“I want to use this media, which is all about going somewhere else, to say, ‘Just here. Just stop at these woods, this snowy evening. Just here.'”
For more than a decade, Princeton literature professor Jeff Nunokawa has posted daily mini-essays using Facebook Notes. We talk about how he discovered that form, the audience that grew around his work, writing without links, the experience of producing a print edition of the notes, and his ambivalence over the final product. We get into the negative review that affirmed all of his self-doubts and pushed him toward his goal of becoming transparent, the benefits of consolatory drivel, dreaming of the next day’s note and making writing a source of pleasure, his mixed-race heritage (his dad’s Japanese, his mom’s caucasian-American) and his childhood in the 60s, his 30 years at Princeton, his joy at living in the same world as Torres and Ronaldo, and why you have to feel homesick before you feel home. Oh, and there’s a heartbreaking story of how he came out to his parents, plus I do a lot more talking than usual. This is one of those beautiful, soul-diving conversations, so give it a listen! And go buy note book (Princeton University Press)!
“My father said, ‘I was trying to turn you into a samurai, but you were actually a poet, and I went the wrong way.’ My father never apologized to me for anything, and that was as close as he came.”
“This project, which began as a lark, has become the single most serious thing in my life.”
“It’s very, very weird to do something along with three billion other people.”
Cultural critic Virginia Heffernan joins the show to talk about her new book, Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art (Simon & Schuster)! We talk about what’s behind the screen, why the internet is bigger than the Industrial Revolution, her first experience online in 1979, what it’s like to be in a piece of performance art with half the world’s population, her crushing defeat at meeting Joan Didion, why she’s nostalgic for landline phones, the motive motive of Pokemon Go, asking The New York Times to host a shred-guitar competition, and why there’s value in Reading The Comments! Give it a listen! And buy Magic and Loss!
“The Magic is the part of the internet that is delightful, that moves you to a new space, that is the Mystery of existence. The Loss is that sick feeling you have when you’ve been online all the time.”
We also get into the karmic hassle of filing expense reports, the necessity of having an online avatar, balancing her virtual and physical presences, the Talmudic ferocity of language-correctors online, the long history of selfies, what goes wrong every time she tries to write fiction, being a fiction fact-checker for The New Yorker, why people should read upthread, and the miracle of her author picture and the uncanny valley. Now go listen to the show!
“Absolute banality is not good, but babbling eccentricity is dangerous, too.”
Virginia Heffernan (a.k.a. @page88) is a journalist, critic and author, most recently, of Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art (Simon & Schuster, 2016). Heffernan has been called “America’s preeminent cultural critic,” “a public intellectual for the 21st century,” and among the “finest living writers of English prose.” Edward Mendelson in The New York Review of Books called Magic and Loss, “surprisingly moving…an ecstatic narrative of submission.” Kevin Kelly, the co-founder of WIRED, writes, “Heffernan is a new species of wizard. It is a joy and a revelation to be under her spell.”
From 2008 to 2012, Heffernan wrote “The Medium,” a weekly column about Internet culture, for The New York Times Magazine. Before introducing the column, Heffernan spent four years as a television critic at the daily New York Times, where, in addition to writing reviews and features, she chronicled the convergence of television and the Internet. In 2002, she received a Ph.D. in English and American literature from Harvard, where her dissertation was on financial dynamics in American novels. Before that, she served as articles editor at Talk Magazine, senior editor at Harper’s Magazine, and television critic for Slate. From 2012 to 2014, she was the national correspondent at Yahoo! News. From 2015-2016, she was a Visiting Scholar in the department of Media, Culture and Communications at NYU, and editorial director of West, a venture-capital firm in San Francisco. She still consults with VCs and startups.
“My weakness is that I don’t have a set of parameters. My work always looks like a group show. But the connections are real. Anyone who looks can see the connections.”
Artist Mimi Gross joins the show to talk about her art, her life, and the joys of collaboration. Mimi’s been part of the New York art scene for more than half a century, and her paintings, sculptures, sets and designs have been seen around the world. We talk about how she stood out as Mimi Gross when she was “daughter of sculptor/artist Chaim Gross” and “wife of artist Red Grooms”. We also get into the difficulties of having a family while being a working artist, making art in response to 9/11, designing sets and costumes for dance and how that fed back into her other art-forms, the multi-year process of building Ruckus Manhattan, the problems and perks of not fitting into a particular tradition, the experience of building the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation, and the loose definition of success. I also ask my half-assed “Jeff Koons: Fraud or Prank?” question again, but I really get shown up for my lack of knowledge of contemporary art. Give it a listen!
“It wasn’t until I was well over 40 that I realized that not everyone has imagination.”
