Virtual Memories Show 216:
George Prochnik

“Scholem teaches us that the Jewish tradition is so capacious it could embrace its own subversion.”

George Prochnik returns to The Virtual Memories Show to talk about his new book, Stranger in a Strange Land: Searching for Gershom Scholem and Jerusalem (Other Press). (We talked about Stefan Zweig back in 2014.) We get into the life of Jewish mysticism’s greatest scholar, how the theories of Zionism butted up against the reality of Palestine and Israel, the alchemical friendship of Scholem and Walter Benjamin, the way Kabbalah serves as the hidden, subterranean layer of Judaism, Scholem’s example of a life lived in resistance, the great contrast of Scholem with Prochnik’s previous biographical subject, Stefan Zweig, our author’s addiction to Jerusalem and the books he hasn’t escaped in 30 years, and whether Walt Whitman was an intuitive American Kabbalist! Give it a listen! And go buy Stranger in a Strange Land (and The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World, both from Other Press)!

“Scholem explored the notion that Kabbalah is a meditation on Jewish history itself, not just an intra-theological discussion between rabbis, but a historically aware and subversive to struggle with the Jewish exile of 1492. If Jews suffered this extraordinary fate, how does redemption work against that? His interpretation of Kabbalah confers on the individual an enormous responsibility and capacity to participate in the healing of the universe.”

“Zweig had something like ‘Lot’s Wife Syndrome’; if you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter how fast you’re running, you’re always going to be looking over your shoulder.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes, like my previous conversation with George!

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About our Guest

George Prochnik’s previous book, The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World, received the National Jewish Book Award for Biography/Memoir in 2014 and was shortlisted for the Wingate Prize in the UK. Prochnik is also the author of In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise (2010), and Putnam Camp: Sigmund Freud, James Jackson Putnam and the Purpose of American Psychology (2006). He has written for The New York Times, The New Yorker, Bookforum and the LA Review of Books, and is editor-at-large for Cabinet magazine. His new book is Stranger in a Strange Land: Searching for Gershom Scholem and Jerusalem.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Prochnik’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. Prochnik and his family by me. The family one is on my instagram, and the solo pic (from our 2014 show) is on my flickr.

Virtual Memories Show:
The Guest List 2014

Two years in a row? That makes The Guest List a Virtual Memories Show tradition! I reached out to 2014’s podcast guests and asked them about the favorite book(s) they read in the past year. More than 30 of them responded with a fantastic array of books. So, just in time for Hanukkah and Christmas, the Virtual Memories Show provides you with a huge list of of books that you’re going to want to read! Get ready to update your wish lists!

This episode features selections from nearly 3 dozen of our recent guests! So go give it a listen, and then visit the Guest List cheat sheet where you can find links to the books and the guests who responded.

(And check out the 2013 edition of The Guest List, too!)

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About our Guests

The guests who contributed their favorite book from the past year — and that’s “favorite book I read in 2014,” not “favorite book that came out in 2014” — are Maria Alexander, Ashton Applewhite, David Baerwald, Nina Bunjevac, Roz Chast, Sarah Deming, Michael Dirda, Jules Feiffer, Mary Fleener, Nathan Fox, Josh Alan Friedman, Richard Gehr, Paul Gravett, Sam Gross, Rachel Hadas, Kaz, Daniel Levine, Sara Lippmann, Merrill Markoe, Brett Martin, Mimi Pond, George Prochnik, Emily Raboteau, Jonathan Rose, Ron Rosenbaum, Dmitry Samarov, Seth, Katie Skelly, Ron Slate, Maya Stein, Rupert Thomson, and Frank Wilson. Check out their episodes at our archives!

Credits: This episode’s music is The Book I Read by Talking Heads. Most of the episode was recorded at Virtual Memories Manor on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. A few segments were recorded by the guests and e-mailed in (which is to say: don’t blame me!). Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band.

Stefan ZweigSeason 4 Episode 20
George Prochnik –
Bildung Stories

“Zweig was immersed in the problem of the disjunction between our grand desires for the kind of life we dream we should be living and the actual circumscribed canvas on which we must operate.”

At his peak, Viennese author Stefan Zweig was one of the most widely read authors in the world. How did he and his wife end up in a double-suicide in a bungalow in Petropolis, Brazil? George Prochnik joins us to talk about his new biography, The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World (Other Press). We discuss the arc of Zweig’s exile, why Zweig remains important to our age (both in his writing and in his character), how he lost his belief in the power of bildung, the fleetingness of fame and the accident of survival, the role of education in changing political dynamics, the contemporary revival of Viennese culture, the reason why Zweig fled New York City, and more!

“I think he felt that the more we have to produce official documents to indicate who we are, the more we are reduced to that strip of paper.”

We also talk about our respective introductions to Zweig’s work, the ways that his final novella may be an allegory for Vienna, the danger of looking for clues to Zweig’s suicide in his writing, and how he may have been the inspiration for Woody Allen’s ZeligGive it a listen! Go pick up a copy of The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World! And check out my Zweig-shelf!

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

George Prochnik’s essays, poetry, and fiction have appeared in numerous journals. He has taught English and American literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is editor-at-large for Cabinet magazine, and is also the author of In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise and Putnam Camp: Sigmund Freud, James Jackson Putnam and the Purpose of American Psychology. He lives in New York City.

Credits: This episode’s music is Brazil by The Coasters. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Prochnik’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Mr. Prochnik by me.