Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Some poems by Antonio Machado

Still more about the bittersweet: the popularity of the phrase "we make the road by walking" finally compelled me to do my own translation of the Antonio Machado poem from which it comes. While i appreciate the way the phrase is used as a pithy statement making-it-up-as-we-go-along of self-organizing, the phrase, taken out of context, is seen as an optimistic and hopeful sentiment. However, the poem in which this phrase is found, is a melancholic lament about impermanence. Here's Machado's poem followed by my translation:

Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino y nada más;
Caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace el camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante no hay camino
sino estelas en la mar.
Wanderer, your footsteps
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, we have no road,
we make the road by walking.
As you walk you make the road,
and to look back
is to see that never
can we pass this way again.
Wanderer, there is no road,
only traces in the sea.

A friend sent me a Robert Bly translation of "Anoche cuando dormía", another of my favourite Machado poems, and i was so upset by his translation that i had to do my own. I like a lot of what Bly does, but i think he really blew it on this one. I'll let you read the poem before i point out Bly's flawed interpretation.
Anoche cuando dormía
soñé, ¡bendita ilusiòn!,
que una fontana fluía
dentro de mi corazòn.
Di: ¿por qué acequia escondida,
agua, vienes hasta mí,
manantial de nueva vida
en donde nunca bebí?

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé, ¡bendita ilusiòn!,
que una colmena tenía
dentro de mi corazòn;
y las doradas abejas
iban fabricando en él,
con las amarguras viejas,
blanca cera y dulce miel.

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé, ¡bendita ilusiòn!,
que un sol ardiente lucía
dentro de mi corazòn.

Era ardiente porque daba
calores de rojo hogar,
y era sol porque alumbraba
y porque hacía llorar.

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé, ¡bendita ilusiòn!,
que era Dios lo que tenía
dentro de mi corazòn.
My translation:
Last night while sleeping
I dreamt - blessed illusion! -
a fountain flowed
within my heart.
I said: why this hidden channel,
water, coming to me,
spring of new life
from which I’ve never drunk?

Last night while sleeping
I dreamt, - blessed illusion! -
that a beehive
within my heart;
and the golden bees
were making,
from my bitter disappointments,
white wax and sweet honey.

Last night while sleeping
I dreamt, - blessed illusion! –
a burning sun blazed
within my heart.

It burned because it gave
the heat of a warm home,
and sun because it illuminated
and because I cried..

Last night while sleeping
I dreamt - blessed illusion! -
that it was God that I had
within my heart.
The thing that bothers me about Bly's translation is that he translates amarguras as "failures" when the word Machado uses actually means "bitternesses". Of course we don't have such a word in English and so i choose "bitter disappointments" as the imperfect choice. Bly's choice of "failures" is a far cry from what Machado is speaking of here. Which is, to my ears, the bittersweet. The juxtaposition of the bees making honey from his amarguras seems to make this obvious. This poem beautifully evokes the notion of the bittersweet which is something much more generative for me than "failure". Machado is not talking about failures but rather about losses. Which echoes the great loss of his life (Leonor) of which most of his poetry speaks. What of life is not bittersweet? That our lives are so short, that there is death and dying (even though we know there is renewal and rebirth) makes of the bittersweet, one of the most profound truths of our humble existence. I think this is one of the aspects of Machado's poetry that makes him still one of Spain's favourite poets.

Finally, one of my colleagues at the Faculty of Environmental Studies sent me this video of Catalan singer Joan Manuel Serrat singing about Soria (from where Machado hailed) and which includes some recitation of Machado's verses (thanks, Tania).

Ahh, the bittersweet

I just learned of Neutral Milk Hotel from a friend (thanks, Rani) who says that they're lyrics are wonderful. And i agree. I am struck by the bittersweet (hardly surprising for me) nature of this short piece. And i am once again amazed and enchanted by the human capacity to make beauty from pain and suffering. This is a complicated truth about us wordy creatures. The philosopher David Spangler catches some of this truth when he writes:
In telling stories, we obey certain principles and laws of drama and melodrama, of crisis and resolution, of impact and silence. We generate an energy through our stories that helps to define who we are and where we are going. We are all creatures of narrative, and these narratives are important to us even if they are tragic narratives. It certainly has been my observation for many years that individuals would much rather have a tragic narrative than no narrative at all, and they will cling to suffering in order to discover the material for such a narrative.
The person on YouTube who did the illustrations writes a small apology and claims "
that this isn't funny at all". I hope by now he realizes that it is actually very funny. And the illustrations are perfect. The simplicity and silliness of them remind me of Corita Kent's work and approach to art and creativity and which was passed on to me by dian marino. (I just did a google image search using "corita kent" and it brings up many wonderful images of her work.)

