Thursday, December 31, 2020


Human existence has become like a episode of an Netflix series which is stopped in the middle. Many series like Fauda and Babylon, Berlin actually are appealing due to their verisimilitude and their resemblance to life. At a time when most people can’t go anywhere, the viewer is immediately taken away. Contagion was a Steven Soderbergh movie that got a second life during the early stage of the pandemic with its uncanny foretelling of what would eventually transpire. But what series is the world currently in? Pandemic won't grab any viewers. And when the technical problems are worked out and the video again rolls, where will the observer find him or herself? What will be the denouement? It would be nice to think that the printing presses will metaphorically start up again along with the assembly lines across the country. The protagonist of Nicholson Baker'a  The Fermata possesses the ability to stop time. Is this stop/start process what's going to happen when the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are widely available? Will the wheels of progress rev up? Will aspiration be freshly fueled? Will the long-shuttered stores and restaurants in your neighborhood suddenly become filled? Will the darkened hulks of Manhattan’s midtown skyscrapers suddenly light up? Einstein showed that space/time curves. Is it possible that time will be reconfigured in some unseen way with the newest episode ending in a faintly recognizable but fundamentally different dimension than where it began?

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Like Clockwork

If someone could examine the collective unconscious of American society, they would likely find a good deal of scar tissue. Dendrites and axons of the neurotransmitters have been taxed to the limit with the comorbidities of a pandemic and political strife. If typhoid and tuberculosis were added to the horrors that afflicted have afflicted prisoners, then America has been the equivalent of one big internment camp where a deadly virus is combined with a toxic overload of fear. Fringe groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers are the mutants that terrorize the destroyed landscape in this Mad Max scenario. Has civilization come to an end when angry mobs attempt to invade legislatures? Is Democracy only a memory whose final embers are in danger of being totally extinguished by the current derangement, the evolutionary product of a new version of hell, populated by hollowed eye creatures who've become the waking dead? At the very least, the country is suffering from a case of genocidal schizophrenia which may be the real legacy of the Trump presidency.

Read "Trumpty Dumpty's Great Fall" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Triumph of Death

  "The Triumph of Death" by Pieter Brueghel, the Elder

Most people would be hard put to create a nightmare that was as extensive an all-encompassing as the actual events of 2020. No sooner has the pandemic spiked for the second time than a new virulent strain 70% more contagious is discovered in England. In the middle of the first surge George Floyd is suffocated by a Minneapolis policeman causing widespread rioting that's met with ugly and racist responses from proto-fascist organizations like the Proud Boys. Forest fires devastate California which is then hit with double digit Corona infections. The ninth circle of Dante’s Inferno would have trouble competing with these morbidities. Along with the suffering is the fact that there's a small but incredibly visible part of the population who are profiting handsomely from gains in the stock market which are no reflection of the economy--something which actually contributes to the grotesquery. Huge swaths of the population suffer while the lucky few carefully hoard their money. No one is going to jump the line, when vaccines become available, but will privilege again win out, sparing the lives of the rich while condemning the poor to being statistics, the bodies in refrigerator trucks that are suddenly appearing in California cities? Sartre said “hell is other people.” Certainly this applies to the bikers attending the rally in Sturgis whose gathering is responsible for 250,000 infections. And what about the solitary hell taking place on video conferencing sites  like Zoom, which tease its adherents with the prospect of human connection?

Read "Trumpty Dumpty's Great Fall" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

Monday, December 28, 2020

Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer As Metaphor

“Rudolf with your nose so bright/Won’t you guide our sleigh tonight” read the lyrics of the famous Christmas ditty--the sound track for the classic “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” with the voice of Burl Ives playing Sam the Snowman. Who would have thought that such a piece Christmas tinsel would contain an allegory for the artistic personality? Rudolf is ostracized because he’s different due to the deformity which his parents at first try to cover up. Once outed, he finds a kindred soul and fellow traveler in the elf who fails to fit the mold, as an assembly line worker. He's an elf who dreams of becoming a dentist. This feckless duo escape to the Island of Misfit Toys. However, even there fail to fit in since they’re living creatures. Then the tale shifts with the weakness becoming a strength. As with the character of Philoctetes from Greek mythology the wound, which has exiled them, becomes the source of the power which eventually vanquishes the fearful Abominable Snowmonster. In specific the elf uses his newly found dental powers to remove the monsters deadly teeth. A simple children’s fairytale employing stop motion animation catches the adult viewer, an innocent child in his or her lap, up short. Rudolf pulling his sled into the sky is nothing if not a symbol of creative transcendence.

