Friday, April 16, 2021

Dear Ethicist: Unsung Genius


Dear Ethicist: I have been waiting around for recognition, without luck as yet. Other people get their names in lights who aren’t as good me. I don’t know why. It’s not fair. All these years I have been doing the solitary work I hope would get my genius realized. Silence is the only response I receive. The cosmos is yawning as I scream and wave my hands for attention. Feeling my situation is hopeless, I have dreamt up some desperate attempts to get attention. The first is to order 12 rotisserie chickens from my local Food Emporium and have them delivered to one of these arbiters of taste who reject me. Another is inspired by the Spanish surrealist director Luis Bunuel. I attend a conference and put Crazy Glue on the seats in the auditorium where all the events are held. When the attendees get up, they'll find that they're stuck, at which point I will pull the fire alarm. Naturally, all those in my field who have been ignoring me, will rip their pants in a particularly embarrassing place, the seat. By the seat of their pants. Get it? There will be alarums and I will jump for joy watching the whole chaotic scene on the monitor of the security system.

Unhung Genius

 

 

Dear Unhung Genius: You had me up until you sent the chickens. I know you’re just trying to call attention to yourself by being annoying and provocative, but it’s a lame move, particularly if the recipient of your “largesse” is a chicken lover. Exterminating Angels (1962) is one of my favorite Bunuel films, but you have to realize that people don’t like being the butt of a joke. Take an elevator to a high floor of the building in which the conference is being held and drop balloons filled with water on the heads of those who've ignored you is a more effective way of demonstrating your frustration.


Read review of Francis Levy's Seven Days in Rio, Dan's Papers

 

 

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Journal of Medieval Scholasticism: How Many Angels Can Dance On the Head of a Pin?






Indeed, “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” Why not go back to the source, the question which defines the very essence of medieval scholasticism, i.e the pursuit of issues that have absolutely no relevance for mankind? Buridan’s Donkey is also often mentioned in this connection since it concerns another ridiculous problem that of the animal which dies since it can’t decide between hay and water, hunger and thirst. Suppose that an angel is the size of a muon, the fat electron which has been in the news lately since its peculiar behavior may open up a whole new paradigm in physics. The head of a pin is approximately 100,000th of an inch. It has been estimated that 6 trillion photons would fit on the head of a pin but photons which have no mass take up less space then muons which are 200 times heavier than electrons. Those have a mass of 
9.1093837015(28)×10−31 kg. No one knows whether angels exist, but if they do, their size is up for grabs. If John Duns Scotus, the scholastic famous for his thinking on “the univocity of being,” were alive, he would have to deal with the difficulty of trying to calculate the mass of a spiritual presence that may not exist. Of course, once that problem is solved then it would be smooth sailing. If say it’s determined that an angel’s size rounds off to l0-62kg, then your answer could be figured out on a simple slide ruler or even abacus. What kind of dance the angels are doing is another matter. It's common knowledge that angels favor ballroom dancing whether it’s the tango, the indy or fox trot when they’re not coming down from the heavens to shine their light on troubled but worthy souls like George Bailey of It's a Wonderful Life. Some angels have even been known to take lessons at Arthur Murray's Dance Studios.

Read review of Erotomania: A Romance by Francis Levy, Bookslut

 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Ethicist: Eleemosynary




Dear Ethicist, I have an end-of-life problem. I've always been a generous guy. I actually like helping people because it makes me feel like a big shot. I also feel it opens doors. However, lately as I begin to plan for my retirement, I'm realizing it makes no sense to be so generous. I’ve already lived my life and nothing's going to come of so-called targeted philanthropy which is aimed at giving to the charities of people who can do something for me. Perhaps I should  think of other ways of spending the little time I have left. I could use the dough. I could stay in super luxury hotels and have suites instead of single rooms. I could eat in the finest restaurants and buy myself a Lamborghini or Tesla. I have developed an equation in my head which shows how the amount of money you give away is inversely proportional to the amount time you have left on earth. What do you think of this calculation?

