Friday, September 29, 2023

Precipitating Their Downfall

convective precipitation
Old saws like "when it rains it pours" are basically predicated on the pathetic fallacy wherein nature reflects an inner state. For instance, the above makes no meteorological sense. Sometimes a forecast of rain turns into just a wet mist or drizzle. The homily is used in a Casandra-like way to predict doom but also as a sign of good fortune. Taken too far by immature characters who suffer from distortions of perception, you get Don Quixote chasing windmills. The fact is, rain is not a sign of good or bad fortune. Remember those urban legends, tidy summaries of phenomenon based on anecdotal evidence, prized more for their poetic value than veracity? 

read the review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy in Booklife

and listen to Mr. Pitiful by Otis Redding

Thursday, September 28, 2023

The Master Builder or The Power Broker?

A city is an agglomeration of intentions. But what is the result? Is the difference between the sum of the parts and the whole tantamount to that between between the popular vote and the electoral college--which has been such a source of controversy in recent elections? Citizens emigrate to a metropolis either to find themselves or get lost in the crowd. This latter allows for self-invention to the extent that no one is there to pierce the "corpusorate" veil. Transformation is the lingua franca  of urban life. Remember Bicycle Thieves (1948)? De Sica’s neorealist classic is ultimately about proliferation with Rome pictured as a massive lost and found. It’s easier to get away with murder in Milan than Assisi where all the vendors of memorabilia know each other. But amidst the planned chaos is the stilted logic of stunted dreams. Anita Ekberg’s frolicking in the Trevi Fountain--La Dolce Vita (1960) makes a mockery of all the wishes thrown away in Three Coins in the Fountain (1954). A city is like the roulette wheel with its Croupier (1998) crying out “les jeux sont faites.” There are always winners but the majority of gamblers walk away empty-handed. The avenues attest to both the winners and losers among all the failed dreams. The Master Builder and The Power Broker both have their say.

read the review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy in Booklife

and listen to Everybody is a Star by Sly and the Family Stone

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

The Scales of Politics

Kierkegaard defined three "spheres of existence." In order of importance, they were "the esthetic, the ethical and the religious." Politics rarely crosses paths with ethics, as might be noted by picking up a daily newspaper. "The trolley problem" and "Prisoner's Dilemma" are two of the most well known in that branch of ethics known as a "game theory." The fact is that politics and ethics tend to face off to the extent that a great many politicians are corrupted by the need to get votes. There are colorful figures and dynasties like the Kennedys but few of these have left a legacy of truth. A great Supreme Court justice like Ruth Bader Ginsberg is in a better position to distinguish themselves in comparison to their counterparts in The White House. LBJ did great things but he also enjoyed shaking "jumbo" onto his colleague's shoes. Even today with clowns like Clarence Thomas handing down decisions you’re safer taking a leak at the men's room of the Supreme Court than in Congress. 

Read the review of The Kafka Studies Department in The East Hampton Star

and listen to "Dance With Me" by Peter Brown

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The Unnameable

How fast can you think? And how many items can you contemplate at once? Some people find they achieve a certain clarity and ability to make withdrawals from their memory bank, when they’re going so fast there isn’t time to forget. Thinking too much is the villain and that pertains to writing too. Remember the old Yellow Pages jingle “let your fingers do the walking.” It also goes for those yellow legal pads on which many writers still like to scribble. Naturally you want mind, but the question is: how to get there? Do you like milk in your coffee? Apparently a cocktail of hysteria and digital acuity are the path to scrivener's Mecca. The yellow brick road to the unconscious is where imagination maintains a rent stabilized dwelling. In the middle of the night you’re trying to remember the names of Kafka parables, "A Hunger Artist," "The Great Wall of China," "In the Penal Colony," “A Report to the Academy.” Then you think Bad Behavior. Who wrote that book? The same writer who wrote the story in which Secretary starring James Spater played the sadistic male lead. "Mary"--it starts to come. You seem to remember everything about the story but the writer's name. 

listen to Francis Levy read from The Kafka Studies Department at Unnameable Books, September 26th at 7PM.

Read the review of The Kafka Studies Department in The East Hampton Star

Monday, September 25, 2023

QAnon or Euclid?

the Eye of Providence on $1 bill

Reality is unfathomable enough that there's no need for transcendence. It’s nice to think about supernal forces that account for the massive amount of interconnection in the universe. It’s very much like conspiracy theorists for whom life in its otherwise naked form is meager and desicated. You’ve met people who aren’t on the fringe but still insist on making everyday things more complicated than they need to be. These are the selfsame individuals who are challenged when it comes to the notion of a straight line being the shortest distance between two points. You might say they're suffering from a kind of epistemological Peyronie's. What would you rather believe in QAnon or Euclidean geometry whose laws possess knowable wonder? If you’re not satisfied delve into imaginary numbers or group theory or quanta which deals with the universe of subatomic particles—which, for instance, are capable of being two places at the same time. However, stay away from kooks and medicine man, pushers who get you hooked on millenarian garbage.

read the review of Francis Levy's The Kafka Studies Department in The East Hampton Star

and listen to "You Never Walk Alone" by Patti Labelle and the Bluebells

Friday, September 22, 2023

Das Unheimliche and Der Verfremdungseffekt

Guess Who? 

