Monday, July 31, 2023

Copenhagen Journal: The Philosopher's Last Walk

Kierkegaard’s birthplace is now a bank. Money and power were not what he traded in though his father, who felt continually in danger of being struck down, due to his own guilt, was a wealthy man whose success allowed his son to think and ultimately exist in a state of perpetual dread. Fear and Trembling sounds like the title of a book both father and son could have written. Death was Kierkegaard's patrimony and walking his medicine. He said "I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” Significantly, Kierkegaard didn't like Berlin since it afforded so few toilets where he could relieve himself during a stroll. He also said “no observation will ever reveal what is worth investigating” and famously “subjectivity is truth."  Socrates, an ironist and gadfly was his model. Needless to say, "The Philosopher's Last Walk," which traces the signposts of Kierkegaard's life, is self-guided tour you won't want to miss. BTW, Elsinore was Kierkegaard's backyard.

read the Kirkus review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy

and also read Joan Baum's NPR review of The Kafka Studies Department

Friday, July 28, 2023

Denmark Journal: Elsinore

Elsinore Castle (photo by Francis Levy)

Jonas Vingegaard won the Tour de France for the second year in a row and Copenhagen ironically came to a standstill due to the mass celebrations. Such powerful identification with an athlete or country may feel inimical to Americans who now live in a country at war with itself. Copenhagen was the home of Kierkegaard, who lived in a state of dread, but exuberance seems to be the lingua franca of this society. The town of Elsinore is famous for Hamlet’s castle. You see its spires and majestic structure crossing the Baltic on the ferry from Sweden. Shakespeare’s famously gloomy and doubting character whose “to be or not to be” is mirrored in another famous work of the great Danish existentialist philosopher, Either/Or. But the darkness famously  ascribed to the “melancholy Dane” is belied by the local populace who have eagerly marketed his name. Indeed Hamlet draws tourists. There is even a Hamlet hotel. On the day of Vingegaard’s victory a family of Danes was celebrating in Elsinore’s local food court. Their cheeks were covered with patriotic stickers. Spirited and effervescent, they exuded none of their land’s trademark doubt.

read the Kirkus review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy

and also read Joan Baum's NPR review of The Kafka Studies Department

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Sweden Journal: Wanas Konst

"Upside Down Studio" by Charlotte Glyllenhamer
Faro was the Island off the Swedish coast where Bergman conjured his magic. But who would have expected to find a Maecenus of the arts in the middle of the farm country of Southern Sweden? If you are lucky enough to visit the Wanas Hotel in Skane, on the grounds of a medieval castle. you will wake up to several serendipitous finds. Besides a sculpture garden (really a vast sculpture reservation containing amongst other things, Yoko Ono's "Wish Tree") there's Charlotte Glyllenhammar’s “Upside Down Studio.” The theme of the artist’s studio has been explored by Velasquez and Matisse, but this installation features an artist's work table hanging from the ceiling. Even more dramatic is Ann Hamilton’s creation on five floors of a barn built in 1823. The artist equates the structure with the body and each of these majestic creations, which one would more expect to come upon in Chelsea or at the Whitney, lives its own world. In fact, this seems to be the point—to discover modernism in an elegant, yet unassuming location in the middle of what might called "nowhere," rather than in sone bustling metropolis. Advanced art is always contextualized, particularly with respect to urbanity and sophistication. The Wanas Foundation is responsible for bringing these and other artists like Robert Wilson to such an improbable and unexpected locale. Or to put it more crassly, you can have your cake and eat it too—at this art resort.

read the Kirkus review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy

and also read Joan Baum's NPR review of The Kafka Studies Department

Wednesday, July 26, 2023


watercolor by Hallie Cohen

Matisse famously painted "The Red Studio,” which was a watershed in the history of modernism. Falun, in the south of Sweden, is the site of a famous copper mine which is also the source of the color, Falun red. For associationists, the Falun Gong, Red China, and the movie Reds may come to mind. However, the copper mine goes back to the 10th century and has archeological interest due to the pagan peoples who considered it to possess a spirit life. Readers of James George Frazer’s discredited The Golden Bough may unearth significances here. But what's most dramatic is the ubiquity of Falun on exteriors of houses. You can only wonder how the history of art would have been changed had Matisse discovered Falun.

