Friday, December 29, 2023

Wild Strawberries

A certain amount of repression is necessary for growth. You can't think about all the people who have hurt or maimed you for life. Thd kind of shock the body goes into after physical trauma is an autonomic means if self-preservation guided by the biology and logic of survival. However, there's a certain point like the famous "zone" in running where one may have built up enough reserves to face the reality of the past. Your whole life may suddenly pass you by at this moment as a kind of preview of the famed retrospective that's supposed to occur around the time of the "death rattle." It's as if the color and texture that had been lost were suddenly restored--indeed in much the way art restorers find hidden canvases beneath the original. Remember that scene in Wild Strawberries when the professor, on his way to receiving an honorific drops, off at all the places of youthful folly where he'd made mistakes that can never be undone? That's exactly what it's like!

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

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Le Petit Prince

"Let's go to the videotape!" was the famous exclamation used by ABC's Warner Wolf. Of course that's ancien regime. Remember Howard Cosell's enunciating "Esteban de Jesus" with his Brooklyn twang. Cosell's father, Isidore, was an accountant. The son had numbers in his blood. As strange as that might seem think about it. Isn't statistics what baseball is about? But let's go back to the the latest iteration of AI.  What will distant progeny do when the earth dies? Will they inhabit cyberspace, having discarded their corporeal essence? Or will they join a generational wagon train of biospheres aiming for one of the planets orbiting a Kepler star 1200 light years from earth. Will the human race be split between those looking for a new home and those left behind to play virtual reality games? A mille mille de tout les endroits habite--Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Trailer of a Film That Will Never Exist


                                  Caveat Emptor!!!   

Cyril Leuthy's Godard Cinema, currently completing a run at Film Forum, is a biopic of the director/provacateur with cameos by Nathalie Baye, Julie Delpy, Hanna Schygulla, Anna Karina, Marina Vlady and Nathalie Baye--an alumna of Call My Agent. One can only guess what Godard would have thought about the appropriation and commodification of his star. Godard Cinema actually plays second fiddle to the director's last work,Trailer of a Film That Will Never Exist: Phony Wars (2022), probably the longest trailer at 20 min in film history and the most enigmatically brilliant--also part of the current bill. Le Gai savoir (1969) is not referenced along with the classics A bout de Souffle (1960),Deux ou trois choses que je sais d'elle (1967),Weekend (1969), but it's an important key. Le Gai savoir, "the joy of learning" is a quote from Rousseau who famously authored Emile, or On Education, a kind of Civilization and Its Discontents of socialization. Along with other non sequiturs, "sight and "sound" are framed and bookended with an abstract ball of fire--that actually looks like an Adolphe Gottlieb painting. Is this latter, preconscious thought? There's a plethora of backstory both about the director's marriages (particularly to the ethereally beautiful Karina with her misspelled nom de plume). Godard had, it turns out, more in common with the millenarian sci-fi of JG Ballard whose Crash bears more comparison to Weekend than Spielberg's sentimental Empire of the Sun did to Ballard novel on which it was based. And Godard's history of film including Eisenstein "Odessa Steps" sequence from Potemkin is a resource itself. But the "trailer" is Godard's last work. Based on Charles Plisnier l937 novel Faux Passports, it's his When We Dead Awaken, his Long Days Journey, his Tempest (in a teapot) whose ultimate irony is that it presages nothing. Godard's trailer, shown 8 days before his death, at the Venice Film Festival, is his epitaph.

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

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Menus-Plaisirs Les Troigros

The latest Fred Wiseman movie, his 44th, about the Troisgros family is a mixture of Dejeuner sur L'Herbe and The Life and Times of Sigmund Freud. Indeed there are many similarities between between eating under the aegis of the Troisgros family, seeing a documentary that renders the experience of real time (as all Wiseman films do--minus any commentary) and watching a piece of performance art which provides certain pleasures at the expense of others. If you want to stuff your face, don't even try to get one of the reservations which are are undoubtedly as rare as the specialities de la Maison. "The first bite is the feast." Troisgros is for those who derive pleasure from olfactory and degustationary awareness. There's a wonderful vignette in which the "patron" the elder Troisgros remonstrates a young chef about his brains ("tromper" is the verb)--bringing volumes of Escoffier and Larousse into the mix. Brainwashing is what is literally and metaphorically occurring. There was a famous CBS TV series, You Are There in which Mike Wallace went back in time to interview say "George Washington Crossing the Delaware." Larry Rivers addressed this subject in a painting. Here Wiseman takes you on a culinary journey into a present that is part of the past remaking one's senses and ultimately one's appreciation of food. Menus-Plaisirs is completing a run at Film Forum.

