Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Do You Suffer From Feelings of Inferiority?

Feelings of inferiority are often justified. You may be one of those people who has never gotten out of the schoolyard, where you were never picked for the team, where you never got the girl and where some kid once beat you up for your lunch money. Those early horrible impressions of reality emblazoned on the child’s mind by supposedly traumatic events turn out to be a realistic picture of what life's like. There are lots of mean-spirited people (let’s call them the survivors, as in the “survival of the fittest”) and tons of drones, who’d better do what they’re told or else (let’s call them “the ones who are lost at sea"). In order to create society the survivors have to employ their skills to enslave the drones and make sure that the heavy lifting no one else wants to do gets taken care of. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was it constructed without the help of slaves. No matter what you do, there's always going to be someone smarter, stronger and better looking and statistically it’s been proven that they’re so better looking than the average Joe or Jane that there's simply no competition. That applies not only to looks, but talent too. You’re told it’s just a feeling when you're depressed in the presence of mister or missus perfect. Yet what else does one have to go on?  If you're tired of all the successful people parading their accompishments in front of your face, then run away. Run as far away as you can and never turn back.  

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Final Solution: The Empire Redux

American politics looks like that part of the Star Wars saga where The Empire Strikes Back. Mueller makes a lame appearance in congress. The Supreme Court rules 5-4 that Trump can fund his wall with money from the military budget as Europe smolders in a heatwave that has generated some of the highest temperatures in recorded history. What will runneth over sooner? Trump’s cup or the smoldering cauldron created by the Greenhouse Effect? The President exudes the implacability of Darth Vader as he goes after the Squad tipping his hat unselfconsciously to racism while being applauded for his ability to say literally anything he wants. The upcoming Democratic debate on CNN should be billed as "The Tower of Babel." The 20 voices are more a cacaphony than a chorus. And there's no platform aka "Stairway to Heaven." At some point it will end. According to The Times a federal judge was asked  "to unseal grand jury secrets related to Mr. Mueller's investigation, using the court filing to declare that lawmakers had in effect begun an impeachment investigation of Mr. Trump." ('Nadler Says Trump 'Richly Deserves' Impeachment," NYT, 7/28/19). The Democrats may still fecklessly attempt to initiate impeachment proceedings if only to investigate the cyborg's past misdeeds. Good luck.  However, there will be a sequel. After all the presidency is a franchise just like Star Wars and audiences may be impressed by the power of pure evil, but they also need their Jedi Knights. Good has to triumph over evil. Remember it's at the end of The Empire Strikes Back that Darth Vader makes his startling revelation to Luke, "I am your father."

Monday, July 29, 2019

Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton who in turn plays a cowboy named Caleb on The Bounty Hunter, a black and white television series of the 50’s and early 60's which has a cult following.  Rick had almost gotten Steven McQueen’s role in The Great Escape (1963)However, as a bad guy, his career is in danger of going down the tubes until a producer named Schwarzs (Al Pacino) not Schwartz, mind you, offers to make him a hero in Italian spaghetti westerns. Brad Pitt plays his stunt double, Cliff Porter, who’s also a drinking buddy, fearless body guard and gofer. In one sequence Cliff beats up Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) and he's reputedly murdered a former wife. To say that Once Upon a Hollywood is a homage to film is an understatement. The fact that all the major roles are played by actors who are themselves screen icons, who have spun their own myths, adds one more level of complexity that film scholars will undoubtedly debate in parsing the varying resonances of the cinematic symphony Tarantino orchestrates.  Film may be the palette that the director paints with, but he’s not only interested in his colors, but the very pigments from which they’re made. The movie, which takes place in l969, is a series of narratives which all have lives of their own. For instance, Rick lives next door to Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha). Cliff runs into the Manson family and SPOILER ALERT the film’s ending renders a rather tongue-in-chic alternate universe rendition of a gruesome piece of real history. Sharon Tate herself attends a movie in which she appeared with Dean Martin and Elke Sommer. The fact that this comedy was called The Wrecking Crew (1968) is another ironic twistFilm and reality are conjoined when the fictional universe crosses paths with the Mansons, yet the two gently disentangle like dancers at the end of pas de deux with the illusory filmic world ultimately taking over the spotlight. It may be hard to willingly suspend disbelief in any Tarantino film simply by virtue of the directorial gaze—which creates an almost Brechtian verfremndungseffekt. On the other hand, the process of filmic illusion and role playing are rendered so realistically in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, they create their own kind of film within a film form of believability. You may smile at the absurdity and then find yourself totally buying a scene like the one in which DiCaprio angrily threatens himself in a mirror after forgetting his lines. Does one care about the characters in Tarantino’s self-referential postmodern universe? After two hours and forty-five minutes of tergiversation, one may be hard put to experience empathy. Amidst all the ironies, you may not feel moved by anything, though that may ultimately be the point. Emotion will always come at a premium when you’re watching a cartoon of a certain kind.

