Virtual Memories Show 358:
Daniel Mendelsohn

“Achilles is a hero who is mesmerizing without being penetrable, whereas Odysseus I think I understand (perhaps hubristic to say that).”

His wondrous new collection, Ecstasy and Terror: From the Greeks to Game of Thrones (NYRB), brings a dizzying array of Daniel Mendelsohn‘s critical-essayistic-memoir pieces together. We sat down to talk about the work of the critic and the drama that makes for a great critical piece, as well as the temptation to make a name by going after easy targets, his need to criscross genres and categories with personal writing and criticism, and why his negative review of Mad Men got him more pushback than anything else he’s written. We get into his amazing 2017 memoir, An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic, its gorgeous structure and its insight into Homer and our present day, while we try to suss out why the great Greek translators have either produced a great Iliad or a great Odyssey, but not both (he’s working on a new translation of The Odyssey). We also discuss the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the nature of contemporary mythmaking, my pet theory about the tragedy of Achilles in the Iliad, Emily Wilson’s question about Odysseus’ true homophrosyne, the role of erudition in criticism, how institutions like The New Yorker, New York Review of Books, Paris Review etc. handle succession, our love of the finale of The Americans, his one conversation with Philip Roth, and SO much more. Give it a listen! And go buy Ecstasy and Terror: From the Greeks to Game of Thrones and An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic!

“When you start as a critic, there’s a great drive to make your mark and be noticed.”

“You need to be bothered a little bit by something, in order to want to investigate it.”

“There is no act of intimacy in the world of literature that is greater than translating.”

“Identity becomes more interesting the more multiplex it is.”

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. His new book is Ecstasy and Terror: From the Greeks to Game of Thrones, also from NYRB.

There’s a longer version at his website.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Mendelsohn’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. Photos of Mr. Mendelsohn by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show:
The Guest List 2019

It’s time for our year-end Virtual Memories Show tradition: The Guest List! I reached out to 2019’s pod-guests and asked them about the favorite book(s) they read in the past year, as well as the books or authors they’re hoping to read in 2020! More than two dozen responded with a dizzying array of books. (I participated, too!) The Virtual Memories Show offers up a huge list of books that you’re going to want to read in the new year! Give it a listen, and get ready to update your wish lists!

This year’s Guest List episode features selections from 25 of our recent guests (and one upcoming guest)! So go give it a listen, and then visit our special Guest List page where you can find links to the books and the guests who responded.

Also, check out the 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 editions of The Guest List for more great book ideas!

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

About our Guests

The guests who participated in this year’s Guest List are Christopher Brown, Nina Bunjevac, Caleb Crain, Joan Marans Dim (episode coming 2020), Boris Fishman, Katelan Foisy, Mort Gerberg, Eva Hagberg, Peter Kuper, Kate Lacour, Liniers, Kate Maruyama, Edie Nadelhaft, Sylvia Nickerson, James Oseland, Dawn Raffel, Witold Rybczynski, Frank Santoro, Ersi Sotiropoulos, Karl Stevens, James Sturm, Frederic Tuten, Chris Ware, and me, Gil Roth! Check out their episodes at our archives!

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The episode was recorded at stately Virtual Memories Manor 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 my 2019 books by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show:
Clive James Bonus Episode

“Culture makes the world tolerable. It makes it possible to live in a world that would drive you mad if you saw it in an uninterpreted way.”

“I should have led a more balanced life, but that’s easy to say at the end of things. When you’re caught up in what you’re doing, it’s very hard to be reasonable. And art isn’t really made of being reasonable.”

“Facing death, there were two alternative courses: one was to lie back on a couch, admire myself for my achievements, and sign off; the other was to go on as if I had forever. I chose the second.”

After 10 years of illness, Clive James died on November 24, 2019. We recorded a conversation in February 2015, and it stands out as one of the greatest episodes of this podcast. I’ve recorded a new introduction and remastered the audio, so please join me in celebrating Clive’s life and work with our conversation. (The good stuff starts at 13:05.) Give it a listen! And go buy Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts, along with all his other books!

The 50-hour trip to the UK to record with Clive — plus Prue Shaw and Anthea Bell — was made possible by an informal crowdfunding effort. I’d like to thank those 2015 contributors again: Emily Brock, Erika Dreifus, Mark Feltskog, Aaron Finkelstein, Stona Fitch, Paul Giordano, Judith Gurewich and Other Press, Rachel Hadas, Paul Jones, Ian Kelley, Jessica Kelley, Fred Kiesche, Kate Lacour, Roger Langridge, Eric Lyon, Bryan Samuel, Jesse Sheidlower, Bob Sikoryak, Craig Sirkin, Katie Skelly, Ron Slate, Tom Spurgeon, Levi Stahl, Claudia Young, and Garrett Zecker. Thanks again, friends!

