Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Comedy of Errors at the Actors' Forum Theater

Jamey Hecht plays the roles of Egeon and Pinch in the Porters of Hellsgate's latest production, WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S COMEDY OF ERRORS.

The Comedy of Errors opens Friday November 5th and runs through Sunday November 28th at the Actors Forum Theatre in North Hollywood. For tickets visit or call 818 325-2055 for more information.

From Meet the Cast:

Who are you? Where are you from?

I'm Jamey Hecht, PhD, from the Greater New York Metropolitan Area. It's come to my attention that I am the most relatable, all-American, wanna-hava-beerwith, up-to-date Everyman in my entire apartment.

Why is classical theatre important to you?

Leeza nailed it: "Speaking and hearing Shakespeare's words is the theatrical equivalent of eating a five course gourmet meal after living on nothing but cereal for a year." Then there's this odd fact, that "the good stuff" in this art form is often far less expensive to produce, or to experience, than the culture we're all supposed to prefer. Since American post-industrial civilization is obviously collapsing, I believe local, live theater will grow in importance until it edges out the more fuel-intensive entertainments such as big-budget cinema and Nascar racing. Classical theater (especially Shakespeare and Greek Tragedy, from my perspective) connects people to the sources of their own minds, in the unconscious where art is born; it also connects them to their neighbors (not electrons on a screen), and to the past. We may be needing much more of that, and soon.

How did you get involved with the Porters?

I didn't mean to suggest that our electrons are better. All electrons are interchangeable. I have to stop talking about electrons now. I'm going to repeat Leeza's answer for this one, too: "like many others before me, I kept stalking [Charles Pasternak] until I broke him and he invited me to get involved." I'm primarily a writer, and yet the Porters, who have each made all the commitments and sacrifices that the acting vocation requires, gave me a chance to perform with them as a sort of fellow traveler from another tribe. I feel very grateful for that, and for all the fun I've had with them.

Who is your favorite actor/performer?

Paul Scofield, Dame Judi Dench, Robert Downey Jr., Emma Thompson, Ingrid Bergman, Katherine Hepburn, Jack Lemmon, Sir Ian McKellen, Nicol Williamson, Anthony Hopkins, Michael Pendleton, Tim Roth, Gary Oldman, Max Von Sydow, Jude Law, Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy, James Joseph O'Neil, Teresa Stratas, Catherine Naglestad, Cate Blanchett, Kevin Spacey, Holly Hunter, Russel Crowe.

Favorite performance?

Recent, local, live, non-Porters theater that wowed me: John Farmanesh-Bocca of Not A Man Apart Theater Co. in "Perseus Redux"; Jack Stehlin of Circus Theatricals as Petrucchio in "Taming of the Shrew"; Dan Sykes of Fresh Baked Theater as Mickey in "Sorry, We're Closed"; Amy Sanders as Hermia in Midsummer at the Stella Adler; Dan Kucan as Coriolanus with the LA Area Veteran's Artists Alliance (LAAVAA); Jean Gilpin as Maria in Twelfth Night, at Plummer Park with Classical Theater Lab; Vincent Cardinale's Iago at the MET Theater; Luke Wright as Malvolio in Twelfth Night at Zombie Joe's Underground Theater; and Deborah Strang as Margaret in Richard III at A Noise Within.

What's your personal mission as an artist?

"So... I've broken down my goals into these incremental steps: first, I wanna be the All-Being, Master of Time, Space, and Dimension. Then, I wanna go to Europe." --Steve Martin

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thoughts On Race

I'm a beneficiary-of-white-privilege who renounces the category of "White" as a political fiction of the worst kind. Maintaining it seems to me to be in nobody's interest. The idea of "white people," together with all the taxonomy and lurid pseudoscience of defining it case by case, has been disastrous for everyone defined out of whiteness, that vast majority of humanity's billions, of whom "White"ness makes a zillion mere outgroups. It also seems to me that people whose heritable genetic traits happen to give them the option of identifying as "White," and who in fact do so, pay a kind of inner price for that.

As for me, I'm an obvious Ashkenazi Jew and I would have been doomed in Deutschland back in the day, without ever opening my mouth. Present in the New World since Colonial days, Jews weren't "White folks" here until the American labor market needed us to be.

James Baldwin said: "So long as you insist upon being White, I have no choice but to be Black." What's the point of being white, if not to take more than a fair share? Nobody has to be white, because of the "one drop rule," where whiteness itself insisted on excluding everyone who had even one "drop"--as though that were a unit of heredity--of blood from a non"white." As a statistical phenomenon, that's a mess after four centuries of genetic drift since the European guns-germs-n-steel bonanza that more or less invented race (not slavery) in the first place.

So part of what's left when you try to opt out of being white is the problem of white privilege, only one layer of which is under your indirect control, while the rest comes at you from other people and institutions where inequity persists because norms are tenacious memes that get entrenched.