read the Kirkus review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy

and also read Joan Baum's NPR review of The Kafka Studies Department

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Denmark Journal: City of the Sun God

photograph by Hallie Cohen

Memphis was in the South and Thebes to the North. The ghost of David O. Seltznick is calling but what is the relationship between monotheism and autocracy? In the fifth year of his rule Akhenaten built Amarna-City of the Sun God (with the rays of the solar sun as its symbol). Now it's the subject of an exhibit at Copenhagen’s Glyptotek. Declaring only one God is a simple sounding step, mirroring of course the centrality of the ruler and his Nefertfiti--whose proud image would be iconically emblazoned on history. Though the City of the Sun God would only last 20 years, a historical drop in the bucket, its legacy would one day echo through the halls of both museums--and power.

read the Kirkus review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy

and also read Joan Baum's NPR review of The Kafka Studies Department

Monday, July 24, 2023

Denmark Journal: How the Danish Came to Be

How did Danish pastry come to be? Ordering a Danish was one of the first urban legends, the assumption being that the name originated with Denmark. It’s an example of the linguistic fallacy post hoc ergo propter hoc. Because one thing follows another does not mean that it has been caused by it. Long ago during the Mesozoic era, early ancestors of man came across two pastries sitting on a raised plate with a plastic covering. One was filled with cheese and the other let’s say apricot jam. NB: and this is true: Denmark is the only country which has done away with euphemisms like coffee and Diet Soda. When you walk into grocery stories, you find refrigerated cabinets marked simply “caffeine” (Not). Denmark became a country when the ancestors of the Danes sought a geographic identification for their newfound food. Mourning Becomes Electra is the title of the O’Neill play. Denmark was created to account for the Danish.

read the Kirkus review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy

and also read Joan Baum's NPR review of The Kafka Studies Department

Friday, July 21, 2023

Inside CNN

Someone should produce a sitcom using CNN reporters like Manu Raju and Evan Perez and anchors John Berman, Kate Bolduan, and Sara Sidner.The idea would be to have them talking in the mechanical way they do with all the accented phrases, but off set. Imagine Dana Bash talking to her former husband, John King who she recently upstaged by taking over the coveted 12 noon Inside Politics slot. King has a severe case of CNNititis which is a "progressive" disease. You have only to look to Wolf Blitzer. BTW, King was reputedly let go due to the fact that he failed to check the box asking "are you a robot?" Jake Tapper is the one anchor who doesn't have his Orwellian Newspeak down pat. He might suffer from what's also known in the business as Lord of the Flies syndrome—when all the other anchors gang up on someone who refuses to stick with the “program” as it were. But firstly what is all the walking on and off the set about?These walk-ons are reminiscent of the scene in Long days Journey when Mary Tyrone enters with her husband James uttering “ enter Ophelia, the mad scene." But coming back to sitcoms, what shall this new at home version of CNN be called, The Kaitlan Collins Story?

read the Kirkus review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy

and also read Joan Baum's NPR review of The Kafka Studies Department

Thursday, July 20, 2023

The Foreigner

Trump popularized the fear of immigrants and outsiders and there is that wonderful word that derives from the name of a Norwegian turncoat, Quisling. Xenophobia is the fear of aliens. But what and who are Foreigners? The Foreigner sounds like the title of a George Simenon novel. Foreigners are more benign. They don’t seek asylum, citizenship or green cards. You don’t have to spend the money to feed them in holding pens or ship them off to liberal hideaways like Martha's Vineyard, where summer rentals command astronomical prices. Foreigners are tourists who are welcome since they go to The Statue of Liberty, The Empire State and Mount Rushmore and spend money. Here's a simple equation which will help you to differentiate the wheat from the chaff. While Foreigners’ balance sheets are in the black, your average immigrant's is in the red. Wetback is a derogative term for impoverished Mexicans who come to these shores, as generations have, seeking freedom and prosperity. Foreigner is also a term that can be used to describe how outsiders feel. If you suffer from Capgras and think imposters are embedded in familiar faces or Prosopagnosia where you can’t recognize faces, then you’re a likely candidate for the BrechtianVerfremdungseffekt or the Umheimlichkeit that both Heidegger and Freud described. The immigrant aspires for citizenship while The Foreigner aims forThe Times bestseller list.

read the Kirkus review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy

and also read Joan Baum's NPR review of The Kafka Studies Department

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Can You Feel It?