About me he said, “I see what you’re up to, and I approve of your activities.”

“The more enjoyable I find a conversation, the more it’ll exhaust me. And I’ll be prostrate after this, because this is very enjoyable.”

“What do you do as you’re getting to the end? Well, above all, you don’t adopt an elegiac tone!”

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

Born in Australia, Clive James lived in Cambridge, England. He is the author of Unreliable Memoirs; Collected Poems: 1958-2015; the best-selling Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts; and the translator of The Divine Comedy by Dante. Since this 2015 session, he has published Sentenced to Life: Poems; The River in the Sky: A Poem; Play All: A Bingewatcher’s Notebook; Latest Readings; and most recently Somewhere Becoming Rain: Collected Writings on Philip Larkin.

He has written for the New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic. He is an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). You can find a longer version of his bio at his site. He died on Nov. 24, 2019.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Clive’s home in Cambridge 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. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro in 2015 and remastered with some editing in 2019 in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Mr. James by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 345:
Frank Santoro

“Memory rhymes with these little moments in time, and time folds in on itself in a remarkable way, and comics is a wonderful example of that, unlike film or prose.”

A beautiful and subtle meditation on memory and his parents’ marriage and divorce, Frank Santoro‘s 200-page graphic novel, Pittsburgh (New York Review Comics), is one of my favorite books of 2019. Frank & I get into about Pittsburgh‘s unique visual style, in which he eschews black lines and works directly with color markers, how he solved the problem of word-balloons intruding on a comic page’s color harmony, and how the book’s design and style mirror the reconstruction of memory. We talk about how the book originated with his dad totally opening up to one of Frank’s friends about a story he never told Frank, how interviewing family members for the book brought him closer to them and to understanding them as people, and why I developed the belief that men are far less likely to know how their parents met than women are. We also discuss how his art-training influences his comics compositions, how working for painter Dorothea Rockburne taught him to see the page as music, why he prefers standalone projects to serial publishing, and plenty more. Give it a listen! And go buy Pittsburgh!

“The breath of poetry has a measure; with comics, the measure is the left and right of the page.”

“Part of this story was learning to see my parents as people, and not just as my parents.”

“I had to learn to slow down to make this book, to listen to myself and not push the narrative.”

“When you make a 200-page comic at once — not as serials — you have to stay wide. You can’t put in all the detail, or it’ll become a 10-year project.”

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

Frank Santoro’s work has been exhibited at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City and at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy. He is the author of Storeyville and Pompeii, and has collaborated with Ben Jones, Dash Shaw, Gary Panter, and others. He lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His new book is Pittsburgh (NYRC).

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Hotel LeVeque during Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC) 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 Mr. Santoro by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 339:
Simon Critchley

“What are the plays telling us that philosophy is not telling us, and that we need to attend to?”

In his amazing new book, Tragedy, the Greeks, and Us (Pantheon), Simon Critchley explores how Ancient Greek tragedy captures the eternal crises and tensions of human life, and how philosophy went wrong in trying to tame it. We dive into how Critchley learned to appreciate the drama of the tragedies, how it led to his critique of Plato and Aristotle and much of what comes after them, and how we continue to wrestle with the central question of the tragedies: “What shall I do?” Along the way, we talk about the perils of moral monotheism, Wallace Stevens’ philosophy-as-poetry, what it means to treat Plato’s dialogues as drama, the role of women in Greek tragedy, the allure of the antiquity’s lacunae, the difference between reading plays and being at the theater, why he thinks philosophy begins in disappointment, not wonder, and how he’s dealing with recently losing his heavily marked-up copy of The Peregrine. We also explore his various obsessions, including medieval cathedrals, the possibility of change, 19th century America, soccer, and most importantly, David Bowie! Give it a listen! And go buy Tragedy, the Greeks, and Us!

“This book is my quiet — or maybe not so quiet — critique of the profession that I’ve been associated with my whole career: philosophy.”

“I’ve always been attracted to the idea of thought being articulated in non-propositional, non-philosophical forms: music, poetry, even soccer.”

“You always felt like David Bowie was talking to you, and you alone.”

“I’m really grateful to get paid to think. It’s great!”

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

Simon Critchley is Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research. His many books include Very Little . . . Almost Nothing: Death, Philosophy and Literature, The Book of Dead Philosophers, The Faith of the Faithless: Experiments In Political Theology, and Memory Theater: A Novel. He is the series moderator of The Stone, a philosophy column in The New York Times, to which he is a frequent contributor. His new book is Tragedy, the Greeks, and Us.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Simon’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 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 Mr. Critchley by me. It’s on my instagram. Photo of bust of Euripides by Marie-Lan Nguyen.