Friday, April 30, 2021

Black Hole

Black Hole, galactic core of Messier 87 (Event Horizon Telescope)

Have you ever had an overwhelming desire to do something that you know is bad for you? Perhaps you're being driven by an unconscious wish. Still despite all your attempts to avoid temptation, there’s always a point of no return. Sometimes it’s a feeling of deprivation. Even though it’s pain masking as pleasure, you may conclude you  caved into such impulses so many times, it no longer matters. It’s just one more sin. Tomorrow you will start with a blank slate. You’ll have the chance to be good again. You only have today goes the old saw, yesterday is done with, tomorrow has yet to be. Of course this unrelenting sometimes destructive urge is a description of addiction, the exemplification of delusory pleasure. Pornography or food or alcohol may produce a high that’s followed by a crashing withdrawal that can only be palliated with a dose (usually larger) of what’s already been administered. It’s a paradigm of many activities in life, of pent up needs to exact revenge, telling the truth (when it’s not asked for) or pursuing a goal with no limits—i.e. knocking your head against a brick wall. Do you deserve a reward or are you looking for an excuse for one? Are you treating the pain of pain or the pain of life, in the case where you take one Percocet too many after the procedure. When to say no and when to say yes? That’s the question. Do you desire happiness or are you simply edging toward the event horizon of a black hole?

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

Thursday, April 29, 2021

The Ethicist: Stalker Not Wannabee

poster for Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker (1979)

Dear Ethicist: Thanking you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter. As I enter this third trimester of my existence, I can barely disguise my impatience with the slow responses to my requests which are on the verge of becoming demands. For instance, do I have a right to make ultimatums to prospects I don’t know and who don’t know me? Do I have the right to assume an intimate relation to a stranger who is not forthcoming and even ask them if they will attend a session with my relationships counselor even if they have never met me or expressed an interested in my existence? A young man may make overtures to a girl, but if she’s not interested and he continues, he is stalking. Is that what I have become, a stalker? I suppose I’m having a problem with boundaries. Where do I end and other people begin? Do you know?


Stalker Not Wannabee



Dear Stalker Not Wannabee: You should assume that someone who doesn’t return your calls or e mails is not interested in you, until you receive evidence to the contrary. The whole world doesn’t revolve around you. People have their own agendas, one of which is survival, economically at least. If some prospect doesn’t express interest in you, it doesn’t mean you aren’t desirable. All it indicates is that you’re not a hot property. When you’re a hot property, you know it since everyone wants you and you’re likely to become the one who’s being harassed.



Stalker Wannabee: Oh, I get it.

Read "Pornosophy: Forbidden Fruit" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Ethicist: Divorce Announcement Advocate


Dear Ethicist: I regularly read the paid obits in the paper. It’s a good way to keep up with comings and goings so to speak. The marriage vows column provides a similar function albeit more in the comings area. But I’m wondering why one never sees a column devoted to divorces? It would be very informative to know who is or isn’t with whom. I’ve always felt there are similarities between divorce and death. Divorce listings could easily be modeled on your typical paid obit with a description of the background of both parties, where they went to school and what clubs or other community organizations to which they belonged. It would be up to who's ever placing the notice, but I think it would also be useful and even instructive to know the reason for the divorce such as infidelity or the more umbrella term “irreconcilable differences.” Most of the people who get married eventually get divorced and then die. So this seems like a no brainer. It’s also a way for newspapers—which have been suffering huge losses due to the decline of newsprint and the rise of social media—to make an extra buck.

Divorce Announcement Advocate



Dear Divorce Announcement Advocate: Your suggestion makes sense, but the problem is that it’s unlikely most divorced couples would be able to agree on the content of any announcement. Many divorcees play the blame game. While that can make for good reading, it can result in libel suits. For now I think you’re going to have to rely on old-fashioned gossip which is the place where warring couples can bad mouth each other with impunity.


