and get corrected by my students. I can honestly say that I have improved as a Spanish speaker mainly because I have been teaching Spanish.
Before this post becomes too long, I was reading the introduction to Julián Marías’s Historia de la filosofía (which seems like a great synopsis of major philosophical thought, btw), and was struck by how he also feels that his understanding of philosophy (the topic of his entire book) is due, in large part, to a discussion group he conducted to prepare graduate students for their exams. It is really interesting to me, especially because I am trying to do something similar here at UCI for some of the MA students.* Below I am including his small story (3 pgs) about that discussion group. Enjoy.
*In no way do I consider myself a scholar like Marías. I just thought that it was fascinating that he attributes a lot of his own knowledge to the fact that he had to share–by dialogue and discussion–with his colleagues.
I miss the semester (15-week) system. UCI’s quarters shave 5 weeks worth of reading, studying, preparing, and writing, yet still expect the same production. I don’t think that I’ve gotten a single good night of sleep during the end of a quarter, ever. I am right now in the sixth week of spring quarter and haven’t decided on my paper topics (one 20-pager and one 12-15 pages). I need to get busy.
This is for Ben:
Waiting for Godot (68-70):
ESTRAGON. In the meantime let us try and converse calmly, since we are incapable of keeping silent.
VLADIMIR. You’re right, we’re inexhaustible.
E. It’s so we won’t think.
V. We have that excuse.
E. It’s so we won’t hear.
V. We have our reasons.
E. All the dead voices.
V. They make a noise like wings.
E. Like leaves.
V. Like sand.
E. Like leaves.
V. They all speak at once.
E. Each one to itself.
V. Rather they whisper.
E. They rustle.
V. They murmur.
E. They rustle.
V. What do they say?
E. They talk about their lives.
V. To have lived is not enough for them.
E. They have to talk about it.
V. To be dead is not enough for them.
E. It is not sufficient.
V. They make a noise like feathers.
E. Like leaves.
V. Like ashes.
E. Like leaves.
V. Say something!
E. I’m trying.
V. (in anguish). Say anything at all!
E. What do we do now?
V. Wait for Godot.
Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia, y si no la salvo a ella, no me salvo yo (Meditaciones 77)
[L]a misión de las masas no es otra que seguir a los mejores, en vez de pretender suplantarlos (España invertebrada 114)
[C]uando un pueblo se propone principalmente la organización de su vida colectiva, lo logra a costa de desindividualizar a los hombres que lo integran (“Un rasgo de la vida alemana,” Obras Completas V, 191)
I have been grappling lately (but not literally–imagine that: Ortega with a grappling hook) with José Ortega y Gasset and have concluded that there are two sides to his philosophy: an intimate, subjective, and ultimately personal side that enables us as individuals to develop our own identities and another collective, liberal, and very much de-personalized side that forms the backbone–I use that term very intentionally–of a nation.
The first idea can be found in his Meditaciones del Quijote (1914), where he petitions for individual awareness of one’s circumstances. Such a perspective enables us to see the big picture, the interstices that connect civilization to civilization, nation to nation, and man to man. It moves over the course of history, detecting cultural phenomena, national influences, and creative activities that all give rise to the individual in its current state. Clearly, it is objective in scope but subjective in application; we are encouraged to extend our vision, comprehending our relationship with others (in the broadest sense of the word), but the ultimate subject–the yo–is responsible for that action. I am not going to suggest that Ortega approaches Unamuno’s level of intimacy (a complete immersion in one’s yo at the expense of others), but I do feel that this aspect of his philosophy is highly subjective and very interested in the individual.
The second facet to his philosophy that I am considering appears in his discourses on nationhood and what it means to be a nation (see his España invertebrada (1921) and La rebelión de las masas (1930), among others). He concludes that national identity is a composite construction: the masses (the plebeians) directed by select minorities (an aristocracy, if you will). The difference between the two groups is one of docility and example. The “individuos selectos” lead by example, portraying qualities that the masses are inspired to imitate. It is only when “en una nación la masa se niega a ser masa–esto es, a seguir a la minoría directora–, la nación se deshace” (España invertebrada 76). Hence, an actively progressing nation requires cooperation among all of her ‘parts’–or “gremios,” as Ortega calls them–under the supervision of an elite minority.
I can’t help but see a bizarre contrast between these two ideas–Ortega moves from an intimately subjective version of the self (although influenced by her/his circumstances) to a seemingly nameless member of the masses; a de-individualized individual. Or perhaps his project is progressive, i.e. it builds on preceding ideas. Maybe Ortega is trying to say that the illustrated person–s/he who is actively engaging with her/his circumstances–recognizes the latent potential in collectivity and aspires to fulfill her/his role in a national purpose. If so, that is remarkably utopian.
First, I must share a video from one of my favorite bands, because I AM STILL ALIVE:
Grunge is great.
Paper A – I wrote on Deleuze and becoming. Especially on the relative instability of meaning as associated with a proper name. I am not who/whatever you think JW is. Although that may have been me, it most definitely is not who I am now. For better or worse, I have changed and am no longer the strict significado that JW used to represent. In my project, I’m seeking for a dynamic definition to the proper name. In essence, a proper name is undoubtedly a signifier, but its signified is constantly misappropriated. Day by day, second by second, decisions are made and steps are taken that distance the proper name from its ‘corresponding’ meaning. I proposed that we re-evaluate such a meaning, taking into account its fluid state and ultimately accept the fact that no matter the proper name, it represents a constantly changing, even (d)evolving being.
