29 September 2008

Reading a Paper, or Why I Am Dumb

Whenever I read through a whole volume of a journal, I am always struck by precisely how enormously uneducated I actually am.  I have barely dipped a toe into the pool of knowledge, and gazing into the depths is almost too wet for my abilities.

Take, for example, "Black Sounds: Hemingway and Duende," by Kristine Wilson at Purdue.  You can even read it for yourself here if you have access to Project MUSE.  It's an immensely fascinating article, exploring Hemingway's Spanish writings through the lens of an esoteric Spanish concept known as duende, which appears to be a unique descriptor for the sense of the arts when they involve moments of the highest passions mixed with the deepest sadness.  It's one of those "impossible to translate" words like the Japanese wabisabi or the English serendipity.

Reading through the paper involves a true flurry of secondary efforts, just to try to bring myself up to speed on the very basic concepts involved.  It is frustrating.  My thought process with this paper ends up going all over the place.

I start on the paper.  Who is Wilson, and what has she done?  I need perspective since I don't recognize the name.  I check out her Purdue page and JSTOR for other referenced works.  Her CV is not up to date, but in combination with JSTOR I locate that she concentrates on feminist critiques but has a very broad range of cross-cultural work, very fitting for a professor of library science.

Now I can read the actual paper once, making checks next to things that need further examination.  I have to print these damn things out in hard copy because of it, and it's the cause of my absurdly full binder of papers in storage right now (pleasebeokaynoroachesnoroaches). 

Right off the bat, she references a pivotal speech given by a major Spanish poet whose name is not in the least familiar - Federico Lorca.  Swell.  So I find the speech by this Lorca in translation, and read through it.  Oh, hey, he lists as a bunch of examples a number of his contemporaries.  What do I know about early-century Spanish authors and artists?  Damn near nothing.  I recognize and understand his Dali references, and I know roughly who the "Generation of '27" are in Spanish history thanks to a marvelous couple of examinations of the Spanish Civil War I read, but I don't know their works anywhere near well enough to get the references by Lorca.  So I log onto ARTstor, a marvelous compilation of extremely high-rez images of paintings and drawings from museums around the world.  Thank goodness I still have login privileges at UT.

So after referencing a bunch of paintings and an hour of examination of the speech, I understand the entire concept of duende.  However, Wilson references a number of Nietzschean concepts.  I've read my Nietzsche, and found it very difficult, but I haven't even brushed past the one she is speaking of - The Birth of Tragedy.  So what is that?  I find it, and read some synopses.  I make a note to read the whole thing soon.  The concepts involved are very familiar ones, since I read some analyses of Greek tragedians when researching background on Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (a book which has attracted an Ayn Rand-like following, albeit somewhat more Buddhist in nature).  So "Dionysian" and "Apollonian" are old hat to me, but it seems as though Nietzsche's approach was interesting.

Then Wilson is hitting the hard points about the involvement of duende with the literature.  She moves into bullfighting.  I am such a dilettante when it comes to bullfighting that I can recount only what I have learned from Hemingway study (the picadors, the kill, the toreo, and so on).  But I can scramble through an understanding of her discussion of it, given her excellent treatment of the subject.  And hey, I even know and understand the Paganini and Cezanne references!

Now, of course, she has to get back to making me feel uneducated.  A famous essay by Freud.  Okay, I get the concept, but wouldn't it be expressed more aptly by the later work of Emile Durkheim, in his "On Suicide" look at the notion of "anomie?"  No, I am wrong, it would seem.  Rather different concepts, as I find out once I have tracked down and consumed the Freud essay with associated research into a German text referenced by Freud.

And so on, and so on.  The whole process is far too long to recount here.  But suffice to say I am in continual awe of those pillars of academia who can read through something like this and not spend five hours achieving understanding.


  1. Oh yes Phae, you are incredibly dumb for not knowing every single thing in the universe!

    If you're dumb then I don't even want to think about what I am! lol

  2. Heh, you're sweet. Thanks, plumcake ;)