Dear Ethicist: I see your point.  It was just an idea inspired by Leslie Jamison's review of Divorcing by Susan Taubes in The New York Review of Books. Jamison says, "I believed that divorce involved a ceremony, the inverse of marriage, in which the married couple moved backward through the choreography of their wedding, starting at the altar, unclasping their hands, and walking separately down the aisle."

Dear Divorce Announcement Advocate: Nice quote!

Read "Moravia's Contempt by Francis Levy, HuffPost


Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Menage a Trois or Folie a Deux?

It takes two to tango, but what about three? Is that a square dance? Threesomes, are of course, a part of sexual lore, but apart from prurient associations, why is the human desire to connect often expressed in couplets—and heroic ones of the kind one finds in Alexander Pope's “The Rape of the Lock?" If you look at it as an insurance matter, a threesome provides a certain degree of protection from loss. If one member of the threesome expires the remaining two have each other. Not only this, but the classic duo epitomizes the romantic agony, often at its basest level. Many couples displace their hatred for themselves, particularly during the third trimester of life when it’s apparent dreams will not become realities, rather than on themselves. It’s a convenient psychodynamic trick and useful in many ways, but ultimately nothing close to what one might call pleasure. Add another person to the mix and you're back in the agora where everyone must be their best selves or risk obsolescence. Internecine jealousies only serve to increase the value of a partner who might otherwise be taken for granted. The menage a trois also has implications evolutionarily to the extent that it increases the gene pool while lessening what former National Security Advisor Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster recently termed “strategic narcissism” with respect to America’s unilateral withdrawal from the Afghanistan.

Read "Sperm Count: Is Squirting An Urban Myth" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

Monday, April 26, 2021

The Two Herberts

cover Spanish Edition of Pan Cogito

Just because two poets share the same last name doesn’t mean there’s much to compare. Brunette Coleman was by the way a pseudonym used by the poet Philip Larkin. Rosamond Smith and Lauren Kelly were aliases employed by sometime poet Joyce Carol Oates. Oates is asking for it with the title of her most recent offering in The New Yorker, “This is Not a Poem,” despite the work's obvious craft. "Nor is it a poem where a cracked mirror yields a startled face" exemplify the poem's strident beauty. But let’s take the two Herberts, George and Zbigniew. One was a 17thmetaphysical poet and contemporary of Marvell and Donne, the other a minimalist who’d fought in the Polish resistance during World War II. Comparing the two initially appears to be a throw of the dice. It’s also a akin to comparing the German idealists philosophers Kant and Hegel with logical positivists like Bertrand Russell or A.J. Ayer who discountenanced the notion of unverifiable truth. Actually, it turns out that Zbigniew considered himself a distant relative of George which is tantamount to saying Fichte was related to Frege or Carnap. It’s actually fascinating that the Polish poet may have had some of his English ancestor's DNA. Zbigniew is famous for Mr. Cogito, the book that emanated from the poem, “The Envoy of Mr. Cogito” (1973) that in turn owes its provenance to Descartes “cogito ergo sum.” "The Envoy of Mr. Cogito" famously begins, "Go where those others went to the dark boundary/for the golden fleece of nothingness your last prize." One of George Herbert’s most famous books is The Temple: Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations (1633). “Cogito ergo sum” first appeared in Descartes Discourse on Method (1637). Can it be said that George and Zbigniew were at least drinking from the same well?

Read "Limbo" by Francis Levy, Evergreen Review

Friday, April 23, 2021

The Prophet

You may have entertained the biblical notion of seven fat and seven lean cows from Pharaoh’s dream. Hopefully, you’re in the fertile period, but when there’s a drought in love or work, you inhabit the seven fallow years. The trouble is that 7+7=14. If you're beginning the 7 fallow years at a certain age, it might not be until Charon pulls up that you discover your "out of cow" experience is hell. At what point do the N.I.H. and the CDC declare it’s no longer necessary to save up for a rainy day and expend the remaining grain  left in your silo? When you’re an adolescent, you might palliate your longings by reading tomes like Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha or even Goethe’s The Sufferings of Young Werther—which address the longing of the aspirational personality. You will undoubtedly have many painful disappointments particularly in the area of love, but as you wander some deserted urban metropolis on a hot August night in the middle of your romantic agony, you’re still subliminally aware your whole life's ahead. As the years go by, however, you become like a fighter in the later part of a 15-round bout, who finds it increasingly hard to get up after they’ve taken a fall. Carpe diem, "sieze the day!"

