Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Pleasure Domes




St. Basil's (1908)

The Shavian "life force" and Freudian "death instinct" constitute the intrinsic polarity of all human life. Will flirts with creation and destruction. Consider the cost of Putin's dream of Empire. It's ironically the same dream entertained by Peter the Great in the mirage of gold cupolas still gracing Moscow's skyline today? On a microcosmic level human appetite totters precariously between pleasure and pain while beauty and good intentions swerve down the drain. Take desire itself as a template. Is it love? Is it mere lust? Is it only selfish or can one selflessly desire the best for the other?

Listen to "The Tears of a Clown" by Smokey Robinson

and see the invite for Hallie Cohen's show, Mi Ricordo: Roman Watercolors, opening on February 29



Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Filet of Soul

Sickness is a form of recusal. You stay away from others to heal and also to protect those others from picking up what you have. The latter is particularly the case with Covid which is highly contagious. In the case of some mental disorders the point of the illness is to facilitate isolation. The sickness whether depression or anxiety is a symptom of a deeper dis-ease to which an affect calls attention. Terminology has changed over time. In the 50s when Miltown was prescribed "nervous breakdown" was a much-used soubriquet. Patients were "institutionalized." Now they are sent to rehabs because of another ailment "alcoholism" (not "wasim" btw). It's not that there weren't always alcoholics, it's that awareness of the condition and its effects took time to register in the consciousness of both the lay and  medical communities. Practitioners of Zen attend monasteries. Is the spiritual retreat taken in response to spiritual sickness? Or is it that the soul must go into hiding, before it can come back to life?

Listen to "Tears of the Clown" by Smokey Robinson

and see the invite for Hallie Cohen's show, Mi Ricordo: Roman Watercolors, opening on February 29

Monday, February 26, 2024

Debbie Does Dallas


Donald Trump has said he will be dictator for a day. Doesn't that remind you of all the pathetic oaths you have taken about "taking" or not "taking the cake." As an adolescent you may have sworn off masturbating since it would cause blindness.  You were just going to spank the monkey one last time. BTW signing a "declaration of independence" is akin to masturbating, from the carpal tunnel point of view. The collective unconscious of American society just wants to do away with due process and checks and balances one last time. Then they have every intention of getting back on the wagon--unless they succumb to Fentanyl and it's curtains for everybody!

read "Making the Graphic Novel Graphic" by Francis Levy, Vol.1 Brooklyn

and see the invite for Hallie Cohen's show, Mi Ricordo: Roman Watercolors, opening on February 29


Friday, February 23, 2024

Heureusement ou Vachement?

It's probably a sign of the times that "vachement" has taken the place of "heureusement" as most popular French adverb. The former implies that everything is bad. Similarly you hear a ton about "fellatio" but relatively little about cunnilingus, the more politically correct form of oral sex. It's hard to get one's hands around why blow jobs are more in the news, despite their negative connotation. When you go down on someone it can be to administer fellatio or cunnilingus but that's where the similarity ends. All happy gonads are alike but all unhappy gonads are unhappy in their own way. Several prominent sexologists have remarked that fellatio is more au courant simply because it's easier to perform. The shaft of the erect penis is easy to locate, creating a tent that's embarrassingly visible, for instance, on a subway or bus, but the clitoris is notoriously hard to find. Surely an aroused clitoris produces the equivalent of an erection but a penis gets more bang for its buck ce qui est vachement la verite!

read "Why Big German Words Like Vergangenbangenheit Carry Weight" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and watch the animation of Erotomania


Thursday, February 22, 2024

Smiler's

There's a Smilers on 54th and Mad one block east of the McKim, Mead, White neo-Renaissance University Club and and also east of the rear entrance to MoMA. Do institutions whether high or ordinary possess DNA? There was an all-night Smilers on Sixth Avenue down from The Waverly (now IFC), where The Rocky Horror Show, played at Midnight, and a couple of blocks up from Film Forum and the 220s a notorious after hours club that catered to the spillover of beautiful pre-op transsexual prostitutes from The Terminal Bar opposite the Port Authority and G.G's Barnum Room, famous for its trapeze. But one wonders if the Smiler's on 54th is the country cousin  of the original--which had just come over on the ship. The children and grandchildren of many Eastern European immigrants, who inhabited the tenements of the Lower East Side, eventually became shareholders in the cavernous and majestic pre-war apartment houses that line Park Avenue. Is it that Smiler's has come up in the world?