Read "Trumpty Dumpty's Great Fall" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

Friday, December 25, 2020

The Pardoner's Tale

 The Pardoner in the Ellesmere Manuscript of The Canterbury Tales

Boccaccio’s Decameron has been the classic of choice during the Pandemic in that it deals with a group of nobles who tell each other stories as a way of passing time during the Plague. Coronavirus actually caused a run on copies of the Boccaccio volume, which became hard to get. Perhaps the same thing will happen with Chaucer’s great bawdy classic,The Canterbury Tales, due in particular to “The Pardoner’s Tale” and its famous motto “greed is the root of (all) evils,” "Radix malorum est cupiditas.” Obviously Trump is intent on rendering his own  "Pardoner’s Tale," which will be based on not one but many pardons by the time he’s done.  However, noticeably absent from Trump’s pardon list is Keith Raniere of Nxivm fame, who famously branded and assaulted women. Dr. Larry Nassar who abused gymnasts is another candidate for pardoning, who's notably missing. Yet another noticeable absence is Charles Manson. Manson, who was a family man, died in 2017. But let’s look at some of those on the list. Charles Kushner did nothing more than send a video of his brother-in-law in flagrante with a prostitute to his sister—in order to induce the brother-in-law not testify against him. What’s so bad about that? In fact, kudos to him for coming up with such a clever and juicy plot! Representative Duncan Hunter was convicted of using campaign funds to pay for his extra-marital affairs. Does that deserve a jail sentence? Everyone does it. What’s the president going to do with all the money he’s lately been raising, btw? Paul Manafort and Lieutenant Michael Flynn did nothing more than lie to the FBI. Was anyone actually hurt by these supposed crimes? Trump famously declared, "I could shoot...somebody and I would never lose any voters." There are rumors that he may be pardoning himself. But why would he even need one, if in the eyes of his base, he never does anything wrong?

Read "Trumpty Dumpty's Great Fall" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Scott and Charles Atlas

Is it possible that President Trump’s former Coronavirus Task Force advisor the neuroradiologist Scott Atlas was a distant cousin of Charles Atlas, the famous body builder? It's just one of the important revelations about the nature and possible cure of the Coronavirus that has emerged during the pandemic. The president’s message is that Americans are strong and tough and don’t need things like masks. They are not going to social distance and lock down their cities because of a virus that has infected over 18 million Americans, over 321,000 of whom have died. Is it possible that many of these policies and potential cures derive directly from Charles Atlas’s famous weightlifting program which also happened to be one of the great campaigns in advertising history—as has been that of the President who argued strength against caution in the face of a virulent disease? It has been determined by the way that dumbbells are a very important cure for Corona. You have to get as many dumbbells around you as possible, to allay the onset and effects of the disease, in the event you contract it. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

MAGA SuperPeople

The notion that you're impregnable and won’t be infected with Coronavirus is a little bit like the idea that you’re never going to die. Sure, everyone gets old, but there's some lingering hope in every soul for a lifetime exemption from the inevitable. It’s no wonder that so many Americans openly defy the CDC directives about mask wearing, social distancing and restricting or eliminating their travel plans. If you can get away with traveling through crowded airports and attending large gatherings with friends and families then there may be some reason to believe you’re not going to be felled by a microscopic organism. Secretly you may even maintain the belief, despite reading that strapping thirty-year-old athletes have died of the virus, that you've gotten that free pass in Monopoly. One of the common ways that people defend themselves from an awareness of their own frailty in the face of chronic or mortal illness is to lend agency to victims, blaming their illness on them. This kind of exceptionalism is sometimes placed in the category of narcissistic grandiosity. It’s a defense that has its place in some survival situations. In others like receptions at The White House or large MAGA rallies, it's a behavior that may hasten the onset of the very result these attendees were hell bent on defying—death. 

Read "Trumpty Dumpty's Great Fall" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Word Class: Apophenia

In episode #3 of the popular Netflix series, The Queen’s Gambit, the word “apophenia” is invoked. It defined as “the tendency to find meaningful connections in unrelated things.” Anyone with an associative personality can both understand and produce such relationships. It’s something that's also a useful talent for both analysts and their patients to the extent that free association like dreaming can pave the way to what Freud called “the royal road to the unconscious.” The fact that “apophenia” came up in a movie about chess is obvious since great chess players see relationships that are not apparent to others. Naturally both detectives and writers of police procedurals traffic in "apophenic" matters. Great scholars also are possessed of an "apophenic" sensibility. For instance, a film critic who noticed the connection between the abstract expressionism and missing bodies in Antonioni’s Blow-Up would be making an "apophenic" connection, but picking the film out of all the possibilities in the history of cinema is equally an example of "apophenia." Hitchcock’s Frenzy in which the detective disposes of his wife’s attempts at gourmet cooking while she's not looking is pure "apophenia," particularly because a corpse is jettisoned from a lorry filled with potatoes. Ruy Lopez is a chess opening briefly mentioned in The Queen’s Gambit. It’s one of the most common in all of chess strategies and an "apophenia" party, since it’s populated by many possibilities that people who are not serious chess players wouldn’t be aware of. "Apophenia" is obviously evident in war which depends on the element of surprise and in encryption which is used to hide messages from flocks of quislings. Alan Turing, the war time decrypting specialist, who was instrumental in developing early computers, undoubtedly possessed "apophenic" abilities as did great surrealists like Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali. Their short film Un Chien Andalou along with Lautreamont’s “the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing machine and umbrella” are both examples of "apophenia."

Read "Trumpty Dumpty's Great Fall" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

Monday, December 21, 2020

How to Spot a Lame Duck?