I'm guessing that the illustrator also wrote the dialogue that accompanies the illustrations. And the dialogue on the "Secret Place" illustration kills me! There's something very touching about this video that reminds me sadly and sweetly of my childhood.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Writing Life? Writing a Life?

My life has been turned topsy turvy in the past couple of years. If you'd told me two and a half years ago that i would be rounding out 2008 with a new born child, two step-children and a brilliant and beloved partner, calling you crazy would have been the merest hint of my skepticism. This year has been one of learning to live with many more people in my life. While yet keeping up with the exigencies of earning a living, continuing to contribute to making a better world and writing. I live through reading and writing. My mind and heart soars through the worlds of text and image and our shared imagination. The coming year now includes adventures in parenting, which i expect i'll be writing a good deal about. And yet, i still see the world largely through the lenses of popular education and storytelling. How these two praxes fit together is something that i am forever sorting out. And this blog is a place that i can test ideas and, hopefully, "be of use" as Marge Piercy writes.When it comes right down to it, the only thing about which i am certain is that i am uncertain about what is popular education and storytelling. This blog is my exploration of that uncertainty. And i have an enduring curiosity that drives me to explore anything and everything. to connect and collage, to seek and create pattern. At times i accumulate such an abundance of information and knowledge and experience and emotion that it gets traffic-jammed. And this year has been one very traffic-y year - a year of remarkable and surprising abundance. Now, on to the sorting of that abundance into useful (and often playful) meaning. Happy New Year and a wonderful season of revels to all!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Well, i'm still on strike

Yup, things aren't looking great for the strike at York University. With the newborn to care for, i'm feeling the pinch like i've never imagined i might. Alas...

i"m reposting this Australian video about unions that i simply adore. It's as funny the 50th time as it was the first. Humour is such a wonderful weapon. and we need to speak truth to power as the Quakers say. As well as being mindful of Oscar Wilde's advice: "If you are going to tell people the truth, you had better make them laugh, or they will kill you."

Well, the following article is not so funny, but it has much truth in it.
The Neoliberal University: Looking at the York Strike
(from T h e B u l l e t - A Socialist Project e-bulletin, #165, Dec 5, 2008)

Eric Newstadt

Placed neatly in the middle of a global economic maelstrom, it is near impossible to understand or predict what, if any, consequences the strike by 3500 odd teaching and research assistants and contract faculty at York University in Toronto (represented by Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903) will have for higher education in Ontario and throughout Canada. While there are some early indications that the strike – which began in early November and continues to shut down the university – at York is aiding (at least mildly) in negotiations at the University of Toronto (whose teaching assistants, research assistants and contract faculty are all presently in negotiations), the strike seems also to have engendered the anger and vitriol of the public such that the viability of similar strikes in the sector are in question. And while the tenor of the action was and remains pitched firmly at rolling back the "neoliberal university," it is questionable whether even outright victory at York would or could have such far-reaching consequences across the university sector.

Of course, there is only so much that can be accomplished in a single round of bargaining. Even if it may not yet be possible to outline how history will record the current work action, there are nonetheless some very definitive things that we can say about the particular conditions which have produced the strike of 2008. And we can also weigh and measure the degree to which the strike holds the promise of ameliorating those conditions (at York if not throughout the province), either temporarily or on a more lasting basis.

The Political Economy of the Neoliberal University

It is simply not possible to understand the present labour conflict outside of some consideration of neoliberalism in general: the educative capacity of the state has been deployed in service of a program of accumulation that relies on a highly "flexploitable" and disciplined workforce. Out of the ashes of the Bretton Woods system, through a process of inter-class negotiation and conflict that neither put entirely to rest the practices of the Keynesian state, nor left any aspect of the postwar order entirely intact, a "new world order" built upon the flexibility of labour markets emerged in the 1980s. There is not sufficient space here to go over the details of this historical transition.

What needs to be understood, however, is that the crisis of Keynesianism, which was as much a political as an economic crisis, saw capital, and particularly a re-emergent finance capital, work with the capitalist state to respond to the crisis through a series of efforts that culminated in: (1) the complete transformation of the state apparatus and the state's capacity to do things (i.e. in severe cutbacks to government spending on virtually everything including colleges and universities); (2) the acquiescence to such restructuring by the bulk of the population, and progressively; and (3) the emergence of broad based public support for the logic of "fiscal restraint" as well as for a program of economic growth premised on labour market flexibility, within which the neoliberal university factors very largely.