If interested, I used Quevedo’s “A Roma en sus ruinas” as springboard into some very Heraclitian ideas. The river Tibre, being the only thing remaining of “Rome,” suggests that permanence is possible only through constant transformation, continuous changing, even endless “becoming.” And that, in my humble opinion, is what we are constantly doing with our identities. There is no stable meaning to a personal name, only the potential for change.
Paper B – I’m taking a New Historicist tack–where’s my history?–to the Abencerraje (perhaps I write on this too much, but this is a different idea (sort of), I swear!) and am trying to figure out why the story idealizes its Moorish protagonist. Is it to suggest that Catholicism and Islam can live in harmony–as much of the academic world seems to accept–or is it perhaps for a darker, more political reason? Could Abindarráez be so idealized that his actions/characteristics are quite literally unimitatable? Is there perhaps an underlying Reconquista message to El Abencerraje to kill any Moors that don’t live up to Abindarráez’s exemplary example? I am seriously on the fence here, guys. Barbara Fuchs and her cronies (esp. Burshatin and Guillén) are pushing me towards the latter idea while article after article (Glenn, Darst, etc.) urge me to select the prior notion. Let’s just leave it in the hands of Lope.
Our favorite monster of nature wrote El remedio en la desdicha as an adaptation of El Abencerraje, but inserts an additional history based on a sefardic romance. In his play, Rodrigo de Narváez, pargon of Christian virtue, is in love with Alara, a married Moor. Obviously ironic (given the historic moment), she ends up splitting from her spouse and ‘converting’ to Christianity setting up a potentially miscegenous relationship (the play is open-ended, so I really don’t know how far Narváez goes with it). In addition to this aberration to the traditional story, Lope also includes some pretty strong insults geared towards Moors in his play. In this sense, I see the dramatic work more closely related to the historic reality of the moment than the idealized Abencerraje.
After all is said and done, I conclude that El Abencerraje belongs squarely in the “Moorish novel” tradition, its purpose is to be enjoyed, akin to novelas de caballería, but not to be imitated. It is when critics attempt to make the reading pedagogical that we run into problems–is it structured to make us sympathetic to the Moorish plight during Spain’s Golden Age or is it subversively propagandistic, removing the true morisco (and replacing it with the idealized (and strangely Christianized) “Moorish knight”) from the novel entirely? For a text that more closely follows the historical setting of Spain’s Siglo de Oro, I’d have to recommend Lope’s El remedio en la desdicha.
And that’s a wrap!
A little more justice never hurt anybody. Except Mr. Cashmere and his racist pool club.
I just rented Minority Report recently and have to admit that I really, really like that movie. In my personal list of all-time favorite sci-fi movies, I put it up there with Bladerunner (another Philip K. Dick story) and Tron. The fact that it has Jerry Maguire may make it slightly less appealing, but look at all the sci-fi movies that Arnold–whose acting skills definitely leave something to be desired (see Junior if you don’t believe me)–has starred in that are just awesome (Total Recall, any of the Terminator movies, even Last Action Hero). I don’t know how to explain why I like Minority Report without giving away some of the story (for those of you who haven’t seen it yet and are thinking about it, now would be a good time to go to someone else’s blog), so if you are still reading this, I am assuming that you have already seen the movie.
MY TOP TEN FAVORITE MINORITY REPORT SCENES:
- The beginning of the movie when Tom busts Howard Marks for a crime that he hasn’t yet committed. I totally sympathize with Mr. Marks; you can’t arrest someone who hasn’t done anything wrong…right? Or is Precrime some kind of Higher Law enforcer?
- After Colin (I’m on a first name basis with all the actors in the movie) questions the implications of Precrime–how can you arrest someone for something that is going to occur yet never does? Doesn’t that mean that it isn’t the future?–, Tom’s explanation (“Why did you catch that ball?”) is pretty cut-and-dry. Although I love the scene, the response has some serious flaws. First, just because Colin caught the ball doesn’t mean that it was going to fall. Just because we have experienced something 1,000,000 times one way doesn’t mean that the next time it happens, it will do the same thing. We should chat about this later, seriously…
- When Tom meets up with Gideon, apparent guard for hundreds if not thousands of Precrime prisoners, the scene possesses an eerie, Matrix-like quality to it. Yet, according to Gideon’s–another Bible name–description, the prisoners get to spend twenty years asleep, somewhere between life and death, all the while getting their daily nutritional intake of vitamins. Not too shabby for a jail cell.
- The sick sticks. I just love the sick sticks.
- Upon fleeing from Colin and the gang, Tom serendipitously ends up in an automobile factory and somehow manages to get sealed into a car under construction, magically appears in the driver’s seat, and zips his way out the doors of the factory. All without filling his tank with gas.
- The scene with the spiders seems like it comes right out of Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. The camera pans over the rooftop (which coincidentally is in serious need of repair, given the size and quantity of holes in the ceiling–it must not rain very frequently in Washington D.C. in 2054) and the viewer/voyeur observes some very private matters in a very public way. Did someone say Panopticon? Is Big Brother watching?
- The eye surgery. Yes, the audible “quacks” from the obvious ‘quack’ doctor are fairly annoying, but can you imagine the implications of getting your eyes switched out for someone else’s? Excuse me, but do you have any 20/20’s? Pre-Lasik is preferred.
- I know this isn’t one scene, but something I liked in general, so please forgive me. I didn’t notice this until a friend pointed it out to me, but the tension releasing scenes that occur after anxiety-inducing events are very well-timed (Tom’s dream of his son’s kidnapping followed by him chugging rotten milk, his literally rolling eyeballs after he sneaks back into Precrime, etc.). They really make me appreciate catharsis that much more.
