Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Wings of Hope

Juliane Koepcke 

There was a story in the Science section of the Times ("She Fell Nearly Two Miles and Walked Away," 6/18/21) about a 17 year old, Julian Koepcke who fell l0,000 feet to the earth in the crash of Lansa flight 508 on December 24,1971 over the Amazon and survived. She was still buckled into her seat when she landed. The impact was cushioned by the thick vegetation of the jungle. Koepcke, eventually Juliane Diller, would become a well-known zoologist whose work brought her back to the very area of the crash, which also killed her mother. Some people shoot for the stars and others are headed for the ground. The story of the orphaned child tumbling to earth is a legend you might expect to find recounted in Marquez. Werner Herzog eventually shot a documentary Wings of Hope (1998), which dealt with the incident in which the teenager trudged ll days in the jungle using the knowledge she had gained growing up in a family, where her father was a biologist and her mother an ornithologist, to trace the estuaries and streams to a river which eventually brought her back to civilization. The Gods Must Be Crazy (1981) dealt with the effect an indigenous people of a Coke bottle dropping out of the sky. Talk about UFOs. In The War of the Worlds Orson Welles created mass hysteria when his Mercury Theatre on the Air feigned an alien invasion. Imagine spotting a teenager in an airplane seat twirling in your direction.

Read "What is it Like to Be a Fly," by Francis Levy, HuffPost

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Appointment in Samarra

"Conatus" is a key concept in the philosophy of Spinoza. George Bernard Shaw used the term “life force” to describe a similar demiurge.  The idea is that whether it’s mind or matter, there’s a propensity for things to exist and continue on. Perhaps this explains why a fly, a creature who doesn’t possess consciousness (at least in human terms), still runs from the swatter. Have you ever chased a water bug which seems to know you’re  coming? And also why human beings, when deprived of one faculty after another, still seem to have the desire to live. In fact, one of the most unnatural acts is suicide since it contravenes the impetus most organisms express to persevere, often against the odds. Camus once said “there is but one really serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.” Suicide is a radical act that is to cite the title of the famous Huysmans novel, Against Nature. Depression is often offered as an explanation when someone ends their life, but it's a dismisive almost mechanical explanation that doesn’t take into consideration the radicalness of the act. Humans are the only creatures in nature that end their own lives. It’s often said that a person is unwittingly killing themselves by virtue of their self-destructive behavior. Is accident the right word to use for the crash which took James Dean’s life at the age of 24? John O’Hara’s Appointment in Samarra charts the downward path of a character, Julian English, who eventually ends his own life. The same can occur in societies in which genocidal civil wars have the quality of an unacknowledged collectively self-annihilating impulse. 

Read "Suicidal Ideation and Other Thoughts" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

Monday, June 28, 2021

Introducing the Self-Driving Fork

Tesla Autopilot

Tesla produced one of the first self-driving cars ("When Will Self- Driving Cars Rule the Roads?" Malcolm Gladwell, GPS, 6/27/21), but it poses the question of what other devices could be programmed to operate without the benefit of the human mind? Just look around your kitchen or bathroom for starters. How about a self-driving fork or toothbrush, a self-eating apple that auto masticates (ie takes bites out of itself). Naturally any food could self-driving. Let’s say you’re suffering from anorexia, you might have a box of those Omaha self-eating steaks sent to you. Human beings are prehensile creatures which means they walk upright and can use their hands, but let’s pretend that people had not evolved to this level. Self-involvement is a characteristic of homo sapiens. The next step is to be self-driven (the furthest extension of the self made man) which means you're always on auto-pilot. You have undoubtedly met individuals with mechanical pre-programmed responses to everything. Take this to its logical conclusion. Say you're proposing marriage. Have Siri or Alexa do it for you. The same with testimony before the judge in the ensuing divorce. Alexa knows you're going to say you're a victim who was emotionally abused. All you have to do is sign the matrimonial equivalent of a DNR and she will take care of it for you. Then there's the self-written valedictory speech and eulogy and on the presidential level, State of the Union. When it comes to the bathroom what about self-driving soaps, that unwrap themselves, then suds you up?

