“There are thresholds or shelves where we go from having incremental change to systemic moments of transformation.”
In the ’90s, Sven Birkerts cautioned us about the impact of technology on reading with The Gutenberg Elegies. In 2017, we mute our iPhones to talk about his new book, Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age (Graywolf Press). We dive into the impact of digital technology on perception and identity, but also get into the way life becomes a thematic puzzle in middle age, why he stepped down from his role directing the low-residency MFA program at Bennington, the joy of bringing his favorite writers in as instructors (and the ones he regrets not getting), the challenge of interviewing fiction writers, his big literary 0-fer and what I’m missing about Virginia Woolf, how he’s adapting to a year-long sabbatical and how he understands his writing life, what he’s learned editing the literary magazine AGNI, and why the prerequisite for anything he’s reading is that it has to be more interesting to him than whatever it is he’s vaguely brooding about. Give it a listen! And go buy his new essay collection, Changing the Subject!
“When I was your age, I discovered the doubling over of one’s own experience. . . . Themes, recurrences and motifs in my life began to manifest. Then as if on command, the whole sunken continent of memory began to detach from the sea-floor.”
About our Guest
Sven Birkerts is the author of Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age and nine previous books, including The Other Walk: Essays, The Gutenberg Elegies, The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again, and My Sky Blue Trades: Growing Up Counter in a Contrary Time. He recently stepped down as director of the Bennington Writing Seminars, and he also edits the journal AGNI based at Boston University. He lives in Arlington, Massachusetts, and he’s on Twitter as svenbirkerts and Instagram as cyberbirk.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Birkerts’ home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Mr. Birkerts by me. It’s on my instagram.
“Nothing’s as static as people make it out to be.”
Make psychoanalysis subversive again! Vanessa Sinclair joins the show to talk about her new book, Switching Mirrors. We get into psychoanalysis, art and the occult, magical thinking (good and bad), Vanessa’s use of cut-up theory and practice, finding The Third Mind with her collaborator, Katelan Foisy, how she went from ghost-hunter to psychoanalyst, the problem with the lack of rites of passage in western culture, where psychology went wrong, having a book problem, and co-founding an underground anarchist psychoanalyst gang! Give it a listen! And go buy Switching Mirrors!
“I was told that if you treat someone analytically, you’re being unethical, that it’s better just to give them medication so they can go back to work and be productive.”
About our Guest
Vanessa Sinclair, PsyD, is a psychoanalyst and clinical psychologist in private practice in New York City. She is a founding member of Das Unbehagen: A Free Association for Psychoanalysis, which facilitates psychoanalytic lectures, classes, and events in and around New York City. Together with artist Katelan Foisy, she explores the magic and artistic expression of the cut-up method and the third mind. You can learn more about that at Chaos of the Third Mind. She contributes to a variety of publications, including the The Fenris Wolf, DIVISION/Review: A Quarterly Psychoanalytic Forum, ERIS Magazine, and The Brooklyn Rail.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Dr. Sinclair’s office on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Dr. Sinclair by Carl Abrahamsson.
“It’s an existential question, not a historical one: what kinds of places make you feel at home? Some people feel at home nowhere, and some feel at home everywhere. I’m myself, wherever I am.”
Willard Spiegelman returns to the show to talk about his wonderful new essay collection, Senior Moments: Looking Back, Looking Ahead (FSG). We get into the process of deaccessioning, Mark Strand’s advice on paring down to 100 books, Willard’s take on 45 years living in Dallas (and what he’ll miss about it now that he’s retired), the joy of getting lost in Italy, the best way to pick someone up in NYC, the contrast of his 50th high school and college reunions, and more. Give it a listen! And go buy Senior Moments!
“I’m enthusiastically looking forward to getting rid of everything.”
We also mix it up over the aesthetic sunk cost fallacy, ponder being alone in the middle of a crowd, compare Japan and Hungary relative to being linguistically uprooted (I argue that Hungary is tougher, because it looks like you should be able to piece together the language), examine the pharaonic idea of hoarding, and listen to time’s winged chariot hurrying near. Now go listen to the show!
“I’m much too old to write a memoir. That’s the province of 25-year-olds.”
- Willard Spiegelman (2013)
- Jonathan Galassi
- Burton Pike
- Rachel Hadas (2016)
- Ann Patty
- Langdon Hammer
- JD McClatchy
About our Guest
Willard Spiegelman is the Hughes Professor of English at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. From 1984 util 2016, he was also the editor in chief of Southwest Review. He had written many books and essays about English and American poetry. For more than a quarter century, he has been a regular contributor to the Leisure and Arts pages of The Wall Street Journal. In 2005, Willard won the PEN/Nora Magid award for literary editing. In addition to Senior Moments, he’s also written or edited Seven Pleasures: Essays on Ordinary Happiness, How Poets See the World: The Art of Description in Contemporary Poetry, Wordsworth’s Heroes, Imaginative Transcripts: Selected Literary Essays, Majestic Indolence: English Romantic Poetry and the Work of Art, The Didactic Muse: Scenes of Instruction in Contemporary American Poetry, and Love, Amy: The Selected Letters of Amy Clampitt. Oh, and he’s quite dapper.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Spiegelman’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Photo of Mr. Spiegelman by me.
