Monthly Archives: September 2008

On Language Variation

I was addressed as “Madre,” and it utterly knocked me back. I had never been addressed that way, or heard anyone addressed that way, and the last time I read it was in La Celestina (1499, but see also the movie with Penélope Cruz as Melibea, and Maribel Verdú as Areusa).

I had just arrived in a small Andean town, and I asked the driver of a mototaxi whether he knew where my designated hostel was. “Sí, Madre,” said he. And I thought, “He is addressing me as La Celestina was addressed.” Verily I repeat unto you-all, I had never heard this form of address used in real life before.

What was going on? I wanted to know. Was I just older now, to be addressed this way, or was it a regional archaism or a ruralism, like “caser@” when used as a form of address? Then I heard “Madre,” directed to me and also to others, several more times as I progressed to smaller and smaller towns, further and further up in the mountains. It felt utterly ancient and exotic to me.


I waited to ask about it until I could ask a native speaker and a Celestina scholar. Do people in contemporary real life address women as “Madre?” Yes, they do, he said. But he had just met a family from the area I visited. He had asked the teenager whether she had a boyfriend, and she had answered, “No, yo no conozco varón alguno.” It knocked him back for the same sorts of reasons as being addressed as “Madre” did me. Yet to me it sounded normal, as “Madre” did to him.

And this man would not blink, I am sure, if he heard a Peruvian pronounce madre as “mare,” but I always do, because it makes me think I have changed places and eras, maybe even chronotopes. Yet I ought to expect it, since we know Latin American Spanish is heavily Andalusian.


Archaic style and vocabulary always amaze me more than archaic verb forms. I have heard and noted verb forms like “vide” and “trujiese” en el merito Albuquerque. Yet I know which are officially archaic and which are modern. But due to regional differences and varying degrees of preservation, in terms of vocabulary and style I am never quite sure whether what I am hearing, or saying, is contemporary or not.


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Mahalia Jackson

Check out this amazing performance of Just a Closer Walk with Thee – especially the second half. (No, I have not converted.) But then hear Jackson’s voice float on What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

And there are many other amazing performances by Mahalia Jackson. I like I Know It Was the Blood, I Couldn’t Keep It to Myself, and Leaning on the Everlasting Arm. There is also Elijah Rock.

Still my very favorite is I Made It Over.



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On Anorexia

Here is another labyrinthine post from the olden days. Now I am awake like the Buddha, but a seer at a Los Angeles botánica told me years ago that I was “carrying a great weight.” Qui potest capere, capiat.


Trying to discover my way back professionally from the ravages of Reeducation is sometimes dangerous in that it leads me to think of the labyrinthine paths that pulled me from the light, and of my nostalgia for the life and vitality in whose destruction I was complicit.

The self criticism of Reeducation coupled with that of academia and then the old guilt I feel for not having tortured myself enough in life are a very crippling combination that I need to identify yet more clearly as the enemy. An important reason why my life and, by the way, vita deteriorated as it did is that I decided to engage in so much self destruction. To continue to do so is no way to improve matters.

In Reeducation ritual self torture was important to prove we could “feel.” “Feeling” meant focusing on the self in a childish and egocentric way, and never putting anything in perspective. I kept saying, but this model is impractical, it inhibits action, and I want to do something with my life! But Reeducation believed in agony and slowness.


I am procrastinating about updating my vita, which I must do, but hate to do because I hate to look at it. I hate to look at my vita because it was once a good vita and is no longer. In it I do not recognize myself, but do I see very clearly the ruins of my life and the paths I tried and failed to trace. I am making myself ill, however, by procrastinating in this way, and that is not a good methodology toward any goal – even the simple one of having a nice day.

I have been trying to work on my vita for several days, but as the file opens I am overcome by nausea. I go to sleep and wake up with a sense of foreboding. I feel trapped in the expectations of others. My immediate fear is of how I may assault myself emotionally when I start working on my vita, and of not being able to stop the assault. At a deeper level is perhaps my own fear of individuation that is really trapping me. I need to be able to say, YES, this is the vita I have, and say to myself deal with it, but I cannot yet do this easily. This is a trap.


