“Proust tried to explain how we live in subjective time. Both our work is about the transformation of society, but he seems nostalgic about the time before. I’m not nostalgic for that period. I’m more interested in how societies reach their peak and then fall down.”
Charif Majdalani has been called the Lebanese Proust, thanks to his series of novels chronicling the modern history of his home country. He joins the show this week to celebrate the first American publication of his wonderful novel, Moving the Palace (New Vessel Press). We talk about the the dynamic of French and Arabic languages, Lebanon’s fixation on the eternal present and its sense of living under the volcano, his process of escaping his literary influences, why he needed to get away to France to gain perspective on home, and what he wants to do on his first trip to America. Give it a listen! And go buy Moving the Palace!
“Lebanon is living through repetitive history. Problems never find resolution, so we go from crisis to crisis.”
“The problem with New York is that everyone who comes here has an image or idea of New York that comes from the movies. We try to find it, but we have to adjust to the real New York.”
About our Guest
Charif Majdalani, born in Lebanon in 1960, is often likened to a Lebanese Proust. Majdalani lived in France from 1980 to 1993 and now teaches French literature at the Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut. The original French version of his novel Moving the Palace won the 2008 François Mauriac Prize from the Académie Française as well as the Prix Tropiques.
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 the home of New Vessel Press co-founder Michael Z. Wise 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. Majdalani by me. It’s on my instagram. Photo of me & Charif by Michael Z. Wise.
“Photography has never been made coequal to the other arts. Yet, you might say it’s superior, because it’s more dangerous.”
Arthur Lubow‘s fantastic new book, Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer (Ecco), explores the life and death of a key figure in the history of photography-as-art. We talk about the evolution of photography from documentation to expression, the role Diane Arbus played in that transformation, her sensibility and intellect and how she expressed them both in her photography and her writing, Arbus’ collaborative method of portraiture, her fascination with and sympathy for “freaks”, why it’s counterproductive to look to Arbus’ photos for clues to her suicide, and more! Give it a listen! And buy Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer!
“What’s important is why and how she was able to produce these amazing photographs, not why she took her own life.”
We also talk about the perils of anhedonia, the missing pages of Arbus’ datebook, Arbus’ anxiety about commercial and critical success, the new sources that Arthur uncovered, who Arbus might have become had she not killed herself, the challenge of writing a biography about an artist, and whether Arbus “exploited” her subjects. It’s a fascinating conversation about a major artistic figure, so give it a listen!
“It was Arbus more than anyone else who helped instigate the change in the artistic status of photography.”
About our Guest
Arthur Lubow is a journalist who writes mainly about culture. He has been a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine, a staff writer at The New Yorker, and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. About his previous biography, The Reporter Who Would Be King, on the turn-of-the-century war correspondent and novelist Richard Harding Davis, Naomi Bliven wrote in The New Yorker that “the biographer uses his documentation deftly and thoughtfully; we feel we know Davis intimately….Lubow’s work is impressive in every way, but his most impressive achievement is getting Davis’s charm on paper. Charm is always impalpable, and it’s highly perishable when the charmer has vanished. You don’t find Davis’s charm on every page of Davis, but you find it everywhere in Lubow.” The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and from the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Writers and Scholars at the New York Public Library, Lubow is the winner of a James Beard Award and a fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities. He lives in New York City and East Haddam, CT.
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 Arthur’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 Blue enCORE 200 Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Lubow by me, portrait of him by Stephen Salmieri.
“I’m an enthusiast. I think that’s why I was a good editor. I fall in love with things and I get very enthusiastic and I boost them. Now I’m a Latin enthusiast.”
Why did former publisher and book editor Ann Patty start studying Latin at age 58? Find out in our conversation about her book, Living with a Dead Language: My Romance with Latin (Viking). We talk about her deep dive into a dead language, the “Living Latinist” revival, her unceremonious exit from the NY publishing world, the terror of the blank page, the perils of groupthink, how her pursuit of Latin reconciled her to the memory of her mother, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Living with a Dead Language!
“This is going to sound grandiose, but I’m going to say it: I identified with Aeneas because I had to find a new homeland just like he did. My homeland was the publishing world and I was exiled.”