One tends to take common expressions for granted. A lame duck president is one who remains in office until a newly elected commander-in-chief takes over on January 20th. But have you ever thought from whence the expression derives. How do you spot one?  Ducks usually waddle to begin with so a lame duck is going to really be quite lopsided (and there have been moments in the current president’s tenure when he has been reported to be shaky on his feet, "Trump's Halting Walk Down Ramp Raises New Health Questions,NYT, 6/14/20). A lame duck is also by, definition, a duck that falls behind the flock and is in danger of being poached. Thus, in the 18th century it was used on the London Stock Exchange for stockbrokers who fell behind in their debts. Talking about originalism to which the current lame duck has demonstrated a distinct predilection, President Trump literally lives up to the term. He's by all accounts facing a mountain of debt which is liable to catch up with him the moment he returns to his civilian status. His cries of a faulty election are explained as driving his fundraising. Apart from the pardoning of himself and his family members, the paying of future legal expenses and servicing his debt may turn out to be two of the most significant accomplishments of his final days in office. In any case Trump is likely to be remembered as a lame duck who leveled many canards.

Read "Trumpty Dumpty's Great Fall" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

Friday, December 18, 2020

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Philip Kaufman’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being is darkly elegiac, somber and beautiful at the same time. Of course, it can’t be extricated from the Milan Kundera novel on which it’s based and in this sense deals with sexual freedom as an allegory for politics or politics as a metaphor for sex and love, or really both. Kundera was gifted with a rare ability to find emotion in the erotic, which is something to which Kaufman's adaptation aspires.Tomas (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a brain surgeon and significantly a seeker after a higher level of consciousness. How is he to find it? In sexual conquest, eroticism, romance, love itself or all of the above? He's married to Tereza (Juliette Binoche) while having an affair with Sabina (Lena Olin), an artist. Tereza, a country girl, is like a character out of Chekhov. When Tomas first meets her, she's a dreamer who's seeking a new life. In fact, she comes to their initial rendezvous with a copy of Anna Karenina in hand. The palette of romantic liaisons is no sooner established than politics raises its ugly head. If he had his druthers Tomas would live in a state of perpetual enchantment, but it’s l968. The Russians invade and the liberalization of the Dubcek regime (“socialism with a human face”) is summarily extinguished. There's a chrysalis of something almost indescribable in the movie. Is it that individual freedom is as fragile as the notion of democracy? “Life's so light," Tomas says. "Like an outline we can't ever fill in or correct." A wonderfully simple formulation follows a long disquisition about how Oedipus blinds himself when he realizes the truth, “Morality has changed since Oedipus.” Vision is a recurring theme; Tomas' repeated "take off your clothes" is a physical as well as metaphysical imperative. Indeed the book Tomas himself carries around is Sophocles' Oedipus. But Sabina provides the piece de resistance as she stares out a restaurant window at the facade of a bank, “those buildings are the uglification of the world. The only place we can find beauty is if its persecutors have overlooked it. It's a planetary process.” Rapture is what is at work. In one scene which recalls the famously erotic wrestling match between two models in Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966), Tereza photographs Serena naked and then resists as Sabina repays the compliment. The ensuing battle which becomes a love duet is only interrupted by the appearance of one of Sabina’s lovers, Franz (Derek de Lint). The novel about Prague Spring was written in l984 and turned  into a movie in l988. The story ends as a kind of liebestod or love in death.  Now 32 years later history has had the last laugh. In fact, the title of  Kundera’s first novel The Joke (1967) was strangely prescient. 

Read "Trumpty Dumpty's Great Fall," by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Trumpty in Chains

Albert Jarry's Ubu Roi also known as King Turd was prescient in that it described the world of a despot/infant with our current president fitting the bill of the tyrannical child to a tee. Now the loser of a democratic election, Trump has abandoned all his presidential duties with the exception of those related to the perpetuation of his dictatorship. The fact that he has done immeasurable harm to the the fragile ideals of democracy means little to him—as do the violent antics of some of many zealous supporters. "Four Stabbed and One Shot as Trump Supporters and Opponents "Clash,"(NYT, 12/12/20). "Michigan GOP lawmaker loses committee posts after not ruling out violence during Electoral College vote,"CNBC, 12/14/20) are two recent frightening headlines. Indeed supporters of the President’s claims of a rigged election threaten to disenfranchise voters right up until January 6, the day Vice President Pence is slated to sign off on the tally. Even more telling is the final play in the Ubu Trilogy, Ubu Enchaine in which the dethroned tyrant reaps what he sows and becomes a prisoner of himself. Isn’t this a fitting prediction for the defeated Trump now the pied piper of his disenfranchised band of followers, his loyal press secretary Kayleigh McEnany in tow? Who knows if King Ubu will continue to file law suits against the election even after President-Elect Biden is sworn into office? Of course, Ubu may literally end up in chains if Letitia James or Cyrus Vance have their way.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Should Trumpty Dumpty Be Incarcerated?

