Friday, October 29, 2021


Making a Death Mask (1908)

It's hard to digest finality. If you've ever been with someone who's going through the dying process, it can be almost incomprehensible. At one moment, they display signs of life. Whether there's any sentience in the death rattle state when the body fuel is almost spent is up for grabs. The personality recedes until it crosses the event horizon of the black hole. You may find yourself hovering over a loved one, as they take their last breath, but like Eurydice they're being pulled to the underworld, with neither their goodbyes reaching you, nor yours finding them. The only other part of the life process that similarly defies explanation is birth. The first cry and the last breath—lend credence to the existence of a soul. The human arrives for a finite stay and then, at the end, is gone forever, their essence irretrievably lost, the conversation ended sometimes in mid-sentence. 

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

and listen to "Our Day Will Come" by Ruby and the Romantics

Thursday, October 28, 2021

More Flicks Than Pricks

The question is, do you want to throw caution to the winds and watch the final episode of Broadchurch? Will you be up Schitt’s Creek if you watch another Bridgerton? You’re in the fourth season of The Americans, the second of Call My Agent and just beginning the long march through The Bureau. Let’s not forget where it all began with Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, Homeland and The Wire. You once watched a series or two, now and then. There was Alistair Cooke introducing Masterpiece Theater and series like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Brideshead Revisited and The Jewel and the Crown on PBS. Speaking of which you must be getting past Diana’s eating disorder on The Crown, but let’s not forget old favorites like Fleabag, Babylon BerlinFauda, Lupin and The Queen’s Gambit! Is there a price to be paid for Succession? Does The White Lotus produce a nauseating feeling of déjà vu--especially if you've ever been dissatisfeied with your accommodations? And what about Madame Claude? Did you really think it was going to be about a restaurant?

Read "Diasporic Dining: Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly"

Wednesday, October 27, 2021


Candid or CAN DID could be Candide, Voltaire’s hero who's forced to contend with the hyperbolic Dr. Pangloss, who claims “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” The modern interpretation of Leibnitz’s maxim might be the far less portentous though equally impervious “I can’t complain.” Really? You might not be able to complain, but there are a lot of people who can and did or will. In Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut’s hero intones “so it goes” which is a far more ironic form of the stoic contempt for reality. In Voltaire the overly optimistic prognostications of his character are made more damning by the advent of the earthquake of 1755 which destroyed Lisbon and is the background against which the novel unfolds. "Satisfied customer" is another meme employed by smugly self-satisfied pundits. But who could possibly adhere to such a rosy prognosis in the face of the multi-faceted morbidities which afflict the race: vast economic inequality, a raging pandemic and seemingly irresolvable political unrest leading to the prospect of civil war in a number of countries, most notably the United States? To be "candid," no one.

Read "Dr. Pangloss" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to Luciano Pavarotti and James Brown singing, "It's a Man's Man's World"

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Heart of Darkness

Couples sometimes split up when one or another realizes the person they’re with is a stranger. It’s great to see someone or something in a new light. That’s one definition of art. All of a sudden, a previously latent element of personality becomes apparent. It’s something which enriches a relationship and ultimately makes it more dynamic. But finding you don’t know the person next to you in bed is a form of horror. Capgras Syndrome is a neurological disorder in which a familiar face masks an imposter. What’s disconcerting is the delusion, the discovery that you have, for whatever reasons, willingly refused to see what was right before your eyes. It may be frightening to realize someone you thought you loved is not what or who you thought them to be. However, it’s ultimately not their fault. The real monster, that has allowed you to perpetuate a distorted view of reality, lies within. Maybe that was what Conrad was alluding to in Kurtz's iconic, "the horror, the horror."