read Hallie Cohen's interview on collaboration

and see the invite for her show, Mi Ricordo: Roman Watercolors, opening on February 29




Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The Great Dictator



Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator (1940)

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was the companion text to Mein Kampf. However imagine the future. The Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, now pardoned, become the the black shirts, the SS. But who is their scapegoat? The Jews again? Certainly liberal Jewish philanthropists e.g. George Soros. Every anti-Christ requires its Christ. Every cult needs a leader, every leader an enemy. Will it be Jews or reporters? Trump has threatened retribution against the press, but will there be camps filled with emaciated journalists in black and white striped prison issue. Truth is the basic issue. Trump claims democracy is at issue. Biden and the democrats echo the same idea. Each claims they're being set up. Trump will make sure the truth wins out by putting all those who tell the truth in jail. This along with the cheering crowds of followers and  hortatory language is what is known as fascism.

read Hallie Cohen's interview on collaboration.

and see the invite for her show, Mi Ricordo: Roman Watercolors, opening on February 29

and listen to "Borderline" by Madonna

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Stéphane Mandelbaum

Portrait of a Turkish Punk (Stéphane Mandelbaum)

A show of Stéphane Mandelbaum's work just just closed at The Drawing Center. Mandelbaum like Pasolini died violently-- at a particularly young age (he was 25). Mandelbaum was an infant terrible and one of those artists who bust onto the scene, their light almost extinguished by its own brightness. Rimbaud comes to mind, as does the turbulent period of Weimar Germany explored in Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz. Indeed Francis Bacon's model George Dyer, a one-time criminal, was one of the artist's subjects along with Pasolini and a number of personalities in the night life of 60s Brussels. Mandelbaum was a perfectionist in love with impurity. For example, he liked to imbed pornographic snapshots into his meticulous drawings. Many of his pieces were collages. Ironically Mandelbaum became an art thief. Shades of Wyatt Gwyon in William Gaddis' The Recognitions? Mandelbaum calls up a litany of literary and artistic characters including, of course, Caravaggio and Genet. He inhabited Hades and was ultimately killed by criminals, who threw acid in his face so that his body could not be identified. His short life's work, however, was less criminal than prolifically transgressive.

Read Francis Levy's "Making the Graphic Novel Graphic," Vol. 1 Brooklyn

and watch the animation of Erotomania


Monday, February 19, 2024

Zeno's Paradox

"Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time" by Angelo Bronzino

Gerontocrats appreciate the practical value of Zeno's Paradox as they approach their last furlough. Life is a race against time which they'd rather not win. Better to be that tortoise enjoying the pleasures of infinitely dividing his opponents halfs in half. Everyone wishes good things never end. It's hard to get up the Tuesday after Labor Day Weekend and though life may not be a holiday most people are afraid of the nothingness that lies on the other side. But if you take the approach of the family stoic, you'll never get there. It comes back to the old saw which which applies to Zeno's paradox and eternity too. Slow and steady wins the race!

read "Making the Graphic Novel Graphic" by Francis Levy, Vol.1 Brooklyn

and and see the invite for her show, Mi Ricordo: Roman Watercolors, opening on February 29


Friday, February 16, 2024

Gonnection


You have to speak to people about the things they're interested in. One of the concerns shared by the family of man is themselves. People like to talk about themselves, a subject about which they never tire. The old joke, now that we've talked about me, actually is a liberal translation of cogito ergo sum. So the secret to communication is that it's fundamentally a one-way street. You have to speak another person's language. If you want to get close to a French friend who speaks Pig Latin utter "onjourbay" when you greet them. If an acquaintance is one of the many people who spend most of their time watching Pornhub then order a "creme pie" or a "tossed salad" (both code words for dirty sexual acts) next time you go to dinner. This theory is based on a base line assessment that all people are born narcissists. One might ask "if you're right, what about me?" You certainly don't want to drive against traffic.The answer turns out to be very simple. If you listen to anyone, you will have their full attention. They might not admit it, but that's how to connect. Remember Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby and  "gonnection" or the Stones, "connection, I just can't make no connection." 