listen to "You Make My Dreams" by Hall and Oates

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

Monday, December 25, 2023

Verfremdungseffekt in Everyday Life

Boris Karloff (Bride of Frankenstein)

The Brechtian Verfremdungs or estrangement effekt was a theatrical innovation. The purpose was to reverse catharsis and produce a distantiafion which allowed for thought over feeling or sentiment. However avant garde and radical it might seem even now, this technique is subliminally derived from an everyday process that characterizes many interactions. The first impulse most people have when they meet a stranger is to step back, distance themselves and actually prevent a sympathetic reaction. It's a natural defensive reaction to see people out of the wrong end of the spyglass. Conversely when you lay down arms and literally move closer to the foreign object, your attitude undergoes a dramatic change. Identification and the dreaded catharsis is likely to eventuate. He or she is not as bad as you thought. You recognize your self in them. Estrangement may be an advanced piece of theatrical engineering. However in the stage of everyday life, it may leave you in the dust.

read the review of The Kafka Studies Department Booklife

and listen to "Every Little Bit Hurts" by Brenda Holloway

Friday, December 22, 2023

Foot in Mouth

Philippa Foot, Somerville College, Oxford (1939)

Is it obvious that spiritualism pertains to earthly matters--about how one conducts oneself in everyday affairs (whether or not you're having one)? Are being spiritual and ethical the same thing? Philippa's Foote's "trolley problem" in which an individual is sacrificed for the sake of the many is one of the most famous precepts in game theory. "Prisoner's dilemma" is another. In both cases the individual stops to consider rather than simply plowing forward like a driverless car. There's a man standing before you on the track and if you veered off at the fork you'd hit a crowd. Sound like a no-brainer--unless you allow yourself to experience the moment where you're the executioner? A life or death matter--what could be more spiritual? Camus said the only philosophical question was suicide, which is just a hop skip and a jump from that engineer who has to decide to take "the road less travelled."

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

and listen to "Sex Machine" by James Brown

Thursday, December 21, 2023

The Pleasures of Victimhood

Victims have certain advantages if and when they recover. But the most significant relate to causality. When you start to cough you want to know if it's Covid, RSV, TB or a good old common cold. The worst thing is finding out that the reason somebody stepped on your foot was not because they wanted to hurt anyone, but rather because they didn't see you, pay attention to you, worse didn't even know you existed--until you let out a shriek that is. A victim is someone who's been hassled. It can be by a repressive regime, or partner for the that matter. Sometimes it's real abuse, but there's a saving grace. Everything else in your life plays second fiddle once the sexism or profiling takes over. You now know and can be sure that you're a victim of such and such and can find the chapter of your local support group. The fact that you were a delusional before you were traumatized, no longer matters.

listen to Joan Baum's review of The Kafka Studies Department on WSHU

and listen to "What a Fool Believes" by The Doobie Brothers

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

"Get Lost!"

“Get lost!” The fact is that no matter how hard you try, it’s becoming a tall order. The ore of the human being is data. Even when one is not on a Google feed, you're a statistic, recorded by systems that reap profiles. If the Large Hadron Collider can inch out bosons, how's a human being whose brain is composed of trillions of connections, to hide in plain sight? In fact, your identity, it turns out, is the easiest thing for thieves to filch. Not surprising since it's so big. In the past when there were land lines, one was home. Then, at least, the rest was up for grabs. It was similar to outer space before the advent of the James Webb Space telescope. Now on the most obvious level your cell phone or other device records your comings and goings when you're not being surveilled by those ubiquitous cameras that scan every movement any moving thing makes. And lo, if you're able to avoid those feelers, you’re still trapped in a demographic which goes so far as to predict every deviation from your norm.

