Episode 216 – George Prochnik

Virtual Memories Show 216: George Prochnik

“Scholem teaches us that the Jewish tradition is so capacious it could embrace its own subversion.”

George Prochnik returns to The Virtual Memories Show to talk about his new book, Stranger in a Strange Land: Searching for Gershom Scholem and Jerusalem (Other Press). (We talked about Stefan Zweig back in 2014.) We get into the life of Jewish mysticism’s greatest scholar, how the theories of Zionism butted up against the reality of Palestine and Israel, the alchemical friendship of Scholem and Walter Benjamin, the way Kabbalah serves as the hidden, subterranean layer of Judaism, Scholem’s example of a life lived in resistance, the great contrast of Scholem with Prochnik’s previous biographical subject, Stefan Zweig, our author’s addiction to Jerusalem and the books he hasn’t escaped in 30 years, and whether Walt Whitman was an intuitive American Kabbalist! Give it a listen! And go buy Stranger in a Strange Land (and The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World, both from Other Press)!

“Scholem explored the notion that Kabbalah is a meditation on Jewish history itself, not just an intra-theological discussion between rabbis, but a historically aware and subversive to struggle with the Jewish exile of 1492. If Jews suffered this extraordinary fate, how does redemption work against that? His interpretation of Kabbalah confers on the individual an enormous responsibility and capacity to participate in the healing of the universe.”

“Zweig had something like ‘Lot’s Wife Syndrome’; if you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter how fast you’re running, you’re always going to be looking over your shoulder.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes, like my previous conversation with George!

There are lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

George Prochnik’s previous book, The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World, received the National Jewish Book Award for Biography/Memoir in 2014 and was shortlisted for the Wingate Prize in the UK. Prochnik is also the author of In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise (2010), and Putnam Camp: Sigmund Freud, James Jackson Putnam and the Purpose of American Psychology (2006). He has written for The New York Times, The New Yorker, Bookforum and the LA Review of Books, and is editor-at-large for Cabinet magazine. His new book is Stranger in a Strange Land: Searching for Gershom Scholem and Jerusalem.

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. Prochnik’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 Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Mr. Prochnik and his family by me. The family one is on my instagram, and the solo pic (from our 2014 show) is on my flickr.

Episode 159 – Burton Pike

25540193895_62b4490de7_z

Virtual Memories Show #159:
Burton Pike

“When you translate, you are digging into not so much the psyche of the author but the psyche of the author’s use of language.”

51EULu1tNBL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Translator and emeritus literature professor Burton Pike joins the show to talk about his lifetime in the arts, the musicality and rhythm of language, the experience of translating early Proust, whether national literature departments are an outdated concept, the peculiarities of various Swiss ethnicities, how his dream project — Musil’s The Man Without Qualities — fell into his lap, and more! Give it a listen!

“The Man Without Qualities is written not from a literary but a scientific point of view. It’s predicated on the fact that everything changes and nothing stays stable. And of course that includes this novel itself.”

We also talk about the joys of hitchhiking across Europe in the ’50s, the reasons he came to New York and the reasons he stays, the disappearance of high German culture — Goethe, Schilling, et al. — from postwar Germany, the problems with Moncrieff’s fruity translation of Proust, his objection to calling Die Verwandlung The Metamorphosis, and more! Go listen!

“When a German is in sight, Swiss Germans revert to their native patois, because they’re horrified that they’ll be taken for German. The French look down on French Swiss and Belgians, of course, because they’re not French. The Swiss French, their faces are glued to the window pane of France. And the Italian Swiss? They’re perfectly happy and at home and have no problem.”

Also, if you want to find out who Burton is reading nowadays and get a list of the books we talked about in this episode, join our Patreon and become a monthly contributor to The Virtual Memories Show! At the end of March, the new episode of our patron-only podcast, Fear of a Square Planet, will go up with a bonus segment about who he’s reading and why.

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

25535972945_f40867c27e_zBurton Pike is professor emeritus of comparative literature and Germanic languages and literature at the CUNY Graduate Center. He did his undergraduate studies at Haverford College and received his PhD from Harvard University. He has taught at the University of Hamburg, Cornell University, and Queens College and Hunter College of the City University of New York. He has also been a Visiting Professor at Yale University. He is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, and a Fulbright fellowship. He was awarded the Medal of Merit by the City of Klagenfurt, Austria, for his work on Robert Musil. Finalist and special citation, PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize for editing and co-translating Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. He is the winner of the 2012 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize for Gerhard Meier’s Isle of the Dead.

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 Professor Pike’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on the same setup. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Head by me.