Read A-Z Quotes by Francis Levy

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Ethicist: Know-It-All

Dear Ethicist: One of the problems with going on is that you may find out things that are not necessarily beneficial. Say your first cousin once removed leaves his or her assets to be divided among surviving family members. As best as you can ascertain, you’re it. Then you go on Ancestry and find out that lo and behold you’ve got some cousins you didn’t know about who are also eligible to receive the cash. This is all hypothetical but if you didn’t go on Ancestry you wouldn’t have learned about the long-lost cousin and you wouldn’t have to divide the cash. You may wish you'd never gone on Ancestry under the theory that what you know won’t hurt you. Too much knowledge is not necessarily a good thing. Oedipus had that problem. If he hadn’t heard the oracle he wouldn’t have brought about the very thing he was afraid of. In this case, you're likely to find you’ve just complicated things. You may have had a good intention in signing up for Ancestry, but next time you’ll be more circumspect about responding to ads which offer knowledge (remember the apple?) instead being content to leave things alone.




Dear Know-It-All: First of all, who is “you?” Is “you” a thinly-veiled form of “you?” And why do you insist on using the second person pronoun? It’s not like Abracadabra where suddenly you’re going to find you have a cousin and the cousin is going to come out of the woodwork smelling the money that's owing to them. A family tree can be a joy or a Pandora’s Box. It's a two-edged sword. It’s rare that meeting up with a relative, you don’t already know is a good thing. It usually means you're going to have to start saying “no” to baptisms and brits. So what if you 're all alone in the world? You're not going to be any better learning you have cousin in Babylon.

Read Evan Harris' review of Francis Levy's Tombstone: Not a Western, The East Hampton Star

Wednesday, April 21, 2021


You may have seen An American Family back in the 70s. Everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame according to Andy Warhol. While you might be loath to invite the kind of scrutiny that the Louds received, you would be hard put to find someone who wouldn’t like to become a phenomenon even if it requires airing some dirty laundry. Imagine a producer from Tik Tok or You Tube snapping their fingers as you approach. Next thing you know you’re signing up for insurance with the SAG-AFTRA and you’re getting wired for sound. No matter that you’re a tremulous neurotic counterphobic para-literary who has been writing Sufferings of Young Werther Letter to a Young Poet, A Season in Hell Flowers of Evil type poems on paper napkins in diners for all of your extended adolescence. You may even warn your director of the problem  at the start. No series about you is going to be able to compete with The Apprentice. You may see a rye smile crossing the face of your biographer who might not have told you that you’re in an episode of The Twilight Zone that ended up on the cutting room floor about a country (really a civilization) whose citizens are all the stars of their own TV programs. You didn’t have to write the great American novel or become an improbable candidate for president. It’s value free and like the census everyone in this iteration of the world is gifted both with their life and the production in which they act it out for the audience of all the other people whose existences have been dramatized. You may think there aren’t enough monitors to accommodate the demand, but literally everywhere you go walls are filled with images of lives which have been made into series whose subscription exceeds anything on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

Read "Francis Levy, Exposed," Interview

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Oeuvre or Hors d'Oeuvre?

first edition cover (1977)

Do you have an oeuvre or hors d’oeuvre, derived literally from “out of the work?” For instance, you might talk of Balzac’s voluminous oeuvre, but what about his hors d’oeuvre? Joyce Carol Oates is known for being prolific, if nothing else. No sooner has she released a new tome than you're batted over the head with a poem in The New Yorker ("This is Not a Poem" was the most recent) or essay in The New York Review of Books. Where does she get the time? Does she write in her sleep and being a prehensile creature is she able to write with her feet as well as her hands? Oh don’t forget until being found out back in l987, she wrote under the pseudonyms Rosamond Smith and Lauren Kelly. Last count she had only published 58 novels, which unfortunately falls behind Stephen King at 62.  What would these authors hors d’oeuvres be like. Pigs in a blanket—as there is a certainly gluttony in their productivity—though some might write the author of The Shining, The Stand and Carrie a blank check. Words are fun and like liquor or drugs, you have those who suffer from logorrhea and become addicted to them. Are there writers who go to silent retreats where they forswear both talking and penmanship? But speaking of locutions you have the institution of the nom de plume. For instance it’s Georges Sand aka Amantine Lucille Aurore Dupin. Is Francine Prose a nom de plum? The well-known novelist’s name sure sounds like one. 

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

Monday, April 19, 2021

Was Hitler An Asshole?

 Adolf the Asshole

Was Hitler an asshole say the way Trump is? Trump is just an asshole. Product of historical forces, Hegels's world historical figure, blah blah. Numerous post-mortems will be performed in which Mary Trump and others will provide analysis of his psyche, but asshole is just a better a more global word to describe him. Hitler similarly is and was the subject of all manner of analysis by the OSS (who produced psychohistories of their opponents). However, forget about whether he was a failed artist, or had a relationship with his half-niece Geil Raubal, who was l9 years his junior, that ended in her suicide. Trump’s hardline aid Stephen Miller is almost a computer printout of the kind of bloviating idiot whose talents are effectively deployed by autocrats. When and if Trump departs the earth Miller will surely find employment in Poland, Brazil or Hungry. Tyrants like Jair Bolsanaro are attracted to mechanized personalities who think nothing of the suffering they cause. Hannah Arendt coined the term “banality of evil” to describe Eichmann, but "asshole" is a short emotive term which is a better description of this type of murderous tyrant. Dickhead, doofus or dingbat are also excellent descriptions which are not really pejorative considering the target. In fact they're kind since there are worse things that can be said about Hitler or any of his pals. Great minds may think alike, but toxic mentalities all stink in their own ways. Hitler does, of course, occupy a particular subset due his Napoleonic height. He’s a short asshole. Short assholes happen to be particularly dangerous to the extent that they have a lifelong need to compensate for their size. Putin and Roy Cohn are both examples of short assholes. Both Hitler and Trump have signature hairdo's--Trump's, the blow dry used car salesman and Hitler, the pageboy. Would they have used the same hairdresser if they'd been contemporaries? Most people with moral values wouldn’t subscribe to the notion of ganging up on anyone, but imagine Trump, Stephen Miller, Jair Bolsanaro, Viktor Orban and Bashar al-Assad brought before something a Truth and Reconciliation Commission like the one's the South Africans created after Apartheid. In the meanwhile, pray that representative Jim Jordan and Senators Ron Johnson and Ted Cruz cab be sent to a rehab for jerks. Maybe if Trump goes to jail, someone will make him their bitch. It's hard to talk with something in your mouth. Oh yeah, let's not leave out that fat pig, Kim Jong-un who Trump once praised as "very talented."