Procrastinatio simplex involves having something boring to do. The only solution is to start, so that one can finish. The procrastination in which I am indulging by writing this post is a more justifiable avoidance tactic. If I do not first prepare myself, but simply open my vita to work on it as I used to do, I know from experience that I will also begin surreptitiously screaming at myself, until I am on the floor in a pool of emotional blood.

Then I will not be in a state to teach tomorrow or to do the things I need to take basic care of myself today. If I inadvertently assault myself, so as to then leave myself in a pool of blood on the emotional floor, I will then sit on the couch and stare into space for several hours rather than lead my life. For this not to happen, I have to be aware of how it happens and what causes it, and how I can head that off.

I have to remember that all of this self destruction is directed by a demon, not a valid entity. The demon is not entitled to have his ideas taken into consideration. I have to remember that it is precisely because I learned so well how to be so cruel to myself that I also weakened this vita, and that the answer is not further cruelty. I have to remember not to put myself on trial and to practice forgiveness granted for no reason. I have to remember that thinking further about these matters only leads to placing myself once again on trial. I am procrastinating out of a fear of self destruction, yet the procrastination itself defers the cure.


When I was a minor, I was mildly anorexic for some time. It ended around the time I registered to vote, but the mentality stayed with me for some time because I thought I should go back, even though I did not actually want to. I was freed when, no longer willing to be patient with the pain of thinking I should go back, I realized that believing one could solve problems by losing weight was a convoluted way of holding onto three errors.

The first error was that one could solve the unsolvable. For example: if I lose enough weight, the war will end (so that if it does not end, that is only because I have not lost enough weight). The second error was that one could not solve the solvable. For example: I cannot pass Chemistry because I have not lost enough weight (in other words, I cannot study Chemistry because I am too preoccupied with losing weight, which in turn may really mean something like I cannot study Chemistry because someone finds it unseemly, but I am not allowed to notice that, so I must find another reason). The third error was that perfection was a prerequisite to life. I was freed from obvious anorexia, but some of the ideas behind it began expressing themselves in other forms, harder and harder to identify, but having the same basic structure.


This is how anorexia and procrastination are interrelated, or why anorexia is a form of procrastination. Anorexia functions to block consciousness of the issue at hand (why must one say “X has not happened because I have not lost weight?” whom is one protecting by claiming this?). So it is essentially an effect of ideology (and not just, or only superficially, an effect of the ‘ideology’ of slimness). Anorexia is not about food or weight, it is about not allowing oneself things one needs, about refusal to grow for fear that the direction in which one’s branches tend may not be pleasing, or, in other words, about cutting out parts of oneself which may be challenging to others.

I think anorexia, the disease, is very useful in this way: it is a concrete expression of feeling constrained, overly limited; like any symptom or expression, it points to a problem. That is why my dormant article on procrastination – to which I shall return, however – is opposed to quick fixes for this problem. One is told, ACT! But most people do know how to take action on things, and do do it.

This is where my related research question comes in. By remaining blocked, are procrastinators protecting someone or something? Solutions which do not address this question, I hypothesize, parallel therapies for anorexics that involve only force feeding and reeducation about body image. I think the question needs to be asked and answered for the solution to be more than mechanical, cosmetic, temporary.


The procrastination or block which resembles anorexia is yet more complex than the avoidance tactic I  described earlier – avoidance of looking at my vita until I can prepare ways to protect myself from my possible surprise attack on myself when I do look at, or to soothe myself out of what is likely to happen when if I end up attacking myself anyway. Anorexia, as I suggested above, is the ultimate expression of an imperative to limit oneself – an expression which obeys that imperative while also symbolizing it as a problem.

