BenakiMuseumVirtual Memories Show #134:
Warren Woodfin – Angel, Lion, Ox, Eagle

“From my youth, I knew I wanted to be a medievalist of some sort or another. Byzantium was always lurking off to the side, and I thought, ‘There has to be something there.'”

Professor Warren Woodfin joins the show to talk about guest curating Liturgical Textiles of the Post-Byzantine World installation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (running through Nov. 1 2015). We talk about how he became a medieval art historian, the great tragedy of his high school years (it involves a Byzantine fresco at the Menil Collection artwork in Houston), what it’s like working on a Ukrainian burial mound and dealing with Soviet methods of archeological excavation, the secret fear of every Ph.D. candidate, and more! Give it a listen!

“It was the beauty of Byzantine art that got me first, and then wanting to understand where this beauty came from.”

We also talk about why art history gets a bum rap from the STEM proponents, the problem with centuries-old textile samples turning terminally brown, why Queens is the most Hellenic of the five boroughs, how new technologies have affected his work, the schisms that exist in the field, how he used to lay out “improved” versions of medieval monuments as a kid, and what the benefits of an art history education really are.

“I’m afraid that we’re embracing the view that those who can afford to pay for a quality education can major in liberal arts, while those whose educations are supported by the public should be limited to studying things we deem to be for the good of society.”

We mention a few books in this episode. Here’s they are:

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

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About our Guest

Dr. Warren Woodfin’s research focuses on the art and archaeology of Byzantium and its cultural sphere in the 11th through 15th centuries. Since 2006, he has been collaborating with a research team of U.S.- and Ukraine-based scholars to study a medieval burial complex in the Black Sea steppe. The site, called the Chungul Kurgan, yielded a trove of medieval textiles, precious metalwork, and other artifacts interred with a nomadic leader of the thirteenth century. His recent article on the textiles from the burial (co-authored with Renata Holod and Yuriy Rassamakin) appeared in Ars Orientalis 38 (2010); a further article on a silver cup from the burial will appear in The Art Bulletin in 2016.

Warren has also published articles in the journals Gesta and Dumbarton Oaks Papers, and has contributed essays to various edited volumes. He is also the co-editor (with Mateusz Kapustka) of Clothing the Sacred: Medieval Textiles as Fabric, Form and Metaphor (Berlin: Edition Imorde, 2015). His book on Byzantine textiles and their role in ritual and hierarchy, The Embodied Icon: Liturgical Vestments and Sacramental Power in Byzantium, was published by Oxford University Press in 2012.

Prior to joining the faculty at Queens College as Kallinikeion Assistant Professor of Byzantine Studies, Warren held teaching and research posts at Duke, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, the Metropolitan Museum, and, most recently, a European Research Council-sponsored fellowship at the University of Zurich. In the spring semester of 2016, he will be a resident Fellow at the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies in Jerusalem.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, which seems to have become our unofficial theme song. The conversation was recorded at Prof. Woodfin’s apartment 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. Upper pic: Stephanos Tzangarolas (Greek, active 1688–1710). Lateral sanctuary door with Saint James the Brother of the Lord, 1688. From the Church of the Holy Trinity on Corfu. 2.03 x .81 m. Benaki Museum, Athens. Photo of Prof. Woodfin by me.

41X6zxtIM4L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Virtual Memories Show #130:
Elizabeth Samet –
The Cult of Experience and the Tyranny of Relevance

“How do you learn things? How do you acquire the patience to admit when you don’t know things? I think those are really important things for an Army officer to know.”

Elizabeth D. Samet has been a professor of English at West Point since 1997. We talk about the tension between education and training at the military academy, the importance of books to soldiers and officers serving overseas, learning West Point’s unique argot, preparing her students to be unprepared, trying (and failing) to convince Robert Fagles that Hector is the moral center of the Iliad, why she doesn’t teach Henry V to plebes, how not to get caught up in the tyranny of relevance, why she balked at learning the fine art of parachuting, and more! Give it a listen!

“The question I’m endlessly fascinated with is, what do we call war and what do we call peace and can we draw these nice distinctions? It seems to me right now that we can’t.”

NOTE: The opinions Elizabeth Samet expresses in this interview are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of West Point, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.

We also talk about teaching students who are both future Army officers and 18-year-old kids, how West Point and the student body changed after 9/11, her new anthology (Leadership) and her first two books (Soldier’s Heart and No Man’s Land), her house-on-fire list of books to save, her quarrel with Plato, and her adoration of Simeon’s Maigret novels. Bonus: I tell a long, awful and emotional story from last weekend (it starts around the 75:00 mark, so feel free to stop long before that).