- After Tom gives the Miranda rights to Leo Crow (indicating that he is going to arrest–not kill–the man who kidnapped his son), Mr. Crow grabs his gun and it goes off, setting up an excellent Oedipus Rex-like scene (can we escape our fate? Is destiny certain?). Cue the hamartia. As an added bonus, Tom already got his real eyes gouged out.
- The dialogue between Tom and Lamar at the end is a pretty nice summary of the conflict behind Precrime: no matter the expected outcome, we still have a choice. It is ultimately ironic that the man who formed Precrime is the one who is also its undoing–who proves by his actions that we can in fact alter the previsioned future by making a different choice.
So, good movie. I definitely recommend it.
This certainly rings bells.
For an Australian news clip:
just cheap. I bet extra supervision once a week runs for far less than $1950.00.
Check out the pool president’s sweet polo shirt. Too bad he didn’t wear his cashmere sweater.
For some of the kids’ reactions, click here.
p.s. Unrelated, but thanks for the poem, Mac. I almost forgot that we did that. I must admit that your gaucho outfit was the highlight of the evening.
UPDATE as of 7/12: Looks like there are some decent pool owners in PA, after all. Hats off to Girard College:
(that should be pronounced “VEE-ner”) I won the UCI Spanish dept’s Grad Student Essay of the Year contest! Go me! Now I just have to try and get it published.
If anyone has some free time and is dying to read 18 pages on Shakespeare, click here.
Well, it is nigh time that I post again. In the span that I haven’t written much of anything, I have realized two things: 1) I complain in my blog. A lot; and 2) I write about what I’m writing about quite a bit. For the first, perhaps I can aspire to be a little more cheerful and a little less depressing. For the second, though, I can’t help but post my ideas (e.g. my paper topics) on the blog. I must admit that brainstorming with you all has been extremely enlightening.
And so, without further ado, here’s what I’m working with for this quarter:
Seductive Rhetoric: Don Juan and the Linguistic Performative
For a while now, I have been very interested in writing on speech acts (cf. Austin, Searle, and Hillis Miller (to name only a few)), and, after developing a course for Don Juan this quarter (via Independent Study), decided that it was now or never. To give a little background, I have to reference my readers to Shoshana Felman’s The Literary Speech Act: Don Juan with J.L. Austin. In the text, Felman selects key phrases used by the famous seducer in both Molière’s Dom Juan ou le festin de Pierre and Mozart’s Don Giovanni in which he both promises and simultaneously does not promise–he is don Juan, after all–to either marry his victim or impersonate someone else whom the seducee wants to marry. Don Juan plays with the prime example of a performative, the promise, by persuasively convincing his listener that he will do/is something that he has no intention of doing/being. His goal is to achieve a successful seduction, no matter the linguistic turns that he needs to make.
So what am I writing about? Well, more-or-less the same thing, but drawing from purely Spanish texts (El burlador de Sevilla and Don Juan Tenorio). My central purpose is to prove that there is a reason to the opposing endings of each play (Tirso’s don Juan goes to hell, Zorrilla’s protagonist goes to heaven). I think that they diverge because the latter don Juan is an unsuccessful seducer whereas the former is undeniably exitoso–we see him successfully seduce Isabela (post-seduction), Tisbea, and Aminta. He fails only with doña Ana, but there is some heavy irony going on there that needs to be taken into account (she is his betrothed, although he doesn’t know it) before we can pass a final judgment.
I conclude that Tirso’s don Juan is a legit don Juan, a carefree seducer who deserves to go to hell, whereas Zorrilla’s version is a repentant don Juan, a sham don Juan, whose undecidability actually saves him in the end–something that should not, could not, and never will happen to a true don Juan.
The Dehumanization of the Spanish Portrait
Yes, this has everything to do with Ortega y Gasset’s essay
“La deshumanización del arte.” As the title suggests, I’m addressing Spanish portraiture and the possible degeneration of the portrayal of the human figure over the course of a given dominant aesthetic period. Essentially, I feel that as the artist invests more and more personal significance, political meaning, or ideas in general into the painting, its similarity to traditional portraiture–that is, the “humanized” version of the human figure–disappears.
Now, without admitting that this follows a chronological pattern (akin to what Ortega y Gasset seems to imply; suggesting that the final stage of aesthetic production is pure abstraction–“pure art“), I am confirming that there are popular artistic practices (e.g. mannerism, baroque, pre-Raphaelite, neo-classical, impressionism, cubism, etc., etc.) that are followed because (quite frankly) they are popular. The painter that breaks away from the trend is the artist that stands out and whose work comes under critical fire. A notable way to break away from traditional portraiture is to dehumanize (a fancy term Ortega y Gasset uses for “abstraction”) the subject and, as portraiture tends to favor realism (or an embellished version of realism–e.g. anything by John Singer-Sargent), a dehumanized portrait, from my point of view, is necessarily going to go against the grain of the popular aesthetic trend.
How does this work with cubism, a period when human figures are intentionally disfigured? Should I be looking for a “humanized” version of the distorted human figure? Not necessarily. My primary focus is that the artist will ‘dehumanize’ the human figure when attempting to inject his/her personal significance, political ideas, or thoughts in general, into the portrait. By making a movement towards dehumanization, the cubist artist is in fact supporting my thesis: a cubist portrait displays the human figure from simultaneous multiple perspectives–this degenerative feature (i.e. the unreal image) suggests that the artist’s agenda was to A) disassociate his work from traditional perception (that is, one image) and B) force the viewer to consider the painting from various angles, on a flat surface.
So who am I working with? As a base, or at least a version of a “humanized” portrait, I will be using Titian’s Phillip II in Black (1551-52)–really, it could be any portrait done by Titian from 1530 on–and possibly El Greco’s Portrait of an Architect (1575-76). El Greco is tricky, however (here comes a tangent).
His most famous work, El entierro del conde Orgaz (1586) disfigures the celestial being (Deleuze describes the scene as one “of bodily deformation, and notably elongation, [. . .] where the count is received by Christ, there is a wild liberation, a total emancipation: the Figures are lifted up and elongated, refined without measure, beyond all constraint. [. . .] With God, [. . .] lines, colors, and movements are freed from the demands of representation. The figures are lifted up, or doubled over, or contorted, freed from all figuration” (Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation 11).). Is this ‘dehumanization’ a premeditated result or just another sample of mannerism’s distortion? I probably shouldn’t even be considering it; it’s not really a portrait, per se. Perhaps I can use El Greco’s ‘dehumanized’ treatment of divinity as a counterpoint, or at least a springboard for my ideas on the degeneration of the human figure.
Next, I want to consider a portrait by Velázquez, likely Pope Innocent X (1650), which was later imitated by Francis Bacon (1953). Pretty nice resemblance, if you ask me. With Velázquez, we have a relatively traditional portrait of the pope. Bacon’s portrait, however, seems to go quite off the wall. There is a good reason for it, though. Again, Deleuze: “Bacon has hystericized all the elements of Velázquez’s painting” (46). Why? Because he wants us to break free from an accepted, although unconscious, approach to painting. By disfiguring the image, he is rewriting its meaning: “Bacon takes the path of ‘defiguration’, the isolation or removal of the figure from any narrative that might ‘explain’ it, thus seeking to limit its discursive legibility” (Heywood 376). Rina Arya goes so far as to invert my formula, suggesting that at the level of meaning (as opposed to a figurative level), “Velázquez is dehumanising the Pope (the Pope known for what he represents and not for who he is as a person, the Pope first and foremost as a symbol) and Bacon is then re-humanising him by depicting him as a man in a state of psychological collapse as his public guise falls apart” (“Painting the Pope” 47). There still remains much to be said on this.
To make a long post a little shorter, my final pieces are chiefly self-portraits, namely Goya’s Self Portrait (1816) as compared to Vicente López’s The Painter Francisco de Goya (1826) (as samples from 19 c.) and Picasso’s Self-Portrait with Uncombed Hair (1896) with his later Self-Portrait (1907) (and perhaps his even later Self-Portrait (1972)). There is an interesting movement towards dehumanization in Picasso’s painting, particularly when analyzed side-by-side. Obviously, it has much to do with his cubist tendencies, but I also like to see it as an investment of ideas in his artwork. Such an investment is bound to pay dehumanized dividends.
but I’m the poster child for the BYU Spanish Golden Age Theatre program. Should I be proud of this? Yes. Definitely.
In all seriousness, I highly recommend the occasional visit to the website for BYU’s SGAT program. As the last-to-have-the-job-of-pretending-to-design-a-webpage-for-the-play, I have been trying to update it with the loads of free time I have. I am pleased to admit that I have added many videos/slideshows to the show sections that I was a part of (Caballero +), and would like to add more, but given that I’m experiencing end-of-the-quarter throes right now, it’s going to have to wait. Which reminds me, I need to work on my papers.
Has anyone ever had that one professor that lowered your grade on assignments simply because he/she didn’t agree with you? Or maybe because you didn’t agree with the theorist/philosopher/author’s point of view (as presented by the professor)? I feel like we must always express what we believe or feel or think–even if it’s contrary to the popular notion—; that is how we develop as students and professors-to-be. Although it may be a direct route to being embarrassed, arguing your ideas proves that you at least have ideas. Let’s face it: we’re not mindless robots that regurgitate what the professor, the theorist, the writer, or our classmate say.* Or perhaps I just need to ungrow my backbone, fall in line, and obediently nod my head.
*Ok, perhaps some of us are cyborgs (e.g. Disney’s Not Quite Human). Yeah, I’m willing to accept that.
Procastinators unite! I gotta chug out 3 term papers (12p, 10 p, and 8p) by next Friday! If anyone has any good resources/ideas for any of the following works/ideas, feel free to send them my way:
- Kierkegaard (Either/Or) and Unamuno (Niebla)–particularly the multi-faceted (aesthetic and ethical) personality (or lack thereof) of Augusto Pérez;
- Brazil and its lack of a national literature (I’m thinking regionalismo (Freyre, among others) is bogus); and
- Calderón‘s El pintor de su deshonra and mimesis–quite frankly, I’m considering the impossibility of the duplication (anti-mimesis?) of Serafina (the model) by d. Juan Roca (the painter).
I hope that everyone is surviving their end-of-quarter crunches and for those who offer any advice, I would be happy to return the favor!
Update: I’ve decided to start crossing them off as soon as I get them finished, giving me something to do besides slam my head against the keyboard during moments of writer’s block…I DID IT!! 7:20am Sunday morning, but I’m finally finished!
I suppose that many of you have already seen this on Emmers’s blog, but for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, I made a slideshow that I’m pretty proud of. We had our first baby, Maxwell, on February 26, 2009 at 1:50pm. Both Mom and Max are doing great. Dad is trying to stay afloat as the quarter winds down, but I really can’t complain.