Eleemosynary 

 

 

Dear Eleemosynary: You sound very calculating. What happened to the idea of giving freely? I’m sure a lot of the charities and people you donated time and money to over the years would be saddened to learn of your ulterior motives. I can see if you had come to the end and the doctor says you don’t have much time left how you might at least feel selfish, but I'm being charitable in calling you a jerk. Actually you’re behaving like a real asshole.


Read "An Incident of Defenestration" by Francis Levy, 

Vol. 1 Brooklyn



 

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

W.D. Hamilton on Donald J. Trump


Epigenetics is what might be called a post-modermist approach to genetics, which doesn't change a genetic code, but modifies the way a gene acts. Environment can have an epigenetic impact—a finding that has enormous implications in the world of developmental psychology. Ultimately, it turns out, talk therapy may have a biological effect on the patient. CRISPR or “clustered integrated short palindromic repeats” is one of the methodologies used in gene therapy. The question is, can the science of epigenetics permanently introduce an altruistic element in the 73 million members of Trump’s base? The sociobiologist W.D. Hamilton even created a rule which he expressed in the following equation: C < r x B, where the cost to the recipient is less than relatedness times fitness. In short, the idea is that altruistic behavior is naturally selective. If the Trumps want to create a dynasty they will have to suppress their own selfish desires. The only problem is that selfishness is the family brand and what makes Retrumplicanism so popular. For the genetic material to prevail, the Trumps would have to stop being who they are.

Read "Dream Hoarders" by Francis Levy, Huffington Post




Monday, April 12, 2021

Is Cash Still King?

ATM

The sign outside a local diner reads “No Credit Cards! Cash Only!” "Cash is king" goes the old saw and that doesn’t include cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. These signs should also read no derivatives, no credit default swaps, no collateralized debt obligations. You can’t pay for your hamburger deluxe with an option even if it’s for Berkshire Hathaway. You might tell the owner of the Apollo or the Dionysius to stop being a Cassandra and get with the program, but there’s something to be said for hard unleveraged cash. Does anyone still have any traveler’s checks left from the days when you bought them at American Express. Would they be considered cash? The answer is yes twenty years ago, but it’s unclear what traveler’s checks are still good today. If they were issued by Washington Mutual, one of the major banks that became insolvent in the sup-prime mortgage crisis, you’re probably out of luck. One caveat, cash may be king, but no diner wants your small change. Some people stick all their pennies dimes and nickels in plastic bags. If the turkey, bacon club sandwich with fries comes to $10.75 even a 24-hour diner is going to complain when they have to count up 1075 pennies and no one really wants singles or for that matter $100s. Cash is king if you’re paying with $5s, $10s and $20s. It would be interesting to see how Warren Buffett, the sage of Omaha, pays for his grilled cheese.


Read Francis Levy's "Book Notes," Largehearted Boy


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

Hell>Cosmos>Heaven


"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



 

 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Ethicist: Should I Tell Guests How Much Dinner Costs?




Dear Ethicist: I am having friends for dinner tonight. I went to the butcher and ordered a rib roast. It was only when I got to the cashier that I realized how ridiculously expensive it was. However, I was embarrassed to return it. The couple we have invited are very nice, but they’re not the kind of people who could do anything for us and I feel loathe to go overboard. Still, it's getting late and I don't have much of a choice. At the very least I feel I have to tell them how much it costs and reap some benefit for being such a generous host. Otherwise I would be throwing good money after bad. My first thought is simply to place a little note at each place informing our guests of the price of the meal. My idea is to make it like a big joke. No one advertises how much they have spent when they invite guests over, but secretly I want to make my point which is that the roast I will be serving comes to the ridiculous price of $53. My wife feels I am displaying one of the worst sides of my character. Every time I try toput the little name cards down (with $ signs), she removes them. She is in the other room now and I don’t know what to do.

 

Conspicuous Consumer

 


Dear Conspicuous Consumer: My advice to you is to serve the roast and forget about the price. It’s water under the bridge. During the cocktails part of the evening you might make a casual remark about how expensive meat has become, if that makes you feel better, but I wouldn’t risk further alienating your wife by knocking your guests over the head with how much the rib roast cost.