“I have this idea about Plato: no one loves Plato who does not already think himself a guardian.”

We talk about a lot of 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):

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!
Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Samet_0044F PUB-Bachrach©Elizabeth D. Samet is the author of No Man’s Land: Preparing for War and Peace in Post-9/11 America (FSG). Her first book, Soldier’s Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point (Picador), won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Current Interest and was named one of the 100 Notable Books of the Year by The New York Times. Samet’s work has appeared in various publications, including the The New York Times, The New Republic, and Bloomberg View. She is also the editor of Leadership: Essential Writings by Our Greatest Thinkers, which is out this month from Norton. Samet won the 2012 Hiett Prize in the Humanities and is also the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is a professor of English at West Point.

Credits: This episode’s music is On, Brave Old Army Team by West Point Marching Band. The conversation was recorded at Prof. Samet’s apartment 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 Prof. Samet by Bachrach.

mademoiselle335Virtual Memories Show #128:
Rhonda K. Garelick – Impecunious Nobles

“Chanel was trying to gift herself to women, and give them something that would lend them an allure that would be useful.”

Rhonda K. Garelick, author of Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History, joins the show to talk about Chanel’s impact on women’s fashion and French national identity, how she managed not to get tried for collaboration after the war, the one figure from our age who compares to Chanel, what it’s like teaching the accordion-and-beret crowd, and more! Give it a listen!

“I remain certain that there is no one else who has had this sort of aesthetic influence.”

We also talk about Chanel’s pleasure in hiring fallen royalty to work in her boutiques and factories, the need for myth-making in fashion, the challenges of getting Chanel’s associates to talk to her, the psychological similarities of fashion and fascism, and the decision to structure Mademoiselle around Chanel’s relationships. Also, I make the major mistake of letting Rhonda ask me a question, which sends the conversation utterly off the rails. So start listening!

We talk about a couple 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):

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

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

About our Guest


rhonda250Rhonda K. Garelick writes on fashion, design, performance, art, literature and cultural politics. Her books include Rising Star: Dandyism, Gender, and Performance in the Fin de Siècle (Princeton University Press, winner of the Kayden Award for outstanding manuscript in the humanities), Electric Salome: Loie Fuller’s Performance of Modernism (Princeton), and, as co-editor, Fabulous Harlequin: ORLAN and the Patchwork Self (University of Nebraska Press, winner of the 2011 award for book design from the American Alliance of Museums). Her new book is Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, New York Newsday, International Herald Tribune, and The Sydney Morning Herald, and numerous journals and museum catalogs in the United States and Europe.

She is a Guggenheim fellow and has also received awards from the NEA, the NEH, the Getty Research Institute, the Dedalus Foundation, the American Association of University Women, the Whiting Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies. Prof. Garelick received her B.A. and Ph.D. in comparative literature and French from Yale University. She splits her time between Lincoln, Nebraska and her hometown of New York City.

At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she is Professor of Fine and Performing Arts and English, as well as the founder and director of the Interdisciplinary Arts Symposium. For the academic year 2015-2016, Rhonda will be the Stanley Kelly, Jr. Visiting Professor of Distinguished Teaching in Comparative Literature at Princeton University. She has also had a long career as an international business consultant, specializing in the fields of fashion, media, and journalism.

Credits: This episode’s music is Cri de Coeur by Edith Piaf. 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. Inset photo of Prof. Garelick by Agaton Strom. Top photo of Prof. Garelick by Greg Nathan.

browsingscoverVirtual Memories Show #127:
Michael Dirda –
The Meandering Reflections of a Literary Sybarite

“I enjoy going back to Lorain, Ohio because I’m reminded that the world of Washington and the East Coast literary establishment is a very narrow, special one that’s parochial in its own way. The rest of the world has other concerns: family, job and life in general. Whereas we get all up in arms about very minor things.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning book reviewer Michael Dirda rejoins the show to talk about his new collection, Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books (Pegasus Books). We discuss the importance of reading for pleasure, the difference between book-collecting and shopping, the role of the book reviewer (and how it differs from that of the critic), a recent negative review he didn’t want to write, why he doesn’t read reviews of his work, what his mother said when he won the Pulitzer Prize, and more! Give it a listen!

“The books that you don’t grasp immediately, the ones that leave you off-kilter . . . those are often the books that really last, and matter.”