Episode 156 – Ross Benjamin

Virtual Memories Show #156:
Ross Benjamin

“As a translator, your initial feeling is, ‘I want to inhabit this text.’ There’s a primary identification, a mirror effect, where you see your own creative possibilities reflected there, and want to realize them through this text.”

Seriously-Funny-Prof-Pic-v2-1-300x300The 7th annual Festival Neue Literatur is Feb. 25-28, 2016 in New York, and this podcast is a Media Partner, so let’s talk to the event’s curator! Translator and Guggenheim fellow Ross Benjamin joins the show to talk about putting together “Seriously Funny,” this year’s FNL theme, and coordinating the 6 German language authors and 2 Americans who will be the featured guests. We talk about humor, German stereotypes, and the difference between reading a language and being able to speak it. Along the way, we get into the styles that different translators have, the challenges and joys of translating Kafka’s diaries, the pros and cons of translating living authors and dead ones, and the angst of trying to give meaning to a single word. Give it a listen, and get over to Festival Neue Literatur from February 25-28, 2016 in New York!

“In the early diaries, you can feel Kafka groping for a voice and a style.”

25005923555_11f333aa59_zWe also get into Ross’ history as a translator, what he’s learned about his mother tongue in the process, what other language he’d love to learn, the deep responsibility that comes from bringing a text into English, and more! Go listen.

“Most authors don’t mind answering ceaseless questions about their own work. It’s not just ego or vanity, I think it’s fascinating for them because authors don’t necessarily think consciously about all these aspects of their work.”

Also, if you want to find out who Ross is reading nowadays and get a list of the books we talked about in this episode, 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 Ross is reading and why.

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

rossbenjaminRoss Benjamin is a translator of German-language literature and a writer living in Nyack, NY. His translations include Friedrich Hölderlin’s Hyperion, Kevin Vennemann’s Close to Jedenew, Joseph Roth’s Job, and Clemens J. Setz’s Indigo. He is currently at work on a translation of Franz Kafka’s complete Diaries, to be published by Liveright/Norton. He is a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow. He was awarded the 2010 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize for his rendering of Michael Maar’s Speak, Nabokov, a 2012 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship to translate Clemens J. Setz’s The Frequencies, and a commendation from the judges of the 2012 Schlegel-Tieck Prize for his translation of Thomas Pletzinger’s Funeral for a Dog. His literary criticism has appeared in The Times Literary Supplement, Bookforum, The Nation, and other publications. He was a 2003–2004 Fulbright Scholar in Berlin and is a graduate of Vassar College.

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 in a conference room in Nyack, NY 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. Photo of Mr. Benjamin by me.

Podcast – Jewish Gothic and the Restless Artist

Virtual Memories Show: Sara Lippmann and Drew Friedman –
Jewish Gothic and the Restless Artist

“My father, to this day, will still call and say, ‘It’s not too late for medical school!'” –Sara Lippmann

Sara Lippmann on The Virtual Memories Show

Drew Friedman returns to the Virtual Memories Show

Come for the Friedman, stay for the Lippmann! Or vice versa! This week’s podcast features two great conversations: first I talk with Drew Friedman at Small Press Expo ’14 about his great new book of portraits, Heroes Of The Comics: Portraits Of The Pioneering Legends Of Comic Books (Fantagraphics), then Sara Lippmann and I solve the gender imbalance issue in literature, and the MFA vs. NYC issue, to boot! We talk about her debut short story collection, Doll Palace (Dock Street Press), getting over the fear of writing, how she lost the Rolex account for GQ, and more!

“I drew them older so you could see the weight of their careers on their faces.” –Drew Friedman

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

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Sara Lippmann is the author of the story collection, Doll Palace (Dock Street Press). Her stories have been published in The Good Men Project, Wigleaf, Slice magazine, Tupelo Quarterly, Connotation Press, Joyland and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a 2012 fellowship in Fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts and co-hosts the Sunday Salon, a longstanding reading series in the East Village.

Drew Friedman is an award-winning illustrator, cartoonist and painter. His work has appeared in Raw, Weirdo, SPY, National Lampoon, Snarf, The New York Times, MAD, The New Yorker, BLAB!, The New York Observer, The Wall Street Journal, HONK!, Rolling Stone, Field & Stream, TIME, The Village Voice, Entertainment Weekly, and more. His comics and illustrations have been collected in several volumes, the latest, Too Soon?, published by Fantagraphics in 2010. His collection of portraits, Drew Friedman’s Sideshow Freaks, was published by Blast books in 2011. He has published three collections of paintings of Old Jewish Comedians (1, 2 and 3), but none of Old Episcopal Comedians. He also raises champion beagles with his wife, K. Bidus. You can find his full bio and buy his art at his fine art prints site and you really should read his blog.