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Final Solution: The Phoenix

A Phoenix by FJ Bertuch (1747-1822)
Rising from the ashes like the phoenix is a notion that can be consoling. One or two things being awry is a far cry from the kind of perfect storm that requires disaster relief. But is it better to crash and burn then plod along in a mediocre way in which you're continually trying to plug up the leaks in a faltering system? When catastrophe strikes a collective charisma ensues that carries with it the hope for a bright new shining world. Everything will be destroyed and in its place something will be built anew. Such was the case with both the New Deal and the Marshall Plan that followed the Second World War. On the other hand, the human cost can be daunting. Viewing human existence as a learning curve is a way of palliating suffering, but sometimes both people and things (ie institutions) are destroyed that can never be rebuilt. Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed traces the swath of disasters that have caused the downfall of civilizations. There were the thousand years of Rome. However, what about Imperial America with its dreams of globalism? What about exporting democracy? What about the millenarian technology which would extinguish tribalism and xenophobia? It started with Kennedy and ran right through the Obama years, but now with the United States’ exit from initiatives like the Paris Climate Agreement and the Iran Nuclear Accord and with the relationship with NATO imperiled, one wonders if the price to be paid exceeds the promise of some new found land.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Final Solution: The Infernal Machine

Is it brilliance, animal instinct, or the old notion that when you hurl enough shit, it’s going to hit its mark? Maybe all three. "These Michigan Voters Show Where Trump’s 'Go Back' Attack May Help Him,NYT 7/22/19) ran the headline. The sad truth is that Trump perseverates in his racist remarks because he realizes they’re hitting a cord. It’s not just a few Michigan voters, but a large swath of moderates who don’t like one member or another of the Squad and are simply willing to let their emotions get the better of them. They  are in effect a perfect target. On the one hand Trump gets to play to his base with the usual mixture of racism and misogynism that's always his calling card. On the other he takes aim at four left of center Democrats whose positions he then uses to characterize the party. He kills two birds with one stone. Jean Cocteau wrote a play called The Infernal Machine based on the Oedipus myth, However it might be a good description of what may be happening to the Tower of Babel known as Democratic politics, as the party prepares to throw the next election down the toilet. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Berkshire Journal: The Clark

"Reflecting Pool at the Clark Art Institute" (watercolor by Hallie Cohen)
Viewing art can be a slog, despite how people rave about this or that exhibit. You have to deal with your admission credentials (digging into your wallet for the card if you’re a member) or trying to negotiate the varying ticket prices for students, seniors and then, if it’s a very popular show, waiting on long lines (unless you have gone to the further trouble of purchasing a timed entry ticket). Then there's the jockeying for space amongst all the enthusiasts who are trying to get pictures of this or that masterpiece. On the other hand what’s the choice if you’re not a hedonist who prefers the seraglio or the opium dream? Beauty is a consolation which is also challenging. After all, what is it? The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown is one of those destinations which is high on the list for art lovers and like the nearby MASS MoCA, it’s also work. However, the Clark offers a moment of Zen repose when you sit on one of the Adirondack chairs at the three-tiered reflecting pool created by the museum’s architects Tadao Ando and Reed Hilderbrand. The setting has the stop-time quality of a masterpiece, with the glass-like surface of the water set against the backdrop of verdant Berkshire mountains.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Berkshire Journal: MASS MoCA