read the review of The Kafka Studies Department in Booklife

and listen to "You Make My Dreams" by Hall & Oates

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Enter Ophelia

"The Mad Scene. Enter Ophelia!" is Jamie Tyrone's famed stage direction in Long Day's Journey Into Night. "Then I fell in love with James Tyrone and was happy for a time." Mom is, of course, a "hophead" and it's in her dreamy memory that trouble Is brewing. Thomas De Quincy is remembered for Confessions of An English Opium-Eater. "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree." What if Mary had gone to The Dunes--the East Hampton rehab that's always advertising on CNN? The answer is simple. There'd be no play. One of the much over-used jokes is to contemplate Didi and Gogo's actions if Godot called and said he was running a little late and would be there in 10 minutes or better yet the EBI Elsinore Bureau of Investigation nabbed King Claudius on a murder rap. Clever, but lacks the inexorability of art or life.

watch the animation of Erotomania which screened December 15th at the Nihilist Film Festival in Santa Monica

and listen to Freda Payne and Belinda Carlisle singing "Band of Gold"

Monday, December 18, 2023

The Mayor of Casterbridge

mug shot of Rudy Giuliani (Fulton County Sheriff's Office)

Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge is one of the great essays on alcoholism. His central figure Michael Henchard bears comparison to another famed literary alcoholic, Jack Torrance. A 21 year vow of abstinence is the event around which the narrative hinges. Henchard, who in a drunken fit has auctioned off his wife and daughter, sobers up and becomes successful. When he starts to drink again, he loses everything. In Greek tragedy it's "hubris" (in modern psychiatric terms narcissistic grandiosity) that brings down a great man. The "hubris" is ocassioned by a tragic flaw, "hamartia." Remember how Don Birnam (Ray Milland) dreams of greatness in Lost Weekend (1945). Has America's mayor become a guest at The Overlook Hotel?

see the animation of Erotomania at The Nihilist Film Festival

and listen to "Boogaloo Down Broadway" by Johnny C

Friday, December 15, 2023

Cisgender Bull

photo: kallerna

Nietzsche wrote Ecce Homo, Latin for "here is the man." In The Gay Science, he goes on to say "God is Dead...Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?"" Those who don't know anything will point out that Nietzsche was a madman who died of syphilis. He was also incorrectly deemed an antisemite. He was in love with Franz Lizst's daughter Cosima who was living with Wagner--whose Ring des Nibelungen was indeed a paen to a pure breaded warrior race. Nietzsche also fell for Lou Andreas-Salome, one of whose many lovers was Rainer Maria Rilke. Poor Nietzsche always got the short end of the stick. God is, of course, the well known emordnilap, dog. Most intelligent people come to the conclusion they are not god and, unless they're paranoid schizophrenics, are not privy to any communications from on high or anywhere else. So is it a dog's life or is the condition of mankind similar to that old joke about reincarnation?  One guy says to the other. "I've been reincarnated." "Wow! As what?" "Well I get up, shit, eat and fuck. Then I go to sleep, wake up, shit, eat and fuck again.""So what are you?" Says the friend who can barely conceal "their" envy. "I'm a bull in Minnesota." Bulls in Minnesota don't have to worry about being cisgender or non-binary and no bull anywhere has ever been a "they."

watch the animation of Erotomania which will be screened today at the Nihilist Film Festival in Santa Monica

and listen to "Car Wash" by Rose Royce

Thursday, December 14, 2023


Sam Rosenman

Methuselah, who was Noah's grandfather, famously lived to 969. The bible, being a patriarchy (Abraham,Isaac and Jacob) is not "woke." Joseph, the son of Jacob, interpreted Pharoah's dream about the fatted calves and became the Sam Rosenman of the Egyptians. Significantly none of Joseph's brothers recognized the sibling they sold into slavery. If the Bible had been written by Machiavelli such murderous rivalry would be the roadmap to power. What is not mentioned in he Pentateuch is the fact that Methuselah had what everyone wants, "world enough and time"--a la Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress." Faust had to sell his soul for same. Can it be said that the apple didn't fall far from the tree? The ark is a symbol of longevity. In order to spare mankind two of all the species were hoisted aboard under the theory that the male and female zygotes would go on to propagate the varying speed species. "An aged man is but a paltry thing, a tattered cloak upon a stick..." sang Yeats.