The notion of “the uncanny” is prosecuted by both Freud and Heidegger. The particularities of their views may differ but in German the word is the same, Unheimlichkeit, which loosely translates as "eery." Unheimliche bears some resemblance to another German term coined by Brecht with respect to the audience and the players in a theatrical event. Verfremdungseffekt or estrangement is the opposite to the kind of empathic or cathartic experience produced in a Stanislavsky production of a Chekhov play. The familiar becomes unfamiliar and in so doing allows for a healthy didacticism in which one learns by distancing rather than loosing oneself in the fun.

Listen to "Every Little Bit Hurts" by Brenda Holloway

and read the latest review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy in The East Hampton Star

Thursday, September 21, 2023


To regret the future. Is there a verb in any Indo-European language which expresses this action? Intransitive or intransigent? How about the door closing metaphor that’s used to describe rejection and failure or the fact that people are neither here nor there? Is to be in the hallway  a viable infinitive? Not if you’re there because you’re a kid who’s been kicked out of class for talking. To take things one day at a time is a verb used by Buddhists seeking satori. Then there’s to be on the same page and its popular first person plural iteration. Sounds like a plan is a rough one. OK you can say it sounds like a plan but what to do about the other declensions? Can you use the third person singular of plural? He sounds like a plan isn’t English. 

read the review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy in The East Hampton Star 

and listen to "Dance (Disco Heat)" by Sylvester

Wednesday, September 20, 2023


Make note the Oedipal triangle is a geometric shape. It's one of the wonders of existence that amidst the chaos and patent lack of a grand design, there’s so much order. Is there a Cosmic Building Department (CBD) providing codes for all foundations. The circumferance of a circle divided by the diameter is pi. The square of the hypotenuse of a right-sided triangle is always equal to the combined areas of the two other sides.There are legions of these properties that all seem to be legislated in spite of the apparent absence of a prime mover or first cause. Or is there? And did one even want to descend into the rabbit hole of words with the Theo prefix: theodicy and theocracy, for example? What's even more amazing is the fact that Pythagoras discovered his theorem in a world where there were no M.I.T.'s or Courant Institutes.

read the review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy in Booklife

and listen to "Freeway of Love" by Aretha Franklin

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Should the Punishment Fit the Crime?

Should the punishment fit the crime? Giving into temptation is of course the biblical crime resulting in man's fall from grace. You may remember back to being a teenager. Then transgression had to do with failing to meet either manifest or subliminal parental demands. Crime and Punishment is  Dostoevsky’s novel of repentance. Raskolnikov pays but he’s rewarded with a new and better life. He rises from the dead. When We Dead Awaken is significantly the title of Ibsen's last play. Back to those teen years. You wore the tight Levis your dad disapproved of and carried a pack of Winston’s in your breast pocket to show they were near and dear to your heart. At no time is sex more exquisitely criminal—nor transgression more pleasurable—than in adolescence. The punishment is maturation, ie the blossoming of the foal into an adult creature. Society is the cruel patent. Criminals are rarely resurrected or reformed. When they're finally freed, they're often prepared for only one thing, recidivism. Prisons are not penitentiaries where one repents for sin.They're finishing school of depravity.

read the latest review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy in Booklife

and listen to "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" by Sylvester

Monday, September 18, 2023

Compromise Formation

Compromise formation is a psychoanalytic term. As you can probably guess, it deals with the mediator of conflict created by neuroses, between repressed wishes and defenses. If one applied Hegelian dialectic to the mind, it would be the synthesis of two opposing forces. It's like doing psychiatric grand rounds of the self. How far this algebra of the inner life is from a world in which affect is the lingua franca of discourse. Behavioral orientated clinicians say you can’t think your way into right acting (whatever that is ) but you can act your way into right thinking. To which the answer is yes until the old demons which have lurked between the prefrontal cortex and amygdala, the trolls lurking under the fairytale bridge of consciousness, come out of hibernation. Foreign Affairs is the name of s prominent journal of international relations. It could also be a wonderful personals column on a risqué site like Reddit. However the point is that the conflicts on the world stage often mirror the inner life. Another way to say this is that the collective unconscious of the human race is apparently still struggling with the notion of compromise.