Read "Lamb Stewed" by Francis Levy, Dispatches From the Poetry Wars




Tuesday, March 30, 2021

The Bully Pulpit


“The Bully Pulpit" could well be a new show hosted by Donald Trump on Fox. Imagine Trump standing at a podium wearing his signature red hat in front of a screen in which his past performances in front of huge crowds will be synchrionized to play each time he scores one of his points, either about the non-existent coronavirus pandemic, the fact that the election had been rigged or the fact that the insurrectionists were "hugging and kissing" the capital police. With an audience of 74 Million who voted for him, “The Bully Pulpit" would be the highest-rated program on TV, even beating reruns of hot shows like “Shark Tank,” “The Apprentice” and “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.” Originally, the idea for the show might have been to broadcast daily rallies for the 2024 election. However, despite having an energetic performer in Mr. Trump, the logistics would prove too daunting, especially due to the fact that most states are still placing some limits on the amount of people who  congregate in public, particularly if they weren’t wearing masks. In the meanwhile, Trump is planning to make a triumphant return to  social media appparently the next few months,  "Trump is returning to social media with his own platform, spokeman says,CNN, 3/22/21 

Read "Trumpty Dumpty's Great Fall" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star


Monday, March 29, 2021

Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F**ker


Chris McKim’s documentary Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F**ker about the legendary artist might be subtitled “Illness Not as Metaphor.” A victim of the AIDS epidemic who died in l992, at the age of 37, Wojnarowicz used his creative talents to become one of the most outspoken leaders of the AIDS movement. For Wojnarowicz AIDS was not a figure of speech. The Trump administration’s denial of Covid was nothing compared to the AIDS plague which was essentially shoved under the carpet due to the fact that it took its toll on an unfavored nation, the gay community. "Fuck you faggot fucker” were the words Wojnarowicz found on a torn piece of paper, an objet trouve which became his mantra. “I’m not gay as in I love you,” he angrily intones in the movie. “I’m queer as in fuck off.” The movie is a battlefield which earns its rage, but to say that the artist who had had an earlier career as a street hustler (one of his heroes was Jean Genet) had a traumatized childhood is a laughable understatement. His alcoholic father beat his children and apparently served him and his two siblings their pet rabbit for dinner. Later he would go on to do battle against other monsters and father surrogates like Jesse Helms who tried to get the NEA to defund an exhibit at the Artists Space, due in part to Wojnarowicz's catalogue copy. Remember back in l999 when Guiliani tried to pull the plug on “Sensation: Young British Artists From the Saachi” which featured Chris Ofili’s dung covered Virgin Mary? It wasn’t difficult for Wojnarowicz to find stand-ins towards whom he could direct his rage. Gracie Mansion, Penny Arcade, Fran Lebowitz and Nan Goldin are some of the 80s and 90s figures who opine in the film. In some ways Wojarowicz bears comparison to Pasolini who also practiced rough trade and was a poet and political activist. The iconic "death mask" of the photographer Peter Hujar who's described in the movie as the Verlaine to Wojnarowicz’s Rimbaud is, in fact, reminiscent of the iconic scene in Mamma Roma where Mantegna’s “Lamentation of Christ” is invoked. "3Teens Kill 4" was btw the name of the band Wojnarowicz's belonged to.

Read "Died Young" by Francis Levy, The Brooklyn Rail

Friday, March 26, 2021

Pornosophy: All Nude XXX


"The Expulsion of Adam and Eve From the Garden of Eden" by Masaccio

What comprises the mystique of nudity? From the Adamic point of view, the urge to cover and conceal derive from a transgression, Eve’s eating of the forbidden fruit. Parenthetically there’s something reminiscent of Faust in this act of seeking from the tree of knowledge. One always thinks of unveiling as the source of shame, but in representations of the bible in classical art through the ages, the fig leaf together with the emotion of shame only begin to appear in the aftermath of defiance. The worship of the Golden Calf falls in a similar category. You’ve undoubtedly had those dreams where you find yourself standing amongst a group of people in your underwear. If you have certain proclivities you might even find yourself dancing naked on a table top in front of leering eyes. Actually, the notion of the secondary sex characteristics as a hidden treasure is comforting. There are societies where people walk around in a nude or semi-nude state. If you’ve ever been on a nude beach or nudist colony, you realize how unremarkable nudity can become. The glory of nudity resides in the act of revelation. It’s a little like a fortune cookie which when cracked reveals its prophecy. The synecdochic obsession with body parts ie biceps, legs, chest or breasts is one of the tangential issues that derive from this obsession.