Read "The Driverless Car" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

Friday, June 25, 2021

The Impossible Profession

Disenchantment was the word that Max Weber used to describe the triumph of mechanism. If you look at the whole as not being greater than the sum of its parts then the universe is easily reducible to predictable stratagems. Everything is explained. Everything falls into place with no room for any magic. Naturally no one is interested in those old traveling medicine men with quack potions, but there are certain ideas and concepts such as the notion of consciousness itself that are not easily reduced to bits of empirically verifiable perception. Scientism and the attendant datafication are direct products of disenchantment. In Freud and Man’s Soul, the psychoanalyst Bruno Bettleheim showed how the James Strachey translation of the Standard Edition diminished the poetry of Freud’s language in the service of promoting psychoanalysis as a scientific discipline. Psychoanalysis is not psychopharmacology and no talk therapy based on the bond created between two human beings—which contains so many irrational elements—is ever going to successfully become denuded of its spiritual and/or metaphysical elements. Thus, the late Janet Malcolm’s classic work on psychoanalysis was titled The Impossible Profession. Do human beings require transcendence? In The Spiritual Life of Children, Robert Coles addressed a striving that occurs early in the development of a human being’s life.

Read "Psychoanalysis: The Patient's Cure" by Francis Levy, American Imago

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Annals of the Paranormal: Chock Full 'o Nuts

photo: Green4life80

Consider the paranormal phenomenon of ordering in from a restaurant that's closed its doors forever. You may have a box full of  stained take-out menus, which bring back fond memories of mythological culinary figures like General Tso. It’s sad to see the years of interchanges go down the tubes. If you can bend a spoon or witness lights flashing during a séance, then why not bring back the famed Number #1 (chow mein, fried rice and egg roll) from the precincts where it no longer exists.
 If it sounds like a tall order, consider the fact that Houdini freed himself from an underwater box or that the Flying Wallendas have regularly defied gravity. There's a growing belief amongst those who dabble in the occult that spirits of past restaurants reside in an ether. Of course, there are naysayers resigned to the fact that when a restaurant's gone you'll no longer be able to order off the menu. It’s usually the same crowd that doesn’t believe that dog spelled backwards is God. Are you nuts (or Chock Full 'o them, if you believe in the impossible?

Read "Diasporic Dining: Combination Plate" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Character Actor

Arnold Stang

Character is the moral side of disposition. One can be quiet or loquacious. A shy person may be afraid of people or merely circumspect  Bravado may itself be a form of concealment with the noise acting as a diversion like a flare that invading forces send to fool the enemy. These dispositions become fully distilled into other affects. Some people are spontaneous while others take a wait and see approach. From the societal point of view reticence is often viewed as a form of thoughtfulness whereas a person who shows his or her hand too soon can be viewed as fickle. It's when these traits get attached to actions that they definite “character.” For instance, a person may be poker-faced, sphinx-like and hard to read, but transmogrified into unscrupulousness such an individual’s behavior and actions are described as Machiavellian. On the other side of the fence, there are the plain dealers who wear their emotions on their sleeves. If you’re buying a used car, that’s the kind of salesman you want in your corner. Mohammed Ali’s style was alternately Machiavellian and in-your-face, but sometimes his forthrightness was ironically the deterrent. Rope-a- dope was a ruse like D-Day, but when Ali taunted George Foreman he made him blow his cool. Looks are not everything, but morphology may be indicative of character; for instance, if someone is built like a brick shithouse, they may act like one. Generally bad character is associated with the kind of subterfuge that leads to lying. You may describe a beloved colleague as honest as the day is long. However taken literally you might not want to trust what he or she says during the winter.

