Episode 550 – Ron Rosenbaum

Virtual Memories Show 550:
Ron Rosenbaum

“We’re in an age where machines — AI, big data — are taking over human emotions and endeavors.”

With the release of IN DEFENSE OF LOVE: An Argument (Doubleday), Ron Rosenbaum offers up a series of essays to save love from scientizers, extremists, the jaded, and anyone else who doubts whether Amor Vincit Omnia. We get into why love needs a defense and how it’s not reducible to chemical surges on an fMRI scan, the overwhelming emotion of Linda Ronstadt’s Long Long Time, the beauty of Philip Larkin’s poem An Arundel Tomb and why Larkin may have been embarrassed by the honesty of its last line (“What will survive of us is love.”), and the ways bullshit science can lead people ridiculously astray. We talk about seeing Tolstoy in the light of his late novellas, in which he puts forth an extinction agenda and wants to end human reproduction, the first and last times Ron fell in love, why he included a closing chapter on his own experiences of love & regret, whether dangerous passion outweighs a moderate marriage, and whether one can write about human nature without having a fully human nature. Plus, we talk about Ron’s writing career, his arrival during the late days of magazines’ golden age, how he discovered his superpower of close reading, why America’s greatest love poems come from country music, and a lot more. Give it a listen! And go read IN DEFENSE OF LOVE!

“When it comes to Anna or Levin [in Anna Karenina], I’ve always wanted the more passionate relationship, even if it doesn’t last, even if you end up hating each other.”

“I feel like a lot of my writing, and reading, and life, was coming in at the end of a golden age.”

“The great poetry about love will almost always be a sideways glance, something that doesn’t go at it directly.”

“I tackled Hitler, I tackled Shakespeare, and now I’ve tacked Tolstoy: I haven’t wasted my time on second-rate people.”

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

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About our Guest

Ron Rosenbaum was a Phi Beta Kappa student of literature at Yale, and briefly studied at Yale Graduate School, before leaving to write. His work has appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Esquire, Vanity Fair, Smithsonian Magazine, and Slate, among other publications. He was a columnist at the New York Observer and the White House correspondent for the Village Voice during Watergate. His book, Explaining Hitler, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 1998, has been translated into ten languages. Random House published a collection of his essays and journalism, The Secret Parts of Fortune, in 2000. In 2006, he published The Shakespeare Wars, which Cynthia Ozick called “a spectacular book.” He has been a member of the advisory board of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s publications project, and the editorial board of Lapham’s Quarterly.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Hill and Bay Cafe’s outdoor seating on Second Ave. in NYC on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4 digital recorder & interface. I recorded the intro and outro on 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 Ron by me. It’s on my instagram.

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