Friday, June 24, 2022

A Midsummer Night's Nightmare

Beezdelbub from Pilgram's Progress

Is this a dream from which the human race has yet to awake, starting with the recession of 2008 and now marching on through the Trump years with the appointment of 3 ideologically motivated Supreme Court justices who succeeded in repealing Roe v. Wade and calling New York’s gun law unconstitutional all within a two day period—with same sex marriage and contraception yet up for grabs, not to speak of George Floyd, Covid, QAnon and violent Trump caravans making certain boys proud? In quantum physics a particle can be two places at the same time. Such is the theory from which the idea of alternate universes springs. Maybe it’s just a matter of jumping to another string which will a la Midsummer Night’s Dream  reunite the lovers. Everyone is talking about the effect of Dobbs v. Jackson on the midterms and how the conservative backlash will meet with its own backlash from the majority of Americans who favor abortion rights. But why waste all the energy. Just enter the wormhole and jump to a better version of the world.


Recognition

In his review of Axel Honneth's Recognition: A Chapter in the History of European Ideas Peter E. Gordon cites Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man thusly: “Invisibility becomes a metaphor for recognition denied. ‘I am invisible,’ the narrator writes, ‘simply because people refuse to see me.’ He feels like a bodiless head at a circus sideshow, as if he were encased in ‘mirrors of hard distorting glass.’ Others who approach him ‘see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, anything and everything except me.’” It may seem obvious that validation is a requisite nourishment for the human spirit. Of all the forms of incarceration, "solitary" is the most cruel. Besides death itself, it's the one that leaves the most permanent scars. Narcissists demand more than their share. Diderot’s Rameau’s Nephew alienates the very people whose attentions he desires. One would assume that the personality type  that can feel whole and in control is the hermit who protects him or herself through denial. Is Truffaut’s Wild Child the equivalent of the leaf falling in the forest with no one there to perceive it? Some animals react to mirror images and even delight in  mimickry, but the kind of self-reflexive consciousness that allowed humans to realize the reflection is them was a milestone in the history of sensibility. The recognition of the cosmic yawn and the indifference of the universe and nature might have been the trauma responsible for the creation of religion. Pattern Recognition, which is a form of brain function, is also the title of a book by William Gibson.

read "15 Seconds to Infamy" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Wind" (1960) by The Jesters

 

Thursday, June 23, 2022

What to Do When an Altruist Goes on a Good Doing Spree?


People become accustomed to the unthinkable. After a while they believe that constant brutality and destruction--school shootings, despots like Trump getting away with almost everything, countries like Ukraine turned into warrior states (many of whose cities are destroyed), rape, torture, gated communities where the privileged drink flutes of champagne as they enjoy the spectacle of impoverishment outside (a definition of all-inclusive resorts like Club Med which are constructed in the middle of third world countries)--are all just part of "life." Pasolini’s Salo based on de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom is an essay in depredation, but unlike Halloween, the horror comes from the fact that it’s all too real. Coprophilia, the lingua franca of the film, is no stranger to psychosis. Straphangers in New York’s subway system are randomly pushed onto the tracks; shootings in which innocent bystanders die have almost become routine. Only the other day, the life of a championship college basketball player (who had a promising professional career ahead of him), was cut short by a shooting at barbecue in Harlem. The police are called to a school in Uvalde and wait an hour to stop a gunman who in the meantime murders 21 students and teachers. Ten people are murdered in a racially motivated shooting at a Topps supermarket in Buffalo. Defenders of the Second Amendment find these shootings an argument for fewer gun laws or restrictions. What do those who get used to savagery do when a good doer goes on a spree, sacrificing him or herself for the sake of others?

read "Strangers Drowning" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "The Book of Love" by The Monotones


Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Grousing

Grouse (photo: Gary Kramer)

Grousing is often met with supposedly well-intentioned, even edifying corrections. You could be a citizen of a trouble spot like Ukraine or out of work like person x, y or z. Why not make a gratitude list comprised of all the good things, on the top of which would be the fact of simply being alive? However, it’s oddly dispiriting to constantly receive corrections of this kind since the one thing that can be said about your so-called “problems” is that they’re yours. They’re what make you what you are. It’s humiliating to be informed your malaise results from little more than not getting as much attention as you dream of (alas you never became a Hegelian figure of World Historical Importance). Yet what’s the motivation behind all these stalwarts with their testy morality? What right do they have to lord their almost puritanical finger-shaking over those who simply feel disappointed with their lot in life? Is the human condition such that there's a privileged class of sufferers who're allowed to cry out to the Gods while lesser mortals must walk away from their petty concerns, their tails between their legs? “I can’t complain,” is the response Mr. or Mrs. Clean gives when asked how they are. The truth is they can, all they want, even if they’re not Medea or Lear, Antigone or just some clown like Djokovic who can’t play the tour since he refuses to take a vaccine.

