Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Diasporic Dining: Oy Yoy Yoy

"Oi Yoi Yoi" by Roger Hilton (1963)
How about Oy for the name of a Japanese restaurant? Or Oy Yoy Yoy? Remember Yayoi Kusama, the famed artist? There's an expression “Oi” which often occurs in Japanese anime which is apparently an untranslatable verbal expression (really just a noise) like Oy, which of course, is a Yiddish expression of either misery or commiseration with someone who is suffering. But in a world where Yiddish culture still continues to have an influence, a Japanese restaurant with such a name would attract droves of customers. In the past Jews went to their Yiddish speaking bakers for challah and now they would go to Oy. The next best thing for the world-weary individual who's looking for something to sooth the indignities of existence is naturally a California roll. Just think.  It’s dinner time and you’re in the middle of the usual argument about where to eat with your significant other and you look up and see the gold embossed Asian influenced lettering of a sign which reads “Oy Yoy Yoy."Surely you’re going to walk right into the cozy wooded interior and order a bowl, maybe not of matzoh ball, but miso soup. "Oi Yoi Yoi" also happens to be the title of a painting by Roger Hilton, which apparently was inspired by the sight of his wife dancing naked on a verandah screaming just those words.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The National Yiddish Theatre's Fiddler

"The Fiddler" by Marc Chagall (1912)
Remember hating your parents and their friends self-satisfyingly talking about Fiddler when you were a rebellious teenager? Even though you heard it was based on Sholom Aleichem, it was just one more Broadway musical frequented by the old folks. If you were going to see a show, let it be Oh! Calcutta! or Hair. But what an eye opener to see the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene's revival at the Museum of Jewish Heritage (the current run is sold out but it’s moving uptown to Stage 42). Perhaps it’s the authenticity conveyed by the fact that the production is in Yiddish and you start off with “ist das ein leben?" "Is this a life?" Perhaps you’re warmed by phrases like “meshugganah gedanken.” But the real crux lies in the iconic title song. “Tradition” is what Tevye (Steven Skybell) the famed character is not doing a very good job of upholding. The world is falling apart around him. From a dialectical point of view it’s not only the incipient liberation of his daughters, but the prospect of revolution itself that looms on the horizon. Like a lot of Russian based literature, by the way, Fiddler has its revolutionary student, its Bazarov, in the form of Pertshik (Drew Seigla) who breaks taboos by introducing the unheard of notion of romantic love and asking Tevye’s daughter Hodl (Stephanie Lynn Mason) to dance. Ironically the very means by which Jewish life created its own secularized literature and mythology, Yiddish, will preside over its own extinction.Yiddish would ultimately lead the way to cultural assimilation.The dissolution of the village creates the drama, but it’s the voice of freedom that’s the real enemy. The narrative presides over the development of consciousness and even though Tevye’s daughter Khave (Rosie Jo Neddy) does the unthinkable in marrying out of the faith, her father caves in and gives her his blessing. The melting pot and liberation that ultimately await these characters will eventually have them speaking English rather than their colorful native tongue. Don’t miss this Fiddler

Friday, December 14, 2018

Bitcoin, Second Life and the Allegory of the Cave

Maybe Plato was right and the reality that's perceivable by the senses is only a shadow of the truth. Ideal forms do exist, but they’re not apprehensible so what you’re left with is the condition of the cave dweller looking at silhouettes. This was the theory behind The Matrix too. Empirical reality is really virtual, the production of a mechanism that leaves the mind in a continual dream. An on-line creation like Second Life creates a universe which plays on this principle in the end offering something, which though admittedly not real in any sense, vies with reality to the extent that it satisfies so many human needs. Bitcoin functions in a similar way since it’s essentially a virtual currency. If anything knowledge from an epistemic point of view seems to be leaning away from the notion of absolute truth and absolute reality. Increasingly the universe is a relative place. In the literary world, deconstruction played a role in this by enforcing the idea that texts were culturally bound; in science you had Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The current occupant of The White House has taken a perverse form of this idea in his labeling  much reporting as “fake news.” Those being accused of propagating “fake news” hurl the epithet back and the two sides are off to the races, having been tossed from Eden of Absolute Truth. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