But like any virus, racial ideology (by which I mean not only claims to supremacy, but the whole taxonomy of human groups into "races," which is, to say the very least, not fully separable from its deployment as a caste system) requires many conditions for its virulence, and somewhat fewer conditions for its survival. One is, that enough of the people who receive white privilege refuse to acknowledge it (not only by denying it when asked, but also by opposing affirmative action, taking little interest in the historical experiences of people in racial outgroups, and so on). Baldwin again: "So long as you insist upon being White, I have no choice but to be Black." 

Whereas it seems to me "white" is category whose work is done, since it was primarily a tool for social crime, Blackness remains an identity, dynamic and uncertain in its boundaries but historically specific in its core, like any other identity worth having.

James Baldwin: "...[G]
enerally, most white American writers think of themselves as white. To be a white American is to have a very peculiar inheritance. All white American writers came from someplace else, even if they were born here. My past, after all, stretches back to Africa by way of Europe. But most white American writers seem to have cut off their heritage at Ellis Island. Their testimony, for me, does not include enough. Or, one could put it another way. One could say that they reveal their heritage in unconscious ways."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Reactionary U.S. Presidents In Denial

An anthropologist from another world might marvel at it: the same little screen which has shown me King Lear so many times, with its deep tragic lessons of humility and loss, has also presented three decades of American Presidents engaged in hysterical nostalgia and denial:
Thou shalt find That I'll resume the shape which thou dost think I have cast off for ever...” (I, iv, 839).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why We Are In Afghanistan (in my humble opinion)

1. heroin poppies & paste;

2. pipeline control;

3. access to valuable minerals in Afghanistan & adjoining regions;

4. DOD procurement pulling tax $$ into profits for KBR-Halliburton, Blackwater, Boeing, Raytheon, McDonnel Douglas, Northrop Grumman, etc., the giant weapons corporations that maintain the federally run socialist mini-state that is the US Military's global web of bases;

5. strategic regional encirclement;

6. the spooky unconscious collective aggression of US society, which both sacrifices its soldiers, and attacks the enemy, for lack of a culture more capable of diffusing aggression.

The cover story--about democracy and terror and humanitarian effort--is the absurd part. The actual reasons for this war and the hundreds like are not irrational or foolish, but evil.

This evil, however, is partly an ethical phenomenon where individual persons act immorally, and partly an amoral, natural phenomenon where these same behaviors are the expression of instinctual drives or neurological imperatives.

There is a parallel structure on the collective level, where states in conflict are both sinning against the truths of virtue & human decency, and acting out a merely amoral, natural logic of competitive strife that inheres in their very nature, to be epitomized in the all-ensnaring predicament of endemic militarism that results.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mateus number 1

PAu000105578 / 1979-05-14
Date of Creation:1979
Title: "Mateus" number 1.
Application Title:Did you ever know anyone who didn't like Mateus?
Mateus number 1--1979.
Description:1 p.
Copyright Claimant: No Soap Radio, Ltd.
Authorship on Application: No Soap Radio, Ltd., employer for hire of Dan Aron (lyrics) & Bryan Wells (music)
Names:Dan Aron Bryan Wells

Dear Writer and Composer of the 1979 Mateus 1 Commercial,


This jingle has been bouncing around in my mind for over thirty years. I have had to contend with its incredibly tenacious, sticky saccharine surface clinging to my neural network like honey on wool for the majority of my life thus far. I attribute this unfortunate affliction to my own unconscious, and to chance, and to your manifest brilliance at the craft you practice. To manage, I've had to improvise a system for modifying the obsessive repetitions of the jingle so that they amuse me enough to assuage the frustration of the jingle's refusal to stop visiting every 10 or 20 hours, or minutes, whatever. I sing it, I syncopate around it, modulate & sing it in different keys, harmonize, etc. I call it "THE 'TEUS" and translate the jingle into other dialects & riff on it:
Didja ever spoze / any fool / to be like: / eff the 'Teus?
Can't you even quit / fronting like / you don't go / 'ssage the 'Teus?
Won't you be like yo / what is up / with people / on the 'Teus?
...and so forth.
I'm sorry this fan letter has to be so ambivalent, but I want to convey to you the general quantity of mental space I have unwillingly squandered on this incredibly effective little phonemic zipper of yours. So, once again: it's a great jingle, and I'd vote for it in the hall of whatever they have for that.

Yours in the 'Teus,

Read more:

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sophocles Recitation at Pondwater Arts Society in Covina, CA, 7-10-10

Thanks to the Baines family for the chance to read at their wonderful salon, PONDWATER.
Here are excerpts from my translation of the O.T.:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

No Individual Without A Population: the Loch Ness Monster

At some point in life you are informed of a certain Loch Ness Monster.