My hypothesis is that the block which is not procrastinatio simplex has something to do with limitation as well. To expand a little on this point: so much energy, in anorexia, goes to the project of limiting food, expression, and selfhood. We might say that because selfhood and expression have been interdicted, the only way of having, or expressing some semblance of autonomy is the perverse one of over-sculpting the flesh.

Similarly, in the block which is not procrastinatio simplex, a great deal of energy is focused on the project which is not being done or which, like that of getting thin enough, is never complete. Is this so that the project which should in fact be addressed, cannot be seen? Who, or what is protected when the project which is actually being blocked (not the project upon which one is “procrastinating”) is screened from view?



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Kucinich on the Bailout

“…This legislation is further proof our government has been turned into an engine that accelerates the wealth upwards. Taking money from the pockets of the people of this country and putting it into the hands of the few. That is what our tax policy does. It accelerates the wealth of America upwards. That is what the war does. It accelerates the wealth of America upwards. That is what our energy policy does. It accelerates the wealth upwards into the hands of the oil companies. That is what these financial policies do and it is how our national debt is done which had doubled in the last eight years. 700 billion dollars of the taxpayer dollars are being put on the hook.

When Wall Street makes a profit, it is their profit. When Wall Street loses money, our people lose money. 700 billion dollars. Why aren’t we bailing out those millions of Americans who are losing their homes? Why aren’t we addressing the fact that 50 million Americans don’t have any health care? It is absolutely astonishing, that we are talking about giving 700 billion dollars of taxpayer’s money which comes from the failure of the Fed, through a quadrupling of public and private debt during the time of Mister Greenspan; up to 43 TRILLION dollars. And we have no discussion at all about the underlying monetary policy….”

Read the whole thing and see the video at Shakesville. We are going to be paying for this for generations, y’all, and some of your children and grandchildren will pay by not eating and not going to school.


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Luxury, Calm, and Voluptuousness III


Now I am experiencing luxury, calm and voluptuousness in the form of New Orleans streets on a lovely fall afternoon. I am trying to learn to take greater advantage of all affordable luxuries available to me than I have done in some time. Before Reeducation I lived in a very pleasant way, but in Reeducation I learned that I did not deserve it. I renounced it and this was very heart rending. Reclaiming it is very difficult because I had to extirpate so much life and self in Reeducation.

The most difficult aspect of the current program for me to implement is to sleep. Most recently the reason I have not slept was that I was so busy admiring my beautiful incandescent light – unavailable in Peru or during Hurricane Gustav. But when I began living in dark latitudes* [*I must explain at some point what I mean – say, the pueblos tristes of Arguedas] I learned to close the blinds, turn up the artificial light, and create a world of my own indoors. I know people who do this even during the day. I do it at night because, if one is living in dark latitudes it is only then then that the world becomes truly my own. Herein lies the current version of my problem, although it has a history.


Sleep is of course a free luxury. I do not suffer at all from insomnia. I have a quiet neighborhood, a lovely room, a good mattress, and better sheets. Yet I have a bad and destructive habit of not sleeping. I first formed it when I became a professor. When I got home from work I would stay up as late as possible because I was now home. I did not want to fall asleep because this would only bring the next day closer, when I would have to go to work again. Not sleeping was a form of rebellion against regimentation, drudgery, and the pressure to resign oneself. Oddly, it was at the same time a form of discipline, a way of disabling myself so that I could not change things or leave. If I did not reduce my energy levels, I might have the strength to escape, which would disappoint those who wanted me to stay where I was. Not sleeping was thus a technique to lobotomize myself so that I would not be so aware of my environment or have such high expectations for each day. All of this is of course very neurotic – a complex strategy designed to protect a status quo and also dissent from it.

That is how not sleeping, a strategy to limit oneself, became a cause of claustrophobia. I felt claustrophobic because I wanted to leave the box I was in but did not have the power to do it. I am still not sure wonder what I wanted to leave. I called it my job, or academia, or my town, but was it those things in fact or was it really the forms of suffering I had been taught were decorous? In the end it developed, I think, into a form of generalized sleep anorexia. I did not sleep because there was nothing to live for. I had no present and no future; I was living in a phantom land for the sake of phantoms; I might best become a phantom myself, or use sleep deprivation as a technique enabling me to better embody the phantom I felt myself to be.