The depressive controls reality through their negative view of it. They’re never disappointed while Dr Pangloss, proclaiming "all’s for the best in the best of all possible worlds," lives in a pipe dream whose positive prognostications are ultimately harmful. Narcissistically grandiose individuals may feel their wishes can bring about dreams. The reality of these delusions is directly proportional to their impossibilities. Sure you can fly into the eye of the hurricane in a weather plane but, on the ground, challenging the heart of the storm will only wreak more havoc. The naysayers and chronic Cassandras may not meet up with catastrophe but their downside is the failure to seize the day,  take advantage of opportunity and even learn to lose. 

read "Another Hundred Years of Solitude" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Can You Feel It" by The Jacksons

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Consciousness For Dummies

There is unfortunately no Consciousness For Dummies. You have For Dummies books in practically every other discipline.  Guess the editors of the series feel consciousness and stupidity are oxymorons. Actually their deduction, as reasonable as ot may seem, 
Is not correct. You have lots of people with highly developed thinking who behave like idiots. The real question is how can someone who's supposed to be so smart act like a jackass? Hitler was no sloth or idler. He even wrote a book, Mein Kampf, whose title the Danish writer Karl Ove Knausgard, obviously thought was so good, he appropriated it. The fact is, there is no dearth of consciousness even though the majority of humans, the one species that has a monopoly on it, runaround like chickens with their heads cut off. BTW, most observers note that the color of consciousness is olive green.

read the Kirkus review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy

and listen to "Boogaloo Down Broadway" by Johnny C.

Monday, July 17, 2023

To Moscow!

phote: УлПравда ТВ

All the suffering of Chekhov’s
 Three Sisters Masha, Irina and Olga (the Tom, Dick and Harry’s of Russian theater) is validated ex post facto—to the extent that they are composites of people whose lived experience is immortalized by their creators. "To Moscow" is their famous refrain. Others are not as fortunate. They go on leading desperate lives in which lacking even the dream of escape. Back in the 50s Radio Free Europe’s advertisements would feature peasants in kerchiefs huddled in dark corners where boxy receivers picked up radio waves, portrayed as small cones starting large but diminishing as they reached their target—just in time. Say no more. The point is, a few voices will always be heard. In effect, these voices have, like vultures, plagiarized uncopyrighted lives in order to unleash their brilliance on a world of theatergoers  who find solace in identifying with a suffering that’s only too real. “To Moscow!” was also the cry of a one-time hotdog vendor named Yevgeny Prigozhin as he marched his Wagner mercenaries in their abortive attack on Mother Russia’s capital.

read the Kirkus review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy

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

Friday, July 14, 2023

Power Brokers

Remember how Dr. Ruth Westheimer rolled
 her r’s when she said “erection?” Remember Erector Sets when you were a kid? And what about Ayn Rand’s Ubermensch architect Roark from The Fountainhead or another Solness who sought to build “castles in the sky” in Ibsen’s Master Builder? Or Goethe’s “die ewige weiblich” “the eternal feminine lures to perfection." Of course the dark side of such striving is embodied in Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will.” Thurber’s Walter Mitty satirizes such grandiosity. But what is the difference between selfishness and striving? Were figures like Gandhi, Mandela and Mother Teresa selfless? Gandhi notoriously tested his appetites by sleeping next to young girls. Then there’s the case of Robert Moses and his singular vision which placed modernity over indigenous street life. He had a formidable opponent in Jane Jacobs, the urban planner who sought to countermand the imminence of his "eminent domain." She too was a striver—albeit of another kind.

