Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The First Law of Emotional Thermodynamics: Longing is Directly Proportional to Self-Hatred

first edition of Chekov’s Three Sisters (1901)
Before you plunge down the black hole of longing, consider that desire, particularly for an unattainable object, is directly proportional to self-hatred. You want only what you can’t have because you hate what you have. You have to want what you have is the other side of the coin. However, there's something delicious about this search for phantoms. If self-improvement had been all the rage during the 18th and l9th centuries, the romantic movement might never have gotten off the ground and The Sorrows of Young Werther might have been rejected by Goethe’s publishers. On the other hand there wouldn’t have been any copycat suicides by jilted young lovers—since people would have fallen for love objects within their ken and in the absence of self-loathing suicide itself wouldn’t have been an antidote to anything. Self-esteem might be a nice thing, but it’s a killer of a whole literary oeuvres. Flaubert famously said “Madame Bovary, c’est moi,” but if Flaubert hadn’t experienced a hatred for himself and everything around him, if he hadn’t entertained the notion that there was some kind of new found land that was worth hurting himself and others to attain—as is Emma’s plight—would he have been able to write the book. There are no Emma Bovarys in utopia. Yes it’s nice to live in the present and develop the Zen way of thinking in which you treasure every moment, neither regretting the past nor living for some unattainable future, the Moscow Chekhov’s Three Sisters dream of as they slog through their dreary provincial existence. But let’s face it, that kind of level-headedness can be boring too.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Pornosophy: The Four S's

Remember when women used to shave their legs—and other parts? Now that Brazilian or bikini waxing is waning, old fashioned shaving is experiencing a renaissance for those who don’t want to remove body hair forever. Before the advent of electric razors shaving commercials filled the broadcast waves. You’d see an actor's face covered with Old Spice, Palmolive or Barbasol and Schick and Gillette amongst others would provide the blades. But imagine today’s unisex commercial. A young man or woman is going to the beach and they want to get rid of all that dreaded pubic hair that sticks out of their tight fitting swim suits. Instead of a face full of cream you will see a crotch looking like Santa Claus’s beard. If it’s hard to imagine a man or woman spreading their legs and lathering up their gonads for a shave on TV, look no further than the recent Swim Suit issue of Sport Illustrated where the model Hannah Davis freely exhibits what was previously considered one of the most private parts of the female anatomy, the mons pubis. Now with Brazilian waxing confining itself to Rio, try to envision a whole new generation of ads exhibiting well known porn stars like Stoya and James Deen scraping aside the cream as they perform a new version of the shaving portion of the three S’s in totally conventional settings with dogs barking and spouses calling out things like , “where are you, your breakfast is getting cold” and toddlers walking in on the proceedings with their thumbs in their mouths. In all likelihood major manufacturers of shaving creams and razors will also produce lines of after shaves which will be thinly veiled lubricants. In fact the three s’s are likely to become four, with the final s being sex. What else are you supposed to do after you’ve shaved your groin area?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Meltdown at Home

Three Mile Harbor Reactor (United States Department of Energy)
Two self haters seeking validation of each other is a little like the critical mass that occurs in an atomic reaction, using say Uranium 235 or Plutonium 239. Put Hedda Gabler together with Hamlet and you would have the potential for mass destruction. Someone should actually create a play about a  therapeutic community inhabited by a host of self-hating and self destructive characters, adding of course Iago, Lady Macbeth, Medea, Mary Tyrone from Long Day’s Journey, Solyony from the Three Sisters and say Bazarov from Turgenev’s novel Fathers and Sons. That’s essentially the palette the director Neil LaBute is using in brilliantly misanthropic films like In The Company of Men. If you look at the history of the humankind the self-destruct impulse has often won out over the forces of creation. When Tito died and Yugoslavia caved into its irredentist impulses former neighbors, Bosnians and Serbs, who had lived peacefully for generations, became enemies and the massacres of Srebrenica and Sarajevo were the result. On a microcosmic or ontogenetic level we see the same pattern occurring in proliferation of relationships where freedom often includes the choice to fail. You see it must frequently in aging couples who blame the failure of their aspirations on each other. The aspiration for greatness, for success in either art or life is often the culprit, but once the chain reaction starts, it’s a little like the meltdowns at Three Mile Harbor and Chernobyl. When the “reactor” becomes overheated,  it’s almost impossible to stop.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Who is God?

“The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt
When you’re waiting for something spiritual to happen is precisely when it’s not going to happen. Deus ex machinas are fine for plays like Sophocles’ Philoctetes or The Threepenny Opera where Macheath is miraculously spared the gallows by a reprieve from the divinely ordained Queen. That’s why so many people are disappointed in God. Foxhole praying rarely works. Instead of using unanswered prayers as a proof of the nonexistence of God, you might try praying in a different way. Praying for things is the telephone operator view of divinity. Remember those old l930’s movies, which preceded the rotary phone, when a character would pick up the receiver and speak directly to an operator. Some of them even featured shots of phone lines or banks of wires, or consoles to show where the call was going to or coming from. That’s tantamount to the anthropomorphic notion of a God or higher being that listens and reacts. But what if God doesn’t have time to field all these requests? What if it has better things to do like attend to dark matter and energy, quasars, pulsars and supernovae or to such eternal questions as how something can coming out of nothing? What if God simply doesn’t work in human ways? What if it’s an emotionlessly immaterial force a kind of sinuous version of Kant’s categorical imperative which implacably seeks to align living matter with a force of multiversal duty? What if God is value neutral and doesn’t weigh in on the side of what we would call good or evil but is rather a juggernaut of torrential will, an unimaginable version of the Shavian “life force?” What then? Do you pray for the knowledge of its will? Do you pray to align yourself with it?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Pornosophy: The New York Times Magazine Then and Now

Young men growing up in the ‘60s read The New York Times Magazine for the lingerie ads. It was their initiation into the secret world of the other, the female, whose divine mysteries might already have been revealed to them in Irving Klaw’s photography which was the subject of the 2005 film, The Notorious Bettie Page. By the early’70s in order to compete with PenthousePlayboy, in a stage of history Hugh Hefner termed the "pubic wars," would show the full monty. What is the equivalent experience for the pubescent male today? He attends a metaphoric striptease show in which there is neither strip nor tease. By the age of 5 most young men and women will have had their first experience of hardcore porn. They will have seen penetrated orifices before they even know what they portend. What would have been science fiction to a 50’s and 60’s adolescent is almost jaded now—much the way that the everyday application of the principles of quantum physics (say in quantum computing) is taken for granted today. It’s a little like going to one of those extravagant buffets at a Bar Mitzvah or wedding parlor in which you can’t remember any of the food with all the varying stations devoted to sushi, barbecue, delicatessen, French and Italian cuisines and firstly not knowing what to eat and then after not remembering it. Further, there's no such thing as lingerie, in the classic sense of the word. Many women practice a kind of minimalism that leaves nothing to the imagination.  In the 50’s and 60’s the young man who stealthily extracted the The New York Times from the thick Sunday paper which lay outside the door, surreptitiously beelining for the bathroom, was content with very little, maybe just a bra, panties or stray garter. But the visual memory was as indelible as the olfactory recollection of Proust’s madeleine. Less was definitely more. The female body was full of pregnant signs and signifiers which have all but disappeared today, with nudity itself losing its potency, as a sanctuary for the transgressive sensibility.