Thursday, March 21, 2019

Calling All Podiatrists and Ornithologists

Are you by chance a lay podiatrist? Are you the kind of person who is constantly putting your foot in your mouth? Or an ornithologist who’s always giving someone the bird? The two may be intertwined. Have you been fickle in your swearing and then ended up getting a comeuppance? It’s always fun to yell at Uber drivers who will stop anywhere for a ride or at the slow moving biker on a narrow path, but then one day you suddenly find that you’re not so impregnable and that the object of your justifiable outrage doesn’t just smile stupidly and take it. You may even find someone powerfully determined and built grabbing you by the scruff of your neck. You may have spent years, even decades studying submissions and releases, punches and kicks in your martial arts class at the Y, but you might as well be back in the elementary school yard where the local bully has you in a headlock or simply refuses to let you go on your merry way until you bow in obedience and admit him as the winner. No adult wants to start crying in the shadows of darkness under a Hopper street lamp, pleading to be let go because their wife will be worried. However, that's where you may very well end up, if you're not careful. If you’ve never been street smart, it’s probably not in the cards no matter how many boxing classes and jujitsu classes you take. There's a huge difference between theory and practice, between a controlled environment and the call of the wild. There are some people who nobody is going to run over and others who are accidents waiting to happen.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Pornosophy: What's It Like to Be a Slut?

What’s it like to be a slut? It's probably an easier question to answer than that asked by the philosopher Thomas Nagel in his famous essay, "What It Like to Be a Bat?"A slut used to be defined as a promiscuous girl or woman, but anyone who knows anything about human sexuality or life realizes that the word "slut" observes no gender lines. A while back there was even a site for book lovers called “Bookslut.” In general everyone are sluts to the extent that they're caught in the grip of obsessions. Warmongering nations could easily be called war sluts. The real qualifier and what separates "the men from the boys" when it comes to slutdom however is shame. The thrill of the transgression is accompanied by a delicious feeling of embarrassment. Back in the 60’s in the age of sexual freedom, free love was trumpeted. At Woodstock it looked like mud wrestling, but many people who partook in successions of couplings in which the idea of attachment or feeling played second fiddle to an interest in sexual synecdoche, or body parts, started to feel something was missing. If you, for instance, enjoyed sex with lots of people and felt that it didn’t involve some sort of use and abuse you were probably not a real slut. Today the same rituals pertain in the world of “hooking up” where people make arrangements on dating sites which are sometimes just limited to specific forms of physical gratification. A porn slut is someone for whom the use of certain sex sites is a compulsive act that's no longer freely chosen. Thus it’s actually not hard to get into the head of the old-fashioned slut who sleeps with anyone, when you’re someone who's routinely gangbanged by ice cream parlors--which are a tormenting temptation to sugar addicts.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Pornosophy: What's the Difference Between Marriage and an Orgy?

When you think about it, what’s the difference between marriage and an orgy? Not much is the answer. First of all you’re naked with another person almost all of the time. Most people are so inured to the presence of their significant other, that they're like sleepwalkers who don’t realize how nasty and wild being married really can be. It makes the Spring Break movies seem like Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Married people should realize that to use Hemingway’s words, they’re partaking of A Moveable Feast. You are seeing your husband or wife or whatever in all their states of undress. You’ve literally caught them with their pants down and that refers to bathroom matters too. Of course there are people who are squeamish, but when you inhabit the same bedroom, it’s unavoidable to see your John on the John or to see your John’s Johnson for that matter. And getting into bed at night is a form of licensed groping. In this day and age, it could be argued that unwanted kisses and embraces even in a marital context constitute a form of abuse, but most married couples either tacitly or expressly practice "affirmative consent" and hence allow themselves liberties they would never be granted in any other social situation. Wake up folks, marriage can be a cocktail between a wet dream and the best fantasy, a romance novelist ever invented. Just because there's no knight or princess in shining armor, sweeping you off your feet and taking possession of your soul, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t thrill with excitement when you hear the magic words for the umpteenth time, “honey I’m home and ready to rock.”