On and Off Aggression

first edition On Aggression 
Are you the kind of angry person who wouldn’t hurt a fly? Konrad Lorenz wrote a book on the subject called On Aggression, but like sexuality, aggression is an instinct that has braved the shoals of consciousness. Simply speaking, aggression is more easily exerted by creatures who do not partake of complex ethical and moral systems and have never heard of Kant’s “categorical imperative.” Still some humans find it relatively easy to go after what they want. Undoubtedly Vladimir Putin’s nostalgia for Imperial Russia and the unmitigated zeal with which he's willing to violate the principals of the liberal global order that was on the verge of forming in the years following Glasnost and Perestroika is indicative of, for good or bad, a rather unmitigated competitive instinct. Is this the kind of unrepressed behavior one finds in sociopaths who are challenged in the area of conscience? Still if you have any problems expressing aggression, you can't but have a longing for this kind of unfettered expression. Popeye is a cartoon character who generally faces a comeuppance when he flexes his muscles, but franchises like The Bourne Identity and Mission Impossible appeal to flyswatters and anyone who like Peter Finch in Network feels like crying out: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Stuff of Which Oneirology is Made

"The Persistence of Memory" (1931) by Salvador Dali
“In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” is the title of a famous Delmore Schwartz short story taken form the epigraph to a Yeats' book of poetry, Responsibilities. The story indeed deals with a dream that the main character eventually wakes up from. But dreams are an odd thing. Freud wrote The Interpretation of Dreams and he called dreams "the royal road to the unconscious.” The American psychiatrist Allan Hobson takes a far more prosaic attitude towards dreams in which dreaming is a response to physiological stimuli. Giorgio de Chirico’s dream-like landscapes depict streets that are often depopulated and there's the famous dream in Bergman’s Wild Strawberries where the professor goes to the town where the clocks have no hands. Clocks, in this case dripping ones, also appear Dali’s dreamlike painting “The Persistence of Memory.” People often treat their own dreams like the Sphinx Riddle, seeking out soothsayers and even analysts who will look into their crystal balls for answers, while failing to realize that the only real significance to dreams is what the dreams mean to the dreamer. Of course in the bible Joseph interprets the Pharaoh’s dream. Was the author of that sacred text a little like the French Structuralist Claude Levi-Straus, an archeologist of symbols and signs? Dreaming can be a treacherous landscape since it’s like the ice cream Sunday of the artistic or writerly palette. A dream seems so pregnant, yet where is the objective correlative? The conjuring of an isolated imagination is not necessarily interesting and informative in and of itself. In this sense dreams can be the shoals upon which a creative project can become wrecked. A dream may often be like a beached whale which has become misled by its own built-in sonar. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Pornosophy: O

Self-abnegation has a storied history. First of all it can be a spiritual act in which appetite is squelched. Ultimately the object  is to extinguish ego. Once, “I” is out of the equation, the priest or monk or self-flagellant is ready to give him or herself up to God. In S&M the concept get more complicated because the individual seeking domination is orchestrating the show. After all he or she is the one who's doing the seeking. In the literature a dominant may tell his or her slave that they dare not speak up after having totally given up their powers. But usually such behavior is part of a transaction-- sometimes involving prostitution. The session ends, money is exchanged, and hopefully the suppliant has succeeded in getting what they want. God may be all powerful and he or she may demand sacrifices of the kind that Abraham was asked to make, but the only catharsis is faith and there's little notion of earthly pleasure deriving from the experience. However, submission is the common denominator in all these acts and ultimately the person who indulges in bondage, asking to be tied up and restrained is experiencing a kind of freedom from the responsibility of self. That’s what the famous erotic classic the Story of O is all about and for some the book is the bible of self-forgetting.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Sperm Count: What's the Difference Between Having a Meal or Sex With Somebody?