Mimi Gross is a painter, set-and-costume designer for dance, and maker of interior and exterior installations. She has had several international exhibitions, including work at the Salander O’ Reilly Galleries, and the Ruth Siegel Gallery, New York City, the Inax Gallery, in Ginza, Tokyo, and Galerie Lara Vincey, in Paris. She has also shown work at the Municipal Art Society and at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York. Her anatomically-themed artwork is on permanent display, courtesy the New York City Parks Department, at the Robert Venable Park in East New York.
Her work is included in numerous public collections, including those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, The Brooklyn Museum, the Jewish Museum, le Musee des Art Decoratifs in Paris, the Nagoya Museum of Art, the Onasch Collection in Berlin and the Lannon Foundation, as well as the Fukuoko Bank in Japan and New York’s Bellevue Hospital.
Gross has been the recipient of countless awards and grants including from the New York State Council on the Arts, twice from the National Endowment for Visual Arts, the American Academy & Institute of Arts and Letters, and a “Bessie” for sets and costumes. She held the McMillan/Stewart Endowed Chair in Painting at the Maryland College of Art in 2010-2011, and has taught at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Rhode Island School of Design, the Penland School of Crafts, Syracuse University, SUNY Purchase, as well as other universities and educational institutions, giving workshops and advising students, as a visiting artist.
From 1960-1976, Gross collaborated with Red Grooms on many large, multidimensional installations, including the fabled Ruckus Manhattan. Since 1979, she has collaborated in a fruitful (and on-going) partnership with the dancer, Douglas Dunn and his company, designing sets and costumes for his performances. She also collaborated with the poet Charles Bernstein. Her on-site drawings of the World Trade Center from 9/11 and after are included in the volume, Some of These Daze, published by Granary Books.
Credits: This episode’s music is Shoulda Been a Painter by Karl Hyde. The conversation was recorded 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. Lower photo of Ms. Gross by me, no credit given for upper photo (studio shot).
“The choices that an artist makes are not traceable back to a particular set of neurons firing. They’re choices made by the complete consciousness of a person. Art, in a way, validates free will, and thereby validates the notion of evil.”
Ron Rosenbaum returns to the show to talk about the new edition of his great book, Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil (Da Capo Press)! We talk Hitler, the meaning(s) of evil, determinism and free will, Hitler-as-artist vs. Hitler-as-suicide-bomber, “degenerate art,” the tendency to blame Jews for their misfortune, his search for the “Higgs Boson” of Hitler, and how internet culture has warped the meaning of Hitler in the 16 years since Ron’s book was first published.
“I just couldn’t bear being a graduate student, so I dropped out after a year and revolted against academia. I wanted to hang out with cops and criminals and write long form stories about America, about crimes, about strange things.”
Of course, we also get around to some other fun topics, like whether his studies of the Holocaust inspired him to become a “better Jew”, whether it’s possible to knowingly commit evil, how Bleak House changed his life, and just how he managed to become a unique voice in American nonfiction.
Credits: This episode’s music is Back to Black by Amy Winehouse (see, because Ron’s a fan of her stuff, and the episode is about his returning to the topic of evil, and — oh, never mind). The conversation was recorded in a friend’s apartment 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. (There was a loud air conditioner, so I did some noise removal, which may have tweaked the audio a little.) Photo of Mr. Rosenbaum by me.
“No one can be deeply affected by this course of study and not want to go beyond it. It gets you excited about ideas, questions and authors. To read one author is to lead you to another.”
How does a man go from being a ne’er-do-well in a Pennsylvania mining town to a tutor at St. John’s College? Peter Kalkavage joins the show to talk about his path to that Great Books institution, what he’s learned going into his 38th year as a tutor, how he fell in love with the college’s music program, what his study of Hegel taught him, what he’d add to the St. John’s curriculum, and more! (Also: Iliad or Odyssey, which offsets the question of “Luther or Calvin?”)
“In my time here, the one change that has irked me the most has been the shift from Luther to Calvin in the sophomore seminar. There were understandable problems with Luther . . . on the other hand, he deals in a blunt and powerful way with questions of freedom, secular authority, and faith-vs.-works. Calvin seems too relentlessly negative and too obsessed with the question of predestination.”
We also discuss his upbringing, The Big Lebowski, the teacher who got him to turn himself around, his favorite area to teach, how Dante taught him the possibilities of poetry, the question of whether we’re ever mature enough to read the curriculum, and the recent move to rebrand St. John’s College.
“We have to be very careful not to present ourselves in what we think might be an attractive way which misrepresents what we most have to offer our students, the country and the world: our curriculum. That’s the most important thing. Not our location, not our extracurricular activities, but the program. ‘The following teachers are returning to St. John’s next year. . . .'”
Peter Kalkavage has been a tutor at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., since 1977. He is director of the St. John’s Chorus. Dr. Kalkavage is the author of The Logic of Desire: An Introduction to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, and has produced translations of Plato’s Timaeus and Statesman for Focus Philosophical Library. He is also author of two texts that have been used in the St. John’s music program, On the Measurement of Tones and Elements: A Workbook for Freshman Music.