Read "The Interpretation of Vladimir Nabokov's Dreams" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Sense and Sensibility

Emotion itself has its own history, provenance and chronology. Sensibility is a changeable matter. Romantic love meant something different to the troubadours than it does to the modern soul which is often in flight, performing an almost platonic longing after an ideal which doesn't exist. Unreality has an unfair advantage over “the real thing” since it satiates the always insatiable lust for possibility. The unknown quantity contains a mystery that appeals to the imagination. So-called free will is the villain that undermines the ability to focus on the here and now. Somewhere between feudalism and the advent of the free-market economy, custom and prescription were replaced by the culture of choice and self-invention, but human existence is like a ruler whose ever smaller gradations become reflected even within shorter spaces of time. Would the female characters described in the novels of Edna O’Brien be recognizable to the cast of Sally Rooney’s Normal People which deals with the complexion of love and in particular lovemaking amongst Irish millennials. Even with the world Rooney describes there are disparities which are a source of conflict. In one scene Rooney’s central character Marianne's description of her enjoyment of rough sex alienates her from her former boyfriend Connell who reacts with incomprehension to the inclinations of someone he thought he’d known. Imagine a panel composed of famous fictional characters  from Middlemarch, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, from The Great Gatsby, Rabbit Run to the The Human Stain. Surely none of these creations would agree when it came to describing what they found appealing or attractive in another person.

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

Friday, June 18, 2021

Deconstructing Harriet

Psychoanalysis is to the brain what Marxism is to the economy. Both are brilliant, epochal analyses of the human condition which have become anachronisms. Marxism, a product of the industrial revolution, is no longer practiced anywhere. Classic Freudian analysis where the patient reports to the couch of an analyst who rarely talks and never intervenes is an expensive and time-consuming occupation that has to all extensive purposes become a hobby for wealthy Upper East Hausfrauen who are as loathe to talk about their sexuality as their equally removed analysts are to hear about it. The fact that Woody Allen might have been one of the great chroniclers of this particular class of self-involved New Yorker does not bode well for half-life of its subject matter. Paraphilias were supposedly the province of analysis, but The Impossible Profession, as the late Janet Malcolm once termed it, may have become a prisoner of its own context. By the same token Marxism is a wonderful subject of study for students at the London School of Economics, who are preparing to teach at Oxford, Harvard or Yale, but probably irrelevant to even those who dabble in non-free market Keynesian interventionist economics. Parenthetically, in an almost deconstructionist way, it’s interesting to note how almost all preoccupations, analyses, disciplines derive intimately from the milieu in which they were conceived. Freud epitomized  the europaische haute culture which was also the province of authors like Stephan Zweig, Joseph Roth, Hermann Broch and Alfred Doblin of Berlin Alexanderplatz fame. Marx was a product of the alienation in the workplace caused by manufacturing innovations like division of labor and economy of scale. Both the symptoms and the diagnoses of these two grand paradigms are culturally and environmentally bound. Freud’s famed "Rat Man" could easily have been a character out of Robert Musil's Der Mann ohne Eigenshaften. Das Capital is the rambunctious stepchild of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. Sensibility evolves exponentially like the microprocessors described by Moore's Law. Yesterday's cherished assumptions, values and even epistemology are another country.

Read  "Pornosophy: The Pleasure Principle" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Dear Ethicist: Like Water Off a Duck's Back


Dear Ethicist:

Why do some people get away with everything? Water off a duck’s back is the expression. Water killed the Wicked Witch, but that old duck just quacks away. Was Al Franken’s infraction up there with the accusations leveled by E. Jean Carroll, who accused Trump of raping her in Bergdorf’s? Or the insurrection? What were Garrison Keillor’s “crimes?”  Of course, the question of whether a criminal should be allowed to publish or otherwise create is another matter altogether.  Luckily the thought police weren’t at work during Genet’s lifetime. Remember The Thief’s Journal? Everyone has a friend who's remarkable for their insouciance. The things that would mortify me don’t make a dent as far as they’re concerned. It’s his or her loss if they don’t like me is their mantra while I never forget a slight. In fact, I'm so sensitive, it can take me weeks, even months to risk another pass at life. If only I could mind the old recovery movement saw, what people think about me is none of my business. “For conscience doth make cowards of us all,” says Hamlet. Well, not all.

Hamlet Clone

Dear Hamlet Clone:  Not to worry. It's always better to err on the side of caution. Your philanderer friend who has all the affairs and seems impervious to the pain he or she causes may may be paying a price. Don't believe for a minute that people who are uninhibited are necessarily happy. They have problems too. One biggy is that they're going to die. Everyone pays the piper and those friends of yours you're so jealous of? They're going to literally have their day in court all right.