I have been battling with the forces of critical theory and feel like I have the upper hand. My recent topic has been “the Uncanny.” I am certain that we are all familiar with the word (thanks in large part to the “Uncanny X-men”), but beyond the traditional meaning of “the strangest super-heroes of all” (I can’t believe that I’m calling that traditional), what does the term “uncanny” mean in the theoretical even…*gulp*… philosophical realm? In this post I aim to define what I understand the term to mean and hopefully make sense of something that is seemingly insensible (something akin to why Cyclops’ laser eyes don’t burn holes through his contacts).
I guess that everyone’s favorite crazy man, Sigmund Freud (or for those Bill and Ted fans out there, FrOOd) first developed the idea after observing his grandson playing with a yo-yo like toy while sitting on his bed. As the toy went over the edge of the bed, the kid would say, “fort” (gone) and when it returned, he would exclaim, “da” (there). This game did not make it mainstream (yes, I know, hard to believe), but did get Freud to thinking about what the toy symbolized. Being who he was, our favorite psychoanalyst decided to relate the experience to the child’s estrangement from his mother.
Unfortunately, the boy could not control his separation from his mom, she gave birth to him, the doctors (or perhaps his dad) severed the umbilical cord, and the poor little guy was left on his own. Upon discovering the fort/da game, the child evidently unmasked something he did have control over, that is, the appearance and disappearance of his yo-yo. Freud figured that the game provided the boy with a new outlook on life, empowering him to achieve a sense of control theretofore impossible.
Let me retrace my steps a bit; my topic is the uncanny, but what indeed is the uncanny? A simple wikipedia definition would be something both “familiar” and “unfamiliar” at the same time. Ok. Time to back-up to the yo-yo. When junior has it in his grasp (da), this is something familiar, something he can control. This is something that Freud would consider heimlich: “In general we are reminded that the word ‘heimlich’ is not unambiguous, but belongs to two sets of ideas, which, without being contradictory, are yet very different: on the one hand it means what is familiar and agreeable,” something akin to the little guy holding his yo-yo, “and on the other, what is concealed and kept out of sight” (The Translated Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (London, Hogarth P, 1964): 224-25). Send the toy away and where did it go? Out of sight, out of mind, right? I visualize the fort-da game as a precursor to the uncanny, mainly because it satisfies both definitions of heimlich, as seen by Freud.
How can both emotions–familiarity and unfamiliarity–be experienced simultaneously? Look around, there plenty of examples. Sr. Cluff has a brilliant one on his blog (I hope that he doesn’t mind the link), and I could clumsily suggest others (the warmth felt after drinking a nice hot cup of hot cocoa, only to be replaced by the inevitable cold; the constant flux of fads (in today, out tomorrow), etc.), but meu bem’s example is a real treat.
Before this becomes too long, I suppose I will sign off and leave the rest for another day. Let’s just consider it the first of who-knows-how-many parts.
Back in black, I hit the sack
I’ve been too long, I’m glad to be back
Yes I’m, let loose from the noose
That’s kept me hanging about
I keep looking at the sky cause it’s gettin’ me high
Forget the hearse cause I’ll never die
I got nine lives cat’s eyes
Using every one of them and runnin’ wild
Back in Black by AC/DC (sorry, can’t figure out how to embed)
Last quarter I finished a brilliant Shakespeare seminar that placed various well-known dramatic works in the context of Machiavellian politics. As a final project, I was able to conduct my own investigation into the political nuances that affected the Bard’s tragically Moorish protagonist, Othello and, by extension, the play’s seemingly Spanish characters, Iago and Roderigo. Upon researching the topic, however, I realized a few things:
- Othello is a Moor, albeit an extremely honourable one, who exhibits characteristics typical of noble figures (Edward M. Wilson accurately identifies “love and honour” as “the ruling emotions of Othello’s soul” (“A Hispanist Looks at Othello“)) from both English (Heywood’s Joffer in Fair Maid of the West) and Spanish literature (El Abencerraje);
- Iago and Roderigo have Spanish names yet utterly stereotypical attitudes that present the Spaniard, if their connection holds true, as a truly despicable creature; and
- The Black Legend is a very poor measuring stick with which to consider Spanish identity during the early 17th century.
Although points one and two are rather salient from a good, thorough reading of the play, point three stood out to me after consulting Griffin’s “Un-Sainting James: Or, Othello and the ‘Spanish Spirits’ of Shakespeare’s Globe.” From the study, it is glaringly obvious (and this is not an attack by any means on Griffin, who coherently and effectively presents his ideas) that the leyenda negra is still alive and well (forget the hearse cause I’ll never die) in English criticism of Spain, particularly early 17th century Spanish culture.
For those of you unfamiliar with what the Black Legend is, Henry Kamen provides an exceptional summary in his introduction to Imagining Spain: Historical Myth and National Identity:
the admirable achievement of Spain in Europe and America in the sixteenth century invited a flood of hostile propaganda from Spain’s enemies, who distorted the truth into a negative ‘black legend’ about Spain and the Spaniards. [. . .] Anything critical of Spain’s historical role has come to be termed a ‘black legend’, with the obvious implication that it is not true. (xiii)
I love the final part of his statement–“the obvious implication that it is not true.” It is remarkable how quickly that is forgotten, particularly as we (I have to assume that I too fall into this trap), as writers, desperately search for any connection that will help crystallize our ideas. It seems that the leyenda negra can undoubtedly be used to describe 17th century Spain, but holds about as much water as an easy-to-pay student loan–it’s just not true.
