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.”

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

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 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.