Monday, June 18, 2018

An "As If" Personality Lives At Least 9 Lives

cover of first edtion
Have you ever felt that you were an “as if “ personality living a narrative you’d read in a book or seen in a movie. Identification is the whole point of classics like The Catcher in the Rye and what’s astonishing is the variegated personalities that are capable of seeing themselves in the story, people who have perhaps never even been to Manhattan and have never heard about the clock in the Biltmore and any of extinct milieu that Salinger alludes to in the book. Great art seems to cut a large swath in which people can find room for their condition. So many people see themselves in Chekhov and identify with the longings of say his Three Sisters, Masha, Irina, and Olga that one wonders if the playwright wasn’t at times bothered by the fact that people seemed to have expropriated his creation, paying little credence to the fact that it was his not theirs. One might not say the same thing about Titus Andronicus. Few people identify with serving someone’s children to them at dinner, but isn’t there a little bit of Anna Karenina and War and Peace in everyone. Flaubert famously said, “Madame Bovary, c’est moi.” But he might more accurately have said to many of his readers “Madame Bovary, c’est vous!” to the extent that a good portion of the books following comes from romantics who see themselves in the plight of its anti-heroine. When Brecht created the idea of the Verfremdungseffek or “estrangement effect,” he was attempting to give his audiences back their own reality rather than sweeping them up into an Aristotelian catharsis. The fact is, however, that a good many people who read books do so because they want, if only for a short period of time, to be someone or be somewhere else.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Conspicuous Ostentation

Rolls-Royce's Flying Lady (Rundvald)
Is anyone who buys a Rolls Royce or a Bentley an asshole.? William Burden, the financier, used to travel around Manhattan in a Rolls with his initials on the license plate, while Mike Nichols had a Mercedes whose license read "anomie." Thorston Veblen coined the turn “conspicuous consumption.” But this is a kind of "conspicuous ostentation" and some might say that Nichols was more culpable since he wanted his cake and eat it too. He was rich and talented which gave him license, one would suppose, to vaunt his superiority over others. Of course the possession of anything of value could be disparaged, from a nice house to a painting, but there are those who possess things for show and those of great means who do everything in their power to avoid the jealous eyes of others.There are fabulously wealthy individuals you have never heard of and then there was the story of the legal secretary who accumulated a fortune by simply executing the same stock trades as her bosses ("96-Year-Old Secretary Quietly Amasses Fortune, Then Donates $8.2 Million,"NYT, 5/6/18) No one ever knew she had money until she died and she left a good part of her estate to the Henry Street Settlement. But back to the flashers? What explains the desire? Is it the peacock strutting its feathers in mating season? Is it a statement of the wish to dominate and intimidate others? Will Mr or Ms. Rolls or Bentley get their way? By the way Mercedes Anomie would be a cool name for someone who was seeking to reinvent him or herself, no? Of course Mike Nichols and William Burden are both dead and perhaps Shelley’s "Ozymandias" provides the most fitting epitaph for their cars, “Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Final Solution: Looking for Mr. Goodbar

The current foreign policy of the United States is a little reminiscent of Looking for Mr. Goodbar. You might remember the l975 Judith Rossner bestseller, based on a real story, about a young woman coming to a tragic end barhopping in Manhattan’s singles scene. Usually an administration will come forth with a cohesive policy, with soubriquets, whether they be “the domino theory,” “spheres of influence” or “strategic containment,” which create parameters that both allies and adversaries can employ in negotiations. But the Trump White House has embarked on what feels like a series of one-night stands. First there was the love affair with Macron, which turned sour when the U.S. rejected the Iran nuclear deal, then the disastrous G-7 summit after which Trump found himself literally in the embrace of Kim Jong-un—on the rebound as it were. If the past antics of the North Korean regime are an indicator, the young despot will have his way with an old man, then blow him off, having achieved a coveted notch in his belt. He'll be the first North Korean leader who's actually been validated and recognized by a sitting American president. But for all his bravado will the American leader find that he falls victim to the three L’s having been loved, laid and left?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Final Solution: The Ice Age

So Tyrannosaurus Trump met Brontasaurus Un in Singapore. The perpetuation of the male dominated hegemonic order would ostensibly be the price to be paid for peace. A pair of despots dividing up the spoils. Sound familiar? Two dinosaurs who have each other’s back with the fate of the world, or at least Asia, in their back pockets. In the l9th century the same game was known as colonialism. Now that we’re plunked down firmly in the world of post-colonialism, it’s good to remember that when the Ice Age came about the dinosaurs became extinct. In the meanwhile, there are all kinds of piddling little issues like the Mueller Investigation, Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen on one side and the fact that despite the teary-eyed affection Dennis Rodman displayed for the North Korean leader on CNN, Kim Jong-un is purportedly the murderer of his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, his half brother, Kim Jong-nam and by proxy Otto Warmbier amongst others. But nothing really matters when you've got two big Pterodacytl paterfamilias exercising The Art of the Deal. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

What to Look For In Meditation?