Read "Letter of Resignation" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

Wednesday, June 16, 2021


The absence of conscience is a remarkable feat in the history of civilization. One wonders if it's something that can be accomplished medically by way of lobotomy. After all, self-questioning is not part of The Art of War. Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe, Karadzic, Putin, Erdogan, MBS, Orban and Trump are a short list of the tyrannical leaders whose ideology is ruthlessness. But what turns someone into a Stalin, Hitler or Mussolini—someone capable of genocide. Alex in A Clockwork Orange is a prototype of the psychopath who's able to commit rape and murder without a thought. It may say something that this character, who also curiously happens to have a soft spot for Beethoven, is no longer even shocking in the age of American Psycho (what's almost harder to read is a novel about an empathetic good Samaritan which challenges the willing suspension of disbelief). Was The Man in the Glass Booth capable of empathy?  Or for that matter Marjorie Taylor Greene? Notoriously the insurrectionists brought a gallows to hang Pence. Brad Raffensberger, Secretary of State of Georgia, received death threats, However, upon hearing the chants of a blood thirsty crowd crying "Where are you, Nancy? We're looking for you," do you feel a desire for retribution? Will you be happy if Trump goes to jail as unlikely as that possibility seems. Probably yes. Democracy had its revenge at Nuremberg where prominent Nazis were tried and hung which poses the question: what enables human beings to cross the line? When you think about it, is it not a contradiction in terms to execute a murderer? Remember “redrum?”

Read "The Empty Canvas" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The Sphinx of Hatshepsut

The Sphinx of Hatshepsut

Those who read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch are likely to experience déjà vu on their first return to the Met. Or perhaps you were one of those who rushed out of the museum on those last days when people were fleeing the city. The Met might be regarded as more enduring than time itself, despite the vision created in the novel. In the aftermath of the pandemic, it seems imperturbable like Keats’ “Grecian Urn.” If it’s hard to get your moorings, taking the left turn at the front entrance and proceeding down through the classical wing is the perfect antidote, restoring a feeling of chronology in such a way that you find your niche--that is to say the coordinates of the almost predestined reality you call home. Confronting the Sphinx of Hatshepsut on way into the Temple of Dendur is a reminder of both fragility and permanence—in other words that along with dissolution comes restoration. "My name is Ozymandius, King of Kings; Look on my Works ye Mighty and despair!"

Read "A Taxonomy of The Goldfinch" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

Monday, June 14, 2021

Alice Neel: People Come First

Untitled, 1935 (photo: Francis Levy)

“For me, People are the first premise"said Alice Neel."My work is a monument to them.” She used Balzac’s The Human Comedy as the catchphrase for her paintings which pay homage to a parade of famous and unknown figures in politics and the arts. But as the curators point out “the personal is political" for Neel. And it's evidenced by the intimacy and sometimes provocative sexuality of much of her work. The bathroom scene of Neel with her lover John Rothchild from l935 is an ode to body functions. But she took her politics personally. “Nazis  Murder Jews” records the placards of the May Day rally of l936. The curent show is a gallery of left wing figures. Baltimore union leader John Whalen (1935) is portrayed with his Daily Worker and Mike Gold (1952) is depicted with The New Masses, which he edited. .James Farmer of CORE (1964) is another prominent activist, Neel memorialized. On the arts side, the show is a paen to at least a certain aspect of the modernist scene. John Perreault appears in the nude and there's Henry Geldzahler (1972), “Linda Nochlin and Daisy” (l973) and Adrienne Rich (1973). Alice Neel: People Come First is the title of the show at the Met and there was a period when she regarded the abstract movement as lacking in humanism. Yet she would later say “I don’t think there is any painting that doesn't have good abstract qualities.” One of the most moving examples of this is actually an early piece, “Futility of Effort” (1930), a mournful painting produced after the death of her daughter Santillana (and the contemporaneous report of a crib death) in which her child is represented merely by a blotch of black. “Addiction,” (1931), her Snake Pit, is an almost cubist depiction of a year spent in a mental hospital. NewYork was the backdrop for practically all of Neel’s work. One of the guilty pleasures of the current exhibit is that of recognition. Ninth Avenue, l07th and Broadway, Spanish Harlem, Central Park are all part of the artist’s personal Baedeker.