read "Is Your Self-Invention a Success?" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Rockin' Robin"by Bobby Day

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Top Gun: Maverick


Will computer games one day be played exclusively by computers? That’s really the takeaway from the latest installment of the Top Gun franchise. It’s also “military kitsch” and perfect if you’re graduating from those model cars that used to be sold in the corner newspaper store. Of course Kasparov v Deep Blue set the stage, but most computers will beat even legendary Top Gunners like Maverick (Tom Cruise). The movie trumpets the human element in aerial "dog fights." The position averred by Ed Harris (Rear Admiral Chester "Hammer" Cain)  that elite fliers are a thing of the past—or movies—is more to the point. Why risk a life when you have drones that are getting smarter every day? The problem with automation is that it’s not Oedipal. You aren't going to have standoffs between surrogate fathers like Maverick and characters with names like "Hangman" (Glenn Powell) and "Sparrow" (Miles Teller). No computer is going to bed the barkeep "Penny" (Jennifer Connelly) though with the advent of  sophisticated "facial recognition," one is likely to come along who appreciates her eyes. There's  a wistfulness about the current Top Gun. It’s a little like John Ford making Stagecoach in 1939. By then everyone knew that the real story was told in the backseat of a car.

Read "Pet Buddha" by Francis Levy, Vol. 1 Brooklyn

and listen to "Hold My Hand" by Lady Gaga (from Top Gun: Maverick)






Monday, June 20, 2022

The Twitterstution of the United States


"The Death of Julius Caesar" (Gerome)
The Byzantine and labyrinthine machinations of Donald Trump’s White House are of course the subject of the January 6 hearings. On January 5, 2021 Trump famously Tweeted, “The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.” ("Trump pressures Pence to throw out election results--even though he can't,Politico 1/5/21). Neither the 12th amendment nor the Electoral Count Act of 1887 support this claim, though it’s a wonderful example of the proverbial use of both assertion and suggestion in the cybersphere. Several years ago BAM presented the Roman Tragedies, a compendium of Shakespearean obfuscation which included the murder of Julius Caesar in which audience members were invited to join the crowd on stage. There were strikingly similar theatrics  going on in The West Wing in the days preceding January 6th, with quite a few crowd scenes (though the audience was not invited) in which American democracy was on the verge of forever being subverted. "Et tu, Brute?"

read "Talk to Pigs in a Language They Understand" by Francis Levy, 

and listen to "Just Like Romeo and Juliet" by The Reflections

Friday, June 17, 2022

Only Connect!

There are two Trials, one by Franz Kafka written between l914-15 and the other by Pigmeat Markham, the B side of “Here Comes the Judge”(1968), the hit 45 which famously ordered, “Here comes the judge…Here comes the judge….order in the court…the judge is coming.” The (anti) hero of The Trial is, of course, Joseph K. Pigmeat was a famous neo-vaudevillian black comedian who played the Apollo Theater. Pigmeat’s “Trial” was a precursor to rap and in particular Sugarhill Gang whose "Rapper’s Delight"(1979) famously sampled Chic’s "Good Times" (1979) with its famous “These are all good times/leave your cares behind.” It was only a hop skip and jump to the Digital Underground’s "Humpty Dance" (1990) and its iconic “I once got busy in a Burger King bathroom…I’m crazy.” Talk about punctuated equilibrium and connectivity. Remember the famed words of E.M. Forster’s “Howard’s End,” “only connect!” The whole passage is worth quoting: “Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.”

read "Kafka in East Hampton" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

and listen to "The Trial" by Pigmeat Markham

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Diasporic Dining: Ghosting


The Belmore Cafeteria (photo: Steve Baldwin)

There's a joy to ordering in from a defunct restaurant. When the food doesn’t come you have something to complain about. If the restaurant was in its dying throes then you might be pleased to find  you're actually better off not receiving an order as unappetizing as the one you got on your last go round. In this age of scientism and disenchantment the prospect of sending orders into the cybersphere for the hell of it might not seem to make sense. It’s a little like having a séance in which the spirits of dishes that have long left their woks suddenly come back from the dead. You know how it works. There's a rumbling and then the whistle of a tea kettle boiling. The lights blink on and off. A whole realm of possibility opens up when you order dinner in from that place across the Styx. Imagine Charon delivering for Grubhub. and the spirit of Horn & Hardart shaking the table. Don't forget the Belmore Cafeteria which had a cameo appearance in Taxi Driver.


read "The Chapbook Lady" by Francis Levy, Vol. 1 Brooklyn


and also "Ultimate Rejection" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star



Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Is Trump Christine?