read the latest review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy in Booklife

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

Friday, September 15, 2023


Kim Bodnia as Set. Martin Rohde in The Bridge (photo: Nordiske Mediedager)

William Barrett wrote Irrational Man. Othello, Lear and Hamlet, Shakespeare’s great tragic characters, are all deficient in their reasoning capacities. Hamartia is the word the Greeks used to define a tragic flaw. Passion is blind. Othello, Hamlet and Lear are blind to the facts. Jealousy overcomes Othello and pride Lear. Hamlet's case is more complicated, due to the hero’s subliminal motives. Thus, psychoanalysis has often been employed to understand the play. Ernest Jones, an English psychoanalyst, famously wrote Hamlet and Oedipus. Maladaptive or self-defeating behavior, diagnoses drawn from the lexicon of psychoanalysis elucidate the darkness of Hamlet's tragic world. Lear's "false achievement (another analytic concept) destroys him. “Motiveless Malignity” was the term Coleridge used to describe Iago. You’ve seen it in every day life. Whole societies implode as they fecklessly pursue their Pyrrhic ends. Leidenshaft is the German for passion, with the root word Leiden meaning suffering.

listen to "Every Little Bit Hurts" by Brenda Holloway

read the latest review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy in Booklife

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Animal Liberation

There’s a pet cemetery called Happier Hunting Ground in Evelyn Waugh’sThe Loved One. The novel is, among other things, a swipe at LA morticians—who rank just below podiatrists in the esteem accorded to them in the local  meritocracy. It takes a snob to attack social capital. After all who can afford a pet cemetery? Are those people who make "arrangements" for their dogs and cats failing to meet up with their responsibilities to humans? You’ve encountered the Fifth Avenue poodle owners who guiltily bring up the subject of leashing in analysis. But cutting to the case, are animals the same as people and do they deserve to enjoy the right to vote or to identify as cis or non-binary. Does an ululating cat have the right not to be spaded? As you can see the whole question of animal rights opens up a can of worms.

listen to this great version of Band of Gold by Freda Payne

read the latest review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy in Booklife

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Deplorables vs. Adorables

Now it’s the war in Ukraine then it was Vietnam. Aisle crossing as in the case of Liz Cheney, of course, occurs. Some hawks during the Vietnam era became doves—most prominently Defense Secretary Robert McNamara who was teary-eyed in his contrition. But in the current situation, the war-mongers are not REALLY hawks and those like Margery Taylor Greene, in fact, exhibit not one drop of dovishness. Profiling is what the cancel culture mitigates against. However, the same people you hated when you were protesting Vietnam (those with the attribute of military complexity) are the ones spouting isolationism —which has always been a conservative cause. The US came late to the table in WWII because of that. The fact is, on campus the intellectuals have always fenced off against the frat boys and sorority girls and always will.

Listen to "Cool Jerk" by the Capitols

and read the latest review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy in Booklife

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Are You Hexed?

Have you ever entertained the notion that someone has hexed you? Might a dejected lover have put a needle into one of those voodoo dolls? It’s almost nice to think you have a say in the matter and that your failures are simply punishments for misdeeds. Such gentle psychoses can be comforting. Alas, you would have been great, if it weren't for a misstep. Anything is better than facing the cosmic indifference of the universe—which offers little reason or explanation other than that life is a Spencerian struggle in which the fittest rises to the top of the heap by outdoing all those below. 

Listen to "Sex Machine" by James Brown

and read the latest review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy in Booklife

Monday, September 11, 2023


Bedminster Correctional institution. What are they going to do? You can’t sent the Secret Service to prison. This is the one area where Jack Smith has got to negotiate. With Bedminster  the problem of conjugal visits is solved. Walt Nauta is probably the best person to speak to about accommodations, but why not place him in that room where the documents were kept? Call it work/study. Let the punishment fit the crime. It’s also a good place for Trump to work on his daily ingratitude list. So there are two possible scenarios. Trump is sentenced to play golf for life or he becomes president again, pardons himself for Jan 6 and the documents and finally succeed in getting Kemp to change his mind, go against his principles and fire Fani Willis. Russia will win the war. The FBI will be dissolved. And Michael Flynn will be declared attorney general. True and social all right!