We also talk about where mainstream book publishing has gone wrong, what it was like to be the oldest student in the room by 40 years, how her experience as a publisher and editor helped and hurt her as a first-time author, how Abigail Thomas tricked her into writing a book, the benefits of inflection, her new career goal of Girl Latin Reporter, and more! Give it a listen! And become a patron of this podcast via Patreon or Paypal to get access to bonus conversation with Ann and a big ol’ list of all the books we talked about.
“Editors have been disempowered in favor of groupthink, and there’s nothing more horrible than groupthink. Any book I was ever successful with would not have been bought if it had been subject to groupthink. I include Life of Pi.”
About our Guest
Ann Patty worked in New York trade publishing for more than 30 years. She was the founder and publisher of The Poseidon Press and an executive editor at Crown Publishers and Harcourt. Her first discovery as an editor was V. C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic. Other highlights of her career include the US hardcover debuts of: George R. R. Martin, Graham Swift, Mary Gaitskill, Patrick McGrath, Clive Barker, Frank Zappa, Michael Moore, Siri Hustvedt, and Kristin Hannah. She was the editor of Steven Millhauser’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Martin Dressler, and Yann Martel’s Booker Prize-winning Life of Pi. In 2008 she became a freelance editor and began studying Latin, which she continues to do. She teaches Latin to teenagers at her local library in Red Hook, New York. Living with a Dead Language: My Romance with Latin is her first memoir.
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 Ann’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 Blue enCORE 200 Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Ann by me.
“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.”
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.
- Anthea Bell
- Ross Benjamin
- Christopher Kloeble
- Timur Vermes, Gavriel Rosenfeld and Liesl Schillinger
- Harold Bloom
- Willard Spiegelman
About our Guest
Burton 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.
“I love the notion of great beauty hidden in ugliness. Or vice versa.”
Amanda Filipacchi joins this week’s show to talk about her latest novel, The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty: A Novel (WW Norton), her solution to sexism in the publishing world, her misgivings about contributing to a website of authors’ 10 favorite books, her attraction to surrealism and fairy tales, her garden-of-forking-paths approach to fiction, and more! Give it a listen!
“My big life obsession is my lack of productivity and my constant struggle to be more productive. . . . In theory, I have a routine, but I don’t find myself sticking to it.”
Also, I make a pretty amazing bookstore discovery in the airport in Milwaukee, and give (as expected) heady praise to Clive James’ new essay collection, Latest Readings.
We talk about a bunch of books in this episode. Here’s a list of ’em (Note: if I ever go to a Patreon crowdfunding model for the show, this is the first thing that goes subscriber-only):
- The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty: A Novel – Amanda Filipacchi
- Love Creeps: A Novel – Amanda Filipacchi
- The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
- The Blazing World – Siri Hustvedt
- In Search of Lost Time – Marcel Proust
- Survival In Auschwitz – Primo Levi
- The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton
- Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
- Crime and Punishment – Dostoevsky
- The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
- The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Lottery and Other Stories – Shirley Jackson
- Emma – Jane Austen
- The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault
- The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel – Haruki Murakami
- Up in the Air – Walter Kirn
- Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade – Walter Kirn
- Big Brother: A Novel – Lionel Shriver
- We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver
- May We Be Forgiven: A Novel – A.M. Homes
- Sparta: A Novel – Roxana Robinson
About our Guest
Amanda Filipacchi is the author of four novels: Nude Men (Viking/Penguin 1993), Vapor (Carroll & Graf, 1999), Love Creeps (St. Martin’s Press, 2005), and The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty (W. W. Norton, Feb. 2015). Her fiction has been translated into fourteen languages and been anthologized in The Best American Humor 1994 (Simon & Schuster), Voices Of the X-iled (Doubleday), and The Good Parts: The Best Erotic Writing in Modern Fiction (Berkley Books). Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic.
Born in Paris, France, Amanda Filipacchi was educated in both France and the US, and has lived in New York since the age of seventeen. She earned a BA from Hamilton College and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University. She lives in Manhattan with Richard Hine, also a novelist.
Credits: This episode’s music is Head in a Box by Lori Carson. The conversation was recorded at an undisclosed location 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 Ms. Filipacchi by Marion Ettlinger.