Read "Pet Buddha" by Francis Levy, Vol.1 Brooklyn

and listen to Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, "If You Don't Know Me By Now"

Monday, October 25, 2021

Philip Guston 1969-1979

Phillip Guston, "The Studio" (1969)

Philip Guston (1913-1980) courted controversy two times in his life. The first was on the occasion of his 1970 show at the Marlborough Gallery when he introduced figuration into his work. The second occurred long after his death, when his figures of Klansman created a backlash causing an exensive four museum retrospective "Philip Guston Now" to be postponed (it's now scheduled to open in 2022). At first it was Guston's style that was challenged. Later it would be the subject matter. In the current show at Hauser & Wirth, "Philip Guston l969-1979,Klansmen are presented in everyday poses, performing disconcertingly ordinary, "banal" (a la Hannah Arendt) activities, as if they were just normal people going about their business And the artist is careful not to exclude himself. One of the paintings depicts a Klansman as artist with a brush in one hand and a cigarette in the other. In later works from l973-1979, Guston uses images of legs, shoes and trash that recall the photos of the piles of corpses discovered in the Nazi concentration camps. These paintings are imbued with anxiety. In "Pittore" (1973), Guston is depicted lying in bed with a cigarette in his mouth, the clock above reading 10:40. It's disappointing that that the Klan images, in particular, have been a source of concern since, however disturbing, they make a powerful argument for the moral imperative in art. In addition, their cartoon like quality adds another layer to the emotional palette they comprise.  “When the l960s came along I was feeling split, schizophrenic,” Guston once explained, “The war, what was happening to America, the brutality of the world. What kind of man was I, sitting at home, reading magazines, going into frustrated fury about everything and then going into my studio to adjust a red to a blue?”

Read "Unreliable Narrative" by Francis Levy, The Screaming Pope

and listen to "Sympathy for the Devil" by The Rolling Stones


Friday, October 22, 2021

Cover Patrol

When you think about it, even the most everyday activities can be the subject of Netflix series. The demand is so great that the company will soon be running shows like Bar Mitzvah which is, you guessed it, a series photographed exclusively with iPhones, like Soderbergh’s Unsane, but all at Temple Israel. However, let’s broaden the umbrella and include some basic everyday activities. How about Cover Patrol, modelled on the 50s Highway Patrol which starred Broderick Crawford. No squad car will be required. Cover Patrol will be a low budget affair which requires nothing more than a comforter and a married couple out of central casting who thrash around in bed.The Super Hero who comes to the rescue is, of course, simply the partner who wakes up first, but to heighten the drama the character will be played by Eugene Levy whose up Schitt's Creek anyways. You always need a recognizable name to sell a series, even those with catchy titles like Carpet Sweeper, modelled on the hit show, Fleabag, starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge. While many series struggle to create new episodes that hold the audience’s interest Cover Patrol will run into no problems generating new material since there are so many  people who get cold at night.

Read AZ Quotes by Francis Levy

and listen to the Bee Gees, "Night Fever"

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Bannon Shrugged

Errol Morris' American Dharma was Steve Bannon, light. Bannon is portrayed as an intellectual and film buff who employs Milton’s “better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven,” as his mantra. The film was criticized, in fact, for lily-coating the former Trump White House strategist, by underscoring the mad scientist with his unruly head of hair while playing down Bannon's media ubermensch aspirations. Is the Breitbart alumnus, Citizen Kane? If so, what's his “Rosebud,” “The Big Lie?” Or does, in fact, his persona derive from the hyper-individualism of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and the history of fascist propagandists like Joseph Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl. Rather than the Buddhist sounding title of Morris’ film shouldn’t the latest chapter of the Bannon story, with the refusal to comply with a congressional subpoena be titled Triumph of the Will or better yet Bannon Shrugged?

