More “new” writing

On the “Domestic Issue” page of this blog, I’ve replaced the original chapter on Columbus with a much-expanded version, this one incorporating ideas about the Baroque (in particular Cuban writer Severo Sarduy’s ideas about it) as a tool for thinking about this hemisphere’s topography and culture.  The basic idea is that Columbus’s attempt, in his account of his third voyage (which took him to the Venezuelan coast), to account for the enormous landmass that “shouldn’t” have been there by describing the Earth as actually being shaped like a pear is itself a manifestation of the Baroque, even though Sarduy associates the beginnings of the Baroque with Kepler’s discovery that the planets follow elliptical orbits around the Sun.  A while back, I wrote about this here.  Also, as you’ll see, I puzzle over the question of why Foucault, in The Order of Things, doesn’t identify a historical event as marking the sudden shift in Europe from Renaissance to Baroque thinking.  (If you’re curious, though, in this post I try to make the case that Foucault’s discussion of the figure of Don Quixote as an emblem of the Baroque turns the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance into a pretty good proxy for Columbus.)

In this new version of the chapter, there’s also some writing by way of setting up not only the Columbus stuff but the larger project that tries to make the case that our reclaiming the term “New World” from its European purpose of attempting to shoe-horn this hemisphere’s landmasses into a European-centered conception of the world would be a worthwhile thing to try to do.

I hope some of you might find your way over there and take the time to have a look–and, even better, offer up a comment or two.  Thanks in advance.

Packing up my study

This is actually happening–my wife and I are essentially swapping spaces, so now I’m in the basement and she’s moved into my old space–but it has felt something like a metaphor, too.

The larger context for this metaphor is that my retirement is on the horizon. Once this semester ends, I’ll be working for another three years, and that’ll be that. I still want to research and write after I leave teaching, so it’s not as though I’ll be leaving academe entirely; for her part, my wife thinks I’ll still want to keep my hand in teaching by taking on a class or two as an adjunct, that I’ll miss being out of the classroom. She may be right about that But my son is turning four this month, and it already feels as though I have missed much of his infant and toddler years; and, truth be told, the work of teaching has kept me exhausted and, thus, unable to fully enjoy the time I’ve had with him. Moreover, my wife and I have always enjoyed traveling, but we’ve always had to schedule trips around an academic calendar. (It occurs to me that in another year or two, my son will have his own academic calendar . . . ) In a few years, we’ll have a bit more flexibility in that regard. It doesn’t seem like all that long ago that I was telling my wife that, so long as my health held up, I could see myself teaching well past my eligibility date for retirement. But then my son came along and, in these last twelve months, the pandemic. As a colleague of mine told me the other day, “I’m so tired, I’m re-tired.” (His last month with us is the first of June.)

So. The work of boxing up some things, of going through old files and deciding what to keep and what to recycle, of rearranging books and realizing I still need a couple of new bookcases to hold everything, has been something of a trip down memory lane . . . and a review of some purchasing decisions that, with time and distance, now seem less than wise. For one thing, I ran across a syllabus of mine from 21 yeas ago, when I was in my last semester at the University of Mobile. It was from an American Lit. survey class, and it was strange to read it again because its language (that of the various course policies, I mean) sounds to me a whole lot like I do now. Shouldn’t my bureaucrat-ese have evolved at least a little in all that time? Or am I, at a subconscious level, pretty much settled on how all that should sound? I feel more lenient nowadays than I did back then, but my tone doesn’t reflect that.

I have no idea what to make of all that.

Oh, yes–ill-advised purchasing decisions. Well, let’s just say that there were a bunch of bad books on Faulkner published back in the day, and I bought a few of them. Actually, calling some of them “bad” is unfair; it’s better to say that time has passed them by. Even accounting for the times in which they appeared, they no longer feel as though they have anything to teach their reader. Or this one, at any rate. So, off to Half-Price Books with them, along with hopes that someone wanting okay introductions to Faulkner might find them helpful.