Soon thereafter, you either invent or encounter the hypothesis, that Nessie is a lone plesiosaur --- a living specimen of the marine reptile species thought to have perished in the End Cretaceous extinction event 65 mya.

Next, either it occurs to you, or you are told: there cannot be a lone plesiosaur lurking anywhere: hidden in the vasty deep or in a landlocked Scottish lake, there can be no individual organism without a continuous population of its species to produce the individual.

It is perhaps barely possible, though vanishingly unlikely, that in more recent geologic time a marine animal evolved with a "just-so" convergence on the plesiosaur morphology, a new species which dwindled to a final individual, such that this individual somehow came to make its home in Loch Ness in the 20th century.

Yet there are people who never get wind of this same idea, or from whose hide it bounces right off. To them, I suppose, the "Loch Ness Monster" needs no parents to beget it because God can make a lone bachelor plesiosaur in 1930 and hide him in a lake, easy as muffins. Or they reckon a population does exist, and that any whale carcass that gets photographed is actually a plesiosaur because the Bible says... something.

Wow. Having found this "" website, I decided to explore the place. It's delightful in a mesmerizing, trainwreck sort of way:

There, the least molehill of intellectual difficulty is interpreted as a colossal impediment to further thought. Hamfisted sleights of hand achieve their object; the hope for an immortal soul flashes in the eye of the mind and blinds it; a juggler's ruse so crude it's not a ruse at all, seems to take in every mark and a few carnies too, yet takes in nobody. Check it out.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Oil Debacle = Return of the Repressed

The oil gusher is not a "spill." We call it that because we are far more familiar with marine oil disasters involving tankers. This crisis is about a gusher, which is a great thing on land (and a very rare thing these days, since petroleum discovery peaked in 1964) and a total disaster in the water. It's around 95 thousand barrels per day.

My days of professional journalism about oil are long over. I haven't really followed industry trends since FTW folded in 2006. But I'm still thinking about it, and POETRY-POLITICS-COLLAPSE is where I do my thinking on current affairs, with my 46 subscribers and my Don Quixote helmet.

The oil gusher disaster is the return of the repressed. It is the outbreak of the deep past, raging into the present like the suppurating narcissistic wounds of childhood busting upward from the unconscious in the form of somaticized neurotic symptoms--a facial palsy, a tic, a paralysis, an addiction, or a tremor, or poor dear Fairbairn's inability to urinate--and plenty of mental symptoms into the bargain. The somatic symptoms are like the wrecking of the biosphere; the mental symptoms are like the mounting ecological anxiety of the culture, together with its two major defenses--denial and hysteria.

The oil is the deep past; it's the intolerable & heartbreaking message of extinction, not only because the popular mind associates the origins of oil with the dinosaurs, but because in reality petroleum is the product of two enormous algae-blooms from 150 m.y.a. and 90 m.y.a. (long before the meteorite that vaporized the last Tyrannosaurus Rex).

The algae was alive an unthinkably long time ago, a length of time which utterly dwarfs not only the timescale of a human life (102 years), but even the timescale scale of the entire human species' tenure on Earth (~2 x 106 years). The older of the two algae-blooms was 1.5 x 108 years ago. It has been totally transformed into hydrocarbons, whose amazing level of energy storage evokes the vast size of the ancient blooms, the vast energy of the incident sunlight they captured, and the vast aeons it took to "ferment" their myriad microscopic corpses into petroleum.

We call it "rock oil," as though it were as inorganic as stone; in reality, it is liquid death, the "excrement of the devil," which ruins every country in which it's discovered. How? By bringing a cloud of corporate vultures who will kill anybody whose priorities differ from those of capital. Oil brings in The Man, to do what Shell did to the Ogoni in Nigeria. With its easy wealth, it also erases the folkways of traditional expertise; by the time the exportable oil runs out, nobody is left who's old enough to remember how to grow food without it. Pretty soon, there's not even adequate supply for domestic consumption, and things get sticky, as they've begun to do in Britain since the North Sea petro-bonanza ended, sinking Maggie Thatcher's star below the horizon.

Now we're confronted daily with the bizarre spectacle of apparent abundance--a gusher like Spindletop, right out of 1901--but this time even CNN realizes we are only out there drilling deepwater because all the conventional giant fields are in decline, from Ghawar to Cantarell, depleting at about 14% per year. It's a weird tableau of abundance and scarcity.

The oil is precious; human beings busted their asses and risked their blood and treasure to get at it; it is all going to waste; it is toxic and flammable, intensely concentrated liquid power; it is time and sunshine made tangible; it's the materialization of Sun light, that life-giving, life-taking mindless force of the blazing thermonuclear furnace to which we owe our existence; it ruins everything it touches; it is invading the ecosystems of the Gulf and an ever-greater portion of the coastal United States.

