Monday, September 25, 2017


Aren’t there enough mysteries in knowable things? Whole industries have sprung up from the quest for the unknown and the unseen. Religion with its temples, churches and mosques is one of them. Of course in his fight against indulgences Martin Luther attempted to purify one aspect of the quest— which lies in absolution. Max Weber distinguished between the sect and the church in his discussion of what he called the “routinization of charisma” and there are still religions (early Christianity was one) that seek to create a closer relationship with divinity in which fervor overshadows invisibility. Practical spirituality is the keynote of the quest that’s found for instance in Quakerism and the Recovery movement. In the realm of psychology the notion of an unconscious is predicated on a force that’s defined by its inaccessibility to the reasoning areas of the brain. Repressed thoughts end up in the unconscious. In terms of the brain itself Descartes set the stage for dualism in which consciousness or mind itself is a property that exists outside of the brain. Depth psychology makes sense to the extent that a lot of the things people do are irrational, but the notion of the unconscious wouldn’t stand up in court and many neuroscientists today take the monist approach (towards consciousness itself) which looks at thinking as an organic and material process that’s similar to eating, ambulating or having sex. It’s fun to imagine parallel universes in which over the infinity of time and space, a monkey could type out all of Shakespeare’s plays, but in reality monkeys may be more interesting for what they tell us about maternal attachment, a la the experiments Harry Harlow performed at the University of Wisconsin during the 50’s.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Of, Mystics, Yogis and Dervishes

whirling dervishes at Rumi Fest (photo: Diaz, CC-BY-SA)
When you start to think about transcendentalism in any form then you’ve got to figure there’s something wrong with reality. Why would anybody be concerned about other worlds, if the world they were living in were pleasant enough? Baptists who speak in tongues, dervishes, yogis who walk on nails and those believe in the notion of communicating with the dead partake of spiritual practices that to one extent or another derive from the attempt to deal with harsh conditions or traumatic circumstances. This is not to dismiss transcendent or even paranormal matters. Without the crucifixion and martyrdom of Christ, Christianity would have been deprived of its catechism. Without the enslavement of the Jews in Egypt and the opening of the Red Sea that allowed the Jews to journey to the Promised Land, there would be no Book of Exodus. Trials and tribulations have produced a rich literature that has provided solace for legions of other sufferers throughout the history of mankind. Analyzing  etiology might appear to be patronizing to   followers of those practices which place an emphasis on attaining higher states over the kind of I/Thou ethics of those systems which emphasize behavior in this world. However, it’s a little like saying that concepts like parallel universes and the multiverse, which are byproducts of astrophysics, merely exist to satisfy urges for escape from the world we live in. Right now it’s science fiction, but so was Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days when it was first published in l873.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Your Inner Google

UNSCOM United States Special Operations Command Insignia.svg

Back during the Second World War, the predecessor of the C.I.A. the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), under the legendary Wild Bill Donovan employed psychoanalysts to produce profiles of Axis leaders. These early studies, aimed at predicting the behavior of enemies, became the model for famous studies by psycho-historians like Erik Erikson, famed for tomes like Young Man Luther and Gandhi’s Truth. Hitler’s sexual proclivities which included a possible affair with a half-niece (who eventually committed suicide) or Gandhi’s testing his willpower by sleeping next to naked young women were some of the more juicy tidbits that emerged from these studies of world historical figures during and after the war. Today psychohistory has become a moribund discipline, not only due to the decline in the influence of psychoanalytic thinking, but also because of internet search engines like Google. If Google is like a therapist’s office and users are like typical neurotics seeking relief, then doctor/patient confidentiality is being broken the minute any subscriber turns on his or her computer. Your Google history literally tells your life story, including all your peccadillos and particularly paraphilias. These are not only available for the literally anyone to see, but they’re in fact exploited (through the use of cookies planted on sites) by marketers who target internet users' interests and inclinations as they leave their footprints on the information highway. Big Brother no longer needs to be watching, since literally literally everyone evinces their interests and desires anytime they go on line.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Final Solution: How to Title the Film?

The Korean War ended as a standoff. No peace was actually achieved. The armistice called for the creation of the now famous DMZ with its famous negotiation room replete with long table, one part in the North and the other in the South. Of all the cold wars on record this must be the chilliest and the legacy lives on today in a  stalemate. In his piece on North Korea in The New Yorker "The Risk of Nuclear War With North Korea," 9/18/17), Evan Osnos quotes Thomas Schelling on the theory of “brinkmanship” which is “manipulating the shared risk of war.” Both The New Yorker piece and a current special featuring CNN’s man in Pyongyang Will Ripley underscore a situation which is fast deteriorating with no amount of posturing or language seeming to impede Kim Jong-un whose only response to sanctions is the exploding of ever more powerful bombs while testing the means of delivering them. The Korean ICBM which just traveled 2100 miles had the exact range needed to hit Guam. Are the echoes of the Cuban missile crisis in all this? Movies like On the Beach and Dr. Strangelove were the product of an era in which school children hid under desks in air raid drills (what good that would do in the event of a nuclear strike is hard to figure out) and well equipped bomb shelters were a standard feature of a well appointed upper middle class homes. But what movies will encapsulate our  current age in which the fear of terrorist attacks on infrastructure and nuclear Armageddon create a lethal cocktail of psychic terror. Whole populations are literally suffering from PTSD. Return of the Body Snatchers or Night of the Living Dead hardly does justice to the scenarios unfolding against a background in which ever more ferocious hurricanes (like Harvey, Irma and Maria), devastting earthquakes (like the one that just hit Mexico) and forest fires, nature appears to be in revolt. The “hero” of Michel Houellebecq’s Submission is a J.K. Huysmans scholar. You may remember that Huysmans was the author of A rebours or Against Nature and that “Les Predictions Domage Houellebecq” was the headline on the cover of Charlie Hebdo the day terrorists struck the satiric magazine's office.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Kleenex and the New York School

People take Kleenex for granted. You don’t even think when you grab one in your bathroom or in a doctor’s office, but this common household product is really loaded with significance. It’s a witness to your life passages. You pull out Kleenex at births, weddings and funerals. And you grab for them on the couch when you’re recalling the remembrance of things past. It’s actually odd that Proust doesn’t meditate on some l9th century form of them since their discharges—whether tears or snot—are the materialized detritus of emotion. The critic Harold Rosenberg once described action painting in an evidentiary way, as a kind of remnant from an artistic activity that had occurred like one in which Pollock is dancing around the canvas in the famous movie by Hans Namuth. "What was to go on the canvas was not a picture, but an event," he said.Tissues should be saved and preserved since they are mementos of passion. Further many tissues with their splattering could be exhibited as art works in and of themselves. I can either write a novel with the title The End of the Affair as Graham Greene did or exhibit the crumpled tissues that were the repository of grief. The vessel in which soft tissue acts as a solace is really a kind of Pandora’s Box when you think of it since after the tears come anger and after the anger an evacuation of the spirit which makes room for new loves. So blow your nose!