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




Thursday, March 25, 2021

Journal of Medieval Scholasticism: Can You Be Psychoanalyzed Over Zoom?


photo portrait of Sigmund Freud by Max Halberstadt (1921)

Remember psychoanalysis, the form of psychotherapy where the patient lay on the couch with his doctor rarely saying anything? Remember how Viagra was accidentally discovered as a treatment for E.D. when patients who had been treated for Angina displayed erections? Psychoanalysis turned out to be a sleep inducer for patients and doctors suffering from insomnia. Patients could never be sure, but one of the ways you knew your doctor might be sleeping through a session was the sound of soft snoring, which you may have conveniently defended yourself against; conversely from the patient’s point of view, your doctor might as well have intoned “nighty night” as you prepared to lie down looking forward to the prospect of 50 minutes of sleep. Nothing like the feeling of safety that came from having someone sleeping in back of you. And this would have gone on for years (a la Freud's Analysis Terminable and Interminable from l937) if it weren’t for the pandemic  Sure your analyst might simply turn off his video function as you lie down on your sofa and drift off, but the protected feeling of having the other body looking over you would be lost. Then there are the interactions and bodily responses like skin respiration, flatulence and yes tumescence which are often the products of free associating in the moments when a patient is not sleeping? And what about the much-vaunted transference? How are you going to fall in love with anyone when one or both of you are muted?

Read "As I Lay Down" by Francis Levy, illustrated by Hallie Cohen, Noise


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Journal of Medieval Scholasticism: How NOT to Become an Influencer


William of Ockham (photo: Moscarlop)

A recent Times Arts & Leisure profile paints Demi Lovato as having 100M followers on Instagram. But what does it take to be someone who succeeds in having 1 or even none? Being a plain Jane or Joe is one of those old-fashioned talents, anachronisms like cursive writing that are quickly become obsolete. Remember those guys who used to sharpen your knives? Their horse-pulled carts rumbled over cobble-stoned streets, You never required an appointment to sharpen your shiv. People who are influencers want to have lots of followers. However, there are still those who enjoy their privacy, rich people who live in exclusive gated communities, where mail boxes have numbers but no names. Is it possible to have an Instagram or even Twitter account which exists for the sake of itself and which no one looks at but you? It may sound like a hard thing to achieve, but anything, even anonymity, is possible, if you try. Yes, you can stick to yourself on Instagram.

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


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Journal of Medieval Scholasticism: How Many Spring Breakers Can Safely Fit Into a Phone Booth?

 

“How many Spring breakers can safely fit into a phone booth?” is one of the most frequent questions CDC administrators are currently being asked. Of course, telephone booths are practically obsolete. One’s going to be hard put to locate one in Daytona, Miami or any of the other well-known Florida waterholes known for their attraction to hellions. In fact, one of the few remaining uses of phone booths is as repositories for bodies. But if you're going to get yourself stuffed into one, there's the matter of vaccines, masks and social distancing. Those who have gotten both of their vaccines can fit themselves into a phone booth containing as many vaccinated people as will fit and not have to wear a mask. If 20 or more people are fitting into a phone booth and some are vaccinated while others are not, it’s recommended that both those who are vaccinated and those who have yet to be vaccinated still wear masks and maintain at least six feet of distance from each other in the phone booth, due to the dangers of asymptomatic transmission.