There’s also been some looking-ahead, in addition to all this revisiting of the past. We have talked about moving in a few years, after I retire, so we’ll be doing all this again, in some form or fashion, before much time has passed. I will be older and casting about for things to keep me busy, seeing as I won’t have teaching to do that. And who knows how all of this will look to me then as I round up and load/unload these boxes yet again?

“New” writing!

Over on the “Domestic Issue” page of this blog, I’ve just posted PDFs of two things:

  1. Chapter Two of the book project, which is a comparison of the rhetoric of miscegenation in Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses and Jorge Amado’s Tent of Miracles, and which I consider the core of the book. (Indeed, much of it is little changed from its first appearance in my dissertation.) There I have a fuller discussion of the idea of heterotopias, and it also introduces my idea of Astonishment as a crucial moment in that rhetoric of miscegenation, as well as in New World writing more broadly.
  2. An “Appendix II.” It’s a development of some passing mention I make in Chapter Two to African-American physical and narrative spaces in Go Down, Moses–how, as Faulkner made editorial changes to pre-existing stories to turn them into that novel and also added the long fourth section of “The Bear,” all of these changes created those spaces. Yet Faulkner understands that just because he created space for those spaces, that doesn’t mean that he, as a white man, cannot fully inhabit them.

The “new” in this post’s title, by the way, is a bit of a joke. Chapter Two has some additional writing in it, but it’s otherwise in the form that it’s been now for a couple of years. It (finally!) feels finished, or very close to it. “Appendix II,” though, is something that first came into existence as a blog post here about a year and a half ago, but my beginning to read Christina Sharpe’s magnificent book In the Wake: On Blackness and Being led me back to that post and to develop some of its ideas a bit more. It still needs some additional material relating to Caroline Barr, the Faulkner family maid who died at age 100 in 1940 (the very year of Go Down, Moses‘ publication). But it, too, feels done in its essence.

Anyway. I hope that if you are so inclined you’ll have a look, and I hope you’ll feel inclined to leave comments and questions.

A link to a new archive: Stones That Calculate

We’ve come to the end of our fifth week of the fall semester. I suppose that, under the circumstances, things have gone about as well as can be expected; certainly, we’ve handled things much better than some other places I could name. Campus-wide, we’ve had only a small number of cases of COVID among students, faculty, and staff, which is of course good; the administration, though, anticipates a spring semester much like this one: a mix of face-to-face classes and various hybrid formats. In short, it’s been a busy time, which has kept me away from “here.” A growing pile of books and articles here in the study, though, attests to what I’m going to call “research” for the book and for a couple of other, teaching-related ideas I’ve been kicking around.

Before I lose track of it, I want to post a link to an online archive I’ve just come across via Twitter, Stones That Calculate: Its subtitle is “Collection of resources about post-digital materiality,” which sounds like it would come in handy for people interested in larger contexts (and consequences) for discussions about our dramatic shift toward the computer as a medium and regulator of human experience. Here’s its preamble:

By stones that calculate, we mean the assemblage of all information processing devices or infrastructures and their socio-political impact on our automated society. This website is an online collection of resources that maps academic as well as artistic perspectives which reflect digital conditions within materialist discourses. We have examined the research field on the basis of three topics from which we later derived sixteen aspects.

This archive is an evolving exercise to provide an entry point and simplified overview for inspiration and further explorations.

I’m looking forward to having a deeper look around this collection for pieces that might come in handy this spring when we talk about AI and machine learning in my comp. classes.

Adventures in creating online content!: Commentary on Ex Machina


A scene from Ex Machina

As so many colleges and universities have done this spring, ours has stopped holding its face-to-face classes and is shifting content and assignments to an online environment.  So, before classes resume next week, I’ve been working up notes and commentary on upcoming readings and, in the case of one class that was scheduled to screen it after spring break, Ex Machina.  I thought I’d share my commentary on that film here; it’s a kind of thematic Cliff’s Notes of the kinds of things I’d talk with my students about in class and/or want them to think about should they choose to write about it as part of their unit on Artificial Intelligence.  I think it’s useful.  Even better: it’s certainly not some definitive statement on the film (it feels like it could turn into something more substantial), but I had fun writing it.

