Friday, December 31, 2021

Yours Truly, Franz Kafka

If you’ve ever tuned to Radio Classics, channel 148 on Sirius FM, you may have come upon Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, a series that ran from l949-62. It’s radio noir, about an insurance investigator whose adversaries and counterparts in law enforcement, address him as “Dollar.” It’s interesting since Franz Kafka was an insurance claims investigator, though an unlikely model for any hard-boiled dramatizations on Czech radio. One of the leitmotifs of the radio series is the list of expenses, taxis, hotel bills, air fare, that bookend the episodes. For "Franz Kafka, insurance investigator" the recurring theme seems to have been the deferral of gratification. After forming a relationship with Felice Bauer, he quickly cut short the engagement, opting instead for letter writing which created one degree of separation.  In his Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, Oliver Burkeman uses the relationship as a dramatic example of the denial of the finitude which casts a shadow on all human behavior. “Confining his relationship with Bauer to the realm of letters meant that he could cling to the possibility of a life of intimacy with her without allowing it to compete with his mania for work, as a real-life relationship necessarily would.”  Next week tune in to another episode of Yours Truly, Franz Kafka?

Read "Paris Journal VII: Madame Ovary,

and listen to "Monkey Time"(1963) by Major Lance

Thursday, December 30, 2021


The enjoyment of whodunnits lies in the fact that they provide an answer. It’s Midsummer Night's Dream where catharsis derives from order, what Elizabethans called "the great chain of being," restored. However that's art. Life is often neither dependable, nor remediable, particularly in this era of political and environmental instability. The photos of Mayfield, Kentucky, flattened by tornadoes, and the bombing of Dresden have something in common. Steven Soderbergh's Contagion (2011) and Stephen King's The Stand (1978) both deal with viral outbreaks but no documentary about the pandemic can give the kind of pleasure and comfort that derives from the resolution these works provide. Agency gives puny man the illusion of control. Real life thrillers with their horrifying conclusions, revealing only cosmic indifference, as they do, offer nothing in the way of solace.

Read "Mandemic" by Francis Levy, TheScreamingPope

and listen to "Fantasy" by Earth, Wind & Fire

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The Tell-Tale Heart

Everyone has a story. There are observers who will either confirm or refute what they’re hearing. The notion of the narrative is even more pronounced in the age of therapy where patients consciously try to render their lives much the way writers of autobiography (a form of  fiction) have always done. In this respect there are now probably a larger number of people involved in the creation of self-portraits than  ever. A listener requires someone who's willing to express and the two cross-pollinate in the creation of what is essentially an art form. There have been writers like Somerset Maugham, Eugene O’Neill, Charles Dickens and John Updike who have always demonstrated a consciously autographical predilection. David Copperfield is Dickens’s story, at the least from the author’s point of view. Long Day’s Journey Into Night is the story of O’Neill’s family leavened with the Aristotelian unities of space, time and action. This last gives a hint about all attempts to render the past which inevitably must take esthetic liberties in order to create their effect. Naturally a patient is not entertaining their therapist, but they have to be creative, if only to produce the kind of catharsis that takes place in a session. Is there any such thing as objectivity? Or is the “life-lie,” the lingua franca of another O'Neill play, The Iceman Cometh, what individual tales propagate? If nothing else the play that spreads out before the mind of the creator is true to the person imagining it.

Read "A Cubist Perspective on Life" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Juicy" by The Notorious B.I.G.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021


Usually the Pythagorean Theorem and other synthetic a priori universals of the mathematical universe are offered of examples of divine purpose in the universe, but what about Greece and Turkey? Are they a case of God revealing himself to humankind? After all Grease is only one letter away from Greece. When you think about Turkey, you are reminded of Ataturk and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Attaway to go, not Erdogan who’s a gobbler. When you think about Greece, you're reminded of Athens, the seat of democracy. However, isn’t that the thing about grease, which runs freely out of your bird? Sometimes when things get out of hand, as they are in America today, it’s as if society were a chicken running around with its head cut off. Olivia Newton John and John Travolta starred in Grease, but imagine Greece the musical starring Irene Pappas. And then there was Zorba the Greek which starred Anthony Quinn, who showed his feathers like a peacock.

read "God Redux" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

listen to "Grease"by John Travolta and Olivia Newton John 

Monday, December 27, 2021

The Maduro Effect

“Viruses don’t mutate, if they can’t replicate,” is often repeated by Anthony Fauci concerning the Coronavirus. It’s an argument for containment through both masking and vaccination, but the adage is something that can also be applied to human beings. If you contain population growth, you’re going to limit the evolution of the species, into some of the darker creations that have begun to populate the planet. In her Atlantic article "The Bad Guys Are Winning"(11/15/21), Anne Applebaum discusses “the Maduro effect,” in reference to the Venezuelan strongman whose platform is based on the preservation of his own power. Autocracy is the subject of the article and the author explores how regimes like those in North Korea, Belarus, Venezuala and Myanmar are able to perpetuate the dictatorial hold they have on a populace. There have always been powerful anti-democratic forces, but in the present paradigm, regimes without any legitimacy, retain their hold through interlocking support from their proxies. Russia supports  a host of undemocratic governments, including Belarus, Balkanized during the dissolution of the USSR. Cuba and China support Venezuela. Government is no longer an expression of the popular will. Rather it’s devoted to the perpetuation of its own power by any means possible. It’s a rather unusual mutation when you think about it, owing as it does allegiance to no higher authority. At least monarchy, based on the divine right of kings, tipped its hat to God. 