Listen to "Cool Jerk" by the Capitols

and read the latest review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy in Booklife

Friday, September 8, 2023

That Obscure Object of Desire


Say the stars align and you achieve a condition beyond satiation. These objects of desire all must defer to a host of new aspirations. Essentially desires are like viruses that by nature only proliferate, ultimately forming even more toxic variants. There’s an expression used by those seeking to put their addictions into remission—you have to want what you have. A tall order if you're on a roll and beginning to entertain the delusion the world is your oyster. A nuclear reactor melts down when it overheats, creating the kind of toxic emissions that emanate from those suffering from chronic Bovarysme. 

listen to "Every Little Bit Hurts" by Brenda Holloway

read the latest review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy in Booklife

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Exam Question

Franklin Delano Roosevelt 32nd President of the United States

Compare and contrast “This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny” to “Just say the election was rigged and stollen.” Answer: firstly FDR did not repeat the homily an indefinite amount of times. He said it once. It’s been quoted ever since. How does it compare to MAGA? Actually they're phrases that act like homonyms to the extent they sound similar but mean different things. The import of the “rigged and stolen” piece relates to the people and the implication is that voting rights are taken away. Here you have to choose. The country is divided. Was the election stolen or is it being stolen by those who claim it was stolen? “I have a dream…” is another quote that comes to mind.

Listen to "Cool Jerk" by the Capitols

and read the latest review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy in Booklife

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

The Second Law of Thermodynamics

The headlines today are glum. Kim Jong-un and Putin are meeting and Trump’s approval ratings continue to rise. Abortion rights will hurt the Republicans but what's to stop the autocratic juggernaut? Putin and Kim are a match made in heaven. North Korea desperately needs cash on the face of international sanctions. Needless to say Russia needs arms. You might say the balance of power will be maintained to no good effect since before it was leaning towards the West. It’s hard to fathom how the isolationism advocated by the right justifies itself. Chamberlain's famous “I have returned from Germany with peace for our time" appeasement speech is long forgotten. You even hear a smattering of reticence about the war effort amongst pacifists on the left. How history creates strange bedfellows! Hope springs eternal, though Putin’s desire for Imperial Russia will never be satisfied by one annexation anymore than a hungry lion would turn down a second feeding of meat. Cassandra like prophesies notwithstanding the world will sputter on with delusory periods of peace and prosperity—as if it were honing to the Second Law of Thermodynamics--"as one goes on in time the net entropy of any open or closed system will increase."

listen to "Dance With Me"by Peter Brown

read the latest review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy in Booklife

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Mental Heath

He needs help. She should see someone. Therapy is the current be all and end all and one of the best ways to kick the can down the road. If you can’t deal with your kid, make them someone else’s responsibility. You get your cake and eat it too! Though your goodness may rest in a handoff, you're a hundred of times better off than the denier. Sadly the proliferation of all this brain washing has produced its own “key words” which have some resemblance to the nervous breakdowns advertising executives were having in the 50s. Today people are bipolar, depressive or borderline. Many routinely express their anxiety. SSRIs are like toothpaste and literally everyone is questioning their gender. Cis is no longer the nickname for sister. Is this new state of affairs simply the result of people being more "honest" about "expressing their feelings?" Freud liked to use archeological metaphors, but is his archeology of the brain merely a set of evanescent descriptors? Think of an genome service. XY or XX? Need your own space? Sounds like a plan? To be on the same page? The lingua franca shortlists states of feeling and desire. The ubiquity of these footnotes may result in dilution but what would neurotic humanity do without them?

listen to this great version of Band of Gold by Freda Payne

read the latest review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy in Booklife

Monday, September 4, 2023

Curb Your Dog

photo: David Shankbone

In a priceless Curb, Mel Brooks hires Larry to play the lead in The Producers with the hope the show will fail—and he and Anne Bancroft can get a break from counting all the money. There’s a subplot. In honor of a tenth anniversary, Larry’s wife offers him the opportunity to fuck around. Just before curtain call he meets a woman who is enthralled by the soon to be Broadway star. When asked what she does, she replies she teaches fellatio, “I’m a fellatio teacher,” she says. In the meanwhile the show must go on. Mel and Anne are gleeful when their mark forgets his lines and audiences start to file out. Then Larry starts to improvise. Fill in the blanks and...curb your dog.

read the latest review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy in Booklife

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

Friday, September 1, 2023

The Metamorphosis of De rerum natura

Ovid and Lucretius were two Roman philosopher poets. Lucretius De rerum natura and the 15 books of Ovid Metamorphosis anticipate Dante’s Divine Comedy and Milton’s Paradise Lost in the attempt to create an iconic and transcendent worldview. Both poets lived at height of the Roman empire with Ovid’s work attempting to account for Rome up to Caesar. They emanated from similar historical periods though their lives didn’t really overlap (Ovid was 2 years old when Lucretius died in 45 BC). But talk about CP Snow’s famedTwo Cultures essay in which the writer inveighed against the separation of science and art. Imagine Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time as a poem. Just think of  absorbing complex scientific concepts like Dark Matter and Dark Energy in verse form. Advanced ideas like the quantum notion that a subatomic particle can be in two places at the same time make more sense as prosody than they do when expressed as laws. 

read the latest review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy in Booklife

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