The Hall Art Foundation's Anselm Kiefer Building at MASS MoCA (photo: F. Levy)
Converting an abandoned industrial landscape to an artistic habitat is one approach to gentrification. Adaptive reuse is a term often used for this process. Artists have always turned around imperiled and depressed areas. The cast iron buidlings of Manhattan's SoHo were a prime example of that phenomenon. North Adams, Massachusetts, in the heart of the Berkshires, which is the home of MASS MoCA, is another. The city with its deserted two story red brick buildings and broken down wooden row houses is an extended legacy of the decline of New England as a manufacturing center. As you walk around the museum you'll come across pieces of abandoned junk, rusted machinery and other detritus only to discover the beginning of an artistic strategy. This is actually the perfect environment for the work of Anselm Kiefer which accounts for one of the central buildings. But "The Boiler House" is the most perfect and elegant example of the appropriation of reality for artistic purposes ("Suffering From Realness" is another one of MoCA's current exhibits). "The Boiler House" is an inadvertent manifesto for the whole MoCA project. The art work is essentially an in situ installation comprising the innards of Sprague Electric which closed its plant in 1947. Boilers, coal hoppers and ash disposal conveyors are the palette and there's a soundscape "All Those Vanished Engines" by Stephen Vitiello along with Michael Oatman's three-part work, "All Utopias Fell," with its iconic Airstream trailer. Creativity and Perversion is the title of a psychoanalytic tome by Janine Chassaguet-Smirgel. The monograph to accompany "The Boiler Room" might be Creativity and Obsolescence

Monday, July 22, 2019

Berkshire Journal: Pittsfield

Agricultural National Bank in Pittsfield (photo: F. Levy)
North Street is the central drag in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. It’s a long line of fading two story red brick factory buildings, surrounded in the distance by abandoned factories, which are the legacy that companies like GE left when they moved from the area. It exudes a particular kind of New England decrepitude memorializing the industrial life that flourished at the end of the l9th century (though some gracious examples of early twentieth century architecture like the Agricultural National Bank from 1908 with its Palladium columns grace the landscape). Pittsfield is still a depressed area and vagrants and victims of the Northeast’s opioid epidemic can be seen wandering on side streets as the traveler makes their way to an early evening showing of The Pieces I Am, the Timothy Greenfield-Sanders movie about Toni Morrison playing at the Berkshire Museum. Moviegoers may later repair to  District Kitchen and Bar or Hotel on North two of the more toney examples of the kind of gentrification which characterizes an area with proximity to cultural attractions like Tanglewood, Mass MOCA and the Williamstown Theatre Festival. On a summer evening Pittsfield is an odd confection with its itinerant tourists and homeless population all mingling in the twilight. North is more like an avenue than a street since it’s unusually wide and exudes a kind of emptiness that’s waiting to be filled. It’s more like a marching ground than a thoroughfare and as you make your way down past the pizzerias and deserted store fronts which have yet to be tapped for renovation, you almost feel like a marching bad should arrive to fill the void.

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Final Solution: Some Like It Hot

Do you prefer still lifes, natura morte, to portraits? Is there a test which uses such inclinations or disinclinations to profile personality? For instance, are still life lovers more like the Eleatics of the pre-Socratic school who believed in stasis as opposed to the Milesians, like Heraclitus, for whom the world was in a constant state of flux? It’s a little like the Rorschach test which also used visuals to determine traits of character. But there are lots of everyday dichotomies that can be telling. Folders v. crumplers of toilet paper is a common one which has gotten curiously little play. Some Like It Hot was the title of a famous Billy Wilder comedy starring Marilyn Monroe, but it's also an indicator of the fact that a totally different demographic or subgroup may like it cold, which in turn could reveal a host of telling aspects of their psychology. Getting back to art, are lovers of figuration recidivists, who can’t help themselves from returning to the scene of the crime? Are those who glean towards abstraction, actually realists in disguise—to the extent that a Jackson Pollock is presenting a view of the world that’s simply not been revealed before. Gay/straight, vegetarian/meat eater don’t qualify (though one’s preference for Skinner type behaviorism to the depth psychology of Freud could itself be a telling dichotomy). These are merely outcomes that could be predicted when respondents in focus groups reacted to the images placed before them on a screen. Flash a picture of a donkey or an elephant before your eyes? What’s your preference and what does that say about whether you're likely to vote Democratic or Republican in 2020?