Read "The Final Solution: "Deep State in Deep Shit" by Francis Levy, Huffpost

and listen to "Make America Great Again" by Pussy Riot

Friday, December 24, 2021


"The Fall of Man" by Peter Paul Rubens  (1628-9)

One wonders about the primeval rain forest before the fall. In your next meditation, conjure a time in which there was no industrialization or consequent green gases and or even the utterance with which to refer to them, just a luscious stillness in which the profusion of vegetation and wild life existed in the absence of thought—but did exist despite the old theoretical problem of the leaf dropping in the forest with no one there to see it. Biblically “And God made man…” But in probability man is simply a chance phenomenon which went viral. Look at the advent of humankind as a pandemic from which the world is still suffering, after effects. Sulfurous fumes bilging through smokestacks, birds grounded by oil slicks, pneumatic drills opening up sidewalks, garbage compactors and car alarms creating noise pollution are just a few symptoms of the disease. Human life is, in all probability a singularity, and aberration. Despite the attempts to explore deep space, it’s unlikely any similar viruses or bacterias are likely to be unearthed.

read "The Wormhole Society" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

and listen to "Don't Leave Me This Way" (1976) By Thelma Houston Houston

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Time Management for Mortals

Oliver Burkemam’s Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals falls into the category of books which use major philosophic issues to deal with everyday matters. Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life: Not a Novel is the Ur example of this genre. For example, Burkeman quotes Heidegger to deal with the matter of disposable time. After all Sein Und Zeit is Heidegger’s famed work. “What does it mean for a human being to be?” Burkeman remarks, paraphrasing Heidegger. “His answer is that our being is totally, utterly bound up with our finite time.” Here is a quote from Joseph B. Soloveitchick, the famous Jewish scholar and rabbi from his classic The Lonely Man of Faith: “Why am I beset by this feeling of loneliness and being unwanted? Is it the Kierkegaardian anguish—an ontological fear nurtured by the awareness of nonbeing threatening one’s existence…? Soloveitchik and Heidegger make strange bedfellows particularly because the German philosopher was notoriously a Nazi sympathizer. Here is Burkemam again on Heidegger: “The most fundamental thing we fail to appreciate about the world…is how bafflingly astonishing it is that it’s there at all—the fact there is anything rather than nothing” Sartre, of course, wrote L’etre et le neant, but he was talking about existential rather than temporal nothingness. To invoke an overused phrase, “life is not a rehearsal.” Heidegger believed that those who avoided the awareness of death were living an inauthentic existence. Henry Adams wife Clover said about Henry James: “He chewed more than he bit off.” Can one savor these ideas without attempting to unravel them?

Read "Gone Fishing" by Francis Levy, TheScreamingPope

and listen to "Our Day Will Come"(1963) by Ruby & The Romantics

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Chicken Little For President

Is the sky falling? In this case, one would have to agree with chicken little. Say no more. One big dark cloud, made up of a host of pollutants, is moving towards modernity and threatening a Mad Max scenario where humankind is thrust back into the Middle Ages. The anti-Vax movement supported by Proud Boy goons recalling the Beer Hall Putsch of nascent Nazism are the prime example of a return to the desolate landscape famously memorialized in the famous chess game between Death and the Knight in Bergman's Seventh Seal. Inflation is running rampant along with Omicron. Biden’s approval ratings are falling, as Joe Manchin has trashed the l.7 Trillion social safety net bill. Roe v. Wade is in danger of being repealed by a politicized Supreme Court which has begun to show its true colors. The Republicans are likely to prevail in the midterm elections. In the unlikely event they don’t, the results run the possibility of being thrown out by Republican controlled legislatures. If David Perdue wins, Georgia is in trouble since Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensburger will no longer be able to hold the line against the forces eager to selectively delegitimize the electoral process. What else can possibly go wrong? 

Read "An Incident of Defenestration" by Francis Levy, Vol. 1 Brooklyn

and listen to "Only the Strong Survive" by Jerry Butler 

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

"What do you want to be when you grow up?” is one of the oldest and most iconic questions adults ask children. If you were a member of the silent generation growing up in the Eisenhower era, you probably answered, "fireman" or "president" if you were a boy or “housewife” or “Miss America” if you were a girl. Now the answer might very well be “gay.” If you're talking to a young woman, she might embellish her response by going on to state, “I want to be a lesbian.” Now obviously you can be a gay fireman or president and lesbian housewives and Miss America wannabes are everywhere. In general, fields that were previously closed to minorities are opening up. If you're one of the minority of billionaires among Fortune’s 100 richest people, you can still get a $10 or $15 dollar an hour job behind the counter at Popeye’s or McDonald’s, a position for which you might previously have been deemed to be over qualified. No one is going to stop you from working on the assembly line at GM just because you’re the chairman of the board. That's precisely the plot of Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels (1941). Let’s say you want to grow up to be someone who “counts their chickens before their hatched.” God bless.