Please feel free to contribute ideas, suggestions, complaints, etc.

Some Comments on Ex Machina


Greetings from OER-Land

Nephtalí de León La virgen de Guadaliberty

Neftali de Leon, La Virgen de Guadaliberty (1999)

Not that anyone, even anyone reading this post, has likely wondered why I haven’t posted here in a while, but: I have missed posting here, even if you have not missed them.  So, excuse some self-indulgence.  I also thought it would be worthwhile to say something here about the current project I and some colleagues have been collaborating on at my school–which, as it happens, is one of the main reasons I’ve not posted here.  Also, apropos of book-project news, I recently encountered this image you see here that contributes to and expands the visual and semiotic languages engendered by the Virgen de Guadalupe, a discussion that will be part of Domestic Issue.


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Latin-American liberation theology and the Neo-Baroque: a point of connection

This is one of those “I have more reading to do, but . . . ” posts.  Some context, first of all: as part of a chapter, on New World rhetoric(s), for the book project, I’ve been reading essays by the early 20th-century Peruvian socialist José Carlos Mariátegui and Latin American liberation theologians of the ’70s and ’80s.  The former was an important influence on the latter, in that each believed that socioeconomic theory and theology, respectively, had to have as their starting points the actual conditions of–and solidarity with–the people being witnessed to (that verb being as appropriate a description for Mariátegui’s arguments for a distinctly Latin American style of socialism as it is for describing clergy and laypeople engaged in making the arguments for a theology of liberation).  While my reading has so far confirmed all of this for me, the reason for this post is the diagram you see below and its strong evocation by analogy of Cuban theorist Severo Sarduy’s discussion of the Neo-Baroque.

Dussel The synchronic and diachronic dimensions of analogy in theology

from Enrique Dussel’s “Historical and Philosophical Presuppositions for Latin American Theology,” found here.

In this chart, Dussel seeks to illustrate his argument that, as represented by the shaded area of the chart, the Church throughout history has always held in common the divinity of Jesus as the Son of God and that humankind finds its salvation through belief in him.  At the same time, however, “We can also have participation in that same catholicity in different historical epochs, thereby forming one and the same tradition through time (i.e., diachronically); but the “sameness” would not be of a univocal sort” due to the “analogical ‘distinctions’ that are characteristic of the metaphysical innovativeness of a given theologian or a given culture in all its inimitable uniqueness” (193; italics are Dussel’s).  This recognition that the Church is located in particular spaces and times may seem quite obvious, but theologians of liberation use as their starting point the recognition that European theologies would too often presume that their teachings have always and everywhere been true, which had the effect of marginalizing non-Europeans and the non-powerful.

All those ellipsoid shapes in Dussel’s diagram are where Sarduy and his discussions of the Baroque come in.  In his essay “Baroque Cosmology: Kepler,” Sarduy argues (and I’ll be quoting from an earlier post of mine),

“Though Copernicus’s heliocentric model of the cosmos (and Galileo’s confirmation of it) was indeed truer than Ptolemy’s description, it nevertheless retained the circle as its shape and thus, for Sarduy, implicitly continues to value a social politics in which power emanates from a single, clearly defined center.”

Kepler’s discovery that the planets orbit the Sun in ellipsoid orbits, by contrast, Sarduy says,

alter[s] the scientific foundation on which rested the entire knowledge of the age [and] create[s] a reference point in relation to which all symbolic activity, explicitly or not, is situated. Something is decentering itself, or rather, duplicating, dividing its center; now, the dominant figure is not the circle, with its single, radiating, luminous, paternal center, but the ellipse, which opposes this visible focal point with another, equally functional, equally real, albeit closed off, dead, nocturnal, the blind center, the other side of the Sun’s germinative yang, that which is absent. ( “Baroque Cosmology: Kepler” (trans. Christopher Winks), p. 293 in Baroque New Worlds.)

I have much to say in that earlier post about how the brute facts of the Americas’ landmasses, its indigenous flora, fauna, and peoples and, later, its mixed-race populations are the cause of the decentering that Sarduy describes.  For now, I’ll just add here that those theologians of liberation whose work I’ve read likewise note that, as Juan Carlos Scannone puts it, “it would be a completely new reworking and formulation of theological activity as a whole from a completely new standpoint: i.e., the kairos of salvation history now being lived on our continent” (215).  Dussel’s discussion of the various manifestations of the Church as having, in effect, dual centers of attention is a direct reflection of that new standpoint as well.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I have more reading to do; moreover, what you see above is no more than a sketching-out of these links.  But it’s a good feeling to see some initial confirmation of some claims I’m making even when I’m not actively looking for something to confirm my biases.

“I was listening to myself”: African-American space and the forcing of Faulkner’s narrative hand in Go Down, Moses


An arrangement of the spiritual “Go Down, Moses,” which is the source of Faulkner’s novel’s title.  The Wikipedia article for the spiritual notes that Harriet Tubman used this song as one of two for codes with slaves she helped to escape.  I have no idea if Faulkner knew that history of the song, but for purposes of this post I do like the happy coincidence of Tubman’s using the song as a means by which to create black space for the people she helped to liberate.

Here is part of the compositional history of Go Down, Moses as told in Heart in Conflict: Faulkner’s Struggles with Vocation by Michael Grimwood (my source for this is p. 147 of Philip M. Weinstein’s book Faulkner’s Subject: A Cosmos No One Owns): after he added additional material to “Pantaloon in Black” and “Delta Autumn,” Faulkner both created “The Fire and the Hearth” out of three previously-existing stories and, even more crucially, added the long fourth section of “The Bear.”

What happened, that compelled Faulkner to engage in writing this additional material?  Basically, Roth’s lover is what happened.

(Here and below the fold follow some speculation inspired by Minrose Gwin’s insightful readings of Faulkner.)

While, yes, it was Faulkner’s conscious decision, when reworking the first version of “Delta Autumn,” to have Roth become Ike’s kinsman and to make Roth’s lover the granddaughter of James “Tennie’s Jim” Beauchamp, something in that new material compelled Faulkner to add that section to “The Bear.”  In that fourth section, we learn why Ike decided not to inherit his grandfather’s plantation (something we learn nowhere else in the novel), and we learn of Ike’s attempts to find and pass on to them the money bequeathed by Ike’s grandfather to his (the grandfather’s) black descendants.  (Regarding the specifics of Ike’s passing on the money to Lucas Beauchamp, Faulkner provides a fuller description of that moment in the material added to “The Fire and the Hearth.”)  All of this is past information that Roth’s lover at least alludes to in the new material in “Delta Autumn.”  Ike signals his reluctance to revisit those past memories when he says to her, a couple of times, “Never mind that” (341, 343; except where indicated, all quoted passages are from this edition of Go Down, Moses).  Yet, here we are in Go Down, Moses, reading these things.

In this post on the novel I wrote a while back, referring to Gwin’s excellent essay “Her Space, His Hand: The Spaces of African American Women in Go Down, Moses” (found here), “Faulkner is not completely in control of the forces created by certain of his black characters’ narratives as they push against the confines of the world in which they find themselves.”  I think this is especially true of what we see happening in “Delta Autumn” and Faulkner’s post hoc emendations to, in particular, “The Bear.”  Ike may not have wanted to hear or think about what Roth’s lover says to him in that hunting camp; but then again, it’s probably the case that she does not much care what Ike thinks: her description of herself while on her sojourn with Roth, “I was listening to myself,” could just as easily apply to her conversation with Ike as well.  Even so, she sure gets Faulkner’s attention.  Still, as I’ll discuss below, that additional material does not neatly close up what otherwise would have been narrative gaps in the novel.  Rather, they reveal still other spaces in his narrative created by African-Americans that Faulkner himself only vaguely understands but, to his immense credit, lets stand as vaguely understood.