and listen to "Connection" by The Rolling Stones

read Hallie Cohen's interview on collaboration.

and see the invite for her show, Mi Ricordo: Roman Watercolors, opening on February 29


Thursday, February 15, 2024

Fantasy

In Harold Jacobson's 1998 novel No More Mr. Nice Guy, there's a scene where the male character chides his partner for getting in the way of his fantasy. Fantasies may be about sex, but they ironically separate you from other people. Masturbation is a narcissistic pursuit. If you're a spiritualist who tries to live in the so-called "now,"  fantasy is not for you. What happens when you're having a fantasy in the middle of another fantasy? Two degrees of separation is double indemnity. However, in today's world of porn in which large swathes of humanity are in a state of perpetual stimulation, fantasy is a drug. The only way to deal with crack or Fentanyl is to get more of it so you can beat the pain. Fantasy is the lingua Franca of our culture and sites like Porn Hub are junkies supplying enough fantasy to satisfy their own insatiable habits. There are individuals who are so immersed in fantasy that they have never really experienced what it's like to have sex with another person. They mechanically insert their organs or have a fellow traveler insert something into their behind or vulva. Civilization is a dog in heat. You only have to pick up the paper to realize you're fucked.

Read Francis Levy's "Making the Graphic Novel Graphic," Vol. 1 Brooklyn

and watch the animation of Erotomania


Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Who is Ted Kuenz?

 

Ted Kuenz

"Isn't that Ted Kuenz, the Renewal By Andersen Guy?" She whispered to her husband as the lights lowered for the 5:30 of American Fiction. "Shit!" "Shush," the person in back remonstrated. Kuenz was only an actor in the Replacement Window commercial, but whoever he was, you didn't get to see him in person every day. There had been talk of a live version of the popular ad, a one minute spot going on tour or being the cover for the "What's up America? It's your boy Ice-T" pitch for CarShield, a meme that had turned into an urban legend. The Kuenz avatar was really big. Remember Schenck v. US case ("crying fire in a crowded theater")? He stealthily rushed over to the aisle seat where Kuenz was eating his popcorn. He searched through his pockets frantically but all he had was his ticket stub which he quickly thrust in front of his target. Of course Kuenz was immersed in American Fiction. He undoubtedly hated being interrupted by fans when he was trying to concentrate on a movie.

read Francis Levy on American Fiction, TheScreamingPope

and also listen to "Borderline" by Madonna


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Fiction

 

Cord Jefferson's American Fiction like Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York is a primer on creative process. In Synecdoche, it's theater. American Fiction deals with writing. Ellison is the surname but the first name, Thelonious, however heavy-handed points to the musical nature of the undertaking. Leitmotifs, refrains and lots of recitatives go on in "Monk's" head. He's constantly carrying on imaginary conversations with reality. The plot of the the movie itself is driven by the writer's fantasy, particularly with respect to the ending, after a number of dramatic and explosive denouements. In one police rush into the ceremony as Thelonious picks up his award. They shoot him dead thinking the statue is a gun. That's the pat answer--which also contains some truth. Whenever a black man succeeds, he's shot down. One never knows if it's fact or fiction when the movie ends withThelonious driving off of the lot where the film of his book is being shot in a sports car. Endings are notoriously a problem for writers.

