Friday, December 30, 2011

O 2011, Where Did You Go? A recap of sorts.

2011 just blew past and we thought we'd take a moment to slow it down and share some of our most memorable TDR moments from the year.

We'd love to hear from other folks, too, readers or authors as to what some of their favorite times from the past year were, whether with our books or others, so please chime in!

Here are some of those moments we'll remember, in no particular order.

Barbara Browning appearing with Keren Ann at Barnes & Noble's Upstairs at the Square.
Barbara's debut novel, The Correspondence Artist, inspired Largehearted Boy to declare the book "one of the true literary breakthroughs of our young century," and thankfully we have this utterly fantastic video of her in conversation with Katherine Lanpher at a joint event with Keren Ann.

Grace Krilanovich's The Orange Eats Creeps makes the editors' shortlist for The Believer Book Awards.
"Grace Krilanovich’s first book is a steamy cesspool of language that stews psychoneurosis and viscera into a horrific new organism—the sort of muck in which Burroughs, Bataille, and Kathy Acker loved to writhe."
And while it didn't win, we're certain it made an impression.

Michael Schaub reviews Jay Neugeboren's You Are My Heart and Other Stories at Kirkus.
"[Neugeboren] might not be as famous as some of his compeers, like Philip Roth or John Updike, but it's becoming increasingly harder to argue that he's any less talented. Neugeboren's new short story collection serves as a convincing piece of evidence of the author's rare talent... dazzlingly smart and deeply felt... Jay Neugeboren is music to our ears."
That's why it was memorable, a better appreciation for this acclaimed author could not have been written.

Francis Levy pisses off Brazil.
The publication of Francis Levy's satirical second novel, Seven Days in Rio, inspired the Village Voice to declare the work "the funniest American novel since Sam Lipsyte's The Ask" and others to praise this "incredibly elaborate and well-crafted satire." There were voices of dissent, such as Brazilian government officials quoted in O Globo, the most prominent daily newspaper in the country, saying they would demand an official apology for the book's publication.
This would have to win for most surreal happening for us of 2011.

Roadtripping with Joshua Mohr.
We were thankful to be able to convince Joshua Mohr to tour the midwest for the third book of his that we published, Damascus, which led to us eating this Chicago-style pizza:

Josh reading in a chapel at Capital University:

And in a basement at Mac's Backs in Cleveland:

While some super-cool things happened with Damascus, such as the Wall Street Journal and New York Times reviews, and the USA Today year-end mention, the most memorable part of the publication for me will be this trip, the camaraderie, talking books and writing and everything else with a dear friend.

Getting some hometown love from The Columbus Dispatch.
When you work out of your house, it can get kind of lonely, and so it was great to get some local print from our hometown paper that allowed us to open our doors and share what we do with our neighbors and community. Plus, it was really wonderfully written.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Farhad Manjoo as Chuck Norris

I spent last week with a laundrylist of childhood diseases my daughter brought home from kindergarten, heavily medicated and nursing myself with unhealthy quantities of Hulu. I probably saw the commercial for the World of Warcraft videogame that featured Chuck Norris a couple dozen times, and read Farhad Manjoo's smarmy follow-up to his universally despised Slate column. With his cocky yet stock Google-researched voice, I realized that Manjoo was positing himself as some omniscient guru. Not dissimilar to the mythic figure cut by Chuck Norris in jokes. Seen in this light, I began to view Manjoo more as an undeserving knucklehead with a megaphone and mostly harmless. And that’s my prescription for how to successfully quit loathing Farhad Manjoo.

I started writing something comparing the two (Farhad and Chuck), which evolved into a more elaborate appreciation for bookstores. The medication wore off with many of the loose-ends unresolved, and I need to work on other things than this amusement so I'm just throwing it up on our blog for anyone to check out who may get a kick out of it.

Independent Bookselling Will Survive Only Because Farhad Manjoo Allows It to Survive

On December 13, in the thrall of the zombie daze of holiday shopping, Farhad Manjoo, Slate's technology columnist published an article deriding independent bookstores as “some of the least efficient, least user-friendly, and most mistakenly mythologized local establishments you can find.” After a maelstrom of criticism and name-calling (from amongst others, Salman Rushdie), he backtracked somewhat with a piece on December 21, saying 'Independent Bookstores Are Not Doomed,' with the self-righteous subtitle, “Here's how they can fight back against Amazon.” (Not, 'Here's how bookstores are fighting back against Amazon.') In other words, it would be possible for independent bookstores to survive after all... if they heeded the sage wisdom of Farhad Manjoo. And Farhad Manjoo could win a staring contest with his eyes closed.

What was especially irksome about Manjoo's side-step was that he didn't bother speaking with a single bookseller to find out what they were doing to combat digital retail benefits, or how bookstores were already using technology to enhance a shopper's experience. To read Manjoo, you'd think the threat of Amazon on the book trade was newly born, rather than being a credible danger that surviving bookstores have dealt with for the past decade or longer. As someone who finds bookstores difficult to use (as Manjoo admitted in his initial piece), one might think that speaking with someone who operates one, or shops at one, would be in order.

Rather, Manjoo devotes the crux of his latter Amazon prescription to smartphone apps, which I'm actually thankful for, that rather than elaborating on his previous preposterous generalizations the tech guru stuck to technology. He states in closing:

“...apps will become just as important to local retailers as websites are now. If you own a store, I’d suggest you start thinking about building such an app. Right now, Amazon is stealing your customers. This is a way to fight back.”

Rome wasn't built in a day because they didn't ask Farhad Manjoo for help.

There is an indie bookstore app available through Indiebound that allows shoppers to “browse indie bookseller recommendation lists,” download ebooks from independent bookstores, find indie bookstores in their area (in addition to other locally-owned businesses), as well as search and order books. Apparently this tool didn't show up during the exhaustive research Manjoo conducted while crafting the brunt of the argument in his well-informed article. But then again, Farhad Manjoo doesn't scroll with a mouse, he uses a lion.

There is an unfortunate representation by some media of bookstores as places that are adorable and cuddly and demanding of our charity, like a kitten awaiting adoption. I found both of Manjoo's articles to be exceptionally condescending and offensive, and I'm not even a bookseller. Even Will Doig's rebuttal of Manjoo's piece on Salon seemed to hang its hat on the argument that bookstores are an invaluable thread of our cultural fabric and therefore deserve our support, as though we wouldn't otherwise shop there. Which makes me slightly queasy; just because store owners don't have a jazzy title like mortgage consultant doesn't mean they aren't businesspeople. People are choosing the experience of shopping at an independent bookstore, but they are also receiving a service. It isn't a toss-up between cutting a check to a non-profit or shopping at that cute bookstore on the corner.

A recent article in the New York Times reports that holiday bookstore sales are up considerably nationwide over 2010, with R.J. Julia bookstore in Madison, Connecticut, boasting a whopping 30% increase.

Ebook sales statistics abound and I gloss over them warily, preferring to stick with our own internal numbers. At Two Dollar Radio, less than 4% of total per-unit sales are ebooks, which equates to less than 2% of gross income. We have had ebooks fail to break even in sales, which rarely happens for us in print. To give a sample of a recent publication from 2011, a period during which “ebook sales rose 81%,” a book which received reviews from large media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Book Review, and several others, sold 3,000 print copies. During that same window, the book sold less than 50 ebooks.

We're becoming increasingly conscious of the fact that the readership of our press and the readership of our authors does not primarily reside in the ebook market. If there is a future for us there, I can't yet spy its promise on the horizon. It is my hardheaded belief that the sum contribution ebooks have made to the book trade and the publishing profession as a whole has been to devalue our product and our livelihoods, and all Amazon is doing is upselling gadgets while attempting to modernize their archaic delivery method. The single greatest champion of small presses isn't Amazon or online retailers, but independent bookstores.

Much of the pity bookstores receive is induced as a result of Amazon receiving unfair tax benefits. However, what bookstores deserve even more than our communal pity is a level playing field. It is outlandish that Amazon, a corporation that has imparted untold damage to our culture and our communities since their inception through their brutish business principles, is still permitted to operate in such a nefarious manner.

It's difficult to put into words the value I believe independent bookstores possess, as it undoubtedly is for so many others, which is why we resort to nostalgia and whimsy. I shop at independent bookstores not out of some social obligation, but selfishly, because I want to, because the package they offer is indispensable. I imagine the same belief is shared by those others I see in the stores as well.

* All Chuck Norris jokes borrowed from

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ricardo Cavolo + Jeff Faerber

Ricardo Cavolo (work above), the Spanish artist whose work graces the cover to Karolina Waclawiak's forthcoming How To Get Into the Twin Palms (July 2012), has new artwork up at his site, as well as some super-cool tee-shirts and posters available for purchase. Check it out!

In the days of yore, we used to spotlight artists on our website, as well as bands. One of those artists is Jeff Faerber, who has completed a cool series of NYC landscapes done on metrocards (below).

Friday, December 09, 2011

Big Ups, Myron McVeigh!

A fellow named Myron McVeigh is the latest member of our tattoo club. Myron got inked by Katie Sellergren of Mt Idy Tattoo in Montrose, Iowa.

"My name is Myron McVeigh. I am 31 years old and enjoy nature and reading. I was born and raised in Iowa. I also build acoustic guitars as a hobby. You can see some of my work on my facebook page, I work for a heating and air company doing custom Sheet metal. I enjoy moonshine and appalachian folklore. I also collect tattoos. I have decided to join the tattoo club because I enjoy books and have enjoyed Two Dollar radio's books thus far. Plus it's a good excuse to get a tattoo!"

Big Ups, Dan Smith!

"My name is Dan Smith and I am from Seattle, WA. I work for the City of Redmond and recently graduated from Washington State University. I served in the Marine Corps for six years prior to settling with my wife and our son in the Seattle suburb of Lake Stevens, WA. With all of the rainy days we have here in the northwest, I always seem to find myself curled up with a book from Two Dollar Radio.

"I first heard about Two Dollar Radio from my older cousin, Joshua Mohr. While we did not spend a lot of time together growing up (He is much older than I), I have always had a great deal of respect for him. Also, I must admit, a little envious of his musical and literary talents. Since the publishing of Some Things That Meant The World To Me, I have told anyone that will listen about his astute abilities to craft an imaginative tale. With the tattoo club, I think there is no better way to get out there and spread the word about all of the great literary works available from Two Dollar. With the publishing of Damascus, I felt it was time to put words into action and get my radio tat!

"I had this tattoo drawn up and inked in by Richard Choptij of Tattoo Nemesis in Lake Stevens, WA. It took a little longer than expected to heal, but worth the wait! Now life truly is looking bright and sunny... Now if only I could win the lotto."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Consciousness is Destiny

by Francis Levy
Freud said “anatomy is destiny”, but one wonders if consciousness hasn’t become the rogue player making personality into a more labile affair. How can one talk about sexual identity without cracking a smile? Flaubert said “Madame Bovary, c’est moi.” Aren’t we increasingly becoming our own creators. Is self invention our most viral secular heresy? Can for example a middle aged married supposedly “heterosexual male” have the sensibility of a woman who loves other women? Or more bluntly have you ever looked at the person you are making love to and wondered what they are? Some marriage counselors have pointed out that we all marry our same sex parent. Therefore a woman making love with her husband is really making love to another woman. Our woman in question has simply married a man who reminds her of her mother. Objection! you will cry. The man has an appendage called a penis which the mother, unless she had reconstructive surgery following her pregnancy, did not. But isn’t too much being made of the penis in an age when sex change operations have become so sophisticated and readily available. Granted the Supreme Court is unlikely to include vaginoplasties with the issues it undertakes to rule on when it considers the constitutionality of Obama’s health plan. For good or bad sexuality has become an intellectual and even ideological affair. Yes biology is involved, but it’s the brain rather than the genitals that is calling the shots.

[This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.]


by Francis Levy
Lars von Trier is a party pooper. Dunderheads don’t you get it? The whole performance at Cannes was a set up. It’s Melancholia played right before our eyes. Here he is in the limelight at Cannes, creator of Dogma, lionized with Kirsten Dunst, his star at his side, and he reprises the role she's just played in the film. He makes anti-Semitic remarks and finds himself banned from Cannes. Similarly Justine, the character Dunst plays, throws her whole life away, rejecting her marriage and the employer who has just given her a promotion to art director, at the agency at which she works— remaining loyal to the spirit of her depressive mother (Charlotte Rampling) who has instilled in her a deep and abiding hatred of life. All of this mind you while Wagner’s famed Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde plays again and again and again, underscoring the death in life which constitutes what amounts to a passion or calling for her. The lighting is spare and real and so is the message that that there is nothing, no transcendence, no life beyond the aberration known as existence—nothing except, art. The initial montage sequence is a homage to Bergman’s Persona. In Persona you are dealing with an actress who’s had a psychotic break. Freud defined melancholia as a response to loss which includes a lack of interest in the outside world. The close-ups of Dunst’s face in the early montage of Melancholia evince the shrinking from the will to live characteristic of the condition Freud describes. The planet on a collision course with earth that constitutes the second movement of the film is called Melancholia, but it’s as if the catastrophe had already occurred to Justine before the collision ever takes place. She is suffering about something which has yet to be, a brilliant little touch on von Trier’s part (there is another particularly brilliant directorial touch in the little piece of wedding cake on Justine’s face that precedes the breakup the marriage on the very night it’s begun). The parallels with Persona continue in part two of the film which, along with the collision, is devoted to Justine’s sister Claire. If Justine is afraid to live, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is afraid to die, but like with Bergman’s nurse and actress the roles switch and then with the big ball of destruction called Melancholia hovering overhead, Justine is exultant. She is finally in her element. As the world comes to an end, Justine becomes a latter day Grand Inquisitor, The Grand Facilitator, helping her frightened sister and nephew to die.

[This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.]

Monday, November 28, 2011

Baby Geisha is coming soon!

We're out with Trinie Dalton's new story collection, Baby Geisha, in January.

Bookforum just gave the book a glowing review, saying "Half ingenuous and half wily, winningly hard to pin down. The result is a kind of everyday fantastic. Dalton nails the Walserian trick of evincing a sincerity nearly indistinguishable from irony. The effect is a poised instability, more uncanny than the magic the stories sometimes describe."

Publishers Weekly also had this to say: "Though Dalton writes in the minimalist vein, alongside the likes of Lydia Davis, Ben Marcus, and Gary Lutz, her peculiar fascinations give her a singular voice. A pleasurable trip."

We just got proofs for the finished copies of the book. If you're affiliated with a bookstore or media and are interested in checking out a copy, write to eric[at]

Scenes from the Miami Book Fair

Last week we were in southern Florida for the Miami Book Fair International (and Thanksgiving).

We came prepared to bring the ruckus.

But it rained more than it should have.

So we hung out in our orange tent, and got to talk to some really cool Florida folk.

And were able to introduce our nephew to some books over Thanksgiving.

Now we're back in Ohio, surrounded by the persistent chirp of Christmas music (more Christmas music than I would wish on my worst enemy), already looking forward to next fall's Miami Book Fair.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

TC Boyle's blurb Anne-Marie Kinney's Radio Iris

TC Boyle just provided us with this enthusiastic endorsement for Anne-Marie Kinney's debut novel, Radio Iris (May 2012):

"Radio Iris is a revelation, a whimsical, charming and beautifully observed novel about quotidian life. Anne-Marie Kinney's Iris is a contemporary version of Calvino's Marcovaldo, caught between the rich expression of her own humanity and the random demands of the workaday world."

Here are some of the other sweet sweet blurbs we've received for the book already:

"In Radio Iris, Anne-Marie Kinney, introduces us to Iris Finch, a young woman of a new lost and lonely generation. With prose as pitch perfect as the Buddy Holly songs Iris loves, Kinney draws us into a world both familiar and quotidian and unfathomable and harrowing." -Bruce Bauman

"Working for a company that might be called Kafka Ballard & Dickinson, bearing a kind of sonic witness to a world of static, Iris likes to listen the way some like to watch. Searching for home, she’s the passenger of her own voice. Anne-Marie Kinney’s Radio Iris is a novel of unsettling humor and elusive terror, a piercing loneliness and the strangeness of the banal, and a hushed power that grows in volume before your ears." -Steve Erickson

"Radio Iris brings new shimmer and depth to the word 'sensory'- Iris's perceptions are both keen and open, so mysterious and grounded, and the book builds a narrative of mystery and longing with visceral, ringing precision."
-Aimee Bender

Booksellers or those looking to review the book can write to eric[at] to request an advance reading copy.

Monday, November 07, 2011

The People's Library

Barbara Browning's The Correspondence Artist at Occupy Wall Street's library.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Francis Levy at the East Hampton Library

Author Francis Levy reads from his new novel, Seven Days in Rio, at the East Hampton Library.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ecole de Nettoyage

Nettoyage is a French word that refers to house cleaning, but the modern école de nettoyage, which grants terminal degrees in house cleaning, generally has a school of continuing ed where you can attend non-credit courses on relieving oneself. Wouldn’t it be great to feel the next time you use an airport bathroom that you will know your way around the faucets, and the next time you hit a rest stop on the thruway you won’t feel that you need to worry about your husband or wife accusing you of having an illicit relationship when you contract an STD from the fowl waters shooting up into your asshole, vagina or penis? Have you ever gone into a bathroom at one of the airports and stuck your hand under the electric-eye controlled soap dispenser? Have you ever then stuck your hand under the electric-eye controlled water faucet to no avail? Have there ever been instances where neither the soap nor the water has come out, no matter how frantically you have waved your hand under the dispensers or faucets? Have you ever gone into a stall on The New York State Thruway and found that the electric-eye controlled flusher flushes while you are still sitting so that the unfriendly waters in the drain shoot up into your orifices? Have you ever been in one of those futuristic affairs where there are no electric eyes, but at the same time no recognizable soap, water or paper towel dispensers? Have you just had to go on your nerve in these strange bathrooms and has it ever seemed to you, once you have entered such an environment, that you are never going to be able cleanse yourself or even go to the bathroom to begin with? In today’s modern world, it is becoming increasingly necessary to attend an école de nettoyage.

[This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.]

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Skin I Live In

The notion of the mad doctor or scientist, who kidnaps and imprisons subjects for his experiments, is a staple of horror films. It is a also unfortunately a recurrent staple of reality, where newspaper headlines routinely report cases of imprisonment. In one an Austrian psychopath, Josef Fritzl, actually fathered children with the imprisoned daughter he’d incested. If nothing else Pedro Almodovar ‘s The Skin I Live In exemplifies the director’s obsession with plot. Horror film plots, romantic plots crimes of passion are all gris for this plotmeister. He is the most plotty of modernists. No Bergman or especially Antonioni film was ever so heavy on plots as Almodovar's are and The Skin I live In takes the cake. The enormous reticulations of the plot in question lead to the simple conclusion that however much we change the surface, the inside of the human being is stubbornly unmalleable . The skin we live in is still an intransigent ego, no matter how much it’s tattooed or it the case of the term the film coins, transgenesized. It’s an anti-Pygmalion if you like or another version of Vertigo in which the protagonist falls in love with someone who doesn’t exist. What’s really interesting is the brute grief that lies at the heart of all the desire to remake and reshape reality--another curiously simple, but essential element that is like the sun around which the other planets of the complex story turn. Louise Bourgeois makes a cameo appearance in the form of a book of her work. Bourgeois’ sculptures are psychohistories and testaments to trauma. The appearance of the Bourgeois book also makes a cool art critical point in comparing plastic surgery with her preoccupations. Robert Ledgard (Antonion Banderas) the villainous plastic surgeon who drives the action has lost his wife (a burn victim who jumped out of the window on seeing her reflection) and a daughter (who has never recovered from the trauma of seeing her human cinder of a mother fall to the ground). There is yet another level of the movie having to do with other mothers, the mother of the plastic surgeon and the mother of the kidnapped victim, a young man who undergoes a vaginoplasty. To return back to Vertigo, the movie is vertiginous, highly flawed and much more powerful than some critics are crediting.

This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.]

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Stonewalled III: Post Modernist Sexuality

Sexuality is a biological drive, but it is also a figment of the imagination. If consciousness is ever separated from the body, with our species preserved as pixels of intelligence migrating through cyberspace, then the very notion of what it means to be male and female will revert to being a fiction.  Our present culture is obsessed with pornography, which has become infinitely ubiquitous and is still looked at as a virus which distracts unwary minds from a more innocent sexuality—which they might be more prone to undertake had they not become so infected. But is there reason to believe that pornography has become the fuel for migrating consciousnesses that are increasingly separated from the mother ship? We are still men and women, made of flesh and blood and hormones, but increasingly we find our functions usurped by technology. No wonder radically fundamentalist religions are so intent on shielding their followers from the influences of modernity. Enlightenment ideals of reason and equanimity have no  place amidst the brute inequities of biology. It’s no wonder that there is so much sexual dysfunction in the battered and defeated armies of heterosexual culture.  However, there is a hope. Once mankind has totally done away with its dependence on the body—Ray Kurzweil’s idea of immortality coming in the form of organs made from microprocesssors is only one of a number of possible outcomes—then sex will take its rightful place as one of a number of cultural institutions for which tickets are purchased say like for Lincoln Center or BAM.

[This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.]

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stonewalled II

Early feminists had railed against pornography and the objectification of women, but feminism was evolving and succeeding generations began to reevaluate the role of the women in the context of  Enlightenment notions of freedom and liberty. It would be hard to consider the famous Italian porn star and politician la Cicciolina, who was the wife of the sculptor Jeff Koons, to be an example of a woman who was exploited by men even though she might, in fact, be the object of their fantasies. Entrepreneurial personalities like la Cicciolina and Madonna marketed their own bodies without the need of exploitative male pimps and were in control of their own destinies. By the 1980's Vagina envy replaced penis envy as the manifestation of covetousness between the sexes. As Camille Paglia would point out in Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nerfertiti to Emily Dickinson women had superior powers, both physically (genitally) and metaphysically, of which men were in awe. Men’s need to compensate with increasingly violent pornography centering around the notion of submission, in particular gagging (deep throating) and defiling (facials), were signs of male jealousy rather than male desire (and ultimately exemplified the higher regard in which females were held by their male counterparts). Within the short period of time from 1969, in which the Stonewall riots occurred and gays had begun to assert their rights, heterosexual men and women had begun a journey of their own, characterized by a new dialectic in which self-realization and self-expression challenged both classical feminist and male chauvinist ideals.

[This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.]

Mourir Auprès de Toi

An amusing short film by Olympia Le-Tan, Spike Jonze, and Simon Cahn.

Mourir Auprès de Toi (To Die By Your Side) from Veronica Christina on Vimeo.

Monday, October 24, 2011


In the '50s and even '60s, it was still fun to be a heterosexual. You were part of a group. The guys watched football and maintained a double standard in which they worshipped or defiled the opposite sex depending on whether they were courting their ideal or preying upon unreciprocated love. On the distaff side there were a complementary set of affects, not so much having to do with the dichotomy between romance and lust as with the notions of beauty and femininity. Two of JFK’s love objects were thus Jackie, a lady, and Marilyn, a siren. Then the pendulum shifted and it became more fun to be gay. After Stonewall, gay people came out of the closet in droves and wreaked vengeance against their  tormentors. Now it was not only fun to flaunt and turn images of what it meant to be male or female upside down, it was a cause. Sexuality was not merely a matter of desire, but of rights, and so a whole class of gay and lesbian people who’d had to hide their inclinations fought for the right to be legally married (and call their male partner “wife” or their female partner “husband”) and join the military. Male heterosexuals were literally left walking away with their tails, or penises, between their legs, for masculinity, at least in its heterosexual form, was troubled and impotence was on the rise. If only impotence and loss of desire were a cause, some guys might have been able to walk away with shit-eating grins. But now the troubled heterosexual was in the position of the still-closeted homosexual of the '50s. Our new all-American male had something to hide. And how did  the post feminist heterosexual female fit into the picture? (To be continued.)

[This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.]

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Steve Erickson blurbs Radio Iris!

"Working for a company that might be called Kafka Ballard & Dickinson, bearing a kind of sonic witness to a world of static, Iris likes to listen the way some like to watch. Searching for home, she’s the passenger of her own voice. Anne-Marie Kinney’s Radio Iris is a novel of unsettling humor and elusive terror, a piercing loneliness and the strangeness of the banal, and a hushed power that grows in volume before your ears."

-Steve Erickson

Radio Iris, a novel by Anne-Marie Kinney, is scheduled for publication May 2012. You can write to eric[at] if you're interested in receiving an advance copy for review.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Brooklyn Book Festival Sale

Stop by our booth at the Brooklyn Book Festival today - #156, conveniently located next to the North Stage where Barbara Browning will be appearing at 11am!

For those not in Brooklyn, from 10am - 6pm, we're offering the same deal online as what we're offering at the fest: any book for $10, any 2 books for $15! (Including pre-orders, which won't ship until book is actually published.)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Brooklyn Book Festival Sale!

We'll be at the Brooklyn Book Festival tomorrow (Booth 156!) hocking our wares, be sure to stop out and sale hello.

For those that aren't in Brooklyn, we'll be offering a Brooklyn Book Festival sale through our website from 10am - 6pm (the same hours of the fest), where you'll be able to buy any book online for just $10, or any 2 books for $15.

That's just tomorrow, Sunday, September 18 from 10am - 6pm.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Brooklyn Book Festival

Be sure to stomp out to the Brooklyn Book Festival this Sunday. We'll be at booth #156.

Barbara Browning will be there! She gets to take the downtown train to appear on the 'Who? New!' panel, 11:00 A.M. @ The North Stage (conveniently located right beside our booth).

"Brooklyn Book Festival presents debut novelist picks Peter Mountford (A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism), Barbara Browning (The Correspondence Artist), Haley Tanner (Vaclav & Lena) and Samuel Park (This Burns My Heart). Introduced by Téa Obreht."

The Brooklyn Book Festival is Sunday, September 18, from 10 AM – 6 PM.

And be sure to check out the above promotional video, featuring Barbara Browning on the uke!

Friday, September 02, 2011

You're Invited!



WHERE:  THE SIDEWALK CAFÉ (94 Avenue A at Sixth Street NYC)

TIME: 6:15

Mr. Levy has allowed himself to be put in stocks for this reading so that he may demonstrate how sorry he is for offending not only the people of Rio, but mankind in general. Since publishing SEVEN DAYS IN RIO, Mr. Levy accepted an invitation from the Brazilian government to view the destruction that his novel has wrought. After touring devastated areas of the city, Mr. Levy described being shocked by all the untruths that his character Kenny Cantor perpetrated in the novel.

Mr. Levy saw no evidence of pickpockets anywhere and performed a test whereby he left $l0,000 in small denominations on a public bench near the Copacabana. When he came back from a walk on the beach, the money was all there and his frenzied attempts to find thieves or anyone who would take it were unsuccessful. One resident of the city suggested that the reason why the money wasn’t taken is that the Brazilian economy is booming and $10,000 American dollars is not worth the trouble for the city’s affluent populace. Eventually, Mr. Levy had to hire a cleaning service to sweep the money away— in order to avoid getting a ticket for littering.

As for prostitutes, Mr. Levy is not sure where Kenny got his ideas from. Mr. Levy found that the Copacabana, one of the most famous beaches in Brazil, was filled with nuns in habits. Not able to find any members of the world’s oldest profession in a city where women who might have sold their bodies now earn higher wages selling derivatives, Mr. Levy hired a private detective service, Three Guys, named after the popular coffee shop opposite the Whitney. Three Guys helped him to locate some alumnae working girls in the financial services industry.  But Mr. Levy was shocked to find that none of the former prostitutes he interviewed had ever heard of Susan Sontag. Through no fault of his own, Levy again found that he’d been duped by his own character.

“Basically, I was receiving misinformation from this fictional individual. I have no intention of shirking responsibility for my crimes. I’m not trying to say that I was just taking orders, but I’m clearly a victim too. I also think that Kenny’s attitude towards psychoanalysis is totally distorted. He treats psychoanalysts like whores who bilk their wealthy patients. Anyone who has ever been psychoanalyzed knows this is a myth. The average psychoanalyst is happy to listen to neurotic patients expressing the same fears four times a week without receiving a penny’s worth of compensation, and he or she is happy to work nights on the loading dock of a supermarket to support his passion for listening to repetitive drivel. In sum, I am more than ready to accept any punishment that the people of Rio and the profession of psychoanalysis wish to dole out. It is the only way to relieve me from the huge burden of guilt that I am carrying for my transgressions. I would suggest that I be spanked, lashed and crucified, with my naked body hammered to a cross, but I’m afraid I would enjoy those punishments too much. Instead let me be yelled at and nagged to death. Let the punishment fit the crime.”


Big Ups, Caleb Ward!

A warm welcome to the 13th member of our tattoo club, Caleb Ward. Caleb got his tattoo at Port City Tattoo Co. in Wilmington, NC, from "Little" Brian Leebrick, who has to be thinking these radio tattoos are good for business.

According to Caleb:
I'm a twenty-year-old junior at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. I'm a double major in both English Literature and Film Studies. I was just recently published for the first time and can't wait to see what the future holds. Two Dollar Radio is not only the reason why I'm planning to conquer the world, but it's also a great publishing house.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Unicorn-Level Tees Are Here

We now have tee shirts for sale through our website. A notch above Reindeer-Level, our Unicorn-Level Books Tee is sure to impress.

The shirts are American Apparel (made in the US, workers paid fair-wage), super-comfy, and will look super-good on you.

Unicorn-Level Tees are Unisex and available in Medium or Large sizes.

Through September 16th, we're offering tees for a discounted price of $16!


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Brazilgate 2011

The most prominent daily newspaper in Brazil, O Globo, quoted government officials saying they'll request an apology for the US publication of Seven Days in Rio by Francis Levy, as well as write a letter to the US Embassy. The article elicited nearly 350 comments from readers of the paper, some outraged while others found the matter trivial. O Globo quotes Aparecida Gonçalves, the secretary for combating violence against women, a government body that reports to the presidency, insisting that all Brazilians must be "treated well, even in fiction."

We include a fiction disclaimer on the copyright page of all our books, but in addition, the author penned a prologue that kicks off the novel, stating:

"None of the characters in this novel are real, nor are the places or the psychoanalytic movements, even though the name Rio may conjure the real city of Rio de Janeiro. Lacanian analysis as described in the novel bears no resemblance to the branch of psychoanalytic practice initiated by the French analyst Jacques Lacan. Even the duration of time stated in the title bears little resemblance to what is commonly known as seven days. So don't start writing irate letters to my blog correcting this or that or asking for refunds."

We understand it to be natural for people to feel protective of their community. It was clear from the comments posted to the O Globo website that there is a greater cultural discussion ongoing, and we don't believe a work of satire by an American writer, never presented as anything other than fiction, belongs in that cultural discussion. It is also apparent from the O Globo article that the quoted official never read the book before demanding an apology, which is unfortunate.

Joshua Mohr pointed out to me that this all sounded familiar to when government folk in Brazil got in a tizzy in reaction to a Simpsons episode. According to BBC, "Simpsons father Homer was kidnapped by an unlicensed taxi driver, and he and son Bart were robbed by street children... Bart was at one stage swallowed by a boa constrictor, and Rio's slums appeared to be dirty and dangerous."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Big Ups, Brad Wojak!

Really happy to have as the 12th member of the tattoo club, Brad Wojak. We have listed in our criteria that we won't ship books internationally for the club, and Brad lives in Canada. But he sent us a really nice note and he seems like good people, so we agreed to make an exception for him. Tattoo courtesy of Art House Inc in Calgary.

In Brad's own words:
"I have worked in bookstores since I was in High School, and except for a brief decade when I also worked as bartender (to help pay the rent), I really don't know anything else besides books. I am super excited to join the Two-Dollar Radio tattoo club, as I hope it will provide an example to my 3 year-old daughter that you should always follow your passions."

Friday, August 19, 2011

Big Ups, Casey Jordan Mills

Big ups to Casey Jordan Mills, the latest member of our tattoo club!

Casey was inked by "Little" Brian Leebrick at Port City Tattoo Company in Wilmington, North Carolina.

In his own words:
"My name is Casey Jordan Mills. I live in Wilmington, North Carolina. I am a rising junior at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington. I am studying English Literature, Creative Nonfiction, and Journalism. I get tattooed at Port City Tattoo Co. in Wilmington. I support Veganism, a drug free lifestyle, and Two Dollar Radio."

Thanks for the support. As a member of the tattoo club Casey gets free Two Dollar Radio books for life.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Baby Geisha Galleys!

We now have galleys in hand of Trinie Dalton's forthcoming story collection, Baby Geisha, and they look mighty fine!

Any media/bookseller folk interested in perusing a galley, write to eric[at]

Grace Krilanovich on KQED's Writer's Block

Today, KQED broadcast Grace Krilanovich reading a selection from The Orange Eats Creeps on their 'Writer's Block' program. Enjoy...

Fav Lines from Seven Days in Rio

Francis Levy's Seven Days in Rio got a killer-sweet review on Chuck Palahniuk's site, The Cult the other day.

From the review: "It's like an erotic version of Luis Bunuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Levy is matter-of-fact in his raunchiness, which is try-and-suppress-your-laughter-because-people-are-beginning-to-stare-at-you funny. The man is fearless in his exploration of human sexuality."

The review, by Joshua Chaplinsky, referenced the laugh-out-loud nature of some of the lines so we thought we'd revisit this original post featuring some of our favorite lines from the novel.

Seven Days in Rio, a novel by Francis Levy, will be out on July 4 of this year. Here are some meaty gems from the book that I thought I'd share with you to whet your appetite:

"Author's Note: None of the characters in this novel are real, nor are the places or psychoanalytic movements, even though the name Rio may conjure the real city of Rio de Janeiro. Lacanian analysis as described in the novel bears no resemblance to the branch of psychoanalytic practice initiated by the French analyst Jacques Lacan. Even the duration of time stated in the title bears little resemblance to what is commonly known as seven days. So don’t start writing irate letters to my blog correcting this or that or asking for refunds."

"Besides sex, one of my obsessions is clean air, and I try to engage in sexual acts that don’t release any toxins into the atmosphere."

"I sometimes think that there should be a support group for people who, like myself, are always missing something."

"Our parting had felt a little like the last scene of Casablanca. There was no plane waiting to take her away from me, there was no heroic resistance leader standing between us, no war, and I wasn’t a hardened American expatriate named Rick. Yet I felt I could hear the strains of “As Time Goes By” playing on the piano in some beat-up North African café."

"“I’m a traveler who has become waylaid,” I said holding out a real. “I’m a little like Odysseus. I started out my journey looking for beautiful prostitutes, but I have been experiencing famine amongst plenty. Now I feel like Robinson Crusoe. Except I haven’t been washed up on an island, and consequently have found no Man Friday to show me the way.”"

"He looked like the kind of guy who had spent his life as a night watchman and now, in retirement, just watched over things on a recreational basis."

That's just a sample. Like the sampler appetizer you can order at Applebee's.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Q&A With Francis Levy

This Q+A was posted at some point last year, but with today being the official publication date of Seven Days in Rio, we figured we'd revisit it.

In 2011, we'll publish Francis Levy's second novel, Seven Days in Rio. In 2008, we published his first book, Erotomania: A Romance, which may have received the most amusing pull-quotes from reviews of any book we've published.

The Village Voice called Levy "Nicholson Baker and Mary Gaitskill's French-kissing cousin." Inland Empire Weekly said he was "our generation's DH Lawrence, Henry Miller and Charles Bukowski rolled into one." And the Los Angeles Times said "Levy's excellent too, like Miller and Bukowski, on the mechanics and energy and animal filth of rumpy-pumpy." (Rumpy-pumpy?)

Here's a brief Q&A with Levy to mark the occasion:

Erotomania made some year-end best-of lists and got some over-the-moon postive reviews, but there were places, such as the Seattle Stranger, who "abandoned" reading the book. As an editor, I found the love/hate knee-jerk reaction to Erotomania both exceptionally rewarding and enjoyable -- what is the point of art if not to inspire and provoke. What was your reaction as a writer?

FL: I'm a naturally provocative person. It doesn't take much for me to provoke and there was a time in my career when the provocation actually produced it's desired effect which I suppose was to steel myself up against anticipated rejection. I for instance had written a series of letters from Jews to Herr Hitler asking to be excused from the Holocaust.The letters played upon all the elements of Jewish self hatred that were evident amongst the ambitious, assimilationist crowd I grew up around. People in my little fiction would plead to be excused from the Holocaust because they didn't look or act like the other Jews. The piece by the way was called "Passive Resistance," a title that also got me into trouble since that mode of social protest was tied to folks like Gandhi and Martin Luther King who most educated readers idolize. "Passive Resistance" was appreciated by some, but reviled by others and managed to create the effect someone has when they walk into a room after soiling themselves, even though it never actually got published.

Then I wrote another parody "Joseph Mengele:Man of Science" and yet another one in which Hitler is in a rehab for recovering dictators and tells his story, how he took the Sudetenland, but it was not enough. He was portayed like a sexual compulsive who is addicted to conquests. In those years, I was actually enraged and the rage was barely sublimated so the net effect was to give the reader material they found hard to digest. Mind you others like Phillip Roth and Wally Shawn had dealt satirically with subjects like Jewish self hatred and facism. It's the same material that Mel Brook's dealt with in the original movie of The Producers with its infamous number "Springtime for Hitler."

Provocation is really the comic form of tragedy, or tragic comedy. Look Erotomania is a tragi-comedy. James and Monica exemplify evolution on an ontogenic basis. They start as animals and the overly developed cerebral cortex gets in the way. The higher brain activities cause them to lose all the fun. The only problem is they wouldn't have realized they were not having fun unless they had consciousness, nor would they have had the pleasure of getting to know each other and getting to experience other forms of enjoyments such as mimesis, such as art, such as food. Freud wrote about this in Civilization and Its Discontents. I don't know why that book is not a perpetual bestseller. It should be in the drawer of every motel room like the Gideon Bible once was, giving the lonely traveler a little bit of gospel and the solace of knowing why he is so torn.

In a nutshell, Erotomania wasn't provocative because of the sex, though there was almost as much of it in the book as there is in life. It was provocative because of its rather upsetting message, which is again Freud's message i.e. that in the course of being human and socializing, man must forego certain things. Instinct will become compromised by the inhibitions that accompany consciousness. The book was also upsetting because my couple, who I really fell in love with myself, eventually embark upon a project which causes them to explode. Here again, hyperbole was simply underlining a truth: that we all separate and individuate only to be reunited again with common matter in death. My feeling is that some people simply don't want to read these things. It's like Spielberg's A.I. A lot of filmgoers didn't like the movie, but not because it was a bad movie. Rather the movie said something that was upsetting in the case of A.I. that the species could perpetuate itself, consciousness could exist without the body.

On the surface level, Erotomania was the arc of a couple as they perfect their relationship, is Seven Days in Rio the story of a man searching for the perfect relationship . . . with a prostitute?

FL: Not really. In essence Seven Days is about a sex tourist who gets waylaid at a psychoanalytic convention. It's not an autobiographical novel in any sense of the word. To begin with, I have never been to Rio, but it's far more more personal in a poetic way than Erotomania was. In essence I'm the sex tourist who got waylaid at the psychoanalytic convention, though to bookend I have never been to a psychoanalytic convention either.

However basically in some harum scarum way Seven Days tells my story. I recently published a piece about my own analysis in American Imago, a scholarly journal founded by Freud and Hanns Sachs in l939. It's called "Psychoanalysis: The Patient's Cure" and it tells the story of my own analysis. In one of the early parts of the piece I describe how I was beaten up outside a bottomless bar called Diamond Lil's which was on Canal near White Street in the 70's. I don't know what caused me to get worked over by the bouncers. I must have done something provocative to get back to the subject of the kind of provocation that doesn't delight audiences. For instance back in those days I had the habit of getting blind drunk and doing things like pulling on a fellow nudie bar aficionado's beard. People don't like that kind of provocation, but I didn't know that. I had to be told, in fact, that this was very naughty, very bad and that it would provoke the ire of those to whom it was done. That same night I went down the street to a famously violent Punk Rock place called the Mudd Club where women and I suppose some men were routinely raped in the bathroom. I had been knocked out during the beating and when I got up my arm was hanging out of its socket, but I thought "this is pretty cool" and proceeded on my merry way, drinking and using my dangling limb as a conversation piece with bug-eyed women blasted out of their minds on who knows what. In any case, the incident was one of many in which I was playing around with my own death. My self undoing had reached a certain pitch were it became apparent that I might truly succeed in having an ending like that of some of my idols, from Jackson Pollock who rammed his car into a tree, to Janice Joplin and Sid Vicious and in a more literary vein, John Berryman and Sylvia Plath. I had to really think about it at the time: did I want to live or die?

In the Myth of Sisyphus Camus says this is the only real philosophical question, but this wasn't intellectual matter for me. At the time, I simply hated myself and every night I went out on the town in the pursuit of so-called pleasure, I had yet one more opportunity to tempt fate. That's the odd thing about the thing that people call pleasure. Often what people call pleasure or ecstasy masks the search for oblivion. Epicurus is a philosopher whose name is often associated with pleasure, but he believed in the golden mean. Pleasure for him was not indulgance in excess, but a realization of limitation. These are some of the themes are set out to explore in Seven Days.

Seven Days in Rio begins with an amusing disclaimer of sorts: "None of the characters in this novel are real, nor are the places or psychoanalytic movements, even though the name Rio may conjure the real city of Rio de Janeiro. Lacanian analysis as described in the novel bears no resemblance to the branch of psychoanalytic practice initiated by the French analyst Jacques Lacan. Even the duration of time as stated in the title bears little resemblance to what is commonly known as seven days. So don't start writing irate letters to my blog correcting this or that or asking for refunds."

FL: Kafka wrote a novel called Amerika, though he never visited America. I was studying romantic French literature of the l9th Century like Chateaubriand's Atala. I started to read certain kinds of novels based on the writer's imagination of places they only partially knew. I suppose the advent of the New World inspired much fantasy. Being a person who baths in a world of sexual imagery (like most human beings, even if they might not always realize it or want to realize it), I am always imagining my Erewhon, my Utopia, both in terms of sex and its cousin therapy. I have no illusions about Rio or Bangkok or anything. In fact, after all these years of living what many people might called a hum drum existence (being a father and husband and parenthetically loving these activities), who at the same time conjures up altenative universes (I hope none of the family of man takes offense at my claiming that this is also being a trait of the species), I think I might commit suicide were I to confront the banality of pleasure.

The allusion to Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil," the famous phrase she used to describe Eichman is not coincidental and in part explains the disclaimer at the beginning of the novel. Were I to journey to a sexual and/or therapeutic paradise where I could finally meet a beautiful analyst who consented to sleep with me I would in all likelihood be disappointed. It's much better to write about these things. Then I'm free to come and go as I please with minimum destruction to other human beings.

You recently published a very thoughtful and reflective piece in American Imago on your relationship with your own psychoanalyst. How has psychoanalysis informed and furthered your fiction writing?

FL: I have already inadvertently answered this, but let me approach it from another angle which is to say the general question of the inner life. Analysis places a great amount of importance on the inner world. This may sound like a simple idea, but think about it. Most people go into therapy to solve a problem. Some men for instance go into therapy because they are having problems with sex; they have performance anxiety which leads to erectile dysfunction, in lay terms not getting it up. This is a serious matter for a man. I have a feeling that this is what Goethe's Faust is all about. Men will do anything for knowledge about how to solve this difficulty, even going so far as making a Mephistolean bargain.

Okay, I'm being facetious, before the lynch mob of comp lit scholars comes after me, I'm only kidding (not!). In contradistinction to this the analytic enterprise, looks at the whole human character. It's not that some symptoms aren't treated, rather it's a cart and horse matter. Instincts and desires are a part of the humanity of the individual. The idea is that something is getting in the way and that something becomes the subject of the analysis. In the course of this, you embark on a kind of inner life party. I was already fairly practiced in doing emotional striptease before I got into analysis, but the analysis opened up a rich territory which became my palette and eventually the raw stripping, in which I would get attention by exhibitionistically revealing everything, got turned into a ballet, then a piece of modern dance, then a tableau vivant a la Robert Wilson and then novels like Erotomania and Seven Days. I also started to produce a blog called The Screaming Pope. I've also written over 2000 poems, numerous humor pieces and short stories. I don't know if my analyst is totally aware of it, but all his years of treatment created a Frankenstein.

As co-director of the Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination, you come into contact with some of the most relevent thinkers of our time -- what are some of your memorable moments from the Center?

FL: I'm a bit of an intellectual groupie. I like all kinds of weird thinkers known and unknown. I've become friends with several writers published by Two Dollar Radio. Larry Shainberg, the author of Crust, and the classic Ambivalent Zen recently joined a panel on religious extremism called "The Politics of Ecstasy." Barbara Browning, whose The Correspondence Artist, you are publishing this year, was on the David Shields panel "The Lure and Blur of the Real" and that's an example of the the kind of thing that thrills me. The fine line between reality and fiction was what Shields was writing about and along comes Barbara Browning whose fictional characters (are they fiction?) engage in dialogues with real people on line and elsewhere. We had touched on something in the zeitgeist and it was a very exciting and contentious too. Shields and Rick Moody really fenced off on the issue of fiction qua fiction as opposed to reality as fiction or fiction as reality. John Cameron Mitchell who directed one of my favorite movies, Short Bus, was also on that panel.

Okay now I'm going to behave like the kind of asshole I hate. We had Turturro and Edward Albee talking about Beckett. We had Nicholson Baker and Judith Thurman on biography and autobiography. We had Dan Rather on civil wars in Afghanistan and Bosnia. We had the astrophysicist Brian Greene talking to the Harvard esthetician Elain Scarry about math and beauty. We had Christopher Ricks and Sean Wilentz on Dylan, the Nobel prize winning Neuroscientist Gerry Edelman talking about disenchantment in a panel on norms, Phillip Pearstein, Chuck Close, Kiki Smith. The list goes on. I'm proud of it so fuck me if I'm namedropping. Fuck me, fuck everyone. How's that for provocation?

Here's the opening to Seven Days in Rio:

"I went down to the Copacabana on my first night in Rio. I was told that most of the women were prostitutes who would gladly sleep with me for a hundred American dollars. I saw a sexy looking woman wearing high heels and an abbreviated bikini and decided that there was no sense in discriminating, since all the women were going to turn out to be whores and, from what I’d heard about the lovemaking habits of Brazilians, one would be as talented as the next. I pursed my lips and made purring sounds like a pussycat to get the idea across, but the woman didn’t seem to notice me, although I was wearing a seersucker suit from the Brooks Brothers 346 collection. There aren’t too many men, or women, wearing Brooks Brothers suits (or any suits for that matter) down by the Copacabana, and I would have thought I stood out from the crowd.

"I have always found communication between myself and other human beings to be a problem, and often worry that I haven’t succeeded with women where I otherwise might because my words get caught between my teeth. So I just held out my hand to her as she waited for the traffic light to change. “I’m Kenny,” I said. “I have a big dick. Do you understand Anglais? I am new to your country and I wanted to introduce myself while also initiating myself into your highly permissive sexual culture. I will put my cards on the table. I’d be glad to engage you to perform sexual acts on me for a fee.”"

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Immigrant Movement International

Here are the opening lines of Sam Dolnick’s Times story about the performance artist Tania Bruguera, a “have” whose work of art is to live like a “have not”: “Tania Bruguera has eaten dirt, hung a dead lamb from her neck and served trays of cocaine to a gallery audience, all in the name of art. She has shown her work at the Venice Biennale, been feted at the Pompidou Center in Paris and landed a Guggenheim Fellowship” (“An Artist's Performance: A Year as a Poor Immigrant,” NYT, 5/19/11). Many Times readers probably saw Dolnick’s story and thought, “I could do that. After all, it’s not Marina Abramovic, who has to sit totally still for 736 hours and 30 minutes. What if I simply go home to my apartment with the clanking steam pipes, turn on the CBS Evening News, watch coverage of the interminable Palestinian-Israeli struggle and crack open a couple cans of beer while reheating yesterday’s meat loaf, with its little squiggle of ketchup, in the toaster oven. What if I take out a package of frozen peas and put them in boiling water? What if I am totally alone or have a significant other who hates me almost as much as he or she hates him or herself, and what if we reenact a piece of performance art about this very fact over dinner every night? Will I get a Guggenheim for my troubles? Will I be invited to the Biennale? Will I be feted at the Pompidou?” Dolnick describes how Bruguera, who is Cuban, formed her artwork/advocacy group, Immigrant Movement International, and moved into an unheated, cramped apartment, living on a “minimum wage salary, which she wrote into the project description.” People usually get Nobel Prizes or MacArthurs for their contributions to peace or for original research. But why go to the trouble when misery is so munificently rewarded?

[This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.]

Friday, August 12, 2011

Weiner's Inferno

The representative’s wiener has been roasted, but hopefully he will not end up in Schwarzeneggerdom, deprived of the loving embrace of his wife, Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin. However, if he doesn’t mend his ways, he may descend to the 9th circle, reserved for only the worse sinners, and now renamed the Strauss-Kahn wing of hell. Yes, he was bad, but he didn’t touch like Arnold or force (allegedly) like Dominique. He didn’t drown like Ted in Chappaquiddick or cajole with power like JFK or with charisma like MLK. Nor did he hit a hole-in-one like Tiger or take part in monkey business like Gary or used illegal campaign contributions to hide his extra-marital family like Edwards. He certainly didn’t run after (and devour) child pole dancers like Silvio. No, all the democratic firebrand did was show his chest and wiener. Although he didn’t solicit prostitutes, Weiner comes from the same mold as Eliot Spitzer: he’s an evangelical reformer who fell victim to the very sin he railed against, hypocrisy. But what’s wrong about “holding up a handwritten sign reading ‘it’s me’” (“Weiner Admits He Sent Lewd Photos; Says He Won't Resign,” NYT, 6/7/11)? It could easily have been homework for a phenomenology course at The New School. It all seems about as harmless as a children playing doctor. But then we get into another circle of the Inferno, occupied by Martha Stewart, who was convicted not of the crime for which she was originally called to task, but of lying to mommy and daddy when they asked, “Martha did you do something bad?” Weiner’s wiener is being roasted because he didn’t bite the bullet from day one and make his “it’s me” sign visible to the general public.

[This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.]

Thursday, August 11, 2011

On What Matters

by Francis Levy

Peter Singer is a great utilitarian philosopher and the author of a classic tome called Animal Liberation. He supports euthanasia for certain people, while decrying the confinement of pregnant pigs. In the May 20 issue of the TLS, Singer reviews Derek Parfit’s On What Matters, a book that takes aim at the ethical relativism that derives from Hume. Singer writes, “Reason applies to means not ends. Hence, Hume famously held, it is not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of a finger, and equally not contrary to reason to choose my total ruin to prevent a trivial harm to a stranger.” What is so delightful about philosophical treatises like Parfit’s two volumes (which run to 1,400 pages) and Singer’s review-length response, are the examples used to illustrate the points themselves. You also find this in treatises that deal with the Trolley Problem or the Prisoner’s Dilemma, which try to parse the subtleties of ethics and morality. As Singer points out, finding objective truths about human action inevitably leads back to “…Kant’s famous but imprecise idea that it is wrong to act on any maxim that could not be a universal law….” But this is too broad for Parfit, who adopts what Singer describes as an “intuitionist” approach. What if the earth is destroyed by some natural phenomenon? Was the advent of human life and culture worth it? “Our answer may depend,” Singer says in summarizing Parfit’s thinking, “not only on how we balance the suffering that has resulted from human existence against the happiness it has brought, but also on what weight we give to the badness of the fact that some people suffered greatly without having anything to compensate them for their suffering.”

 [This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.]