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Final Solution: Life of Washington

"Life of Washington" by Victor Arnautoff (Yalonda M. James, Assoicated Press)
If you're willing to elect anyone who can stop Trump, you might be unpleasantly surprised by precisely who and what's capable of doing the job. The kind of populism represented by Trump, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Boris Johnson in England with its fascist overtones parallels the 30’s. But remember that in Russia and Eastern Europe the onslaught of full-blown totalitarianism came in its wake. The current controversy about the destruction of a WPA era mural depicting Washington’s exploitation of slaves ("San Francisco Will Spend $600,000 to Erase History"NYT, 6/28/19) exhibits in microcosm what life is going to be like in a thought-controlled state that could be the platform of some of the president’s potential opponents. While many aspects of the U.S. economy could benefit from regulations, particularly in the air of the environment, free speech may be the first thing to go. What’s transpiring on college campuses across the country and currently in San Francisco is an example of the attempt to reign in thought itself. Though a sanctuary city, the home of the Haight is apparently no longer a safe harbor for advocates of free speech.  The snowflakes who dissolve when triggered (even by content with otherwise acceptable intentions), continue to provide the excuse for such censorship.The politicization of both sexuality and artistic debate (for example in the attacks on Dana Schutz’s “Open Casket” ("White Artists Painting of Emmet Till at Whitney Biennial Elicits Draws Protests,"NYT 5/21/17) are further examples of the legacy of the reaction to institutionalized racism and sexism. It’s always bad to fall in love on the rebound. You may find yourself rescued from a bad marriage only to find yourself waking up next to someone worse. Isn't such repressive backlash what George Orwell was writing about in l984? As former NEA chairman Rocco Landesman wrote in a letter to The Times: "In a world of increasingly unchecked zealotry aand self-righteousness, what work of art will ever be protected from some committee of cultural vigilantes who don't understand it?" 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Le Gai Savoir

Where does “gay” come from? How did a designation for happiness become associated with homosexuality? Does that mean that those who aren’t gay are sad? Are straight couples unhappy? The answer is usually yes, but that applies to everybody. Most people are unhappy despite their orientation. However, that’s a whole other story. Fifty years ago, if you said someone was gay, you would think that they were bubby or frivolous. Back in l969 Godard directed a movie called Le Gai Savoirwhich is an allusion to Nietzsche’s The Gay Science. Neither the Nietzsche tract nor the Godard movie have anything to do with homosexuality. The title of Godard’s movie is translated as The Joy of Learning. Now most people would think that the movie had something to do with the kind of knowledge you get at LGBTQ headquarters, ditto The Gay Science,which might have an appendix about safe sex. How language accommodates to changing manners and mores! Queer went through a stage of being a derogatory epithet. Now it’s an academic discipline! Words like "fag" and "dyke" have had less illustrious histories with the former being the name given to cigarettes in England, Before the Revolution (to invoke the title of Berlolucci’s l964 movie). The only "fag studies" course you're probably going to find would either be offered by the English subsidiary of an international tobacco company or in a linguistically oriented film department exploring the use of the word in the British "angry young men" films of the 60s.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The ABCs of Sociopathy