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Franco Moretti on what digital humanities can and cannot do

Here’s a snippet from Franco Moretti’s 2016 interview in the Los Angeles Review of Books as part of its series “The Digital in the Humanities.”  My book project has no connection with digital humanities; but, just as Moretti observes that one can do things in/with digital humanities that one cannot do in traditional approaches to reading and writing about texts and vice versa, the same is also true of the various critical approaches to texts within traditional scholarship.

I would say that DH occupies about 50 percent of my work. You can’t possibly know this, but when my last two books were going to be published — Distant Reading and The Bourgeois — I convinced my publisher (and it took some convincing) to have them come out on the same day because they were for me two sides of the coin of the work I tried to do. And what I find potentially interesting is that the two sides don’t add up to a whole. I do things in the mode of Distant Reading that I could never do in the mode of The Bourgeois. But it also works the other way around. When I write a book with zero digital humanities content, or very little, like The Bourgeois, I find myself doing things that I cannot do with the other approach. Exactly what things are available in the one and in the other and are they mutually exclusive, I still haven’t figured out how to think about this. But for me, this is going to be the problem for the years to come because I don’t want to give up any of these two realities. They are equally dear to me.

For whatever it might be worth to you reading this, I’ve been thinking about this a bit regarding my own reading and writing.

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The New World as “textual drama”: Julio Ortega on Borges and “El Inca”


Ortega [b. 1942; apparently still living] is a poet and critic. He was born in Peru and has lived and taught in the U.S. for many years. In the passage below, he is rebutting the familiar critical observation that Borges’s work is an anomaly in Latin American writing:

Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), in his natural habitat.

 [T]he mechanisms that produce [Borges’s] writing confirm, in fact, an operative tradition that is characteristic of the Spanish-American text. In this sense the novelty of Borges’s prose is not its negation of previous Spanish-American languages but, on the contrary, its privileged manifestation of those languages.

Garcilaso de la Vega (1539-1616), known as “El Inca” to distinguish himself from his uncle, the Spanish poet of the same name. “El Inca” was the son of a Spanish soldier and an Inca woman who was a member of that people’s royal family.

 Let us look, for instance, at the interaction of various genres. At least since Inca Garcilaso de la Vega’s Royal Commentaries of the Incas [1616-1617], Spanish-American writing has been constituted through the polyvalence of its formalization. Beginning with that text, Spanish-American writing has reflected the following characteristics: it dramatizes its manifestation in a textual space based on history understood as politics (the Incan utopia as the realized projection of the Neoplatonic order); it is formalized through a critical sum of texts (chronicles that are refuted or inserted as a probatory intertext); it is self-referring as a way of producing itself (the narrative that unfolds, splits, and is rechanneled); it shares frontiers with novelistic and philosophical treatises with criticism; and, finally, it reveals the web of history and fiction in a context that generates the cultural discourse of a Spanish America whose first existence is as a textual drama. (“Borges and the Latin-American Text,” p. 22 in Poetics of Change: The New Spanish-American Narrative.)

This passage struck me on more than one account.  It so happens that I’ll soon be writing about de la Vega’s Royal Commentaries, but that’s less important than Ortega’s placing of Borges firmly in the mainstream of the larger tradition of writing in Latin America (and I broaden this from Ortega’s “Spanish America” because I see, certainly, Brazilian writing as fitting that list of characteristics in the paragraph above).  I’m not an expert on Borges, but it is clear that the traditional take on him is that his perceived European-ness makes him stand out from the pack–and, indeed, is one of his virtues as a writer.  Ortega clearly doesn’t have much patience with that take.

The real hook for me, though, is Ortega’s assertion that (and sure, I’ll broaden his remark here still further to include the United States) writing in this hemisphere “reveals the web of history and fiction in a context that generates the cultural discourse of a Spanish America whose first existence is as a textual drama.” 

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