read Joan Baum's review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy

and watch the animation of Erotomania

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Deontology Year Zero

Immanuel Kant 

Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Was Stephen J Gould thinking this when he propagated Punctuated Equilibrium? Quantum theory proposes the idea that atomic particles can be in two places at the same time. What if scientists stuck to the rate of acceleration of Newton's Apple as the universal paradigm of gravity. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Hamlet fell into a poetic black hole, a force so great that it sucked in all matter--leaving a work of dramatic literature that still confounds scholars today. So how dependable are the old verities? Does 2+2=4 remain the kind of synthetic a priori knowledge that requires no empirical evidence?

read Joan Baum's review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy

and listen to "Dance With Me" by Peter Brown

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Tit for Tat

photo: Olaf Janssen

You have to care for your sole by going to the shoemaker. You go to confession for your soul. Priests are still ubiquitous despite all the scandals in the Catholic Church, but it’s increasingly difficult to find a shoemaker—perhaps due to escalating rents and low profit margins that accrue from changing heels or adding those metal taps to tips. BTW, the wing tip is itself an endangered species. It's tantamount to wearing an antique on your foot. 

read Joan Baum's review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy

and watch the animation of Erotomania

Tuesday, July 11, 2023


Whole ages of sensibility pass like geologic eras. The current Cenozoic era which has witnessed the advent of hominids and prehensile creatures who could stand, hold things in their hands and ultimately create tools. Who knows whether consciousness was the cause or the result of these morphological changes. That’s the stuff of Darwinian evolution but self-reflexive thinking along with the ability to recognize one’s own reflection and render it were the beginning of memesis and therefore art which not curiously relates to the growing knowledge of a “self”—something which is not mind or body or necessarily both. “Ghosting,” which in urban mythology means not showing up, may find its origins in this bipartisan relationship between physiology and thinking. And one day voila Ecce Homo!  Wagner's miraculous Liebestod  is sickingly repeated by Lars von Triers in Melancholia. And isn’t that what makes horse races or Kultur?

read Joan Baum's review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy

and watch the animation of Erotomania

Monday, July 10, 2023

"Philip Guston Now" at the National Gallery of Art

Painter's Table by Philip Guston (1973 photo: FLevy)

Sometimes a specific artist’s creed can be universally applied. Writing about "Painter's Table" (1973) Guston said “When you start working everybody is in your studio, the past, your friends, enemies, the art world and above all your own ideas…But as you continue painting they start leaving one by one and you are left completely alone.Then if you are lucky even you leave.” The painter's studio is itself one of the most cherished themes in the history of art. Velasquez’s "Las Meninas" presents a particularly complex rendering centering around the ideal viewer's relationship to the subjects of the painting. Matisse’s “The Red Studio,” recently the subject of a show at MoMA, revolutionized both his art and art itself—in his choice to blanket the more classically conceived underpainting as a statement about the primacy of color itself. In Guston’s case, "Painter's Table", completed well into the period of figuration that followed the controversial Marlborough show in l970, is a vade mecum which diplomatically negotiates his transition from abstraction to figuration—and one might say back to the his early impulse towards abstraction, a road which he actually never returned to again. NB this is the show which was bumped several years ago and now comes with "trigger" warnings. 

read Joan Baum's review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy

and watch the animation of Erotomania

Friday, July 7, 2023

How To Get Tinderized

There’s meat tenderizer and also Tinderizer—which performs a similar function. Before you go on Tinder, you should be Tinderized so that your personality is made more palatable to whoever you're seeking to hook up with. Tinder is No Country For Old Men to quote 2007 Ethan and Joel Coen film based on the 2005 Cormac McCarthy thriller. You have more than one strike against you if you're over the hill, but why place an item up for auction if there’s no chance it will sell? It’s worse going on Tinder to get no interest than not going on Tinder at all and imagining the pings you might have received. To be Tinderized you don’t need to do anything more than change everything about yourself which will keep potential admirers at bay. If you get a lot of response to your picture, you may even turn out to be a social influencer, who reaps millions from their endorsement of products--which require meat tenderizer. 

read Joan Baum's review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy

and watch the animation of Erotomania

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Life on Kepler 62f

Isaiah Berline (ANEFO)
Liberty and freedom are synonyms that can be oxymoronic. You are not free to encroach on others’ rights or liberties—or inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Just because the majority of people in town are afraid of the local hermit, they can’t take away his right to extreme privacy and isolation. Liberty protects weirdos. Liberty or Freedom could be the name of a Kepler planet 1200 light years from earth. Right now a celestial object like this is simply on indistinct number but in the infinity of time and space, in a world of ultimate possibility, it too will have its 15 minutes of fame, as Planet Liberty or Freedom. NB: Two Concepts of Liberty An Inaugural Lecture delivered at the University of Oxford, 31 October, l958 by Isaiah Berlin

read Joan Baum's review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy

and watch the animation of Erotomania

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

The News of York (Not New)

York, Me. (photograph by Hallie Cohen)

What accounts for the honky think feeling of many seaside resorts? There are the boardwalks with their poker games, ski ball and bumper cars. The first thing you see when you go to Coney Island is The Cyclone—a perfect metaphor for environmentally challenged coasts. The peals of hysterical laughter are actually a premonition of the terror to come--that  a Sandy or more recently Irene can bring. Violence lurks around these redoubts facing the ocean. The malevolent Pinky is the the lord and master of Graham Greene’s Brighton which is the eponymous tawdry and beautiful vacation destination. In York, Maine right over the Portsmouth Bridge  everyone has a tattoo. You spot a guy with bare arms only to see a full leg of tattoo. “I hate to be a pain in the butt,” says one of the denizens of the Anchorage Inn, on Long Beach Road, “but I think I gave you the wrong room number on that Bloody Mary." It’s only 9AM and there’s a long day ahead. He’s a huge forbidding looking character who looks like an Allmann Brother with his biblical beard. Get with the program. It could be the Jersey Shore, Hampton Bays or Virginia Beach. Seeing it's Maine, you’re going to get loggers from up North who are bringing their oversized personalities and coolers into town.

read Joan Baum's review of Francis Levy's The Kafka Studies Department with Illustrations by Hallie Cohen

and watch the animation of Erotomania

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Welcome to Temple Israel!

photo: Francis Levy

Welcome to Temple Israel—of Portsmouth New Hampshire that is. Jews had settled in New Hampshire since colonial times but Temple Israel, established in 1910, was the first permanent settlement. In these parlous times Temple Israels are at a premium and you’re taken aback at the site of the stately but at the same time reserved looking structure shuttered in anticipation of a Sabbath and set back from the curb. A simple plaque tells its story amidst the hustle and bustle of a port which has become a major tourist destination.1827 is the date on the cornerstone so apparently the temple had another iteration in another life. Though it's a port city, no Goodbye, Columbus here. 

read Joan Baum's review of Francis Levy's The Kafka Studies Department with Illustrations by Hallie Cohen

and listen to "Many Rivers to Cross" by Jimmy Cliff

Monday, July 3, 2023

XX, XY or XXX?

Jeff Koons in the Position of Adam

What is the meaning of heaven and hell? Is it simply a primitive dichotomy, a limbic or lower brain activity like darkness and light? Is this piece of consciousness derived biologically from the great chain of being? Take another biblical dichotomy Adam and Eve, the eponymous fighting couple that would one day constitute the iconography of Seinfeld and Larry David. Adam and Eve, of course, have an important function in the advent of human sexuality. They presided over the advent of shame, a much maligned emotion--and one of the most important ingredients of sexual desire? Modern man walks around with more than a fig leaf. Not withstanding quantum computing binary numbers, O or 1, are still the basis of the digital vocabulary. Today binary is also a way of declaring sexual orientation. It used to be simply AC/DC like current, but when you graduate into adult life it's no longer XX, or XY chromosomes that define your status.

read Joan Baum's review of Francis Levy's The Kafka Studies Department with Illustrations by Hallie Cohen

and listen to "The Harder They Come" by Jimmy Cliff