Wednesday, June 19, 2024

To His Coy Mistress

Andrew Marvell

There are all the classic metaphors of rebirth and most famously the phoenix. Frazer's Golden Bough is rife with them. But unless you believe in the afterlife or reincarnation, there's going to come a time when, there's no time left. Have there ever been any death bed novels? If you're an athlete or a politician you're going to have your "last hurrah." Pitchers have a notoriously short half-life. The saddest is the individual who had devoted his life to a solitary device, reaching artifacts from the Titanic in a submersible, for jnstance, only to find there to be faults. "Had we but world enough and time... sings the metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell in his classic "To His Coy Mistress." Alas one may have neither of these two elements, world or time, left. At a certain point in a marathon runners hit a wall. Running on empty is a feat that defies the Gods.

read the review of The Kafka Studies Department in Booklife (PW)

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

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Radical Chic

photo: MoSchle

Talk about appropriation. There's a huge amount of suffering in the world. Armies are ravaging Uighur and Rohingya populations. Why not borrow their traumas? Affluent members of ruling classes freely plagiarize their narratives of childhood neglect serviced  by a whole industry of trauma specialists who DJ the party with Ecstasy. In defense of the privileged the one thing that a human being can inarguably claim about their unhappiness is the fact that it's their own. Radical chic was the name Tom Wolfe gave when Leonard Bernstein entertained the Black Panthers. Sure guilt can motive charitable actions. Is human suffering in the public domain? Can anybody take  another persons misery and call it their own?

read the review of The Kafka Studies Department in Booklife (PW)

and listen to "Cool Jerk" by Marvin Gaye

Monday, June 17, 2024

Culture and 'Anarchy

Matthew Arnold

The mind is a bit like a supernova, in the course of its natural or precocious disintegration, it throws off a blinding white light. Supernovae, of course, turn into black holes in which all manner of being is sucked into oblivion. In terms of the physiology of death and dying, it's like the way someone wakes up out of the rattle and suddenly shoots forth with questions about where they are and what day it is. In microcosm you may find Matthew Arnold's "Culture and Anarchy" something you studied in Lionel Trilling's course on Matthew Arnold popping up out of the blue with its magnificent dichotomy between the the Hebraic ("strictness of obedience") and the Hellenic (spontaneity of conciousness) comprising the vocabulary of a cherished lost language. If you never heard of The Liberal Imagination then pick up Louis Menand's The Free World: Art and Culture During The Cold War. There you will also read about the frought relationship between Trilling and his brilliant student Allen Ginsberg. What did Ginsberg take from Rimbaud not art but experience for art's sake? You'll also learn that Lionel and his wife the critic Diana found Alfred Kazin of A Walker InThe City fame frumpy while Kazin thought Trilling, the son of a tailor, was striking a pose. You'll also learn that these giants of mid-century culture ultimately liked each other. Menand's book is pleasant time traveling back to a world before the jargonists of deconstruction had yet to be-- when literary criticism meant something and constituted a way of seeing the world.

read "A-Z Quotes" by Francis Levy

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

Friday, June 14, 2024

Is There a Conspiracy Against QAnon?

photo: Anthony Crider

Conspiracy Theory
was a movie starring Mel Gibson. Besides  earned paranoia a la "you don't have to be paranoid to believe someone is following you," Gibson's character (Jerry Fletcher) demonstrates his OCD behavior in his obsession with Catcher in the Rye and Holden Caulfield. Pizzagate was a famous conspiracy that either emerged from or cross-pollinated with QAnon--which one does not hear so much about these days. Is there a "planned obsolescence" to conspiracy that makes it conveniently disappear? When you think about it, conspiracies provide a necessary function--akin to God. Would you rather have nothing coming after you? Would you rather face the cosmic indifference of the universe? Or be filled with the sense of purpose that comes from b
eing a fighter for a just cause? What is more maddening, to be pursued or to have no one on your tail?

read "An Incident of Defenestration" by Francis Levy, Evergreen Review

and listen to Joan Baum's NPR review of The Kafka Studies Department by Francis Levy

Thursday, June 13, 2024


Waiters are also servers, but both words can be double entendres. A waiter is someone who literally stares at the clock waiting for something to happen; a server is an internet platform. Both words are also interactive to the extent that a waiter waits for orders and servers may become the means by which on line orders are effected. It's disconcerting for a waiter when business is slow, as tips provide the large part of their income. If you're an emergency room doctor it doesn't matter whether there are lot of admissions or few, you get the same salary. If a server breaks down, there will be a lot of unhappy customers as well as platforms who will buy be able to reach out to their audience. "I will be your server tonight" is a locution uttered by waiters in high end restaurants which lean towards both PC-ness and #MeTooism. People like to be served promptly; they don't like to wait. "To Serve Man" is the title of a Twilight Zone about an "alienated" cookbook.

read "Pet Buddha" by Francis Levy, Vol. 1 Brooklyn

and listen to "God" by Tori Amos

Wednesday, June 12, 2024


"Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag and smile boy that's the style"

Historical consciousness and connections are like one of those adapters you buy to use electric devices in a foreign country. You're crossing borders as well as time and space. A wide swafh of relationships can resemble the overloaded plugs that may have populated the wall sockets in your grandparents' apartment--and which your parents were always warning you about when you were a kid. Intellectual history itself bears some degree of resemblance to a family tree in which distant cousins have apparently had incestuous relationships. Strange bedfellows is a term used to describe those who find themselves on the same side of the fence as apparent adversaries (as is the case with feminists and fundamentalists when it comes to pornography). Hegel proposed the famous thesis, antithesis, synthesis that became the basis for "dialectical materialism." Would that history could be instantiated in such a clear and blameless way!

Listen to "Tears of the Clown" by Smokey Robinson.

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

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

The 38th Parallel

From the moment of birth your past is like the DMZ at the 38th parallel. Enter purgatory at your own peril. There are those who wouldn't extend the metaphor with the North as hell. The North may be death in life but Hades is a vast battlefield in which death is not infinite but as far as the eye can see. Most people think of the past as a version of the familiar in aged form, but in fact everyone carries a cemetery of ancestors one is seldom prone to think about even in the age of Ancestry. Hades is real and you don't need Charon to cross the Acheron. You may visit it in your sleep.

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

and listen to "Boogaloo Down Broadway" by Johnny C

Monday, June 10, 2024


Jean-Michel Claret
Gaslighting is what Trump does when he's accusing the Democrats of killing democracy. But what's "moonarching?" BTW if you're ever asked about your signs, tell them "my moon is in windshield." The most common example of "moonarching" occurs when someone looks up and says "look at that moon." There is, of course, the famous Moondance Diner. The Chinese recently sent a rocket to the far side of the moon. Sullen individuals are often described as "mooning about." "Fly Me To the Moon" is a Frank Sinatra song but what is one to do when one gets there, exclaim like Neil Armstrong, "that's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind?" Lunar eclipses are more frequent and less dramatic than the recent solar eclipse which caused traffic jams in the Northeast. The Moon and Sixpence is the title of a novel by Somerset Maugham. "There's a Moon Out Tonight" is a classic 50s top 40s song. The Capris sang it. "Let's go strolling. There's a girl in my heart," are the next lines. People who look up towards the moon are those who might be found reading Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination."

Listen to "There's a Moon Out Tonight" by the Capris

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

Friday, June 7, 2024

Tristan and Isolde

Ludwig and Malvina Schnorr von Carolsfeld as Tristan and Isolde

For a moment when the dragon is no longer breathing down your throat you experience a sigh of relief. Desire lies at the heart of all suffering, Buddhists say and there are people who elevate the level of discomfort and pain they're willing to experience, if only to increase the after effect. Maintaining the feeling of gratitude that comes from getting your breath back is another matter. Compulsive ultra marathoners seek this kind of ultimate relief. Where does happiness stand on the graduated cylinder of pleasure? Is there a line at which relief shifts to exhilaration? And is there a form of happiness that doesn't require a cold bath? Satori or nirvana salves consciousness from turbulence but are not states that would serve the thrill seeker. The German for "passion" is "leidenschaft." "Leiden" is sadness. Wagner's great lovers Tristan and Isolde sing their famous "Lisbestod." Is the flame of happiness a super nova, a dying star that explodes magisterially before turning into a black hole?

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

and listen to "A Wonderful One" by Marvin Gaye

Thursday, June 6, 2024


People frequently regret the past and the choices they've made or failed to make. There's the famous Wayne Gretzky line, "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take." And there's Mike Tyson's "everyone has a plan until they get punched on the mouth." You don't have to believe in God or the notions that everything  is as it's supposed to be or it would be different to accept a deterministic universe. Free will is an illusion if one considers heredity, environment, DNA. In fact even so-called aleatory or chance phenomena follow built-in laws. You may be playing roulette or even Russian roulette but what time of day it is and where you are in space/time are some of the forces already at work. The Gambler is the title of a Dostoevsky novel and Dostoevsky himself was a gambler but is one ever gambling? The great Russian writer experienced a mock execution. After such a hair-raising experience anyone would be forced to concede to fate. There's actually no second guessing or turning back, no life that would have been. The only life you can have is the one you're living.

listen to "Do the Funky Chicken" by Rufus Thomas

read the review of The Kafka Studies Department in Booklife (PW)

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Baby Love

drawing by Leonardo da Vinci

There is gestation and birth. Freud talked about the Oceanic Feeling or connection between infant and mother. Isn't this what everyone is nostalgic for? The infant entering the world is a jilted lover who will forever have a chip on their shoulder. One other thing about intra-uterine life is that it's the perfect solitude. You're alone while being all one.

listen to "Baby Love" by The Supremes

and read the Kirkus Review of The Kafka Studies Department 

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Lost Souls

The true lost souls are those who don't realize it. One who proclaims a state of unknowingness has attained a greater degree of awareness than one thinks they have it down pat. Success by the standards of a particular industry or epistemology can be disconcerting since it creates the delusion of wisdom; there will be many leaders of industry, politics and the arts who go to their graves thinking they are sitting on top of the world or carrying it on their shoulders like that Atlas in Rockefeller Center. Aptitude and facility constitute a demonology. Those possessing these traits--those guilty of the sins of insouciance, self/confidence verging on hubris and most importantly self-satisfaction should sit at the foot of Purgatory where pride, along with envy and greed, come a cropper. The last shall be first and all the those who feel their lostness by virtue of incompetence or failure will be fast tracked, on the backs of saints, to heaven.

See Francis Levy playlist forThe Kafka Studies DepartmentLargehearted Boy

and read "Francis Levy's Divine Comedy," Exquisite Corpse

Monday, June 3, 2024

The Night Watch

The ocean is anxiety producing because of rip tides just as sex is anxiety producing for those who are concerned about performance. The Coney Island Cyclone should advertise adrenaline. Skydiving attracts those seeking Adrenalin highs though Adrenalin ironically is the substance that causes impotence. In fact a treatment for a priapism is a shot of adrenaline. Cheap thrills contrast to the kind of enduring pleasure that may derive from a memory of "The Night Watch" or even Courbet's "The Origin of the World" which walks a fine line between stimulation and the kind of illumination, resulting from supernovae that produce an explosive burst of light before they explode and die.

read "Died Young" by Francis Levy, The Brooklyn Rail

and listen to "Can I Get a Witness" by Marvin Gaye