Friday, September 30, 2016

Pornosophy: Nudity

Courbet's "The Origin of the World"
Nude is a word that has both academic and pleasurable, if somewhat transgressive connotations. From the academic point of view a nude is a classic form in which both painters and sculptors have worked. There are of course infamous nudes, like the one in Courbet’s “The Origin of the World,” in which the wanton pose of the subject was deemed so risqué that for many years the painting was hidden from public view.  Nude when used as an adjective is hardly academic and refers to a state in which lovers find themselves in anticipation of a sexual act. When you get nude or you see someone in the nude you're viewing them or being viewed in a state that has to do with revelation as well as sensory gratification. One always questions why nudity has such significance. Biblically Adam and Eve experienced shame after they ate the forbidden fruit, but nudity is also associated with the idea of truth. What makes nudity so special is not that we're exposing our so called private parts, but rather seeking a kind of veracity. Nudity is a metaphor. It’s consecrated (and also forbidden) because of the way in which it symbolizes the striving that transpires when one individual tries to show another his or her real self.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The After Hours

photograph by Francis Levy
The naked sculptures in the window of the Park Avenue South storefront have become a kind of cause celebre to Gramercy Park residents, around the corner, who find them inappropriate in a family neighborhood. You have naked male sculptures in the Greek wing of the Met, but their penises are chopped off and these, created by the artist Richard Dupont, are realistically and proudly displayed. The sculptures are on the ground floor of the former Church Mission House purchased for $50 million last year by Aby Rosen’s RFR Realty and appear to be an esthetically advanced means of calling attention to valuable storefront space ("Nine statues of naked men appear in Gramercy Park storefront," New York Daily News, 7/18/16). You might easily look at the sculptures as part of the phenomenon of the pop up gallery, something which is mostly the province of fashionistas on the Lower East Side. But it’s also a form of pop art, to the extent that the word is taken literally and in such as way as to refer to something that may pop up. Here it could very well be one of the penises which are so true to life that they seem like they might easily grow hard were they to be treated to the right gaze. In a famous episode of The Twilight Zone, “The After Hours," mannequins actually come to life on a mysterious non-existent floor of a department store. Who knows what goes on behind the open windows of the storefront in question after dark?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Trump v. Hatshepsut

Hatshepsut (photo:Postdlf)
Much has been made of Hillary Clinton being the first American president, but lest we over value this achievement let’s remember the famous Hatshepsut who was the second woman Pharaoh. You can view her in the Met’s Egyptian wing and before her there was Sobekneferu. In modern times we have of course had Golda Meir, Israel’s fifth prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkell, the chancellor of Germany and Britain's current prime minister, Theresa May. Whether Helen of Troy was a political figure or figurehead remains to be seen, but she certainly would qualify as being one of Hegel’s figures of World Historical importance, having caused The Trojan War. And how would some of these famous woman leaders have fared against Donald Trump in a debate? Imagine Trump facing off against Hatshepsut. Even though you can’t get a good handle on a piece of stone, you get the feeling that the famous Egyptian pharaoh was unmoving and imperturbable. Would Trump have dared to accuse her of not having the "stamina" for the job? Her steely gaze would undoubtedly have shaken the billionaire real estate developer’s resolve. How would Trump have handled Meir who is not exactly what you’d call a babe, when she began to rattle him with her prodigious intelligence? Would he have attacked her appearance? And then there’s Margaret Thatcher whose character was played by Meryl Streep. She was hardly a slouch and by the way who should  play Hillary in the movie version of the life of our first female president and who Trump, Robert Redford--due to the hairdo?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Debate