read Francis Levy on American Fiction, TheScreamingPope

and also listen to "Borderline" by Madonna


Monday, February 12, 2024

Finnegan

Sports like art and literature are a language (language is the lingua Franca of literature and language itself). It's fun to inhabit and arm yourself with vocabularies of citations. Uttering "Mahomes" hits the mark like one of the famed quarterback's passes. Did you know Madonna was still lipsyching when she performed "Borderline" at Danceteria? Or what George Foreman said about the ridiculous decision which gave the fight to an earnest young man named Shannon Briggs. Whistle that famous beginning to "The Tears of a Clown." Dah dah dah did  dah dah dah dah dah, oh yeah yeah yeah yeah, Oh if there's a smile.... ." Coubet's wantonly poised model in "The Creation of the World"--was not Whistler's mistress, Joanna Hiffernan, but Constance Quéniaux. Halil Şerif Pasha commissioned Courbet to paint her. And, of course, how happy you were about The Rangers game at The Garden and how upset about the Knicks. Why are Giant wins an SSRI and those Yanks!! Let's not leave out the market or Marcuse's "Repressive Desublimation." River Run...Old father old artificer stand me now and ever in good stead. "That's not a space! There's a hydrant." ...riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve offshore to bend of bay. 

read Hallie Cohen's interview on collaboration.

and see the invite for her show, Mi Ricordo: Roman Watercolors, opening on February 29


Saturday, February 10, 2024

American Fiction


"Invisible Man" by Kerry James Marshall

Cord Jefferson's American Fiction is The Producers. Writing what he thinks to be an angry send-up of black profiling and white guilt, a latter-day Ralph Ellison named no less than Thelonius ends up with a hit. Fuck is the title and the pseudonymous writer (Stagger Leigh) appears only in “black silhouette” (an uncanny allusion to Kerry James Marshall's "Invisible Man") since he’s a fugitive who, of course, speaks an intentionally hyperbolized form of Ebonics--perfected in a fit of pique. American Fiction is a symphony in stereotypes, sometimes overly arch (how to respond to a character named Thelonius Ellison?) at others disturbingly effective and all predicated on what neurologists call Imposter or Capgras Syndrome. The film is based on the novel Erasure by Percival Everett, whose title itself recalls Invisible Man. Monk ultimately derives from a storied history of dramatic imposters going back to Moliere’s Tartuffe. But American Fiction also wobbles between parody and pathos. It’s a family drama dealing with Alzheimer’s, closeting and infidelity. However, the discordant tone is, in the end, oddly effective. The plot of American Fiction, like the movie within the movie (a la Synecdoche NY), is labile, volatile and angry. After all, face it,  the movie’s sophisticated audience is receiving a slap in the face.

Many thanks to Hallie Cohen for the connections and citations she provided for this piece.

Friday, February 9, 2024

Rome Journal: Senior Moment

Pamphili Gardens (photo: Francis Levy)

The Villa Doria Pamphili Gardens are an oasis. They're large enough to get lost in. They appear almost out of nowhere. You come to a fork in the road from the Piazza di San Pancrazio at the top of the Gianicolo with its Garibaldi Monument. You can proceed along the Via Aurelia or take the Via Fonteiana which leads into Monteverde. Pasolini occupied an apartment on Via Carini in Monteverde early in his career (after his initial residence at Via Tagliere Giovanni 3, in the shadow of the Ribibbia prison, where he lived with his mother from l951-4). But the warren of streets around Monteverde with their small cafes and inauspicious flower shops and markets are precarious by virtue of their anonymity. The one thing about monuments like the Colosseum they situate you. Any city is characterized by one degree or other of proliferation, but the Rome that’s far from its famous ruins is profoundly difficult to fathom or describe. It’s not that it’s lacking in character. What makes a neighborhood like Monteverde  so confounding is its lived in quality. If you're looking for a senior moment where you forget where you are, this is the place to have it.

read "Rome Journal: the 75" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to Francis Levy's interview with Patricia McCormick on East End Ink (WKPN)


Thursday, February 8, 2024

Rome Journal: Piano Piano



"Passeggiata" (watercolor by Hallie Cohen)

L'ultima volta! You never want to leave if you thinks it's the last time. Antiquity talks to you with the voice of experience. Antiquity says, look at me! I stare at death and don't emerge unscathed. Stone is not flesh but is the product of many last times. Generations of laborers built Hadrian's Tomb. "Man plans god laughs," goes the adage. How many times did Tom Brady threaten to retire? Is there life after life? "There are no second acts in American lives," said Fitzgerald in The Last Tycoon. Bergman's Knight playing chess with death. Pianissimo!