Retribution is at the heart of the criminal justice system. Criminals are sent to penitentiaries where they pay for their crimes and ostensibly “repent.” The fact is that most criminals and particularly the most violent offenders are disturbed people, if only to the extent that they are lacking in conscience—for starters. Why punish someone for an incapacity or ailment? Why not simply treat them? If you drugged up murderers, they would no longer be able to commit crimes. Gas chambers, electric chairs, lethal injections and solitary confinement are medieval and also extremely expensive. Doing away with the prison system would save money. Incarceration may be one of the nation’s largest government programs. Imagine liberating all that real estate and manpower, if only society were willing to forego having to get their two cents.There has been much talk about the legal trouble Trump might be in when he leaves office especially with New York State where he is not exempt from any pardons he might give himself. A lot of people would love to see him going to jail, but why not simply give the President LSD or mushrooms and set him out to pasture in some place like Golden Gate Park where he can become a love child who's incapable of harming anyone? 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Bleak House

It's an interesting fact that many Republicans feel they were cheated out of an election. It’s the kind of life lie that Eugene O’Neill’s characters hold onto as the sit around the bar waiting for Hickey in The Iceman Cometh. If you look into your heart you will undoubtedly hold certain beliefs close to your chest. You try not to think about them since they involve others, often people close to you with whom you might become enraged. At what point is one impelled to give up and concede defeat? What makes you willing to break loose from some of your most cherished beliefs? For instance, you might feel like a perpetual victim, what some therapists call an injustice collector. However, what turns out is that those you want to blame were not hostile or negative towards you, but rather indifferent. The presumption of agency at the very least protects you from a more insidious state of affairs in which those around you may have been selfish but not nefariously intentioned. It’s worse to feel that no one cared enough. It’s truly horrifying to realize that there's not going to be a truth and reconciliation commission convened and no restitution or compensation meted out for crimes that never occurred. The case of "Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce" goes on for generations in Dickens' Bleak House without resolution, much like the one currently undertaken by the President over his supposedly stolen election.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Crime and Punishment

  Fyodor Dostoevsky (portrait by Vasily Perov, 1872)

Is the pandemic punishment? Americans have certainly faced an unparalleled perfect storm of calamities: forest fires in California,  hurricanes on the panhandle, a president who refuses to acknowledge his loss (and in so doing threatens the institution of democracy) and now a far more virulent surge that’s creating record numbers of both deaths and infections. If there were a higher being, then it would be easy to think that this supernal creature was in a punishing mode. The biblical God was angered by the worship of the Golden Calf. Maybe God, if there is one, is something that by definition is out of the realm of comprehension by humankind. For instance in his famous The Grand Inquisitor poem Dostoevsky actual imagines Christ on trial. There's always this childlike view of God as an authority figure or at least one of those harried operators in a 30s movie sitting in front of her switchboard and trying to put through calls. Alcohol is a low level search for spirituality is one of the saws of the recovery movement, but it might be said that God as a savior or answerer of prayers is a similarly primitive notion. What's clear is that there has been a terrible upheaval leaving deep scars which will be followed by an aftershock or what analysts call apres coup—hopefully not leading to another night of the living dead.

Friday, December 11, 2020

What to Serve at Your Super Spreader Event

Christmas Eve Photo from President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania  (Shealah Craighead)

Recently Melania and Donald have given some super spreader events at The White House. It’s a reminder that the holiday season is in full swing. But what to serve to a group of people who subscribe to QAnon and believe the Coronavirus is conspiracy? Cheez Whiz? One way to make your guests happy is to give your party in a confined space. Social distancing will be impossible but if you want a real bash, you have to make sure that no one is allowed in if they’re wearing mask. You can always say that with all the terrorists around, it’s a matter of security. But try to think of some popular dips that are likely to get caught in someone’s throat and cause them to cough?Anything which helps food to go down the wrong way is always helpful. Human air handlers who ventilate into other peoples’ faces always do the trick. Besides some of the recent White House functions, the motorcycle rally in Sturgis is an excellent model for your holiday party. It’s estimated that 250,000 infections resulted from that one event alone! Needless to say alcohol will grease the wheels. When people get sloppy drunk, they become disinhibited and begin to think that they’re immune to everything. So, keep your punch bowl full. Caroling, one of the oldest ways to express holiday cheer, is also an excellent way to keep those aerosols flowing. Handel’s "Messiah," with its soaring choral registers, is one of the most effective methods of spreading Coronavirus. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Triumph of Will

It wouldn’t be surprising if the president started announcing more  pardons at one of his super spreader events over the holidays. Wouldn't it be fitting if Harvey Weinstein, the convicted rapist were  at the top of his list? Weinstein would undoubtedly come in handy as the new Roger Ailes of the network that Trump will undoubtedly create from his White House in exile. He’ll also be a wonderful head of human resources. Any female member of the new Trumpocracy will have to sign a release accepting the guidelines laid down by the president in the Access Hollywood tape. "Access Hollywood" could have been Weinstein’s mantra when he ran Miramax.Weinstein would naturally play a central role in the film division of Trump's company where his first production could well be an adaptation of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will. There are rumors that the President is also planning on pardoning Charles Manson, who would be a natural candidate for secretary of defense in the new Trump cabinet in exile. Manson could also be mandated with managing the Trump cult.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The Trumpty Dumpties Pack Their Bags