"Philoctetes on the Island of Lemnos" by Guillaume Guillon-Lethiere (1798)
Labelling someone a sociopath or psychopath is a convenient way of distancing yourself from them. You have only to pick up the paper to find a list of off-the-charts behaviors in both the public and private sectors. A fraternity hazing results in death while a video shows a sitting president boasting about groping any woman he likes. Another president comes a cropper for trying to insert a cigar in an intern’s vagina. Only recently a New Jersey judge tried to dismiss a rape charge under the theory that the 16-year-old perpetrator was an excellent student from a good family. What separates these offenders from a Harvey Weinstein or Jeffrey Epstein who have both been or are in the process of being totally ostracized by society? Is it just a matter of the extent of the transgression? Or is there another factor? Who's to say that a person who commits anti-social or even criminal acts can’t be charming, humane and charitable? Is there for instance honor among thieves? The Greek war hero Philoctetes was exiled because of the noxious smell of his wounds. In the #MeToo era there have been a number celebrities amongst them Garrison Keillor, Charlie Rose and Al Franken who have been shunned by society. Louis CK has begun to make a comeback, but there are many public figures who have not been so lucky. How to mete out punishment? Even if someone is not convicted of a criminal offense, many people don’t want to get their hands dirty by way of association. It’s easy to say that so and so was not who they purported to be as a way of staying away from them. In fact, the sadder truth is that a person who veers from the straight and narrow might be the self-same individual who was in fact experienced as kindly and humane in other circumstances. He or she may be troubled though not a monster, merely someone who has, for one reason or another, done something wrong.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Pornosophy: Narcissistic Grandiosity

There are no dearth of sex offenders from disadvantaged backgrounds. The jails are full of them, but Henry Kissinger’s famous “power is an aphrodisiac” still rings true. Power is probably more potent than the elusive Spanish fly. However, power also has a corollary symptom, narcissistic grandiosity, which can turn an impulse into pernicious, literally “flesh eating bacteria.” It’s this cocktail of disorders which may motivate a Harvey Weinstein or Jeffrey Epstein. Power eradicates boundaries. A powerful person is like a vacuum that sucks up anything in his or her path. Attraction might be the euphemism employed to deal with the presence of such a cynosure. Like one of those magnets which sweeps up  metallic shards, a successful individual is one step ahead of the rest of the crowd since there are no shortage of prospects. What fuels the transgressions is the delusion, which sometimes turns out to be true, that such an individual is invulnerable and will suffer no consequences for a behavior. There's a corollary that also appears when you look at all these cases and that's the addiction issue. Addicts always need to up the ante. The lesser dose no longer produces the same high. The Times furnished the following haunting 2002 Trump quote from New York Magazine: “I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them on the younger side.” 

Friday, July 12, 2019

Is Culture Rather Than Biology Destiny?

Can it be assumed that in the natural world the function of sexuality is procreation? You don’t see too many ethological studies of female primates who display distress from not receiving clitoral orgasms? However, humankind is presented with a whole new host of alternatives by virtue of consciousness which acts as a filter. Idealization and the emotion of love are inventions of the mind that enable instinct to navigate the shoals of awareness.Today, only a minority of the human population associate sex with procreation, sometimes with disadvantageous results when for instance a man refuses to wear a condom or a woman forgets to take the pill. William James wrote The Varieties of Religious Experience, but what's the significance of the varieties of sexual behavior from an evolutionary point of view? Are there any fun-loving bonobos who are gay? Anecdotal evidence would seem to bend over in that direction. But let’s face it, there are no species of animal advanced enough to produce anything like SRS. Greek mythology depicts chimeras, creatures comprising multifarious forms, but there are few stallions capable of transitioning into mares. It’s probably fair to say that homo sapiens invented eroticism since before that, in nature, sex was an unselfconsciousness process occasioned by hormonal events like estrus in dogs and no different from many other bodily functions like ingestion or excretion. How are affects like romantic love to be regarded? Is the paraphernalia and paraphilia associated with human sexuality a form of meta biological process? Is it a product of evolution or merely an act of culture riding on the back of the Shavian life force?

