Thursday, November 30, 2023

Is Artificial Intelligence a Part of Intelligent Life?


What if your AI starts to think about it and decides it believes in free will? Naturally there are practical consequences. The former board of Open AI might have believed in regulation the way day Keynesian economists do "effective demand." In a socialist or welfare state the government has control over the individual, the way proponents of regulated intelligence wish to keep a  watchful eye over their "neural nets." In this kind of non-free market, artificial intelligence will mirror the party line. The benefits will be maintenance and easy access. No cyber mind will ever elect a candidate. This last is probably a lucky thing. Imagine the damage QAnon could do if it's hard drive became a central nervous system that took on a life of its own? Imagine 10 to the 20th power Pizzagates. Imagine a world populated by mini-Steve Bannons eradicating resistance through duplication. Remember "The Mind and the Matter," The Twilight Zone where Shelley Berman played the part of the harried bureaucrat, Archibald Beechcroft, who wishes the whole world were like him? Imagine what would happen if a free-floating computer-generated consciousness had ideas of its own.

read the review of Francis Levy's The Kafka Stories Department in Booklife

listen to Francis Levy's playlist for The Kafka Studies Department

Wednesday, November 29, 2023


Do you remember being a kid and protesting “quit it” when some clown gave you a noogie! There are folks who 
give a noogie back (though it has to be harder than the one given to have an effect)--while "injustice collectors" seek out the domestic form of the International Criminal Court for relief. Do you get the drift? And these are only two in a legion of responses for those who prefer eyes (for an) or cheeks (turn the other). In this latter you may proclaim loudly for all bystanders to hear “I am going to pray for you.” This is a manifestly spiritual maneuver with an underlyingly defensive thrust. The deus ex machina in the form of a crowd of onlookers materializes out of nowhere. Or you may employ some form of “passive” resistance to block the bully’s way while you call for help.

and listen to "Boogaloo Down Broadway" by The Fantastic Johnny C

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Madness and Civilization

Madness and confinement are synonymous. Madness is s form of confinement, in which one lives in a psychotic delusion. Imagine feeling impotent in the face of your worst nightmare. Perhaps that’s what madness is like. If you’ve ever tried to disabuse a paranoid of their ideas you know—R.D. Laing notwithstanding. The next worst thing is Locked-in Syndrome in which the sufferer literally has to depend on the fluttering of an eyelash to make themselves heard. Confinement on the other hand is like being on a bad “trip.” People who drop acid can end up in a loony bin—simply because they can’t buck the current. And panicking is tantamount to being caught in a rip tide. The harder you try to free yourself, the more the knot tightens. 

read Hallie Cohen interview on collaboration

and listen to Hitch Hike by Marvin Gaye

Monday, November 27, 2023


Is your trauma worse than mine? Did I get over it faster? How to judge levels of insult to the human spirit? In terms of resilience, there are concentration camp survivors who went on to lead productive and happy lives while it’s obvious that those who are unscathed often are the ones who end up scathed--precisely because they lack survival skills. Rich people are for the most part the clientele of psychoanalysts. Not to diminish the effectiveness for what Janet Malcolm o
nce termed “the impossible profession,” but it caters to the wealthy demographic that can afford it. However, consider the trauma of the starving Yemeni child with the distended stomach whose mother has been repeatedly raped, compared to the Park Avenue hausfrau whose industrialist father discounted her talents. These kinds of comparisins are often used to belittle the interior sufferings of the privileged whose madeleines may have left a bad taste in their mouths.The one thing you can say about your problems is that they're yours.The time the ice cream scoop fell to the pavement, when you were a child, evinces a pathos which doesn't even register on the scale of universal pain. Yet it was enough to make you bawl.

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

and watch the trailer for Erotomania, selected for the Nihilist Film Festival, December 15 in Santa Monica

Friday, November 24, 2023

The Waning of the Middle Ages

At a time of violent schisms like the one occurring now, the world of the Scholastics is appealing. Wouldn’t you rather argue over the number of angels on the head of a pin than the January 6 Insurrection?
 Trump supporters’ opinions are set in stone and will not be changed by presenting them with DOJ legal briefs spelling out the former president's involvement a conspiracy to invalidate the election. Besides angels, medieval philosophers took sides in the realism/ nominalism issue--noumena vs. phenomena in Kantian terms. There were, of course, The Crusades and the attendant search for the Holy Grail. The conflicts between Christianity  Judaism and Islam were as rampant as they are today. But there was not the same social media or high tech weaponry that allows smoke signals  to spread like the wildfires that destroyed Lahaina.

Listen to Joan Baum's review of The Kafka Studies Department on WHSU

and watch the trailer for Erotomania--selected for the Nihilist Film Festival, in Santa Monica, December 15


Thursday, November 23, 2023



There’s a scene in Irvine Welsh’s Crime where therapist and patient briefly cross the line. An unauthorized crossing of the  38th parallel marking the separation between North and South Korea is comparable. In both cases there’s no turning back  Once you’ve entered North Korea you’re done, as many unfortunates have discovered too late.Remember the fate of the American student who tried to export a North Korean flag? Consider the transgressive urge that result in any therapeutic situation. Conjure
a highly charged Consummated Oedipal wishes lead to a black hole. Of course traveling to Korea and therapy are not the only places where fatal attraction can devolve. Professors notoriously take advantage of students. On an equal playing field a young Yale lit student might not find her ruffled mentor exciting but just add the transferential halo and you've got a deadly cocktail. But imagine you’re in the Mattrix. The visible world with its illusion of propriety gives way to a derangement des senses. In the underworld patients choose their analyst on the basis of whether they would be good bedfellows and professors in graduate programs select those students who are able to satisfy their sexual desires. One crime in Crime also happens to be the same one that Oedipus commits when he kills his father, Laius and marries his mother, the appropriately named Jocasta (rhymes with canasta).

read Hallie Cohen interview on collaboration

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Invitation To a Banquet

Dwight Garner brilliantly introduced his review of Invitation to a Banquet: The Story of Chinese Food with the following quote from Jan Morris the famed travel writer: “A really good cookbook is intellectually more adventurous than the Kama Sutra.” Slam dunk for Morris in writing it and Garner in having exhumed the words for posterity. Cookbooks are not usually looked at as reservoirs of intellectual greatness (with exception say of the one created by Alice B. Toklas), but for  Garner, a confessed gourmand, Fuchsia Dunlop’s book was obviously a Grecian Urn. And it’s not hard to see why. Here are a few lines from a passage Garner quotes: “Years of juggling the West and China have made me a seasoned diplomat, a cultural relativist…that’s why, perhaps, people like me do it: to shatter our monolithic points of view and see things through the prismatic eye of an insect, from many angles.” Escoffier meets Proust. That's food writing under the aspect of eternity.

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

and see the trailer for the animation of Erotomania, to be screened December 15th at the Nihilist Film Festival in Santa Monica

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

The Lonely Crowd

Are u someone who chronically marches to the beat of a different drummer (it's called in the DSM "Marching to the Feet of a Different Drummer Syndrome")? Have you, in fact, made a profession out of it to the extent that you experience a sinking feeling in even the most harmless of marches, say a march in support of poetry? Is it something like Orpheus turning his head? You watch your soul falling into the nothingness of assembly. Yes humans are social animals but does that mean they require these self-congratulatory rituals in which u preach to the choir? There have always been marches. There was the famed NRA Day parade which brought workers of all persuasions together during the depression. There were all the marches on Washington against racism and then the war in Vietnam. Now that the divisions are even more pronounced and outcry more angry, there’s an urgency to these expressions of discontent that’s also mixed with implacability. No MAGA Republican will be persuaded by facts. No judicial proceeding will offer proof of malfeasance. Yet what if everyone were like u! What if everyone refused to protest? Remember that Twilight Zone where Shelley Berman played the malcontent who gets his wish that the whole world be like him ("The Mind and the Matter," #63, 5/12/61)? Think about it?

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

and listen to "Love Trainby the O'Jays

Monday, November 20, 2023

The Future

The Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse (1902)

Protracted combat for which there seems no end (in Ukraine and the Mideast) is not a new phenomenon. There was the Hundred Years’ War between England and France and the Thirty Years War which culminated in the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) wherein the modern nation state was born. Wars are bitter divorces which remake alliances and, to extend the metaphor, also create strange bedfellows. Who knows what the complexion of the world will be? Is it a game of musical chairs in which random parties simply grab the first prospect they encounter, like a couple on the rebound? Or does history ever evolve in a way that makes sense? Hegel proposed a dialectic in which Communism is actually born from the womb of the capitalist state. Similarly free market capitalism became the force which eradicated feudalism with its inherited fiefdoms and rights. Today meritocracy is the new elixir. During Arab Spring it was thought technocracy would create an equanimity as people identified with each other because of their Apples. The brand name would supplant arcane tribal and ethnic identifications. Of course this was wrong. Undoubtedly ISIS militants enjoyed the Apples they pilfered, without bothering to see themselves in the dead. Would that there were a crystal ball? Unfortunately, the future is one of the mysteries that science has yet to solve. Nikki Haley?

