The Examined Life

Posted on January 31st, 2016 by Ira Altschiller

If the unexamined life is not worth living then Stephen Grosz’s “The Examined Life” might imply a template.

Grosz is a psychiatrist whose book received acclaim and awards. He presents case study / fables with a coda worthy of a fable. That is, they are neat rather than nuanced. The stories themselves are gnomic and remind me of John Cage’s one paragraph journal entries about the  circumstances of living; except Cage was writing about the randomness of events with an irony that was entertaining and amusing, pointing out the amazing quality of human experience and consciousness.

Grosz doesn’t offer analysis nor insight – other  than the codas – nor any depth. These are just stories taken from people’s lives; people who trusted him, now with their stories in the public  domain. Grosz no doubt checked with them first, at least I hope so, but still, it seems an exploitation to me, even if pseudonyms are used. Their brevity might suggest to Grosz the Checkhov he admires, but they have none of the resonance of true art.

I like books whose center is analysis and psychology so I looked forward to the journey. This book doesn’t satisfy in that sense, but Grosz’s general attitude warrants credit. Grosz feels people have stories that are untold – the stories of their lives. From fear or confusion or doubt they don’t piece together their own narrative, for many reasons – overdetermined, as analysis would have it – people don’t embrace or know who they are. Know thyself is the truth expressed – an old truth.

Grosz’s template is that he helps people in constructing their personal story. There were books written in the hippy days like that. “Telling Your Story,” was one excellent example. What Grosz says earlier in the book is probably more pertinent: he says that when he first meets a patient he tries to fully attend to them – so they leave feeling that they have been heard. That’s the crux, isn’t it. The most therapeutic thing, the most moral and decent thing we can do for each other – fully pay attention. I-Thou, not I-It, as Martin Buber would say.

That is the truth about therapy or confession or any human interaction that is beneveloent; the interlocutor feels they have been seen. not condescended to, nor even praised, but simply that their slim existence in the long narrative of our planet, was heard, if only for a brief moment, by a single individual.

Conformism and Free Speech

Posted on December 29th, 2015 by admin

This brief interview with the editor of Spiked is worth a listen. In the current environment of oppressive lynch mobs sanctimoniously attacking those with whom they disagree, Brendan O’Neill says that conformism and cowardice are currently the greatest threat to free speech. He feels the West has abandoned Enlightenment values.

Hearing and seeing things which are troubling is the price of living in a free society. The spirit of the arts is that of freedom.

New Digital Gallery

Posted on July 7th, 2015 by Ira Altschiller




Many of the digital images in the above galleries can be purchased as prints:

Digital Print Store here @PaintedMatter (new)

Offsite Print Store @Saatchi

New on the iBookstore: Twenty Five Miles to True North

Posted on May 4th, 2015 by Ira Altschiller


Twenty-Five Miles to True North
(link takes you to iTunes)

“Twenty-Five Miles To True North” is a “Children’s Book for Adults.”

The radical play of imagination in these 13 unforgettable “journeys” will stay with you. The stories are a form-breaking, original mix of absurdist humor, Kafkaesque/Borgesian surrealism, pop culture references, which possess an underlying compassion. The tales in “Twenty-Five Miles To True North” affirm love and embrace the mystery of things.

These compelling, often deeply felt landscapes, offer surprising turns. The unnamed narrator is usually accompanied by a beautiful companion, who sometimes becomes just a sweet voice. Hovering, offering advice and protection, all the while teasing the narrator.

From the first form-breaking story we are launched into a landscape of bickering rabbits who warn of horrors ahead—prognosticators of doom. There is a suggestive story about a chaos machine which is also about public presentations. There is a landscape of lost things, mysterious Victorian ladies singing a song of healing enchantment, a crystallographer and his bionic pet—even a parade float in a basement.

PREVIEW, “ISLAND”, ebook on the iBookstore

Posted on July 21st, 2014 by Ira Altschiller

This is a preview @youtube of “ISLAND, Eleven Lost Islands, A Summary Report”

If this vid produces an error try viewing it on YouTube:
ISLAND @youtube

“ISLAND” iBookstore link: ibookstore

Philip Roth: Finding Form

Posted on June 1st, 2014 by admin

Quotes from Philip Roth about finding form and shape:

About the work…

“I am a turner of sentences. That’s my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around. Then I look at it and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around. Then I lie down on my sofa and think. Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning.”

If you paint as opposed to write, you walk around, look away, look out the window, imagine the work from another room. The image simmers, percolates in the background, forming up for you, if you let it.

About objectivity…

“Obviously the facts are never just coming at you but are incorporated by an imagination that is formed by your previous experience. Memories of the past are not memories of facts but memories of your imaginings of the facts.”

We are clouds of energy, on the subatomic level; we derive our self-definition, our ego, from a chaos of experience – we form our chaotic experiences into words and images and adhere them to stories we tell about ourselves, to ourselves, and others.

Silicon Valley, Mike Judge, YouTube

Posted on April 7th, 2014 by admin

Now that it’s in production you wonder why this show wasn’t created before.

Silicon Valley, a Mike Judge HBO production, is on YouTube, at least for now. This show is very funny.