In the old days it used to be that every boy (and more recently girl) dreamt of being president when he grew up. The White House in this mythology was almost a magical place inhabited by larger than life figures like FDR and JFK. But one of the byproducts of the Trump administration is to make most people realize that The White House is just another "white house," a little like those drafty charming inns that lack the amenities of say the Trump International Hotel which has violated the emoluments clause of the constitution. The White House might not be the place you’d like to stay on a trip to Washington--though amidst the pandemic, with record numbers of Americans dying of Coronavirus, Melania found time to unveil a new White House tennis pavillion! Now let’s look at the residence that the President and First Lady will soon be moving out of. It surely has items like armoires and chests of drawers where Donald has stored his socks and underpants. For Melania, there were undoubtedly large closets to house her extensive wardrobe. Imagine even the President’s bathroom where his toothpaste sits on the shelf. You would never have thought about what brand of toothpaste Ike or Mamie used, but you tend to think more of The Apprentice than the presidency when you bring up Trump. So like any reality show (and their all modeled on Survivor), you can’t help thinking about all the items needed just to keep the ship afloat. The Trumps, for instance, are unlikely to use Dove with its peaceful connotations. Which brings up the question of packing up. President Trump won’t want to forget his favorite toothbrush. Then there’s the question of whether the Bidens will let them store some items in the basement, in the unlikely and unfortunate event they come back someday.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Can the Center Hold?

 Larry Hogan, Governor of Maryland (R)  

Centrists and moderates are usually considered the middlemen,  occupying an unglamorous position historically. They’re neither the resistance nor the reactionary right who wants to maintain the status quo. But centrism has now taken on a more radical and even subversive tone. It’s the plat du jour, the mountain Americans must free solo.  Centrism involves the control of passions and emotions and hence requires forebrain activities that employ the executive functions, in particular reason. A centrist might be enraged by the silent response on the part of Republicans to Trump's shenanigans. However, if he or she wants to create a coalition they’re going to have forget the sins of the past. Will Joe Biden be able to forgive Mitch McConnell in the name of the greater cause which is to bring the country together? Figures like Joe Manchin, the conservative leaning West Virginia Democrat are now playing an almost heroic role as regards the stimulus bill which has been stalled in congress. Partisanship has its place and once the pieces of the current debacle are picked up, the population gets vaccinated and the economic recovery begins, Bernie Sanders and AOC can then proceed to provide the Hegelian antithesis that's responsible for the evolution of politics. At present, however, congress and the country are in a survival mode. It’s the less swashbuckling centrist types like the Republican governor Larry Hogan who are the heroes of the current  war against a pernicious disease and an inflammatory despot. Yeats famously intoned, “the centre cannot hold.” That remains to be seen.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Trumpty Dumpty RSVPs His Inaugural Invite

Trumpty Dumpty Sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts Jaunary 20, 2017

January 19, 2021 

The Honorable President-Elect Joseph Biden 
Greenville, Delaware 

Dear President-Elect Biden: President Trumpty Dumpty has asked me to write you in response to your invitation. The President regrets to inform you that he will not be able to attend your inauguration tomorrow, due to a previously scheduled golf date. He will be teed off just as you’re scheduled to be sworn in. As you know the golf schedule of a lame duck can be very crowded particularly because of the need to do so much last minute pardoning in the middle of a pandemic. He did want me to communicate to you that he still thinks  the election was rigged. He won’t concede until all avenues have been exhausted. In the meanwhile, he wants you to know that your inauguration is fake news and that you're a fraidy cat with all your talk of masks and social distancing. As President Trumpty Dumpty has said: "That's all I hear about now. Turn on TV, 'Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid. 'A plane goes down, 500 people dead, they don't talk about it." "Fraidy Joe" is what he's going to call you from now on. 

 Respectfully, Kayleigh McEniny, Press Secretary

Friday, December 4, 2020

Pornosophy: Fem Dom

The fact is you’re in control and not in control. There's a lot of talk especially in the sexual arena of dominant and submissive personalities. Fem Dom is a soubriquet for a certain kind of sexual identity and porn. In fact, terms like hetero, homo or bi are probably as outdated as political identifications like conservative, progressive, libertarian or even monarchist. If metrosexual is one way of describing a certain type of urbanity, then metasexual is probably the umbrella under which all categorizations can safely be lumped. Self-invention is a product of the current indeterminate universe in which meaning is derived not from some profound tribal or biological antecedent, but rather through a willful indulgence in the buffet of human possibility. Getting back to sex a person doesn’t join the Eulenspiegel Society unless they have a desire practice BDSM. However, it’s a choice. A good deal of agency is involved. The slave who bows to the wishes of his mistress in the dungeon has in fact employed a role player to satisfy his or her whims. This was one of the themes of Luis Bunuel’s Belle de Jour (1967) in which Catherine Deneuve plays a sexually repressed housewife who becomes a prostitute during the day, while her husband is at work. Naturally in the larger picture no one is in control of anything. Man plans, God laughs, goes the adage. Still, within a more limited Newtonian universe, role playing and acting provide the consoling, if sometimes illusory feeling of having the upper or lower hand.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Trumpty Dumpty: Solipsism 101

George Berkeley (John Smybert, 1727)

