Monthly Archives: October 2016

Modos de vivir que no dan de vivir

Oficios menudos

Considerando detenidamente la construcción moral de un gran pueblo se puede observar que lo que se llama «profesiones conocidas o carreras» no es lo que sostiene la gran muchedumbre; descártense los abogados y los médicos, cuyo oficio es vivir de los disparates y excesos de los demás; los curas, que fundan su vida temporal sobre la espiritual de los fieles; los militares, que venden la suya con la expresa condición de matar a los otros; los comerciantes, que reducen hasta los sentimientos y pasiones a valores de bolsa; los nacidos propietarios, que viven de heredar; los artistas, únicos que dan trabajo por dinero, etc., etc.; y todavía quedará una multitud inmensa que no existirá de ninguna de esas cosas, y que sin embargo existirá; su número en los pueblos grandes es crecido, y esta clase de gentes no pudieron sentar sus reales en ninguna otra parte; necesitan el ruido y el movimiento, y viven, como el pobre del Evangelio, de las migajas que caen de la mesa del rico. Para ellos hay una rara superabundancia de pequeños oficios, los cuales, no pudiendo sufragar por sus cortas ganancias a la manutención de una familia, son más bien «pretextos de existencia» que verdaderos oficios; en una palabra, «modos de vivir que no dan de vivir»; los que los profesan son, no obstante, como las últimas ruedas de una máquina, que sin tener a primera vista grande importancia, rotas o separadas del conjunto paralizan el movimiento.




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A modernidade negra

Of Agamben, I was going to read the author as gesture. So I have remembered.

I am looking through my files and finding my things. I once printed and wrote on this article by S. P. Guimarães, and kept the copy for years as I waited to work with it. I am going to take notes on my notes now, so I can recycle the printout. I will not require myself to reread the entire text, or to order these notes; nor shall I write the notes in such a way as to make them comprehensible to anyone knowing less about its topic than I do.

It is a long article, over 50pp. in typescript, written in sections that are called chapters; I should find out where it was actually published (in the early 21st century). Black intellectuals and modernity in Brazil, it is called. It is smart, and starts out with a discussion of modernity as a Western (and colonialist) notion. It places the Others of the West outside itself. It also likes revolution and expansion, and thus comes to include elements of this Otherness in itself and even recognizes Other peoples as creators of civilization. So modernity “tal como ocorreu” is the fruit of Europe’s malaise. Black modernity takes part in this process in a very specific way, says Guimarães, and his text discusses this.

Some of the notes I took on the manuscript were:

+ It was the Movimento Negro Unificado, not academics, who deconstructed the myth of racial democracy
+ Racial discrimination in Brazil exists, it is just more implicit and subtle than was [Jim Crow-style discrimination]; black people in Brazil sought assimilation to the national culture but sought to create their own culture in the U.S.; in both cases, blackness meant opposition to an “Anglo-Saxon” ideal (I say the construction of the “Anglo-Saxon” in Iberian and Ibero-American cultural discourse is a question of great interest, by the way)
+ Convivência social with white people does not necessarily mean a good life or an end to discrimination
+ Many Brazilian intellectuals have studied “o negro” as object of study; black intellectuals themselves have not gotten this kind of attention as a class
+ Both Sílvio Romero and Paulo Prado wanted the extinction of the “negro” and importation of European workers
+ Important, and I am not sure whether this is Guimarães speaking or me speaking, noticing that he supports me: modernidade negra involves (a) the romantic inclusion of non-European origins as possible origins of the nation and (b) abolition, so that negros can join modernity as citizens
+ Harlem renaissance was not a black movement but a negotiation between black writers and white audiences; other modern/primitive negotiations of the period are similar; Guimarães points out that this is a white thing: for them, the negro could be equal if (s)he remained different
+ race consciousness among negros was strongest in S.P. due to the importation of European workers; black intellectuals were interested in inclusion in and assimilation to national culture
+ Black culture, black identities as ethnogenesis
+ The idea of “race” is imported; creation of Frente Negra Brasileira (1931) was possible because of this importation (see p. 16); this is why we have “cultura afro-brasileira” (a national term) and the idea of “cultura negra” did not take hold until the 1960s. (Can this be true? Does Guimarães agree? He seems to accept it on some pages, and disagree on others.)
+ He does say that “negro” in Brazil was a political, not a cultural identity until the 1970s; this is interesting
+ Consider the journal Quilombo, published by Abdias do Nascimento, RJ 1948-1950
+ The word “raça” has often referred to a believed-in idea of race as breed or biological category, and it may be for this reason it is disliked (there is a lot in this article about connections to US ideas and vocabulary, from early on, and interesting quotations from SP black newspapers of the 1920s)
+ An important US idea (cf. DuBois) is wanting to preserve black culture — not wanting to be absorbed into a (white) nation. Os negros brasileiros seem to feel differently, not to feel like a separate culture — race and blackness mean African cultural values, and/but are not considered part of a separate nation as in the US and in the Francophone world. So Afro-Brazilian culture may have overlappings with other black cultures / world black cultures, but it isn’t the same as the black culture of Pan-Africanism.
+ Modernismo in Brazil goes in a different direction from the New Negro Movement or Negritude, because it represented motivos negros as belonging to the culture in general and as being mestiços (syncretism, not the creation of a different or separate ethnic identity, was the sign of Brazilian modernism)
+ Abdias do Nascimento was one of those who believed in mixture, not a separate cultura negra; where the idea of a separate culture appears, it is seen as more negative, more primitive, not more civilized. And part of the reason why the idea of cultura negra did appear in the 1960s was that democracy had ended in Brazil, and had to be sought internationally–in this case, in the Black Atlantic
+ But Quilombo was still a publication with a black identity
+ Important: democracia racial may be a white idea originally, but it was reinterpreted and deployed by black intellectuals to their ends
+ Interesting: the creation of national identities is not always an answer to the same question (simple example of different questions: what is the Brazilian people? and what is Brazil?)

There is a lot more in this piece.


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Enrique Ballón Aguirre

There is value in his prologue to the Ayacucho edition of Vallejo. I have a photocopy of this prologue in a file that I never look at, and the Chávez government (apparently) put all the Ayacucho books online for free, but I do not trust the permanence of that. I may buy a used copy of that Ayacucho edition. Part of what is valuable, for my purposes, in that prologue are some comments about the relationship between the self — subject of enunciation, but also biographical self — and writing.


And I can think clearly now; I understand everything as soon as I look at it. The shadows roll away as I open things up, as opposed to gather. I still feel anxious when reading because I was always taught it was a way of procrastinating on writing. If I were seen reading, I would be accused of not understanding how the profession worked. I would rather give up reading than be lectured again about my unfitness. And I feel yet more anxious when doing anything that has to do with teaching, because I was taught that time spent on that would lead to immediate banishment. So often I tried to have a conversation on anything, anything at all, and only getting these two admonishments: reading, and any activity related to teaching, would lead immediately to inquisitorial levels of torture as well as certain execution. And writing is what I like most, but all the admonishments about how I could not and surely would not make me want to throw every word ever written in a certain direction, light a match to them, and move to another planet.

It was a professor who admonished me in this manner for so many years, and this is why I do not like professors. Topics here are not being seen, but being projected into in a very negative way; negative counter-transference; the oppression of girls; and terrorizing children. I was terrorized as a child and knew nobody would believe me; I would not be surprised if none did now. I also think my mother knew what they were doing to us. I think that is why she did not trust our good will. And it will be considered unkind of me to say these things, to write them down, to allow them to be read.

Others will ask why I analyze such things, should I not be out running? These events are in the past. But the unconscious does not know time, and it is important to look at things as they are and have been before beginning to moralize. One of our parents kept threatening suicide. The other, committed to sticking things out, had an inherited fear of abandonment. He was never really leaving but withdrew, and he would rehearse the idea of never seeing us again. This was a fantasy our parents had but as I have just discerned, it was also a fear they experienced.


People would like simple judgments, things were good or bad, black or white; if the judgment is not simple they prefer to say the answer is unknowable. They do not wish to sift through the layers of things, do not see the benefit of that, but I do.


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A serious question, and lagniappe

What is a good literary or poetry magazine, in French, that publishes translations and that is not terribly hard to get into? One of my undergraduates has published translations to English in Alchemy (a translation journal for students) and Tripwire (a poetry journal, not just for students), and I know of many other places to submit translations to English.

I also know that Asymptote has a Spanish version somehow, and is looking for interns too (if you are interested, the best way to find out about that is probably on Facebook). But what about translations of Cristina Peri Rossi to French? This is for a different student. The only non-super-famous journal I have found that might publish translations of an Uruguayan poet is Nuit Blanche and I would like more options. Here are some of the journals and presses I have learned of in this quest: The Apostles Review, Hablar de poesía, Reflet de lettres. There are more.

Lagniappe for today includes a recreation of a Homeric performance, a new recording of ancient Babylonian songs, a very interesting interview with Zizek on “esa izquierda que ni siquiera desea ganar,” a response to Wendy Brown’s analysis of neoliberalism, an interview of Roberto Echavarren about poetry and identity, an interview of Enrique Dussel on Latin American culture and the future, an essay on language teaching and the foreign language requirement, David Sobrevilla’s piece on Moro, surrealism and homosexuality; the Institut français d’études andines, Bruno Bosteels’ new book on Marx and Freud in Latin America, writings of René Magritte, and a correspondence on surrealism between Adorno and a graduate student.

