Friday, September 20, 2019

Have You Gotten Your Flu Shot?

Sickness is like science fiction. Stephen King’s The Stand, uses a flu epidemic to create a horror story and Susan Sontag’s famous essay is “Illness As Metaphor.” You’re placed into an alternate universe. Even something minor like a head cold creates at least one degree of separation from the everyday world in which others go about their business in a way that you're not able. It gets worse if you really come down with something and end up looking enviously out your window at passersby who're perfectly capable of going about their business unimpeded by physical handicaps. Those people born with congenital conditions never know what it feels like to live a so-called normal life in which one has full use of one's faculties. The average person takes his or her ability to see, hear or smell for granted but there are those who inhabit an interior universe in which stimulae from the outside world are dramatically limited. If you've never known another life, then in essence you may not feel like you’re missing anything. It’s those who experience the kinds of physical deterioration that results in the inability to ambulate or even cognate who will find they have begun a different kind of a journey. Journalist Jean Dominique-Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly described the locked-in syndrome that derived from a massive stroke. The NYU historian Tony Judt wrote three books after he was diagnosed with ALS while contributing essays about his condition to The New York Review of Books.  Stephen Hawking who also suffered from ALS, wrote books like A Brief History of Time under the most challenging of conditions, in the end using cheek muscle to activate a sensor. He developed a rich inner world that had a correspondingly powerful grasp of the cosmos. Despite being limited he was, at least from the theoretical point of view, a human telescope, his mind allowing him access to perceptions about the nature of the multiverse not available to people who suffered from none of the disabilities he dealt with. In his many books the neurologist Oliver Sacks demonstrated how patients with severe neurological disorders often compensated for their losses—becoming in essence like Spock in Star Trek, brilliant though sometimes robotic-sounding personalities with extrasensory perception.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Oedipus, Complex

Imagining different endings can be a dangerous thing. That’s what Philip K. Dick did The Man in the High Castle, Philip Roth in The Plot Against America and most recently Quentin Tarantino in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The fantasy may be benevolent or invidious but it makes you start to think that history can be rewound like a reel of old-fashioned celluloid film. If only you had  gone by your gut instinct and forgot about the supermarket, you wouldn’t have had the fender bender, or the argument with your girlfriend or boyfriend that was the beginning of the end. You wouldn’t have seen or heard something or become the repository of knowlege you would rather not have been privy to. Reimagining history gives the impression that the past is somehow labile, manageable and prone to damage control. The fact is that nothing is ever rewound.  Nothing is ever rewritten. Nothing ever goes away. You can’t nip happenstance in the bud. Coitus interruptus is actually a misnomer since it implies that a sexual act has not occurred; in fact, human action is a little like premature ejaculation to the extent that it, in fact, reveals its effects before they've sometimes even occurred. It’s like some incurable congenital ailment which can’t, like diabetes or alcoholism, go into remission. Poor Oedipus he spends his whole life trying to a avoid the prophecy of the oracle and ends up bringing about the very thing he's trying to avoid.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A Little Night Music?

Certain religions look at entertainment as something approaching sin. The second of the Ten Commandments prohibits graven images and many faiths proscribe alcohol. The cult of Dionysius would be not find a home in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On the other hand The Living Theater’s Paradise Now could be viewed as a contemporary counteraction to Milton's Paradise Lost. What's Courbet’s “The Origin of the World," but a recollection of the lost pleasures of the unconditional love of the universe. Hedonism or austerity are the antipodes of artistic endeavor with the reality of many creative works falling somewhere in between. Broadway musicals tend to provide escapist fare, but many theatergoers who revel in My Fair Lady forget that the musical is based on a think piece about the relationship between artists and their subjects. If you recall in the original myth on which the play is based Pygmalion falls for his creation, Galatea. My Fair Lady and Pygmalion attract different audiences just like A Little Night Music might not have had the same appeal to viewers of Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, the film from which the Broadway musical was adapted. What's the pleasure of disturbing works like Bergman's Persona or Fanny and Alexander, or Othello and Hamlet for that matter? Catharsis would naturally be Aristotle’s answer. Hamartia (the tragic flaw) and anagnorisis (the recognition) were all part of classic Greek tragedy, but is the net result edifying or ultimately just entertaining? Ars longa, vita brevis said Hippocrates.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Troubled Automaker?

Nissan Global Headquarters in Yokohama  (photo: TTTNIS)
Recently The Times referred to Nissan as a “troubled automaker.”  ("Nissan of Japan Discloses a New Recall, Adding to Its Problems," NYT, 6/2719). And business journals regularly point to "ailing companies." It won’t be long before you find the range of illnesses broadening with respect to industry. Imagine a neurosthenic appliance chain (they should be by the way with Amazon totally gobbling up the retail market), a hyperactive technology company with overly precocious apps and say a manufacturer of tractors like Caterpiller which suffers from an eating disorder to the extent that it chews up everything in its path. Will "schizoaffective disorder" be employed when referring to certain companies, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry? The pathetic fallacy is a literary device whereby nature reflects emotions, but industry, usually thought to be a contrivance of man, is now taking on a life of its own. Many companies are, in fact, run by robots or people who behave like them and often the decisions they make can’t really be attributed to a human factor. So it does seem like a cheap way out to start making entities rather than people the repository of seemingly human frailties, but that’s what happens when you’re dealing with a powerful machine. Like a gifted person, it too can face challenges.   