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

and listen to Laurie Anderson, "O Superman"

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Dead Souls?

daguerrotype of Gogol (1845, Sergei Lvovich Levitsky)

Here is a quote from Richard Pevear's introduction to Dead Souls. The novel had been submitted for review to a censorship committee in Moscow. Taking off from a letter Gogol had written to his friend Pletnyov from January 7, 1942 the translator comments: “The acting chairman of the committee a certain Golokhyvastov cried out ‘in the voice of an ancient Roman’ the moment he saw the title: ‘Dead Souls! No, never will I allow that--the soul is immortal, there can be no such thing as a dead soul; the author is taking up arms against immortality!'" Guess Golokhyvastov was triggered. It’s reassuring to find that the world hasn’t changed much. Such bluster is an equal opportunity employer. In fact religious fundamentalists and radical femninists--previously unlikely bedfellows--have become fellow travelers when it comes to the question of free expression and pornography. Ultimately the issues go far beyond the mere censorship of language to the question of history itself and the proprietary ways in which varying factions attempt to control or distort their own narratives. Will Philip Larkin’s famed “They fuck you up, your mum and dad” one day be erased by a lynch mob? Will the poet be shunned? Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 was prescient. It's almost reassuring to be reminded that Trump was not the first Caligula.

"Read "The First Law of Emotional Thermodynamics" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to Pussy Riot's "Panic Attack"

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Moose Murders

In our aspirational society there’s something to be said for everything going terribly wrong. It can be boring to go to a nice restaurant with good service. Remember Arthur Bicknell’s Moose Murders which set a new level of badness and failed to survive its opening night at the Eugene O'Neill (February 22, 1983) You’ve had plenty of those perfect evenings. You finally got the tickets for Hamilton and then ended up with a great table at Jean-Georges. However, what about making a night of it by falling so sound asleep in Phillip Glass’s Akhnaten that you’re awakened by your own snoring. The icing on the cake is undoubtedly the juicy tofu steak at the vegan place. If you can’t be good at being good, why not be good at being bad? Maybe there turns out to be a satisfaction in grinning and bearing the fact that you’re paying top dollar for poor food and service in the trendy new place where it’s impossible to get a reservation. Licking one’s wounds can be a far more pleasurable experience than constantly gratifying one’s appetite for good food, fine wines and even meaning.

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

and listen to Marvin Gaye's "Pride and Joy"

Monday, October 18, 2021

I and Thou: Has Your Android Become Your Significant Other?

Are you flipping your lid or a switch? The unconscious may have been working over time, but now you’re of two minds, the one your born with and the other an adopted child who you rely on to carry the heavy loads. Digital photography is a good example. It’s hard to know whether people have time to actually experience existence when they're so busy passing the burden on to the high level cameras that grace most iPhones. If Steven Soderbergh was able to shoot  Unsane with iPhone 7 Plus, why not turn the cameras abilities onto everyday life? Your electronic appendage is going to be better than a brain, as is evidenced when you hire amanuenses like Alexa and Siri. One touch of the power and a whole world lights up that whether intended or not is actually a form of alter ego. The Double that Dostoevsky and later Borges referenced (in his story "The Other") appears as a collection of bytes giving birth to memes. It is, in fact, unclear where you begin and the gadgets which have become your fellow travelers end. Flood and fires are the result of global warming but ransomware attacks in which cryptocurrency is required to put out the fire have taken their place in the lexicon of modern catastrophe. Who do you spend more time with on any given day? Has your MacBook or you Android become your significant other? 

Read "Pet Buddha" by Francis Levy, Vol.1 Brooklyn

and listen to Betty Wright's  "Secretary"

Friday, October 15, 2021

The Anxiety of Affluence

If you remember, “Rappers Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang samples Chic's “Good Times." But the Sugar Hill Gang was itself produced by Sylvia Robinson of Mickey and Sylvia "Love is Strange" fame. What better example of Harold Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence across the board (or up and down and sideways). You might also term this tome The Influence of Castration Anxiety which is likely to become required reading and a needed addition to the Canon (whether one is referencing Western literature or Pachelbel). Or perhaps The Anxiety of Affluence is more apropos. Maybe tonight’s assignment is to watch The Graduate, directed by Mike Nichols and  starring Dustin Hoffman, to introduce a loaded canon.

