Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The Revolt of the Masses

Steven Soderbergh films with his iPhone. It’s a simple sentence. The director is a noun. Film is the verb but it tells a story. Blair Witch Project (1999) and before that David Holtzman's Diary (1967) created the impression of extemporaneous filmmaking. Will your home movies earn an Oscar? Of course Facebook pulled the rug out. People's everyday lives were immortalized ad nauseam. The Revolt of the Masses was Ortega y Gasset's screed on the democratization of art. Now everyone has a platform. The Robert Brustein essay was “No More Masterpieces. It turned out to be prescient in another way. Digitalization creates pixels of data which are grains of sand. Yes you are heard but so is everybody else. Scenes From a Marriage? That’s me. Empathy is a fundamental element of art, but the reader of Chekhov may think, I could write that too. Possession and identification go hand in hand.  You don’t need to know how to paint the figure or write a sonnet. You take your iPhone 14, with its 5G capability, out of your pocket, push the button and create…what else but art?

and listen to "Boogaloo Down Broadway" by Johnny C

and watch the trailer for Erotomania which will be featured in the Nihilist Film Festival

Monday, October 30, 2023

The Salvation Army

George Bernard Shaw's "Major Barbara" (1905)

When you think about it, The Salvation Army is an oxymoron. Armies are usually symbols of war, and salvation--love. But think of the blue uniforms worn by these imperturbable creatures ringing their bells as a parade of materialists imperviously passes them by—tempted by Mephisto to sell their souls for the promise of eternal bliss. Yes, it will be Christmas again even when your days are numbered, perhaps even exhausted. On your way to oblivion, you’ll leave the agora behind and a whole market of souls for sale. As Kurt Weill put it in Threepenny Opera, "Let's all go barmy/join the army/see the world we never saw..."

read the review of Francis Levy's The Kafka Studies Department on Booklife

and listen to Francis Levy's playlist for The Kafka Studies Department on Largehearted Boy

Friday, October 27, 2023

Free Will

Free will is always a fun topic on a rainy afternoon. If you take the biological paradigm favored by such varied fin de siecle thinkers as Zola and Freud then one’s fate rests in that mixture of genes and environment that comprise the discipline of epigenetics. Jews believe in free will while Calvinists famously hold to the notion of predestination—which is curiously close to   scientism. However, there's one caveat, one back door into the problem. That is grace. Max Weber spent a whole book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, dealing with this form of exceptionalism. If you were prosperous and successful, you'd received god's Grace. Luther may have inveighed against the selling of pardons, but is this not exactly what went on in Geneva—a city that was predestined to be what it became (if you buy the idea that everything is as it’s meant to be or it would be different) and the home town of Jean-Jacques Rousseau?

and watch the trailer for Erotomania which will be featured in the Nihilist Film Festival

and listen to "Gypsy" by Fleetwood Mac

Thursday, October 26, 2023

le Carre's Con Job

John le Carre aka David Cornwell was according to his biographer Adam Sisman a serial philanderer. The Secret Life of John le Carre is Sisman's followup to his 2015  authorized biography. If you conjured the notion of le Carre living a totally ascetic life on a cliff in Cornwall, far from the temptations of the flesh, you’re off the mark. He, of course, was in good company. V S. Naipaul and John Updike are just two amongst the legions of literary lotharios. Naipaul was also a renowned sadist. But it begs the question of genius and infidelity. To be a literary whiz kid do you have to become polyamorous? Does polyamory lead to being shortlisted for the Booker? According to Sisman, le Carre used his lovers as models. When he finished a book, he was finished with them. The apple didn't fall far from the tree. Apparently le Carre's father pulled cons too.It’s reminiscent of Picasso whose varying periods corresponded to his muses. Plutarch and Dante by comparison both only had one. Oh yes le Carre had an at home wife or mother just like Beckett whose partner, Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnil, was also left in the dust. However, the real question relates to an artistic process that requires the painter or writer to kill off his models in order to begin another period or work.