At one level, I did not sleep because there was nothing to live for. I had no present and no future. My past was also a lie. My life had ended prematurely and it was better that I not have a fully functional body. If I were to qualify as a sane person, said Reeducation, I must accept that my only reality was pain and that my hope for improvement was limited. So: why sleep, why replenish energy, why do anything which might make me feel well and thus expose me to accusations of being in denial?

At the same time the simple explanation for not feeling well sleep deprivation provided, permitted me an illusion of easy improvement. Everything would be better once I slept, I would say. But I would not in fact sleep because in all likelihood little else would change. If that happened, the illusion of everything improving would be shattered, and my disappointment would be all too deep. By refusing to sleep I could maintain hope.

Living in this limbo it was hard to remember that before Reeducation I did sleep, and the world was happier. All these things go together. Now If I regain my full faculties perhaps I will find I am happy and empowered, not merely more aware and therefore more shocked and sad.

The greatest logical error of Reeducation was its teaching that the pain of early childhood was one’s deepest truth. You cannot outgrow that, you cannot escape it, you cannot get over it, you must accept that everything else is false, an illusion, a form of hiding from reality, said my Reeducator. What you were then is all there is, and if you have achieved a great deal since, that achievement is only an avoidance strategy and a form of denial. This is false – my Reeducator did not understand the theories he was working with – but I began to lobotomize myself by not sleeping, so I could be as impaired as was required.


Neurotic behaviors, it is said, are based on what were once practical adjustments to real problems. My not sleeping started out as the most literal form of procrastination, an intentional prolongation of the day. Then it became real procrastination, that is, a way of evading what is at hand out of the fear that facing it will not help – or will only worsen matters. Resemble a zombie as much as possible because if you do not, the torturers will come. Freeze yourself as a zombie now. If you outlast this government you can then awake and come into the light.

But I think I have finally figured out where I get the irrational idea that facing reality with my wits about me will not only not help me, but will also offend the sensibilities of others. If I hurt them again by showing that I have a personality of my own, I will see the depth of their pain again, and the pity and guilt will be more than I can bear. Now, that is a true neurosis and it is difficult to unlearn, but I must unlearn it. In the spirit of luxury, calm, and voluptuousness, my renewed lemma, I may be ready to sleep now, and to dream.


Perhaps I can say: if I want to rebel, or if I want to free myself, I must sleep. I believe I am protecting myself and placating others by being the reduced person I am when I do not sleep. I believe that if I become small enough, and tired enough, I will no longer have to feel guilty and lacerate myself for being a person. I believe it is indecorous to live, as opposed to merely exist. But none of this is true. And even if I could reduce myself to almost nothing, even if I could become a microorganism, the authorities I am trying to satisfy would find me lacking. I might as well decide to accept this and live.



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Manila in the 1930s

Observe this video of Manila in the 1930’s. Apparently it had the world’s largest prison at that time. I do not endorse the attitude of the narrator, but the script is an interesting historical document in itself.

For good measure see this, also on Manila, from 1938:



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Te Deum. Lomo de las Sagradas Escrituras. The Red Army Choir

I insist now upon speaking in very positive tones, but I am rocky and discouraged many days and I am in a state of distress about many things. More than I realize. I am improved but I should still recognize the foregoing squarely. It makes life easier. What I can see, I can cure. And there is something which is trying to get born and it is a good thing – but it is frightening me. What am I concerned about?  I am perhaps concerned that the new birth may mean the resurgence of some old constraints. NO, I WILL NOT ALLOW IT. Have no fear.

