Virtual Memories Show 397:
Daniel Mendelsohn

“Each of my four books is secretly exploring a genre: lyric, epic, novel, and I’m not even sure what this one is, but I wrote it entirely to please myself.”

With Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate (UVA Press), Daniel Mendelsohn has written one of my favorite books of 2020. We get into Homer’s use of Ring Composition and how it shapes Three Rings, how this book grew out of his experience writing An Odyssey, why he chose François Fénelon, Eric Auerbach, and WG Sebald as the three exiled subjects of his book, and how we understand the relationship between “what happened” and “the story of what happened” (that is, how narration changes the nature of facts). We also get into how he managed to compress and capture just about all of his major themes in his briefest book, why Auerbach disliked ring composition, and what it says about Homeric vs. Hebrew — or optimistic vs. pessimistic — styles of story, how every story has more stories embedded in it, and why Istanbul may serve as the fusion of Athens & Jerusalem. We also get into Daniel’s pandemic experience and coping mechanisms for anxiety and dread, his mom’s involvement in Ken Burns’ upcoming documentary about the Holocaust in America, why translation is like a crossword puzzle for him, the negatives of focusing on STEM to the detriment of the liberal arts, and how we can both relate to Auerbach’s comment, “If it had been possible for me to acquaint myself with all the work that has been done on so many subjects, I might have never reached the point of writing.” Give it a listen! And go read Three Rings! (& check out our previous conversation!)

“I was very attracted to the idea of the way in which their own wandering lives ended up being analogs for the narratives they ended up being interested in.”

“For the writer, anything is a subject. Even nothing is a subject, so to speak.”

“Colleges are going to abandon the humanities and go for more STEM stuff than ever, because it’s ’employable’. The irony is that NEVER have we needed the humanities more, because that’s the stuff that tells you how to deal with these crises.”

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

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Daniel Mendelsohn teaches at Bard and is Editor-at-Large at The New York Review of Books. His books include An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic; The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million; How Beautiful It Is And How Easily It Can Be Broken: Essays, and, from New York Review Books, Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture, and Ecstasy and Terror: From the Greeks to Game of Thrones. His new book is Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate

There’s a longer version at his website.

Follow Daniel on Twitter and Instagram.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used 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 Daniel by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 394:
Henri Cole

“My poems are a kind of transcript of life as it is lived.”

Poet Henri Cole joins the show to celebrate his brand-new collection, Blizzard: Poems (FSG). We get into his evolution as a poet over the 10 volumes he’s published to date, the transformative year he spent in Japan, how the closet compelled queer poets to develop original emblems and symbols to convey their private experience (and his transcendent experience of reading James Merrill’s Christmas Tree), and how a fan letter from Harold Bloom gave him a foundation during some tough times. We also get into his wonderful 2018 memoir, Orphic Paris (NYRB), whether he misses France or California more during the pandemic, his affinity for literary pilgrimage (and a recent one he took to Elizabeth Bishop’s grave), his use of the sonnet form and his enjoyment of the constraints and parameters of the physical page, how he knows (or thinks he knows) when a poem is done, our mutual love of Roger Federer, and more! Give it a listen! And go read Blizzard: Poems & Orphic Paris!

“The journey of my life as a writer has been toward more pellucidness, or transparency. But maybe that’s the journey of everybody’s life.”

“I think when I was a young man, I used nature as a mask for private matters. As the closet disintegrated, I became more directly autobiographical.”

“As I age, the thing that’s saddest to me is having fewer and fewer poets to look up to, because so many have died in recent years.”

“Being linear is the thing that bores me quicker than anything.”

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

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Henri Cole was born in Fukuoka, Japan, in 1956. He has published nine previous collections of poetry, including Touch and Pierce the Skin; as well as a memoir, Orphic Paris; and he has received many awards for his work, including the Jackson Poetry Prize, the Kingsley Tufts Award, the Rome Prize, the Berlin Prize, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, and the Award of Merit Medal in Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He teaches at Claremont McKenna College. His new collection is Blizzard: Poems.

Follow Henri on Twitter.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used 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 Henri by someone else. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 390:
Kurt Andersen

“Almost all of the things that I say the evil geniuses did — discredit the idea of government, discredit the idea of progress, disbelieve science, make short-term profits and stock prices the lodestar of American society — all of that we see in how this administration and the right in general reacted to this pandemic.”

With his fantastic new book, Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America (Random House), Kurt Andersen explores how rich conservatives responded to the 1960s by pushing America on a pro-business trajectory that has led to record income inequality and a nation unequipped to handle a pandemic. We get into the one-two punch of this book and Kurt’s previous history of America, Fantasyland, the over-exaggeration of individualism and how puts us on the precipice of disaster, post-’80s cultural stasis and nostalgia, the way “if it feels good, do it” led to “profits over all”, the long-term impact of the Occupy movement, and how his kids give him optimism that this can all be fixed. We also get into his first New York City moment, the lessons learned from his 20-year tenure hosting Studio 360 on PRI, pandemic life and his re-integration into NYC, how we both treat our interviews like first dates, why he wants to get back to writing novels, and plenty more. Give it a listen! And go read Evil Geniuses (and Fantasyland)!

“I’m not without hope. As eye-opening and appalling as some of my discoveries were as I wrote this book, I find myself more hopeful than I did at the end of my last book.”

“My life when I did Studio 360 for 20 years was divided blissfully between spending mornings writing, and then going to the office and collaborating and making radio with smart, great, talented people.”

“We lost the defining American taste of embracing the new. Out of this terrible moment, could come the moment where we say, ‘We didn’t have to do it that way, we can do it this way.'”

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

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Kurt Andersen is author of HeydayTurn of the Century, and Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History, and frequently writes for New York and Vanity Fair. He is host and cocreator of the Peabody Award–winning public radio program Studio 360. In 2006, he founded Very Short List, an email service for connoisseurs of culture who would never call themselves “connoisseurs.” He was cofounder of Spy magazine, and has been a columnist and critic for the New Yorker and Time. Andersen lives with his wife and daughters in Brooklyn. His new book is Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America – A Recent History (Random House).

Follow Kurt on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used 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 Kurt by Marco Antonio. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 387:
Benjamin Taylor

“I had a reverent feeling about the writers of that generation. They were little children in the Great Depression, and they saw fear in their parents’ eyes, and it made workhorses of them.”

Author, editor & memoirist Benjamin Taylor joins the show to talk about his wonderful new memoir, Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth (Penguin). We get into how his relationship with Roth evolved over 20 years, how it affected his own writing, and his notion that everything that happened is still happening. We talk about the nature of friendship and how it may differ from literary friendship, Benjamin’s fixation on older friends, why The Human Stain is his favorite of Roth’s novels, the notion of “literary lions” like Roth, Bellow, Oates, Updike, and Ozick, and why this era seems bereft of them. He also fills us in on how long walks with Vivian Gornick have helped him handle Pandemic World, why fiction isn’t the only worthwhile game in town, what it means to be an American and a heartbroken patriot, and plenty more. Give it a listen! And go read Here We Are!

“I think that American writers in general are heartbroken patriots, who see more of the disparities than ordinary citizens. Think of Hawthorne, think of Whitman. This is what makes us an essentially Romantic civilization. We believe that the ideal is what is most real.”

“Did I feel I was in their shadow? No, I felt I was in their light!”

“The grafting of manhood onto his particular childhood was always uneasy and awkward.”

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“There was an amoral streak in Philip. He was also a man of great tenderness.”

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

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Benjamin Taylor‘s family memoir, The Hue and Cry at Our House, received the 2018 Los Angeles Times/Christopher Isherwood Prize and was named a New York Times Editors’ Choice; his Proust: The Search was named a Best Book of 2016 by Thomas Mallon in The New York Times Book Review; and his Naples Declared: A Walk Around the Bay was named a Best Book of 2012 by Judith Thurman in The New Yorker. He is also the author of two novels, Tales Out of School, winner of the 1996 Harold Ribalow Prize, and The Book of Getting Even, winner of a Barnes & Noble Discover Award. He edited Saul Bellow: Letters, named a Best Book of 2010 by Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times and Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post, and Bellow’s There Is Simply Too Much to Think About: Collected Nonfiction, also a New York Times Editors’ Choice. His edition of the collected stories of Susan Sontag, Debriefing, was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2017. Taylor is a founding faculty member in the New School’s Graduate School of Writing and teaches also in the Columbia University School of the Arts. He is a past fellow and current trustee of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and serves as president of the Edward F. Albee Foundation. His new book is Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used 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 Benjamin by Alison West. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 381:
Zena Hitz

“The forms of learning for its own sake that happen in ordinary life are more fundamental than the professional versions.”

Author & St. John’s College tutor Zena Hitz joins the show to talk about her wonderful new book, Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life (Princeton University Press). We get into the nature of learning for its own sake, the corruption of academia and its potential reform, how St. John’s prepared us for the world by not preparing us, and why the Newton’s Principia is the toughest thing on the SJC curriculum. We also talk about the joy of autodidacts and our shared love of The Peregrine, why she disagrees with the notion that learning-for-its-own-sake is a privilege of the elite, the challenges of leading seminars by Zoom, and how bureaucracy creeps into every system. We also tackle my lightning round of questions for SJC tutors, what she’d add to the curriculum and what she’d subtract, and answer the long-standing question: What is virtue and can it be taught? Give it a listen! And go read Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life!

“St. John’s is a different place. It has different values, and you don’t want the rest of the world to be like that, but it changes the way you interact with the world.”

“Casual interaction really matters. During the pandemic, it’s a burden to have everything be done with real intention: ‘Who would I like to see, who would I like to talk to?'”

“Sometimes young people don’t get that these books are real. That what Thucydides wrote about was what he lived through. They don’t always understand the books are about life.”

TUNEIN LINK TK

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

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Zena Hitz is a Tutor in the great books program at St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD. She has a Ph.D. in ancient philosophy from Princeton University and studies and teaches across the liberal arts. Her new book is Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life, from Princeton University Press.

Follow Zena on Twitter. There’s a more extensive bio at her site.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used 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 Zena by someone else. It’s on my instagram.