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

and listen to "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" by James Brown

Wednesday, December 13, 2023


When you think about it, the obsolescence of the old telephone exchange is a sea change in the history of communications. The advent of the language cortex lies on one side of the equation and teleportation on the other. Remember Dante's famous opening to his Inferno, "Midway upon the journey of our life/I found myself within a forest dark/For the straightforward pathway had been lost." That may have been the worlds of Rhinelander. Regent, Monument, Trafalgar and Filmore. You look at pterodactyls, one of the legions of reptilian giants felled in the Ice Age and you begin to get a feeling for the passing of an age when a telephone number represented a place. Do you recall jealously calling the landline of someone who was cheating on you? Remember how you rang and rang, as a way of inhabiting his or her inner sanctum--even when they were perhaps locked in the arms of another lover? Modernity is nothing if not efficacious. However in the process it eliminates the sensations that comprise a nascent nostalgia.Think about it! You can no longer imagine an empty apartment or room which is the repository of your futile hopes.

read the review of The Kafka Studies Department in Booklife

and listen to "Every Little Bit Hurts"by Brenda Holloway

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Three Blind Mice

Pharaoh famously dreams of seven fatted and seven starved calves which predict the seven years of famine and seven of feast. Enjoying a dream's penchant for prophecy involves the willing suspension of disbelief. You probably don't rely on dreams for predicting the future any more than you would the machinations of a palm reader. The average patient reporting a dream to their therapist is more likely to find out what is right before their eyes rather than what will be. If it's weather you're after, you're more likely to depend on the Farmer's Almanac. Dreams are actually mnemonic fitbits. Have you ever had a dream about taking the train to "the end of the line?" The dream may accurately reflect the feeling that for good or bad you're there (at the end of the line that is) with nowhere else to go. Such dreams possess their own topography. When you get to the end of the line, you may find other people you could know. The shoe fits the foot. These arrivistes are just like you. When Gregor Samsa wakes up to find himself turned into a cockroach, he has to deal with his carapace. It's a surreal nightmare but also very real. The dream predicts an inescapable present--masked as the future in a fortune teller's ball.

read the review of The Kafka Studies Department in Booklife

See the animation of Erotomania at the Nihilist Film Festival, Santa Monica, December 15

Monday, December 11, 2023

Unearned Bipartisanship

Is it "unearned bipartisanship?" What about these strange bedfellows, the cast of characters left behind on the platform now that the train has left the station--fascist anti-semites and campus radicals, fundamentalist Christians and radical feminists? The grief over the death of democracy has also produced an energy seeking to attach itself to a nascent cause. Will Liz Chaney be the Joan of Arc in this new production? Success was kryptonite for The Producers,  a rolickingly complex conceit. Wanted: one lyricist to create a "Springtime For Hitler" inTerminator-like landscape where "the centre cannot hold."

read the review of The Kafka Studies Department in Booklife

and listen to "Tell It Like It Is" by Aaron Neville, Bonnie Raitt and Gregg Allman

Friday, December 8, 2023

Department of Unusual Requests


Has anyone ever asked you if you knew a good dominitrix in the neighborhood? (In Brutalities: A Love Story, Margo Steines, who was brought up in the West Village and went to private school, documents how she became a dominatrix at 17). It’s not all that much different than getting a dentist. What both have in common is pain. But people can have strange desires. Have you ever stood in a line of urinals and encountered someone who asked for a hand? Sound Oedipal? BTW, sex, as a request, has become controversial. It’s no longer the bipartisan issue that it once was. In fact, baggage is involved and there often isn’t enough room for it in the overhead bins--if you can parse a complicated metaphor. Moving on. Have you ever had someone ask if they could have what you possess without giving in return? Sounds like a normal relationship you’ll probably say. Wouldn’t want it to be any other way. Faites les jeux. Put your cards in the table. The worst atrocities are committed under the veneer of civilization. Go ahead and eat like a pig. After all you're an animal!

