“My job is to give people something to read that is enjoyable and in some other way perhaps worth reading. It’s almost not about the art; it’s about the concentration, the absorption.”
I traveled up to the Catskills this weekend for a round of Rip Van Winkle-themed putt-putt golf, lunch, and some conversation with New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl. We get into Peter’s 2019 diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer and how he gained & then lost the persona of The Dying Man during his one piece of memoiristic writing about it. We also talk about his accidental transition from poet to art writer in the ’60s, why his two criteria for writing about art are quality & significance, his bias for authenticity over authority and sophistication over education, how HOWL changed his life, why he hates reproductions of paintings, why it took him years to come around on Rembrandt, his experience of revisiting Velazquez’ Las Meninas over the years, the piece of art he’d like to revisit when we can travel again, his love of (& aesthete’s approach to) fireworks, and plenty moreon the art of living! Give it a listen! And go read Hot, Cold Heavy, Light: 100 Art Writings 1988-2018
“There’s no art to dying at all.”
“Having talent is like being put in lifetime charge of a wild animal that you have to feed and nurture and obey. And it doesn’t care about you; if taking a bite out of your ass would help the work, it’ll do that in a second.”
“Bad art is its own punishment.”
“The only thing a reproduction has in common with a painting is the image.”
TUNEIN PLAYER TK
“All of my deep art historical knowledge was learned bit by bit on deadline.”
About our Guest
Peter Schjeldahl has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1998 and is the magazine’s art critic. He came to the magazine from The Village Voice, where he was the art critic from 1990 to 1998. Previously, he had written frequently for the New York Times’ Arts and Leisure section. His writing has also appeared in Artforum, Art in America, the New York Times Magazine, Vogue, and Vanity Fair. He has received the Clark Prize for Excellence in Arts Writing from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute; the Frank Jewett Mather Award from the College Art Association, for excellence in art criticism; the Howard Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, for “recent prose that merits recognition for the quality of its style”; and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is the author of four books of criticism, including The Hydrogen Jukebox: Selected Writings, and Let’s See: Writings on Art from The New Yorker. His latest book is Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light: 100 Art Writings, 1988-2018.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded on Peter’s back porch 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 Peter by me. It’s on my instagram.
“Don’t fraternize with inkers; they’ll always get you in trouble.”
Cartooning, illustration and animation legend Arnie Levin joins the show to recount his epic career and life. We talk about Beatnik-era New York, his mother’s decades-long plot to turn him into a New Yorker cartoonist, the value of a good art director, telling the Marines he wanted to be a photographer, his two-minute education in directing animation, what it was like to see his style copied by an artist who was previously copying another artist’s style, the time Allen Ginsberg tried to give him an iguana, and more! Give it a listen! And go check out his work at Art.com!
About our Guest
This is adapted from Richard Gehr‘s wonderful book, I Only Read It for the Cartoons: The New Yorker’s Most Brilliantly Twisted Artists:
Born in 1938, the diminutive Levin sports the shaved head, handlebar mustache, and slightly rolling gait of a badass biker. Much of his upper body is tattooed with ornate Japanese imagery by a renowned yakuza body illustrator. And the more you learn about his life, the wider the gap between creator and creations seems to spread.
Levin served in the Marines before winding up as an aspiring painter amid New York City’s late-fifties beatnik heyday. “Swept up in the glamour of the beatnik era,” as he puts it, Levin co-operated an espresso house that hosted readings by the likes of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. He worked parties as a rent-a-beatnik, encountering Bob Dylan, another new kid in town, during one such event.
At Push Pin Studio, then at the height of its influence upon the design world, he was plucked out of the messenger pool by Milton Glaser, who recommended him to Lee Savage’s Electra Studio, famous for its forward-looking movie trailers and commercials. After leaving Electra, Levin was recruited for The New Yorker by art director Lee Lorenz in 1974.
After taking up motorcycling at age of fifty-nine, Levin celebrated his new hobby with the aforementioned flurry of tattoos. He’s given up biking in the interests of personal safety, however, and now resides more or less quietly on Long Island in New York with his wife.
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 Arnie’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. Photo of me and Arnie by me. It’s on my instagram. Photo of Arnie’s ink by Nate Ndosi.
“The reality of this marketplace is that true professional writers aren’t being recognized.”
Dan Cafaro, publisher of Atticus Books and the Atticus Review, joins the show to talk about indy publishing, building a writers’ community, taking on the diversity challenge, making the transition from sportswriter to bookseller to book-blogger to publisher, the importance of a supportive spouse, the trick of balancing print and digital (and publishing and a day job), making the investment in a book designer, and more! Give it a listen, and go check out the great catalog of Atticus Books!