read Rome Journal: Castel Saint Angelo

Canio's interview about The Kafka Studies Department on East End Ink (WKPN)


l



Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Deconstructing Donald

Jacques Derrida

Social norm is a mysterious word in this world of radical relativism. How can you define it when two sides of the current cultural divide engage in mutual finger pointing? The locutions and confabulations of discourse become a funhouse hall of mirrors, when the person breaking the norm accuses their adversary of just that. "Head spinning" is now a condition of being. Remember the scene in The Exorcist (1973) when Linda Blair rotates her skull in a 360. It competes with the Odessa Steps sequence of Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925). Intellectual historians must be having a heyday when it turns out that Donald Trump is a bedfellow of Jacques Derrida the father  of deconstruction. New History, New Science--if all truth is relative than humankind should all see physical therapists for their stiff necks.

read Interview with Hallie Cohen on Collaboration 

and listen to Freda Payne singing "Band of Gold"


Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Rome Journal: Ovid II





"One Art" by Hallie Cohen

Ovid's Metamorphoses is one of those classic compendia of human existence. De Rorum Natura, Lucretius great poem on "the nature of things," stands beside it. Dante's Commedia
with its architecture of heaven and hell is another. Dante was more interested in terra cognita, since the circles of his hell are wallpapered with real people who might not have liked what he had to say about them.That's where Ovid differed. His is the world of Mount Olympus where, for instance, Daphne eludes Apollo by turning herself into a tree. Ovid like Dante was exiled--in this case by Augustus who turned his poetry into the ancient world's Samizdat.

read "Rome Journal: Ovid" by Francis Levy, TheScreamingPope

and watch the animation of Erotomania


Monday, February 5, 2024

The Art of Losing

Elizabeth Bishop (1964)

Speaking another tongue is like moving. You've lived for years in one place and all of a sudden you're uprooted, finding yourself in a new neighborhood or city--whose inhabitants are strangers. "Guten Morgan Frau Schmidt" is not the same as "Good Morning Mrs Schmidt" or Smith. "Ich geht nach die heimat zu" is a far cry from "I'm going home" which is the literal translation. The German words say so much more. Take the first line of Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art:" "The art of losing isn't hard to master..." In French it's "L'art de perdre n'est pas difficult a maitre..." In Italian: "Dell'arte di perdere si e facile maistri." Compare "the art of losing" to 'L'arte de perdre" and "perdre" to "perdere." "Perdre" is far more deliquescient than either "perdere" which holds you up with a suffix or "losing" which is too gutteral and in your face. Loss doesn't occur "tout d'un coup." It involves "le temps perdu" peut-etre and a rush of well-earned melancholia which "perdre" unleashes with Racinian "eclat." "Eine Kunst" is the title of Bishop's poem In German and the first line goes like this: Die Kunst des Vierlierens is nicht schwer zu meistern. 

read "Ovid" by Francis Levy TheScreamingPope

and also read "Why Big German Words Like Vergangenbangenheit Carry Weight" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

Friday, February 2, 2024

Rome Journal: Ovid


"One Arte" Hallie Cohen

The renowned Roman poet, Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso) spun his own labyrinth. Ovid’s Metamorphoses became an ars poetica for generations of Italian artists, poets and later, filmmakers. Dante, Boccaccio, Caravaggio, Fellini, and Pasolini were all influenced by the 15 books of this seminal work-- which charted the history of the world from creation to the death of Julius Caesar. Transformation was one of Ovid’s central themes and his work anticipates the labile nature of gender and identity that is so reflected in modern Roman society. In his own “Metamorphosis,” Franz Kafka imagined a character who wakes up to find himself turned into a cockroach. Ovid faced his personal nightmare when he was banished by Emperor Augustus. Waves of conquest are evidenced in the archeology of Rome. Today, ever-changing populations are characteristic of this continuing evolution.

read "Rome Journal: The EUR by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to Francis Levy interviewed about The Kafka Studies Department on East End Ink (WPKN)

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Rome Journal: Rabbia Stradale



Fiat 500 L

Road rage in Rome is mellifluous. It's sucked into the waterfall of speech, the annoyance having no more power than a Latin declension. Romans are peripatetic and proprietary about streets that were once the Appia Antica or Villa Aurelia. Drivers and walkers are like male and female adapters. They complement each other and are part of an operatic performance that requires antiphony. If you're part of the chorus, you bark out your lines on cue when a Fiat holds up traffic parking despite its diminutive size. You might say that Roman Italian in which words pour out as if they were sprinting a 440, is the orchestra against which drivers and walkers sing their great recitatives.