BP is behaving like a typical corporation--utterly amoral, hubristic, venal--lying through its teeth, hoarding information, treating the rest of the human community with utter contempt. That's not news; they always do that. The news is that this time, a non-trivial minority of Americans actually know something about Peak Oil; they know about the appalling fragility of the biosphere, and that when it crashes, we all perish; they know the whole industrial food empire runs on cheap & abundant fossil fuels which are rapidly becoming gone things. They even know that before the "spill," the ocean was afflicted with gigantic dead zones and islands of floating trash the size of various New England states.

The Bush crime family, whose lifeblood is gasoline and heroin, recently sent its cat-torturing scion to the White House, where in 2006 he told their battered Stepford bride she had to quit her habit: "America is addicted to oil." Well, it's late in the game for that, since Ford-Firestone and Standard Oil gutted our public transportation systems a hundred years ago and then Ike replaced them with the interstate highway system. Then Cargill, ADM, and Monsanto drove the farmers off the land and into the industrial cities, so we all forgot how to feed ourselves without off-the-shelf Twinkies at our disposal. Then manufacturing went to China, since the American ruling class decided around 1980 that compared to F.I.R.E. (finance, insurance, and real estate), making material things of intrinsic value was a sucker's game. Throw in narco-traffic, war profiteering, and money-laundering, and the picture of the U.S. economy is much closer to completion.

Everybody's in debt, there are no new jobs, and the old jobs all suck--working for the Wal-Mart "folks" who own the country, as their big-box armada homogenizes the entire landscape of the lower 48, eating small businesses and excreting their digested remains in the form of billboards, strip malls, and chain after chain, franchise after franchise, plastered with the smiley emoticons of fake happiness and atomized emotional hypothermia. Brrrr, that Slurpee's cold! So is bowling alone...

But whether we produce or consume, it all runs on cheap oil. At this point the price has plunged toward $50/barrel, apparently because the weak euro is making everything cheaper in dollar terms. That won't last, especially with the shitification of the deepwater oil industry.

Meanwhile, Republican Louisiana Governor Robert Jindal (hands off the "Bobby" nickname; it belongs to RFK, not you) sees fit to wait for permits before building sandbag installations, perhaps because he thinks this emphasis on red tape is helpful to his absurd life's work of being an anti-government governor. The irony there, of course, is that a bit more of the dreaded "big government" regulatory enforcement might have prevented the disaster that's currently crippling his state.

The gusher at the bottom of the ocean is a wound. It is too deep under water to repair. The pressurized oil comes from an even deeper place, below the surface of the ocean floor (in that regard, it's a bit like the balrog that slept underneath the mines of Moria; holla back, my nerd homies); depth under depth. It represents all the bitter self-knowledge we cannot yet tolerate, but which is blasting up out of the unconscious and into the blogs, the press, the conversations (remember those?) at a rate of 95 thousand barrels per day.

That inexorable black plume is the unfinished business of America's drunken dream. It means we are coming to the point where our systems of food, transportation, and economic exchange are going to start failing. Only then will a majority of people be forced to break the law and squat in properties they don't own, hoping for the best until the werewolves of the law come knocking; growing their own food and raising their own animals in the hope that the zoning laws won't kick them into the street; walking and biking after the cars just die in the driveway and stay there. Digging up the pavement to plant corn, and hoping it isn't loaded with cadmium and lead. And so on. Meanwhile there's this other little problem of the hottest year on record, with all the nasty consequences for crop yields.

It's as if the planet is saying, "You want oil? I'll give you oil..."

The good part of this current disaster is the forced march toward integrity, the excruciating uphill slog into truths we can hardly bear to notice, let alone deal with. The dead wildlife won't benefit from our soul-searching, but whatever survives down there will probably have a few years' respite from the trawler-fishing that's devastated coastal shellfish populations to the brink of collapse. With any luck, it'll be like the DMZ in Korea, where animals are free to eat each other alive without interference from man--not because we grew up and learned to respect "nature," but because the Korean War is not yet officially over and the no-man's land of the North-South dividing line happens to be several miles wide. I hear the deer are thriving at Chernobyl.

"There is plenty of hope. But not for us." --Kafka

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

photosynthesis, electrons, consciousness

Though this fascinating news story, Untangling the quantum entanglement behind photosynthesis is about quantum mechanical effects in the optimizing of light absorption by chlorophyl molecules in photosynthetic bacteria, it should thrill the people who study consciousness via cognitive neuroscience--especially those like Roger Penrose, who say the computational model doesn't amount to an explanation of consciousness unless the computational brain is understood as a quantum mechanical system. But the conventional wisdom (which has only recently come into serious question) holds that quantum mechanical effects like entanglement only become observable in exotic laboratory conditions, and probably don't occur at all in the relatively "hot and noisy" environment of the brain. The parrying argument from Pensrose and others was the hypothesis that certain very tiny "microtubules," which had been observed in neurons, might provide enough shelter from the brain's internal "heat and noise" for such effects as quantum entanglement to arise in the brain. The next step is to wonder if those otherwise rather mysterious microtubule structures exist for that purpose--to create entanglement-friendly conditions the brain can exploit for their awesome computational power, just as any other "quantum computer" does. Critics remained skeptical.