Read Mark Snyder's review of Francis Levy's Seven Days in Rio in The Collagist

Friday, April 16, 2021

Dear Ethicist: Unsung Genius

Dear Ethicist: I have been waiting around for recognition, without luck as yet. Other people get their names in lights who aren’t as good me. I don’t know why. It’s not fair. All these years I have been doing the solitary work I hope would get my genius realized. Silence is the only response I receive. The cosmos is yawning as I scream and wave my hands for attention. Feeling my situation is hopeless, I have dreamt up some desperate attempts to get attention. The first is to order 12 rotisserie chickens from my local Food Emporium and have them delivered to one of these arbiters of taste who reject me. Another is inspired by the Spanish surrealist director Luis Bunuel. I attend a conference and put Crazy Glue on the seats in the auditorium where all the events are held. When the attendees get up, they'll find that they're stuck, at which point I will pull the fire alarm. Naturally, all those in my field who have been ignoring me, will rip their pants in a particularly embarrassing place, the seat. By the seat of their pants. Get it? There will be alarums and I will jump for joy watching the whole chaotic scene on the monitor of the security system.

Unhung Genius



Dear Unhung Genius: You had me up until you sent the chickens. I know you’re just trying to call attention to yourself by being annoying and provocative, but it’s a lame move, particularly if the recipient of your “largesse” is a chicken lover. Exterminating Angels (1962) is one of my favorite Bunuel films, but you have to realize that people don’t like being the butt of a joke. Take an elevator to a high floor of the building in which the conference is being held and drop balloons filled with water on the heads of those who've ignored you is a more effective way of demonstrating your frustration.

Read review of Francis Levy's Seven Days in Rio, Dan's Papers



Thursday, April 15, 2021

Journal of Medieval Scholasticism: How Many Angels Can Dance On the Head of a Pin?

Indeed, “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” Why not go back to the source, the question which defines the very essence of medieval scholasticism, i.e the pursuit of issues that have absolutely no relevance for mankind? Buridan’s Donkey is also often mentioned in this connection since it concerns another ridiculous problem that of the animal which dies since it can’t decide between hay and water, hunger and thirst. Suppose that an angel is the size of a muon, the fat electron which has been in the news lately since its peculiar behavior may open up a whole new paradigm in physics. The head of a pin is approximately 100,000th of an inch. It has been estimated that 6 trillion photons would fit on the head of a pin but photons which have no mass take up less space then muons which are 200 times heavier than electrons. Those have a mass of 
9.1093837015(28)×10−31 kg. No one knows whether angels exist, but if they do, their size is up for grabs. If John Duns Scotus, the scholastic famous for his thinking on “the univocity of being,” were alive, he would have to deal with the difficulty of trying to calculate the mass of a spiritual presence that may not exist. Of course, once that problem is solved then it would be smooth sailing. If say it’s determined that an angel’s size rounds off to l0-62kg, then your answer could be figured out on a simple slide ruler or even abacus. What kind of dance the angels are doing is another matter. It's common knowledge that angels favor ballroom dancing whether it’s the tango, the indy or fox trot when they’re not coming down from the heavens to shine their light on troubled but worthy souls like George Bailey of It's a Wonderful Life. Some angels have even been known to take lessons at Arthur Murray's Dance Studios.

Read review of Erotomania: A Romance by Francis Levy, Bookslut


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Ethicist: Eleemosynary

Dear Ethicist, I have an end-of-life problem. I've always been a generous guy. I actually like helping people because it makes me feel like a big shot. I also feel it opens doors. However, lately as I begin to plan for my retirement, I'm realizing it makes no sense to be so generous. I’ve already lived my life and nothing's going to come of so-called targeted philanthropy which is aimed at giving to the charities of people who can do something for me. Perhaps I should  think of other ways of spending the little time I have left. I could use the dough. I could stay in super luxury hotels and have suites instead of single rooms. I could eat in the finest restaurants and buy myself a Lamborghini or Tesla. I have developed an equation in my head which shows how the amount of money you give away is inversely proportional to the amount time you have left on earth. What do you think of this calculation?




Dear Eleemosynary: You sound very calculating. What happened to the idea of giving freely? I’m sure a lot of the charities and people you donated time and money to over the years would be saddened to learn of your ulterior motives. I can see if you had come to the end and the doctor says you don’t have much time left how you might at least feel selfish, but I'm being charitable in calling you a jerk. Actually you’re behaving like a real asshole.