read "The Real Thing" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Big Girls Don't Cry" by Frankie Vallie and The Four Seasons

Monday, December 20, 2021

The Triumph of Death

The Triumph of Death (1562) by Brueghel the Elder

The pandemic has shrunk the world. It’s a kind of Esperanto or universal language that's finally done what the great hope of modern technology failed to do—that is to create one unifying culture. Experiencing an illness creates the kind of intimacy that soldiers in battle feel for the comrades in their platoon. Despite all the culture wars, humankind is finally sharing something, going through something together. Will Isis and the Taliban, who hate each other  declare a truce during which they dealwith the problems  Afghanistan must be facing in combatting Covid-19? When and if the virus ever recedes then everyone can get back to killing each other and wandering through the devastated terrain that's the legacy of the climate change. Fires, floods and massive devastation from tornadoes have become the accompaniment of a scenario that's worthy of great paens to mortality like Brueghel’s Triumph of Death.

Read "Obit" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Canon in D" by Pachelbel

Friday, December 17, 2021

Dear Ethicist: Should People In Glass Houses Throw Stones?


Dear Ethicist: I often feel I'm doing a public service by popping peoples’ bubbles. I have been gifted with a supersensitive bullshit detector. So it’s hard for people to fob their life lies off on me. One could take the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it attitude.” Why don’t I allow people their delusions? Mind your own business; they’re not hurting you. Unfortunately, for me at least, these verities don't hold  true. I want to vomit when I see someone kidding themselves. It's so bad I gag and bring up the kind of bile that burns my throat. Live and let live doesn't work. But how am I to differentiate between those who are selling themselves a bill of goods and the small percentage of the population who're simply expressing their contentment with life? And how can I trust that I’m an objective arbiter of who is going to hell in a handbasket? Is the pot calling the kettle black? Are my demands so great and my criticism of human peccadillos so unremitting that I’m the one whose head is in the clouds? If someone tells me to get lost, should I keep my opinions to myself or persist in attacking them for their own good?


Scarsdale NY


Dear Misanthrope: Are any of the people you’re criticizing doing harm either to themselves or the public? If not, I’d get off your high horse. Look you've been using a lot of cliches. It’s apparently contagious as you can see by the above sentence ("high horse"). I think you have to shit or get off the pot. You can't have your cake and eat it too. 

Read "Sarcasm" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Soul Man" by Sam&Dave

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Is Waiting An Avocation?

Is waiting an avocation? Or can it be called a full-time profession, a little like FWB, “friends with benefits”—something that’s “a little more than kin and less than kind.” Some people are caught up in a  life in which there are so many meetings and deadlines that there's no time to think and others spend their lives waiting for life to happen. This latter is an occupation for which one can acquire an advanced degree. Doctors use stethoscopes and tongue depressors to do their exams. Those waiting for something to happen require a cell or preferably a land line, whose console can stand like a quiescent beast. A phone seems like it will never ring, if you’re waiting for a call.The old SASE used to be de rigueur for the writer, but today you wait for texts or e mails. No matter. Don’t Wait for Godot. That’s what everyone does.The line stretches right out the door, to eternity.

Read "What is Happiness?" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

listen to "Want Ads"by Honey Cone

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Executive Privilege?

Is it true that in the spirit of bipartisanship, Joe Biden let Donald Trump store some boxes of belongings in the basement of The White House? Perhaps the letter that Trump left for Biden, whose contents were never disclosed, was simply a thank you note. What if several of the boxes belong to Mark Meadows? They would naturally be of relevance to the committee examining the January 6th insurrection—unless, of course, they’re marked “executively privileged." Everyone knows Joe Biden's a nice guy. He'd never let anyone see what’s inside those boxes. After all he has to work with the Republicans, even if they refuse to work with him. Everyone is saying that Trump will be re-elected in 2024. At that point he will simply go down to the basement with Melania, retrieve his stored items and place them in the oval office. No good deed goes unpunished. It’s unlikely that Trump will return the favor and allow Biden to store his boxes, if the current president isn’t successful in being re-elected.

Read "The Final Solution: Trump's Tweets and Black Holes" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Car Wash" (1976) by Rose Royce

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

President Gore

What if James Comey had not released the letter about Hillary Clinton’s e mails (an action that broke all protocols)? What if the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of Al Gore over the issue of the Florida vote in the tightly contested 2000 election. Talk about stolen elections. What if Gore were not the gentleman that he is? Many historical moments don’t hang in the balance. They’re merely the logical conclusion of a set of prior circumstances. Spiritual folk who believe everything is as its supposed to be or it would be otherwise don’t give credence to precarious balances. It’s all in the cards for them. If Hegel believed in the historical dialectic, they hone to a notion of spiritual necessity. But for a moment consider the outcome of a world with no Iraq war and then one in which there was no Donald Trump crying “Covid, Covid, Covid,” recusing the United States from the Paris climate accords and NATO, stirring racial unrest and usurping both the democratic process and the right to vote to minorities. Novels like Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America present dire counter-histories in which the Axis powers prevailed. What about a country in which there weren’t 800,000 deaths from Coronavirus and where the United States didn’t pull out of the Iran nuclear deal? Imagine Donald Trump as just another former reality TV star trying to rescue his finances by selling a new series about a collapsing real estate empire.