Te Deum: …eres el hijo eterno del Padre (here is the Catholic version of that, a hymn of thanksgiving). I have always felt, but still do not understand the following poem:

LOMO DE LAS SAGRADAS ESCRITURAS – Sin haberlo advertido jamás, exceso por turismo y sin agencias de pecho en pecho hacia la madre unánime. Hasta París ahora vengo a ser hijo. Escucha, Hombre, en verdad te digo que eres el HIJO ETERNO, pues para ser hermano tus brazos son escasamente iguales, y tu malicia para ser padre, es mucha. La talla de mi madre, moviéndome por índole de movimiento, y poniéndome serio, me llega exactamente al corazón: pesando cuanto cayera de vuelo con mis tristes abuelos, mi madre me oye en diámetro, callándose en altura. Mi metro está midiendo ya dos metros, mis huesos concuerdan en género y en número, y el Verbo encarnado habita entre nosotros, y el Verbo encarnado habita, al hundirme en el baño, un alto grado de perfección.



But it is the weekend, so we will sing! Vallejo was a Communist and so it is strangely fitting that I have decided to post from him on a day I had originally planned to post on the Red Army Choir. I took these notes one day I decided I did not like Vladimir Putin’s accent, and searched for more pleasing Russian sounds. By chance I discovered that the Red Army Choir still exists as a performing arts ensemble. It brings us the official music of the Soviet Union from its MySpace page. It has performed with the Finnish rock band Leningrad Cowboys, and now it apparently performs traditional Russian music.

This is already mirabilis but moreso is the archival footage of whose existence I learned while discovering the Red Army Choir. You can watch Soviet celebrations on Red Square. The victory celebration after the Great Patriotic War leads inevitably to footage of the Battle of Stalingrad.

From Stalingrad you are led back in time to Verdun. I was amazed to find so much footage of the Great War, so I decided to try the earlier Boer War. There is footage of that, too, including staged footage by Thomas Edison. He also filmed the Spanish American war, including Cuban prisoners waiting for transport, but I could not discern how much of his footage was staged and how much was not.



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Luxury, Calm and Voluptuousness II

Lisa and Undine raised the question, what makes you write? My answer was and is Baudelairean: ordre et beauté, luxe, calme, et volupté. A garret by a good bookstore and a job as a barista could constitute luxury, calm, and voluptuousness. Another answer is that writing is like breathing – nothing motivates me, or everything does, I write every day. But Undine’s question was about academic writing. I used to write because things were required or due, or because I had something to say to a particular venue. It did not take motivation – it was a habit. Then for some time I really only had comments. I have never liked writing in the hope that it might get me somewhere – after all, where would that be? But my motivation now is that it is going to get me to a specific place. I am not used to this. It is going to take a new version of me to do that, but I can feel it coming on.


Undine’s question led me to think of another: what forms of luxury do I want to reclaim in my life, now that I am living again in a First World country with all sorts of luxuries at my fingertips – luxuries to which I am so accustomed that I do not take advantage of them, despite the fact that this would require no changes to my finances or my carbon imprint? In other words, what luxuries do I have that I am not using, and could?

The answer, I discovered, was flexible scheduling. I remember how I renounced that, slowly, insidiously, working with people who keep factory or administrators’ schedules, working at all normal business hours but then only. Trying to do this when it is not in fact necessary causes me to waste a significant amount of time by inefficiently forcing my organism to a schedule that only seems practical. Before I renounced flexible scheduling, I did one or more of the following in any given week:

+ take a late afternoon off and work in the evening (this is the Mediterranean way, and I promise it gives you more time every day for both work and play)
+ go out on a weeknight and work Saturday night (this emphasizes your creative life and not drudgery)
+ do errands Friday, work Saturday (what is a flexible schedule for if not to free your weekends of errands, so you can enjoy your life)
+ leave work soon after lunch Friday, go to the pool, clean house that afternoon; go out Friday night; go hiking Saturday, work Saturday night and all Sunday, go out Sunday night (this really makes the weekend long).