Read "An Incident of Defenestration" by Francis Levy, 

Vol. 1 Brooklyn


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

W.D. Hamilton on Donald J. Trump

Epigenetics is what might be called a post-modermist approach to genetics, which doesn't change a genetic code, but modifies the way a gene acts. Environment can have an epigenetic impact—a finding that has enormous implications in the world of developmental psychology. Ultimately, it turns out, talk therapy may have a biological effect on the patient. CRISPR or “clustered integrated short palindromic repeats” is one of the methodologies used in gene therapy. The question is, can the science of epigenetics permanently introduce an altruistic element in the 73 million members of Trump’s base? The sociobiologist W.D. Hamilton even created a rule which he expressed in the following equation: C < r x B, where the cost to the recipient is less than relatedness times fitness. In short, the idea is that altruistic behavior is naturally selective. If the Trumps want to create a dynasty they will have to suppress their own selfish desires. The only problem is that selfishness is the family brand and what makes Retrumplicanism so popular. For the genetic material to prevail, the Trumps would have to stop being who they are.

Read "Dream Hoarders" by Francis Levy, Huffington Post

Monday, April 12, 2021

Is Cash Still King?


The sign outside a local diner reads “No Credit Cards! Cash Only!” "Cash is king" goes the old saw and that doesn’t include cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. These signs should also read no derivatives, no credit default swaps, no collateralized debt obligations. You can’t pay for your hamburger deluxe with an option even if it’s for Berkshire Hathaway. You might tell the owner of the Apollo or the Dionysius to stop being a Cassandra and get with the program, but there’s something to be said for hard unleveraged cash. Does anyone still have any traveler’s checks left from the days when you bought them at American Express. Would they be considered cash? The answer is yes twenty years ago, but it’s unclear what traveler’s checks are still good today. If they were issued by Washington Mutual, one of the major banks that became insolvent in the sup-prime mortgage crisis, you’re probably out of luck. One caveat, cash may be king, but no diner wants your small change. Some people stick all their pennies dimes and nickels in plastic bags. If the turkey, bacon club sandwich with fries comes to $10.75 even a 24-hour diner is going to complain when they have to count up 1075 pennies and no one really wants singles or for that matter $100s. Cash is king if you’re paying with $5s, $10s and $20s. It would be interesting to see how Warren Buffett, the sage of Omaha, pays for his grilled cheese.

Read Francis Levy's "Book Notes," Largehearted Boy

Friday, April 9, 2021

The Schadenfreude Society of Greater New York

If you’re a magical thinker you might believe that gloating over other people’s misfortunes will only augur your own fall from grace. Under this theory, you would experience retribution for your bad thoughts. Schadenfreude is one of the few German compound words in the category of the average non-German person—since so many people enjoy other people’s suffering. You may not covet thy neighbor’s wife, or murder him or her, but there's no commandment against wishing them the worst. Character assassins are happier than pigs-in-shit since there’s such a high demand for their product. Of course, the person who's capable of achieving so-called happiness, whatever that is, derives little pleasure from the sight of suffering. They don’t feel guilty for their wishes, since they're too busy soaking up the sun to care about what anybody else is doing. It’s certainly not necessary to see your counterpart fail, when you're busily reaping the rewards of your own good fortune. In fact, there’s no pay-off at all in feeling superior to others and wishing them the worst, when you experience the smugly self-satisfied feeling that you've gotten what you want out of life.

