Thursday, July 11, 2024

The Banquet Years

Inanition is a capacious antonym of ignition. Meanings and the derivations of words are archeological and usage can defy evolution. Remember when "gay" meant happy. Today if you say a democrat is "gay," you're definitely not referring to their political condition. Matisse and Derain were Fauves. The name means wild animals ostensibly due to the way these artists shocked even the liberal-minded salon d'automne of l903. You might mistakenly think Rousseau was a Fauve because he painted sublime scenes of 
savage innocence delineated in Roger Shattuck's, The Banquet Years--an exploration of another side of the French avant-garde including theater personages like Alfred Jarry whose last words were "give me a toothpick." Today there are sentences that "wake" (aka "woke") to find themselves Swiss cheese. Language can create strange bedfellows as evidenced in the unholy alliance between fundamentalists and feminists over porn. Interestingly Porn Hub bills itself as a community. But don't count on finding any rent stabilized housing on their site.

read "Evan Harris's review of The Kafka Studies Department

and listen to "In the Bush" by Musique

Wednesday, July 10, 2024


Is Biden Lear on the heath, the blind man led by a fool? Who is Cordelia? Who Goneril and Regan? Who Hotspur? Who Falstaff? Who Prospero or Caliban! Who Brutus (Jerry Nadler) or for that matter Satan or Bannon? Who Hamlet and Oedipus? Who plays Claudius? Who has played his chips? Who still has pieces on the board? Or is it an endgame, "a tale told by an idiot" (The Sound and the Fury in fact). At least Biden has a running mate which is more than his felonious assailant can claim.

listen to Francis Levy's playlist for The Kafka Studies Department,

Tuesday, July 9, 2024


One of the last sections of George Eliot's last book, Daniel Deronda is "Revelations" and one of the last chapters begins with this quote from Keats: "My spirit is too weak: mortality/Weights heavily on me like unwilling sleep,/And each imagined pinnacle and steep/Of godlike hardship tell me I must die/Like a sick eagle looking at the sky." You will also recall that The Seventh Seal which comes towards the end of The Book of Revelation, the final book of The New Testament, also hearkens the Second Coming. And from this Bergman drew the title of The Seventh Seal in which Max von Sydow plays chess with Death (Bengt Ekerot ). George Eliot was a more profound thinker than Freud. Buy Middlemarch on Amazon for the twenty bucks it will cost you and you'll save on 20 years of hefty psychoanalytic bills. Deronda, as you may remember, saves the destitute Mirah Cohen, an aspiring opera singer, from death. The scene recalls Virginia Woolf's suicide except that Eliot's character is spared from drowning. Here is Eliot describing Mordecai, a Cabbalist, who is Mirah's long lost brother: "this consumptive Jewish workman in threadbare clothing, lodged by charity, delivering himself to hearers who took his thoughts without attaching any more consequences to them than the Flemings to the ethereal chimes ringing above their market-places--had the chief elements of greatness: a mind consciously, energetically moving with the larger march of human destinies... ."

read the review of Francis Levy's The Kafka Studies Department in Booklife (PW)

and listen to 'Hello Stranger" by Barbara Lewis

Monday, July 8, 2024

Norman Mailer's Gesamtkunstwerk

Jeff Zimbalist's How to Come Alive colorfully documents a career in work and love that included six wives (and nine children) one of whom, Adele Morales, Mailer comes near murdering the night before the announcement of his unsuccessful campaign for mayor. He makes himself the central figure in Armies of the Night thereby, with a wave of his staff, creating New Journalism. He directs three films including Maidstone where his character Norman T. Kingsley, "the American Bunuel" and its creator (Mailer) are hit in the head and almost killed by the actor Rip Torn. The creator of classics of nonfiction like The Executioner's Song, about Gary Gilmore, he advocates for convicted murderer Jack Abbott who infamously goes on to kill after his release. Author of The Naked and the Dead, boxer and fighting public intellectual, author of 11 bestsellers, the recipient of 2 Pulitzer prizes, he famously debates Gore Vidal on Dick Cavett and feminism in an iconic Town Hall debate where he appears in the role of Satan, going into the ring with the likes of Betty Friedan, Susan Sontag, Germaine Greer and Cynthia Ozick. Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n. As a newspaper publisher (Citizen Mailer btw also debates Orson Welles), he's a founder of the The Village Voice. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy might have been Mailer's mantra. Free speech and expression are too limiting as categories to describe his project, but he's an early opponent of political correctness which places ideology over idea and which he regards as a harbinger of fascism. Is Mailer a figure of world historical importance a la Hegel? Definitely not. Did he wish to be? He is short like Pushkin and Napoleon. He rolls with titans as varied as Mohammed Ali and Marilyn Monroe (to whom he devotes a book). Juggling wives and lovers, drinking and fighting. Was it a deficit of conscience that allowed him to thrive or is Mailer defined by his conflicts (a rebellion against morality and bracingly moral nature) that ultimately make him an exemplar of the 60s zeitgeist? Mailer's Gesamtkunstwerk was his life.

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

and also read "Francis Levy's Divine Comedy," Exquisite Corpse

Friday, July 5, 2024


The question is without stooping to the inanities of the paranormal, is there communication after death? Can you get a last word in? On a practical basis let's say you have an a date with a famous writer who has been an idyl (not idol) forever and as is wont to happen as time goes by he or she dies. If he's someone like Stephen King (who has gotten a special dispensation to "report back" which will allow him to write one novel tentatively titled Death--following his New Yorker short story, "A Death") you may have a chance to get a word in edgewise before they step off the High Dive. However in most cases that final conversation is going to end  up in the equivalent of the dead letter box. But there are ways and there are ways. Icarus learned about flying the hard way but if you could engage with the birds who begin their mad chatter  before dawn, you'd likely find out a little something about it. Have you ever met a mortician who was mortified? The answer is probably no. They've seen it all.

read the review of The Kafka Studies Department in Booklife (PW)

and listen to "Band of Gold" by Freda Payne

Thursday, July 4, 2024

The Bees

photograph: Hallie Cohen

Remember Tippi Hedren in The Birds. Not to make light of terror by degrading it to a ditty but there's also The Bees which recently completed filming on location in The Hamptons.The  filmmakers have even created a neologism to honor their "beepocalypse." Beekeepers fearlessly lure the queen and the whole hive follows. Queens are very powerful and their solders will die for them. Then there are drones which have nothing in common with the ones you find attacking Russian tanks in Ukraine. Bees sting, but so do insults.

read "Limbo" by Francis Levy, Evergreen Review

and listen to "Boogaloo Down Broadway" by Johnny C

Wednesday, July 3, 2024


If Things have gotten more strange, they are. It's not only that there really is global warming or cooling depending on how you want to look at the fact the earth is not what it once was. Never mind Trump and his Waffen SS commanded by Sturmbannfuhrer Bannon (remember that Hitler and many members of his beer hall putsch were convicted felons) and never mind the pandemic which changed life in impalpable, but permanent ways. If you are a certain age you may find your self a Stranger Drowning to cite Larissa MacFarquhar or for lack of referents reaching for intellectual life buoys like the Unheilichkeit, Heidegger and Freud allude to. Everything--language, love, geography are caught in a barely visible but nonetheless frightening riptide that threatens to waft you away, not even to blissfully foreign shores.

read "God Bless Pig Latin America" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

and listen to "Hello Stranger" by Barbara Lewis