One of my great-great uncles is supposed to have “revolutionized” factory work in nineteenth century Russia by providing lunch, so that workers “did not have” to go home at midday and could thus leave work at five. I really wonder about the benevolence of the change. Doesn’t it sound as though it would be so the factory could put on another shift?

I any case, I have been very decadent in my more productive periods, going out every night and then typing in cafés all weekend. Under peer pressure I tried to reform and become proper, but it was impractical. I notice that I like to keep hours, but not standard hours. And when I keep the hours invented by myself, I do not waste time or procrastinate. And doing that was something I did when I still felt what I would call normal levels of power and centredness in life. Reclaiming my hours appears to be part of reclaiming the older and newer version of me.


This weblog is changing, although you may not see it as I do since the posts are not posted in real time, or in the order written. But do you notice how I no longer discuss Reeducation? And how the tortured posts have moved on to the next, more difficult topic, academia? I have almost written everything I have to say about that, too. More will be almost redundant, because I could wonder forever what I might have thought or how I might have felt had things been different, or whether I am secretly a real academic. I can always go into many contortions and discuss the things I might do to adapt. And as I said in my great, unfinished novel MADRID, one can say anything about anything in that kind of terrain, since the world is a fabric of dreams which interpret and reinterpret each other. I do not really know but I have the distinct impression that I am going to write a certain book and it is going to get me a job by the sea.


I started the Professor Zero blog with with the intention of posting a poetic fragment each day to invoke Oxalá and the light. I never expected to become so much less cryptic as I was in those days. That is to say, I never expected that I, the author, would join my voice to that of the narrator, Professor Zero – or that I, the scribe, would join my voice to that of the author, Professor Zero. But I, who aspired to rebuild myself from the ground up by writing as Professor Zero, am increasingly located in the streets, in the academic book, and more yet in my great, unfinished novel MADRID. Both of us will still write here, leveling off perhaps in  intensity.



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Financial News Question

Now the University is offering us the chance to change from private retirement plans to the state system. I have never been on the state system, although if I had gotten in when I originally came it would have been advantageous, because it is not portable and I have never planned to stay. And rules for vesting in it have tightened since – most recently, I heard that someone who signed up today could only retire at full salary after 50 years of service.

I have not yet discovered what the particulars of the switch would be for my case, and I am loath to change to a system that is not portable and which, when last I checked, did not have a good option for cashing out, but I am wondering. Are other Louisiana faculty on TIAA-CREF considering switching to the state, given what is happening to the markets? What do you think?



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Oppose the Bailout

“Ask this question — are the credit markets really about to seize up?

“If they are then lots of business owners should be eager to tell how their bank is calling their 90-day revolving loans, rejecting new loans and demanding more cash on deposit. I called businessmen I know yesterday and not one of them reported such problems. Indeed, Citibank offered yesterday to lend me tens of thousands of dollars on my signature at 2.99 percent, well below the nearly 5 percent inflation rate. That offer came after I said no last week to a 4.99 percent loan.

“If the problem is toxic mortgages then how come they are still being offered all over the Internet? On the main page AOL generates for me there is an ad for a 1.9% loan (which means you pay that interest rate and the rest of the interest is added to your balance due.) Why oh why or why would taxpayers be bailing out banks that are continuing to sell these toxic loans? . . .

“What steps are being taken to take back bonuses, fees and other compensation from the folks who got rich selling toxic mortgages and illiquid investments that Secretary Paulsen claims are threatening the whole system?

“How will adding $700 billion to the national debt ease strains on the credit markets?

“As of now we are, as a group, behaving just as we did the last two times the administration sought to rush through a hastily thought out, ill-conceived plan. Why in the world are we being so gullible and naive? Whatever happened to the core value of journalism — check it out?”

Part of what happened to the core value of journalism is that people no longer have the intellectual skills and background to be able to “check it out,” know what questions are asked. Also, with the current emphasis on “objectivity” many journalists appear to consider it their job only to repeat what they are told and then, for “balance,” repeat another view.



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