So along comes this news story about the quantum entanglement of electron pairs playing an observable role in photosynthesis. It makes no mention of neurons but I bet the microtubules people will be all over this thing like qualia on rice.

I hope this remarkable new work on photosynthetic bacteria leads to even more funding for research on quantum effects in the human brain, which might somehow "solve" the Hard Problem of consciousness. I don't pretend to understand it. Every aspect of our experience gets encoded into coordinated electrochemical flows of firing and non-firing trillions of networked neurons, and somehow consciousness is the result. Neurons and glia, configured in myriad stacked webs, such that it all somehow gives rise to--experience!

Then I think of qualia like the color blue, the flavor of stawberries, the timbre of a bell, and I can't imagine how they arise from computation. It's much easier to imagine the gist of how the sense organs of sight, olfaction, and hearing are able to take in data from the environment and encode it into electrochemical information for the brain's neural network to "process" somehow; it's much harder to imagine any "process" by which those electrochemically encoded data could eventuate in what I experience as those phenomena, when I impale this strawberry with a blue handled fork and take a bite as a distant bell tower rings the time.

I think I get the layman's gist of the neurology of a sea slug or a bacterium exhibiting a tropism and locomoting away from hydrochloric acid. What baffles me about consciousness--this emergent property of the brain--is just how it emerges.

Excerpts below from

Untangling the quantum entanglement behind photosynthesis The schematic on the left shows the absorption of light by a light harvesting complex and the transport of the resulting excitation energy to the reaction center through the FMO protein. On the right is a monomer of the FMO protein, showing also its orientation relative to the antenna and the reaction center. The numbers label FMO's seven pigment molecules. Image from Mohan Sarovar

Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC), Berkeley have recorded the first observation and characterization of a critical physical phenomenon behind photosynthesis known as quantum entanglement.

Previous experiments led by Graham Fleming, a physical chemist holding joint appointments with Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley, pointed to quantum mechanical effects as the key to the ability of green plants, through photosynthesis, to almost instantaneously transfer solar energy from molecules in light harvesting complexes to molecules in electrochemical reaction centers.

"This is the first study to show that entanglement, perhaps the most distinctive property of quantum mechanical systems, is present across an entire light harvesting complex," says Mohan Sarovar, a post-doctoral researcher under UC Berkeley chemistry professor Birgitta Whaley at the Berkeley Center for Quantum Information and Computation. "...this is the first instance in which entanglement has been examined and quantified in a real biological system." 10 May 2010.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

REVOLUTION IN MIND: The Creation of Psychoanalysis, by George Makari. Or, DECENT BOOK, EDITORIAL DISASTER.

This is a competent narrative of the origins of psychoanalysis. My judgment of it is clouded by two personal factors: my resentful envy of the prestigiously prestigious prestige with which the book is saturated (the author's "numerous awards," Harper Collins Press, Cornell U., Columbia U., etc.), and my scholarly obsession with issues of English grammar and rhetoric that most people regard as trivial. The two combine in the thought that if a less privileged author were to make this many mistakes of this kind, the book would be trashed in the press or completely ignored. I don't want to ruin anybody's day, but from my perspective the villain here is the "wonderful editor" named explicitly on page 488.

The great William Arrowsmith is the only translator of Nietzsche into English who bothered to render the closing section of the first of the four Untimely Meditations, in which Nietzsche offered a large sampling of the infelicities (often amounting to what we call "howlers") in the writing style of "David Strauss, the Writer and Confessor." Here is a similar bestiary of what Harper Collins allowed out of the house in this book by George Makari.

p.263. Makari makes some good use of the famous remark by Ferenczi, "In times of war, the Muses are silent." He meant that the nascent psychoanalytic community would have to temper the theoretical creativity of its more intellectually independent members until the discipline matured, otherwise such creativity might exacerbate the factionalism that threatened to destroy psychoanalysis as a viable branch of medicine. Fine. But then we get these lines:

"Members who wished to rewrite 'our Science' had to be silenced. This Nuremberg directive had Adler's name on it, but he showed little interest in modifying his views or deferring to these concerns. In the end, he was the Muse that needed to be silenced."