read "Limbo" by Francis Levy, The Evergreen Review


Monday, March 22, 2021

Ettore Scola's A Special Day


On May 6, 1938, Hitler met with Mussolini in Rome. Ettore Scola’s A Special Day (1977) is set against the background of that event. Antonietta (Sophia Loren) is unhappily married to the brutish Emanuele (John Vernon). When her husband and six children join the crowds who have  poured into the streets, she's left alone with the family’s myna which promptly escapes. The lonely housewife meets her cultivated and distinguish-looking neighbor Gabriele (Marcello Mastroianni) when the bird lands outside his window. The heavy-handed symbolism is mitigated by the dramatic angles that the director employs as he negotiates the deserted Mussolini era public housing, the Caso Popolari, with its arches, striated walls and steep winding staircases. The loudspeakers in the streets provide a particularly effective counterpoint to the interior conflict that begins to take place in the souls of the two major characters. Though the two can see each other through their respective apartment windows, they literally have to jump through hoops to engage, something which is exaggerated by a nosey caretaker (Francoise Berd), a fascist sympathizer, who's growingly suspicious of the housewife's obvious attraction to the neighbor who turns out to be a radio announcer, dismissed from his position, due to his homosexuality. In a moment of passion the two characters escape the entrapment of their respective lives, but it’s a passion predicated on impossibility. A Special Day is a fascist Brief Encounter; it both enjoys and suffers from the melodrama and hyperbole of the David Lean version of the Noel Coward play. While black and white documentary footage of the original event is employed, the unblinking two-tone effect also unfortunately describes the limited palette with which the director paints his characters' emotional lives. A Special Day is a classic star vehicle, noteworthy primarily for the conjunction of two mythic figures of the Italian cinema.

Read "MAGA and the Coronavirus" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star


Friday, March 19, 2021

The Gatekeepers


Most human beings are failed supplicants. They knock on doors which shut in their faces and then console themselves with the notion that good will come of it. “One door closes and another closes,” is the wry attack leveled on Panglossian optimism by Hallie Cohen, a long-time friend of the SP. But imagine yourself on the other side of the fence, shutting doors in the faces of those attempting to hawk their wares. What if you were the Wizard to whom the Cowardly Lion were applying for courage? Let’s say you were an arbiter of taste employed by a tony entertainment outlet to vet the varying broadsides and screeds delivered by hopefuls. Everyone is trying to beat the other out in terms of originality. Everyone wants to turn heads. Everyone's wringing their hands at the heavens. How bout a satire about people who watch television during a pandemic? Nice try you might respond, but needs more specifics. Lo, here’s one about a president who claims "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters." You'd have to toss that one out as tasteless, juvenile and over the top.

Read "As I Lay Down" by Francis Levy (illustration by Hallie Cohen), Noise

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Quiddity


John Duns Scotus

"Quiddity" like "quisling" is a word you might not employ as often as you do narcissism, metaphor or poignant. “Where be his quiddities now, his quillets, his cases, his tenures,” says Hamlet referring to the arguing over small points that makes up the human condition.  Quiddity is derived from the Latin quidditas referring to essence, what Kant might have called the noumena or Plato the ideal form of an object. You may remember the allegory, where the perception of reality experienced by humankind is equated to a shadow on the wall of a cave. There are phenomena or appearances but what is the Kantian Ding an sich, what is the “thing in and of itself?” Apparently, the word initially came into use by medieval scholastics who trafficked in these kinds of questions. Today in the world of assembly lines, how is it possible to talk about being? Do all of the Chevys running down the line of a conveyor belt possess an equivalent quiddity or is there one ideal form of the Chevy, a prototype produced by an engineer, that constitutes an ultimate iteration of the object—or is that ultimate form of anything merely an idea which is never really attainable by material things? Tom Stoppard wrote a play entitled The Real Thing, which addressed some of these questions, but when you actually look around quiddity  is something that's addressed in almost every conversation when there are speculations about what's what.

Read "Died Young" by Francis Levy, The Brooklyn Rail

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Accident

 

Unless you believe in an anthropomorphized God, a celestial telephone operator who answers prayers and plans out the schedules of his children, you’re faced with the quandary of free will. How can everything be the result of human choices when something or someone exists, say like a child, and it feels impossible to imagine the world without them? It might be argued that this feeling, which is almost like déjà vu, might hone to the expression, “hindsight is 20/20,” where afterthoughts provide the illusion of a certain clarity and even prescience. In this paradigm the mind is simply a celestial framing device which creates an order that has nothing to do with the random reality which populates the ether into which phenomena or even noumena swim. Accidents are not only the event that occurs when a subjective entity loses control of its will. They become a description of the cosmos from the inexplicable bursts of light characterizing supernovae to the oblivion into which matter descends when it crosses the event horizon of a black hole. It's very hard to accept loss. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help to look at the edifice of life as the random conjunction of bodies in space.