Monday, September 16, 2019

Beauty Contest

Michelangelo's "David" (photo: Jorg Bittner Unna)
Beauty's intimidating and a rebuke to the person who feels they're ugly, or at least has unbeauteous thoughts. It’s like the kid from childhood who was always faster and smarter than you and lo ended up on the top of the totem pole, in life, with the unapproachable wife, husband or lover and the secretary who’s practiced in saying “He or she's in a meeting. Can he or she get back to you?” You know the pert sounding voice behind the impassive personality of an executive assistant whose own glamorous existence you can’t even begin to fathom. Now think instead about a cess pool of industrial sludge, one of those greenish residues that forms a canal in industry city, where smoke stacks emit precociously advanced toxic substances into the sodden smog-filled atmosphere—a whore on his or her last legs whose lined face and dark deep set eyes record the depredations of their clientele. This is hardly the water lapping up against the edges of the sylvan sand esoteric Caribbean retreat, with its exclusively pristine harbor designed shallowly enough to keep away the hordes of cruise boats. What’s worse is that beauty hogs the show. It demands constant admiration. What more are you going to do in the face of a beautiful vista or landscape than to praise it? Yes beauty is like that Apollonian or Orphic statue that everyone stares at with perfunctory obeisance.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Of Mice and Men

Size doesn’t matter when it comes to having a big heart, but can an ant or an amoeba have a soul? Even animal lovers who fawn and fret over their dogs and become heartbroken at the death of a  beloved cat, take a totally prejudiced attitude towards mice who, as as rodents, some of the lowliest and most despised creatures in the great chain of being, don’t have equal rights. It’s unlikely that you’re going to see anyone in tears over the death of a rat, which is a name given to a snitch. Yes, even a lover of all creatures big and small hates to see an infestation of ants and will easily squash the colonies that pour out of the cracks of the flagstone pathway leading from the house to the driveway. But if worms have no souls, why should humans? Could it be that once the last breath is taken, the great work that nature conspired to make culminating in vaunted consciousness is dead as a doornail and in fact no better than the lowly mouse whose untimely end is signaled by the snapping of a trap. Yes, the mouse was stupid enough to eat the cheese, just as an unthinking human texting on his or her iPhone inadvertently walks in front of a car and boom, it’s curtains! Nice to think the light flickering in the house of a deceased person is conveying a message, but it’s more likely that the socket in which the lamp is plugged requires a surge protector. Charlotte's Web is an example of anthropomorphized vermin and Gregor Samsa woke up to find himself turned into an insect, but do any them, or the humans they were modelled on or derived from, have souls?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Pornsophy: Nihilism

Peter Kropotkin (c. 1900)
There are kinds of porn that act like porn but aren’t porn per se to the extent that there is no sex or naked bodies. If the end result of porn is an obliterative stimulation that allows an instantaneous escape from reality, nihilism can function as a form of pornography since it immediately steels the personality into a euphoric state of uncaringness. Nothing matters, everything is shit or as Hamlet says, “by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” Of course, negativity has a subsidiary function as a form of exorcism or emetic. You have to get the poison out to make room for the elixir of hope. “When he himself might his quietus make /With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear…” Hamlet continues. Bazarov was Turgenev’s famously negative character in Fathers and Sons and then there’s Chekhov’s Solyony in The Three Sisters whose negativity results in the death of the Baron, in a meaningless duel. The Russians were experts at nihilism and revolutionary anarchists like Kropotkin provided the ideologies for literary mouthpieces. But underneath can it be said that like porn, extreme negativity ultimately entails a search for enlightenment?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Thinking and Being

"The world is all that is the case" is the first proposition of Wittgenstein’s TractatusIn her review of Irad Kimhi’s Thinking and Being ("True or False," TLS, 8/16/19). Rose Ryan Flinn deals with a rather heady notion, even for a discipline devoted to thought.  Flinn points out that the German logician Frege’s work is the basis of current analytic thinking and it's his theories that have previously been brought to bear on the refutation of Parmenides’ notion “that thinking falsely is unintelligible.” She remarks, “Specifically, Parmenides' puzzle appears to call for Frege’s notion of a ‘proposition’, which holds the promise of rendering falsehood intelligible…Propositions thereby comprise a veil of intermediaries that stand between thinkers and the world, and which are what they are independently of how the world is configured.”  Flinn’s rendition of Kimhi’s critique of Frege, which follows in the review, leads to an almost nihilistic sounding conclusion. “To put it succinctly: if propositions needn’t be true, it’s unclear how they can be true; and if propositions don’t make claims,  it's unclear how they can be claims.” You may be wondering, what's this all about? Is it a little like the notion that a man’s home is his castle and that thinking occupies its own province apart from so-called reality? Whether you get the idea, in the end, may be besides the point. Simply sit back and enjoy the portentous sounding title of Kimhi’s book which competes handily with the consequentialist Derek Parfit’s pithy sounding Reasons and Persons.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Final Solution: U.S. Bars Refugees