I am glad that I stumbled upon this–if anything, it has made me want to be a better scholar by sincerely getting to know a culture before writing about it. Unfortunately, simple stereotypes, however convenient, cannot be honestly considered to paint the full picture of a society in any given epoch. Maybe I can’t kill the Black Legend, but I most certainly can promote awareness and, at the very least, tolerance.
I just got my thesis in the mail! And its in the BYU library! Now I am IMMORTAL!
[SPOILER ALERT!] I was watching Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith a few nights ago, and the final duel between Obi-Wan and Anakin really drew my attention, not only for the intense battle scene, but because of what is said between the two Jedi:
Anakin: “I see through the lies of the Jedi. I do not fear the dark side as you do. I have brought peace, freedom, justice, and security to my new Empire.”
Obi-Wan: “Your new Empire?”
Anakin: “Don’t make me kill you.”
Obi-Wan: “Anakin, my allegiance is to the Republic, to democracy!”
Anakin: “If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy.”
Obi-Wan: “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” [draws his lightsaber]
This is most likely a residual interpretation from my recent foray into postmodernism’s utter disregard for universal truths, but isn’t this a slightly hypocritical statement, particularly coming from a Jedi?
Whoa, whoa, you can sheathe (err…turn off?) your lightsabers–I am not accusing Obi-Wan of giving into the Dark Side of the Force, but isn’t his retort highly unusual, given that the Jedi pretty much see things in binaries: good/evil, light/dark, democracy/absolutism, etc.–much like the Sith? Do you think George was trying to make a comment on the postmodern condition (or am I reading too much into this (which is very probable))? Or perhaps he knew something about Plato that we didn’t. Darth Plato, anyone?
With my quarter beginning tomorrow, I wanted to wish everyone (myself included) the best of luck in their academic/non-academic endeavors this upcoming year. It should be a good one.
Now that I have wrapped this quarter up and finished the paper-writing marathon, I feel like it would be good to summarize the first of my three paper topics this quarter (I initially wanted to quickly summarize them all, but the post was becoming leviathan-sized). First things first, I need to tell you a little bit about how I generate my ideas: I never write about the things that I am too passionate about.
I know, I know; passion can be a great benefit in a paper–it can help drive ideas, express innermost concerns, and maintain the interest of the readers–but I find that the topics that really get me fired up (e.g. “Es verdad–Pidal lo dijo”), are the same topics for which I have the most biases. In my mind, academic writing really needs to be a fair process, both (or sometimes multiple) sides need to be taken into account before passing a final judgment …err…thesis statement. When I am too passionate, I am afraid that I cannot clearly see anything beyond my own point of view, which, in the end, harms my writing. I likely have enough opinion in my writings as is. Perhaps it would be best to save those ideas for my blog or maybe even a book at a later date.
Now, without further ado, a synopsis my first paper:
La identidad sexual de la Cava: El desarrollo de la mujer desde el Siglo de Oro hasta la Edad Media
The story of La Cava is most likely fictional, although very popular, even today (Goytisolo’s La reivindicación del Conde don Julián, even the Western musical tradition has picked it up–La Cava (2000)). It relates the experience of Florinda, the daughter of count of Ceúta, Don Julián, who is raped (this is debatable) by Rodrigo, the last Visigothic King of Spain. Her violación supposedly triggered Rodrigo´s downfall, effectively beginning the Arabic invasion. Although first making her appearance in the Medieval tradition, there is remarkably little written about her during that same era, beyond the fact that she was raped:
- Ajbar Machmuâ (~940, autor anónimo): “Cuando Rodrigo fue declarado rey, prendóse de hija de Julián y la forzó.”
- De Rebus Hispaniae (~1225, Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada): “La hija del conde Julián sobresalía por su belleza entre las demás. [. . .] Acaeció que este Julián fue enviado por el rey Rodrigo a África con el pretexto de una embajada. Y mientras ésta se llevaba a cabo, el rey Rodrigo violó a la hija de aquél, de la que he hablado. Esta estaba prometida al rey, pero aún no se había celebrado el matrimonio. Otros afirman que violó a la esposa del conde. Pero en cualquier caso fue la razón de la funesta ruina de Galia Gótica y de de España.”
- Estoria de España (~1260, Alfonso X): “E ell [Julián] estando allá [Africa] en el mandado, tomol el rey Rodrigo aca la fija por fuerça, et yogol con ella; e ante desto fuera ya fablado que auie el de casar con ella, mas non casara aun.”
Although Jiménez de Rada brings up the possibility of a noviazgo (and consequent case of amancebamiento), there really is nothing that identifies La Cava as a person. She is rather presented as a narrative device, an element that helps move the story, a justification to the fall of the Visigoths and rise of the moros. For my study, I considered La Cava as a representation of la mujer in the Medieval Age. The very fact that she gets little attention indicates to me that female identity (if my connection holds true) was left undefined–her role, if she has one, is to be raped, succumbing to the dominant male power.
This figure–a voiceless, powerless female–actually gains significant representation in the Golden Age. Lope´s play, El postrer godo de España, bases itself on the legend of La Cava. Although she is still raped, his play allows her a voice of reason (she begs, pleads, and implores the king to reconsider), a clear vision of the consequences of her actions or at least of the king’s actions (she predicts the fall of the Visigoths), and ultimate control of her life (she commits suicide). If anything, she is starting to live (only to abruptly die).
So, what was my thesis? Essentially that the female figure gains a voice in the Siglo de Oro, something that she did not enjoy in La Edad Media. Such representation seems to suggest that la mujer has begun her slow but steady process of independence from the dominant discourse. By and large, the best scenario would be for a woman to define her own identity (J. Butler: “Gender is in no way a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts proceede; rather, it is an identity tenuously constituted in time-an identity instituted through a stylized repetition of acts. “) and, although Lope himself likely subscribed to the dominant discourse of the era, El postrer godo de España is at least a step in the right direction.