Read "Another Intentional Fallacy" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Tell It Like It Is" by Aaron Neville, Bonnie Raitt and Gregg Allman 

Monday, December 13, 2021


Imagine a soaring romantic film about a musical genius like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Only this time the subject is John Milton Cage. Call the film Milton. Most films about composers naturally include a musical score. A Song to Remember (1945) and Impromptu were both about the writer George Sand and Frederic Chopin who famously created a love nest on the island of Majorca. But what’s the score going to be like for Cage’s most famous work 4’33 which is the length of the silence the piece comprises. Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto Number 2 famously accompanied David Lean’s cinematic version of Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter (which is probably the most romantic film ever made), but what drama could act as the accompaniment to protracted silence? Conceptual works which question the boundaries of art (which is partially what 4’33 is) are famously difficult to popularize. Lust for Life (1945) with Kirk Douglas playing Van Gogh had to deal with madness (including the ear business) but imagine making a film about a painter whose artistic work lay in not pursuing his craft! You could probably show them going about their everyday activities, shaving, shitting and showering. However, there’s the old "you can write about boredom, but you can’t be boring" problem.The American pianist David Tudor did perform 4’33 in Woodstock on August 29, 1952, but who would you cast in the role of Milton and how would you script the sound?

Read "The Angle on Nymphomaniac: Vol. I by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Night Fever" by the Bee Gees

Friday, December 10, 2021

Virtue Signaling

“What if you’re not a virtue signaler?” Altruism has become a competitive activity. Though Cordelia remained silent, history is constantly repeating itself with those loudly proclaiming their good intensions often eclipsing the quiet souls who aren't interested in “rewards points.” Is it an oxymoron to be a prominent philanthropist? There are famously the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations. Bill and Melinda Gates named their charity after themselves. Other wealthy donors prefer to remain anonymous while at the same time secretly gloating in their superiority over those who crassly look at the eleemosynary impulse as a potential photo op. Are the MacArthurs actually getting an honorary MacArthur for doing their good deed? Did Alfred Nobel, who made his fortune from dynamite, prove his nobility by creating a prize. Interestingly genius turns out to be a popular cause. Is that because it confers social capital on those who might otherwise have been ostracized for sometimes reckless plunder?

Read "What is Philanthropy? by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Love Train"by the O'Jays

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Assisted Living

Everyone is in assisted living, whether you’re in one of the dreadful Florida communities on avenues with names like Military named after suburban communities like Westchester.Therapy generally comprises one's first adult experience of assisted living. For those who were unable to have a relationship, a psychiatrist may open up the possibility of the next stage of assisted living, ie marriage. The realization that man is a social animal who needs colleagues and friends is another insight that derives from assisted living in its therapeutic form. In this last, the point of the brainwashing is to demonstrate that however painful the slights, reality need not be an insult to being. At the end, the cadaver is assisted either by gravediggers as its lowered into the ground or by the mortician who consigns the ashes to their final resting spot in a columbarium.

 Read "Contesting My Heritage DNA," by Francis Levy, Huffpost

and listen to "I'm the One Who Love Forgot" by The Manhattans

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Church of BDSM

The sadomasochistic universe is a church which provides solace and contrition to its parishioners. Like every order it has its priests and even popes with their fiats and nuncios. Acolytes or submissives experience ecstasy at the sight of their shrouds (of Turin). The only difference between garter belts and stockings and clerical garb are that one shows and the other hides the flesh. But what's even more significant is the closed universe in which certain sexual and religious rites are performed. A plague or pandemic can be taking place and ghoulish conspiracies like QANon threatening yet that vaunted Southern California stage set (usually a sleazy motel room) with its  stigmata, flagellants and human sacrifice remains as sacrosanct and protected as a monastery or convent. The bawdy tales of Boccaccio's Decameron taking place, as they do, during the plague constitute a kind parallel universe which redefine both sin and redemption.