and listen to "Everywhere" by Fleetwood Mac

and watch the trailer for Erotomania which will be featured in the Nihilist Film Festival

Wednesday, October 25, 2023


When you think of it sleep is a palace or if your nights are fitful, a tower filled with cackling mad creatures who are out to get you. It's a momentous occasion. Hail the trumpets! Remember Dr. Foster when you were a kid, the troll with the fedora who was always about to leap out of the darkness. Speaking of which “ darkness” is the “piece d'occasion.” JFK purportedly could fall asleep anywhere but most people require lights out. It's at this point that the daily nocturnal journey begins. One literally lays down arms aka defenses. Anything can happen. The unintended consequences of oneiric flights of fancy are the stuff of legends like the headless horseman. Take Coleridge’s “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure- dome decree... ." You don’t just go to sleep. Sleep is hardly innocent. In fact it’s guilty of all manner of outrages—pillaging plundering. What does Donald Trump dream about?  What does he or any tyrant really want, in the end? 

and listen to "Dreams" by Fleetwood Mac

and watch the trailer for Erotomania which will be featured in the Nihilist Film Festival

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

The Iliad

In his reviews of Homer and His Iliad By Robin Lane Fox and Emily Wilson’s translation of The Iliad (TLS 10/6/23) Nick Lowe remarks that The Odyssey has a limited scope ie “home and family” compared to the Iliad which “is about something different for each year’s reading or intake of students, routinely turning out all along to be about something we never noticed until it happened in front of us…At the heart it is the story of one man’s double discovery that the rules of his world are a consensual fiction, yet the consequences of trying to live outside them are more terrible than he has been able to imagine.” Not a bad iteration! You might say it’s a little like Thucydides who stuck to the facts and Herodotus who could be more transcendent in his approach to history. Interesting it's The Odyssey not The Iliad, however, that inspired Joyce's Ulysses. The notion of finding different interpretations every time one returns to The Iliad is true of most great works of art from Oedipus to Hamlet. You never see the same thing when you view one of Rembrandt’s "tronies." As Pound said: "make it new."

read the review of Francis Levy's The Kafka Studies Department on Booklife

and listen to Francis Levy's playlist for The Kafka Studies Department on Largehearted Boy

Monday, October 23, 2023

Rest in Peace

photo: Zarateman

Here is a question you may have been entertaining. What will be your epitaph and who’s going to write it? If you’re proleptic and have already answered and are a male New Yorker genus “Larry David,” the answer is undoubtedly, “HE FINALLY GOT LAID.” Montaigne couldn’t have thought that one up. Look at the double entendre “laid to rest” and you know…in fact the latter may be far from the truth. You may go to your grave without getting laid at least within the final weeks of your life. Yes Nelson Rockefeller died in flagrante, but even your beloved partner is unlikely to come near an old crow who's in the process of decomposition. Violent sex of the kind that is practiced by most couples in these contentious times is not a sport a gerontocrat needs to indulge unless he or she's willing to break a leg (to invoke another double entendre). And whether or not one satisfies a wish, there's no way that, once you’re buried, this all purpose epigraph won’t prove true. 

read the review of Francis Levy's The Kafka Studies Department on Booklist

and listen to "Shake Me, Wake Me (When It's Over)"by The Four Tops

Friday, October 20, 2023

Dry Goods

There has  of course, always been popularized sociology. In the 50s you had tomes like The Status Seekers. Later came Future Shock and Thy Neighbor's Wife. Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer both practiced a kind of new journalistic pop sociology. Even though Bonfire of the Vanities is supposedly a novel, it actually functions as a documentary about the food chain of New York class. But there was a time when serious academic sociology exuded a kind of poetry that stands in stark contrast to the sociometrics so prevalent today. Consider these titles: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Class and Class Conflict in Industrial Society. The End of Ideology, Street Corner Society, The Lonely Crowd, The Metropolis and Mental Life, Suicide and a classic whose observations cross the aisle to philosophy and psychology both Erving Goffman's The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. What happened? Perhaps the answer lies in the notion of "disenchantment" described by Max Weber wherein scientism replaced the belief in invisible notions like that of the soul. Bruno Bettelheim's Freud and Man’s Soul dealt with a similar division between science and spirit in the psychoanalytic world. Perhaps sociology needs psychoanalysis.

read the review of Francis Levy's The Kafka Studies Department on Booklist

and listen "Bernadette" by The Four Tops

Thursday, October 19, 2023


May they rest in peace—or he and she for that matter. Burial is far more expensive than cremation, but where would you like your remains to spend eternity? In a grave or urn? You probably didn’t think you would have to deal with interior decoration in the afterlife. However, that’s what it’s come to. Burial is obviously more expensive cause you have to buy the real estate. And you undoubtedly remember the old motto about property, location, location, location. There are waiting lists for  all the good cemeteries and you have to get by the board. Yet while you may have discountenanced things like funerals, memorials, mausoleums and gravestones, as you get closer to the end you may be finding you’re changing your mind. Why assume that friends and family won’t be willing to cancel their yoga classes therapy appointments and afternoon trysts to take the two hour trip up to see your newly engraved stone?

read the review of Francis Levy's The Kafka Studies Department on Booklist

and listen to "Shake Me, Wake Me (When It's Over)"by The Four Tops

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs is the name of the renowned journal of international relations. Foreign affairs, of course, literally means sexual relations often of an illicit nature carried on away from home. If one were to take the title literally, you might have articles with titles like “Carryings On At the World Economic Forum." Perhaps Foreign Affairs would examine polyamory amongst diplomats addressing the issue of cryptocurrency and Sam Bankman Fried. There has always been a good deal of monkeying around at these summits with power allowing for a certain amount of license and licentiousness. That’s why top guns are called "movers and shakers." Johnson demonstrated this with his beloved "Jumbo" in the men's rooms of congress (sexual and legislative) where he thought nothing of raining on both another lawmaker’s parade and shoes. You may have seen Richard Haass, the venerable editor of Foreign Affairs on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS, but imagine him roaming the corridors of Madame Claude’s famous brothel, a home away from home, for many leaders with Dominique Strauss-Kahn's tastes—and relating the "doings" in capitols with suggestive names Pyongyang and Bang Cock.

read the review of Francis Levy's The Kafka Studies Department on Booklist

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

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Miss Lonelyhearts

Dear Miss Lonelyhearts: I'm writing to you about something different than love--though it has to do with Foreign Affairs. I have a sonnet which I think is right for the esteemed journal of international affairs whose title is also a metaphor for Adultery. It's about "the flowers falling at spring's end,  confused, whirled, in a tangle" as Ezra Pound put it. Richard Haass is the editor and I don't know if he is interested in poetry especially if it's pathetically fallacious. I also have another question. It won't take long. I have always had the desire to order in from defunct Chinese restaurants whose grease-stained menus I collect. What about the #1, chicken chow main, fried rice, egg roll from Queen Dragon? I know what I will say to Foreign Affairs. I have a form letter I use. Thank you for your rejection slip. We don't have time to respond personally to each rejection, but we wish the best in rejecting other authors who submit their works to you. I don't know what the former owners of the Chinese restaurant can do. And what about sending notices of sales on meat to The Economist, upskirt images to the "voyeurs" column at The Spectator  and data on dogs that sniff explosives to The Guardian? What about submitting fiction to hospital emergency rooms or ICUs? I know what you're going to say. You'll say those doctors and nurses have better things to do. I have to go.