Read A-Z Quotes by Francis Levy

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Spellbound

image for Spellbound (1945) painted by Salvador Dali

What if all the horrors that’ve occurred in the past year were just happening to you? In an alternate universe Trump was bad, but not a murderer who was responsible for the insurgency at the capital where people were screaming for the blood of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, where Mitt Romney barely missed being set upon by a rabid mob and Mike Pence came near to being lynched. John Carpenter couldn’t have dreamt up this scenario. What if  these ghastly and once improbable events are solipsism, mere projections of horror by your lone mind. When you add a plague that starts to mutate you begin to wonder if you can escape the hellish chink in time into which you’ve fallen. You’ve seen those science fiction thrillers where the body suddenly disappears from the gallows just as the execution is about to occur. Hopefully, you’ll be spared before it's too late to escape a purge where it's no longer The Apprentice, but The Sorcerer's Apprentice, a paranormal series in which spoons bend and heads literally fly. If you remember Dali did the dream sequences for Hitchcock’s Spellbound. One of Jeff Koons’s gold rabbits might be the perfect mascot for your private nightmare.

Read "Why Big German Words Like Vergangenbangenheit Carry Weight" by Francis Levy, Huff Post

Monday, March 15, 2021

Krzystof Kieslowski's Camera Buff


Krzystof Kieslowki’s Camera Buff (1979) begins as a parody. However, the development of the silly and the trivial into significant elements in the creation of an artwork (in this case of a documentary kind) is one of the most profound revelations of this complex film. Initailly Filip Mosz (Jerzy Stuhr) who works in purchasing at a factory buys a camera to record the birth of his daughter. Soon he becomes interested in more than domestic matters, which includes living with a colicky baby. Recognizing that he’s in the presence of a  camera buff, Filip’s boss hires him to make a film of factory life that goes on to win third place in a festival at Lodz. "Don't win," are his wife Irka's (Malgorzata Zabkowska) fateful words before he climbs on train to leave their little backwater of Wielice. Later Filip meets the famous Polish director Krzystof Zanussi, though it’s clear the great filmmaker regards his starry-eyed admirer as a rank amateur and rube who has little understanding either of his infatuation with art or its limits. When he’s not in possession of his camera, Filip walks around framing shots with his fingers. In a dramatic scene where his wife, fed up with his growing ambition, leaves, she catches him in flagrante, framing the shot of her departure. By treating everything as gris for his cinematic mill, he's able to distance himself from the pain and joy of life itself. Camera Buff works on two planes:  one of satire and the other broader artistic sensibility. Clearly the greatest irony is that the Kieslowski himself is exploiting his own character, demeaning his ambition in order to create his own movie (a process that’s brilliantly caught in the last scene where Kieslowlski's anti-hero points the lens at himself like a gun). In the process of getting what he wants Filip is gradually losing everything he holds dear. It starts with homelife but ends in a fateful scene (reminiscent of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People) where his growing talent to find the truth in reality ends up causing a beloved manager, who’d become one of his most ardent admirers, to lose his job. Filip becomes a celebrity within the confines of his little town. Even the local dwarf is moved by the way his deformity is melodramatized. However, all along the artist is leaving a path of destruction in his wake. This downward path culminates in a final scene where he intentionally unreels one of his films, letting the celluloid become over-exposed as it rolls into oblivion on a street. “When you edit the long shot and the close up, the person has to be on the same axis,” Filip ominously warns his assistant.

Read "An Incident of Defenestration" by Francis Levy, Vol.1 Brooklyn


Friday, March 12, 2021

Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration.