“I have a private test for whether I’m an individual person or whether I’m part of the culture: I go to the supermarket and I look at the supermarket weeklies, and if I recognize the names, then I’m not a person, I’m a product of collective culture.”
Professor Edward Mendelson joins the show to talk about his new book, Moral Agents: Eight Twentieth-Century American Writers (New York Review Books), which profiles Lionel Triling, Dwight Macdonald, Alfred Kazin, William Maxwell, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, WH Auden, Frank O’Hara. We discuss the role of individuals in mass culture, the intellectual’s temptation to be a leader, the outdated figure of the Beloved Professor, Orwell’s misinterpretation of Auden, the writer he was terrified to meet, the failures of identity politics, the purpose of Columbia University’s Core Curriculum, his lack of nostalgia for the era of public intellectuals, the way certain books need a year off from teaching in order to recharge, and more. Give it a listen!
“All these writers were tempted by the way they were taken seriously.”
We also talk about why he hates one of my favorite novels, why he agrees with my take on Achilles’ uncanniness in the Iliad, why professors think students are getting dumber year after year, how the economic collapse of the ’70s led to improved colleges across the country, why he thinks Stoner is a study in self-pity, and more! Go listen!
About our Guest
At Columbia since 1981, Professor Edward Mendelson has also taught at Yale and Harvard. A recipient of American Council of Learned Societies, NEH, and Guggenheim fellowships, he is chiefly interested in 19th-and 20th-century literature, formal and social aspects of poetry and narrative, and biographical criticism. He is Auden’s literary executor; his book Later Auden (1999) is a sequel to his Early Auden (1981). His book, The Things That Matter: What Seven Classic Novels Have to Say About the Stages of Life, was published by Pantheon in 2006. His new book is Moral Agents: Eight Twentieth-Century American Writers, from New York Review Books. He has edited a volume of essays on Thomas Pynchon and, with Michael Seidel, Homer to Brecht: The European Epic & Dramatic Traditions. He has prepared editions of novels by Hardy, Bennett, Meredith, Wells, and Trollope, the first five volumes of a complete edition of Auden, and selections of Auden’s poems and prose. His essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Review of Books, London Review of Books, TLS, the New York Times Book Review, and many other journals and collections, and he wrote an introduction for a new edition of Gravity’s Rainbow. He has also written about computers, music, and the visual arts. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was the first Isabel Dalhousie Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh.
Credits: This episode’s music is Homesickness by Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Mendelson’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 Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Mendelson by me.
The great cartoonist (and designer and illustrator) Seth joins the Virtual Memories Show to talk about memory and time, his love of digression, being “Mr. Old-Timey”, what it means to be a Canadian cartoonist, and learning to let go of the finish and polish that used to characterize his work.
“When I was young, I thought there were an infinite possibility of stories you could do. As you get older, you realize you’re following a thread, and that you don’t have as much choice about what you’re writing about as you thought.”
“Style’s a funny thing. I think it’s important, but I think it’s a matter of the choices the artist makes that lead to the finished product. It is chosen, bit by bit over time, with each decision you make.”
“People only have a limited patience for listening to you go on and on about your own ideas, your own mind, your own memories. Art allows you to have that perfect experience of putting that down on paper without anyone growing tired and making you stop.”
“You add things onto yourself bit by bit through life to create the kind of person you want to be. Eventually, to some degree, it IS you. You picked these things deliberately.”
“There’s some little thing that makes it hard to let it go of trying to create that fetish object you always wanted, that comic strip that looks like the best you can make it.”
About our Guest
Seth is the pen name of Gregory Gallant, a Canadian comic book artist and writer. He is best known for comics such as his ongoing anthology Palookaville, George Sprott: (1894-1975), Wimbledon Green, The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, and It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, all published by Drawn and Quarterly. His illustrations have appeared in The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Details, Spin, The New York Times, and Saturday Night, and he has designed books and DVDs for a variety of publishers, including Fantagraphics (The Complete Peanuts), Random House (The Portable Dorothy Parker), and Criterion (Make Way for Tomorrow). Here are his favorite Criterion releases.
Credits: This episode’s music is Time Stand Still by Rush (because Seth’s Canadian, see, and his work revolves around memory and — oh, never mind). The conversation was recorded in Seth’s hotel room during the Toronto Comic Arts Festival 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 Seth by me.