Friday, July 29, 2016

Can You Escape the Past?

"Orpheus and Eurydice" by Rodin (Metropolitan Museum of Art , gift of Thomas F. Ryan, 1910)
Oedipus famously brought about the fate he feared in his attempts to avoid it. The Oracle had presaged that he would kill his father and marry his mother. So he ran away from his adoptive parents and proceeded to kill his real father Laius at a crossroads and then marry his mother Jocasta when he arrived in Thebes. In our age of candor, you learn all the terrible things that have happened to people. In fact the sins of the children and parents are often the subject of bestselling books like Kathryn Harrison’s memoir of incest, The Kiss and they’re certainly the subject of fiction as is the case with Louis Malle’s Murmur of the Heart. A few people may have actually murdered a parent in flagrante, but an even greater number have ended up sleeping with them. Much of the soul searching that accompanies the searing honesty of these revelations is accompanied with the hope that the painful exhumation of the past will result in a kind of exorcism. But can you escape the past? Can a deeply wounded person who has experienced all kinds of abuse go on to lead a so-called healthy life, freed from the demons  his or her upbringing? Or is the tragedy of life that fate, which is the subject of Sophocles drama, is impossible to avoid? The jury is definitely out and the verdict is not a shoe-in. The road to hell is lined with good intentions. Many victims of childhood attend rehabs to recover from the same illnesses their parents suffered from only to relapse despite all the knowledge they have gained. The past is like a black hole which relentlessly sucks one back to familiar ground.  On his way out of Hades Orpheus is warned not to look back at Eurydice or he will lose her, but he can’t stop himself. Those who think they have escaped from the darkness might howl in protest but it’s the dubious privilege of artists and writers to prove that the legacy of mythology is always ripe for reinterpretation.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Verifiability is Truth

A.J. Ayer
When it comes down to it, there’s enough mystery in the knowable world that we don’t need to resort to mysticism, religion, or high level metaphysics. Perhaps the empiricists and analytic philosophers have it right. David Hawkes makes the following remark in his essay on the art critic Dave Hickey in the TLS, (“Everyone’s a Critic,” 5/27/16), “Hickey’s intellectual hero is J.L. Austin, the English analytic philosopher who developed the concept of the 'performative' statement. A 'performative' is a sign or series of signs that achieves an objective effect in the real world, as when a priest declares a couple married.” How simple and lacking in any temptation towards the divine, the infinite or metaphysical! And signs can literally be that. For instance take the classic “Stop” sign or the triangular warning to “Yield,” which are the victims of their own ubiquitousness. We take them for granted because they don’t furnish us with a manual on how to deal with our problems, but on a daily basis they are what makes life possible simply because they save our lives. And what good is Kant’s categorical imperative or Heidegger’s “Dasein,” or “being there,” if the very states they refer to doesn’t comprise the certainty of an oncoming car. Reality may only appear to us as the shadow on the wall of the caves that we inhabit, but so what? Why is it so bad to limit propositions to tautologies like “a rose is a rose?” Verifiability not beauty is truth. If it’s ultimately impossible to parse out the truth, then why bother?  Why not make your bible A.J. Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Sleepy's: The Mattress Professionals

If you ever start to feel your eyelids grow heavy while you're driving, stop at a Sleepy’s and try out one of the beds. Most stores and especially libraries don’t like it when customers use their public areas to rest. You can’t walk into the central reading room of the 42nd Street Library and simply nod out, if you’re looking for a place to nap. However, imagine what would happen if everyone started to lie down in Sleepy’s and the store was literally filled with snorers? What a great advertisement for their beds and what a boost to the average store, filled as it is with tired looking sales people. (What other state would you get into if you had to look at mattresses all day?) And you’re not even going to run into problems with a spouse who doesn’t take kindly to your sleep apnea. You’re not going to have to have one of those cumbersome devices attached to your face. There are so many possibilities here. Imagine having a wet dream at Sleepy’s! Imagine meeting the girl or guy of your dreams, when you wake up next to the stranger on the other side of the king-sized mattress you happen to be trying out. Hermann Broch’s The Sleepwalkers is one of the classic novels of 20th Century Mitteleuropaishe literature. Consider all the great novels that could be written by those who pulled off the highway to take a rest at Sleepy’s. There’s a Sleepy’s right in the little town of Wainscott, on Route 27 in The Hamptons, which could turn out to be the spot where the next Great Gatsby is conceived.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Vermont Journal: Going Through the Roof

watercolor by Hallie Cohen
Going through the roof is an expression that indicates someone has lost their temper. When someone goes through the roof it’s often a sign that they’ve received some news that they didn’t enjoy hearing. For instance, you might go through the roof if the roof job you'd commissioned turned out to be faulty and there were leaks which ruined the freshly stained and polyurethaned floors of your converted barn. In fact when you travel through horse country, like the lush fenced in fields in an area like Woodstock, Vermont, which boasts the famous Billings Farm, you see many barns with roofs which have been punctuated by ancient vents which could be mistaken for weathervanes. In the middle of the current heat wave, you are easily able to see the virtues of going the through roof as long as it's a thing rather than a person. Most of the barns you view are comprised of these unique contraptions which also convey an extraterrestrial aspect, as if while allowing in fresh air they might also be signaling something to creatures from outer space. Sometimes a simple appurtenance can turn out to have an unanticipated meaning and you never know in our world of Edward Snowden and government spying if an innocent looking device were really collecting data, about the horses in the barn and who or who isn’t going to hit the roof  when they find out that that their privacy can even be compromised in even the most backwoods environment.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Disaporic Dining XXXXII: Letting People Know What They're Worth

Have you ever felt unappreciated for the lengths you’ve gone to when it comes feting a friend or business associate? Instead of going to the Stop and Shop or the Food Emporium, you’ve spent the extra bucks at Citarella’s to get those porterhouse steaks, which while he or she's wolfing them down, you want to say, you know those came to over a bill. Does he or she even fathom the expense you’ve gone out to? Or say you let it fly at one of the local trendy bistros and tell the crowd of friends you’ve invited for your birthday, it’s on me. Sure everyone is smiling and especially the waiter? Who doesn’t like being given carte blanche? But after everyone has ordered all the things they wouldn't normally want to foot the bill for and are moaning how they couldn’t eat another morsel, don’t you feel a certain let down? They're not thinking about you and how much you’ve spent, but only about how full their tummies feel. Imagine a world where it becomes fashionable to let everyone know how much you're paying, a world where you actually put little cards in front of people’s plates, like the seating tags that are sometimes provided at dinner parties, indicating how much their meals cost? Everyone knows that you serve expensive food to people you want to impress and more modest fare to those you could easily do without. So in order to make it worthwhile to spend a lot on someone, you want monetize how much people meant to you. If you've forked out for a two pound lobster, you want your guests to know that the $75-100 you've spent is a recognition of the depth of the friendship. After all, there are those for whom you would only buy the 1and ¼ pounder for $49.