Wednesday, June 19, 2024

To His Coy Mistress

Andrew Marvell

There are all the classic metaphors of rebirth and most famously the phoenix. Frazer's Golden Bough is rife with them. But unless you believe in the afterlife or reincarnation, there's going to come a time when, there's no time left. Have there ever been any death bed novels? If you're an athlete or a politician you're going to have your "last hurrah." Pitchers have a notoriously short half-life. The saddest is the individual who had devoted his life to a solitary device, reaching artifacts from the Titanic in a submersible, for jnstance, only to find there to be faults. "Had we but world enough and time... sings the metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell in his classic "To His Coy Mistress." Alas one may have neither of these two elements, world or time, left. At a certain point in a marathon runners hit a wall. Running on empty is a feat that defies the Gods.

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

and listen to "I'm Your Puppet" by James and Bobby Purify

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Radical Chic

photo: MoSchle

Talk about appropriation. There's a huge amount of suffering in the world. Armies are ravaging Uighur and Rohingya populations. Why not borrow their traumas? Affluent members of ruling classes freely plagiarize their narratives of childhood neglect serviced  by a whole industry of trauma specialists who DJ the party with Ecstasy. In defense of the privileged the one thing that a human being can inarguably claim about their unhappiness is the fact that it's their own. Radical chic was the name Tom Wolfe gave when Leonard Bernstein entertained the Black Panthers. Sure guilt can motive charitable actions. Is human suffering in the public domain? Can anybody take  another persons misery and call it their own?

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

and listen to "Cool Jerk" by Marvin Gaye

Monday, June 17, 2024

Culture and 'Anarchy

Matthew Arnold

The mind is a bit like a supernova, in the course of its natural or precocious disintegration, it throws off a blinding white light. Supernovae, of course, turn into black holes in which all manner of being is sucked into oblivion. In terms of the physiology of death and dying, it's like the way someone wakes up out of the rattle and suddenly shoots forth with questions about where they are and what day it is. In microcosm you may find Matthew Arnold's "Culture and Anarchy" something you studied in Lionel Trilling's course on Matthew Arnold popping up out of the blue with its magnificent dichotomy between the the Hebraic ("strictness of obedience") and the Hellenic (spontaneity of conciousness) comprising the vocabulary of a cherished lost language. If you never heard of The Liberal Imagination then pick up Louis Menand's The Free World: Art and Culture During The Cold War. There you will also read about the frought relationship between Trilling and his brilliant student Allen Ginsberg. What did Ginsberg take from Rimbaud not art but experience for art's sake? You'll also learn that Lionel and his wife the critic Diana found Alfred Kazin of A Walker InThe City fame frumpy while Kazin thought Trilling, the son of a tailor, was striking a pose. You'll also learn that these giants of mid-century culture ultimately liked each other. Menand's book is pleasant time traveling back to a world before the jargonists of deconstruction had yet to be-- when literary criticism meant something and constituted a way of seeing the world.

read "A-Z Quotes" by Francis Levy

and listen to Joan Baum's NPR review of The Kafka Studies Department

Friday, June 14, 2024

Is There a Conspiracy Against QAnon?

photo: Anthony Crider

Conspiracy Theory
was a movie starring Mel Gibson. Besides  earned paranoia a la "you don't have to be paranoid to believe someone is following you," Gibson's character (Jerry Fletcher) demonstrates his OCD behavior in his obsession with Catcher in the Rye and Holden Caulfield. Pizzagate was a famous conspiracy that either emerged from or cross-pollinated with QAnon--which one does not hear so much about these days. Is there a "planned obsolescence" to conspiracy that makes it conveniently disappear? When you think about it, conspiracies provide a necessary function--akin to God. Would you rather have nothing coming after you? Would you rather face the cosmic indifference of the universe? Or be filled with the sense of purpose that comes from b
eing a fighter for a just cause? What is more maddening, to be pursued or to have no one on your tail?

read "An Incident of Defenestration" by Francis Levy, Evergreen Review

and listen to Joan Baum's NPR review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy

Thursday, June 13, 2024


Waiters are also servers, but both words can be double entendres. A waiter is someone who literally stares at the clock waiting for something to happen; a server is an internet platform. Both words are also interactive to the extent that a waiter waits for orders and servers may become the means by which on line orders are effected. It's disconcerting for a waiter when business is slow, as tips provide the large part of their income. If you're an emergency room doctor it doesn't matter whether there are lot of admissions or few, you get the same salary. If a server breaks down, there will be a lot of unhappy customers as well as platforms who will buy be able to reach out to their audience. "I will be your server tonight" is a locution uttered by waiters in high end restaurants which lean towards both PC-ness and #MeTooism. People like to be served promptly; they don't like to wait. "To Serve Man" is the title of a Twilight Zone about an "alienated" cookbook.

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

and listen to "God" by Tori Amos

Wednesday, June 12, 2024


"Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag and smile boy that's the style"

Historical consciousness and connections are like one of those adapters you buy to use electric devices in a foreign country. You're crossing borders as well as time and space. A wide swafh of relationships can resemble the overloaded plugs that may have populated the wall sockets in your grandparents' apartment--and which your parents were always warning you about when you were a kid. Intellectual history itself bears some degree of resemblance to a family tree in which distant cousins have apparently had incestuous relationships. Strange bedfellows is a term used to describe those who find themselves on the same side of the fence as apparent adversaries (as is the case with feminists and fundamentalists when it comes to pornography). Hegel proposed the famous thesis, antithesis, synthesis that became the basis for "dialectical materialism." Would that history could be instantiated in such a clear and blameless way!

Listen to "Tears of the Clown" by Smokey Robinson.

and read "Why Big German Words Like Vergangenbangenheit Carry Weight" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

The 38th Parallel

From the moment of birth your past is like the DMZ at the 38th parallel. Enter purgatory at your own peril. There are those who wouldn't extend the metaphor with the North as hell. The North may be death in life but Hades is a vast battlefield in which death is not infinite but as far as the eye can see. Most people think of the past as a version of the familiar in aged form, but in fact everyone carries a cemetery of ancestors one is seldom prone to think about even in the age of Ancestry. Hades is real and you don't need Charon to cross the Acheron. You may visit it in your sleep.

read Joan Baum's NPR review of The Kafka Studies Department

and listen to "Boogaloo Down Broadway" by Johnny C