Rome Journal: Mamma Roma by Francis Levy, HuffPost

Canio's interview about The Kafka Studies Department on East End Ink (WKPN)

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Rome Journal: Sub specie aeternitatis

Overstimulation creates a high bar. You crash and the only thing that works is another hit say of success or Percocet. Freud regarded Rome's stratified architecture as a metaphor for mind. From the point of view of aspiration, it offers a history of striving. Can one learn from Maxentius, Marcellus, Augustus, Hadrian ( whose poetic aspirations were addressed in Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian)? John Williams' addressed the quintessence of Augustus and "The Augustan" impulse in a novel named after the famed emperor-- also  responsible for exiling Ovid. Remember that Plato would have recused all poets from his Republic. Take a deep breath next time you're in Rome, especially if you're passing an antiquity on the famed 75 going from the top of the Janiculum to Independence Plaza and the central train station,Termini. Rome makes you look at even elation under the prospect of a sobering eternity.

read "The Fall of Rome" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and, talking about antiquity let's give it up for "Rapper's Delight" by The Sugarhill Gang

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Rome Journal: Piazza di San Cosimato

"Only Connect" famously punctuates Howard's End. Speaking of connection and the unending culture wars E.M. Forster is about as popular as T.S. Eliot on college English syllabi. Imagine Max Von Sydow playing chess with Death on his way home from the latest strain of Covid as mobs of students attack the Cannon! Now toss your empty bucket of popcorn in the trash as you depart the lost art houses of yesteryear. You're standing in the middle of the Piazza di San Cosimato in Trastevere, facing the empty stalls of the weekend market (it's Monday btw). And your head is swimming with connectivity. Jasmine and Joia who man the espresso bar on Glorioso recognize you. "Bongiorno Francesco!" The guys who make that amazing pizza with puntarrelle and anchovies recognize the guy from "Manhattan" and you're even an item that's not a grocery at the PAM on Carini. Is the world your oyster? Or are you in Rome having had one too many--espressos that is?

read "Rome Journal: An Oasis For Depressives" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Land of a Thousand Dances" by Wilson Pickett



Monday, January 29, 2024

Rome Journal: The Leopard

You might describe America as a meritocracy where those in the highest echelons of society earn enough money so they no longer have to work--something which can lead to suicide. Every society has its own topography. Is Italy or Roman society in particular a competitive dog eat dog world in which outsized financial instruments facilitate the "income inequality" Thomas Piketty has described? When Italians voted for a Republic over Monarchy on June 2,1946, the results were a close call. Lampedusa's The Leopard may have described the decline of the old order with the Risogimento and Garibaldi's triumphant march to Rome. However, the antiquities Romans so proudly cherish betoken the strength of their ties to the past. Despite its socialist leanings, Rome is a hereditary aristocracy to the extent that every citizen has inherited and lives in a highly revered past--and present with fashionistas like Versace and Valentino creating their own noble lines.

read Rome Journal: The Screaming Pope, HuffPost

and listen to "Mustang Sally" by Wilson Pickett

Friday, January 26, 2024

Rome Journal: Ozymandias




Ramesses II ('British Museum)

Imagine that particularly scary bungee jump in Macau or the  timed dive headfirst off a Mexican cliff. Most people don't subject themselves to such fear. However the collective unconscious functions differently.
Gore Vidal's screenplay for Was Bob Guccione's disastrous Caligula any further from the truth than Ben Hur? What motivated those troops facing imminent death as they charged up the cliffs of Omaha Beach? The Roman Empire. You might say that at one point in history a whole city took on the world. Says Shelley's traveler in Ozymandias  "two vast legless trunks of stone stand in the desert..." And where does the cosmic yawn fit in? Have the majestic ruins--that appear like apparitions as you travel through downtown Roma-- earned their immortality?

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

and watch the trailer for Erotomania

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Rome Journal: Ladri di biciclette

You would need the Webb telescope which has found light emanating within a stones throw of the Big Bang (300,00-500,000 hundred million years after) to find a face who you have fallen in love with in the crowd. Remember the scene in Orfeo Negro (1959) when the besotted lover turns back to seek out his Eurydice, disappearing into the Hades of Rio's Carnivale? It's throwing dice to get an unsubstantiated feeling you'll find a former or would be lover perusing the stalls of the weekend market at Piazza Cosimato or Porta Portese. You'd have to assume that form of non-artificial intelligence called intuition and also sense they were consciously or subliminally sharing your thoughts. When? In Rome!

and listen to Turn Around" by Bonnie Tyler

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

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Rome Journal: Caesar, Cesare, Cesar


30 Aprile (the date of peace treaty in 1848), 3 Gugno 1849 (one of the days in 1946 when Italians had to decide between monarchy and republic), 20 Settembre (commemorating the beach of the Aurelian walls by General Raffaele Cordoba in 1870)--the collective unconscious of Rome is celebratory and mnemonic. Italy's Risorgimento is documented on its highways and by ways. You wind around the steep curves of Garibaldi to drive in chima to Piazza San Pancrazio and the arch of  Garibaldi monument at the top of the Gianicolo. If you're one of those people who dosn't like being reminded of the past and doesn't want get in practice under the famed Santayana formulation, Rome is not for you. "Et tu, Brut?" Caesar was murdered in 44 BC right by the Piazza Argentina--itself an archeological site. Rome's layers of archeology were a metaphor for mind in Freud's "philosophy." And btw it's Caesar in Latin, Cesar in English and Cesare as in the great Roman writer Cesare Pavese.

read the review of The Kafka Studies Department in Booklife

and listen to "Good Times" by Chic


Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Rome Journal: Favoloso Calvino


portrait of. Calvino by Tullio Pericoli

Italo Calvino, the subject of a show at the Scuderie, is not usually associated with Alberto Sordi, the comic actor and star of Mafioso (1962) and Una Vita Difficile (1961)--this last also the title of the novel Sordi's feckless protagonist fails to sell. Calvino became everything that the Sordi creation wanted to be--an internationally known author and social activist. What's interesting is that the author of Italian Folktales and the fictionalized fiction (the novel titled Una Vita Difficile) shared a common bio ie in being a partisan who who resisted The Republic of Salo, the Mussolini run puppet government that followed the allied victory in '43. Membership in the Communist Party and internment constituted the CV of the reality and the creation. Sordi's character was not the doppoelganger or double for Calvino but Borges might have written a clever story about the fictional characters desire to move from "shadow" to reality. BTW, Calvino's Mr. Palomar, his last work, bears comparison to another famous literary alter ego Zbigniew Herbert's Pan Cogito.

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

and listen to "What Kind of Food (Do you think I am)?" by The Tams

Monday, January 22, 2024

Rome Journal: Ghosting

 

Stanley Hotel, Estes Co

Ghosts is the name of a famous Ibsen play about syphillis. Ibsen btw lived in Rome and it's where he wrote Ghosts (1881), Brandt (1866), Peer Gynt (1867) and A Doll's House (1879). Ghosts also haunted the Overlook Hotel to terrifying effect in the form of delusions produced by late stage alcoholism in The Shining. "Ghost of yesterday/ stalking round my room..." sang Billie Holiday. "Ghosting" a new urban legend is an odd choice of word since it means being "forgotten" or "avoided." Which brings up the question of Rome, a paen to the past which is filled with ghosts of a decidedly less haunting nature. The place is so rife with ghosts, it could use Ghostbusters. You don't have layers of extant pastness without ghosts. Freud equated psychoanalysis with archeology and for him Rome was plainly the equivalent a vast amusement park a Six Flags, where rides and attractions especially the House of Mirrors become increasingly dangerous--the longer you stay on the couch.