“It can be easier to get a good review than to understand how it may translate into sales.”
BONUS: You get to hear me lament about my days as a small press publisher (1998-2004), while Dan & I try to figure out how to market books effectively in This Distracted Age. We also reminisce about a long-gone bookstore in Hackensack, NJ, and make somewhat oblique sports references. We recorded this show at Short Stories Community Book Hub, in Madison, NJ (photo below). It’s a wonderful space, and a neat bookstore, so go visit if you’re in the area!
“Building a writers community is my dream.”
Also, if you want to find out who Dan is reading nowadays (non-Atticus titles) 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 Dan is reading and why.
About our Guest
Dan Cafaro is the founder and publisher of award-winning independent press Atticus Books and the Atticus Review, a weekly digital literary magazine. Dan founded Atticus in 2010 after working as a sportswriter, bookseller, editor, and publications manager. He is currently at work on his first novel, The Next Activist, and swears that it has all the makings of a really great reality TV show.
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 wonderful Short Stories Community Book Hub, in Madison, NJ, 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. Cafaro by . . . somebody . . .
“What I really cared about most, what drew me, was the relationship between lives and work, between how we live and what we do, and what we do with it. And that’s one of James Merrill’s major subjects.”
Langdon Hammer, Chair of the Yale English department, joins the show to talk about his new biography, James Merrill: Life and Art (Knopf) (and one of the best books I’ve read this year). We discuss Merrill’s allure as a poet and the alchemy that allowed him to turn base wealth into artistic gold. He also talks about learning the art of literary biography on the fly, the challenge of recreating Merrill’s life in Greece, Merrill’s silence over AIDS, how we can understand the Ouija board-derived poems of Merrill’s masterwork, and more! Give it a listen!
“Alchemy is a theme in Merrill’s writing. How is he going to make his own gold, how is he going to transform the lead of his father’s money into a higher value?”
We also learn about Langdon’s decades at Yale and how students have changed during his time there, what the globalization of English poetry means for the form, why he considers The Book of Ephraim to be James Merrill’s greatest poem, and the farthest he traveled to research the book.
About our Guest
Langdon Hammer is chair of the English Department at Yale and the poetry editor of The American Scholar. His books include Hart Crane and Allen Tate: Janus-Faced Modernism and, as editor for the Library of America, Hart Crane: Complete Poems and Selected Letters and May Swenson: Collected Poems. His lectures on modern poetry are available free online at Yale Open Courses. There’s a more extensive bio at JamesMerrillWeb, if you’d like to check that out.
Credits: This episode’s music is Lust for Life by Iggy Pop. The conversation was recorded at Prof. Hammer’s office at Yale 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.
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.
“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.
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.
“Poetry chose me at an early age. I think it was connected to the fact that poetry is emotional, pretty, and short.”
Rachel Hadas, author of Strange Relation: A Memoir of Marriage, Dementia and Poetry (Paul Dry Books), lost her husband to early onset dementia. We talk about how poetry — hers and others’ — gave her solace during this years-long process. We also talk about poetry is a way for the poet to both release and identify emotions, why it was easier to publish collections of poetry in the 1980s and 1990s, the benefits of poetry memorization, and why the Furies looked the other way when Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia.
“Writing helps us to live through something and then it helps us remember it, if we want to.”
BONUS: You get to hear me record an intro after 35 hours with no sleep, and find out about the huge, life-changing thing I did last week!
About our Guest
Rachel Hadas studied classics at Harvard, poetry at Johns Hopkins, and comparative literature at Princeton. Between college and graduate school she spent four years in Greece, an experience that surfaces variously in much of her work. Since 1981 she has taught in the English Department of the Newark (NJ) campus of Rutgers University, and has also taught courses in literature and writing at Columbia and Princeton, as well as serving on the poetry faculty of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the West Chester Poetry Conference. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry, an Ingram Merrill Foundation grant in poetry, and an award in literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Rachel Hadas is the author of many books of poetry, prose, and translations. Most recently, she her memoir about her husband’s illness, Strange Relation, was published by Paul Dry Books (2011) and a new book of her poems, The Golden Road, was published by Northwestern University Press (2012).
Credits: This episode’s music is Strange Conversation by Ted Hawkins. The conversation was recorded at the home of Ms. Hadas on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded in a hotel room in London on the same gear. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Rachel Hadas by me.