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

and listen to this rendition of "Something is Wrong With My Baby" (1967) by Sam and Dave

Friday, November 17, 2023

When Bad Things Happen

Some agnostics or atheists might treat “faith healing” as an oxymoron. Christian Science is another oxymoron. What’s scientific about Christianity? The answer to these conundrums lies in enjoying the benefits of belief while understanding the dubiety of its reaches. The late rabbi Howard S. Kushner author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People was challenged when his child died of progeria—a condition of premature aging. Holocaust survivors routinely ask “where was god?” The answer is that God is with you as you navigate the shoals of being. Faith, in Kushner’s paradigm, lies not in a quid pro quo but in an understanding of a spiritual territory and power.

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

and listen to this rendition of "Something is Wrong With My Baby" (1967) by Sam and Dave

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Pornosophy: Fetishistic Objectification for Dummies

Linda Nochlin once compared fetishism to synecdoche, the figure of speech which takes the part for the whole—The White House instead of the presidency, for example. Objectification is the psychological term that’s used when a sufferer complains of liking T & A. Kim Kardashian actually uses her A as a logo. One wonders if it qualifies as intellectual property, subject to copyright and patent. Jennifer Lopez advertises a particularly noticeable fundament. Imagine not just marveling at her booty but proposing to it. By the powers vested in me I now pronounce you man and ass! Or "they"--since even body parts are now required to demonstrate the correct pronouns. It’s often said by apologists that it’s not the size of the penis but what a guy does with it. This is dismissive of those men who possess large endowments. These "friends with benefits" are likely to feel marginalized. Everyone is dealt a different hand and it can be work and sometimes even a burden to carry a big package. But take a gander at the self-satisfied expression on any male or female who has enjoyed a centaur and you’ll realize that Teddy Roosevelt's “big stick” can be a force of good for those  who walk softly with it.

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

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Many Eyes for An Eye?

There has been massive pushback against the Israelis in the wake of the October 7 massacre by Hamas. At first, Joe Biden literally embraced Netanyahu in a show of support. Then, as the invasion proceeded and Palestinian casualties increased to enormous levels, the brutality of the Hamas attack receded from the consciousness of even those who were formerly supporters of Israel. There were calls for humanitarian pauses for which there was a mixed response. Hospitals being suspected as providing cover for massive Hamas control centers (some even functioning as holding cells for hostages) have been bombed with the outcry against Israel only increasing. But looking at the situation from a purely military perspective, what are the Israelis to do? Hamas leaders have proclaimed that Netanyahu's call for retribution is just what they wanted. Would Israel have fared better if they had massed troops on the border indefinitely? Should they have confined their actions to only guerrilla strikes at targets in which there were little or no civilians (an almost impossible strategy). The Israeli policy is "an eye for an eye" or "many eyes for an eye," but what if they had turned the other cheek? Would the world have applauded? Would Hamas have been stopped in their tracks or would they have used the opening to fill their hive with Iranian killer bees?

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

and listen to "Only the Strong Survive" by Jerry Butler

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

A Marshall Plan?

George C. Marshall

Dresden was notoriously fire-bombed in l945. It’s the first referent that comes to mind when you see pictures of Gaza. There has been much talk about the creation of a new order when and if the war ever ends. The Israelis don’t really want the responsibility for such a venture. The P.L.O. has been mentioned, but their feckless leadership has had a bad track record on the West Bank. Beyond bad, to the extent they lack a constituency. What to do? It’s absurd and even horrible to take the view of Dr Pangloss that “all’s for the best in the best of all possible worlds” in the face of all horrors both the Israelis and Palestinians have endured. However, what about the Marshall Plan which installed solid democratic institutions, along with prosperity? Will a Two State Solution rise like the Phoenix over the ashes? It seems Quixotic to entertain such thoughts but isn’t it better to chase windmills than missiles?

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

and listen to "Love Trainby the O'Jays

Monday, November 13, 2023

Glasnost or Toast?

