Friday, April 9, 2021

The Schadenfreude Society of Greater New York

If you’re a magical thinker you might believe that gloating over other people’s misfortunes will only augur your own fall from grace. Under this theory, you would experience retribution for your bad thoughts. Schadenfreude is one of the few German compound words in the category of the average non-German person—since so many people enjoy other people’s suffering. You may not covet thy neighbor’s wife, or murder him or her, but there's no commandment against wishing them the worst. Character assassins are happier than pigs-in-shit since there’s such a high demand for their product. Of course, the person who's capable of achieving so-called happiness, whatever that is, derives little pleasure from the sight of suffering. They don’t feel guilty for their wishes, since they're too busy soaking up the sun to care about what anybody else is doing. It’s certainly not necessary to see your counterpart fail, when you're busily reaping the rewards of your own good fortune. In fact, there’s no pay-off at all in feeling superior to others and wishing them the worst, when you experience the smugly self-satisfied feeling that you've gotten what you want out of life.

Read "What is the Antonym to or Antonym for Schadenfreude" by Francis Levy, Huffington Post

Thursday, April 8, 2021

The Uncertainty Principle

How matter-of-a-fact are you? If a storefront is shuttered, is it simply about taking off the boards? Will the old bookstore, or cell phone dealer return? Will something new take its place? It’s actually a quantum problem. Can an existence be shifted in space/time and retain its original identity? Some take an almost Newtonian view of reality, in which empty space is simply filled furnished with people and objects. For others, a shift like the one many people are experiencing in the wake of the pandemic ultimately changes the nature and position of matter and substance, creating what is essentially a paradigm shift and ultimately an altenative reality. Can one take up where one has left off? Ask any divorced couple who are remarried again? The epigenetic view might have it that the DNA of an organism is altered by environmental induced changes. “Normalcy” is the word that’s often invoked when describing the state to which the inhabitants of the earth seek to return, in the aftermath of a crisis of singularly global dimensions. Actually, the pandemic is good practice for what might happen if earth was hit by an asteroid which produced the equivalent of a new ice age. Say the United States reaches herd immunity sometime during the summer, it will be unlikely that the deserted office towers will automatically fill up to meet increased demand for products. Even if something like this is a surface manifestation, subliminally the underpinnings of reality may turn out to be inalterably changed. Will Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle be humanity's guiding star?

Read "The Days the Earth Stands Still" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Littoral Abstraction: Julie Mehretu at the Whitney

"Cairo" by Julie Mehretu (photo: Francis Levy)

The Ethiopian born artist Julie Mehretu’s work might be called “littoral abstraction.” The large scale paintings on exhibit at the Whitney are a history of abstractionist techniques in geographic and political settings. It’s as if the color of Kandinsky and the calligraphic quality of Twombly (“Of Other Planes of There (S.R.)" 2018-19) were overlaid with treatises on colonization and immigration. There's a substrata of literal meaning (that at time takes an almost ghostly form) that's part of the dialogue or dialectic between figuration and abstraction. The curators invoke a quote from the philosopher Edouard Glissant “We clamor for the right to opacity for everyone,” as an epigraph for the show. "Cairo" (120 x 288,” 2013), for example, captures Arab Spring and the 2011 uprising in Tahrir Square.“Being Higher I and II" (2013) address the cataclysm of Hurricane Sandy. Mehretu employs a notational style, a mixture of drawing of an almost architectural nature and dramatic gesturalism that includes everything from dots, circles, eyes, breasts, mouths, insects and wings to capture in her words, a “subconscious terror that you feel vibrating close to the surface.” 

Read "Limbo" by Francis Levy, The Evergreen Review

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Ethicist: Addictive Personality

Dear Ethicist: I do certain things (which I will not mention) about which I feel very ashamed and bad (tsk, tsk one of them begins “choc” and ends with “late,” the other begins “nak” and ends “ed”).These are basically victimless crimes, but I know they're wrong. At the very best I should have better things to do with my time—say like helping suffering humanity rather than participating in the self-fulfilling cycle of crime and punishment. Once I start down the path of iniquity, it’s like a black hole from which there’s no turning back. My logic is always the same since I have done one bad thing, what difference does it make if I do a hundred? Right now, I’m at the bottom of the barrel. I know I should help those less fortunate than myself, but I don’t know what I would have to offer since I feel like a useless scum bag. What should I do?

Addictive Personality



Dear Addictive Personality: I wish I could express sympathy and tell you I know how you feel, but I don’t have any idea what’s eating you. A lot of people excuse their actions by saying they’re sick. By that logic someone like Hitler was chronically ill and could have been sent to a psychiatrist. If you want me to dish out the punishment I will. From what you say you’re a selfish, self-involved lout who will eventually be a burden to society. I don’t like to talk this way, but I have to be cruel to be kind. Your prognosis is not good. I recommend you exile yourself to a deserted island where you won’t be able to harm yourself or others.

Read "A Moveable Feast" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

Monday, April 5, 2021

The Ethicist: Warning Signs


Dear Ethicist: How seriously should I take a warning? “No Parking” means different things in different places. “No Expectorating” signs are a thing of the past. What about those red “No Standing Anytime” signs? If you took them literally you might sit down in the street in lieu of being towed away. There are all kinds of euphemisms. “No Peeing on the Toilet Seat” is usually conveyed by the words “we aim to please, will you aim too, please?” Many planes display strict admonitions about smoking in the bathroom or tampering with a smoke detector, such as “smoking in the bathroom is strictly prohibited and punishable by up to one year in prison and a $500 fine.” You probably haven’t seen any “No Sodomy” signs outside motels in Michigan, Massachusetts, Mississippi and other states where oral sex is still against the law. Then there's “Occupancy by More Than l00 persons is Dangerous and Unlawful. “Cash only” is tantamount to “no credit cards.” Littering is a victimless crime as is eating. Does this mean you should hide a bag of M&Ms when you go to see movie at the Anthology Film Archives which forbids viewers from bringing food into the theater? Should you really not dump your garbage in public receptacles when you’re visiting a town that has no sanitation department? Is it wrong to put your head down on the table in a public library? What about that old favorite, "No Loitering?" Even though there are no signs, is it wrong to fall asleep and snore loudly during a boring lecture on urban architecture? Should you observe the “No Stripping” signs in a gentleman’s club by not tipping the dancers?


Warning Signs



Dear Warning Signs: Your question really concerns "literal interpretations." Originalism can be applied to signage as well as the constitution. No one is going to arrest you for bringing M&Ms into the Anthology Film Archives, though you may very well be stopped at the Regal, if you bring in your own M&Ms, for which you paid $1 rather than the $3.50 the theater is likely to charge. Ratcheting up the price of common items like water, candy and popcorn are the way movie chains make their money. If you insist on smoking in the bathroom of an airplane, or even worse disabling the smoke detector,  there's a good chance you're going to serve some time once you arrive at your destination. 

Read Francis Levy on Muck Rack

Friday, April 2, 2021


"The Last Judgement" by Hieronymus Bosch (1482)

Will you one day awaken to find nobody home and the streets empty as if the city were evacuated? It's hard not to conceive of a thinking ego, but though in all likelihood taxis or geese may be honking outside your window, your experience would likely be one of desertion--if you were dead. Death is also unequivocally timeless, while life is by definition finite. In fact, if there was one word that could be used to describe life, it would be “finitude" and one for death, ironically, "immortality." Death lives forever. So when you consider the universe before time began, you're describing death since it presupposes a kind of nonbeing. It may seem contradictory to describe the cosmos in terms of death, but the black holes with which it's rife exemplify the way in which it's perpetually in dialogue with both a before and after. So when one talks about wormholes and time travel one is also begging questions that are generally dealt with by the fields of teleology and eschatology. If you're traveling back to the beginning of time what comes before, negative numbers? And if you take off on one of those ships that journeys through a time warp, what is the last stop, eternity? The cosmos is really just a waystation between heaven and hell.

Read "Pet Buddha" by Francis Levy, Volume 1, Brooklyn

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Dear Ethicist: Out to Lunch

first U.S. issue of Penthouse, Sepember  l969

Dear Ethicist: Must I get someone’s permission before I have sexual fantasies about them? I practice "affirmative consent" and have never been comfortable with admiring varying people’s body parts or even admiring someone for their looks. However, sometimes I find myself daydreaming before I can catch myself. I’m so appalled by my thoughts that I try to supplant them with images like Moses smashing the Ten Commandments or Noah fleeing the flood. I don’t like to objectify human beings and treat them like slabs of beef in an abattoir. The humanity and complexity of the human animal is lost when you reduce them to pronouns like “they” for “him” or “her.” Synecdoche is the figure of speech in which the part is substituted for the whole. "The White House" for the presidency is an example. Fetishists often employ this fantasy when they get a glimpse of the undergarments they're wearing. I'm terrified that someone is going to find out what I’m thinking.

Out to Lunch


Dear Out to Lunch: Everyone has fantasies. You might see a “bust” at the museum or wonder about your alma mater’s “endowment.” I think you know where I’m going.


Dear Ethicist: If it’s where it sounds like, I’ll have to go to some place else for advice.

Read "White Meat, Breasts" by Francis Levy, The Evergreen Review