Read "Rome Journal: The Screaming Pope" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

Friday, June 11, 2021

The World As Will

If you don’t believe in free will, then nobody is guilty of anything. Everyone is the product of either nature or nurture, of environment or heredity. In novels like Germinal Zola propounds such a determinist notion. If you look at Freud as a product of the same kind of Weltaunshaung that’s iterated by Schopenhauer in The World As Will and Idea then human beings are helpless cogs of forces (which however animal or irrational they are in nature) drive them. It’s not surprising that Michel Houellebecq worships at Schopenhauer’s altar, in his repudiation of the notion of human freedom. It’s another version of Plato’s cave dweller who only sees the shadows of reality on the wall, but in some senses more profound in its discountenancing of traditional notions of good and evil. In the same spirit, Nietzsche wrote Beyond Good and Evil—which if nothing else is an indictment of the notion of a simple and easily discernible morality. Within the context of these ideas how does one deal with the concept of punishment? Penitentiary contains the word penitence but how can one demand repentance in the absence of intention? Ostensibly one incarcerates criminals as a warning to them and as an example to others. And there's some sense in this from a purely behavioral standpoint, but philosophically the notion of guilt can’t easily be substantiated. Is a murderer any more guilty than a hyena which attacks a kangaroo on the veldt?

Read "Nietzsche For Idiots" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

Thursday, June 10, 2021

The House of Mansion

If you misspell Manchin, you get Mansion. Actually, you don’t imagine Manchin inhabiting an auspicious dwelling. He's too much a man of the people and definitely doesn’t want to step on his Republican colleagues. Or is the problem electoral politics again? He was elected with a little over 3% of the vote in a state where Trump got almost 40%. Pollsters have always played a big role in elections and you’re not in politics if you don’t pay attention to your constituency, but the intractability of Republican senators who wouldn’t even vote to appoint a commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection is only matched by the behavior of Democrats like Manchin and Krystin Sinema who also play close to the vest. It’s one thing to be bipartisan and another to get cold feet—which ultimately results in a failure to lead. Politicians by definition walk a fine line between responding to the will of the electorate and standing up for principle. Manchin's line is quite fine indeed. Under the veil of uniting the nation, he may ultimately be helping to unravel democracy itself by both failing to repeal the filibuster and pass HR.1 ("Manchin Vows to Block Democratic Voting Rights Bill and Preserve Filibuster,NYT, 6/9/21). The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was the work of the embattled LBJ, who was no saint, but knew how to twist wrists. Oklahoma is famous for it’s twisters. That’s how Dorothy landed in Oz. Congress may not possess a wizard, but it certainly needs a miracle.

Read "Is America Suffering From Schizophrenia?" by Francis Levy, The Screaming Pope

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Happy Days

Stefka Drolc as Winnie in Samuel Beckett's Happy Days (1964)

One of the most indelible images that Dickens created is that of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. You’ll remember she’d been jilted and sits amidst cobwebs in her wedding dress, a creature frozen in time. Pip mistakenly thinks she’s his benefactor when it’s really the convict Magwitch who's the eminence grise. In fact, Havisham, to use a piece of psychobabbelese, is too “self-involved” and tormented to be the savior of anybody. You could also say that Magwitch is just returning a favor in a kind of quid pro quo—though that interpretation may be a trifle too reductive and diminishing of a complex character’s altruism. But the real subject, is of course, expectations, hopes. Dickens’ novel is a fairytale, which due to its very improbability almost speaks to the darker prognostication of fate. It’s like the deus ex machina in The Three Penny Opera whose real message is that in reality Macheath would be hanged. People suffer from varying degrees of hoping for the impossible. Some romantics are in love only with that which doesn't exist. Others are pragmatically inclined but the majority develop a faint distaste and boredom with what they have which they grudgingly learn to tolerate. Turn that emotion on its head (and remove the thrill of the unknown) and voila. Maybe you won’t have a Magwitch working behind the scenes to bring about your dreams, but you’ll find happiness. 