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

and listen to "Rapper's Delight"by The Sugarhill Gang (1979)

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Lonely Planet Afghanistan

Tour operators can make almost anything seem appealing. You read the daily papers about the rise of fascism and fundamentalism, the spread of Coronavirus in Third World countries where vaccines are not available (and the spikes in places like Germany where vaccines are plentiful) and you feel the world is falling apart. Trump’s base and the 2024 elections alone hover in the distance like one of those devastating hurricanes close to making landfall. But then lo you see a brochure for the Bayou bike trip ending up in New Orleans, where there are likely to be plenty of rooms due to a recent evacuation and there’s the river boat trip up the Mississippi Delta where the Delta variant is stretching the limits of ICUs. Don’t miss Carnival in Rio if you’ve had more than one booster! Yes the Taliban has taken over Afghanistan but there are two sides to every story. Remember the $5 a day books published by Arthur Frommer back in the 60s. Kabul is probably one of the only places ih the world where you could live like an Imam for that kind of money. Imagine the copy from the brochure: “On every street in the quaint Old Town you find friendly Mujahideen dressed in native garb with Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders. They’ll inform you about whether alternate side of the street parking regulations are in effect and lead you to restaurants where ISIS-K suicide bombers dine on their breaks." Or here is one for Pyongyang: “The North Koreans are justifiably proud of their latest ballistic missiles even if they’re not yet armed with warheads…” Or here’s one for good old Washington DC on the anniversary of January 6. “Colorfully dressed Proud Boys carrying cans of bear spray and Oath Keepers in fatigues will greet you as you enter the National Mall along with Rudy Guiliani of Four Seasons Total Landscaping fame…” And don’t forget Belarus, the Uyghur regions of China and the Rohingya section of Myanmar where you don’t have to worry human rights.

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

and listen to "Stubborn Kind of Fellow" by Marvin Gaye

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Big Lie

Route recalculating. Your social security number is being canceled. Please immediately call 1-800-Emergency and log in to reactivate your account ditto all your bank cards. Alternate side of the street parking is suspended due to a partial apocalypse.Your warranty is expiring. Due to planned obsolescence your car will fall apart in the middle of I-278 which is not a good sign. Looking for sub prime mortgages, credit default swaps or collateralized debt obligations just call our 800 number and a friendly robo operator will answer all your questions. Enter the lottery for the discount on your next Disney cruise. Ivermectin hotline, get your Kentucky Derby tickets and your life saving supply of this wonder drug along with the vernacular Sildenafil sent to you in an unmarked car, for the price of beans. In the course of using Chlorox to treat Covid, scientists found it also whitens clothes. Call the Hotline! Your questions about why Democrats rig elections will be answered. Liar liar pants on fire, the two Steves, Miller and Bannon for hire. True or False? Spanish Fly is a species. True or False? The Pyongyang Psychoanalytical Institute exists.Though you see before your eyes that people die, you have a secret that you don’t reveal to anyone including yourself. You’re going to live forever.

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

and here's Amy Winehouse's version of  "Our Day Will Come"

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Mr. Hands


If it’s been said, it’s been done and it’s been done it’s been said. Usually, the maxim proves true. However, Zoo (2007) the film that premiered at Sundance in 2007, might challenge the idea there’s nothing new under the sun. The film tells the story of Kenneth Pinyan who outdid Catharine the Great's famed amorous exploits, by being the recipient of anal sex with a horse. Pinyan’s philandering, which culminated with his death from peritonitis due to the perforations of his colon, became an urban myth. Was Pinyan, or “Mr. Hands,” a horse thief? Did he take advantage of an animal who couldn’t be held responsible for its actions? Generally the collective unconscious of the human race is a fecund breeding ground for perversion, but certain vices and exploits sneak under the wire. The fact that Pinyan was a family man and engineer at Boeing, who lived in a place called Gig Harbor, Washington, only makes the extremity of his experiment all the more enticing. Is it any different from HURT, the Hawaii Ultra Running Team. Human beings like to push the envelope. Pinyan set out to test the limit of his orifice.