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

and with the trailer for the animation of Erotomania


Friday, January 19, 2024

Rome: The Screaming Pope Comes to Rome


Portrait of Innocent X by Velasquez

A Pope coming to Rome might seem an odd iteration though not that crazy in this world of bespoke donuts. Human life is essentially a Second Coming. Those suffering from Imposter  or Capgras Syndrome believe that familiar faces are occupied by strangers, but occasionally it's true. You don't have to be paranoid to think someone's following you. During The Babylonian Captivity, there were actually two popes, one in Rome, another in Avignon. The current pope, Francis, is a nice guy and progressive when it comes to things like gay marriage, but who knows what God has up his sleeve?A Franciscan friar waiting on line with everyone else to get in? Hang around the Vatican long enough and you might get lucky and run into the real Pope. NB don't miss  Art and Science in the Rome of Urban VIII at the Barberini. Under Urban's papacy 1623-44 the "two cultures" flourished as they never had before.

read the review of The Kafka Studies Department on Booklife

and listen to "Hitchhike" by Marvin Gaye


Thursday, January 18, 2024

Rome: Piranesi


The Canopus

If you're a creature of routine you probably prefer cities that can be mapped out on a grid. Rome or for that matter Paris and London perplex you. You prefer your straight lines and coordinates of the kind you can plot on old-fashioned graph paper. Symmetry is a religion that brings with it a certainty that those who seek to believe in something can grasp. Is god geometric? Rome is inured in belief. Even atheist members of Rome's once exuberant Communist party (which eventually repudiated Marxist-Leninism and evolved into the PDS or Democratic Party of the Left) was bathed in edifices of belief. Ubiquitous churches make up for the charmed confusion of this rendezvous with antiquity.

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

 and also listen "Mr. Pitiful" by Otis Redding

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Rome Journal: La Prossima Volta

There are some people who live life under the aspect of eternity and others who apparently have no idea what eternity  means. Heidegger argued that without the awareness of the imminence of death one could not live an "authentic" existence. Of course Camus argued that the only philosophical problem was suicide but he was a writer of fictions whose mandate was not to seek the truth. In Italian "the last time" is "l'ultima volta." The sound of words is a giveaway. "Volta" is very emphatic and sounds a little like "volare" "to fly" or "volere" "to want." One wonders what the grid of NY transportation would look like if Robert Moses had become a Rome Fellow? Would the LIE have been modeled on the Appia Antica which passes the Circus of Maxentius? Would the black hole of congestion and Procrustean destruction that made way for the Cross Bronx Expressway have have been spared by a dose of the "eternal city." Rome is filled with labyrinthine streets, secret passageways and cul de sacs that provide a glimpse of eternity. 

read NPR's Joan Baum on The Kafka Studies Department

and listen to "Maybe" by The Chantels


Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Rome Journal: The Manchurian Candidate

Frank Sinatra and Lawrence Harvey in The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Is there such a thing as a definable culture? Can one generalize about the Romans? Travelers like Goethe came to Italy in search of the past. Popular stereotypes and profiles are often derive from cinema. Alberto Sordi transformed the stereotype of the Roman male from the suave Mastroianni women chaser of La Dolce Vita (1960) and Divorce Italian Style (1961) to an anti-heroic schlepp who ultimately has its roots in the Chaplin of Modern Times (1936) and The Great Dictator (1940)Sordi is best known for his role Lattuada's Mafioso (1962) which talking about culture was an essay on the poles of North and South. In An Diffiucult Life (1961), Sordi plays a "scrittore Romani" who fails in his attempt to sell the story of his life.Nothing new here you might say. Been there done that. However A Difficult Life is the Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979) Rome. It creates a mythos. You have the Greco-Roman Gods and likewise the myths created at Cinecitta. Are any of these filmic masks ie the feckless dreamer, the lady killer or the operatic prostitute played by Anna Magnani in Mamma Roma (1962) personalities one encounters on the street? The answer depends on whether your view of reality is conditioned by art or life.

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

and listen to "Boogaloo Down Broadway" by Johnny C