Monday, March 18, 2019


Christian Petzold’s Transit is a cubist narrative, but the difference between it and say “Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon” is that the Picasso masterpiece is about a whorehouse. Here the experience of watching the movie is a little like pickup sticks. There are strands of narrative which center around refugees and exile and in particular the question of who forgets, the person being left or the person who leaves? However, the real subject is veiled in a series of dead ends. The air of mystery is aided and abetted by the fact that the movie inhabits an alternate universe in which the Nazi occupation of France is taking place in the present time (the movie is actually based on novel by Anna Seghers written in l942). In this sense it’s a little like Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle or Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. There are four deaths in Transit and each of them is someone that the film’s protagonist Georg (Franz Rogowski) tries or in fact succeeds coming into contact with. The message might be stay away from this guy. Add to this that the fact that one of the deceased is a writer named Weidel whose identity is fungible and becomes the source of a hard to come by exit visa. The confusion is increased by the fact that much of the plot is farmed out to yet another voice, that of the bartender who apparently has witnessed much of the action and is writing about it in retrospect. Weidel’s writing also plays a cameo role as part of the evidence which Georg uses in establishing his identity before his interlocutor at the American consulate. Talk about unreliable narrators. Nothing seems to be consummated in the film, not escape, nor even a sexual act with the dead writer’s vampish wife, Marie (Paula Beer). 

Friday, March 15, 2019

M et Mme. Ovary

Let’s face this fact. Chances are things probably won't change. Aspiration is  nice. People, especially those who read too many magazines, jump through hoops to be happy. They drag each other into marriage counseling, they attend ashrams, they take cooking courses, they question their sexual orientation and maybe do something about it like transition (or not). They become like dervishes, trying free love or paying for it (or not). They decide to move to another city (or not). They decide to go it on their own (or not). They become vegetarians. They only eat farm fed beef or poultry. They meditate (that’s a big one and on the basis of the anecdotal evidence one would wish them good luck since they’ll need it). They do dangerous things like ascend Everest (or not). Climb cliffs without ropes (or not) and endeavor to shake things up by exhausting exercise regimens like running a marathon, riding a century or doing both in an Iron Man (or not). They attempt to become spiritual and commune with God (or not) or with the nature or the universe a la pantheists like Spinoza (or not) or they gain solace in philately or numismatics (or not). A lot of people spend considerable amounts of time and energy to supposedly achieve a modicum of happiness and once they've gotten all their pieces on the board and moved them into the appropriate positions ie made their bed, then they have to sleep in it. Some people will find that after all the time, trouble and expense that they have attained a state of karma that's close to satori and some are just going to find themselves scowling about life being “a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing." The latter is undeniably true! No two ways about it.Was the Duke of Windsor really all that happy once he abdicated and had Wallis Warfield all to himself? Some people may kill themselves when they realize it’s all a charade, but there are others who are content to just go along for the ride and when you come down to it, that’s an approach that makes a helluva lot of sense. Everybody ends up in a room staring either at the reflection of their own face in the mirror or that of some other on whom they confer a host of not always complimentary feelings.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Final Solution: Separate But Equal

Here is a brilliant aside from de Tocqueville quoted by Louis Menand in his New Yorker piece on Plessy v. Fergusson (“In the Eye of the Law,” 2/4/19) where Menand also cites C. Vann Woodward's The Strange Career of Jim Crow. “The prejudice of race appears to be stronger in the states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists, and nowhere is it so intolerant as in those states where servitude has never been known.” For example, minorities facing similar forms of discrimination often find themselves at war against each other--a propensity which is often hidden under the veneer of good intentions. On the other side of the fence, the old South was feudal. Repression was a form of definition. A slave was going to be less a threat to a plantation owner than someone from the underclass, who had rights and privileges, along with a certain ingenuity or entrepreneurial talent that would challenge the status quo. Racism and prejudice are multidimensional, but in some ways economic inequality plays a central role in the perpetuation of these forms of discrimination. A wealthy liberal is less threatened by a minority than another worker struggling to make ends meet, who's competing for the same job, for which say and immigrant might be willing to take less pay. It's like children in one of those large families who fight with each other over two scarce commodities: love and scraps. Trump appeals to his base with this very message. It’s not that caravans from Central America are murderers and drug lords, it’s that they will undercut the market and accept a lower wage.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Take Me To Your Dendrite

Coleridge by Peter Vandyke (1795)
Pleasure is often mentioned in connection with serotonin the neurotransmitter that runs between the synapses of the brain. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Prozac work to maintain a certain serotonin level and inhibit its reuptake. This model poses problems, however, since it envisions the brain as a solipsistic device, a chemical engine that may respond to existential stimuli, but which exists as its own psychopharmacological lab. Ultimately with the right mixture of drugs one could live a more pleasure-filled, or at the very least less painful existence. There has been much recent talk about the varieties of animal consciousness, but in the classic view, animals don’t possess the self-reflexive consciousness that allows them to realize they're having a good time. "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" was the title of a famous essay by Thomas Nagel, but it’s hard not to conclude that the average bat is literally in the dark. On the other hand anti-depressants and other psychotropic drugs are only the beginning when it comes to dealing with psyche. The famous Coleridge poem, written under the influence of opium, begins “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure dome decree.” And the hell with drugs. Consciousness separated from the body and running freely through cyberspace may provide the ultimate high.