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If I can play piano I should also be able to draw. They are both manual skills, both "creative" and subject to improvement through...

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


If I can play piano I should also be able to draw. They are both manual skills, both "creative" and subject to improvement through study and practice. One is not especially visual, and the other is intensely visual, and so there are differences, but I think the progress I've made in piano is significant. If I put that much into drawing it would pay off, but I haven't, obviously. At one point I did put in some effort and did improve. I don't do other "manual" things except type and write by hand, a little cooking. Ceramics would be satisfying; my mom is very good thrower of pots on the wheel. I am drawn more to calligraphy. Something visual would be nice to counteract my intensely auditory focus. I guess there's nothing wrong with choosing one's art forms and neglecting others, but I believe that everyone should be able to draw at least with a minimal competence and I'm not there yet.  

The Educated Native Speaker

"...also comment on FL programs giving up literary studies. Is there an intrinsic reason why literature has to be what these programs study in year 4? (intrinsic = not having to do with history of discipline)"

This question from Leslie is very good. I would say that the Spanish major (or French major) should have some of the characteristics of the "educated native speaker." Not every native speaker has read much literature, but there is a sense in which you aren't educated in that language if you haven't read some books.

The main place you see it is in vocabulary. You simply cannot be exposed to an adequate-sized vocabulary without reading. A lot. Reading also makes certain grammatical structures second nature. If you have read a lot, you will never write "según a" instead of "según." To be exposed to the sheer amount of input through conversation would be impossible.

Literature also gives you a historical sense of the language that you don't get if you only read contemporary non-fiction. To know what a style would look like from 100, 200, 300 years ago.

If we look at what a degree in Spanish would prepare you for, you can think of teaching (you'd want a  teacher to be able to teach AP literature), graduate study, journalism in which you'd want someone covering the Hispanic world to have some knowledge that educated people do.

Since we don't hand out degrees to native speakers of Spanish without taking courses, we wouldn't hand out degrees in English to all of our students just because they have been educated in English. There has to be some content there. Literature tends to work best because we can't read it in translation, merely for its informational content.    

I caught myself thinking

I caught myself thinking:  Well, I didn't know that much about Lorca when I wrote Apocryphal Lorca, but then I wrote the second part of the Lorca tetralogy, that will appear in 2018, and so now I'm starting to know a little about him. It will take the third book to really become an expert... And I haven't put hard work in the archives with the manuscripts so I'll never be that either.  

That's how it feels from the inside. But from the perspective of any objective person, I am "Professor [of] Lorca" and have been for a long time. Of course I'm continuing to learn more, but the way I learn is to write books about things I'm interested in, so how could my expertise not have increased?  


You don't have to discount good things about yourself. In fact, there are few habits that are as harmful. By discounting I mean reframing a positive attribute as a negative, or explaining it away in a fashion that makes it less salient.

I got almost a 4.0 average, getting only one B in my college career? Not that impressive, since it was a state school and a humanities major. I wrote some books that had a positive response from others in my field? "All you know how to do is write your books." I published in a major journal? Oh, some idiots have published there too. Know a lot about Lorca? No, Christopher Maurer knows far more than I do. I know several languages, have extensive knowledge of music history? That's just a mark of "privilege." And other people know more languages. I can do the Saturday New York Times crossword in under half an hour? A useless skill. A good father? Well everyone love their own children. If you are smart, and know it, then of course you are arrogant or full of yourself.

Discounting is easy to do. There isn't a positive thing that can't be turned around against you with almost no effort.  It's far worse, even, than the negative self-talk, because it doesn't allow you any answer to the negative radio. If you've been psychologically abused, then you will do it to yourself if you don't take active steps to stop.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Humanties Woes

Some ailments that afflict our current disciplines. I might be guilty of many of these myself, but not of all of them at once.

1.  Social-scientification.  The social-sciencing of the humanities is the preference for topics that really don't belong to the humanities at all. Everything is displaced onto some other discipline considered to be more real. We are really interested in history and politics, so everything has a political pay-off.

2. Vagueness.  Everything is about the process, about raising the questions, not ever about answering them or talking about why some answers might be better than others. It's about being exposed to great things,  appreciating them, but not knowing how to do anything in concrete terms. It's all about interrogating the conditions about what it means to be human, blah, blah, blah. We pay homage to critical thinking but don't make the student actually think, or defend an actual position.

3. Post-modernification. This is related to the vagueness, but here the vagueness derives from an appeal to certain thinkers who proved to us that we can't really assert anything anymore. Certain fields, like composition studies, basically have destroyed themselves by using left-over deconstruction.

4. De-disciplining ourselves.  In the urge to be inter-disciplinary, we actually have contempt for any kind of discipline. We don't want to think very hard about anything.

5.  Linguification. Want to have the perfect terminology, and often mistake that for a theory.  We are obsessed with language but often use language badly.

"I am committed to personal growth"

It sounds a bit corny, but an idea to turn off the radio voice is to write down a list of things you like about yourself. The first thing I wrote down was

"I am committed to personal growth."

Once I had written that down, I knew I was on to something. If you look at it, that statement is perfect. It is confident and optimistic, but it is not like saying "I am smart and good-looking." It acknowledges any weaknesses that might be there, implicitly.

Then I wrote:

", and I have already made progress; I have shown that this growth is possible, and I am not done yet."

Then I wrote some more things. Some more specific and others equally general. I tended not to write things like "I am a good writer." I think I am comfortable with listing things I am good at, but those things don't tend to dig as deep. I could easily discount a thing like "I can make a good omelet," because it doesn't seem as powerful a statement as "I am committed to personal growth." Lots of folks can fry an egg, after all, but how many are as truly committed to personal, intellectual, and musical growth as I am?


But if you want to start off with just things you are good at, that's fine too.


I have a friend, not a close friend yet but a relatively new acquaintance and part of my larger circle of friends. He is relatively young, tall, good-looking, and personable; he's read a lot of poetry and is very bright. He is smart and easy to talk with, etc... I was thinking, yeah, he's a great guy, it would seem, involved with his children's activities and someone most people would like.

Then the next thought was that I am all these things too (aside from tall and young!). So I sometimes use that as a device to ease up the pressure on myself. Why should I be harder on myself than I would be on my acquaintance?