Also, I have found a new source of the kind of bed linen I want. I do not buy sheets or pillowcases by the set, but by the piece, as I do not have more cash than that. But I can tell you that really good bed linen lasts a very long time, and is less expensive than any other.

I have a burning question: what was I going to do with Agamben (in relation to Foucault and Vallejo) and where is that book chapter? This question is truly burning since I have given up other activism and committed to poetry, put poetry first, openly, for the first time.



Filed under News, Questions


Our luck has changed and the tide is turning, I can feel it. I have had this feeling once before that I can identify clearly–something was happening, I did not know what it was, but it was good, I knew–and I recognize it now.


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La aventura estética de nuestra edad

Our library actually owns a copy of this book by Guillermo de Torre, so I am recycling my xeroxed pieces of it. These sorts of items I like to keep around me, as they are mementos of my love for the field and of my innocence, in the time before I thought I must renounce it.


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Pour penser

I would not frame the discussion in terms of success and failure, instructions for success, but I think this post gets closer to a useful discussion of how to do an academic job than do most in the genre. The activities it discusses are, of course, the ones that interest me and also interested me in taking this direction.

In my case the question is complicated, of course, since I was not raised to think I would ever be able to do anything. And my father was a professor and said he was unhappy. He thought going into academia was a poor idea, and did not think I could survive in it. I, of course, did not think I could do anything at all, yet knew I could do academic work and was very interested in it. I was careful each year of graduate school to make sure the main reason I was continuing was that I was interested, not that I was trapped; and to make sure I was working to lessen the factors that had made graduate school my only option when I was twenty.

I always felt I should quit to please my father, and I always felt one could not commit fully, since one would probably not be let in. And I haven’t always had the best of luck, or made the best informed choices, but these things, no matter how serious (and they are serious), are secondary. The primary issue is the early and constant message: you must renounce now what you love because it will never love you.

My father loved this song. It seemed to express much of what he felt and to comfort him, but it terrified me. I already knew my parents were afraid of ending up on the streets themselves, and ambivalent about us. Would they put us on the streets if they could? Would we ever be able to hold onto anything we loved?

And these things are all true and must be acknowledged but at the same time, I am so tired of them. I would like to work as I did in graduate school, days of innocence, when the work itself was healing balm.



Filed under Da Whiteman, What Is A Scholar?

La fin

It is as though we had been through a long war and it were finally over, and we had had losses but had won, were in a position to pick up our lives again. Perhaps we have been through a long war that is now over, have had losses but have won, and are in a position to pick up our lives again.

Here is Vargas Llosa on Moro:



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On giving up what you love most

I was saying things about academia, how I dislike it because it requires you to renounce the things you love most about it. That is about working at institutions that work against your programs, of course, and I won’t say this is not a real problem, and that it is not highly irritating. But “renouncing the things you love most” means something more to me, I realized as I heard myself speak.

“I don’t have the money to keep you.” That was what my mother always said, and she kept saying it even though she had the money. We were to be cast out, it was a daily danger, and she was to commit suicide, and that was a daily danger as well. Again and again I prepared myself for these losses and although they did not actually take place, the psychic one kept being repeated. Every day we were told, every day we renounced and steeled ourselves; every day we knew we would be abandoned, and love was withdrawn.

I always appreciated and felt affection for my mother, but I do not remember loving her. One could not love her, she was too coercive, cruel, weak and vindictive too often, and she might commit suicide any day. She was also a potential role model, and that was risky. If I got too close, I feared, I could become death-oriented like her, and I did not want this.

Just now I was thinking irritably about how foolish it is to accuse people of insufficient love (“you don’t love the university enough, if you did, you would put up with this!”) when they have in fact gone so far as to renounce what they most love to prove this love — renounced their own work and their better judgment to be polite to fragile power. I realized suddenly what this meant at another level: it means I must have loved my mother once. I don’t remember when I had to stop but it was very early on, and it must have been very painful because I have repeated it a few times, to try to get over it and also to try to see it; this also explains the reactions I have when I am asked to sacrifice or renounce.

People really should not have children to amuse themselves or to claim an identity. They should also not threaten suicide around their children. With the suicide threats, and also the accusations having to do with our failure to fill an emptiness, I remember renouncing love again and again. I remember the toy I held in my hand one time, watching my mother sail away from me as it were, and saying, “Good-bye, my honey. Good-bye, my honey.”

I can see it now. It must have been devastating, and I know there were many such scenes.



Filed under Da Whiteman

Quintín Lame

We will talk about this. I would like to teach Quintín Lame along with Macunaíma and other Indian things, and perhaps I will.


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