read John Baum's NPR review of The Kafka Studies Department

and listen to "Night Fever" by the Bee Gees

Monday, October 16, 2023

Munchausen By Proxy

You may have heard of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. It’s a rare psychiatric disorder in which a caregiver, usually a mother, seeks attention by inducing symptoms in the child. Not the usual stuff of General Hospital or even the most sophisticated TV dramas which cite cancers, heart conditions and transplants.The Bridge begins with a body found in the middle of the Oresund Bridge between Denmark and Sweden. Incidentally, this piece of engineering stands as its own majestic character in the drama that unfolds. It’s a tragic Shakespearean hero. Aristotelian tragedy is, indeed, the level that some of the episodes aspire to—with say the notion of "an eye for an eye" becoming the undoing of an otherwise heroic character. Sound familiar? The series was created way before the current war but speaks to it, prophetically. Iterating a few of its other elements which give it a haunting surrealistic quality, you have a female cop, Saga (Sophia Hellen) with a case of Asbergers, her estranged mother with Munschausen and a body whose upper and lower torsos would constitute a split personality if it weren’t for the fact it’s made up of two people. Sounds like someone took R.E. Laing's The Divided Self literally. Dali and Bunuel could have written the script which also undertakes themes like eco- terrorism--all set against a pattern of cables which alternately look like spiderwebs or the bars of a cell. 

read John Baum's NPR review of The Kafka Studies Department

and listen to Something Is Wrong With My Baby sung by Carla Thomas and Otis Redding

Friday, October 13, 2023

Collective PTSD

You always have to get somewhere. That’s the given. Then you listen the radio in the car or see one or another horrifying image on TV. However, you have to get where you're going, even if it’s only to make a deposit. Where does painful information reside? It can’t be deleted or eradicated. You may say I'm not going to think about that. I have better things to do. I have to live my life. Then you find yourself in one of those unending discussions. Who's right or wrong? They’re usually about inconsequential things. You may not even remember what it was about in a day, a week, a year while all along something you've tried to forget is waiting. In fact, if you believe in Newton's Conservation of Energy, nothing goes away.

read the review of Francis Levy's The Kafka Studies Department on Booklist

and watch the trailer for Erotomania

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Free-Floating Negativity

You've undoubtedly experienced free-floating anxiety—a condition where apprehension appears gratuitously and without any perceivable cause. Of course one might argue from a psychoanalytic point of view that the affect is there to obfuscate matters. This condition is the country cousin of free-floating negativity—a Cassandra-like dread. One of the symptoms of this reality is the “reverse Midas touch.” Whether real or imagined the fear is that all endeavors will fail. If you’re anxious you’re likely to be negative and if you’re negative you’re conversely prone to anxiety. The logic of the latter emotion is a bit more roundabout. Negativity almost always  carries with it the subliminal wish that the Gods will take pity on those who appear to have abandoned hope.

read the review of Francis Levy's The Kafka Studies Department on Booklist

and listen to "I'm Your Puppet" by James and Bobby Purify

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Little Murders

Finitude not infinity is what’s hard to imagine—especially as it relates to being. If you have ever been to a viewing of an embalmed body, you may have registered the notion, "why don’t you just wake up?" Stop playing possum! On the other hand, that there is no end to time is an idea that’s easy to absorb—particularly because bounty and possibility always lay on the horizon. There are a plethora of unborn people you will never know. The most disconcerting element amidst all the lucubrations concerning finitude is the loss of subjectivity. It is virtually impossible to conceive of the end of one’s own ability to take in the so-called outer world. Esse est percipi, "to be is to be perceived," said Bishop Berkeley. What happens when a person stops seeing the world? Could that be one of Jules Feiffer's Little Murders?