second Kennedy/Nixon debate (photo: United Press International )
There is always excitement at the prospect of a presidential debate. The Kennedy Nixon face off in l960 was of course an iconic moment in politics (being the first presidential debate) as well as television and Nixon may have lost since he lacked a mastery of the medium. If you remember he had been sick and showed it. Sound familiar? But in some ways the anticipation accorded the first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, exceeded that of any political stand off in memory and was more reminiscent of one of those contests that have a physical aspect like say The Super Bowl or great boxing matches like The Thriller in Manila or The Rumble in the Jungle. One of the famous tourist sites of Rome is the Circo Massimo or the Circus Maximus which was where gladiatorial combats took place and the thrill of today’s circus is still predicated on the same kind of blood thirsty desires that motivated the crowds in Roman times. Will the Flying Wallendas fall? The Icarus myth is, of course, what’s at work in these kinds of revels. One of the acrobats or warriors is flying too close to the sun where his wings of wax will melt. Everyone was saying that the candidates and especially Trump had to talk about the issues: the economy, the inner cities and ISIS, but what, in fact, was really motivating the expected record setting 100,000,000 viewers that were predicted was the desire for gore. The fact that the fight was between a hefty looking man and comparatively diminutive woman only added a David and Goliath affect. Someone was going to fall and in an increasingly tight race that fall would set the tone for the rest of the race.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Trump Motors

It’s by no means berating Donald Trump to say that he looks like a car salesman and it’s not to cast any aspersions on car salesmen to say that Donald Trump looks like one of them. But if you were going to engage in profiling wouldn’t the blown dried hair and the portly physique, perhaps covered by a shark skin suit and patent leather loafers, fit the type? Indeed some of the turbulence of Trump’s personality and that part of him which seems to be perpetually about to go out of  control may result from his missing his calling. You’ve heard of the four humors, bile, phlegm, yellow bile and blood. Could Trump’s misplaced energies have caused a war between phlegm and bile? Just place him in a Chrysler show room and all the blusteriness, the malaproprisms and misinformation will all soon make sense. He’ll be in his proper habitat. Trump Motors even sounds like the name of a dealership, no? Looking at this another way, Donald Trump has never really broken away from his oedipal relationship with his father, who quashed his son’s great potential to run an automobile dealership by luring him into real estate. And then came leading Trump University and finally the presidency. Who the hell knows how this last happened (though Ike was president of Columbia before he landed in The White House)?  But now he’s stuck again and the shoe obviously doesn’t fit the foot. Once the elections are over and he loses to Hillary, he may secretly breathe a sigh of relief when he realizes he is now free to embrace the profession for which he was always destined. He will become the greatest car salesman this country has ever known.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Too Far to Go or Going too Far?

Klaus Mann, Staff Sergeant US Fifth Army (photo: United States Fifth Army)
In her review of Frederic Spotts Cursed Legacy, The Tragic Life of Klaus Mann, Anna Katharina Schaffner quotes the author and Mann himself as follows: “In his diary Klaus complained that his father’s 'general lack of interest in human beings is especially strong towards me.'” Schaffner also quotes Spotts thusly, “Klaus Mann was six times jinxed. A son of Thomas Mann. A homeless exile. A drug addict. A writer unable to publish in his native tongue. A not-so-gay gay. Someone haunted by all his life by a fascination with death.” But the case of Thomas Mann raises another question, that of the camouflage of humanism under which artistic depredations are allowed to fester. A great writer may have an exorbitant appetite for life while at the same time being life’s deadly enemy. Look at Tolstoy who early on exercised his doit du seigneur with his serfs while ending his last days, abandoning his wife and dying in Astopovo railway station. Norman Mailer famously stabbed his wife Adele on the eve of his candidacy for Mayor. V.S. Naipaul’s sadistic treatment of his mistress which involved beatings and disfigurement has been documented in Patrick French’s biography. And what can we say about Picasso. His portraits of the many women in his life appear to be the kiss of death; when he could no longer “palate” them they became works of art. It’s no revelation to learn that successful creative people often possess enormous egos which sucks up experience like a black hole light. When one reads Too Far to Go the short stories that comprise Updike’s eulogy to his first marriage, one wonders if the tristesse of the break up, so beautifully rendered, didn’t, in fact, represent the author sacrificing life for the sake of art. In this view creative work is a form of taxidermy, in which the skinned animal is used to make the head which hangs over the fireplace.