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

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

1600 Yangon Avenue

La La Land?
Sources close to Trump are reporting that he plans to be reinstated in August. Apparently, there are members of the QAnon crowd who actually think he's still president. You’ll remember that in response to the question of why Americas can’t follow the generals Myanmar, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn again alluded to idea of a military coup. In France, August is famously “Les Vacances” when everybody deserts the cities for La Plage. It’s also full speed ahead for the Tokyo Olympics in August, despite the upsurge of coronavirus cases in that country and the fact that only 4% of the country was vaccinated as of May 21st. Even if Trump returns to The White House by August, it’s unlikely he’d even watch the Olympics in place of his normal diet of junk food and golf. It all sounds unjust and irrational, but actually all of the events that are unfolding makes complete sense when you traffic in alternate universes and the doctrine of the eternal return—you remember the idea that a monkey could type out Shakespeare’s canon, if given infinite time. Under the aspect of eternity sure Trump may be in The White House in August depending what dimension you’re visiting. As for the irrational universe where international sporting events attempt to beat the odds, it’s definitely an example of what neuroscientists term limbic or lower brain activity.

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

Monday, June 7, 2021

The Hellfire Club

Maybe the thing about hell is that you can have arrived without even knowing you’re there. By any standards 2020 qualified as hell, particularly since its tortures were literally enjoyed by all the people on earth. You can assume that if you’re being singled out that’s not hell, but simply a case of bad luck. For instance, you can lose the lover, job and apartment all on the same day without having arrived in hell. It’s all contingent. You'll eventually end up in a new relationship, job and apartment. Once you get to hell, all bets are off. In fact the only difference between hell and 2020 is that there’s a 2021 in which hopefully the very elements that contributed to hell, Trump and coronavirus are alleviated. If you really go to hell, you’ll find Trump reigning for eternity and while the virus will no longer be deadly (since all the sinners are ostensibly dead), it will have mutated into a form even capable of tormenting the souls who've already arrived. "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven." The famous line from Paradise Lost was quoted by Steve Bannon in Errol Morris's American Dharma.  In No Exit Sartre famously intoned, “Hell is other people." If you’ve ever been caught in one of those miserable conversations with a blabber mouth who won’t stop uttering inanities that you have to work overtime not to respond to, you have some idea of "quality of life” issues in hell. Here are some other qualities of hell. Nothing to look forward to, no romance or love (love and hell are oxymorons), and obviously no sex, since hell is full of stiffs who rarely do justice to their name.

Read "When a Stranger Doesn't Call" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

Friday, June 4, 2021

Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America

Nari Ward's "Peace Keeper"

"Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America," currently completing a run at the New Museum, is mostly about grief. You feel it in Nari Ward’s "Peace Keeper," an emblematically tarred and feathered, burnt out hearse, surrounded by bars, (first created for the Whitney Biennial in l995). You hear it in the shrieks and cries of Garrett Bradley's film Alone, which deals with the apartheid world of incarceration. But many of artworks in the show, which includes the work of Julie Mehretu, employ the modernist medium to challenge and complexify their own message. “The adoption of abstraction as a tool for thinking through questions of representation and visibility” is the intriguing phraseology that’s used to describe the ecumenical and innovative styles in the introductory notes. Mark Bradford’s “Untitled” (2000) takes off from a cartographical study issued after the Watts riots in 1965 and exemplifies the way in which the surface materials and monumentality of a painting itself can become a language. Charles Gaines creates a revolutionary manifesto out of musical notation and there are instances of an almost dialectical repose such as the moment in Rashid Johnson’s massive grid like installation "Antoine’s Organ" (2016) where the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous finds its way into a pile that includes Randall Kennedy’s Sellout: The Politics of Racial Betrayal. As for "grievance," it's the dark cloud of racial hatred that infuses and haunts every artwork in this show.