It’s not exactly a Buñuel / Dali L’Age d’or collaboration, a sophisticated satire on bourgeois values, but Silicon Valley strikes a sweet spot, hitting the newly tech-rich and their hangers on, their uneven emotional and intellectual development, their guild language, New Age philosophy, and the comic personality cults surrounding the young ‘n wealthy.

Boy, has this period ached for satire. Satire almost doesn’t exist, or if it does, it is only comfortable with trendy, predictable, acceptable targets – Sarah Palin or Republicans or the Tea Party – rather than the comical clueless vitiating the power centers of contemporary society.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Later Woody Allen

Posted on April 6th, 2014 by Ira Altschiller

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is one of those Woody Allen movies that reminds you that the man does not know who he is or who he wants to be. The whole movie has a derivative feel – derivative of Allen’s earlier movies. Even the art used in Vicky Cristina Barcelona by Agustí Puig seemed derivative of Antoni Tàpies – although the artist says his greatest influence is Picasso? Maybe Picasso by way of the Abstract Expressionists. Allen’s trademark wit, which seemed to bubble out of his early movies, has been replaced by affectation; this from a movie maker who was so satisfyingly cutting in his treatment of artificiality.

From Vicky Cristina Barcelona you get the idea Allen wants to be a European, making sophisticated Jean Renoir sex romps, but to which, jarringly, Allen includes an awful lot of My Dinner With Andre cocktail party self-analysis; thence resolving to a false melancholic ending, hoping to evoke in the audience, “yeah, that’s life – it sorta sucks”. The movies Allen has made recently in this vein are actually sad, but not in the way Allen intends.

The settings in Spain are all gorgeous. The movie is like a Spanish travelogue advertisement. Setting makes a big difference, and this backdrop aids the movie enormously. It was one of Allen’s most financially successful movies. Despite the criticisms, I watched the whole thing, and, given the alternatives, it was a pleasant if disappointing excursion.

The cast was very good, Allen’s directorial skills have sharpened; the individual lines, as might be expected, are often well wrought, but it doesn’t add up. Not surprisingly, the movie won tons of awards.

Jimmy and Billy Doo-wop

Posted on March 21st, 2014 by Ira Altschiller

Billy Joel and Jimmy Fallon performed a doo-wop version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight that had me smiling through the four minute rendition.

I haven’t been watching Fallon, he is an acquired taste I suppose, but now I’m a fan.

[via the Twitter feed of Apple’s Tim Cook]

Flu Virus Evolution

Posted on February 16th, 2014 by Ira Altschiller

This article has so many interesting ideas about the evolution of flu viruses it’s hard to pick one quote.

“People tend to think of wild birds as the source of everything, but we see a very strong indication of spillover from domestic birds to wild birds,” he said. “It turns out the animals we keep for food and eggs may be substantially shaping the diversity of these viruses in the wild over time spans of decades. That is a surprise.”

They figured out the evolution of viruses by including the length of time the virus was in each host:

“My longtime collaborator Andrew Rambaut implemented in the computer what I had been doing with a plastic ruler. We developed software that allows the clock to tick at different rates in different host species. Once we had that, it produces these very clear and clean results.”

Recently it had been cosmology and astronomy that had been in the throes of a golden age. Now it feels that science is exploding with new found wonders and insights daily in nearly all the sciences. There is great hope in this sort of news – a hope seldom found in the daily stream. There is implied hope that these discoveries can all come together into a deeper, wider understanding, and cures for the ancient miseries of humankind; even clarity about the physical context of our human spirit.

Who Are You David Brooks?

Posted on February 13th, 2014 by Ira Altschiller

I used to like the interchanges between Brooks and Shields on NewsHour. Brooks brought a non-contentious manner that infected Mark Shields, an extreme ideologue. The discussions were civilized, mostly convivial. Brooks sometimes had insights, which stood out, given the usual yenta level commentary in the media. Brooks brought the class and Shields brought the sex. (That great comparative actually refers to Astaire / Rogers, but it really doesn’t work with the two tired fellows, even as amusement, does it.)

Brooks changed into….I actually don’t know what he is now. Even when Brooks has an observation that has some weight or edge it is delivered with all the life force of Harry Reid. Brooks really doesn’t care. Brooks thinks academic guild talk is the same thing as being smart. He thinks the oligarchy is a meritocracy. I simply stopped listening.

This is Brooks meditating on politics:

…politics is different from academia. In academia, you use words to persuade or discover; in politics, you use words to establish a connection. Academia is a cerebral enterprise, but politics is a physical enterprise, a charismatic form of athletics in which you touch people to show you care.

Well, if so, what? A “charismatic form of athletics?” Almost none of those connections, if they mean anything, is true. Academia uses words to persuade or discover? More, academia conveys, right now, ideology shorn of insight or depth or balance. Much of academia infuses resentment politics and destroys critical thinking.

I wondered if Brooks was subject to the same syndrome he observed in those who run for the presidency and lose: they change, said Brooks about such fauna. He meant they declined and became extreme neurotics. Al Gore was a particular target of this observation.

A similar fate has befallen Brooks, who didn’t lose the presidency but has become fat and happy in the fields of the oligarchy. Brooks’ major insights seem to be, “He’s humble, he’s modest, I’m optimistic…” To which Judy Woodruff would respond, “So, is this good for Obama. This is good for Obama, right? Okay, let’s go on…”