Our first three-time guest also talks about the democratization of book reviewing, the problems of storing books in his basement, what he wants an author to think upon reading his book review of a book, his affinity for Clive James’ work, whether his reviews have a coded autobiographical element to them, how the limitations of the book review form shaped his style, why he disagrees with John Clute’s philosophy on spoilers, and more! Go listen!

We talk about a lot 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):

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

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

About our Guest

dirdaheadMichael Dirda is a weekly book columnist for The Washington Post, and he received the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for criticism. He is the author of the memoir, An Open Book: Chapters fom a Reader’s Life, and of four previous collections of essays: Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments, Bound to Please, Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life, and Classics for Pleasure, in addition to his newest collection, Browsings. His previous book, On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling, received a 2012 Edgar Award for best critical/biographical work of the year. Michael Dirda graduated with Highest Honors in English from Oberlin College and earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature (medieval studies and European romanticism) from Cornell University. He is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, the online Barnes & Noble Review, The American Spectator, and several other periodicals, as well as a frequent lecturer and an occasional college teacher.

Credits: This episode’s music is Ah, Putrefaction by Jaristo, from Hans Zimmer’s film music for Sherlock Holmes. The conversation was recorded at the Boston Marriott Burlington 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. Dirda by me.

wyldingVirtual Memories Show #126:
Liz Hand – People From Away

“When I was young, I always wanted to be a writer, but I thought that one could write science fiction and then also write ‘serious’ literature . . . that I could be Samuel R. Delany, but I could also be F. Scott Fitzgerald. That I could be Dorothy Parker, and I could be Angela Carter. But I found that you tend to get pigeonholed.”

Award-winning author Elizabeth Hand joins the Virtual Memories Show to talk about her latest novel, Wylding Hall! We also talk about her need to try different genres, that pigeonholing process, how abandoning the supernatural for her Cass Neary novels was like working without a net, how her success at writing may be attributable to the Helsinki Bus Syndrome, what it was like to be at the punk scene in the mid-’70s, how she learned to strip down her prose for her recent (and excellent) noir crime novels, just how she ended up in coastal Maine, and more! Give it a listen!

“In the ’70s, I really wanted to be a photographer. I wanted to be a lot of things that I wasn’t. I wanted to be Lester Bangs. I wanted to be Patti Smith. I wanted to be all these things, but I had no talent for any of them. I was in the position of being the fan, the participant observer.”

The conversation also covers the changing models and markets of genre writing, the importance of fan interaction, why she loves coming to Readercon (where we recorded this episode), why it ultimately paid off to opt in favor of experience over college classes, and why her protagonist Cass Neary is like her “if my brake lines had been cut when I was 20 years old and I’d never been able to come back.”
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We talk about a lot of books in this episode. Here’s a list of ’em:

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

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

About our Guest

19636298356_295e44cbc3_mElizabeth Hand is the bestselling author of 13 genre-spanning novels and four collections of short fiction. Her work has received the World Fantasy Award (four times), Nebula Award (twice), Shirley Jackson Award (twice), International Horror Guild Award (three times), the Mythopoeic Award, and the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, among others, and several of her books have been New York Times and Washington Post Notable Books. Her recent, critically acclaimed novels featuring Cass Neary, “one of literature’s great noir anti-heroes” (Katherine Dunn) — Generation Loss, Available Dark, and the forthcoming Hard Light — have been compared to those of Patricia Highsmith. With Paul Witcover, Hand created DC Comic’s early 1990s cult series ANIMA, whose riot grrl superheroine dealt with homeless teenagers, drug abuse, the AIDS epidemic and racial violence, and featured DC Comics’ first openly gay teenager (the series also once guest-starred Conan O’Brien). Her 1999 play “The Have-Nots” was a finalist in London’s Fringe Theater Festival and went on to play at the Battersea Arts Center. She has written numerous novelizations of films, including Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, and a popular series of Star Wars books for middle grade children. She is a longtime critic and book reviewer whose work appears regularly in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Salon, the Boston Review, among many others, and writes a regular column for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Her books and short fiction have been translated into numerous languages and have been optioned for film and television. She teaches at the Stonecoast MFA Program in Creative Writing, and recently joined the faculty of the Maine College of Art. She divides her time between the coast of Maine and North London, and is working on the fourth Cass Neary novel, The Book of Lamps and Banners.

Credits: This episode’s music is Three Hours by Nick Drake. The conversation was recorded at the Boston Marriott Burlington 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. Hand by me.