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

and watch the trailer for the animation of Erotomania

Thursday, December 7, 2023


"Moses Breaking the Tablets of the Law" by Rembrandt

Context is definition. You can see this most clearly in the case of illness. Glutens are one example. If you're, allergic you stay away from wheat. For diabetics it’s sugar. Nuts can cause a severe anaphylactic reaction whose only antidote is an epipen. The way alcoholics manifest their allegy is to drink too much. “The first drink gets you drunk” is a commonly used expression. Disinhibition opens the avenue of the so-called "built-in forgetter" which lets an alcoholic momentarily and sometimes conveniently decontextualize him or herself.  Context is also social. "You can tell a person by their friends" is the expression. Subliminal factors naturally play a huge role. You hang with a specific group because of the personality you have been born with. Both nature and nurture create inclinations. Profiling is a word that has ugly connotations but humans are made of a complex web of circumstance that can sometimes be summed up by the adage or the epitaph on a tombstone. The epitome of contextualization is the graveyard. Every body in space eventually comes to rest and there they lie in the society of death.

and listen to "Voice Your Choice" by The Radiants

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

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Bed, Bath and Beyonce

Have you ever noticed that getting into bed is like parking a car? How many times have you been forced to edge into a space because someone else is taking up more mattress than they need? You don’t want to wake that someone up by saying something like “push over Mac!” On the other hand, it must be noted that the resolution of these kinds of problems when it comes to cars or mattresses is one of those challenges in which the human spirit is revealed. One learns from difficult moments and challenges. Will you arise when the alarm clock goes off or simply hit “pause” so many times that you fall into a soundless sleep and miss all your appointments. Not to deviate, but it is in simple things like brushing one’s teeth that humankind expresses its humanity.

Listen to "Irreplaceable" by Beyonce

and read Hallie Cohen's Interview on Collaboration

Tuesday, December 5, 2023


Stephen King's It and Ursula K. Le Guin's story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" both deal with a dark secrets. In the case of the LeGuin story, the secret is belied by the otherwise idyllic veneer of everyday life. But isn't it true that everyone has their own sanctum sanctorum, not of blessings and goodness, but evil. Men their man caves, women their imaginations of what it would like to have been born with this or that change in their bodily cosmetic, non-binary people, who object to speciation, might wish for a benign form of the otherness ie not the one Gregor Samsa achieved in his metamorphosis. But think about it. Beauty can be disconsonant with one's inner being. Everyone lives at the edge of an event horizon which tempts oblivion. Despite the awe inspiring vista, there's always the threat of the storm and that dreaded myocardial infarction which either slows down or brings traffic to a total halt.

listen to Joan Baum's review of The Kafka Studies Department on WSHU

and watch the trailer for the animation of Erotomaniaselected for the Nihilist Film Festival, December 15th in Santa Monica 

Monday, December 4, 2023


photo: Mobius DaXter

Energy is the fundamental essence, the lingua franca of human existence--entropy the anti-Christ. The Third Law of Thermodynamics states that "the entropy of a system at absolute zero is a well-defined constant." Longevity even the ineluctable desire for immortality boils down to energy. Marathon runners hit the dreaded "wall." Truck drivers take "bennies" or "crank" to stay awake amidst the monotony of interstates. Meditation would seem to be the opposite— a gentle slowing down. You breathe out then put on the brakes. In fact it’s a search for the chi, at the heart of martial arts. Energy is not only monetized ie per gallon cost for gas but it's tantamount to commodification. Solar panels were created as a way of diminishing the greenhouse effect, which derives from carbon dioxide. Astrophysicists determining if there's life on a planet circling a Kepler Star, look for carbon.The evidence of life is also a harbinger of death. The ultimate embodiment of stasis is the cadaver whose lack of gravitas signals the absence of conatus. 

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

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

Friday, December 1, 2023

The Etherverse

Arthur Schopenhauer author of The World As Will and Idea

AI is our current future. The recent struggle for control of the OpenAI board dramatized the enormous issues presented by this new medium—in particular the potential independence of data from its source. Memes are a simple illustration since they are, like phosphorus an unstable or promiscuous  atom, characterized by the ability to easily shack up with other elements. Beyond the question of intelligence--where it resides and how it’s regulated--is that of materialization. One segues easily into the other. Bytes of information have no mass; they don’t possess the weight of a subatomic particle, they are not comparable to neurons, axons or dendrites. Eventually mankind will become a dream without a residence. A byte is no more than a miniature idea. However, on a simplistic level, what would you prefer a real French meal or perhaps the virtual reality Daniel? What’s more satisfying virtual or real sex and love? The Etherverse, is a world of notions rather than matter, where all of reality is of one mind and all the old pleasures, collective acts.

listen to "Kafka in Everyday Life" Francis Levy at The Brotherhood Synagogue

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