Read "What is the Antonym to or Antonym for Schadenfreude" by Francis Levy, Huffington Post

Thursday, April 8, 2021

The Uncertainty Principle

How matter-of-a-fact are you? If a storefront is shuttered, is it simply about taking off the boards? Will the old bookstore, or cell phone dealer return? Will something new take its place? It’s actually a quantum problem. Can an existence be shifted in space/time and retain its original identity? Some take an almost Newtonian view of reality, in which empty space is simply filled furnished with people and objects. For others, a shift like the one many people are experiencing in the wake of the pandemic ultimately changes the nature and position of matter and substance, creating what is essentially a paradigm shift and ultimately an altenative reality. Can one take up where one has left off? Ask any divorced couple who are remarried again? The epigenetic view might have it that the DNA of an organism is altered by environmental induced changes. “Normalcy” is the word that’s often invoked when describing the state to which the inhabitants of the earth seek to return, in the aftermath of a crisis of singularly global dimensions. Actually, the pandemic is good practice for what might happen if earth was hit by an asteroid which produced the equivalent of a new ice age. Say the United States reaches herd immunity sometime during the summer, it will be unlikely that the deserted office towers will automatically fill up to meet increased demand for products. Even if something like this is a surface manifestation, subliminally the underpinnings of reality may turn out to be inalterably changed. Will Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle be humanity's guiding star?

Read "The Days the Earth Stands Still" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Littoral Abstraction: Julie Mehretu at the Whitney

"Cairo" by Julie Mehretu (photo: Francis Levy)

The Ethiopian born artist Julie Mehretu’s work might be called “littoral abstraction.” The large scale paintings on exhibit at the Whitney are a history of abstractionist techniques in geographic and political settings. It’s as if the color of Kandinsky and the calligraphic quality of Twombly (“Of Other Planes of There (S.R.)" 2018-19) were overlaid with treatises on colonization and immigration. There's a substrata of literal meaning (that at time takes an almost ghostly form) that's part of the dialogue or dialectic between figuration and abstraction. The curators invoke a quote from the philosopher Edouard Glissant “We clamor for the right to opacity for everyone,” as an epigraph for the show. "Cairo" (120 x 288,” 2013), for example, captures Arab Spring and the 2011 uprising in Tahrir Square.“Being Higher I and II" (2013) address the cataclysm of Hurricane Sandy. Mehretu employs a notational style, a mixture of drawing of an almost architectural nature and dramatic gesturalism that includes everything from dots, circles, eyes, breasts, mouths, insects and wings to capture in her words, a “subconscious terror that you feel vibrating close to the surface.” 

Read "Limbo" by Francis Levy, The Evergreen Review

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Ethicist: Addictive Personality

Dear Ethicist: I do certain things (which I will not mention) about which I feel very ashamed and bad (tsk, tsk one of them begins “choc” and ends with “late,” the other begins “nak” and ends “ed”).These are basically victimless crimes, but I know they're wrong. At the very best I should have better things to do with my time—say like helping suffering humanity rather than participating in the self-fulfilling cycle of crime and punishment. Once I start down the path of iniquity, it’s like a black hole from which there’s no turning back. My logic is always the same since I have done one bad thing, what difference does it make if I do a hundred? Right now, I’m at the bottom of the barrel. I know I should help those less fortunate than myself, but I don’t know what I would have to offer since I feel like a useless scum bag. What should I do?

Addictive Personality



Dear Addictive Personality: I wish I could express sympathy and tell you I know how you feel, but I don’t have any idea what’s eating you. A lot of people excuse their actions by saying they’re sick. By that logic someone like Hitler was chronically ill and could have been sent to a psychiatrist. If you want me to dish out the punishment I will. From what you say you’re a selfish, self-involved lout who will eventually be a burden to society. I don’t like to talk this way, but I have to be cruel to be kind. Your prognosis is not good. I recommend you exile yourself to a deserted island where you won’t be able to harm yourself or others.