read the review of Francis Levy's The Kafka Studies Department on Booklist

and watch the trailer for Erotomania

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Dialectical Materialism

Collaboration is dialectical materialism. You have your thesis and antithesis leading to a synthesis. Marx employed Hegel’s historical model in the creation of his revolutionary theory. But the idea of opposites attracting and interacting actually derives from elementary physics. A positively charged object will attract its opposite but two opposites repel each other. Couples in relationships are more successful when they complement each other with, for instance, two similarly driven people colliding as they seek to achieve their objectives. Hence, a partnership or collaboration is ofttimes strengthened using the bad cop good cop metaphor. In terms of sex, it is not necessary that the aggressive partner be classically male, anymore then there needs be a recessive female counterpart. In fact, one may note anecdotally that many great collaborations result from the switching of roles, even in say a corporate hierarchy, where an executive at the top may defer to the desires and wishes of those “under” him or her.

read the review of Francis Levy's The Kafka Studies Department on Booklist

and watch the trailer for Erotomania


Monday, October 9, 2023

You Can't Eradicate an Idea

The reaction of many to the events in Israel is to aver that Hamas should be wiped out. But you can't wipe out an idea. It's like Trump's base or what Hillary Clinton once termed "deplorables," aka the lumpenproletariat. What are you going to do, exterminate them? The idea of surgical removing that part of a populace which holds wrong-minded views is a form of genocide. Indeed what Hamas and Trump's base have in common is millenarianism and more deeply the painful dispossession that fuels the wish to destroy.Trump was right when he declared that he could shoot people on Fifth Avenue. The love for the former president is totally irrational. The Trumpocracy is a cult for whom Trump represents the Second Coming. Hamas like ISIS is not a political, but religious organization. For its followers Armageddon is not too great a price to pay for heaven on earth.

read the review of Francis Levy's The Kafka Studies Department on Booklist

and watch the trailer for Erotomania

Saturday, October 7, 2023


You may have been fighting with your wife, with one or another refusing to talk to the other, when you awakened to the declaration of war by Netanyahu in the wake of the Hamas attacks. What you have been fighting over is trivial. You undoubtedly realize it’s all about power and who will ultimately prevail. Usually, these domestic squabbles begin innocently. They gather force like a hurricane, with warm waters of discontent brewing below the surface. History is hysteria is the Alinon expression. A thimble certainly represents one’s mother, but a father too, since it was his sock that was being darned. You're accused of being intransigent. Reprisal is the only move, before your Queen is taken hostage. In Israel the stakes are intrinsic rather than symbolic with land as the currency that's laundered into the next generation of resentments. Every been in a standoff? You exchange words with a cabbie. Before you know it, he’s out on the street, in front of you, while the world (aka your wife, husband or partner) watches with a mixture of fear and distaste. Where does it end? Do you throw that punch? And if you do, do you end up at the hospital or police station?

read the review of Francis Levy's The Kafka Studies Department on Booklist

and watch the trailer for Erotomania


Friday, October 6, 2023

Would You Rather Be Boring or Matt Gaetz?

CNN is horrifically boring. However much you may agree with their liberal views, there are times when you want to turn on Fox the way you go to see a bearded woman in a cage at a roadside carnival. Matt Gaetz is perfectly cast in the role of the Anti-Christ, if only his forehead were a tad larger and he has mastered the art of politics as a sport like saying hunting--with say a semi-automatic. Yup catching school shooters is one of the greatest witch-hunts in history, though it  pales in comparison to the Democratic take over of the DOJ.

read the review of Francis Levy's The Kafka Studies Department on Booklist

and watch the trailer for Erotomania

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Memoirs of a Bunionaire


It was my first visit to Club Hedonism in Jamaica where clothing is optional. I have never had any problem with nudity per se. In fact, I’ll be the first person to get my clothes off where the situation merits undressing—such as in connubial matters. My only problem with public nakedness in this "neck" of the woods had always been my feet--which are a freak show. You may ask what is he complaining about? However, being a bunionaire for all its advantages is not what it's cracked up to be--particularly when you have to be barefooted like the flagstone surface around the pool of a country club. For many people a slippy poolside setting is the perfect occasion for flip flops, but that’s not an option for someone like me who requires specially designed orthopedic ones that resemble the cement shoes mobsters use to put their marks asleep. In any case it was "Toga Night." I knew that even a sizable inheritance or that matter endowment would not make up for the effect created by the Maginot line of my feet whose bunions resemble the cannonballs embedded in concrete next to the Soldiers and Sailors monument on Riverside Drive. My feet scream out “the British are coming” to potential partners who would otherwise consider me a candidate to assist in their bliss. In fact the spotting of a bunionaire is enough to stop most people in their tracks. Muggers, in fact faint when I point to my bare feet, when all they want is my wallet.

read the review of Francis Levy's The Kafka Studies Department on Booklist

and watch the trailer for Erotomania

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Crimes Against Reality

If you get off Exit 14 of the LIE, just outside the Midtown Tunnel, you will come upon Jackson Avenue--which might simply be called Main Street a la Sinclair Lewis. This hot little crevice of Queens, once a deserted area filled with hulks of empty factory buildings, is now experiencing the Gold Rush. Rockrose Realty advertises rentals in gleaming glass high rises that offer anonymity and duplicability at increasingly premium prices. This is the story of NewYork from the days when Peter Minuit paid 24 bucks for the island of Manhattan. Newcomers outprice the indigenous populations ultimately undermining an often fragile ecology. "The World's UnFair" sits in the kind of vacant Long Island City lot which is now probably worth a ton. How did the collective New Red Order, directed by the brothers Adam and Zach Khalil and Jackson Polys, manage to stem the tide of development for this oasis of public art? "The World's UnFair" is named after the World's Fairs, in the shadow of whose grounds it exists. It's also a comment on the human condition. Extend the contraction and you have "The World is Unfair." The underlying theme is not "decolonization" (been there done that), but "rematriation" (notice not "repatriation") or the question of how lands can be given back. In one video returning land is compared to returning an item to a department store. Do you get your money back? Do you get a store credit? The World's Unfair finally begs the question, what will be the fate of the land it sits on?

read the review of Francis Levy's The Kafka Studies Department on Booklist

and listen to Francis Levy's playlist for The Kafka Studies Department on Largehearted Boy

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Pros and Cons

"The Holy Virgin Mary "by Chris Ofili (Brooklyn Museum)

The notions of con and transubstantiation are suggestive in a curiously pragmatic and material way. Of course these refer to the Eucharist. Are these the body and blood of Christ? Or are they are in fact symbols which have yet to be. Consubstantionistas, like the Lutherans, who hone to this belief, can’t wait. They need to be reassured that God is in the house while their counterparts in the Roman Catholic Church are content with an abstraction which places the Holy Spirit elsewhere. Though Catholics preceded Lutherans, transubstantiation is more evolutionary in that it propagates a higher order of thinking involving ideation of the loved object--something similar to what happens to children when they're finally able to separate from the mother. It's also a premise of romanticism and that which lies under the creation of paper currency.

read the review of Francis Levy's The Kafka Studies Department on Booklist

and listen to Francis Levy's playlist for The Kafka Studies Department on Largehearted Boy

Monday, October 2, 2023

Supply Side

Compassion and solace are in short supply. They’re the kind of backordered items that the manufacturer, it turns out, is no longer making. You may wait for ever and no delivery.To  extend the metaphor, people don't have the time. You can’t can only accomplish so many things at once. Your average metrosexual is so plugged in that their inner computer is on the verge of melting down. It’s the pace of modern life that’s the thing that fails to capture the consciousness of the king. Watch the parade of ear buds crossing the concourse in Grand Central. Most of these commuters are ultimately talking to themselves; they exist in a state of constant rattledom which clogs the flow of axons and dendrites crossing their neurotransmitters. You may receive only so many hits (to your post, data, or site) before you’re knocked out. 

listen to Francis Levy's playlist for The Kafka Studies Department on Large Hearted Boy

and watch the trailer for Erotomania