“I’ve never felt so happy, but I’ve never felt so mortal.”
Poet Rachel Hadas returns to the show to talk about her new books, Talking To The Dead (Spuyten Duyvil Press), and Questions in the Vestibule (Northwestern University Press). It’s been two years since we last talked (over here), so I had plenty of questions for her. How did she rebuild her life after losing her husband to early onset dementia? How did she wind up pals with James Merrill (and what’s her take on his Ouija poems)? What do we lose and gain in the act of translation? And how did she become a love poet after spending her career writing elegies? Listen in to find out!
“It’s like Forster said, there’s a sense that the great poets are sitting at a table, synchronically all writing at the same time.”
You should check out this extra material from our conversation: Backdrop: Merrill in Stonington, a video essay Rachel made with her husband, Shalom Gorewitz, and The Art of Empathy: Celebrating Literature in Translation, a collection of essays commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts. Also, here’s the blog post I wrote about translating Tolstoy.
“I’m at a point in my career where I feel fortunate to be able to publish what I’m writing.”
Also, if you want to find out who she’s reading nowadays and get a list of the books we talked about, join our Patreon and become a monthly contributor to The Virtual Memories Show! At the end of February, the new episode of our patron-only podcast, Fear of a Square Planet, will go up with a bonus segment about who Rachel’s reading lately and why.
About our Guest
Rachel Hadas’s book of selected prose pieces, Talking To The Dead, was published by Spuyten Duyvil Press in 2015. Her new book of poems, Questions in the Vestibule, is forthcoming (April 2016) from Northwestern University Press, which will also publish her verse translations of Euripides’ dramas Iphigenia in Aulis and Iphigenia Among the Taurians. The author of a score of books of poetry, essays, and translations, Hadas is Board of Governors Professor of English at Rutgers University-Newark. She and her husband, artist Shalom Gorewitz, have been working on marrying poetry and video; some of their collaborative work, including a piece about James Merrill, can be seen at www.rachelandshalomshow.com.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at Ms. Hadas’ home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. All photos of Ms. Hadas by Shalom Gorewitz.
“I often think that my ideas are exaggerations that are on the brink of disbelief, but just this side of that, so the suspension of disbelief is a challenge in my books. I like to push things as far as they can go.”
Rupert Thomson returns to the show to talk about his new novel, Katherine Carlyle (Other Press, 2015). We also discuss IVF babies, doing research “in character”, keeping the reader’s interest in a “road movie” novel, prioritizing imaginary facts above real facts, his pros & cons list for becoming a parent, the challenge of writing a novel about a father’s fear for his child’s safety, the long and short answer of “Where do you get your ideas?”, how he got James Salter to blurb his new book, and more! Give it a listen!
“My wife was adopted. She told me what it was like not to be related to anyone in the world by blood. She said, ‘We learn about ourselves by looking at people we resemble, and if you don’t have that, you’re alone in the world. And the only mirror is the one on the wall.’ I felt like it was within my gift to change that for her.”
Rupert also talks about repetition compulsion, the changing nature of a full-time writer, learning to perform in public readings, why he wanted to name his new book Frankenstein’s Daughter and why his wife told him not to write it for years, who he’s reading, and what his daughter thinks about his work. Go listen!
“People would assume that you’d do all the research and then write the book, but with me it’s absolutely the opposite way ’round: I think the real facts can really get in the way of the imagined ones. I sink down into my imagination and write the book I want to write first. The imagined facts have to have priority over the real ones.”
We talked about some books during this conversation. You should go read ’em!
- Katherine Carlyle – Rupert Thomson
- Secrecy – Rupert Thomson
- Unformed Landscape – Peter Stamm
- Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
- Love Me Back – Merritt Tierce
- All That Is – James Salter
- Light Years – James Salter
- The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories – Joy Williams
- The Mare – Mary Gaitskill
About our Guest
Rupert Thomson is the author of nine highly acclaimed novels, including Secrecy; The Insult, which was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize and selected by David Bowie as one of his 100 Must-Read Books of All Time; The Book of Revelation, which was made into a feature film by Ana Kokkinos; and Death of a Murderer, which was shortlisted for the Costa Novel of the Year Award. His memoir, This Party’s Got to Stop, was named Writers’ Guild Non-Fiction Book of the Year. He lives in London.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Carlyle Hotel on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro.