Friday, September 23, 2022

Here and There at The New Yorker

Half of The New Yorker’s readership subliminally or not so subliminally dreams of being in the magazine and the other half suffers from the delusion that their names have already appeared in the august periodical’s table of contents. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty could well have been an allegory for the prototypic subscriber. If you remember the story was written by James Thurber who was a famed New Yorker contributor. Sure, the fantasies in Thurber's fable    tend to center around wartime heroics, but the singular imagination of adulation experienced by anyone who submits a story, poem or Shouts & Murmurs piece could easily compete with the Purple Heart. The meaning of the word “submission’ has literally been transformed, at least for a part of the educated populace, by the stature the magazine has as an arbiter of talent. "Submission" is tantamount to approaching the gates of this Inferno. Remember Dante’s famous lines “lasciate all speranza voi ch’entrate?” If there were an ultimate “picker” who called out “saved” or “damned” with each petitioner carrying their old-fashioned SASE, it would be represented by the faces of David Remnick, Tina Brown, Robert Gottlieb, William Shawn, Harold Ross--all legendary New Yorker editors.

read "Ultimate Rejection!" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

and listen to "This Old Heart of Mine"by Rod Steward (with Ronald Isley)

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Freedom, Now!

The 60s were owned by the Left. The military-industrial complex and the war in Vietnam were the targets along with segregation. You marveled at William Buckley’s verbal pyrogenics as he had it out with Gore Vidal on Firing Line, but you didn’t find either Young Americans for Freedom, the Daughters of the American Revolution or the John Birch Society marching in the streets. In fact, the very idea of protest was contrary to the conservative ethos, until the Tea Party came to town. Today, the tables have been turned. It’s the base, the deplorables, the lumpenproletariat or whatever you want to call the mass of white men and women who find themselves dispossessed by modernity, who populate rallies. Naturally the apex of this was January 6, but the rage at injustice expressed at Trump events finds no reciprocal component on the Left. "The deep state" is to today’s Retrumplicans what the military-industrial complex was to SDS, speaking of which the notion of "participatory democracy" argued by student radicals does bear some resemblance to the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys since it was not participatory at all. If you’d ever occupied a college campus in the 60s, you quickly realized it was a relatively small cadre who were running the show. The vociferousness of Trump’s supporters may to some extent explain the pervasiveness of The Big Lie (at least among MAGA Republicans). Where’s the Left? You need a crowd to impress the opposition with the fact that the biggest lie is The Big Lie.

read "Final Solution: Apres Coup" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Subterranean Homesick Blues" by Bob Dylan

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Babel or Babble?

The Tower of Babel by Peter Bruegel the Elder

The Tower of Babel is naturally a metaphor for contention. The world is at war since human beings speak different languages. It’s something deconstuctionists underscore with the notion of  "cultural subjectivity," ie the idea that nobody can speak for anybody else or make the kind of synthetic a priori statements, which are the gist of Kant's “categorical imperative.” Esperanto was an attempt to create a universal language—that essentially failed. Who knows exactly why? But one might assume that there was little of the backstory which accounts for indigenous grammatical structures. Ironically Trump’s "Big Lie" develops right out of this kind of thinking that sows doubt about the possibility of communication. How can vote tallies be verified, when competing constituencies fail to share the similar outlook and values? One of the great crises of modern culture both on the left and right is that of language. How is it possible to create bridges between a plethora of wagging tongues?

read "Why Big German Words Like Vergangenbangenheit Carry Weight?" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "What a Wonderful World"by Sam Cooke

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Apocalypse Now and Then

You don’t speak about Apocalypse Now in the same breath as La Dolce Vita. One takes place in the jungles of Vietnam, the other the Via Veneto. The famous scene of Anita Ekberg frolicking in the Trevi fountain is a far cry from Southeast Asia. What the two movies have in common are helicopters. One famously comporting the statue of Jesus over Rome's Aqueduct Park, the other an enormous predatory bird,  a vulture circling the Heart of Darkness (the "Ride of the Valkyries" scene). In fact both movies herald the decline of civilization, holding out the subliminal hope, facetious or not, of a Second Coming and redemption. Colonialism, materialism excess and exploitation make for a toxic cocktail. You might equate the good life with apocalypse or the reverse. Both lead to oblivion.

read "Rome Journal: Aqueduct Park" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to the "Ride of the Valkyries" from Apocalypse Now