Thursday, July 11, 2019

All-Inclusive Resorts and Colonialism

Gated communities, particularly in third world countries, are  concentration camps. Only the prisoners are on the outside. Colonization classically takes advantage of underdeveloped societies, exploiting  low paid workers, who function like slaves on the basis of the remuneration they receive for their toil. Thus you see the rise of chains of all-inclusive resorts in some of the most impoverished places on earth. Only the threat of terrorism spares some locales which would be the site of what travel agents call a new "property." It all involves sex, since the power of capital in tottering economies can be an aphrodisiac, but there's also explicitly sex tourism in places like Thailand, India, Greece and Dominican Republic where the traveler may get an even more significant bang for their buck. From an architectural point of view, colonization produces a unique configuration since walls and barbed wire are meant to keep oppressed populations out rather than in, though it is also possible to think of some resorts as unwitting prisons where travelers stooped in luxury are deprived of any sense of place. Armed guards may escort them on a trip up the river to see the remains of a lost civilization, but these visitors are shackled by the vulnerability occasioned by their own wealth and resources and remain the captives of their minders and hosts.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Small Minds Thinking Big

If you grew up in the 60’s and 70’s your idols might have been writers like Vonnegut, Updike, Robert Pirsig or Khalil Gibran whose The Prophet  was the bible of the turned on, tuned in and dropped out generation. You might also have carried around a tattered copy of the New Directions edition of Rimbaud’s Illuminations with the grainy picture of the young poete maudit on the cover. Corporate life was an unfortunate cop out for those who knocked someone up and had to support kids and a family. Remember the career advice Dustin Hoffman receives in The Graduate, “plastics.” Law, medicine, dentistry while secure sources of income were scarcely better. How times have changed! Your average metrosexual has never heard of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha or Steppenwolf and probably would lionize a self-made billionaire like Jeffrey Epstein until he got nabbed for sex trafficking. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos would be role models were they not deities. Projects like the Hudson Yards with big profit margins are more a product of this period of human evolution than is Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome. This is the age "where small minds think big." Alexander Acosta the current secretary of labor was responsible for the 13 month sentence Epstein received in his first trial and he’s in danger of losing his job, considering the allegations that have been made. But using the small minds think big paradigm, why not appoint Epstein to Acosta's post?  The financier apparently used his underage victims to conscript other candidates. Isn’t that an example of effective labor relations?

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Last Furlough

Everybody has experienced disappointment in love. Remember the electric shock, the pernicious adrenalin rush when you get that  long dreaded or perhaps, even worse, not expected message. For some in long relationships, which require unraveling, both emotionally and economically, the final parting can take time. Depending on whether there are discreet attempts to let the partner, who is being left, make a gentle landing, the interim between a separation and divorce can end up taking years. Most people don’t possess the wisdom or the patience to endure such losses. However, if you look at life as a finite matter then you might accept losing someone you love. You might allow yourself to enjoy the last few years or even months with him or her, since these are a lifetime in microcosm. If there were any hope for reconciliation, it would lie in following this kind of path. Yet such losses are also training for more ultimate situations. Let’s say you know that you're mortally ill and only have months left to live, you can either complain bitterly about your lot, barely concealing your hatred and envy for those who are not similarly afflicted, or you can live each day as if it were forever. Even though medical science has made enormous strides in increasing longevity, there's always going to be a point where the finishing line is within sight. The question is: can you take those last steps in your stride? 

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Final Solution: Do the Ends Justify the Means?

Immanuel Kant (portrait by Johann Gottlieb Becker)
Kant didn’t believe the ends justify the means. He believed there was a right form of action and he coined a philosophical term to describe this, “the categorical imperative.” This may come in handy when you have a leader who brings in the bacon as President Trump claims he'S doing by prevailing with the Chinese, being the first American president to step on North Korean soil and also sitting on top of some excellent numbers when talking about the economy. Each of these triumphs can be deconstructed. For instance, Trump’s crossing into North Korea can be looked at as giving Kim Jong-un everything he always wanted. Now he's received major validation and if rumors have it correctly the United States might even accept something less than full nuclear disarmament. But the more extensive question relates the fate of the constitution and particularly the Bill of Rights in a world where the abrogation of the lines between executive, judicial and legislative together with the separate of church and state appear to be threatened on a daily basis. When you start deferring elemental governances you destroy due process. Apparently contributions to the Trump re-election campaign, at approximately $105 million for the second quarter, surpass the amount received by the Obama re-election campaign for the comparable period.