What’s the difference between having a meal or sex with someone.? Is sexual intercourse just another course? For example you order an appetizer which is like foreplay. No wonder they talk about finger food. Freud deal with the anal and oral stages and that's something that most gourmets are interested in too. What comes in must come out is not one of the four laws of thermodynamics, but it’s a simple truth which permeates all human affairs--speaking of which if you’re indulging in an illicit meal, it’ll all come out in the wash. Now the main course is obviously going to be coitus of some sort which explains the expression "you can look at the menu but you don't have to order." Some people just ask for an appetizer which is the equivalent of getting a blow or hand job, but in general the aural satisfactions that derive from kissing and sucking, fellatio or cunnilingus lead up to the kind of degustatory union that's characteristic of both dining and sex. You might employ your penis, vagina, asshole or combination thereof (the combination plate so beloved in all style Cantonese places) and you'll be enjoying the coup de grace. If you’re having a prime rib, this is the part of the meal where you have eaten the outstanding meat and are up to the juicy mixture of fat and grizzle attached to the bone itself. The connection between eating and sex is underscored by the fact that an erection is called a boner. Anyone who had ever enjoyed having something hard and tasty in their mouth will appreciate it. Now we’re ready for the dessert, the after party or post prandial moment when having satisfied your lust you're ready for the cool down which comes from touching stimulated areas, like nipples which might have become hardened and are now releasing their gases like the floats in the Thanksgiving Day parade. Your demitasse is perfectly named due to the linguistic tie which conjures the sight of a sleeping lover’s fundament.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Pornosophy: Seven Dirty Words

George Carlin had a famous routine, "Seven Dirty Words," that was based on then forbidden language. It would be informative to see how these would go over in this day and age, were the comedian here to deliver them. The era out of which Carlin came was one in which speech reflected a relaxation in sexual mores.The pendulum has now begin to shift in the opposite direction. A recent cover of The Atlanticfor instance, featured a story on "The Sexual Recession," in which it was argued that young people are statistically experiencing a decline in the frequency in which they have sex on a weekly basis. At least one of the items on Carlin’s list is the dreaded "c" word whose use today can result in a good verbal flogging, ostracization or worse. Others like “cocksucker” and “motherfucker” are a little like our public lands, which are still protected, but in imminent danger. The world over which Carlin reigned along with other comedians like Lenny Bruce and Mel Brooks now itself almost seems like an extinct universe; it’s probably true to say that some of the transgressions that the #MeToo movement has rightly fought to curb emanate from a time in which the exuberance of freedom led to its own excesses. Freedom is nice, but not when it is exercised in a unilateral manner. Still seminal texts like J.P. Dunleavy’s The Ginger Man and of course the two Tropics, of Cancer and Capricorn, which were Henry Miller’s contribution to both sex and literature have now become outliers. You remember it, right? The sexual revolution. Talk about paradigms shifting, it’s hard to conjure what that phrase means in a world where university students are more concerned about being "triggered" than “tuned in, turned on and dropped out,” to quote Timothy Leary.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Final Solution: Strange Bedfellows

How can you be a right-to-life person and defend the death penalty at the same time? Of course, this is precisely the position maintained by many conservative voters in states like Texas whose large death row population is supported by the same people who oppose Roe v. Wade. At times similarly held positions between people of opposing ideologies can create strange bedfellows like the unwieldy alliance between feminists and religious fundamentalists who oppose the First Amendment when it comes to pornography. What this points to is the irrational factor in human affairs. Sure it makes sense that if you value life you wouldn’t be in favor of execution, but the individual who opposes abortion might easily think of him or herself as a pioneer mentality whose thirst for vengeance might go hand in hand with his or her desire to protect the helpless fetus. Who knows when gunslingers and bounty hunters in the Old West thought life began. It can safely be said that conservatives don’t like taxes that pay for entitlements like Obamacare or even Social Security. Conservatives also don’t like the kind of over regulation that can thwart individual initiative. But the self-same conservatives who champion the rights of the individual over intrusive government might may also find themselves opposed to individual rights when it comes to gay marriage. For instance the Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple ("Supreme Court rules for Colorado baker in same-sex wedding cake case,"CNN, 6/4/18). On other issues, there may be some crossing over. A libertarian might argue that the government can’t compel an individual to buy health insurance while at the same time finding him or herself opposed to free trade. On these issues the ideological lines become blurry, though a person who believes that any form of violent pornography should be available on the internet may believe that religious symbols in public spaces are the kind of free expression that impinges on religious liberty.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Sacramento Journal: Downtown

