Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sexual Congress

"Risque Names Reap Rewards for Some Companies" was the headline in last week's Business Day section of The Times (NYT, 4/23/19). The article recounts the experience of a pair of entrepreneurs by the name of Corin and Brian Mullins. They had been producing a product with the leaden name of Hapi Food cereal. “But Mr. Mullins, whose career had been spent in marketing communications, allowed his thoughts to wander mischievously,” the Times piece explained. “Heavy on chia and hemp seeds, the cereal he and his wife had first conceived in 2009 was extremely high in fiber. Why not just call it Holy Crap?” The Times went on to report that with the new name Holy Crap was doing “$5.5 million in four years.” The Times piece quoted Richard Branson about the naming of Virgin, “It smacked of new and fresh and at the time the word was still slightly risqué, so, thinking it would be an attention grabber, we went with it.” Kickass Cupcakes, Eggslut, Sassy Bitch and Fat Bastard, Master Bait &Tackle are other outfits mentioned in the Times story. The piece even cites a tampon company called HelloFlo. But what about a public relations company called Get the Clap, an oil rigging concern named Bored to Death or a real estate company called Spaced Out? Of course, as clever as they might sound these names still are no match for Mammoth Erection, the scaffold concern that’s mentioned in the article. If you’re going to try to get attention by being outrageous and risqué or both, you have to go over the top. Remember Roach Brothel the famed SNL parody of Roach Motel? How about Crack House for a home repair service, The Breaking Wind for a bistro which serves food from some tropical island and Stuck Up for a company that is trying to compete with Roto-Rooter in a competitive market. How about a gym called Fit to Be Tied, an upholsterer called The Electric Chair and a company which specializes after school activities for kids, called Throw It Up? Wouldn’t Congress be the perfect name for a hot new dating service?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Four Thousand Blocks

Ellie Ga, Projection Harbor, 2013
The artist Ellie Ga has created works out of her experiences in the North Pole and more recently off the coast of Alexandria, at the site of the underwater excavation of the famous Pharos Lighthouse--one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. She's interested in facts and information. She recycles information and makes art out of it. As part of her recent show at Bureau, Four Thousand Blocks, she created, for example, a letter press print of a dialogue between the King of Egypt and the god Thoth about the pros and cons of the gifts the god is contemplating giving to humankind. Thoth says, “ I can’t think of anything bad to say about writing. It will make humans wiser and improve their memories. The recipe for memory has been discovered.” In this case the king appears to be wiser than his divinely inspired counterpart when he responds, “What you have discovered is not a recipe for memory, but the drug of reminding. With your invention they will be taught, but they will not be wiser.” It’s nice know that even the ancients were worried that technological advances could result in the attrition of certain human faculties—as we do today in considering how certain kinds of thinking have become the province of the computer. The show was composed of a three channel video related to the artist’s experience of the Pharos excavation which also involved underwater dives. One screen is primarily a dark room in which images are developing. A central screen is a documentary involving the process by which the artist gained information about the excavation and the third is simply compartments filled with metallic type out of which Ga picks letters to create a story. It’s explained that a good type setter can decipher the sentence that is being created by simply watching the movement of hands between these compartments. Synchronicity might be one word to describe what Ellie Ga is attempting. Big data is another, but the net result is to winnow and exhibit the affect of historical enormity on the human imagination.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Nietzsche for Idiots

Photo of Friedrich Nietzsche by F. Hartmann
Nietzsche has always been as hard to spell as he is to swallow. You type out Nietsche or Nietzche and finally you get the added letter, but Nietzsche, like one says about some complicated people, is work.  An evening correcting the misspellings of his name can leave you feeling empty and emotionally exhausted.  If you’re having trouble with your Nietzsche, you might want to point the finger at someone other than yourself. What were Nietzsche's ancestors thinking when they decided to place an s after a z? No one is saying that there is anything wrong with the name. It’s Beyond Good and Evil. However Robert Heilbroner once wrote a book called The Worldly Philosophers, which totally bypassed Nietzsche in favor of thinkers like Karl Marx and Adam Smith. And the question is, why not make Nietzsche more worldly by coming up with some shorthand that makes his name and hopefully his ideas more user friendly. How’s about Nichi? It’s simpler and something kids will like too. Instead of being some hard to spell philosopher, his name will make him sound like a legendary martial artist. Nichi and Bruce Lee. Nichi is such a catchy name that it might be turned into a computer game that would be a challenge to Grand Theft Auto. Heidegger comes bearing a lot of freight, not the least of which are tongue twisters like Unheimlichkeit. But there isn’t too much leeway. Heidegger is a hard word to misspell, although Americans put off by his fascist leanings might warm up to him if his name were changed to Hy Digger.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Answered Prayers


“Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entra,” were the words which Dante famous cited on the way through the Inferno. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. “Arbeit macht frei,” work makes (man) free were the more hopeful sounding words which like the McDonald’s Big M, greeted those who entered Dachau, Auschwitz and other Nazi franchises. And the dichotomy is instructive when one considers the stoic approach to the question of hope Simon Critchley puts forth in his recent Times Sunday Review piece, “Abandon (Nearly) All Hope,” (NYT, 4/19/14) Critchley, a professor of philosophy at The New School, demonstrates his always prodigious knowledge of antiquity in quoting Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound and an anecdote from Thucydides’ The History of the Peloponnesian War to demonstrate his contempt for Panglossianism. He quotes Prometheus to the effect that he “stopped mortals from foreseeing doom...I sowed in them blind hopes.” It’s these kind of blind hopes that lead to the defeat of the Melians by the more powerful Athenians in Critchley’s rendition of Thucydides. Turning to the present Critchley turns his skeptical eye to President Obama a well known dabbler in hope. “ “He recalled a phrase that his pastor…used in a sermon: the audacity of hope. Obama said that this audacity is what ‘was the best of the American spirit,’ namely ‘the audacity to believe despite all evidence to the contrary.’” One wishes Critchley could have given our beleaguered president the benefit of the doubt. Obama bashing has become one of the most self-congratulatory hobbies on both the left and he right. The anti- Obama forces are like old-fashioned aristocrats out with their hounds and horses for the hunt. In fact the hope that Obama is trading in has nothing to do with the Melians or Prometheus, but in employing “the strict hard factuality” and the kind “of courage in the face of reality,” that Critchley quotes Nietzsche as advocating. Let’s not forget that Obamacare, which might or might not augur a revolutionary change in our health system, did pass. In a TLS review of John Gray’s Heresies: Against Progress and Other Illusions, David Hawkes quotes Gray as saying “Belief in progress is the Prozac of the thinking class.” And commenting on the substance of another Gray title, The Silence of Animals, Hawkes notes, "To lose faith in progress is to lose the ability to see meaning in life. It is to abandon the notion, central to rationalism and religion alike, that empirical appearances conceal substantial essences. It breaks with any concept of a non-material mind, self or soul concealed within the body. It assumes, with neo-pragmatists and postmodernists, that signs do not refer to an external reality, but create their own referents. To lose faith in progress is to view the world as a depthless simulacrum with no underlying significance.” Yes! W.B. Yeats famously said something like this even more succinctly in “The Second Coming,” “The best lack all conviction while the worst are filled with passionate intensity.” And let’s not forget Truman Capote who cited Saint Teresa of Avila in his unfinished novel Answered Prayers to the effect that “There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers."

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Autumn of the Shmoks

There are a lots of men and women who are offended by the words pussy or cunt and they don’t like snatch either. Prick and Dick don’t seem to be as bothersome to those who toil in the mines  of political incorrectitude. A schmuck is a jerk and the word derives from the Yiddish shmok, which mean penis, but calling someone a schmuck or shmok is not a reason to dial L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E 911. Is this sexism? Obviously there are those who feel that the use of the words “cunt” or “pussy” shape our attitudes towards females more than dick, prick or schmuck affect how we think of men. Maybe those fighting for cleaner and more upstanding uses of language need work harder to make urban slang for male bodily parts more grating on the ear. What is a bad word for a man who suffers from Peyronie’s Disease which is a curvature of the penis? What is nefarious word for a swordsman or someone who has a reputation for conquest? Transsexuals are called trannies, but no one seems to mind even if the word seems a bit dismissive sounding. If you are asking for anal sex, you want it Greek,  but even the Greeks don’t seem to mind. Cunnilingus is associated with downtown and no one in Soho or Tribecas seems to be offended while analingus is referred to harmlessly as rimming which sounds like a trimming, something which you just need a little of. However, back to body parts which seem to be the root of the problem. You’d think that an asshole would cause rage among the people who don’t like cunt or pussy. In certain circles there is nothing more demeaning than calling Alice a cunt, particularly if she is behaving like a pussy and thank God for Pussy Riot--which has done more to legitimize pussy than a thousand George Carlins.  But if you say Alice is behaving like an asshole, it doesn’t raise an eyebrow. It’s no worse than being stuck in traffic and joining in on the honking. Why then are cunt and pussy singled out for opprobrium when they are both bona fide words and not illegal neologisms that ought to be deported by the language police?