Demonstration in front of Trump International Hotel Washington D.C (photo Ted Eytan)
"Trump Administration Considers a Drastic Cut in Number of Refugees Allowed to Enter U.S.,was the headline in the online edition of The Times, (NYT, 9/6/19). Actually, the version in the print edition which came out the next day was more unforgiving, “U.S. Discusses A Plan Barring Most Refugees,” NYT9/7/19. “The White House is considering a plan that would keep most refugees who are fleeing war, persecution and famine out of the United States, significantly cutting back a decades-old program…” began the article. There have always been parodies of The Times and one’s first response is to regard this as some kind of journalistic spoof, the kind of thing that’s found in The OnionHow much worse can it get? Transgender bathroom rights are repealed, regulations on mercury emissions are rescinded along with the protection of endangered species. You become numb and eventually it seems possible that you could pick up the newspaper and find a story about the Trump administration allowing selective lynching in areas where there are law enforcement shortages, that President Trump cancelled high-level talks with Boris Johnson when England refused to sell him Scotland, that trade talks with China will be held at newly created Trump Hotel and Casino in Pyongyang, that the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral will become the Trump Real Estate Space Center (whose motto is “if you’re looking for space in outer space, we got it!”) that the name of the earth will be changed to Trumposphere, that after next week's mass shooting, the president will reassure the nation he’ll speak to Mitch McConnell about it and that the White House will be renamed The House of Trump after 2020 when the country becomes a monarchy. 

Monday, September 9, 2019

Mr. Klein

At the beginning of Joseph Losey’s Mr. Klein  (1976), currently in revival at Film Forum, the Jewishness of a woman’s identity is being ascertained. The concentration camps are immediately invoked, even though the exam takes place in a Parisian doctor’s office. She’s stripped naked. Her mouth is pried open along with her nostrils. However, there’s a subtlety even in this garish scene. As she dresses and prepares to leave, she asks about payment. Vichy France was complicit and she’s a metaphor for the French who will pay the price to maintain their racial purity. This perverse notion immediately appears in the second scene of the film. Alain Delon plays Robert Klein an art dealer who’s profiting on the misfortunes of Jews who are forced to sell their paintings at bargain prices in order to raise money for their escape (how prescient Losey was in dealing with the subject of the wartime exploitation of Jewish collectors!) The art objects need to be evaluated, but Klein, is a non-Jew whose status is compromised by his name. The fact that in his haggling he himself represents the caricature of a Jew presented in a later cabaret scene underscores the labile nature of the nomenclature. Unresolved mysteries like that of the cell operated by the Jewish aristocrat (Jeanne Moreau) proliferate in an often needlessly reticulated way. However, the movie is ultimately an elaborate essay on identity (it's significant that the camera is continually panning as if looking for something). Losey’s earlier film The Servant (l963) famously used a convex mirror as the image in which Dirk Bogart gazed at his own apparition. The switching of roles, in that case between master and servant, is a device that’s employed throughout Mr. Klein with Losey's central figure eventually finding himself a victim of the very system in which he once reveled and profited. 

Friday, September 6, 2019

Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything

At the beginning of the Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything exhibit at the Jewish Museum (“There’s a crack in everything...That’s how the light gets in” is how the lyric runs), it’s pointed out that the songwriter and poet got his love of suits from his father, Nathan Bernard Cohen, who owned Freedman’s, a clothing store and his love of music from his Lithuanian-born mother, Martha Klonitsky-Kline, the daughter of a Talmudic scholar. His father died when Cohen was nine and it is one of the many reasons for this complex personality’s life-long battle with depression. Finding his muse as a writer of novels like Beautiful Heroes (1966), iconic songs like “Suzanne,” “Bird on a Wire” and “Anthem,” and an extensive body of poems are some of his many self-interventions. Cohen recused himself for five years, living the cloistered existence of a Zen monk. A deep connection to his Jewish upbringing also provided spiritual sustenance. Sex, drugs and rock 'n roll were part of the picture but as Cohen once said, he didn't want "to create ashes instead of fire." On the subject of making gold out of dross Cohen commented: “If you can sell your anguish you are doing one the very best possible things you can do with anguish” and he talked of returning to his hometown of Montreal “to renew his neurotic affiliations.” How self-consciously imperfect and refreshingly human are these and other similarly off-color pronunciamentos in the videos that infuse the exhibit. In terms of self-promotion, Beautiful Heroes (1966), his second novel, was actually a succes de scandale and received a good drubbing in the press for its graphic sex. It’s interesting to note that another Montreal Jew, Mordecai Richler, reminiscent of Philip Roth in his mix of antic humor and groundbreaking sexuality was making his mark as a provocateur at about the same time. “You Want It Darker” Cohen’s last album was released on October 21, 2016 and he died 19 days later. The choir of the orthodox Shaar Hashomayim synagogue in Westmount (a suburb of Montreal), which Cohen attended when he was growing up, were part of the album which the curators describe as the singer’s recitation of his own kaddish.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Monetary Man

Money is a curious invention since it’s partly an abstraction. The evolution of currencies culminating in government banks and institutions like the Bretton Woods agreement all describe a world that has two or more degrees of separation from the everyday back and forth that characterized society before the invention of coins and bills. Of course the notion of exchange itself represented a significant bit of progress that may have attended the development of prehensile creatures who were in turn capable of tool making. One’s neighbor was no longer potential prey but actually a source of useful items—something that recent proponents of tribal politics need to be reminded of (along with the notion of altruistically based "gift economies"). Money is a little like a secondary sex characteristic, the external manifestation of an inner drive, the phenomenological representation of the noumenal essence. There are some people who are like dogs in estrus. They’re hormonally never satisfied and are constantly seeking ever larger pots of gold like the great seducers and temptresses of history. They create great monuments which are based on their ability to manipulate what's essentially an abstraction. George Soros for example has made at least a part of his fortune through currency speculation. For others money like sex is a constant source of longing either because they don’t have any or enough. Money is also the title of a l984 novel by Martin Amis.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019


Are you tired of hearing about what someone ate last night for dinner or how much fun they had at Six Parks Great Adventure? Are you uninterested in whether a geezer you barely know went to a yoga class they considered “good” or found a shoemaker who puts old-fashioned taps on heels? Are you sick of hearing people lionizing their partners, lovers or parents or pointing out the latest presidential gaffe or piece of misinformation? Are you having trouble identifying with the conspicuous ostentatious and perseverative displays of contentment at human existence? Then you may discover the joys of “unfriending”—a process which unlocks a whole new world of possibilities? One by one you will be able to eliminate people until you have no friends on Facebook and there’s only you. Remember “Esse est percipi,” “to be means to be perceived,” the famous Bishop Berkeley quotation which appears at the beginning of Beckett’s Film (1965)? The movie is an essay on the surgical removal of the ways and means by which the self can be mirrored. Resign from Facebook and rent Film or Ross Lipman's brilliant film about the making of Film, Not Film (2015).

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Final Solution: Alex Honnold For President

Stories of transcendence are ultimately predicated on the notion of a limit. Circumstances mitigate against an individual discovering any kind of respite from a wall that interposes itself between desire and reality. Short of coming back from the dead, there’s no doubt that people accomplish things that defy explanation. It happens when the least favored person, or dark horse, wins. In the past election, Donald Trump started off as a longshot and then rode to victory on the tsunami of populism that struck the United States and Europe at about the same time. The intervention of the Russians in the election didn’t hurt either. Was it a miracle that someone like Trump got elected, or simply a historical phenomenon that had nothing to do with a politician's solitary will? It’s fun to believe in super heroes or villains, to entertain the notion that Christ walked on water and to give credence to the idea that this or that individual is suddenly possessed of superhuman traits that mysteriously facilitate the performance of other-worldly deeds. It still makes no sense that Houdini survived for 90 minutes after being submerged in an air-tight cell. The stories of climbers like Alain Robert, “the human spider-man” or Alex Honnold whose ascent of El Capitan without ropes was documented in Free Solo belie the concept of limits. Perhaps someone will one day actually fly, or arise from the morass of Democratic politics to triumph against the odds in 2020?

Monday, September 2, 2019

Pornosophy: Nostaglie de la Boue

Pornography can be an addiction, but if you’re just a consumer of porn you may find your sensibility evolving from the lurid to the nostalgic. The current culture’s fascination with youth, in which Brazilian waxing caters to pedophiliac fantasy runs into a collision course with the pornography produced in the 70’s (when Playboy first broke the taboo on full frontal nudity). The case of Jeffrey Epstein who created an elaborate supply network of underaged girls epitomizes the metrosexual fascination with the Barbie Doll. The 70s and 80s were the era of hirsute women and men, with a large Venus mound having the same allure as the large penis or package of the well-hung male. Today, women in porn films are almost castrated, denuded as they are of the dramatic topiaries and hedgerows that protected the so-called private parts. Narrative is another element that may create a nostalgia for the porn of the past. Sites like Tinder (the name sounds like a tenderizer), have created a literal meat market where the process of seduction and attraction has been boiled down to the lowest common denominator. However, if the genitalia has been streamlined so has the nature of personality. Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which the part is taken for the whole and sometimes the leads in today’s X-rated films seem to be well-shaved body parts. There are no stories anymore, just gang bangs and facials and golden showers. Glory- hole loops with anonymous mouths behind partitions create a longing for the Behind the Green Doors of yesteryear which exhibited comparatively fulsome story lines. It's significant that the title of a famous porn classic became the soubriquet for the person who blew the whistle on one of the great scandals of American politics.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Is Classic Abstraction the New Realism?

"Autumn Rhythm" (Number 30) by Jackson Pollock (1950), The Met
Is classic abstraction the new realism? One always assumes that a realistic view of the world is one filled with recognizable figures and it’s hard to digest the fact that ideas running through the mind are made up of preconceptions. You don’t have to be a neurologist to understand that sight is not necessarily restored in a blind individual once a particular ophthalmological advance or discovery allows for the repair of a congenital condition. Vision is a complex process and if one introduces solipsism or extreme subjectivity into the equation, there's no real way of confirming if one man’s red is another’s yellow or a rose is a rose or certainly. Isn't for instance vanishing perspective a kind of mind game? Who's to say that the abstractionists weren’t inadvertently unmasking a reality that had been under wraps—if it's impossible to actually agree that one person is seeing the same thing as the other? There are many issues here, but the chief ones boil down to the questions of A) what's reality? and B) what's perception? Abstractionists might be deemed Tiresias-like seers gifted with the ability to see beyond the surface images in which reality is wrapped. Perception is always a crap shoot in which an objectivist view of the outside world, what so-called “realists” strive for, is actually no more certain than the agreed upon value of some newly issued cryptocurrency.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

False Positive

It’s always nice to find out that the positive test result for an ailment is false, but it’s not a great idea to be falsely positive. If you feel the obligation to put on a good face, even when you’re suffering inside, you run the danger of becoming an “as if” personality. Even within a culture which prizes self-revelation and emotional honesty, there’s always the pressure not be considered the kind of person who brings others down. When you're trying to sell an idea you require an upbeat demeanor. The only problem is that it’s a little like sludge building up in a drain pipe. If you keep too many things down, there’s eventually going to be toxic overflow. A rosy outlook is nice, but it's also the posture of the serial killer and the murderer who lures his victims into his lair with sweet nothings. Anthony Perkins the desk clerk at the Bates Motel is a perfectly genial and charming character until the famous shower scene in PsychoAdmittedly this kind of psychic aberration is an extreme example, but it points to the price to be paid by both the perpetrators and recipients of superficial nicety, not based on a reality principle. What makes for effective horror and terror in B movies is principally the break between a surface normalcy and calm and a lurking rage. Ebullience can, on a lesser level, mask dysthymia and turn into a kind of broken promise to those who expect that what they see is what they'll get.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Fortress of Pseudo Contentment

Art of Self-Satisfaction: "Taoist Female Practices" and "Culture of Sublimation"  
There are people who are satisfied with their lives and have no regrets about anything. Some of these live in an enviable almost impermeable fortress of self-satisfaction and well-being. They've achieved their goals of raising a family and achieving a reasonable level of success in their chosen profession and they’re ready to pass the baton on the next generation.  At the other end of the spectrum are those enormously unhappy types who have never achieved the things they wanted. This doesn’t mean they haven't had success at anything. It may just indicate that the areas in which they experienced success did not conform with their expectations. They may even have raised that family and won the respect of their colleagues, but this is not what they wanted. John Updike for instance had wanted to draw cartoons, something for which The New Yorker is famous. It turned out that he became a legendary short story writer for that magazine. The late Justice John Paul Stevens, as was noted in Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro's recent NewYorker piece, appears to have opined on the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. He joined the camp of those who believe that it was the Earl of Oxford who may have been the true ShakespeareJudges have the wherewithal to be literary critics to the extent that they weigh evidence. Was he a frustrated scholar, who would rather have handed down interpretations of literature than law? Then of course there's another category of individual who suffers from a perceptual problem in which they actually feel they have never really had a chance to be, in any true sense? They may have put off or avoided the opportunities that came to them, existing in a limbo where they unhappily got by while others went about living their lives. Love and work, career and relationships seemed to have eluded them and whose fault was it really? If they are embittered and blame the world, they are the ones who will ultimately have to answer for their own frailties.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Abstract Climates: Helen Frankenthaler in Provincetown

"Flood," by Helen Frankenthaler (Whitney Museum of Art)
If you read the chronology of Helen Frankenthaler’s life at the current "Abstract Climates: Helen Frankenthaler in Provincetown" show at the Parrish in Southampton, you will note that she moved into the London Terrace apartments at 470 West 24th soon after graduating from Bennington in l949. She had previously shared a studio at 232 East 21st Street. 173 East 94th was the address of the brownstone she moved into with Robert Motherwell. She lived there from 1958-1998, though she was divorced from Motherwell in l971. The current show is about work created in Provincetown like the monumental “Flood” (1967) but the "color field" sensibility is pure New York, including the dates which read like a CV of the New York School. Ironically, the London Terrace apartments, a brooding block through structure, exists at the edge of today’s high powered Chelsea art world. After Bennington Frankenthaler studied for a short time at Columbia with the art historian Meyer Schapiro and then met Clement Greenberg with whom she had an affair. Through Greenberg she met Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Friedal Dzubas, Adolph Gottlieb, Franz Kline, Lee Krasner, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock and David Smith. The romantic notion of the artist is one of solitudinous inner struggle. However, this current show depicts a collegial world. Frankenthaler and the artists in her circle were bound together by a greater project to which the general public was initially resistant. In l960 at the age of 32, Frankenthaler was already having a retrospective of her 50's work at The Jewish Museum. Frank O’Hara comments about the artist’s ambition in the catalogue for that show are quoted by the curators of the current exhibit thusly: “One of her strengths is the very ability to risk everything on inspiration, but one feels that her work is judged afterward by a very keen and erudite intelligence…(She is) a daring painter…willing to risk the big gesture, to employ huge formats so that her essentially intimate revelations may be more fully explored and delineated.”   

Monday, August 26, 2019

Camp: Notes on Fashion

Jean Paul Gaultier's black taffeta dress at The Met
 In her famous l964 essay Notes on Camp Susan Sontag wrote: “Camp is a vision of the world in terms of style—but a particular kind of style. It is the love of the exaggerated, the ‘off,’ of things-being-what-they-are-not.” Hermaphroditism and gay culture with their emphasis on estheticizing were components of the camp sensibility, but while Jean Cocteau and Andre Gide were both gay, Sontag found that Cocteau epitomized camp while Gide did not. Perhaps the line of demarcation liees in the flamboyance verging on parody of a Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast as compared to Gide novels like The Immoralist and The Counterfeiterswith their serious and even moral messages. The current Camp: Notes on Fashion show at the Met provides historical and intellectual provenance for “camp” before dealing with the camp sensibility per se. Parenthetically, kudos to the curators for the room devoted to Sontag in which aphorisms pecked out on a typewriter stream overhead in the gallery like stock prices on ticker tape. That in itself is camp, par excellence. Digging further into the past, the exhibit deals with the l9th century notion of the “Beau Ideal” as manifested in the contrapposto stance of classical Greek figures like Hermes, Ganymede and Antinous, who was Hadrian’s lover. Vivian Westwood’s nude leggings with their acrylic fig leaf and Jean Paul Gaultier’s black taffeta dress which like a Castro convertible can be either one thing or other, pants or a dress, are cited along with “se camper,” the French word for posing which appears in Moliere’s The Impostures of Scapin. Christopher Isherwood dichotomized between high camp (which encompassed culture) and low which he dismissed as a “swishy little boy.” Paul Cadmus’ homoerotic “The Fleet’s In,” (1934) makes a cameo appearance, along with Oscar Wilde whose proto post-modernist homilies used wit and irony in ways that actually transcended camp. The dandy, the flaneur, the boulevardier all attended "camp." But is camp itself a museum piece? “Strike a pose,” is the way Madonna, begins "Vogue" (1990), but her flamboyance may have been a death knell for a culture in which all the humor and esthetic distance have been denuded from cross-dressing, for one. Ambivalence was an intrinsic part of the camp sensibility and with sexual identification now a political act, it’s no longer a laughing matter. You have to make a choice.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away.

from "Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away."
“Another improvement we made over Treblinka was that at Treblinka the victims almost always knew they were to be exterminated and at Auschwitz we endeavored to fool the victims into thinking they were to go through a delousing process,” testified Rudolf Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz, at Nuremberg in l946. Under what rubric should this testimony be placed? One of the many themes of "Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away." at the Museum of Jewish Heritage was that extermination was an organizational and bureaucratic process. There’s something satanically aspirational in making murder all the more sterile and surgical. “The Final Solution” was instituted by Reich Main Office SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich at the Wannsee Conference in l942. Despite the fall of the Third Reich, the Nazis were remarkably successful in exporting the idea of genocide which would outlive them. It was an idea whose time had come, if one looks at the sad history of the post-war years and what's going on here in America today. Here's another quote from the exhibit, this time from Primo Levi who survived Auschwitz: “If it happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen and it can happen everywhere.” 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Welcome to Caffeine Culture!

Welcome to caffeine culture! Coffee is probably bigger business than it’s ever been and your average gas station features at least ten flavors of brew compared to the old days when there was a single spigot from one of those industrial level metal pots (the other one being reserved for plain hot water) or even worse just a pair of desolate Pyrexes sitting on a heater. But what's the attraction? Caffeine is like being one of those characters in an Antonioni movie of the 60’s where decadent aristocrats flaunted fast cars and glamorous women. Where amphetamines are over the top and vaguely antisocial amidst an opioid crisis, coffee and its fellow travelers like black tea and Coke provide the extra kick that fuels one’s overdrive. If you're trying to get somewhere, coffee puts an extra "tiger in your tank" to recall the old Esso slogan. A coffee high can produce great ideas. Balzac’s productivity might partially be attributed to coffee—for which he had an outsized thirst (he reputedly died at 51 after drinking 50 cups on an empty stomach). Now you can buy concoctions with power names like Nitro Cold Brew which provide an even greater kick since they're cold enough to swill down in a couple of gulps. The only problem is that once the effect wears off, there's only one way to get it back and that’s by ordering a backup, a remedy which when taken too often can have an adverse affect on the intestinal tract, not to mention sleep which doesn’t normally go hand in hand with the imbibing of coffee or any other caffeinated drink for that matter.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Narcissistic Logorrhea

Have you ever been confronted with a person who talks incessantly so they don’t have to think or face anything? Is it possible to get together with someone who rattles on entirely about themselves and never asks you a thing about yourself? When they’re going at you, they might as well be talking to themselves since there's no way to break through the barrage of language—though that's precisely the point. It may sound oxymoronic but a stream of consciousness actually replaces thought. For personality types like this words provide a defensive barrier to the reality of their own solitude, but language is also a way of keeping reality at bay. If you've become so twisted or traumatized that you’re unable to conduct relationships, the constant talk is a form of prolepsis, a foregone conclusion and attempt to answer questions that have yet to be asked. You may become tired, impatient and angry in the face of such behavior which seems like a procrustean steam roller, unremitting in its intensity and characterized by a seeming imperviousness and obliviousness to everything in its way. Are people who behave like this suffering from narcissistic logorrhea or are they selfish schmucks who simply have given up any pretense of human empathy?

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Roto-Rooter and Nothingness

Sam Blanc, founder of Rotoscoped-Rooter
Dysthymia, dysphoria, suicidal ideation. Are you infected with a metastasizing negativity that's spreading into every bone of your body? Do you walk into a room full of strangers and hate everyone or feel disgust at people going about routine activities like eating? Do you feel the world is full of gargoyles who're inhabited by nothingness, with personality consisting of rabbit holes on whose event horizons you're constantly in danger of drowning. Imagine life as one long anal argument, one of the those all night affairs that takes on a life of its own and ending with you hating yourself as much as the person over whom you've unsuccessfully prevailed—because they’re stubborn and stupid and don’t accept the evisceration of everything which you’ve come to understand as a basic human truth. There's also an exhilaration in annihilation. It’s so definitive like one of those ominous lines that sees death in everything from a Sylvia Plath poem. You like to assert the indestructibility of the ego even though it leaves no recourse and no way out of the solitudinous grave you’ve dug for yourself. Do you enjoy flaunting your inhumanity, your lack of need for the company of anyone and yet suffer when you find your recusal from the community meets with an indifference that only increases your rage? Then it’s time to call Roto-Rooter with their famed jingle, “away go troubles down the drain.”

Monday, August 19, 2019

Wall Street or Jurassic Park?

The inverted yield curve has been in the news ("What’s the Deal With That Inverted Yield Curve? A Sports Analogy Might Help,NYT, 8/15/19). The Times compared the American economy to the New England Patriots who have a coach, Bill Bellichick, 67 and a quarterback Tom Brady, 42. You might bet on them next year, but you’re not going buy futures on the team. However, the idea of an inverted curve is a rather pregnant image. It’s kind of a financial version of Peyronie’s Disease, the abnormal curvature of the penis. One likes to think in terms of progress and there are many investors who subscribe to the view that over the long haul, the march of securities will always be upwards. However, there was another piece in the same day's Times, an obituary for Kary B. Mullis ("Kary B. Mullis, 74, Dies; Found a Way to Analyze DNA and Won Nobel,NYT, 8/15/19) which may also be applicable. Mullis invented PCR or polymerase chain reaction which is a way of copying DNA to analyze it. The obit goes on to state: “Indeed, the science of PCR, because it allows for the unlimited replication of small bits of DNA, was one of the inspirations of ‘Jurassic Park,’ the Michael Crichton novel about a theme park of cloned dinosaurs that Steven Spielberg tuned in a  movie franchise.” What about examining the DNA of the players on the world stage from Donald Trump, to Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and even Kim Jong-un? It’s nice to think that the financial system is not suffering from a form of Peyronie's and that the inverted curve will flatten out and rise normally in response to stimulation. However, if something has occurred which is turning the leaders of the world into Dinosaurs, then you might want to take a massive short position in anticipation of the bottom falling out of not only the market but human life.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar

The wonderful thing about radio dramas, which are having a renaissance on channels like Sirius XM's Radio Classics, is that you get to imagine the faces. This applies even in cases where the roles were played by famous actors or actors would became household names when they reprised the same roles on TV. Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar which played from l949-62, starred celebrities like Dick Powell (of Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theatre fame) and Edmond O’Brien, but the series’s main character, an insurance investigator known simply as “Dollar,” took on a life of his own, due to the magical way that radio allows the mind to fill in the blanks. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore. Radio has had a renaissance with Podcasts like S-Town and Serial made by the This American Life people, but a program about an insurance investigator? It’s almost as original as one about a P.I. who wears a scuba tank. If you recall, Sea Hunt was on radio before it came to TV. Every series has its credo and with Yours Truly, it’s the expense account, whose items become a narrative device in and of themselves. You learn what Dollar has done through his expenditures i.e. taxi fare, dinner for two and hotel in say New Orleans where he’s gone to investigate a claim. Most people think of insurance as dull. It’s like the career in plastics recommended to Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. But it can make for interesting scams, particularly when life insurance is involved. You always know Dollar is on the scene by the show’s haunting musical theme which would have been as indelible as Dragnet's (dumdumdumdum) if Johnny had ever made it to the Golden Age of TV.

Thursday, August 15, 2019


The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, CO
It's almost impossible to fathom the fragility of being. If the idea sounds too metaphysical then just look into the deserted hulk of a space which used to be teeming with life. This is the stuff of horror novels like The Shining, in which the walls of the Overlook Hotel are literally embedded with garish and still tortured spirits. However, you have only to walk down to the corner and look into the vacant space which once housed the restaurant where you took the kids on Sundays in that long ago time when a certain way of life was in full bloom. Wordsworth deals with this in “Tintern Abbey,” where he conjures the sublimity deriving from an old and abandoned space which still exudes the past. When you empty out a residence, render it broom clean and finally take your final leave, you’re likely to take once last wistful look. It’s at these moments that you realize that ownership is truly an illusion, however proprietary one’s relationship to reality. Renting or owning, it’s all the same since at same point the prized possession is going to fall into new hands, with the stamp conferred by anyone or thing soon dissolving as new forms of life metabolize in its place. Structurally the surfaces may seem the same, but inside it’s like one of those neurological disorders where the familiar face is now occupied by a stranger (Capgras) or the once familiar face is no longer familiar at all (prosopagnosia).

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Interminable Wait For a Bus

MTA bus (photo:trainrider10)
It’s interesting that seemingly long distances which require concomitantly long durations of time to traverse are all mere flashes in the pan when looked at in a cosmic setting. The force of dark energy which is causing expansion is, for example, making the multiverse an increasingly dark place, with the light from distant bodies taking ever greater periods of time to reach any particular point in space. Compare that to waiting for the bus on one of those freezing cold February days when every minute feels like an eternity or trying to get to sleep when you’re suffering from insomnia and time itself becomes an agent of unrest, if not insanity. Recorded history may account for 5000 years which, if you imagine time as a yardstick, would not earn a visible notch and yet no one can believe that it’s taking so long for a simple order of spaghetti to come, when the kitchen in the local Italian place is working at capacity. When they’re happening travails that turn out to be inconsequential and are largely forgotten seem like the voice of a great tenor who commands the stage. A charismatic personality can take the air out of a room though the building in which they're contained will itself one day fall into disrepair. “Look at my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains,” says Shelley’s Ozymandias. Relatively speaking the seas are never wide nor the time it takes to cross them interminable, no matter how unending the voyage may feel like. And then there's Keats’ Grecian Urn, which is timeless.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Habeas Corpus

There’s a scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972) when a body is jettisoned from a truck loaded with potatoes. Besides the potatoes the movie is rife with culinary citations due to the fact that a police detective assigned to the case is married to a woman with culinary ambitions of a comically failed nature (her husband is always dumping her creations in the garbage when she isn’t looking). But the body secreted in the middle of a moving lorry is a suggestive image. You may find department store mannequins thrown out with the rubbish. However, it’s amazing there aren’t more mangled limbs and heads turning up at the local town dump. Vik Muniz's Wasteland dealt with the garbage pickers turned artist/curators of the Jardim Gramacho, a dump outside Rio and there’s Potter’s Field, where all the unclaimed corpses are sent for mass burial and between the two you might have the beginnings of a living piece of surrealism. In the days of incinerators in NYC high rises, there were undoubtedly cases where these shoots became the repository of, at the very least, animal remains. Now however there are far easier and inventive ways of criminals disposing of the dead (for instance animal crematoria). So the opportunities of criminal objets trouves resulting from mob hits is lessened. Remember the cement shoes that the Mafia used to bid farewell to their rivals? Habeas Corpus literally means “produce the body.” Now your average assassination or murder is far more surgical and sterile, employing the most advanced forms of refuse removal known to man.

Monday, August 12, 2019

You may have heard of the 50’s+ dating site, “OurTime,” ( for the Tinder of heart. The problem is that you have to be wary of the kind of perverts that are turned on by protheses. If you're looking for a site that caters to the crowd who want to remain sexually active despite the hearing aids and walkers, you might want to go to “HasBeen,” ( At HasBeen you’re likely to meet your match. There's a certain etiquette to negotiating your way around to the extent that you have to at least act like a has been. If you boast about your current success say winning in 50 and over men’s singles at the Club, you aren’t going to meet a soul. No one's going to be impressed by someone who's happy and well-adjusted and uses expressions like “I can’t complain,” and “sounds like a plan.” You don’t want to exchange contact information with someone who's “on the same page" with you. It’s hard telling someone who's looking for a mate what to say, but a typical exchange on HasBeen might go something like this. “I used to like bike riding.” Without missing a beat and without so much as an acknowledgment of what the other person has said, the respondent should discuss how much biking they did when they were young. Not only are they talking only about themselves, with little recognition that the other even exists, they're describing an activity that's basically defunct—at least in their life. All the stars of the site are has beens and if you join up you want to hit the nail on the head, emphasizing that you're one too.