So Adler was a Muse? Adler was nobody's Muse, and even if he was, that's not what Makari is trying to say. He means that Adler was the PERSON who had to be silenced, but he goes for the repetition as if this did not matter. Also, "to be silenced" was absolutely not what Adler "needed." This is a street idiom, where the needs of the aggressor are stated as the victim's needs--as when a thug says "you need to give me your money." No, you need my money; what I need is a cop.

p.264. "Freud had tolerated Stekel, even admired his uncanny critical acumen, but was contemptuous of his theorizing." This is the first we've heard of Stekel's "uncanny critical acumen" or Freud's admiration of it. There's no footnote. Surely such a strong formulation demands at least one example?

p.266. "Freud publicly touted his tolerance of diverse opinion, as exemplified by his barely contained capacity to endure Wilhelm Stekel..." What Freud "barely contained" was his contempt for Stekel, not his capacity to endure Stekel. Was his capacity going to escape?

p.267. "When Freud announced Stekel's departure to the Vienna Society..." We can work out from the context that "to" governs "announced" and not "departure," but good prose does not burden the reader with ear-snagging ambiguities like this one; the author is supposed to resolve them, so that the reader doesn't have to slow down and do it himself. This book has all too many grammatical ambiguities of this sort.

p.268. Along these lines, read the last complete paragraph on page 268 and watch yourself backpedaling to be sure of just who is "he" and who is "the older man."

p.269. "The long paper did not appear to be a rebel's yell, for it opened by paying homage to Sigmund Freud's dream book and took as a given that that hero of classic Greek drama, Oedipus Rex, was living inside us all." The phrase "rebel yell" comes from the American Civil War and is out of place here. If accidental rhyme in prose is to be avoided, "book and took" is not good; neither is "that that." The literature of the Fifth Century BCE is called "Classical," not "classic." The name of the figure in question, like the drama which bears his name, is simply Oedipus, not Oedipus Rex (which is both Latin and extraneous).

p.270. "Like Helly Preiswerk, Frank Miller was an adept, a woman who made the unconscious manifest." I may have missed something in previous pages (I did go back and look again), or I may be the only educated person who hasn't heard of Helly Preiswerk, but who the hell was she?

p.271. Summarizing Jung's interpretation of the fantasies of his patient Frank Miller, Makari writes: "Her psychological struggle with the 'Father Imago'...provoked unconscious religious fantasies that traced the historical movement from the moral decadence of Roman times to the founding of Christianity and Mithraism." The incoherence of this passage is perhaps more Jung's responsibility than Makari's, but a different sort of writer might direct the reader's attention to the problem instead of merely repeating it. Is it Jung or Makari who writes of "the moral decadence of Roman times"? Decadence is a decline; exactly what morally superior past is supposed to have preceded this decline? Are "Roman times" the decadent times? Surely the early Republic with its citizen-farmer-soldiers was not a decadent society, and surely "Roman Times" include "the founding of Christianity and Mithraism," since those gradual events preceded the fall of the Western Roman Empire by several centuries. If "moral decadence" refers to the reign of Nero, there's a chronology problem, since that emperor allegedly illuminated his rooms with the burning bodies of Christians; they were already around during his reign, so its "decadence" cannot have resulted in "the founding of Christianity."

p.273. "Freud then added innocently that his own thought moved forward when he felt 'compelled to by the pressure of facts or by the influence of someone else's ideas.'" His thought moved forward when he felt compelled to--to what? To move forward, in the kitchen?

p.274. "Again, Auguste Comte's curse rose." Specters rise; curses do not.

p.283. "Jones had not mentioned anything about secrecy, but Freud emphasized it: 'this committee had to be strictly secret in his existence and in his actions.'" Again one can't tell whether the error lies with Freud, or Jones, or Makari; obviously we want a third person singular possessive pronoun which was probably his/its in German and has unfortunately been rendered (by whom?) "his" instead of "its" in English. If the error predates Makari, he should have inserted [sic:]; if not, he or his editor should have fixed it.

p.286. "But Jones also expressed reservations." Nope. Jones, too, expressed reservations. You want to add Jones to the list of people with reservations, not add reservations to the list of what Jones had.

p.290. "But some core propositions--especially the defining of the unconscious--were very difficult to prove." The defining was difficult to prove? The defining was a proposition? This is just incoherent.

p.298. "The Viennese philosopher Ernst Mach..." Mach was a physicist, one of the most important figures in the history of that discipline. Makari calls him a philosopher because Makari is only interested in the small part of Mach's work that fits neatly into philosophy (so it can be more easily related to psychology), and apparently has not heard of the rest.

p.298. "Mach argued for description only in science, and he viewed synthetic explanations as unwarranted." The word Makari needed was "speculative," not "synthetic." For a neo-Kantian like Mach, "synthetic" propositions are already part of our a priori knowledge of the world by virtue of our inborn epistemic equipment; we cannot elide them without landing in what James called "a blooming, buzzing confusion." Without synthesis there can be no description, let alone theory.

