It’s time for our year-end Virtual Memories Show tradition: The Guest List! I reached out to 2020’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 2021! Thirty guests responded with a a fantastic array of books. (I participated, too, in my rambling way!) 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!
“I’ve got rid of paintings I was very pleased with but which I knew needed to go deeper. It’s an extremely painful process; I’ve been kept awake at night, driving myself insane with remembering what I’ve lost. Images that I’ve painted over remorselessly come back to haunt me.”
With her wonderful new memoir, SELF-PORTRAIT (NYRB), celebrated life-painter Celia Paul explores her life as an artist, the evolution of her portraiture, her need for a Virginia Woolf-ian Room of One’s Own, and her 10-year relationship with Lucian Freud (c.1978-88). We get into the influence she and Freud had on each other’s work, how she took control of her life and her art, the moral component of life-painting, the importance of being selfish, the conflict for women artists between being loved and following your own path, her affinity for the artist Gwen John, her antipathy toward the word “muse,” and how much she flat-out hates being called an artist “in her own right”. We talk about the influence of Collette & Duras on her writing, her decision to incorporate her journals in the memoir and the continuity of self they reveal, why she only paints portraits of people she knows well (and why her paintings of her sister Kate as self-portraits), the uses of stillness, how she re-evaluated her life after Lucian Freud’s death in 2011, why letters are like painting, and much more. Give it a listen! And go read SELF-PORTRAIT!
“I think I was deflected from my purpose by being influenced by Lucian Freud in one crucial aspect: he was very interested in the balances of power between people, between lovers particularly.”
“I think my sister Kate & I know each other so well we hardly need to speak. A lot of the portraits I’ve done of Kate here self-portraits by proxy. She expresses what I feel. There’s nobody else in the world I’ve felt that uncanny connection to.”
“It’s so difficult to be ambitious about your own work and also be desirable. There’s a conflict between being loved and following your own path.”
“One of the saddest things about death is losing the particularity of the person: the way the mouth covers over the teeth, the way they talk, and all that. And how can heaven or some kind of Christian notion of the afterlife compare to that kind of intimate knowledge of an individual?”
“The thing about art is there always has to be a certain distance, or it doesn’t have authenticity.”
Celia Paul was born in 1959 and studied at the Slade School of Fine Art. Her work has been exhibited internationally and is in the collections of the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery (London), and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her major solo exhibitions include Celia Paul, curated by Hilton Als, at the Yale Center for British Art (2018) and the Huntington Art Museum, San Marino, California (2019); and Desdemona for Celia by Hilton at Gallery Met, New York (2015–16). Her work was included in the group exhibition All Too Human at Tate Britain (2018). She lives and works in London. Her new book is SELF-PORTRAIT.
“The vote has to be rethought in our American hearts as a radical act, because so many people don’t want you to vote. We have to think about the vote as the center of American culture and American purpose, that cuts across lines of identity that people have drawn so vividly.”
Writer and cultural critic Darryl Pinckney joins the show to celebrate the new edition of Blackballed: The Black Vote and US Democracy (NYRB) and the paperback of Busted in New York and Other Essays (Picador). We talk about revisiting his Obama-era writings in the post-2016 world, the importance of the vote and the question of whether there’s a Black vote, or Black voters. We discuss his surprise at the persistence of makeup of the BLM protests, his place in the historical chain and the moment he felt out of touch, and his history at the New York Review of Books and its roots in the anti-Vietnam War movement. We also get into the fractured relationship between Jews and Blacks (following their close ties during the civil rights movement), the companionship of books during the pandemic, the commodification of the arts, the memoir he’s working on about Elizabeth Hardwick and 1970s NYC, and more, including an image I’ve pondered for years: Jesse Jackson’s tears the night of Obama’s election in 2008. Give it a listen! And go read Blackballed and Busted in New York!
“Our generation didn’t think we were getting older the way we saw the previous generation get older. People made the mistake of thinking their children were their friends. They’re not; they’re your judges.”
“The past is so case by case, there’s no one rule for confronting it. Because there’s no end to what you can find out.”
“We have a lot of books, most of which I’ve not read. Now that I’m aware time is running out, I’m more enchanted by the book as an object than ever. The companionship of a book at a time like this means a lot to me.”
“None of this was ever certain. That things worked out the way they did is the surprise.”
“How do we think about the past in this country? What tends to be erased? Once we start to dig deeper into a story, we don’t wind up just in one rabbit-hole, but a warren of sorts.”
Author, translator, professor and MacArthur Fellow John Keene joins the show to talk about how voices are found and how they’re erased. We get into how Benedictine monks started him on the road to translation, which languages he wishes he had, the perils of knowing just enough of a language to get in trouble, and how translation trains one to let go of ego. We discuss his amazing but uncharacterizable fiction collection, Counternarratives (New Directions), along with his powerful essay, Translating Poetry, Translating Blackness, and how to explore Black representation across cultural boundaries. We also get into the performative aspects of BLM by corporations and institutions and would it would take to transform into real change, the impact of his MacArthur “genius” grant, why he’s trying to move away from Counternarratives’ narrative density in his new work, and more. Give it a listen! And go read Counternarratives!
“With George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and you go on throughout the list, and these moments remind us of how much still needs to be done, in terms of rethinking how this society functions, and our relationship to each other.”
“With Counternarratives, I wanted to write a book that was grounded in specificity but also pulled away from the self, from myself. Which runs counter to today’s trend for autofiction.”
John R. Keene was born in St. Louis in 1965. He graduated from the St. Louis Priory School, Harvard College, and New York University, where he was a New York Times Fellow. In 1989, Mr. Keene joined the Dark Room Writers Collective, and is a Graduate Fellow of the Cave Canem Writers Workshops. He is the author of Annotations, and Counternarratives, both published by New Directions, as well as several other works, including the poetry collection Seismosis, with artist Christopher Stackhouse, and a translation of Brazilian author Hilda Hilst’s novel Letters from a Seducer. He is the recipient of many awards and fellowships—including a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award, the Windham-Campbell Prize, and the Whiting Foundation Prize for fiction. He teaches at Rutgers University-Newark.
“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.”