Friday, May 24, 2019

The Coast of Sciatica

Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats  in The Hustler (1961)
"The women come and go. Talking of Michelangelo" are the famous words from "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock." One might say that Metrosexuals talk about love and work and occasionally millenarian ideologies, to which they are drawn, that often verge on being cults. But there’s another demographic for whom the fourth and fifth vertebrae are the subject of discussion, along with Gleason and glucose scores. You probably knew that the spine was like an office tower with varying floors, but it was not until you reached a certain stage of life, when psychohistory became a thing of the past (since the narrative is drawing to its end) that you really began to understand that the Sciatic was not one of those charming little regions of Italy which have not been overrun by tourists. Can you imagine a period of time when all your hopes are not being channeled into love objects or the possibility of hitting the jackpot with the idea du jour, but rather getting an appointment with a specialist? OK so you’ve now left your old life and are trying to adjust to the exigencies of the new and what better name for a piece of equipment you’re likely to come across— to quote the poet “midway upon the journey of our life” finding yourself “within a forest dark”— than a reformer? Yes worse things could happen than for your foundering vessel to come aground on the shores of Pilates. Tennis and trysts are a thing of the past now that you’ve begun to accept that the fact that you’re a bunionaire! 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Selfie and History

Self-portrait of Rembrandt (1660)
The notion of a self, which could be rendered on the wall of a cave, was a watershed in the development of human consciousness. When you think about it a lot of mental gymnastics must have gone into this momentous stage of human evolution in which a hunter- gatherer connected with the Narcissus-like reflection he faced in the local pond. With no previous frame of reference it had to take some degree of imaginative capability to make the leap and realize  that the image was that of the viewer and not someone else.The great portrait painters of the Renaissance, Rembrandt, Franz Hals and Holbein the Younger would be right around the corner in developing the six degrees of separation that exist between a rendering and the real thing. The broader concept of mimesis in which lived reality could be duplicated, stored, catalogued and saved was a further extension of the self-reflexive awareness which is probably the greatest achievement of the approximately 5000 years of recorded human history. Parenthetically, doesn’t this amount of time seem small and even trite when we look at the eras that comprise the advent of life? Humans are really the new kid on the block and not a very old one at that, when one considers that Australopithecus afarensis, one of the earliest ancestors of man lived approximated 2.9 to 3.9 million years ago. What's so significant however about reproduction and mimesis is that the thrill of it has not vanished. Instagram, one of the most profitable subsidiaries of Facebook, is predicated on the same visual show and tell that cave men delighted in and initiated.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Men's Room

Kohler Dexter O.125 (Home Depot)
Remember A Room of One's Own the Virginia Woolf essay that’s often invoked in the service of woman’s rights. Robert Bly’s Iron John might be looked as the counterpart. But what about a book called The Men’s Room? Here’s the twist. Rather than offering a program of self-realization or actualization, the book would literally deal with the life of a men’s room, the urinals, the stalls, the grunts and the sighs of relief. When you think about it, there really isn’t much of a literature about the sounds and sights of a men’s room, even within the gay canon. The Men’s Room would be an eye opener. Towel dispensers, hand dryers and the politics of the urinal would all be dealt with. If you’ve ever been to a Broadway play or a professional sports event, you realize that men have a distinct advantage when it comes to restrooms. The line of men moves relatively quickly while you can see women looking increasingly agitated, alone in their misery as they switch their weight from foot to foot in order to hold their bladders (obviously the sequel to The Men's Room would be A Women's Room of One's Own). Yet men have their own issues. In Robert Caro’s biography, he talks about Lyndon Johnson at the urinal intentionally shaking his famed Jumbo in front of others walking into the Capitol bathroom, much like a territorial dog. Further, men’s rooms are often given short shrift and any man in the know, who can get away with it, will always try to use the door with the female icon, knowing that, if he has to take a crap, he won’t experience the unpleasant experience of sitting in the urine of some guy who's failed to pick up the seat.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Silent Majority

There are people with large Twitter followings. One of the sadder stories in the press recently concerned Olivia Jade, the daughter of Lori Loughlin, the actress indicted in the college admissions scandal. Olivia Jade’s product endorsements had garnered large fees, which she has now lost because of her parents’ actions in paying $500,000 to get her and her sister, Isabella Rose, categorized as "recruits" for USC's crew though neither had ever rowed—and Olivia’s apparently had it with the couple who begat her. However, the mass of men  (and women) live rather circumscribed existences in which the only legendary aspects to their behavior exist in the their own minds. James Thurber’s Walter Mitty became an iconic character in literature precisely because his predicament so clearly mirrored the disparity between the rather minor appearances most people make on the stage of life as supernumeraries in the crowd scene and the fantasies they have of being otherwise. Are you someone who has 3 followers on Facebook or 3000? It's probably somewhere in between, but in terms of the average Joe or Jane leaning more in the 3 direction. You not only have to work for notoriety to get it, but you have to know how and it’s a curious almost mathematical principle that the ones who possess so-called visibility exceed  “the silent majority,” the term used by Nixon in another context, by exponential leaps and bounds.

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Chicago Statement

The problem with our current age of polarization is that there are no creature comforts to be found— from an ideological point of view at least. If you think that Trump is going to disappear like the L. Frank Baum’s Wizard and all of a sudden you’re going to find comfort in the pandemonium of Democratic identity politics, then you may find yourself facing an unpleasant surprise. It’s like the divorcee who wakes up to find she’s remarried the same man—a not too uncommon occurrence. The New Criterion which can be tendentious and repetitive in its insistent walking to the beat of a different drummer (with the exception of a wonderful writer named Dominic Green and the great stalwarts of conservative thinking like Adam Smith and Edmund Burke who the journal champions) can have its moments and here they are in their Notes and Comments section (January 2019) on the desecration of debate on the American campus. Commenting on “the Chicago Statement,” which emanated from the University of the same name in defense of free speech they remark, “Everywhere from Yale to Berkeley, coddled students clamor to be protected from 'offensive' ideas—that is, from ideas that challenge their taken-for-granted pieties about the world. It used be that higher education was about expanding one’s horizons and learning new things. More and more these days, it is about donning the ideological blinders so that no idea not certified to reinforce one’s prejudices slips through to unsettle one’s complacency.” Don’t get too comfortable with the folks at The New Criterion however since you’re very likely to read something else in the famously right leaning journal and wake feeling you’ve again married the wrong person.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Two Cheers for Lobotomy

Lobotomization is a productive therapeutic intervention, if you really want to get something accomplished. Sure if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, but there are certain things that are beyond fixing. Certain parts of the brain may be like the three notoriously bad train systems servicing the New York metropolitan area, Jersey Transit (which needs amputation), Amtrak whose high speed Acela is headed for a nervous breakdown and the MTA, which conforms to the seventh and last propostion of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus,  “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, daruber muss man schweigen, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” Treating mental illness is like one of those knock knock jokes.  “Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” The problem is no one is saying “knock, knock” and there’s no one there, though you might subliminally wish  there were. You're all alone, locked in a set of repetition compulsions which infuse you with the illusion of an increasingly elusive reality. The only way to keep the world from falling apart is to increase the OCD to the point where your insides become like a particle accelerator. Now you can see a therapist and start at the beginning talking about your childhood and going as far back as the trauma of potty training while dealing with all the Winnicottian “transitional objects” you’ve taken hostage along the way. Or you can cut short the agony before you get to the famous crossroads where Oedipus brought about the very thing he was afraid of and trying to avoid by running away. Just clear the decks, stop thinking about so much courtesy of a little prefrontal lobe work and you’ll save a bundle of cash. Who says that real happiness doesn't derive from living in a vegetative state?

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Temple Body

"Atlas" by Lee Lawrie (photo: ThreeOneFive)
If you were a young woman growing up in the 50’s or even early 60’s, you may remember your mother warning you,  “your body is your temple.” Instead of attending Temple Emmanuel or Israel, you attended Temple Body and you never would have believed that 30 or 40 or 50 years later you would literally be congregating at a temple for bodies rather than a more traditional house of worship. Indeed in today’s godless world you're more likely to find a gym occupying the space where a synagogue, temple or mosque used to be. There are chains of gyms everywhere and the little church on the corner is likely to be listing its spin class along with its schedule of evening vespers. Limelight Fitness on Sixth Avenue was a church before it became a disco. Is this a form of trans or consubstantiation where not bread and wine, but muscles and ligaments represent the blood and body of Christ? After all, Equinox could be the name of a church instead of a chain of high end health clubs. The statue of Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders stands across the street from St. Patrick’s on Fifth Avenue, as a reminder of the enormous weight that one of mythology's great body builders was able to heft. “’Cause we're living in a material world and I am a material girl,” sings Madonna. Matins means morning prayer, but it also sounds like a good name for one of those anaerobic or aerobic classes that gets you out of bed at the crack of dawn.