Friday, June 24, 2022

A Midsummer Night's Nightmare

Beezdelbub from Pilgram's Progress

Is this a dream from which the human race has yet to awake, starting with the recession of 2008 and now marching on through the Trump years with the appointment of 3 ideologically motivated Supreme Court justices who succeeded in repealing Roe v. Wade and calling New York’s gun law unconstitutional all within a two day period—with same sex marriage and contraception yet up for grabs, not to speak of George Floyd, Covid, QAnon and violent Trump caravans making certain boys proud? In quantum physics a particle can be two places at the same time. Such is the theory from which the idea of alternate universes springs. Maybe it’s just a matter of jumping to another string which will a la Midsummer Night’s Dream  reunite the lovers. Everyone is talking about the effect of Dobbs v. Jackson on the midterms and how the conservative backlash will meet with its own backlash from the majority of Americans who favor abortion rights. But why waste all the energy. Just enter the wormhole and jump to a better version of the world.


In his review of Axel Honneth's Recognition: A Chapter in the History of European Ideas Peter E. Gordon cites Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man thusly: “Invisibility becomes a metaphor for recognition denied. ‘I am invisible,’ the narrator writes, ‘simply because people refuse to see me.’ He feels like a bodiless head at a circus sideshow, as if he were encased in ‘mirrors of hard distorting glass.’ Others who approach him ‘see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, anything and everything except me.’” It may seem obvious that validation is a requisite nourishment for the human spirit. Of all the forms of incarceration, "solitary" is the most cruel. Besides death itself, it's the one that leaves the most permanent scars. Narcissists demand more than their share. Diderot’s Rameau’s Nephew alienates the very people whose attentions he desires. One would assume that the personality type  that can feel whole and in control is the hermit who protects him or herself through denial. Is Truffaut’s Wild Child the equivalent of the leaf falling in the forest with no one there to perceive it? Some animals react to mirror images and even delight in  mimickry, but the kind of self-reflexive consciousness that allowed humans to realize the reflection is them was a milestone in the history of sensibility. The recognition of the cosmic yawn and the indifference of the universe and nature might have been the trauma responsible for the creation of religion. Pattern Recognition, which is a form of brain function, is also the title of a book by William Gibson.

read "15 Seconds to Infamy" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Wind" (1960) by The Jesters


Thursday, June 23, 2022

What to Do When an Altruist Goes on a Good Doing Spree?

People become accustomed to the unthinkable. After a while they believe that constant brutality and destruction--school shootings, despots like Trump getting away with almost everything, countries like Ukraine turned into warrior states (many of whose cities are destroyed), rape, torture, gated communities where the privileged drink flutes of champagne as they enjoy the spectacle of impoverishment outside (a definition of all-inclusive resorts like Club Med which are constructed in the middle of third world countries)--are all just part of "life." Pasolini’s Salo based on de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom is an essay in depredation, but unlike Halloween, the horror comes from the fact that it’s all too real. Coprophilia, the lingua franca of the film, is no stranger to psychosis. Straphangers in New York’s subway system are randomly pushed onto the tracks; shootings in which innocent bystanders die have almost become routine. Only the other day, the life of a championship college basketball player (who had a promising professional career ahead of him), was cut short by a shooting at barbecue in Harlem. The police are called to a school in Uvalde and wait an hour to stop a gunman who in the meantime murders 21 students and teachers. Ten people are murdered in a racially motivated shooting at a Topps supermarket in Buffalo. Defenders of the Second Amendment find these shootings an argument for fewer gun laws or restrictions. What do those who get used to savagery do when a good doer goes on a spree, sacrificing him or herself for the sake of others?

read "Strangers Drowning" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "The Book of Love" by The Monotones

Wednesday, June 22, 2022


Grouse (photo: Gary Kramer)