In one of his recent interviews Barack Obama used the expression “truth decay” to refer to the current state of politics. If Trump were a professor, the course he might be teaching is Solipsism 101.“The view or theory that the self is all that is known to exist” is how the term is defined. It’s a perfect description of the president’s world view. Subjectivism of course, has a long line of advocates including Bishop Berkeley who famously stated, “esse est percipi,” to be is to be perceived. But Berkeley believed in God whose existence   absorbed the responsibility for being. Trump appears to be on the golf course while others like Joe Biden are going to church. Solipsism is a philosophy that also informs episodes of The Twilight Zone, like the one where Dennis Weaver plays the part of a condemned man who warns that the world will disappear once the switch is pulled ("Shadow Play," 5/5/61). The plot might be reconstrued as an election where the casting of doubt on reality causes the eradication not of the world, but simply democracy. How can you have elections, when one party cries "rigged" before the voting has even begun? Of course, there are those who wish they could go to sleep and wake up to find out that Trump was no more than an idea in someone else's mind.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The Freud Affairs

"Benefits Supervisor Sleeping" by Lucian Freud (1995)

It says something—the question is what?—that the notoriety of the painter Lucian Freud may exceed that of his grandfather. Perhaps the answer relates to the fact of a celebrity culture in which a painter whose works command outlandish prices, as Lucian Freud’s do, will be more newsworthy than a doctor and scholar who treats patients and writes books in his study. The basic theme that grandfather and grandson prosecuted was, of course, sex, in the case of Sigmund through psychoanalysis and Lucian through art. In his early years Sigmund Freud’s discussion of childhood sexuality was considered scandalous (and ironically within the current culture his theories are no less controversial). Lucian Freud’s art is consumed with the body, in all its forms, some of them unbeauteous, but primarily as sexual object. Many of Lucian Freud’s models were his lovers; he had a voracious sexual appetite and numerous lovers. What’s curious is the hereditary nature of the preoccupation. Of course sexual identity is genetic to the extent that you require XY or XX genes to be male or female. However sexual preoccupation is an acquired characteristic. One would suppose that Lucian Freud’s precocity as a child might have rested in his picking up on his grandfather’s theories by osmosis and then oedipally outdoing his predecessor at his own game. Freud may have been adulterous (speculatively with his sister-in-law, Minna Bernays) , but he was not promiscuous. If Lucian Freud had become a psychoanalyst he probably would have been one of those outliers who have affairs with their patients. Lucky for him, artists are not deemed to be breaking professional ethics when they sleep with their models.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Trumpty Dumpty's Willing Collaborators

What's astounding is not the fact that the president has allies who echo his insistence about a rigged election. There are always those who will buy into the notion of conspiracy theories. There was  literally an industry of them surrounding the assassination of JFK. What's so daunting is the massive number of people (reputedly 70% of Republicans) who support a conspiracy theory. Trump told Fox News that the DOJ and the F.B.I. could have been in on the plot. McCarthy going against the Army was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but this particular camel turns out to be a Tyrannosaurus whose back supported as it is by his so-called base is not so easy to break. The fact that numerous Republicans including Brad Raffensperger, the Secretary of State of Georgia, have testified as to the validity of the elections and that Chris Krebs, former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency indicated on 60 Minutes that the President’s claims were false (“Chris Krebs Former Director of U.S. Cyber Security Agency Explains Why President Trump’s Claims of Election Interference Are False,” 60 Minutes, ll/30/20) hasn't seemed to shake things. Daniel Goldhagen wrote Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust in which he held German society, and not just a few aberrant individuals, to task for the Holocaust. So there's precedent for the notion that a huge percentage of a population can partake in a delusive belief, perpetuated by a charismatic leader, that brings about deadly results.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Towards a Radical Center

Centrism has now become a radical cause and something for which one has to man the barricades. It’s a position founded on the assumption of objective reality. The notion that one’s perception is created contextually by tribal norms is a position that's ironically maintained by both the far left and right who now make strange bedfellows. In fact, the accusation of rigged or fraudulent elections that defy empirical proof is something that’s not only held by the Trumpocracy. Far left parties believe that everything about the capitalist system is tainted. The notion of right and wrong and moral standards essentially a centrist idea derived from the notion that there are unerring ethical principles and along with them verifiable empirical realities. A centrist would concede defeat in an election since he or she believes that the system, which includes the principles of democracy as stated in the constitution, is something which can be validated. Someone on the far right or left is not likely to concede anything since to them everything is corrupt. Statesman-like behavior is not characteristic of agitators and activists who will do anything to accomplish their goal. However a radical centrist bases his or her behavior on principles of law which include due process and a respect for inalienable rights. Radical centrism, based the kind of equanimity and coalition building that President-elect Biden trumpets, affords little of the crowd sourced millenarianism of revolutionary movements. It's a stance which has become increasingly harder to defend in a world where the charisma of agitation has become a message in and of itself. Toward the Radical Center is also the title of a book by the Czech playwright, Karel Capek who argued against the extremes of fascism and communism.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Trumpty Dumpty Has His Regression

Trump is an enormously regressive individual. Take for instance the soubriquets he uses to describe people. "Pocahantos" for Elizabeth Warren, "Crooked Hillary" (an interesting choice from a legendary liar). It’s schoolyard name calling elevated to the level of international diplomacy. He famously called Kim Jong-un “Little Rocket Man.” And what he’s done is to create a movement based on regressive behavior. “Lock her up,” the chant used to demean Hillary Clinton came in handy against the Governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer. Rather than discountenancing such behavior Trump has egged his followers on. The total lack of decorum and disrespect for other human beings reflected in the president’s refusing to concede is reflected in the collective regression evidenced in his crowds of supporters on the campaign trail. Regressive behavior is symptomatic of dictators in general. During the years of the Argentine military junta, opponents were literally thrown out of planes. If it weren’t so frighteningly horrible, it might be looked at the behavior of a group of out of control five year olds who attempt to destroy playthings and sometimes each other when no figure of authority is there to protect them from each other. Children in the anal stage of development don’t act like diplomats. They fight over each other’s possessions and constantly cry foul play when they don’t get what the want. Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi one of the greatest imagined despots of all time is really a gigantic baby whose petulant behavior bears a striking resemblance to the tantrum Trump has thrown in the wake of his loss. Unable to gracefully admit defeat, he has refused to come out of  his White House to play with the other kids. Trumpty Dumpty sat on a wall/Trumpy Dumpty had a great fall.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

The Double Life of Veronique

The question of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique (1991) is whether the movie is about one character or two. It starts in Krakow and ends in Paris. A marionette maker produces two identical dolls which seem to mirror the disjunction or two separate selves. At the beginning of the movie Weronika (Irene Jacob) is a pianist whose hand has been injured when the father of one of her friends slams a door on it. However, she's gifted with a magically beautiful voice which earns her a leading role in a choral and operatic work despite the fact that she possesses little more than a high school degree in music. During one of the performances she appears to die, a premature death like that of her mother. The flatline EKG is a symbol in the movie. One of the most bracing scenes is the funeral in which the viewer sees the burial from the lead character’s point of view as the dirt is thrown into her grave. Does one character die so the other may live? Veronique (again Irene Jacob) has a totally separate existence as a music teacher in France. However, from the start there's the sense that Weronika/Veronique is a single entity seeking to reunite the missing parts of herself. Is she simply suffering from mulitple personality disorder? That's too simple. Kieslowski's character resists being pathologized. She’s a voyeur who literally witnesses her disembodied self. Her personality is reconstituted through repeating leitmotifs. She wears red lipstick and has red hair. She sleeps on red sheets. “All my life I felt I was here and somewhere else at the same time,” she explains. In this sense she's like a quantum particle. On a psychological level she also represents the geopolitical concept of irredentism, the tendency of formerly Balkanized countries to reconstitute themselves. She tells her father (Claude Duneton) that she’s in love, but she doesn’t know with who. One of her lovers is writing a book about a stranger who's mysteriously brought to the man she will love. Like many of the images which are rotated from top to bottom, biography is turned upside down. Kieslowski is always putting the cart before the horse and doubting causality in order to redefine the nature of personality itself.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Trumpty Dumpty Burns Paris

Dietrich von Choltitz (German Federal Archives)

The scorched earth policy is a tactic of retreating armies. Paris would famously have been turned to rubble if it weren’t for Lieutenant General Dietrich von Choltitz disobeying the Fuhrer’s orders to destroy the city. Who will be the von Choltitz of the current White House? Apparently not Steve Mnuchin who is reducing emergency lending powers at a particularly vulnerable moment for the economy. Who will be the hero who will sabotage Trump’s last ditch effort to leave America in such tatters that the incoming Biden regime’s efforts will be doomed to failure. Paris may not be burning, but everything it stands for will be on the chopping block. Even though the Ascertainment Letter has been signed, Trump will in likelihood never concede and his rancor will be demonstrated in his attempt to burn diplomatic bridges behind him. The childlike lack of decorum characteristic of dictators is evidenced in the intransigent Trump persona. Whether he succeeds in bringing about some piece of military adventurism that will permanently damage any attempts at détente, in places like Iran where the U.S. has conflicted relationships, remains to be seen. Surely in a short period of time, he can do a good deal of damage. He's bringing troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq opening up the possibility of resurgence of both the Taliban and Isis. Biden can simply rejoin the Paris climate accord, but there are certain things can’t be rectified or restored with an executive order (on the environmental front, theTrump already moved to start selling oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska). "Motiveless malignity," is how Coleridge described Iago's actions. Will Trump's wholesale, unremitting and meritless accusations of a rigged election do lasting damage to the democratic process?

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Trumpty Dumpty's Manchurian Candidate

The United States is a trauma victim. If you’re hit by a car and survive, you go into shock which is a biological form of recusal. However, it's often during the period of recovery that the real problems begin particularly since emotions are released when memory returns. The comorbidity of racial inequity and Coronavirus have been combined with a highly contentious election that has and still may produce numerous incidents of social unrest and violence. You’ve seen the deadened eyes of genocide victims in the Rwandan and Bosnian conflicts, but now many Americans may start to realize that the after effects are almost as severe as the events themselves. One of the ways that a human being can be traumatized is to have their reality doubted. The Trump presidency has been predicated on the notion of lying, with the country’s chief executive being accused  twisting the truth approximately 20,000 times thus far. The torture has been fairly elegant and all-consuming since the more than 79,658,000 people who voted for Joe Biden have been reminded at least once a day that what they’ve seen and done is a fiction. It’s the kind of brainwashing that went on in John Frankenheimer’s Manchurian Candidate which may be one of the great essays on individual and collective trauma. With the Republican party's attempts to invalidate the election finally exhausted, the patient is beginning to understand the full extent of the insult to the body politic.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Trumpty Dumpty: Has the Republican Party Become a Cult?