Friday, July 5, 2019


Iterating the premise of Danny Boyle’s Yesterday is almost like blowing out a candle. That’s part of the problem. The movie is predicated on the notion of a world without The Beatles and incidentally Coke and Harry Potter. At one point the film’s protagonist Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) Googles Coke and gets Pablo Escobar and his job as a songwriter who's mysteriously wafted to an alternate dimension is simply to remember rather than to create. So he journeys to Strawberry Fields (in Liverpool) and Eleanor Rigby’s gravesite as a form of research. From a narrative point of the view, the moviegoer is supposed to accept the notion that you can introduce the great songs of the iconic foursome into an alternate universe in which they're embraced only to be magically dismissed, erased and finally disappear from the collective consciousness of the cheering crowds the film depicts. Strangely one of the most interesting lines of the film is uttered by a record label executive who intones “if you don’t have an image the lack of an image becomes the image.” Yesterday is basically a one-line joke, but the subtext has to do with impersonation, counterfeiting and ultimately lying. The curse of “the chalice of money” and fame which Jack chooses is ultimately broken when he visits the aging John Lennon (Robert Carlyle) who never became famous and end up taking to heart another Beatles song “All You Need Is Love.” Yesterday is a little like Rocketman, the Elton John, hagiography. A somewhat narrow premise becomes the occasion to enjoy classics including “Let it Be” and “Back in the U.S.S.R." which both comprise the film’s playlist. 

N.B.: read Francis Levy's short story, "Pet Buddha"in Vol. 1 Brooklyn. 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Wandering Jewish Intellectual Day Parade

Talking about self-worth, you wonder how many people would march or meander in the Wandering Jewish Intellectual Day Parade. Maybe one, you? though you’re not necessarily proud. Which brings up another question, how is one to be proud of one’s existence? OK, so you have come out of the closet and freely proclaim your disinterest in making an honest living or really doing anything but trafficking in esoteric ideas that no one's interested in and writing blogs that no one reads. That’s all fine and good but it doesn't alleviate the shame that derives from never having done an honest day's work in a society which lionizes classic stereotypes of achievement. Then you have to go home at night. Ostensibly your significant other is just like you i.e. someone who gets excited by festschrifts written in honor of the anniversary of Husserl’s birth or perhaps you’re not an itinerant Jewish intellectual but a Zoroastrian intellectual but of the same Upper West Side vintage, who subsists because of the rent-controlled apartment you've occupied with thirty cats since a real long time ago. In any case you two have to face each other. You’ve proclaimed your true wishes to the world.  You know that a compound German word like Verganheitsbewaltigung turns you on, but you have to come home after a long day in the library and still get along with each other and face the problems of how you are going to finance all the subscriptions to scholarly magazines that are coming due. At first the reminders are friendly, but then they become insistent and even angry since the little magazines you’ve subscribed to for a half century are equally as desperate and in need of support as you are. And on it goes. Every year, you select a day and a route and nobody comes to cheer you on. Yet you continue to put one foot in front of the other and march. 

N.B.: read Francis Levy's short story, "Pet Buddha"in Vol. 1 Brooklyn. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Greening of America Redux