Read "Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration" by Francis Levy, The Screaming Pope

Thursday, June 3, 2021



You could amend “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” simply to “there are more things.” Essentially the condition of the puny creature called man is chronic cluelessness. In the sixteenth century both Copernicus and Galileo questioned the anthropocentric notion that the earth was the center of the universe. It’s no wonder that the scientific discoveries were looked at as heresies by the powers that be to the extent they opened a Pandora’s Box of questioning and uncertainty— ultimately challenging the narcissistic notion that the invisible world was in the ken of human kind. Science moved from Democritus and Lucretius’ De Rorem Natura to Newton, Relativity and Quantum Theory each new paradigm conferring obsolescence on its predecessor. The boson is now looked at as the ultimate particle of matter produced at the Big Bang. Spotting the little scratches that are the residue of the Large Hadron Collider has verified its existence to many scientists, but who's to say where the bucks stops when it comes to creation, time and matter? If the event that occurred approximately 13.8 billion years ago began a process leading to carbon based planets like earth and those orbiting the Kepler stars, 1200 light years away, what “existed” before it and what does “existence” mean, taking into consideration an expanding universe that’s the product of dark energy? Eschatology refers to final end of things, a concept which is, by definition, inconceivable. God if you remember is dog backwards.

Read "The God Palindrome" by Francis Levy, The Screaming Pope

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

To Catch a Thief

"It’s all business" is a curious locution which might be discountenanced by depth psychologists and readily embraced by prostitutes. What really is the difference between work and play? It’s all work or all play, depending on your vantage point. Some might even argue that working on the assembly line at the Ford plant could be regarded as a form of play. Really all relative. A matter of how you deal with your time. For instance, if you were laid off from your job at Ford, you’re more likely to regard your days working as play, as compared to collecting unemployment and worrying about your future. Idle hands are the devil’s work. Jumping to the other extreme let’s posit the life of a sexy and desirable couple who retire to their villa next to Tina Turner in Villefranche Sur Mer. What greater description of play! But lo, summer on the Cote D’Azur turns out to be work. First of all, Remember To Catch a Thief which took place in the South of France. That film was tongue in cheek, but today you have to deal with all the thieves for whom the Riviera has become a true destination and cynosure. When the “beautiful people” are not fending off all those who regard them as obvious hits, they have to deal with their social calendars and position—which might be more work than the most deadly repetitive labor. Imagine having to attend dinners in Chateaux with only weekends off for nude sunbathing by the pool, not to mention all the traffic getting from one glamorous event to another. BTW it's work having everything a person could want and still feeling you’re missing something.  “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” types Jack Torrance (again and again) in one of the most terrifying scenes of The Shining.

Read "Why Big German Words Like Vergangenbangenheit Carry Weight," by Francis Levy, HuffPost

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Talk Dirties to Me

There were 15 Talk Dirties to Me. John Leslie starred in the first 5. Viewers made the acquaintance of the porn legend Traci Lords in Talk Dirty To Me #3. The franchise which came out in l980 represents the sunset of the Golden Age of Porn famous for films like Behind the Green DoorDebbie Does Dallas and Deep Throat—an era when porn employed esthetic devices like plot. Today you go to Pornhub which furnishes crude loops of paraphilia recalling the days when pornophiles lived in fear of being discovered in the thrall of their shameful desires. If nothing the very title Talk Dirty To Me underscores the importance of words in the history of pornography since it was words rather than images out of which early porn derived. Initially porn heeded the biblical prohibition against graven images. Canterbury Tales is filthier than most porn today. Both Boccaccio’s Decameron and RabelaisThe Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel are no slouches. Back to the future! You have such classics as The Story of O and The Tropic of Cancer. If you attempt to excuse Henry Miller by calling his work literature (which it is), you’re depriving yourself of both the license and licentiousness. For the very delight of porn lies in transgression. If you view Hustler as a lesson in gynecology, you miss the point which is the thrill of removing the fig leaf. The French psychoanalyst Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel’s Creativity and Perversion illustrates how esthetic structures are the front men for sado-masochistic wishes. You can find anything you want on Pornhub today. If it’s been said it’s been done and vice versa. But the site is curiously tame when it comes to the bounteous artifice that characterizes the history of eroticism. Why not go to the nude beach? Why not demonstrate how it’s no big deal to strip in public. Why? It’s like inflation. You print too much currency and it loses its value. "Talk Dirty To Me" is also a clarion call of "the cancel culture."

Read "Sperm Count: Talk Dirty to Me" by Francis Levy, HuffPost