Episode 506 – George Prochnik

Virtual Memories Show 506:
George Prochnik

“This book is a bit of an intellectual Coney Island. It’s a rollercoaster or funhouse ride through a number of thinkers and themes I’ve been concerned with for years.”

George Prochnik rejoins the show to celebrate his new book, I Dream With Open Eyes: A Memoir About Reimagining Home (Counterpoint Press). We get into his family’s decision after the 2016 election to leave America, how his book complements his wife Rebecca Mead’s memoir about their move to the UK, the performative & symbolic aspects of their decision, the work of culture, and how it felt to write about the present moment for the first time. We talk about American exceptionalism, the nature of exile & self-exile, the centrality of Freud to different branches of his family, and why he decided to write about the nature of working as a writer and trying to get by as an artist in NYC. We also discuss the apocalyptic nature of our era, how the power of ignorance is stronger than power of knowledge, how we can recuperate the unknown as a space of possibility, and the warnings of two of his past literary subjects, Stefan Zweig and Gershom Scholem. Give it a listen! And go read I Dream With Open Eyes!

(And go listen to our 2014 and 2017 conversations!)

“I’m only interested in writing about myself as a critique of choices I’ve made, and here and there as a presentation of windows onto other ways of being.”

“Although few of us are fortunate enough to have a home we feel truly secure in, there’s some abiding aspiration to embrace peace and belonging.”

“I want with this book — and my life — to refuse to foreclose the possibility of some kind of salvational outcome to things. I don’t think the story is finished.”

“The whole structure of New York is geared toward to scales of financial affluence that one of the problems in the city is that it’s almost inconceivable to be a hand-to-mouth struggling artist there.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

George Prochnik was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in general nonfiction in 2021. He is the author of five books of nonfiction including Stranger in a Strange Land, which was a New York Times editors’ choice and was short-listed for the 2018 Wingate Literary Prize in the United Kingdom. His previous book, The Impossible Exile, was shortlisted for the 2016 Wingate Literary Prize and won the National Jewish Book Award for Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir. He is also the author of In Pursuit of Silence, Putnam Camp, and Heinrich Heine: Writing the Revolution. George has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Bookforum, and Los Angeles Review of Books, and is editor at large for Cabinet magazine. Born in Grand Junction, CO, he currently lives in London with his wife and their son.

Follow George on Twitter and Instagram, although he doesn’t actually post at either very much, if at all.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of George Prochnik by James Prochnik. It’s on my instagram.

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