p.324. "Food was scarce, funds unavailable, and the capacity for communication outside Hungary difficult." Nothing like a difficult capacity, eh?

p.326. "Jones had little interest in laymen, but Karl Abraham and Hanns Sachs took the Brunswick Square applicants and expressed the wish that by bringing these people into the fold..." He took them? Where?

p.328. "The establishment of such guidelines was of TANTAMOUNT IMPORTANCE..." People make this sort of mistake because they have neither read enough books in English to absorb the idioms of the language by rote, nor learned enough about language in general to know that "tant" is a correlative pronoun that means "so much, as much as." Paramount importance, not tantamount.

p.339. "He digested the standard cafe fare: Weininger, Schopenhauer, and Kant..." Not in that order, I hope.

p.344. "Therefore, conflicts...were entirely out of conscious, which meant..." Conscious is an adjective. We speak of "the unconscious," but I've never seen "conscious" used as a noun--certainly not without an article.

p.374. "Like prewar Berlin itself, Abraham gave little hint of originality in his early writings." I can't imagine what that means.

ibid. "In this regard, Abraham shared Ferenczi and Rank's belief that more attention be paid to the analytic situation." Trainwreck.

p.377. "...modes for interaction" This should be "modes OF interaction."

p.393-4. "For the close reader, Sterba had let the Technical Seminar's rabbit out of the bag." That's "cat out of the bag," not "rabbit out of the hat" and certainly not "rabbit out of the bag."

p.401. "Much of these discussions occurred at..." Should be "many," not "much."

p.417. "The victory of the Nazis and the Aryanization of the Berlin Institute was a catastrophe not just for Germany. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, it also announced a grave, immediate threat to Europe and more immediately, Austria." I am not calling anybody an anti-Semite, but in a book about Freud and the origins of psychoanalysis this passage just stinks. It's like writing a book about the origins of Blues music and saying the slave trade was a disaster not just for the shipbuilders whose galleys were often wrecked on the ocean, but also for the investors in those shipping companies. Not very sensitive.

p.428. "This conclusion encouraged Klein's move from the complexities of inner and outer to just the inner." Writer and editor are sleeping peacefully.

p.437. "...who Anna introduced.." WHOM she introduced.

p.438. "After the rise of the Nazis, many German analysts came to Vienna to participate in the stimulating analytic scene, despite the risk that Hitler's shadow loomed over Austria." I see no way to construe this that does not involve a mistake. "Loom" is not a transitive verb. Also, risk + shadow + loom = redundancy.

p.453. "...continuum between biology, psychology, and sociology." The preposition "between" is used for two elements; AMONG is used for three or more.

p.454. "...moral and ethical self-reflection.." What is the difference? If there is none, or if you haven't the space to specify it, then choose one term and drop the other. As it is, you're blowing smoke.

p.465. "In 1938, 30 percent of the I.P.A. membership lived in America, and that percentage was about to grow exponentially." That's a howler.

What is the smallest exponent? 30 to the zero power is one, so he can't mean that. 30 to the one is 30, which is no growth at all. But then 30 squared is 900. That means that out of every 100 (per-cent, remember?) psychoanalysts, 900 of them live in America. Or if he means 30% times 30%, then the number is getting smaller, not growing.

p.466. "On the first day of September 1939, Adolph Hitler invaded Poland." That's the worst way to put it. The Wehrmacht invaded Poland; millions of enthusiastic racist Nazis from Germany and Austria invaded Poland under orders from Hitler, the mentally ill puppet of military industrialists and financiers like Krupp, Thyssen, and Bayer.

p.471. "A series of ten discussions took place between January 27, 1943, to May 3, 1944." FROM x TO y, or BETWEEN x AND y, but not BETWEEN x TO y.

I haven't cited any of the merely typographical errors which plague this celebrated book. The errors I have cited above are the sort that students make--intelligent students who are simply too young and inexperienced to have read the thousand books you've got to read in order to accumulate so much mental exposure to good writing that you stop making these errors. But this book--which has its merits, and even a few passages of grace and beauty--bears four flatulently adoring blurbs from Harold Bloom, Paul Auster, Jonathan Lear, and Murray Gell-Mann. Heck, let's throw in the very Nobel Prize withal, shall we? Somebody pick up the phone and call Stockholm...

Meanwhile, can I have my $32.50 back?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

youth in a movie

I'm watching a terrific little Netflix DVD of a 35 minute film ["MC5:Kick Out the Jams" (1999)] about the MC5, an important, loud, musically brilliant Detroit band that flourished briefly in the late 1960's. For extent of musical influence & sheer cultural power, the MC5 are often compared with the Velvet Underground or Big Star. There are some great performances on this DVD.