A lot of people meditate because they’re seeking enlightenment and they’re disappointed when they don’t achieve satori. The question is, what is enlightenment? It’s like God. There are anthropocentric notions of god and godhead and then there is Godwhich if such a notion exists may be totally separate from any conception one might have of it. If you free yourself from preconceptions of enlightenment, you might find that meditation is significant in terms of what you're not receiving, with the subtlety of the experience the very essence of what's to be parsed. Very simply in meditation you're sitting still rather than moving as you do in most  other activities of life. In addition, you're not interacting with anyone or anything. In the age of social media where the very concept of being unconnected, even in sleep, is increasingly being challenged, this can be an extraordinary, even life changing event. Meditation is a practice so you can undertake it without any guarantee of results and it's the absence it allows that's epiphanic. There's something elemental to doing nothing, to neither giving nor receiving. And that's one of the states that mediation allows the sitter to achieve.

Monday, June 11, 2018


In The Myth of Sisyphus  Camus wrote “There is only one serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.” Camus himself committed at the age of 46 in a car accident, but his famous line is most often seen as a distant homiletic. You envision hands being raised in a classroom, as students rifle through underlined pages of the essay. Yet when the act hits you squarely in the face as it’s done this past week with the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, it’s hard to take a philosophical attitude. Suicide is a little like death itself. No one can know death unless you’ve been there and once you have crossed the line, you’re no longer going to be able to report back. Is suicide a message or simply a search for ultimate relief? Is it an act that's rationally taken or is the possibly copy cat nature of Bourdain's act, for instance (both Spade and Bourdain had daughters and both died by strangulation), the result of insanity, temporary or otherwise?  Obviously there’s no generalizing, but the fact that the two cases in the news represented particularly successful people who had every reason to live and people to live for makes it all the more difficult to understand. Severe depression can be an almost ineffable juggernaut which crushes the spirit, but the average person finds it easier to understand an existential predicament, such as that of the cab driver who recently took his own life ("A Taxi Driver Took His Own Life. His Family Blames Uber’s Influence," NYT, 5/1/18). The 104 year old Australian scientist who journeyed to Switzerland to die also is a case that is on the surface more easy to absorb (“David Goodall, 104, Scientist Who Fought to Die on His Terms, Ends His Life,"NYT, 5/10/18). Still in all, whatever the motivation, the reasons for this pulling down the blind, turning off the switch or lowering the curtain is something which suicides take to their graves.

Friday, June 8, 2018

#MeToo or Not To

What hash tag to use if you are opposed to the #MeToo movement? #NotMeToo or #MeToo—Not? You’re going to lose your job, your friends and most likely your significant other. So why not get your message to the right audience before you lose everything? You don’t want your Tweet to be for the birds. #NotMeTwo immediately stops the reader in their tracks. It’s like someone belching in your face. You’re going to recoil from the blatancy of the gaffe. On the other hand #MeToo—Not is very cagey. #MeToo is so ubiquitous that even if you don’t agree with the movement, you welcome the familiarity the way you do the McDonald’s “M” when you’re cruising into a stranger mall. #MeToo is our lingua franca. People may not like things about it and they may have had their problems over the treatment of Al Franken or Garrison Keillor, but in general it’s become the meat loaf or the cherry pie (as in H. Rap Brown’s “violence is as American as cherry pie") of liberal America. You don’t really care who anyone is voting for as long as they have a #MeToo posted outside their house next to the alarm company sign. It’s like the plastic security card used to get by the turnstiles of an office building. #MeToo is your “Advance to Go (Collect $200)” from Monopoly. Now that you’re in, you can do what ever you want, including negate everything the movement stands for—which, if the behavior of New York State’s former attorney general ("Eric Schneiderman Resigns as New York Attorney General Amid Assault Claims by 4 Women,NYT, 5/7/18) is an indicator, is what is happening across the board.