The neoliberal university began to take shape in the early 1970s, when hiring was frozen while tuition-fee and support generating enrollments were grown, as short-term stop-gaps to what were perceived as temporary fiscal cutbacks. Later, in the 1980s and 1990s, the neoliberal university began to take on more definitive dimensions, not because fiscal restrain had "hardened," but because what amounted to a form of structural adjustment, drew increasing support from university administrators, an ever larger portion of the professoriate, and a good number of students as well. Thus, the neoliberal university has come to rapidly and rabidly pursue a closer articulation with industry and an educational methodology that focuses more on training than on educating.

Neoliberalism has involved "belt-tightening" and "fiscal restraint." But its unfolding has also been underwritten by a more expansive logic than mere fiscal restraint could possibly entail. The university is now seen as a useful tool in the reproduction of a pliant working class and as a huge, publicly subsidized, research complex that can be deployed to further socialize the research costs of private capital accumulation and thus economic growth in its neoliberal form. In other words, through various forms of public-private partnerships, particularly at "research intensive" universities, private corporations can have taxpayers pick-up 90% of the costs associated with R&D, while they can maintain ownership over the bulk of whatever profits such research generates.

This kind of extensive logic is precisely why the neoliberal university is a massive and expansive morass of highly specialized departments, programs, research centres, laboratories and administrative offices, a huge and immensely diversified corporation with arms in almost every field of study. It is also why the fields of study themselves have become more cut-off from one another, even as we've seen the emergence of so many cross and sub-disciplines, like physical biology, or cultural studies, or urban and environmental planning (such growth makes meaningful forms of "interdisciplinarity" difficult to undertake).

This logic is also why the ideological scope within the neoliberal university is more limited than in previous eras. The space for critical scholarship has shrunk enormously in the social sciences. In part, this is a result of concerted efforts to purge so-called radicals (mainly from the right but also from the post-structural left), but in the main it is a result of state policies that either openly or tacitly endorse such an ideological closing, through conditional forms of finance. The neoliberal logic is also why much the same kind of ideological closing has happened in the natural sciences – there is increasingly less room devoted to basic and curiosity driven research because the drive to "research and innovate" favours the production of commercializable research and of intellectual and property rights.

The extensive logic of neoliberalism is even writ large spatially across the university, as university administrators, ever in search of new revenue-streams, offer-up any useful space to the signs and symbols of corporate accumulation. Buildings and classrooms are named after capitalists (and corporations) who have nothing whatever to do with scholarship, and even the bathroom stalls of the neoliberal university have become advertising opportunities.

Neoliberalism has also seen universities vie for precious market-share in large and growing national and international markets for higher-education. Each university is a competitor firm in the race to seize valuable customers from emerging economies ahead of competitor institutions. All of this has meant that the neoliberal university works hard to cultivate a brand, a particular kind of reputation, an orientation that potential customers understand will help them generate returns on their investments. The neoliberal university is also internally classed: a small cadre of elite academic "stars," who are nonetheless terrifically over-worked, are offered high levels of academic and financial support, they enjoy relatively smaller teaching loads, social-status, and an ability to access some level of control within the institution. A much larger cadre of part-time and/or contract faculty are denied even basic – or any – perks, even as they undertake a terrific – and increasing – proportion of undergraduate teaching.

Not surprisingly, these changes have in turn required that the university become an expansive administrative bulwark with a large and growing cadre of career bureaucrats and administrators, many of whom move from university to university. There are also new kinds of offices opening up all the time, or old ones being re-branded as it were – from technology transfer offices to offices of research and innovation, to registrar cum customer-service departments, to in-house legal departments. The growth of this section of the university has been spectacular (squeezing down academic budgets while expanding general administration budgets). Students are en masse taking from the neoliberal university a general familiarity with the rigours of life under contemporary capitalism: an ability to understand and negotiate a large and expansive corporate environment, a sense of how to work the "system," in the most instrumental way possible, as precisely that is what employers are looking for.

read the rest of the article here: http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/bullet165.html#continue

Jack Black Rules - Prop 8 Should Die

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

I was deeply disturbed to hear of the success of Prop 8 in California this past election cycle. It amazes me to hear that homophobic society is as strong in California as it seems to be. With the film about Harvey Milk coming out soon i am reminded of how deeply moved and influenced i was by the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk. I am anxious for the new film to be great. We'll see. Meanwhile, this video of Jack Black, John C. Reilly and others is a wonderful humorous fight back against hate and fear.