Charles Manson

"The Times Called Officials in Every State: No Evidence of Voter Fraud," (NYT, 11/10/20) ran the headline. How is it then that a recent poll indicated that one half of Republicans think the election was a fraud? "Half of Republicans say Biden lost due to 'rigged' election: Reuters/lpsos poll(11/18/20) How to account for the implacability of the assault on truth and the attempt to undermine the democratic process? Let’s say this becomes a way of life. Elections occur and the losers discredit results, in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Elections have been troubled and contested, but usually there's a consensus following the kind of recount by hand that has, for instance, gone on in Georgia. However, that's not the case. There's, in fact, no length that election commissions could go beyond handing the election over to Donald Trump that would satisfy this one half of recalcitrant Republican voters and apparently the president, who took  the unusual step of inviting Michigan Republican legislative  leaders to The White House. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, "This is not a political party. This is a cult" when asked why so few Republicans have broken ranks. “A misplaced or excessive admiration for a person or thing,” is one of the definitions for "cult" offered by the Oxford Languages dictionary.” Trumpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Trumpty Dumpty had a great fall…

Friday, November 20, 2020

Trumpty Dumpty Gets His Ego Split

Statue of Paul Bunyan in Bangor, Me (photo: Dennis Jarvis)

One tends to look at a polity as a number of parts which make up a whole. In other words, let’s say the population of the United States is approximately 328,000,000 with approximately half of these representing the electorate. Hence that figure would comprise the number of consciousnesses a candidate would ostensibly have to address. But is it possible to take another approach and start with the whole rather than the sum of the parts? In this case one might conclude that the collective consciousness of the country is suffering from what psychiatrists call ego-spitting or the inability to reconcile conflicting  parts of the psyche. America currently is a kind of all or nothing personality, with the civil war in this case actually representing a pathological condition. When a person’s erratic behavior defies rational understanding, it’s possible to conclude he or she is suffering from subliminal and often maladaptive drives. Hence that part of the population which insists that the current election is a fraud despite the fact that every election commission in the country has confirmed there was no malfeasance is suffering from delusional or at least extremely neurotic behavior—which may be motivated by phobias. What can one say on the other hand about the Democrats?  They are justifiably celebrating a victory. However, this current majority in many cases claims to have no understanding of their opponents' behavior. Therein may reside the problem. You don’t have to agree with someone to understand them. Understanding is the first step in unifying a divided self. If the Democratic majority is able to  aisle-cross at least on a metaphoric level (along with President-elect Biden's calls for unity) they might reduce some of the toxicity that characterizes the current psycho-social and political climate. Trumpty Dumpty sat on a wall/Trumpty Dumpty had a great fall/All the king's horses and all the king's couldn't put Dumpty together again.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Trumpty Dumpty: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

The thing about cults is that they depend on a certain degree of despair. Hopelessness is the springbooard from which people are willing to throw themselves into a safe harbor from truths which are hard to face. It’s like the person suffering from a chronic illness who  runs off to quack doctors selling magic potions. Democrats are dumbfounded by Trump and Guiliani’s unfounded claims about the election. After tweeting “He won because the election was rigged,” Trump made a correction saying simply, “I won the election.” Living in an alternate universe is something that many people do and it comprises in fact a whole genre of science fiction. For instance Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle imagines a world in which the Axis powers won World War II. In order to understand the world of Trump’s base who buy his claims lock, stock and barrel, you probably would have to have street signs in Russian since the Russians, who have been promoting Trump since 2016, would be the chief beneficiaries of the failure of democracy. Nevertheless the whole Trump phenomena is really nothing compared to cults like those of Jim Jones (whose followers drank a deadly poison), Nxivm (whose adherents allowed themselves to be branded and turned into sex slaves), or Charles Manson whose murderous attack on Sharon Tate itself was made into an alternate reality, where the event is forestalled, in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Trumpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Trumpty Dumpty had a great fall...

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Trumpty Dumpty: On the QT?


"Shocked by Trump’s Loss, QAnon Struggles to Keep the Faith" ran the Times headline. In the days following the election Q, the voice of the theory that held that the pandemic was part of a conspiracy to get Trump out of office, went temporarily silent. Curiously so did Mr. Trump himself, up until last Friday when he erroneously took credit for the development of the Pfizer vaccine. Is it possible that T is Q? . Trump has long argued that COVID was just a way of getting him out of office. After November 3, he proclaimed, you wouldn’t hear about the virus anymore. Say no more. The virus, which is raging, apparently has a mind of its own. But it was like a twofer, in which the air was suddenly cleared and Democratic voters could then go on with the frustrating process of waiting for a concession speech that's unlikely to come--in peace and quiet. However, who could put it past the president to be the very deep state, the swamp that he's so wary of, perhaps even the originator of Pizzagate. It's all reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz, who turns out to be a little man making a lot of smoke, with the seemingly impregnably evil Witch of the West turning out to have an Achilles heel, which simply makes her dissolve. If water made the Wicked Witch evaporate, could it be that loss itself is Trump’s weak spot?