Monday, September 19, 2022

Jean-Luc Godard's Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Here’s an exam question for your grad film students? Compare The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Godard’s Breathless, Contempt and Goodbye to Language. To begin with both Godard who who died at age 91 ("Jean-Luc Godard, 91, Is Dead: Bold Director Shaped French New Wave") by way of assisted suicide and Rousseau  came from wealthy French-Swiss families with Protestant origins. Rousseau, of course, was one of the great figures of the Enlightenment whose notion of the “social contract” influenced Locke and Hobbes, particularly with respect to democracy. Godard  who went through a Maoist period in which he gave up the bourgeois notion of the filmmaker in favor of a collective entity modeled on the Russia's post-revolutionary Dziga-Vertov group out of which the cinema verite Man With a Movie Camera emerged, might be looked at as an anti-humanist. The Belmondo character in Breathless is a small time crook and Jean Seberg, his mole. Michel Piccoli, the playwright trying to produce a version of the Odysseus myth for Fritz Lang in Contempt, is a self-centered failure obsessed with a wife (Bridget Bardot) who no longer loves him. In reality Godard was not so much an anti as disaffected humanist. He was like a person whose romantic hopes are disappointed. Weekend is a murderous idyll, with an almost wistful nostalgia for nature in its depiction of sclerotic highways (aka arteries) clogged with crashed cars?  Godard's Le Gai Savoir ("The Joy of Learning") is, in fact, based on Rousseau's Emile, On Education. Grace is one of the tenets of Protestant theology. There are the saved and the damned. Max Weber famously wrote the the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Is it fair to say that both Rousseau and Godard drew the ethos of their upbringing in the creation of characters whose “work” flirted with redemption?

read "Goodbye to Language" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Sympathy For the Devil" by The Rolling Stones

Friday, September 16, 2022

Journal of the Plague Years

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse  (Albrecht Durer, 1498)

Imagine a time when you can sit in a restaurant or attend a gathering without feeling that you're testing your mettle or in fact taking your life in your hands with a bravado display of  courage in the face of something which is impervious to human will. There was indeed a time when strapping thirty-year old athletes defied the demographics (which mostly showed the majority of Covid fatalities occurring in an older demographic). To be insouciant was like jumping out a window to see if you could fly. If you remember back in the early stages of the pandemic, refrigerated trucks with bodies lined the streets near hospitals and funeral homes couldn’t handle the traffic. When the Delta variant first appeared, before there were any Covid vaccines, in January of 2020, it was the Dark Ages. A crazed rogue president was issuing increasingly wild pronunciamentos amongst them quack cures which included at one point bleach and  hydroxychloroquine. Low paid cashiers in supermarkets and workers in meat processing plants (where there were massive outbreaks) risked their lives, like front line soldiers, to keep the population fed. The symptoms of the bubonic plague which sent Boccaccio’s nobility fleeing Florence and entertaining themselves with the Decameron were far more severe. Creuzfeldt-Jakob, the human form of mad cow (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), something from which wide swathes of the population have been spared, may give some idea of the severity of the Black Plague. Still, the whole earth has been traumatized. With each end of each new outbreak of a variant, one wonders is this finally it? Is this the day the scrim of fear will be lifted? Is the moment when life itself can return to being the greatest threat to life.

read "The Final Solution: Consciousness and Beyond" by Francis Levy, The Screaming Pope

and watch the trailer for Erotomania

Thursday, September 15, 2022

2022 or 1776?

Don Bolduc (photo: US Special Operations Command Africa)

Don Bolduc, a former brigadier general, is the latest Trump endorsed victor in a Republican primary. It’s a disappointment to the establishment Republican governor of New Hampshire, John Sununu, who favored Chris Morse. This latest win follows on the heels of the victories of Trump endorsed candidates like Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, JD Vance in Ohio, Kari Lake, the former news anchor, in Arizona and Tudor Dixon in Michigan. Democrats have applauded these wins and even gone so far as to finance Trump candidates, under the theory that the loss of mainstream Republicans will improve the Democratic scorecard. In the case of the New Hampshire race a PAC led by Chuck Schumer raised $3.2 million for Bolduc. This form of negative campaigning has not eluded controversy, but the real issue is the fact that so many Republicans are ready to support MAGA candidates. A vote for someone like Bolduc, who believes that the 2020 election was rigged, is ultimately one more nail in the coffin of democracy itself. In addition, it gives full license to the kind of political violence that occurred on January 6th, where those who stormed the capital looked on themselves as revolutionaries fighting for “the republic” and confreres of those who fought the redcoats in 1776. The question is how strong is the old mainstream represented by figures like Liz Cheney (who endured a major defeat in Wyoming), Adam Kitzinger and prominent spokes- people like George Conway, the sometime CNN commentator and husband of Trump’s former press secretary, Kellyanne Conway? Is the uprising against the Dobbs decision enough to produce the kind of backlash that resulted in the Kansas referendum or will Mar-A-Lago shift enough midstream Republicans back toward the extreme right? The polls notwithstanding, the big question is will mainstream Republicans be disaffected enough to vote for a Democratic slate?

read "The Final Solution: Democrazy" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "War" by Edwin Starr