Is it just me or does anyone else prefer to do ANYTHING BUT WRITE when final paper writing time rolls around (and I mean 13th hour, midnight oil-burning, needed-to-be-printed-yesterday writing time)? I still have 2 papers to write before Sunday and here I am posting on the blog…
I guess that’s my cue to get moving.
I may be ruffling feathers with this post, but I just don’t care anymore. I am sick of the Pidal-pedestaling that seems to go on in the Medieval Spanish scholar’s studies (perhaps you are a catedrático medieval who has seen the light; if so, I congratulate you). Ramón Menéndez Pidal, a legend in the Medieval Spanish world and forerunner of the “discovery” of the Spanish epopeya, cannot be right. He just can’t.
Evidently, Pidal feels that there is a very special, very castizo (Don Miguel would flip in his grave), Spanish identity. It is fairly exclusive, at least in MP’s eyes. You see, he is quite specific about who can be considered a “Spaniard.” And I quote: La historia de España comenzaba propiamente en los godos: éstos eran los creadores o formadores de la nación (Primera crónica general (Madrid: Gredos, 1955) xxxvi).
But wait… where’s the problem? Ok, so Spanish history begins with the goths–big whoopee–the bee in my bonnet isn’t really who he includes in this tradition, but rather who he excludes. Let me follow MP’s line of thought (and I apologize for the lists, I know that I enjoy using them in my posts, but they seem to be a reflection of how I categorize things :S ). Here, here, Spanish History 101, as explained by Menéndez Pidal (or at least as I interpret his Crónica general):
- ~240BC: End of Punic Wars, Carthage is established in the Iberian Peninsula, remains Roman territory until the godos invade (perhaps you are asking yourself (the odds of this are much greater if your initials are DP), what about the early hominids? Well, my friend, MP makes no mention of them, so I am just following in suit)
- ~475AD – 711AD (Curse you, hija de Julián!): Visigothic rule in Hispania (and don’t get me going on how this is a completely ROMAN nomenclature); MP feels that this is where real hispanismo begins
- 711AD: The Arabic invasion (MP calls this the commencement of the “oscuros siglos” (xliv; more on this will follow))
- ~1094: Cid el campeador makes his appearance, taking over Valencia and cutting people in half golpe épico style (MP is in love with El Cid, he goes so far as to prefer the epic account over the “sequedad en las crónicas latinas” in relating the ‘Spanish’ past:
“la Crónica general, acogiendo en sus folios las escenas más famosas de la epopeya, no sólo salva esta importante manifestación poética del olvido casi total en que cayó, sino que hace llegar a nuestros ojos un reflejo brillante de vida pasada; trae a nuestros oídos el eco lejano, pero aún distinto y claro, del fragor vital, de los impulsos y pasiones que animaron a las generaciones muertas” (xlix-li; italics mine))
- 1492: The reyes católicos exercise their right to dominion by kicking out all unconverted Moors and Jews (effectively initiating their own bancarrota). “Spanish-ness” is finally restored to the land.
What drives me up the wall is how much MP discredits the Arabic influence. It amazes me that he refuses to recognize that his contemporary Spanish identity might be speckled (After 700+ years of occupying the peninsula, at least a little bit, right?) with some Arabic tradition. Yes, MP is a product of his environment (1955 Spain, Franco dictatorship), but how could he publish stuff like this and sleep at night? How can people today not debate this?
Perhaps I should be asking how people could believe Hitler… It seems so incredibly audacious in my personal opinion that people who have devoted their life to studying history can turn a blind eye to the fact that their culture is a hybrid combination; external influences always did, do, and will shape our societies.
I am grateful for what MP has donated to Spanish academia. His contributions do not go unnoticed. But, when I find something like this (which has gone, for a large part, unchallenged) in my studies, I can’t help but shudder.
As many of you know, El Cid may be Spain’s only epic poem. I am currently enrolled in a very stimulating medieval Spanish lit. class (more about that later) and we are perusing this book right now. I don’t mind–it is pretty exciting.
The first (and only) version of El Cid that I ever bought was a dual-language book–you know, the kind with old Spanish on the left page and modern English on the right. I have been using this book during the class and can already tell that the teacher isn’t too fond of “The poem of El Cid” as opposed to “El canto del mío Cid“. I will confess, I read the thing in English. I make comments and highlight important ideas on the Spanish side, however. I don’t feel like I am doing anything problematic, but it is hard to say. I do know that my professor doesn’t like the editor of my edition, but that shouldn’t make my reading experience dynamically different than the other alumn–err… students.
I suppose that reading in your native tongue is simply frowned upon by academia when a perfectly legit (and quasi-indecipherable) text exists in its native tongue. Yes, I could read it in Spanish, but it is so much easier to read in English! In the end, is the experience that much different? And, in a similar vein although different art form, Is Charlton Heston‘s version of El Cid significantly different from Manuel Fuente‘s (or even Plácido Domingo´s)? Will the final impression truly be any different?
Ok, no photos this time, but my curiosity has definitely been eked by the latest discovery of GS’s dissertation and I have (I must confess) been glancing a little more frequently at the Spanish dissertation section of the library. Apparently (and this I completely forgot), Laura Vidler also got her PhD from UCI. For those of you who don’t remember her, she was the very kind, very curly-haired woman who came to visit the Golden Age Theatre group when we were presenting El caballero de Olmedo (I think it was this one–A little help?). She even wrote a brilliant article in our playguide that semester. I was privileged with the opportunity to accompany her on one of those golf-cart tours around campus and I can confidently say that she is a scholar and a gentle(wo)man.