What if Putin had not massed his troops along the Ukraine border? What if Israeli intelligence had stopped the October attack before it started? On a material level Russia, Ukraine, Israel and Gaza would be in better shape. Certainly there would be far less suffering all around. But from an aspirational point off view nothing would have changed. Life in Gaza was tough to start. Its citizens suffered under apartheid. The situation with Russia and Ukraine bares only one real comparison. If you believe in Imperial Russia then then Russians are the have nots. Now the fork in the road. Russia could have gone its merry way. In fact, it would have been merrier for Russia security-wise if Finland and Sweden hadn’t joined NATO. Gaza and the West Bank are another story. The status quo leaves an impoverished society whose citizens have no rights. It's a little like supply-side economics. The Abraham Accords might produce a kind of trickle-down prosperity--an anodyne feeding a delusion.

Listen to "Police State"by Pussy Riot

and listen to the playlist for The Kafka Studies Department on Largehearted Boy

Friday, November 10, 2023


Time is is not only on your but my mind too. Stating the obvious the experience of time might be categorized as neuro-scientific qualia. In lay terms a greatly anticipated event can seem to pass before you know it. On the other hand waiting  for something that’s not going to occur takes forever. Is time a fiction? The revolutionaries of France in1789 changed the  names of months.  You say "I'll call you back in a minute" and mean 20. “It’ll take forever…” is another one. Translation:  tomorrow. So “in a minute” + forever comes to 24:20.  Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich really means "a day give or take." No day is 24 hrs exactly unless you’re looking at your watch. In fact "clock watcher" is s derogative term used by trainers or therapists against patients or clients who look to get credited for lost time, (which has nothing to do with A La Recherche du Temps Perdu). What about Bergson's "involuntary memory" and the Proustian "Madeleine?"

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

and listen to "Time Is On My Side" by The Rolling Stones

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Hope Against Hope

Nadia Mandelstam
Hopelessness is a much maligned sentiment. It's such a horrific admission that most people jump through hoops to avoid it. But is the denial worth it? Secretary of State Tony Blinken is running around like a chicken with its head cut off when maybe the more productive approach would be to admit being at ground zero. Neither apathy nor obliviousness to suffering is what is called for. You may have heard the phrase "take the action and drop the results." Along with the eye for an eye for an eye paradigm, turn the other cheek. Contrariety is no stranger to human behavior. Isn’t that the quintessence of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission created in the aftermath of South African Apartheid. You cannot change anyone. MAGA Republicans are steadfast in their loyalty no matter how many felonies their leader is convicted of—under the theory that Reality lies only in the eyes of the beholder. Hope Against Hope is Nadia Mandelstam's memoir of the persecution off her husband, the poet Osip Mandelstam, during the Stalinist era.

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

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Free Solo

At a certain point in life, society may seem to be less of a top down affair, less of a hierarchy. You’ve climbed the mountain and now you partake of the long view in which all of human existence is spread out before you. Those ogreous personalities who once passed you by without acknowledging your existence are dead. They will never know what you were thinking; neither will they  know about the monkey dancing on their graves. Sometimes you meet these faces and they thumb their nose at you from an obit (obits themselves are like the endowments of famous porn stars—legendary for their size.)The virtue of being so high up lies in being recused from hurt and impervious to sleights. The down side of looking down is that no one can hear you. But why did it have to be so ? A recidivist urge may push you back to knocking on doors which have been closed forever even when there's no longer anybody there.

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

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

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

The Winds of War

The Winds of War
was the title of a novel by Herman Wouk about World War II. The cover story in the November/December edition of Foreign Affairs, 
"The Sources of American Power"  by Jake Sullivan features the following quote: "The Middle East is quieter than it has been for decades." It’s uncanny that Israeli intelligence was totally caught off guard. The Americans purportedly warned their Israeli counterparts. However, Sullivan, U. S. National Security Advisor, apparently possesses his doctoral degree from the same institution as Dr Pangloss. The whole episode recalls another 7th, December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor. Sullivan’s article makes light of perils in the course of exuding the self-satisfaction of a woman whose faulty marriage is about to explode. Shit-eating grin might be the way to describe the self-satisfied tone of an article--obviously written before the events of October 7 and for which he received a slap in the face.