Individualism is becoming an increasingly rarified commodity. There are many eccentric people with equally eccentric desires and attitudes, but they're all finding a home for their restive spirits in millenarian ideologies which offer hope. And what is the hope? That they will be magically transformed by joining a group. Remember Charles Reich’s The Greening of Americathe bestseller that was serialized in The New Yorker back in 1970? Remember Timothy Leary’s “turn on, tune in and drop out?” One of the most aspirational of all aspirational human desires is that for the “angry fix” Alan Ginsberg sang about in “Howl,” “angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night…” Are the throngs rallying to the cause seeking freedom for all or some kind of crowd sourced acid trip holding out the promise of happy trails forever? Will some dewy-eyed yet potentially power mad feminist become the Harvey Weinstein of tomorrow?  It’s one thing to be a dweeb, a geek, a weirdo and to enjoy all the grandiosity and self-flagellation that goes along with such posturing and another to rally the masses—today through your social media account—creating the equivalent of revolutionary cells. Are there shades of the Weimar era beer hall putsch in these proto-fascistic movements which turn liberation ideologies into mantras whose leaders themselves begin to issue fatwas. Today’s “chicken in every pot” seems to be that that polymorphous perversity leads to happiness. Is there some truth to the fact that no matter what the inclination, no matter what orifice is the finish line for the trajectory of human desire (what are the gender politics of olfactory fucking?), that everyone eventually ends up in a room with another person, biological organism or even plant who finds it easier to hate in the other what they fear and despise in themselves?

N.B.: read Francis Levy's short story, "Pet Buddha"in Vol. 1 Brooklyn. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Are Intelllectuals a Dying Breed?

There are still public intellectuals. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria is a public intellectual, as are writers on geopolitics like Robert D. Kaplan and Francis Fukuyama, lawyer/philosophers like Martha Nussbaum and Robert Nagel and opinionators on the general state of the soul like New York Times columnist David Brooks. Hannah Arendt and the polymathic Susan Sontag, practically coined the terms as probably the two greatest public intellectuals of the 20thcentury. The Shakespearian scholar Stephen Greenblatt epitomizes the idea of a public intellectual in the way he moves from the scholarly to the global in books like The Swerve, which is a meditation on both Lucretius and his mother. But while intellectuals can still occupy a certain spotlight, the intellectual life as a calling is under siege. During the age of little magazines like Partisan Review and Commentary back in the 50s and 60s (remember the famous Woody Allen joke about Commentary and Dissent merging to form Dysentery)intense debates occurred that drew huge amounts of discussion amongst a relatively rarefied audience. One of the last of these occurred between Lingua Franca, a relatively old school literary review and Social Text, which was a sounding board for deconstructionism, with one of the editors of Lingua Franca perpetrating a hoax on its rival publication. Battles of ideas could indeed be ferocious. Remember Mary McCarthy’s famous snipe at Lillian Hellman, “every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the?'” The bite may have been greater than the bite, but still was heard. The problem today is that unless you’re one of the aforementioned stars, who are usually pretty adept at interfacing with social media, you’re not going to be heard. "The message" to quote Marshall McCluhan is definitely "the medium" and magazines with circulations of 5000 tend not to pay the freight. The discussion of great ideas in an extra academic arena devoid of jargonese is becoming increasingly extinct.

N.B.: read Francis Levy's short story, "Pet Buddha"in Vol. 1 Brooklyn. 

Monday, July 1, 2019

Life is a Dream

"The Nostalgia of the Infinite " by Giorgio de Chiriico (1911)
Life is a Dream is the title of the 17thcentury play by Pedro Calderon de la Barca. The theme of solipsism is belied by the oedipal nature of the plot. Midsummer Night’s Dream poses a similar question since it traffics in the question of alternate realities--in effect demonstrating the mending quality that some dreams display. Perhaps not all of life, but all of art is a dream! Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, literally all the paintings Dali, Magritte and de Chirico are dreamscapes and even a great realist masterpiece, Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” has the stop-time almost Polaroid quality, the mixture of stasis and motion that dreams often render. But where does so-called reality end and dreams begin? “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” is a famous short story by Delmore Schwartz and the title would indicate a closer connection between dreams and reality than one might usually expect. Do dreams, in this context, actual provide an executive function, not so much mirroring or regurgitating reality, but driving it? Is it possible to navigate into a recurring dream in order to make adjustments to an on-going exigency or is the dream perhaps the reality and the so-called reality the illusion? Waking life commands one’s attention since it takes up so much space, but are dreams the repository of truths, the chink in time that allows us to briefly achieve awareness of an elusive world, the ideal forms that Plato talked about in his “allegory of the cave.”