Read "A Moveable Feast" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

Monday, April 5, 2021

The Ethicist: Warning Signs


Dear Ethicist: How seriously should I take a warning? “No Parking” means different things in different places. “No Expectorating” signs are a thing of the past. What about those red “No Standing Anytime” signs? If you took them literally you might sit down in the street in lieu of being towed away. There are all kinds of euphemisms. “No Peeing on the Toilet Seat” is usually conveyed by the words “we aim to please, will you aim too, please?” Many planes display strict admonitions about smoking in the bathroom or tampering with a smoke detector, such as “smoking in the bathroom is strictly prohibited and punishable by up to one year in prison and a $500 fine.” You probably haven’t seen any “No Sodomy” signs outside motels in Michigan, Massachusetts, Mississippi and other states where oral sex is still against the law. Then there's “Occupancy by More Than l00 persons is Dangerous and Unlawful. “Cash only” is tantamount to “no credit cards.” Littering is a victimless crime as is eating. Does this mean you should hide a bag of M&Ms when you go to see movie at the Anthology Film Archives which forbids viewers from bringing food into the theater? Should you really not dump your garbage in public receptacles when you’re visiting a town that has no sanitation department? Is it wrong to put your head down on the table in a public library? What about that old favorite, "No Loitering?" Even though there are no signs, is it wrong to fall asleep and snore loudly during a boring lecture on urban architecture? Should you observe the “No Stripping” signs in a gentleman’s club by not tipping the dancers?


Warning Signs



Dear Warning Signs: Your question really concerns "literal interpretations." Originalism can be applied to signage as well as the constitution. No one is going to arrest you for bringing M&Ms into the Anthology Film Archives, though you may very well be stopped at the Regal, if you bring in your own M&Ms, for which you paid $1 rather than the $3.50 the theater is likely to charge. Ratcheting up the price of common items like water, candy and popcorn are the way movie chains make their money. If you insist on smoking in the bathroom of an airplane, or even worse disabling the smoke detector,  there's a good chance you're going to serve some time once you arrive at your destination. 

Read Francis Levy on Muck Rack

Friday, April 2, 2021


"The Last Judgement" by Hieronymus Bosch (1482)

Will you one day awaken to find nobody home and the streets empty as if the city were evacuated? It's hard not to conceive of a thinking ego, but though in all likelihood taxis or geese may be honking outside your window, your experience would likely be one of desertion--if you were dead. Death is also unequivocally timeless, while life is by definition finite. In fact, if there was one word that could be used to describe life, it would be “finitude" and one for death, ironically, "immortality." Death lives forever. So when you consider the universe before time began, you're describing death since it presupposes a kind of nonbeing. It may seem contradictory to describe the cosmos in terms of death, but the black holes with which it's rife exemplify the way in which it's perpetually in dialogue with both a before and after. So when one talks about wormholes and time travel one is also begging questions that are generally dealt with by the fields of teleology and eschatology. If you're traveling back to the beginning of time what comes before, negative numbers? And if you take off on one of those ships that journeys through a time warp, what is the last stop, eternity? The cosmos is really just a waystation between heaven and hell.

Read "Pet Buddha" by Francis Levy, Volume 1, Brooklyn

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Dear Ethicist: Out to Lunch

first U.S. issue of Penthouse, Sepember  l969

Dear Ethicist: Must I get someone’s permission before I have sexual fantasies about them? I practice "affirmative consent" and have never been comfortable with admiring varying people’s body parts or even admiring someone for their looks. However, sometimes I find myself daydreaming before I can catch myself. I’m so appalled by my thoughts that I try to supplant them with images like Moses smashing the Ten Commandments or Noah fleeing the flood. I don’t like to objectify human beings and treat them like slabs of beef in an abattoir. The humanity and complexity of the human animal is lost when you reduce them to pronouns like “they” for “him” or “her.” Synecdoche is the figure of speech in which the part is substituted for the whole. "The White House" for the presidency is an example. Fetishists often employ this fantasy when they get a glimpse of the undergarments they're wearing. I'm terrified that someone is going to find out what I’m thinking.

Out to Lunch


Dear Out to Lunch: Everyone has fantasies. You might see a “bust” at the museum or wonder about your alma mater’s “endowment.” I think you know where I’m going.


Dear Ethicist: If it’s where it sounds like, I’ll have to go to some place else for advice.

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