"Locked in a Dark Calm" by Tameca Cole

"Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration" which is currently on exhibit at P.S. 1, deals with “carceral esthetics,” a term coined by Nichole R. Fleetwood a professor of American studies and art history at Rutgers who curated the show. "Carceral esthetics" refers to “relational and artistic experiment that challenges the inside/outside logistics of imprisonment.” The current exhibit segues powerfully with Garrett Bradley's documentary film Time, which records a woman fighting for her husband's release from a 60-year prison sentence. “Marking Time” is a document of survival as well as ingenuity on the part of prisoners who produced complex works with limited materials, during long sentences, some of which included solitary confinement. The exhibit includes feats of artistic legerdemain like Dean Gillispie’s "Spiz's Dinette," an airstream trailer constructed with cigarette foil and the backs of notebooks. Gilberto Rivera's "Institutional Nightmare" uses federal prison uniform, commissary papers, floor wax, prison report, newspaper and acrylic paint on canvas. One of the most affecting pieces in the show is Tameca Cole’s, “Locked in a Dark Calm.” The artist produced this collage while serving time at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Alabama. The faceless head out of which only eyes and lips appear underscores the destruction of identity. The prisoner sees but is not seen. Aimee Wissman’s “Prisoner Postcard: You Appeal is Denied" delivers its message with an image that's both comic and grotesque. While the existential condition of many of the artists, ie imprisonment, defines the content of the work, it doesn't limit the ambition of the works which Fleetwood has curated and which is, by any standard, remarkable. "Marking Time" also includes pieces by nonincarcerated artists whose work deals with issues of "state repression, erasure and imprisonment." Grab your mask and see this show.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Call My Agent


If you ask most people how they are, they’re likely to tell you what season of The Crown they’re in. Just a short while back it was Babylon BerlinFauda and The Queens GambitThe Flight Attendant might actually describe a mental state as does Bridgerton whose heartthrob star Rege Jean-Page has become not only it but ID. Of course, shows like The Sopranos, The Wire and Curb Your Enthusiasm were wildly popular but they didn’t become tantamount to affective states of mind--and surrogates for social life. For some  these new series have been like crossing the event horizon of a black hole. There’s no turning back. Before long they’ve been sucked into an oblivion in which the personality is totally extinguished and replaced with Netflix generated avatars. Know that fin de siècle building where Call My Agent takes place. There are undoubtedly Francophiles who've begun to believe they live there. In fact, there are some severe cases in which the program has become a cult which requires them to be deprogrammed from the programming. Call My Agent is a particularly pernicious example since the script is so good that you feel that Juliette Binoche, Isabelle Adjani and Monica Bellucci, three of the actresses who make cameo appearances have taken the words right out of your mouth. Cable news networks like CNN have also jumped into the fray.You may not have had anyone over to the house for a year but who needs them when you have Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell and Anderson Cooper as regular dinner guests.

Read "The Findings" by Francis Levy, Evergreen Review


Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Autumn Rhythm



 

"Autumn Rhythm,"  (Number 30), Jackson Pollock

When you think about it, representations of reality have little to do with the essence of the world. Plato famously termed human conceptions as shadows, elusive ideal forms—what Kant would later term noumena. Heidegger referred to the recondite phenomenological essence of existence as dasein or Being There, also the title of the Hal Ashby movie adapted from the Jerzy Kosinski book in which Peter Sellers played the main character, Chauncey Gardner or Chance. The narratives that patients construct for themselves in therapeutic sessions have all the attributes of fiction and employ similar figures of speech, with hyperbole often dominating. Andre Malraux call his autobiographies Anti-Memoirs. There's a kind of stranger anxiety that forces consciousness to encapsulate and name in order to remove the terror of objects. But there are instances where art acts to unravel and restore the unfiltered complexity of the universe. The challenge of a great work of art like say The Grand Inquisitor poem in The Brothers Karamazov lies in restoring the complexity lost by suppression. A Jackson Pollock painting like “Autumn Rhythm” (1950) is ultimately blinding to the extent that it unpacks more than the mind is able to handle. That’s the pleasure and the weight that such abstraction bears. When you think of it, Malevich’s “White on White,” (1918) a classic essay in so-called Suprematism, could be considered an instance of photographic realism.

Read "Lamb Stewed" by Francis Levy, Dispatches From the Poetry Wars

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The Golden Calf



sculptor Tommy Zegan polishes Trump statue at CPAC (John Raoux, AP)

One way you know Covid-19 vaccines are working is the reaction they create. Whether it’s fever or lethargy, you're reassured the shot is effective if you have an adverse reaction to it. From an epistemic point of view this underscores a significant point about many things of a benign and even lifesaving nature. For instance, the body rejects organ transplants. Those lucky enough to find donors must take anti-rejection medications. In the mental health arena one of the problems with patients who take neuroleptics is that their refusing the regimen. You know something is working when it produces an effect in the body whether in the form of antibodies or neurotransmitters. The same applies in the realm of psychotherapy for example where an insight can produce what analysts call an "abreaction," which is defined as “the expression and consequent release of a previously repressed emotion, achieved through reliving the experience that caused it.” One of the most salient examples of such behavior often occurs when a prosecution witness is being cross-examined. You find this kind of scenario in many of Earl Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason novels. Sufferers from the Stockholm Syndrome may experience this on the way to being deprogrammed. A Retrumplican might scream like hell when they’re faced with the fact that the election was not stolen and rigged. In fact, they might even try to invade the capitol. Some will continue screaming for the rest of their lives instead of facing the fact that they've been worshipping the golden calf.

Read "MAGA and the Coronavirus" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

Monday, March 8, 2021

Fairest of Them All


Have you gone through periods when you wanted to be a man or woman or non-binary of the people? The present times may have chastened you and disabused you from chasing these windmills, but remember back to some value-free era of your life when you as an Upper West Side intellectual who worshipped the altar of Susan Sontag saw Fight Club, shaved your head and started to have fantasies about what your life would have been like if you’d joined  the Marines? What if you as daughter of one of the Daughters of the Revolution saw movies like Woodstock and started to sport tie dyed tee shirts and smoke pot? Wasn’t it fun, if only for a short time, to be  a he man patriot or headband wearing polyamorous chick who rolled naked in mud? Now, of course, the lines have been drawn and such playfulness is no longer possible. After seeing a former president urge a mob of hoodlums onto insurrection, you might not be interested in dressing up in the super patriot outfit. On the other even those filled with self-righteous indignation at injustice run the danger of abusing their single-mindedness of purpose. It’s can be fun to be reunited with your likenesses, but any group of like-minded individuals runs the danger of being a mob. The Times columnist Nicholas Kristof warned about the dangers of such sanctimony in a recent piece, "How to Reach People Who Are Wrong,"(NYT, 3/3/21). One of the perils in life is being proven right," he said. "The risk is excessive admiration for one’s own brilliance, preening at one’s own righteousness, and inordinate scorn for the jerks on the other side.” Kristof's piece is essential reading. What would you rather be, fairest or fairest of them all?

Read "An Incident of Defenestration" by Francis Levy, Vol. 1 Brooklyn


 

Friday, March 5, 2021

Down to Earth Syndrome

Image from Perseverance rover (NASA)

How to accommodate acceptance and ambition? At 43, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady has 7 Super Bowl victories and is primed to go for 8. You’ve seen them, the achievers who are never satiated. Once you’ve climbed Everest the only thing you can do is to Free Solo or sign up for Virgin Galactica. Naturally outer space has limitless possibilities for the striver. In l969 Neil Armstrong famously stepped on the moon. Now it's not out of the realm of possibility that a human being could land on Mars and simply put his keys in his car aka rover. Only mortality constrains the aspirational mind. Can you be a person who's happy with what you have and still desire more? It’s a basically oxymoronic idea. You can’t appreciate when you're consumed by the gnawing ache at having somehow having missed out or failed. One of the axioms of the romantic sensibility is that what doesn’t exist or has yet to be always lords it over that which is plainly visible to the eyes. Romantics may be great lovers, but they don’t possess the stuff of normalcy. Routinized everyday relationships, lacking in the thrill of conquest, are paradoxically the mountain they have to climb. It takes a certain investor discipline to sell GameStop when it's crowd sourcing to ever greater prices. On the other hand, if you become content and overly complacent, you run the risk of becoming so small-minded and miserly that you end up losing everything. You may have noticed that the majority of so-called “down to earth” people are not rocket scientists.