Her dissertation is titled: Staging El caballero de Olmedo. This makes me excited for various reasons: A) It is a project based solely on a Golden Age comedia–something I would love to follow in suit; B) James Parr was on her committee (Now, for those of you who don’t know who he is, he is one of the leading Golden Age scholars and teaches at UC Riverside–this means two things: 1) it is ok to work outside of the University depending on your needs (although I am sure that it is likely frowned upon) and 2) I can gather the best in the business to accomplish the task at hand); and C) It is a theatrical take on a GA comedy. With all due respect, I enjoy using literary theory, but to be able to consider the play as not only an observer (i.e. a critic), but also an actor/director/producer/mentor (etc.)–that is something that I really would like to get into for my own dissertation.
p.s. I was just thinking that point B can be misinterpreted as meaning that I am not happy or satisfied with the professors here at UCI. That’s not it at all. I just want, I suppose, the best of both worlds. I am very satisfied with my studies thus far and am confident that once my dissertation committee is assembled, the right people will be gathered together to help me produce the best work that I am capable of.
A funny thing happened to me today. I went to the library after class to study for tomorrow (this has become a habit) and as I was walking around the east corner of the third floor, lo-and-behold, my eyes gazed the name “Stallings.” I kept walking until it registered that Dr. Stallings attended UCI, as well. So, I sneaked back and picked up the dissertation. Fortunately enough, it was the Dr. Stallings that we all know and love. Apparently, Dr. Stallings was a PhD student once, just like us.
For those of you interested, here is the title: “Daimonic Identity: Twentieth Century Artistic Culture in the Poetry of Luis Cernuda”. After flipping through the dissertation, a few things stood out to me: A) It is 277 pages long (my Thesis was 105 pages, so that’s roughly 2 1/2 theses–not bad! ); B) His chapter titles include some of Stallings’ favorite thinkers: Ch. 1-“The Shadows of Eden: Surrealist Identity in Cernuda and Neruda” (If you know Stallings, you know that he is going to use Bataille and Breton here, hands down.), Ch. 2-“Jazz and the Other: Cernuda, Lorca, and Muñoz Molina” (Ah Lorca, Jazz and New York. Good ol’ GS), etc; C) (And this isn’t to say “I am so cool, look what I found,” but rather, “There is hope even for those of us who put typos in our dissertation abstracts!”) Call it poor editing, but GS has a typo in his abstract. See the middle of the fourth sentence. There is hope for us all!
How cool is that? I found Dr. Stallings’ Dissertation! I have to admit, I feel kind of like I am walking in his shadow. I meet people that he knew when he was here (Dr. Navajas was his chair -> He is currently my graduate adviser), live in the same apartment complex that he lived in (Verano place, in case any of you are interested in visiting), and read the same books that he has read.
So I had to get a book by Ortega y Gasset (El tema de nuestro tiempo) for my class and after opening it up and flipping through a few pages, I had no doubt that GS had gotten to it before I did. Check it out:
I have been busy with the eraser and a little frustrated, but also somewhat impressed by an obviously rigorous approach to the material. I wonder how often I really consider what I am reading with my light markings. Obviously, I am not promoting the destruction of library property, but I definitely feel like I could learn to delve a little deeper into my reading assignments.
It is wild to think that our professors were ever students like us: struggling to understand difficult theorists, making typo’s, over-marking textbooks, probably losing sleep over pretty trivial stuff. Ah, the life of the academician. It is strangely comforting, kind of like the moment when you realize that your parents actually might know something about being in love as a teenager. But I doubt that you can consult their dissertations.
I used to hate literary theory. It’s true. Ask Ben Cluff. After beginning my very first semester *ahem* quarter here at UCI, I have to confess that I changed my mind. In my first week alone, I have read and/or had to incorporate the following theorists (and theories/ideas): Keith Jenkins (Postmodernism; (Hi)story) Leo Strauss (Neoconservatism); J.G.A. Pocock (Contextualism regarding the political situation of post-Reformation England); Antonio Negri ([Neo]marxism); Antonio Gramsci (Marxism); Giorgio Agamben (zoé vs bios, “bare” life, actual/potential Aristotelian forms, inexplicable guilt); Harvie Ferguson (Melancholy as found in Kierkegaard); Nietzsche (“Christianity”); and would have done Freud (Mourning vs. Melancholy) but we ran out of time. Week 2 already has a lineup of sluggers like Foucault (“What is Enlightenment?”), Ricoeur (“Guilt, Ethics, and Religion”), Butler (The Psychic Life of Power), and Levinas (some interview he did with Richard Kearney). Welcome to Irvine.
It is so weird how some things, like literary theory, can be so undesireable at one moment in your life yet so essential (and, appreciated) at another. Here’s a big shout out to studs like GS, DP, VH, DL, MA (you know who you are), and a whole slew of under/graduate students (whose intellectual shoesize I hope to some day fit) who have helped me along the way. Although I am in nowise a budding theorist, I am not afraid to tread the murky waters of literary criticism and give my 5 cents (you can keep the change) on some seemingly off-the-wall ideas. It’s still a work-in-progress, but it’s progressing along nicely.
Ah, one final note–I explained the destabilization of Truth (a key component to Postmodernism) in my graduate class the other day. It was quite satisfying, particularly after that bout with Heidegger and my obsession with universal truths during my thesis (which is waiting to be bound).