Grousing is often met with supposedly well-intentioned, even edifying corrections. You could be a citizen of a trouble spot like Ukraine or out of work like person x, y or z. Why not make a gratitude list comprised of all the good things, on the top of which would be the fact of simply being alive? However, it’s oddly dispiriting to constantly receive corrections of this kind since the one thing that can be said about your so-called “problems” is that they’re yours. They’re what make you what you are. It’s humiliating to be informed your malaise results from little more than not getting as much attention as you dream of (alas you never became a Hegelian figure of World Historical Importance). Yet what’s the motivation behind all these stalwarts with their testy morality? What right do they have to lord their almost puritanical finger-shaking over those who simply feel disappointed with their lot in life? Is the human condition such that there's a privileged class of sufferers who're allowed to cry out to the Gods while lesser mortals must walk away from their petty concerns, their tails between their legs? “I can’t complain,” is the response Mr. or Mrs. Clean gives when asked how they are. The truth is they can, all they want, even if they’re not Medea or Lear, Antigone or just some clown like Djokovic who can’t play the tour since he refuses to take a vaccine.

read "Is Your Self-Invention a Success?" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Rockin' Robin"by Bobby Day

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Top Gun: Maverick

Will computer games one day be played exclusively by computers? That’s really the takeaway from the latest installment of the Top Gun franchise. It’s also “military kitsch” and perfect if you’re graduating from those model cars that used to be sold in the corner newspaper store. Of course Kasparov v Deep Blue set the stage, but most computers will beat even legendary Top Gunners like Maverick (Tom Cruise). The movie trumpets the human element in aerial "dog fights." The position averred by Ed Harris (Rear Admiral Chester "Hammer" Cain)  that elite fliers are a thing of the past—or movies—is more to the point. Why risk a life when you have drones that are getting smarter every day? The problem with automation is that it’s not Oedipal. You aren't going to have standoffs between surrogate fathers like Maverick and characters with names like "Hangman" (Glenn Powell) and "Sparrow" (Miles Teller). No computer is going to bed the barkeep "Penny" (Jennifer Connelly) though with the advent of  sophisticated "facial recognition," one is likely to come along who appreciates her eyes. There's  a wistfulness about the current Top Gun. It’s a little like John Ford making Stagecoach in 1939. By then everyone knew that the real story was told in the backseat of a car.

Read "Pet Buddha" by Francis Levy, Vol. 1 Brooklyn

and listen to "Hold My Hand" by Lady Gaga (from Top Gun: Maverick)

Monday, June 20, 2022

The Twitterstution of the United States

"The Death of Julius Caesar" (Gerome)
The Byzantine and labyrinthine machinations of Donald Trump’s White House are of course the subject of the January 6 hearings. On January 5, 2021 Trump famously Tweeted, “The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.” ("Trump pressures Pence to throw out election results--even though he can't,Politico 1/5/21). Neither the 12th amendment nor the Electoral Count Act of 1887 support this claim, though it’s a wonderful example of the proverbial use of both assertion and suggestion in the cybersphere. Several years ago BAM presented the Roman Tragedies, a compendium of Shakespearean obfuscation which included the murder of Julius Caesar in which audience members were invited to join the crowd on stage. There were strikingly similar theatrics  going on in The West Wing in the days preceding January 6th, with quite a few crowd scenes (though the audience was not invited) in which American democracy was on the verge of forever being subverted. "Et tu, Brute?"

read "Talk to Pigs in a Language They Understand" by Francis Levy, 

and listen to "Just Like Romeo and Juliet" by The Reflections

Friday, June 17, 2022

Only Connect!

There are two Trials, one by Franz Kafka written between l914-15 and the other by Pigmeat Markham, the B side of “Here Comes the Judge”(1968), the hit 45 which famously ordered, “Here comes the judge…Here comes the judge….order in the court…the judge is coming.” The (anti) hero of The Trial is, of course, Joseph K. Pigmeat was a famous neo-vaudevillian black comedian who played the Apollo Theater. Pigmeat’s “Trial” was a precursor to rap and in particular Sugarhill Gang whose "Rapper’s Delight"(1979) famously sampled Chic’s "Good Times" (1979) with its famous “These are all good times/leave your cares behind.” It was only a hop skip and jump to the Digital Underground’s "Humpty Dance" (1990) and its iconic “I once got busy in a Burger King bathroom…I’m crazy.” Talk about punctuated equilibrium and connectivity. Remember the famed words of E.M. Forster’s “Howard’s End,” “only connect!” The whole passage is worth quoting: “Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.”

read "Kafka in East Hampton" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

and listen to "The Trial" by Pigmeat Markham