Read "Pornosophy: Poop Dreams" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and from the playlist Pigmeat Markham's "Here Comes the Judge"(1968)

Monday, October 11, 2021

Woodstock, NY Journal

photo: Francis Levy

Woodstock wears the 60s on its tattered sleeve. The town is a little worse for the wear like one of those traveling carnivals that's overstayed its welcome. Woodstock is literally and metaphorically over the hill. There aren’t too many towns anywhere where you can find a refugee from the dropout generation walking around town with a ukulele strung over his shoulder, opining loudly about the military-industrial complex. Woodstock is a town where you can only get bootleg Diet Coke and where Yoga is so ubiquitous it's practically a utility. What better name for the local bookstore than The Golden Notebook, one of the first Baekeker's of women's lib. Bob Dylan t-shirts are unapologetically hawked each with the Nobel laureate's face. A homeless man wearing tie-dyed rags wheels a baby carriage filled with his belongings presided over by a dog, down the main drag,Tinker Road. If you find yourself tiring of the counterculture, stop off at Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, where the current exhibit is refreshingly entitled, "Artists Draw Their Studios."

Read "Tivoli Journal: Defining Quaintness," by Francis Levy, The Screaming Pope

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

Friday, October 8, 2021

Getting Your Piece of the Pie

photo: Evan-Amos

Everyone wants their fair share unless they’re stoics. It might be argued that a stoic is willing to accept less since they want more. But the average individual finds themselves in an anal struggle with reality. It may take a passive aggressive form in which they allow themselves to be manipulated in order to lure their perceived adversary into a checkmate. Whatever the posture, it barely hides the fact that most people are literally trying to cover their asses for fear of being taken from behind. How can one tell whether you're getting your piece of the pie? Once you put something on the table and people begin to devour it, the result is up for grabs. It’s not difficult to think you’re getting the short end of the stick. The only antidote to the naked assertion of victimhood is the realization of how deplorable it is. Greedy people constantly justify their behavior with the theory of eat or be eaten. Forget God looking over you. It’s not God’s job. If you don’t mind the register, it’s going to be robbed. How then to live, feeling there are always literal or metaphoric prowlers in the house?

Read "An Altruistic Terrorist?" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and check out "Good Times and Rapper's Delight" by Chic and The Sugarhill Gang

Thursday, October 7, 2021

The Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512-1570

Portrait of Laura Battiferri by Bronzino

Medici painters were bookish. Bronzino’s “Portrait of Laura Battiferri” epitomizes many of the key elements of "The Medici: Portraits and Politics,1512-1570," running until October llth at the Met.  The painters subject presses her fingers into a book of Petrarch’s sonnets. Her gaze is stark and determined.  In Bronzino’s "Portrait of a Young Man With a Book” the figure is holding an unidentified volume that’s also thought to be poetry. This time the painter's subject stares at the viewer, as his fingers hold his place. In Pontormo’s “Portrait of Two Friends” there is a similar iconography with the hand of one of the figures pointing to a selection from Cicero’s “On Friends.” The l0 year old in Bronzino’s “Portrait of Francesco di Medici,” holds a letter in his hands. But who is the young boy writing to and what is the significance? These words and emblematic characters constitute a celebration, not only of a new political order but of the Renaissance itself in all its synesthetic glory. 

Read "Tuscany Journal: Settiponti" by Francis Levy, The Screaming Pope.

and catch Giulio Caccini's Ave Maria

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The Monetization of Reality


Businesses naturally seek to monetize the services they provide. Social networks like Tik Tok and Instagram are profitable because they offer access to subscribers for free. If the audience is large enough, advertisers will find the platform inviting. If you build it, they will come. But finding value in experience can be tricky.  The Marxist term "reification" refers to commodification. Do you take a hike in the woods for the beauty or because you're out to make your time "worthwhile" by chopping down trees? Photography is one of the most abused of mediums since it encourages the collector's sensibility. You have seen people who seem more intent on recording an event than actually enjoying it. Back in the 60s there were flower children who followed the Timothy Leary dictate to “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Then head shops appeared which sold bongs, tie-dyed jeans and incense. A life style with a philosophy was turned into a fashion statement that ultimately became a product.

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

and catch Freda Payne's "Band of Gold"

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Master Bater Gave the School Head

Herr Pubic was the stentorian German teacher, but it was Master Bater the school’s head who made the boys’ teeth chatter and their bodies shake. Bater was English and had rowed at Eat On. Ms Spewforth, the chair of the board of Over Bearers at Exclusive Academy would address the parent body about a challenging curriculum that honed to the Latin words mens room in corpore sano and included riding and hunting (no boy would be awarded his graduation certificate unless he shot grouse). Master Bater liked to talk about the well-rounded Renaissance people that emerged every June on graduation day. Our valedictorian had been Herpes and the salutatarian was Arestes. The stunningly beautiful and Cordelia-like Clitoris was the runner up. The only problem was that Ms Spewforth went on in the hot sun and smelling salts had to be administered not only to graduates but their parents too. The school’s coat of arms was lambskin and many of the graduates wore legacies. It was a truly democratic academy. The admission policy was reflected in the school symbol which bore some semblance to The White Castle logo. 

Read "The Magic White Castle" by Francis Levy, TheScreamingPope

and catch "Cool Jerk" by The Capitols (1966)

Monday, October 4, 2021

The Netanyahus

There’s a hysterical scene in Joshua Cohen’s The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family. It’s about an academic in the 50s, the only Jewish member of the English department of an elite Upper New York State University. Ring a bell? Ho, ho. Goodbye, Columbus, shades of Roth, Malamud? In any case the in-laws have arrived for the Jewish holidays and the problem begins when Sabine the matriarch cries out, “Walter, it’s a suitcase—you don’t put a suitcase on a bed where you sleep. You know how dirty suitcases are?” “No, how dirty are suitcases?” her beleaguered husband responds. We put our stuff in them. How dirty can they be?” “They’re clean inside and dirty outside,” Sabine rejoins. “The opposite of you. Everybody knows this. Have you ever met anyone who cleaned the outside of a suitcase?” To begin with the exchange has epistemological significance. If you peel “the suitcase” of inquiry you have an onion with “appearance and reality” on the first level, with the unpacking of the suitcase jumping to the question of the unconscious. Sabine and Walter are arriving with their "baggage," as they say in psychobabelese. The mixture of profundity and hysteria of this “large consanguineous cast” continues since the cream the Sabine and Walter have acquired in a Chinatown herb shop to shrink their granddaughters nose (in lieu of rhinoplasty) has spilled all over the clothes. Sabine in a state of high dudgeon is depicted “pulling out clothes from it like she was pulling out tissues from a box to stanch a cry of mourning.” All of this is orchestrated to the sound of Walter’s constant farting with the toilet exuding “a final throat-clearing flush.”  “They’re ruined,” Sabine croons, like Irene Papas in Medea, “All ruined” before crying out to her husband “you’re a pig!” Brilliant. More will be revealed. Read on.

Read "The End? Or the Kiboshing of Liberal Zionism," HuffPost

and catch Stevie Wonder's "Love's In Need of Love Today"

Friday, October 1, 2021

The Traumatics

Birth is the first trauma of life and also the first experience of separation anxiety—though determining the line between biology and consciousness and that form of “consciousness” which precedes awareness is a subject for discussion. Death on the other side of the equation also poses a curiously similar problem. Can it be called a trauma as one proceeds from the death rattle to oblivion? In between, there's the passage of life in which one endures literal and metaphoric insults to the ego which as has been said is "a body ego." Some of these are too huge to be processed and thus the psychoanalytic "apres coup." Others create a multiverse of disturbances that get registered on both an unconscious and conscious level (as rage or sadness). And some are just wounds, bandaged then forgotten. A child who takes a fall and scrapes their knee may scream loudly at the sight of blood though this incidence like many bruises of a physical and mental nature will vanish into the dark well of forgotten slights.

Read "Headbutt" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and check out The Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" (1979)