Friday, July 10, 2020

The Final Solution: The Bubble Effect

Little fragments of the old life appear out of nowhere. They’re like the oasis hallucinated by the feverish and thirsty traveler, evanescent bits of the past that dissolve as soon as you try to touch them. In reality, the isolation created by a highly contagious deadly disease has created a world of pods, in which small groups usually of one or two souls attempt to navigate their way from one hopefully safe space to the other. Still one hangs onto the illusory moments, a car parked beside a highway under an old oak, as the broadcasts of NPR or the BBC provide a life line to a remembered world of sanity, civility and society. Even though the voices in all probability constitute a mosaic with the whole being more than the sum of the parts (consisting of lonely broadcasters suffering their own form of technologic confinement), there’s the ineluctable feeling the radio waves beaming their signal are like the path marks of a mountain trail leading from wilderness to civilization. For a moment there’s hope. You hear the Doppler effect of sirens fading into the distance and the lowering of the pitch. You’re assured the world will continue to exist as long you’re there to perceive it.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Final Solution: One Year Later

If you keep a journal, look back at the same day, one year ago. Trump was on the road or had already dismantled the Paris climate accords and the Iran nuclear treaty and every day represented some new blow to animal species or the environment. The basic idea  was to remove the fetters of regulation (including Obamacare) and globalism. Freedom received a particularly literal interpretation, which always seemed to conveniently circumvent the notion of individual liberty as conferred by the Bill of Rights. Of course, if you were tiring of the pieties of the #MeToo movement or political correctitude, you might have secretly felt a tinge of victory from listening to the profanities ushering from the Trump’s bully pulpit, Twitter. But the fact was the world looked remarkably the same. What could be worse, to reiterate the old joke? It could happen to you. Trump hadn’t succeeded in dismantling Obamacare for one and a thriving economy covered over long festering problems. Today’s diary entry will undoubtedly tell a different story. If you had tired of Greta Thunberg’s Cassandra-like exhortations, you now saw she was speaking the truth. The pandemic was only the first of a series of catastrophes that could bring about the equivalent of a new Ice Age. Within a matter of days sturdy old New York  was foundering. What about Park Avenue with its fortresses of pre-war elegance and its renowned towers of industry leading to Grand Central and the old Viaduct. The streets were suddenly empty with many stalwart Manhattanites fleeing, as the coronavirus brought life to a standstill. Would NYC become like the set of one of the Mad Max films with modern day cowboy/survivors cruising the city in abandoned armored vehicles and tanks? It's hard to believe how fast the illusion of an organized society can become dismantled. Now with the advent of summer, tropical storms present a trilemma to the survivors who remain, hanging on like gamblers who're willing to lose everything in order to win back their gains.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The Final Solution: Letting Go

Mont-Saint-Michel (photo: Ryan R. Zhao)
If you’re a believer, you don’t pray for things. However, ironically if you’re not, you’re likely to be burdened with a list of unfilled hopes and wishes which are literally burning a hole in your pocket. In fact, the believer is the one who's mostly likely not to ask for anything but maybe simply "help!" He or she's most likely to relinquish their will. Buddhists say desire is the beginning of suffering and it’s the iron grip, the juggernaut of want that the spiritual individual toys with abandoning. Of course, the prospect of losing control leads to a free fall in which it’s well-nigh impossible to predict where you'll land. In any kind of meditative practice, you entertain the idea of letting go, if only for finite periods of time. Some people go to silent retreats, where the possibility of acting is taken off the table for weeks, months and in some cases for the rest of their lives. BTW,  before you're time has come, you’d better grab a plot or drawer in a columbarium before they’re all gone. It's a seller's market. There aren't too many sale days when it comes to this type of real estate.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Final Solution: Is Mooning a Form of Social Distancing?

drawing by Martin van Maele (1905)
Does mooning qualify as a form of social distancing? Using six feet of distance as a measure, it certainly qualifies. It’s rare that an individual moons closer to six feet and when they do there's usually a protective windshield. Even though the head may be turned down towards the ground it is btw mandatory that those who moon still wear a face mask. On the plus side a picture is worth a thousand words and in the age of the corona pandemic when everyone is worried about aerosols and droplets, a sightly buttock can speak wonders without the usual afflatus (unless of course gaseous foods have been imbibed). Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it. The average person who drops trou is extemporizing in an improvisational context. Besides interstates, pool parties are another place where this form of expression is easily facilitated when a bathing suit or a bikini bottom reveals an orifice that though seldom seen by the public can bear comparison to the mouth. When it’s said of someone that they have a filthy mouth it can actually means that that their talking through their ass. The president has made it clear that he doesn’t like wearing face masks, but he really should consider bending over and dropping his pants at one of his upcoming election rallies. It would be an uplifting way to convey his message to his base.