Read "Why Life Isn't Fair" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Walking on Broken Glass" by Annie Lennox

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Palliative Care For Dummies

Have you ever encountered a perfectly healthy person who’s on palliative care? “To palliate” is to make a condition (usually a disease lesser). However, if one takes a broad view of illness then it’s existence itself that’s up for grabs. Sometimes opioids or morphine are prescribed for discomfort but there's a fine line between the pain of pain and the pain of life. That’s where addiction sometimes begins. You’ve met people who live on Benzodiazeprines like Xanax and Klonapin. But there are those who are receive this kind of palliative care for the primal scream. Timothy Leary's imprecation to "turn on, tune in and drop out" could be regarded as a form of palliative care. One might respond, so what? The answer is that depression and anxiety both carry a message. They’re the product of evolution.The “congenital insensitivity to pain” can result in the kind of damage that occurs when you no longer know you’re being hurt.

read  "The Right to Life (Last Chapter)" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Hurt So Bad" (1965) by Little Anthony and the Imperials

Monday, December 6, 2021

The War of the Worlds

One of the most marvelous things about H.G. Wells' 
The War of the Worlds is that life just keeps going on--at least in the beginning of he of the novel when the Martians have landed and have already set out on their path of destruction. Anglophiles will appreciate Wells' description of the the stiff upper lip and stoicism of the British character. It's similar to Americans' reaction to the coronavirus which is now beginning its fifth wave. It’s almost an adage of human behavior that denial raises its head at the moment when reality becomes unbearable. Who wants to believe that the co-morbidities of  the pandemic and Trumpism continue to loom? Democrats will almost certainly lose the House and possibly even the Senate. The three new Trump appointed Supreme Court justices are a nightmare come true. Speaking of “woke.” WAKE UP! THE MARTIANS HAVE LANDED! Is the infamous panic that greeted the response to the 1938 CBS radio broadcast of Orson Welles's The War of the Worlds the closest American society is going to come to a real awakening? 

Read "MAGA and the Coronavirus" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

and listen to "War" by Edwin Starr (l969)

Friday, December 3, 2021

Making It

Making out is the most intimate sexual act, the mouth being the most vulnerable and enthralling orifice with words interspersed between lips. The Muslim Hijab is a recognition of oral hallowed ground. You might wonder why people can’t just be content with kissing, whipping their tongues into each other’s mouths with venom--like snakes. Why is there such an insistence on going all the way or at least getting to first or second base? The answer is simply that this is the state of humankind. Who's satisfied with what they have? Afterall, the agony of the romantic poet comprises the wrestling with the ineffable and unattainable—all that has yet to be whose mesmerizing hold casts a shadow over whatever is. Remember back to the dark bedrooms of adolescence where impassioned clandestine fumbling was governed by tantalizing parameters and rules. What could be better than that? Sexual intercourse, which is a little like parallel parking and requires a steering component (that many drivers fail when they first take their driving test), is not always what it’s cracked up to be. 

Read "Under the Skin" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Kiss On My List" by Hall and Oates

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Trickle Down Entitlement


John Maynard Keynes(1933)

“Trickle Down Entitlement” is what may save the Biden presidency. You, of course, remember “trickle down economics,” the brainchild of the Chicago School, taken up as the mantra of conservative politicians like Ronald Reagan and eventually the tea party. The result is the massive income inequality that American society suffers from today. The rich may be given all kinds of tax incentives but these flow less into investment in new industry and products than in "wealth preservation", a favorite offering of banks that cater to high worth individuals (monetary that is). If Biden’s $1.75 trillion social safety net bill ever gets past Joe Manchin then it'll be the first  most significant test of Keynesian economics and the notion of “effective demand” since the Great Depression. Biden’s approval numbers are low now, but putting "a chicken in every pot" to quote a famous Republican can modify practically anyone’s political appetite and mollify their discontent.

read "The Wealth of People" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "I Only Have Eyes For You" (1959) by The Flamingos

Wednesday, December 1, 2021


Adrian Fisher has created over 700 mazes in 42 countries. He founded a company, Minotaur Designs with a “labyrinthologist” named Randoll Coate. BTW quite a job description. Imagine advertising for such a specialty. It sounds like something right out of the NB column of the TLS which specializes in eccentric avocations and the words that describe them. Was a “topiaryologist” employed in the making of Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining? All of this and more is the subject of a New Yorker article whose title itself “The Garden of Forking Paths” references the famous Borges story from Ficciones. One point the article addresses is “the traditional Christian pavement labyrinth…found in the nave of Chartres Cathedral." Nicola Twilley, the author of the piece goes on to point out “Medieval labyrinths of this kind aren’t puzzles; there is only a single path, arranged in a snaking pattern of concentric folds, and to process along it to the center is to participate in a physical allegory of the soul’s progress through life and toward salvation." How suggestive! The article also provides instructions on how to negotiate a maze, which is to return to the outside before going back in—a piece of advice which itself has spiritual ramifications that the Minotaur, Daedalus, and Icarus would all have profited from—even if they didn’t have access to one of the ur-texts in the field, W.H. Matthews’ Mazes and Labyrinths: A General Account of Their History and Development, dating from l922.

Read "Transcendentalwasm" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Maybe I'm Amazed" by Paul McCartney

Tuesday, November 30, 2021


“The last person you'll see before you die is you” is the ominous scrawl Billy McBride (Billy Bob Thornton), the alcoholic lawyer at the center of the Amazon Prime series Goliath, discovers on the wall of his hotel room. It’s the third season and the plot centers around water and California--a subject also famously the theme of Chinatown. The epigraph is meant to be intimidating, but it’s curiously spot on. Generally it's held that you see your whole life flashing before you at the moment of death. Actually, when you look at the last gasp, the final exhalation that precedes the death rattle, it seems an unlikely moment for such an ambitious activity. If you’ve ever been around someone who's dying you realize the dying are  selfish and exclusive to the extent they no longer have time for anyone but themselves. Perhaps the crossing of the line is more like one of those chalk drawings of a body found at a crime scene. It's also one case where less isn't more.

Read "Died Young" by Francis Levy, The Brooklyn Rail

and listen to 'Only the Strong Survive" by Jerry Butler

Monday, November 29, 2021

The Hollow

You may be disconcerted by some of the cutesy locutions at the beginning of Greg Jackson’s recent New Yorker story, “The Hollow” (11/29/91). Part of the action takes place in a town called Trevi where a group of college students “opened a lunch counter” they called the Trevi Fountain. The protagonist Jack Francis’ sometime girlfriend is Sophie. He “jokingly” refers to their house as “Sophie’s Choice.” Another character Jonah Valente a one-time college football player with a Van Gogh complex invokes the over used Picasso quote “art is a lie that makes us see the truth.” But here are some others you might not have heard. "When the Gestapo came to Picasso’s studio during the Occupation," Valente relates,"there was a photo of 'Guernica"lying around.They asked him, 'Did you do this?’ and he said, 'No, you did!'" Van Gogh’s last words, “the sadness shall last forever,” are also cited. But there’s a stunning description at the beginning which irradiates the entire story and is an antidote to the "hollowness." It also pertains to both the myopia of the characters and literally to the literal hollow core, an approximately 3'x6' cavity, right out of Poe or Shirley Jackson, at the heart of "Sophie’s choice." Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” (with its famous nod to Conrad's Kurtz), of course, comes to mind. But here is the passage: “A water tower bearing the town’s name and stilted up on arachnid legs, with water stains rusting its gray-blue paint, dwarfed the two-story houses and brick storefronts and shops.” It’s as if the author were saying, if you were doubting me, take this. It’s a stunning image that brings back the horror of great stories like “The Lottery” and Kafka’s “Metamorphosis.”

Read "The End of Genius and the Rise of the Compassionate Artist" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Vincent"by Don McLean


Thursday, November 25, 2021

When the Shoe Fits the Foot

Kango Nil Crocodile Square Tony Lama Boot

In the days before Amazon, you went to a shoe store like McCann’s where they measured your foot and you chose the hush puppy or wing tip of your choice. Brooks Brothers'signature cordovan loafers were a status symbol. There were Bass Weejuns. Pat Boone made white bucks famous. Then came the years dominated by cowboy boot makers like Tony Lama and Lucchese. Shoes fitting feet also begged a greater question of destiny. If a marriage wasn’t working out then metaphorically the shoe wasn’t fitting the foot. Intransigence can lead to irritation while naturally accommodation is what both the vessel and the substance which fills it must allow in order to produce the kind of symbiosis that leads facilitates ambulation. Is an orthopedic shoe a crutch or is it merely dealing with extenuating circumstances—like for instance flat feet, which may end up damaging metatarsals? On the other hand, there are the famous women's "fuck me" shoes that are designed to throw caution to the winds. 

Read "Arbeit Macht Frei" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Blue Suede Shoes" (1956) by Elvis Presley

Grey Gardens As Metaphor

Disposable income results in the proliferation of objects. Among other things Miss Havisham, the jilted bride, living in cobwebs in Great Expectations, is a metaphor for inundation. She can’t let anything, including her grief, go. Grey Gardens (1975), the famous Maysles Brother film about the Beale sisters, is a metaphor for the clutter of post-industrial affluence. You may be one of those gifted individuals who’s capable of disposing of their sometimes ill-gotten gains or perhaps you’re a collector living in a huge warehouse devoted to the things you love or better yet someone who simply can’t throw anything away. Here is Gogol on one of his characters from Dead Souls, an aged landowner and widower named Plyushkin who's a hoarder: "Solitary life gave ample nourishment to his avarice which, as is known, has a wolf's appetite and grows more insatiable, the more it devours." Not to make light of poverty or wish it on anyone, but the only good thing that can be said about deprivation is that it’s a safeguard against superfluity. Denizens of primitive agricultural societies in which materialism is no more than the struggle to survive don’t have to worry about waste and clutter. 

Read "What is Goodness? Or a Gift of Charoset" by Francis Levy,


and listen to "Beauty is Only Skin Deep" by The Temptations

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Should Throwing the Baby Out With the Bathwater Be Taken With a Grain of Salt?