Ruhstaller Buiding (photo:Toyz1988)
When you’re walking along the leafy tree-lined streets of Sacramento’s Midtown, filled with beautiful old houses and quirky stores, you forget that the city is the capital of the third largest state in the union (and the largest in population). Sacramento’s Downtown with its imperious looking governmental buildings, housing agencies like the office of the state’s Attorney General are a reminder of the provenance and initial purpose of the city, which at one time was the last stop on Transcontinental Railroad. You can visit the California State Railroad Museum in the Old Town section that with its restored l9th century structures looks a little like a theme park. Then returning along J, you’ll come upon the Ruhstaller Building, a grand old Queen Anne style structure which houses the Church of Christ Science and is just a stone’s throw from several other churches including that of Scientology, along with a Masonic temple and the Center of Praise Ministries. Nearby a lone figure parades a placard which reads “Christ Saves Souls.” 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Sacramento Journal: Fathoming the Demographic

photo by Francis Levy
Where do all the homeless people come from and the murals of Johnny Cash, Prince and Saoirse Ronan? Sacramento is a mass of contrarieties. Tropical palms line the streets along with deciduous trees which create the feeling of New England in Northern California on a lustrous autumn afternoon. A gun store is down the block from a storefront operated by Franciscans. The Capitol Dome Park is surrounded with a majestic line of portosans in anticipation of a marathon--the line of portosans like an auspicious hedge. Around the corner from LexisNexis on 21st and K are Time Tested Books Sell-Buy-Trade, and Freestyle Relaxed Fashion Boutique--an old-fashioned used book store and a thrift shop a stone's throw from a computer giant. and then there's Harv's Car Wash (1901 I) GET IN • GET OUT • GET CLEAN • GO GREEN! How to unearth the demographics or explain that lamp in the store window of Lofings Lighting on J, with the woman's leg in fishnet stockings for a base?

Monday, December 3, 2018

Sacramento Journal: the Samson Luggage Sculpture

"The Samson Luggage Sculpture" by Brian Goggin (photo: Francis Levy)
If you repair to the baggage claim area at Terminal A in the Sacramento Airport, you will come upon the "Samson Luggage Sculpture." It’s actually two 23 feet-high pillars made up of over 700 valises. The artwork was created by the sculptor Brian Goggin in l998 and the arcane term for a suitcase actually is the most adequate way to describe this agglomeration of beaten up and abandoned pieces—that might remind you of weather worn faces and purportedly represent the entire period of modern air travel. The towers sit in white bins of the kind one sees in airports and anyone who has ever experienced a sinking feeling when the carousel has stopped and their luggage is nowhere to be found will derive a catharsis in this vertiginous version of the lost or unclaimed baggage depot. It’s a little like the straphanger in The Kingston Trio’s “MTA” with the lyrics being changed from “did he ever return?” to “will it ever return?” If you have ever been permanently separated from your belongings, it might be worth scouting out this artwork next time you're in Sacramento, to see how these orphans have been inadvertently canonized. In reality, you might never have gotten your valuables back, but might find your suffering has been requited as part of a universal experience that finally contributed to the making of a work of art. Loss is, of course, the subject and Vittorio De Sica may have had a similar impulse toward restitution in his famed Bicycle Thieves (1948) which dealt with the disappearance of the title object in post-war Rome.