All the audience members--people in the film who aren't playing music onstage, if that sounds less hierarchical--are performing their youth, reveling in their youth, radiating their youth; it seems to be the most important, urgent, striking thing about them. But in the meantime every single one of them has lost that very thing.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Serious Man

I just saw the Coen Brothers' latest film, A Serious Man. It's about Larry Gopnik, a young Jewish paterfamilias, up for tenure in a physics department, a few days before his son's Bar Mitzvah. His life sounds great, right? Nope! A Serious Man is a psychic horror film in which the wounds inflicted on the protagonist are not physical but narcissistic. Unlike, say, 1984, A Serious Man was campy enough not to terrify me away from the screen, but easily more frightening than the last monster movie I saw (Aliens, 1986). Why is Gopnik's world a Hell? One problem is that it's 1967. Another, the story's ancestors are the Book of Job and Kafka's Metamorphosis, each about a single man afflicted in his prime. Third, he is the archetypal nebbish, the very last thing any Jewish man wants to be: ineffectual, cowardly, naive, gullible, submissive, innocent, lacking in self-knowledge, and so unfortunate that all manner of bullies and predators easily perceive his vulnerability and converge to exploit him. His wife is a catty, imperious, thieving cheater who dumps him for a sage-looking swine named Ableman. This able man's touchy-feely warmth is really just aggression under heaps of sugar and butter, a bad faith so saturated with barely-repressed hostility as to be really shocking. When Gopnik dreams Ableman is beating him up, it's a relief to see the violence become physical and undisguised.

I was born in 1968, and Bar Mitzvahed in front of my physics professor father in 1981. I had a version of the hand-held transistor radio used by Gopnik's son Danny in A Serious Man, and when I got one that played tapes I played a hell of a lot of Jefferson Airplane, the band whose most famous song forms a thread running through the movie, especially its opening verse: "When the truth is found to be lies..." There is parallel bullying of Gopnik the Jewish father by his cornpone-fascist Goy neighbor, and of his Jewish son Danny by the oddly named big kid, Fagle. Nobody ever bullied my father as an adult, because he would have mauled the shit out of anybody who tried; but as a boy he was bullied for being Jewish. I was bullied for having traits that were Jewish traits, not for being Jewish. Some of the kids who beset me were Jews too, but without the bookish Ashkenazi traits.

The film has a prologue that seems to spring from Singer, summarized thus by Wikipedia:

In a prologue set in the early 20th century, in an Eastern European shtetl, a Jewish man named Velvel comes home during a snowstorm and tells his wife that he had been helped along his way by an acquaintance of hers, Reb Groshkover (Fyvush Finkel), whom he has invited in for soup. The wife informs him that Reb had died three years prior, and that this visitor must be a dybbuk, an undead being of Jewish folklore. The guest laughs off this suggestion, but eventually she stabs the visitor, and he goes back out to the snow.

In Jewish folklore a dybbuk is generally a malicious spirit that has to be opposed (unless it's only among the living in order to acquit itself of some task that does someone good, in which case it has to be helped until the task is done, whereupon the dybbuk departs). But the story looks uncomfortably like the theoxeny stories in Greek folklore, e.g., where Zeus and Hermes come disguised as beggars to the house of the old couple Philamon and Baucis; or in Hebrew sources, like the visit of the stranger angels in the story of Lot. The point of every theoxeny is the same: whoever welcomes the needy stranger as a guest, feeds him, protects him, will receive the same reward as if he had hosted God; whoever rejects him rejects God, and will be cursed for it as Gopnik's ancestors were cursed.

But a dybbuk is neither God nor a god; it's a spirit, and supposedly it's a bad one. Well, this Reb Groshkover, dybbuk or man, had helped Velvel and perhaps saved his life. As for Velvel (who is probably Gopnik's grandfather), he seems full of life and love, strong and competent if uneducated, a bit hapless for having been caught in a late-night snowstorm, yet lucky in getting the Reb's unlooked-for help. His wife is dour, miserable, and cynical. She is apparently correct in her insistence that the old Reb sitting in their kitchen chair is a dybbuk, since he laughs when she stabs him. But then he bleeds, which a three-years corpse might not. It is much harder to figure out whether the figure was a dybbuk or a man, than to answer this "moral dilemma": A man helps you out of a deadly storm. You invite him over for soup. Later, he arrives. Should you stab him? When the stabbed figure bled, I thought of Shylock: "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" Dybbuks are bad, right?

If the Singeresque prologue were the keynote of the film, we might suppose its parable to extend further still; maybe America is the bad host who stabs the helpful Jew-Guest. This doesn't sit right, yet there may be something in it: Larry Gopnik is so beleaguered and ill-equipped for life that he seems half alive, and in this he's like the dybbuk whose aliveness is also in question.

Friday, February 26, 2010