Is Trump the Anti-Christ? Is he Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor who tries Christ? His base would call him Job. After being attacked and left for dead by his old ally Bill Barr, he manages to rise up from the dead. Have you ever had a dream where your fists strike air? Many analyses have been made about this monster’s ineluctable appeal—particularly among the dispossessed who have exhausted their entitlements, the same lumpenproletariat made up of ex-army officers (such as those who populate the Oath Keepers) and obsolescent workers who fueled Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch. However, there's something darker at work. Is Trump the devil? QAnon postulates a deep state? Is Trump a Freudian id loosed of its reasoning or cortical faculties? He behaves like the classic Neanderthal, the Archie Bunker of TV comedy, regurgitating barely digested invective. Is he a piranha in human form? Remember the Carvana commercial where the buyer is lured by the denizens of a purgatory like car dealership who make him sign away his rights? Imagine a horror movie about a used car salesman? Remember Stephen King’s Christine (later made into a film by John Carpenter) about a Plymouth come to life? Is the former president with his signature hairdo, a seemingly mundane creature from Queens, evil incarnate? Is he possessed? Is what's required not a January 6 commission but an Exorcist? 

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

and listen to "Sympathy for the Devil" by The Rolling Stones


Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Unexhausted Time


Offered in evidence this quote from Imogen Cassel’s review of Lurex by Denise Riley and Unexhausted Time by Emily Berry in the TLS (6/3/22): “Emily Berry’s Unexhausted Time shares Riley’s concern about the overstudied subject, her restless repositioning. Berry’s title comes from Anne Carson’s response to George Eliot’s claim that 'Attempts at description are stupid.’"This isn’t a pregnant paragraph. It’s one that’s given birth. Do you feel lost? Who cares? At a certain point a locution like a relationship is unto itself. Or put another way. Let’s say you take a wrong turn and end up in a place that’s much nicer than your intended destination. Don’t worry. Just lie back and enjoy the new place.

read "Coprophobia" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and watch the animation of Erotomania


Monday, June 13, 2022

The Bourgeois Mind


Nikolai Berdyaev

All people are bourgeois and that goes for both the rich and poor. Being bourgeois which connotes a certain degree of self satisfaction is a survival mechanism. Even pathological self-haters exhibit the bourgeois aspiration for homeostasis. Naturally it follows from this that most animal and even plant life are bourgeois. Nikolai Berdyaev wrote a book called The Bourgeois Mind where he sees the bourgeois as a  materialist--something that both capitalists and communists have in common. In his famous  "Masscult and Midcult" Dwight Macdonald excoriates middle brow or bourgeois culture--with its facile accessibility. Both Berdyaev and Macdonald would probably agree that the bourgeois inhabitants of the middle class wouldn't make good candidates for revolution--lacking a romantic aspiration to transcend to a new state, whether spiritual or political. But who is? Place Lenin, Stalin it for that matter Pol Pot in a dacha with all their needs taken car of and even they turn out to be bourgeois. 

read "The Chapbook Lady" by Francis Levy, Vol. 1 Brooklyn

and watch the trailer for the animation of Erotomania



Friday, June 10, 2022

Traffic


Can it be said that living a spiritual life is going with the traffic? On an unspiritual note, should bicyclists going the wrong way on a one-way street, especially those turning into one get what they deserve? But let’s not come back down to earth so quickly. Going the wrong way can mean expecting rather than offering or at times offering what’s not wanted. Many writers complain about being rejected by journals they have never bothered to read. Does going with the flow connote conformism and a denial of individuality? Uniqueness and originality are inadvertent and rarely result from a conscious effort to flout social mores. On the other hand, it’s not necessary to repress any aspect of the self in order to be a choral singer. Bassos, tenors and sopranos all have their own sections. At worst those who go in the wrong direction run the risk of head-on collisions with other cars--or life. You might say that some people break the rules because they’re literally or metaphorically inebriated. BTW, disinhibition is not recommended for those who have a tendency to veer off course to begin with.

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

and listen to "Little Red Corvette" by Prince



Thursday, June 9, 2022

Stranger in a Strange Land


There are the obvious signposts: the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, January 6 which change the world in both profound and superficial ways. Profound change might fall in the category of the “paradigm shifts” Thomas Kuhn outlined in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Superficial change is the closing of the two CVS pharmacies on Third Avenue. Of superficial changes, the closing of pharmacies has been one of the most notable. The fact is that the world before February of 2020 seems almost innocent, pre-Adamic in quality. Remembering back, you may not recognize that social creature closing “social distance” perhaps by increasing one’s "social capital." On a superficial level you shared spaces with people and saw their faces. You had never heard of Zoom. Every population exhibits different longevity for men and women. There are a small group who die young and then there are the others who start falling off much later in life. The pandemic put friendship in an evolutionary framework. It became a literal Ice Age eliminating entire species of human relationship while whittling down the few that remained. Quantum mechanics changed the laws of physics. A particle could, for instance, be in two places at the same time. One of the legacies of co-morbidity is a non-theatrical form of Brechtian verfremdungseffekt or "estrangement." The familiar becomes unreal, familiar faces are imposters (the neuro term is Capgras Syndrome) or familiar faces suddenly seem scrambled (Prosopagnosia). Will life continue on from where it left off BC, (Before Covid)? Is it a matter of simply removing the masks? Unlikely. The Robert Heinlein classic, Stranger in a Strange Land, deals with the return to earth by a space traveller who has grown up on Mars.

read "The Chapbook Lady" by Francis Levy, Vol. 1 Brooklyn

and listen to "A Change is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Monetizing

The International Monetary Fund (Washington, DC)

For lawyers and psychiatrists, time is money. You pay both by the hour. But just about everything can be monetized. People record conversations and turn them into podcasts. Prostitutes charge for love, but how many novels have been the result of love gone awry or love interrupted by illness a la Love Story. If someone is funny, their friends immediately encourage them to practice standup. There are many hobbyists, but what happens when your avocation turns into a vocation. Bridge and backgammon players enter tournaments for which there are prizes and chess is an industry, some of which is now automated a la Deep Blue. The line between amateur and professional sports is becoming increasingly thin particularly as it pertains to intercollegiate athletics. In some cases, this leads to increasing the amount of danger involved. For instance, there are climbers and then free soloists who defy gravity by ascending walls of stone with no ropes or carabiners. Daredevils, like the Wallendas, are a lucrative business. Gourmets populate cooking shows, but what about gourmands who go for quantity over quality? Every year there is a hot dog eating contest with a prize. In Nathans 2021 annual hotdog contest Joey Chestnut ate 78 hotdogs with buns and won the famous bejeweled yellow colored belt. Philately, numismatics and lepidoptery all provide financial rewards for those who wish to pursue them. Can you make money from licking envelopes closed, opening up jars or cleaning the water out of your soap tray? Does it profit to cross 42nd Street or put something back where it belongs?Who will compensate you for the effort? A thoughtful person can be said to be blessed but will she be remunerated for her pondering? 

read "The Chapbook Lady" by Francis Levy, Vol.1 Brooklyn

and listen to "Poetry in Motion" by Johnny Tillotson

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

The Protest Ethic and the Inevitability of Failure


One of the most good intentioned defense mechanisms is that you're your work or lack thereof. It’s sweet, eternally and fungibly countercultural and fundamentally disingenuous. To defend against doing nothing or failure is to invidiously compare those activities to productivity and success. Why isn’t being a failure an estimable activity? Why isn’t coming home empty-handed worthy? Conversely are successful people good? Is there something righteous about being rich? Calvinists think so since they believe in grace. This was the inspiration for Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. But the fact is that in the current age of scientistIsm and disenchantment, there's no salvation. Failure is something to learn from and a requisite for self-knowledge. Underachievers of the world, unite! Revel in your lassitude!

read "The Chapbook Lady" by Francis Levy, Vol.1 Brooklyn

and listen to "How Can We Hang On To a Dream"by Tim Hardin



Monday, June 6, 2022

Royal Flush

 