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

and listen to "Love Train" by the O'Jays

Monday, November 6, 2023

The Godfather

Americans have a fascination with criminals until, of course, they're robbed." Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde  were all legends, Houdinis who escaped not from underwater  coffins but the law.  “Robber” “Baron”—the two words are oxymorons reflecting the aristocratic sounding soubriquet of men like Carnegie and Rockefeller who were ruthless visionaries. Ayn Rand would extol these impulses in her portrait of the architect, Howard Roark, inThe Fountainhead. The automobile is a symbol of freedom. Young men get their wheels aka cojones. But it’s an open road freed of impediments--the kind that Trump obviously thought he was navigating as he hoodwinked banks to get loans. Ever mindful of individual rights, the Supreme Court is currently hearing a case restoring the bumpstock--which was actually outlawed in the wake of several mass shootings during the Trump years. Is Trump The Godfather? And is judge Arthur Engoron as "untouchable" as Eliot Ness?

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

and take part in the Goodreads book giveaway for The Kafka Studies Department

Friday, November 3, 2023

"Wanted" --One World Historical Individual

Hegel iterated the idea of the World Historical Individual.  Augustus, Napoleon, the three Yalta alumnae Roosevelt. Stalin, Churchill, even Hitler, Pol Pot and now Putin qualify. Hegel famously proposed a dialectics (thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis) that Marx adopted in Das Capital. Of course Hegel’s notion was as “value-free” as Newton’s Third Law of Thermodynamics  (which itself is curiously applicable to realpolitik). Kant believed in a categorical imperative which dictated morally correct action but Hegel looked on history like an astrophysicist gazing through his telescope at a distant star. World Historical figures don’t appear by way of want ads. They emerge from history. Martin Luther King was both a product and impetus for the Civil Rights Movement. Gandhi signaled the end of British Imperialism and was enormously significant  in his advocacy of non-violent or "passive resistance." How far away such "ways and means" seem in the present volatile environment where a Democrat or Republican crossing the aisle can elicit the kind of rage Liz  Cheney and Adam Kinzinger have endured. Humanity is so far gone that even atheists have begun to pray. Could God be the answer? Why not fight God with God? The problem is no one will be able to agree on which one (or two or more depending on the religion).

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

and hear Francis Levy discuss The Kafka Studies Department at Canio's

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Clausewitz in the Middle East 300 Level

photo: Novel Foundation Archive

Is there any conflict more complex than that which is now transpiring in the Middle East? The war is supposedly between Hamas and Israel, though both are proxies of Iran and the US, respectively. Since Iran is a proxy of Russia along with Syria, the plot thickens. In the background is the movement of Bahrain and the UAE a la the Abraham Accords which might have also brought Saudi Arabia into the Israeli fold. In the context of the present war, the impulse to employ materialism as bait seems like a long lost dream. In fact the Sunnis of Saudi Arabia and the Iranian Shiites could become fellow travelers or strange bedfellows if the Israeli response to October 7th radicalizes and unites a once fractious Arab world. On the other hand imagine a MacArthur plan arising out of the ashes and subsequently a two-state solution. It’s fun to daydream, but not at the expense of reality. Remember Hamas is a millenarian organization that won't be happy until its razed Israel to the ground. It might be argued that terrorism eventuates from repression. You had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the aftermath of apartheid. Is there a Nelson Mandela-like figure who could ignite a movement based on peace and forgiveness? And how would one deal with the complex issues of reparations and repatriation? This course will run for an as yet undetermined amount of time. It will be Pass/Fail but will require more than papers and exams for those participating to achieve a passing grade.

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

and take part in the Goodreads book giveaway for The Kafka Studies Department

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Clausewitz in the Middle East

War is the continuation of policy with other means. How can Clausewitz’s famous saying be reflected in the war between Israel and Hamas? What would Machiavelli have advised? Or Sun Tzu in The Art of War? You can can’t eradicate an idea, but what are the political consequences of fighting an opponent who partakes of a millenarian Ideology? The Sunnis and Shiites have always been enemies and Syria, an Alewife Christian country. one of Russias proxies. Would Saudi Arabia step into line with its once enemy Iran, despite the Abraham Accords with Bahrain and the U.A.E.? How strong are the armies of Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia? And how would this new Axis stack up against Israel, the US and the other Western powers. The left supports Hamas despite the atrocities committed on October 7. However, say the US is reeled into an all out war. Indeed, Russia and Iran have a quid pro quo. Yet Russia has its hands full in Ukraine where it's losing. One possible outcome is that the Allies prevail, the Ayatolah and the Revolutionary Guard are weakened and a popular uprising topples the Caliphate, bringing democracy back to one of the must important players in the Middle East. Q.E.D. Hope springs eternal.

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

and take part in the Goodreads book giveaway for The Kafka Studies Department