Credits: This episode’s music is Sure Shot by the Beastie Boys. The conversation with Drew Friedman was recorded at the Bethesda North Marriott and the conversation with Sara Lippmann was recorded at an undisclosed location on the Upper West Side on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photos of Ms. Lippmann and Mr. Friedman by me.

Podcast: Reading Maketh a Full Man

Note: DG Myers died on Sept. 26, 2014, about 6 months after we recorded this episode. You can read my contribution to his festscrhift here.

DG Myers on The Virtual Memories Show

Virtual Memories – season 4 episode 13 – Reading Maketh a Full Man,
or, “Where is the Lesbian on This List?”

“I would take an evil delight in asking my colleagues what they were reading, and watching the look of panic on their faces. Because everyone reads scholarship now, and very few primary materials. Our academic specialties are an inch wide and a mile deep.”

Literature professor and book critic DG Myers is dying of cancer, but that doesn’t mean he’s planning to go gentle into that good night. In a far-ranging conversation, we talk about why he believes university English departments will barely outlast him, how he made the move from Southern Baptist to Orthodox Judaism (getting recircumcised a few times along the way), what he’d like to be remembered for, why the idea of The Western Canon is a canard, which books and authors he’s trying to get to before he dies, who he regrets not reading before now, and the identity of the one author he’d like to hear from. Give it a listen!

“Every Shabbos I thank Hashem for my cancer, because it has focused me on what’s good and enabled me to ignore what’s not.”

We also talk about his plans to dispose of his library, the joys of studying under Stanley Elkin, the relation of books to moral life, the things that cease to matter in the face of a terminal diagnosis, the failure of English departments in the age of Theory, the thorny question of whether creative writing can be taught, and what writers and readers should do to save the humanities. Also, check out the list of books that came up in our conversation.

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

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

DG Myers is the author of The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880, a work of literary scholarship. He has been a critic and literary historian for nearly a quarter of a century at Texas A&M and Ohio State universities, and was formerly the fiction critic for Commentary. He has written for Jewish Ideas Daily, the New York Times Book Review, the Weekly Standard, Philosophy and Literature, the Sewanee Review, First Things, the Daily Beast, the Barnes & Noble Review, the Journal of the History of Ideas, American Literary History, and other journals. He is working on a memoir, Life on Planet Cancer, and lives in Columbus, OH, with his wife Naomi and their four children: Dov, Saul, Isaac, and Miriam (“Mimi”). He writes at A Commonplace Blog.

Credits: This episode’s music is First We Take Manhattan by Jennifer Warnes. The conversation was recorded at Prof. Myers’ home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Prof. Myers by me.

What It Is: 9/14/09

What I’m reading: This note about the 400th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Loew inspired me to re-read Introducing Kafka (mainly for R. Crumb’s drawings & strips). I also read Locas II, a huge collection of Jaime Hernandez’s comics. Occasionally I forget how wonderful it is to live in an era when artists like Xaime are doing such fantastic work (and making great illustrations).

What I’m listening to: A great B.S. Report podcast with Patton Oswalt, and an okay one with Bill Hader.

What I’m watching: The Basketball Hall of Fame class of 2009 induction ceremony, in which I learned that John Stockton can be kinda funny, Vivian Stringer had a tough life, Jerry Sloan has enormous hands, and Michael Jordan cannot handle retirement. Also watched a ton of NFL, and the Vandy-LSU game.

What I’m drinking: Cascade Mountain & Q Tonic.

What Rufus is up to: Meeting a ton of greyhounds at the annual grey-picnic in Bridgewater, NJ on Sunday. Pictures to come. (Here’s one from my wife!)

Where I’m going: No plans! Got any ideas?

What I’m happy about: Writing those Gary Panter & Gillian Welch posts last week.

What I’m sad about: Norman Borlaug’s death. He did have a full life, reaching 95 years and saving countless lives, but still.

What I’m worried about: Not my conference next week. At least, not as much as past years. We’ve already taken care of a lot of the things that usually get taken care of late in the game — the USB drives are much better than last year, for example — and our attendee count is surprisingly good, esp. given the economy. I’m sure something crazy will happen that throws everything askew, but I’m less nerve-wracked about things. Now I just gotta hope all 11 speakers actually show up for their sessions.

What I’m pondering: Whether I’m too old to start a band called Umvelt of the Dog.