If you have something to offer you probably get more e mails than you can handle. You're valuable currency trading strongly against the dollar. People who're lucky enough to have done business with You will be able to cash in and get more bang for their bucks, euros or whatever else money can buy. You’re also fungible which means it’s very easy to go back and forth in you. Your quotient is the lingua franca of high rollers. On the other hand, you may have spent your whole life wanting other people to make you whole. Validation is the elusive prize, you’re never able to attain. Realizing this truth, you may one day sink into despair and jump out the window. Decks of cards are supposed rely on chance, but certain people continue to get dealt great hands. Their piles of chips multiply exponentially to the point that they’re still ahead despite intermittent losses—while others are always left trying to make up the shortfall. You know who you are. You get the drift. Are you one of those people whose heart starts to beat when they see l0 as they number of unopened e mails only to find that every one is from Ancestry, Optimum, Spectrum, Sirius or Jet Blue ?

read "The Chapbook Lady" by Francis Levy, Vol. 1 Brooklyn

and listen to "O Sole Mio" by Enrico Caruso


Friday, June 3, 2022

Star Wars


Russia’s one ally may end up being North Korea. What the two countries have in common is the threat to use nuclear weapons as a solution to diplomatic issues.  Obviously, there are other countries with nuclear capabilities but they're not likely to go ballistic. Back during World War II, the O.S.S did psychohistories of leaders. Hitler was, of course, one. Whether they got into the business with his niece is not clear, but the psychological profiling was helpful in predicting behavior. In the case of Kim Jong-un you have the notorious eradication of his Uncle, Jang Song-thaek, purportedly with a mortar and there's also the poisoning of his half-brother, Kim Jong-nam. They were not a close family. In the case of Vladimir Putin, you have the former wife, Lyudmila Shkrebneva, the two daughters, Katerina Tikhonova and Maria Vorontsova and the girlfriend, Alina Kabaevna (with whom he may have had children). All of these relationships comprise the chrysalis of the current situation and help to throw light on how both dictators will act in response to provocation. The real problem is what happens when Putin and Kim Jong-un stop getting along. Then you have Star Wars.

read "Promiscuous and Protean" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

and listen to "The Harder They Come" by Jimmy Cliff

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Will the Moscow Art Theatre Play Pyongyang?


stamp showing The Government Inspector by Gogol at MAT

In the light of sanctions leveled against Russia,will the Moscow Art Theatre perform The Seagull in Pyongyang? Will the Bolshoi be performing for the generals in Myanmar? There has been much talk about Putin catalyzing the unification of the West, with Finland and Sweden joining NATO. But the Hegelian dialectic is not only applicable to the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Milk softens black coffee; new ideas often attract strange bedfellows. Culture like the viscous accumulation in a pipe has to find somewhere to go. Perhaps the net result is pushback from fundamentalists who fear the dilution of their values? It’s unlikely there will be a North Korean version of “Pussy Riot.” Putin brought about everything he was afraid of. However, historical and cultural forces can act in unpredictable ways. In America militant feminists aligned against pornography with right wing Christians. Germany turned out be the beneficiary of liberal democracy—through the Marshall Plan—in a way that radically changed the predominant ethos of its population.

Read "Kim Jong-un's Social Anxiety Disorder" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and watch the animation of Erotomania


Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Once a Pickle

“Robert J. Vlastic Dies at 96; Made a Fortune Making Pickles” ran the Times obit (NYT, 5/22/22). One thing is certain, he didn’t get into a pickle which is a turn of phrase Mr. Vlastic might not have cottoned to since in addition to profiting from his product, he, according to the headline in the daily Times, “Had Jokes by the Jarful.” “He loved pickle jokes and eventually collected them in a pamphlet, ‘Bob Vlastic’s 101 Pickle Jokes,’ the cover of which featured a gunslinging, cowboy-hatted gherkin and this salty knee-slapper: ‘Who’s the tough pickle in Dodge City. Marshall Dill.” Clearly Vlastic was a “Man For all Seasons” or seasonings if you want a soubriquet that carries on his legacy and conveys a feeling for the force behind the welcoming bottle with its mysterious green condiment (that looked like a creature out of “War of the Worlds”). “Once a pickle no longer a cucumber,” one of the favorites of the recovery movement was not one of Mr. Vlastic’s jokes. Mr. Vlastic's son, Bill, apparently didn't follow his father into the pickle business, instead becoming Detroit bureau chief for The Times.

Read "Diasporic Dining: Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Bile 'Em Cabbage Down"by Buck Owens