|John Stuart Mill (London Stereoscopic Company)|
Monday, February 29, 2016
Friday, February 26, 2016
|Portrait of Sigmund Freud by Max Halberstadt|
Thursday, February 25, 2016
|Fresco of Priapus, Casa Dei Vettii, Pompeii (PD-ART, Fer. filol)|
We take words for granted. Take for instance erection. You mention erection and you think of sex. In order to consummate sexual intercourse a male needs an erection; it’s not a requisite for procreation in this age of test tube babies and frozen sperm, but it doesn’t hurt. The sexologist Dr. Ruth used to roll her tongue employing her German accent to create a mellifluous and exotic sound when she said the word in order to emphasize the auspicious state that it betokened. There’s the flaccid penis and there’s an erection. A male with a penis which cannot make the transition from one state to the other suffers from ED, or erectile dysfunction. If the cross had two stations it might conform to these two earthly poles of existence. However, considering how much the word erection is used, it’s rather astounding how seldom one thinks of its roots. Erection is the state of building something up and an erection is what results from this activity and every erection has its shaft which is the foundation for what will eventually rise up. You might erect or participate in the erection of a tent or building. Remember when you were a kid and you innocently played with your erector set? Little did you know that this would be the foreplay that led to manhood. To erect is also to create. So we erect buildings and eventually cities and that is why the word was chosen to describe a condition in which the male penis engorged with blood becomes proud and hard. The erection is the Robert Moses of the human body. Plowing the field is slang for having sex. But you need an erection to plow the field and to coin the name of a famous soul song create an “expressway to your heart.” The erection is what makes ontogeny recapitulate phylogeny. It’s what turns the individual into a race and it’s a symbol of the life force. In the bible the Tower of Babel is a major erection and when that erection is lost, mankind becomes impotent, speaking in so many different tongues that no one is able to understand each other any more. The word of god has become scattered words, now lacking a divine unity and mission.
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
|Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds (1772)|
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
In Roman times Julius Caesar was famously murdered when he wouldn’t play ball with the powers that be. Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men found a modern equivalent for Caesar in the story of the rise and fall of Huey Long, the legendary governor of Louisiana. In Robert Rossen’s l949 Academy Award winning film, Broderick Crawford plays the character. But who today will act out the myth of the populist hero who becomes corrupted by power? Though probably more political than idealistic, Lyndon Johnson was, for example, a perfect example of the New Deal politician who became a major power broker—to quote the title of another book written by the prominent biographer of Johnson’s life, Robert Caro. Treachery and behind the scenes deal making is, of course, the nether side of our democratic process and what unfortunately makes it interesting. Who wouldn’t rather read a book about Huey Long than one say about a pleasantly equanimitous governor like Mario Cuomo? "As a governor, that is my job every day is to turn the aspirational into the operational," Chris Christie recently told CNN--which might have been fodder, but the governor of New Jersey seems to be in no danger of attaining mythic status. Ted Cruz is cracking up to be a good candidate not for president, but for a book about behind the scenes hardball playing. Prematurely announcing Ben Carson’s retirement from the race to voters attending the Iowa caucuses was the epitome of cut throat politics. And now we learn that he’s pulled one his own ads because a fetching actress in it turned out to have had a career in soft core. Add to that the impugning of his opponents faith ("The Devil in Ted Cruz," NYT, 2/23/16). Donald Trump has famously written his own book Trump: The Art of the Deal but he needs his Jack Burden, the journalist narrator of All the King’s Men. Who will be his Boswell? The story has color and glamour, but somehow lacks the gravity of either the Robert Penn Warren novel, or Caro’s non-fiction work. Trump’s legacy will probably result in the creation of many books, but what's lacking in this tale is the presence of a truly great figure. Trump is the rare example of a larger than life character with, to decontextualize the title of Eldridge Cleaver’s autobiography, a Soul on Ice.