By current standards Freud is politically incorrect. But can the notion that children are sexual creatures with fantasy lives be taken with a grain of salt? Luckily the Standard Edition of Freud’s writings translated by James Strachey’s runs to 24 volumes. The thought police will have their work cut out for them particularly with regard to winnowing out Freud’s repudiation of “the seduction theory.” If there were an elevator filled with politically incorrect authors would there be room for Mark Twain and Nabokov along with more obvious contemporary provocateurs like Michel Houllebecq whose Charlie Hebdo cover story, appearing in conjunction with the publication of Submission resulted in a shooting in which 12 staff members died. Ray Bradbury was of course prescient in Fahrenheit 451 which became the basis for the Truffaut movie. But what to do? Artists and writers are walking on glass and censorship, once as distant as McCarthyism, is now like climate change--increasing exponentially. Words may provoke behavior, but are they acts? Can a word be a weapon? January 6 proved that language can be like the open carry policy that was one of the issues in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. However, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Is the Hershey Highway the royal road to the unconscious?

Read "Was Hamlet Suffering From False Memory Syndrome" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Dr. Freud"by Pete Seeger

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

What If the Scientists Looking for Signs of Life in the Multiverse Come Home Empty-handed?

Spaceship Earth (Epcot)

What if among the trillions of stars and galaxies, there’s no sign of life and no habitat conducive to Homo sapiens? One of the great singularities or exceptions could very well be the advent of life itself. And if so, will the species have to change the notion of its perpetuation similar to the way it constantly modifies its conception of God? What if the repository of consciousness, that particular offshoot and evolution peculiar to humankind, is forced to flee its usual hunting grounds? What if it can no longer be encapsulated in a corporeal essence? In the event the earth dies and there turns out to be no Kepler Star around which an appropriate planet swirls, what is to stop civilization from finding a home in virtual reality? Imagine a latter day Noah’s Ark, something between an internment camp and biosphere in which movement is constricted. What if at some point in the journey, bodies and even brains begin to be jettisoned out the hatch. All that remains is pure mind now seeking refuge in cyberspace. There will be stragglers but one by one the earth’s creatures will discard their bodies merging into a world that's remarkably similar to the life they once left with the yoga classes, therapy and afternoon trysts. (The) Mind is an impressionable thing. Envision the vast menu that could be offered to attend to the appetites of humankind.

Read "Worming My Way Back to You Babe" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Working My Way Back to You" (1966) by The Four Seasons

Monday, November 22, 2021


Disappointment is an equal opportunity employer. It can come courtesy of a text or e mail. Before the advent of the internet, it arrived in the form of letters from colleges or potential employers or those notorious SASEs (self-addressed stamped envelopes) in which writers manuscripts were returned. Lovers usually called to send their regrets, but rejection was the bottom line. “I want to end the relationship” is a line that might have taken the wind out of you. Perhaps it was October. It had gotten dark early.The black rotary phone stood like a beast or model for a mausoleum. You were awakened from the late afternoon nap you took on Fridays after work by the ringing of the old-fashioned landline. It was the call you were always dreading and which should have come as no surprise. The come down had been on the backburner. You may have hoped beyond hope, but the question was only when. Years later you might find yourself thinking how lucky you were not to get saddled with a troubled person or relationship. However, contentious your marriage might be, it’s a lot better than being hooked up with someone who was, it turns out, continually cheating on you. On the work front, you may have thanked the lord you didn’t get that dead end job. Isn’t "don’t quit before the miracle" what’s usually instructed? On the other hand you don’t want to get used to having the door shut in your face. It’s only a sign of a pathological compulsion to look for what you want in all the wrong places.

Read "The First Law of Emotional Thermodynamics: Longing is Directly Proportional to Self-Hatred" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" (1966) by The Temptations

Friday, November 19, 2021

Euclid Unbound

Geometric shapes are philosophies.A circle suggests a view of the world and a way of being. Take Vico’s circularity for instance. What goes around comes around. History repeats itself a la Santayana. Sententious people are described as being hyperbolic. Stiffs are squares unless they’re corpses who have relinquished their corporeal essence. What's the sensibility of the parabola? Equanimity or just a blip or blimp separating thoughts.There are paragons of virtue. Triangulation is Oedipal. If you’re involved in a threesome you’re undoubtedly acting out your part in a childhood fantasy. And yes a line is the shortest distance between two points. And this about the humble point from Benjamin Labatut's When We Cease to Understand the World. Commenting on the great mathematician Alexander Grothendieck, the author remarks: "Space was his lifelong obsession. One of his greatest strokes of genius was expanding the notion of the point. Beneath his gaze, the humble dot was no longer a dimensionless position; it swelled with a complex inner structure. Where others had seen a simple locus without depth, size or breadth, Grothendieck saw an entire universe. No one had proposed something so bold since Euclid."