Monday, July 6, 2020

The 400 Blows

The Four Hundred Blows (1959), Les quatres cents coups, is Truffaut’s David Copperfield and the start of an autobiographical series that included Stolen Kisses (1968), Bed and Board (1970) Love on the Run (1979). It’s also inadvertently a love letter to the vanished black and white Paris of photographers like Eugene Atget. The director’s first feature is dedicated to Andre Bazin, the legendary Cahiers du Cinema editor who was a father figure to the directors of the Nouvelle Vague. Truffaut is not only telling a story but reveling in his discovery of a vocabulary. That’s what he had in common with Godard. Both regarded celluloid as a language. “The cinema is truth at 24 frames per second," Godard famously said. Dissolves, fades and wipes irradiate the film. Early on, the camera pans up at the majesty of the city of light, and the facades of its Beaux Arts exteriors then later captures its cast of characters in dramatic overhead shots. Truffaut’s romance with cinema itself was for Paris what Dziga Vertov’s l929 documentary, Man With a Movie Camera, was for Odessa, Moscow, Kharkov and Kiev. Paris Belongs to Me is ironically the title of the film that Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud), the film’s rebellious adolescent and his argumentative parents rush out to see in a moment of celebration. “Il avait le fond,” "it has depth" the mother intones to her son's clueless esthetically deprived stepfather. Antoine is at war with authority. British angry young man films like The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) and Look Back in Anger (1959) are another point of comparison and of course the director's project was a rebellion against conventional cinema. Balzac is Antoine's hero but he's thrown out of school for plagiarizing his idol whose portrait he keeps in an altar. He runs away from home (prophetically writing to his parents “we’ll discuss all that happened later”) and becomes a thief. He’s a professional outsider, at war with the world and an adolescent version of the venerable tradition of artist criminals--though Truffaut's alter ego the young Doinel is no Genet. In the case of The 400 Blows the transgression significantly amounts to stealing a typewriter. The title of the film derives from the expression “to live a wild life.” "Art is a lie that makes us realize truth,” is the famed Picasso quote. Doinel is a liar, but his mischief is the first step in the creation of the sensibility many cineastes will one day cherish.

Friday, July 3, 2020

The Final Solution: Divina Commedia

Dante by Botticelli (1495)
Those people who have been providing essential services are in an enviable position to the extent that they’re constantly busy. A first responder doesn’t have time to question the meaning of life when he or she is tasked with saving them. Naturally it’s dangerous to be on the front lines and it’s almost laughable to look at those who put themselves in harm's way as benefiting from their position. But then there is the rest of the world, sheltering in place, sequestered and confined to their homes and waiting for the next shoe to drop. Those who've never been in danger of losing anything, including their lives, may be experiencing their first existential moment. As they stare out the windows of their cloistered environments, they will feel that life is passing them by and that they have inadvertently become artistic observers of their own world. Recusal confers a nebulous status on anyone who has retreated from everyday human contact. A primal innocence results after several degrees of separation. You begin to see things that have previously been encapsulated in preconception. Coronavirus is hell, but what circle do you occupy as you wander through this latest iteration of Dante’s Divina Commedia?

Thursday, July 2, 2020

The Final Solution: The Coronavirus Vaccine Sweepstakes

8 billion doses will be needed once the competition for the coronavirus ends and a company gets the patent. Then there’s going to be the logistics of how these will be administrated. Will there be those little white tents that have been used for drive-up testing,  with one on every single block in NYC for example? Will there be an army of nurses, doctors and pharmacists enlisted on a 24-hour shifts to meet the demand. Will it be a little like getting those time tickets issued by the Rijksmuseum for the recent "All the Rembrandts" exhibition? Vaccine is an issue for certain faiths. Will it be against the law to refuse inoculation? Will there be fines or even jail sentences meted out to those who refuse to comply? And then magically will civilization return to its normal routines? Will the flight you wanted to Florida or London be full? Will it be hard to get a table at Daniel as it always was. Will all seats in restaurants go back to being pushed together the way they were before there was social distancing?  In other words, will life go on as usual? Will business and relationships pick up where they have left off? Will products move right off the conveyor belt to the loading dock, as if nothing had happened—or not?