Read "Timebound" by Francis Levy,

and listen to "You've Got Me Going in Circles" (1969) by The Friends of Distinction

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Vox Populi

Fidel Castro in Sierra Maestra (1956)

Politicians have constituencies. Followers are who elect them. Without the vox populi you have no ascension. Yes there are particularly charismatic individuals like Hitler, Churchill, Stalin, FDR, Huey Long, JFK, Fidel Castro, Mao Zedong and most recently Kim Jong-un. It may hard to believe that someone this vile who reputedly executed his uncle, Jang-song thaek with an anti-aircraft gun has his crew, but just take a look at crowds greeting the parade of missiles in Pyongyang. How do Hegel's "world-historical individuals" attain standing? Hitler is often talked about as a product of the Versailles treaty which created the kind of hardship that’s a breeding ground. However, deprivation=autocracy +1 is too simple an equation. The appeal of a Trump to a new generation of lumpenproletariat transcends simple economic and even racial formulas. If nothing else social media charts the existence of a collective unconscious—in this case one riddled with medieval conspiracy theories like Qanon. In order to understand the ascendency of Trump and the iron fist with which he holds the Republican party, you have to delve into the irrational. The implicit questions in the title of Steven Pinker’s
 Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters are significant. Why do the have nots support someone who has successfully despoiled the system for his own benefit? Why wouldn’t they want to tar and feather a latter day robber baron, who notoriously abuses labor and refuses to pay those who work for him? Not because of what he’s done, but rather as a result of the promise of a Second Coming, of a transcendent spirit capable of performing magic. Why believe in science which tells you to get vaccinated and wear a mask, when the promise of the unknown beckons?

Read "The Final Solution: Two Dark Horses" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Walking on Broken Glass"(1992) by Annie Lennox

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Doggy Style

Erma Franklin sang a memorable “Piece of My Heart” at “The Soup Kitchen” in l992 and then there was Janis Joplin’s iconic rendition and Faith Hill did her version. Didn’t I make you feel Like you were the only man? But there's a history of sensibility. In the 12th century passion was reserved for god, who was “the only man” and the equivalent of Joplin or Franklin was a chorus of eunuchs intoning a Gregorian Chant. “Piece of My Heart” to a current generation of 20 somethings might be as stiff and uncool as Frank Sinatra to 60s  suburban white kids who found their liberation from bourgeois values in soul which included the gospel of Mahalia Jackson and the Staples Singers. Which bring us to the timeless "Juicy"by Notorious B.I.G (1992) or better "Who am I (What’s My Name?)," (Snoop Doggy Dog). The video, when it comes to the subject of dogs, is a major threat to Bunuel and Dali’s Un Chien Andalou (1929). Time flies and it’s almost impossible to grasp that Sylvia Robinson the producer of "Rapper’s Delight" (1979) was the Sylvia of Mickey and Sylvia’s “Love is Strange” (1956), however profoundly universal the lyric might be—whether you’re talking of God or man.

Read "God Redux" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to Erma Franklin singing "Piece of My Heart" (1992)

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

What Kind of Marriages Do Americans Have?

Are The Americans (either on TV or in reality) schizophrenic? Or is our polarized society like one of those marriages where no one caves into the other’s desires--for fear of being dominated in such a way as to lose their autonomy? The radical centrists, those die-hard middle-of-the-roaders willing to cross the aisle at all costs are actually the most threatened because of their willingness to relinquish control. You’ve perhaps encountered this kind of quandary in a domestic or business situation. You drop your defenses in order to make peace only to find that your “adversary” claiming you're giving up control of something which was never yours. It’s very easy to feel put upon when your offering of the olive branch isn’t even acknowledged. Though 10 Republicans finally voted to support the Infrastructure Bill, the real negotiation took place between moderates in the Democratic Party and progressives, afraid they'd be screwed on the social safety net legislation. But here's another way to look at it.  Maybe division is the Shavian "life force." That's what makes horse races is the expression. Remember Hegelian dialectics? Perhaps what's going on in the country is more understandable on a cellular level, where organisms grow through mitosis and meiosis. On the subject of cellular life, here is The New Yorker's Nick Paumgarten ("What a Feeling," ll/8/21): "It is not inconceivable that the rest of the body (brain, hands, heart, lungs, digestive tract) is merely an elaborate and sometimes clumsy apparatus for the nourishment of the mitochrondria--that it is the mitochondria, and not Homo sapiens, who rule and foul the earth."

Read "White Meat, Breasts" by Francis Levy, Evergreen Review

and listen to "I'm Doing Fine Now Without You Baby," by New York City (1973)

Monday, November 15, 2021

Is Shakespeare's Shrew Bipolar?

The Taming of the Shrew is an illustration of how ideological alarm bells can create myopia. To a modern audience Petruchio’s taming of Katherina is simply an insult to women. He's the Skinnerian cat   employing "operant conditioning" to create a system of rewards and punishments. Unfortunately, this interpretation disregards the symbolic subtext of the play. Katherina is an unstable element, the fissile U-235, that will implode and explode the same time. Rather than being a free spirit, she's a bipolar personality prone to fits of mania and depression. She isn’t so much an exemplar of a liberated woman, as a human being bereft of any role. When she finally does her husband's bidding, she becomes a force of order and a power of example to the other wives. On one level Kate’s character seems to be submitting, but if you look at the denouement of The Taming of the Shrew in the context of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the play’s more about order and chaos then patriarchy per se. The provocativeness of the play’s superficial content is belied by the complexity of the intention. Is "Kiss me, Kate," the call of a colonizing chauvinist male or merely a wiley lover?

Read "King Kong Theory" by Francis Levy,

and listen to "Woman, Woman" (1968) by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap