Virtual Memories Show 431:
Louis Menand

“Writing a book like this is like an advent calendar: each day you open a little window and there’s somebody in there. You hadn’t known about them before and you learn a fascinating story.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and cultural critic Louis Menand joins the show to celebrate his phenomenal new book, THE FREE WORLD: Art And Thought In The Cold War (FSG). We get into his process for chronicling the artistic, cultural, intellectual, technological and literary movements of the postwar era, the stories of the lives behind those movements and how he threads them together, what we mean when we talk about freedom, why writing can be like kicking open a rolled-up carpet, and the toughest art form to write about. We talk about the influence of John Cage (whose work we both dislike), the amazing creative lineage of Black Mountain College, the ~75,000 words he had to cut (the book is plenty hefty as is) and why he would have liked to include a chapter on Japan’s art scene, the role of the CIA in funding movement and artistic venues, and the one person he regrets not interviewing for this project. We also discuss his pandemic life, the One More Book he wants to write, his father’s anti-anti-Communist stance, the book’s original title and why it had to change, and why his students at Harvard seem more interested in the ’50s than the ’60s. Give it a listen! And go read THE FREE WORLD!

“The word ‘Freedom’ was everywhere, but then you start to think, ‘What does it actually mean?’ It could be used to describe a musical composition, or the condition of racial segregation, or what the US stood for in the Cold War. If you could use it for such varied purposes, did it mean anything?”

“The movement with the greatest impact was decolonization. We’re still living through in the consequences of that moment. It’s like a Big Bang in reverse. Between 1945 and 1970, dozens and dozens of countries came into being that were former colonies. That changed the geopolitical map forever.”

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“Our culture was so dominant, we could’ve conquered the world without all the deception of CIA funding and cutouts.”

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“What made the Cold War an intense period intellectually was that people didn’t really know what side they were on. There were a lot of intellectuals and artists who were sympathetic to the Soviet experiment. That fades with Stalinism, but doesn’t get replaced completely with capitalism.”

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

Louis Menand is professor of English at Harvard University and a staff writer at The New Yorker. His books include The Metaphysical Club, which won the Pulitzer Prize in history and the Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians. In 2016, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama. His new book is THE FREE WORLD: Art And Thought In The Cold War.

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 Louis by Matthew Valentine. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 426:
Laura Lindstedt

“I’m very aware that I see the world through a woman’s eyes and experiences. I think that all my novels do have female main characters and themes that can be considered feminist. There’s something that comes from my femininity into the writing, but it’s not without ambiguity.”

Finnish novelist Laura Lindstedt joins the show to celebrate the US publication of My Friend Natalia (Liveright, tr. David Hackston). We get into the challenges of translating a novel that’s all about the therapy sessions of an extremely literate and hypersexual patient, how the therapist’s method parallels Laura’s writing process, and my meta-theory of who’s actually narrating this amazing novel. We also talk about the influence of Nathalie Sarraute‘s poetics and the literary notion of Tropism (physical reaction of natural world), Helsinki’s book-life and how it’s changed in recent years, the joy of playing with the Finnish language and its etymologies, and the notion of gendered writing and why Laura chose to keep the narrator non-gendered (and why that made the audiobook a challenge). Plus, I get to founder over Finnish names, and Laura tells us the place she really wants to visit when we’re post-pandemic. Give it a listen! And go read My Friend Natalia!

“The layering therapy in the novel is based on artistic creation. It is parallel to writing itself. For my writing, I don’t have a plot line when I start. I don’t think of the work or characters at the beginning. I just start to write and the fictional world opens up little by little to me.”

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“During the last 10 years, something has changed in Finnish literature. It’s become much more international, as books have become translated more and reached a wider audience.”

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

Laura Lindstedt is a Finnish author. She is a significant reformer of literary fiction and much discussed critical darling. Her first novel Sakset (“Scissors”) was published in 2007 and nominated for the Finlandia Prize, the most prestigious book award for fiction in Finland. Her second novel, Oneiron – a fantasy about the seconds after death, earned her the Finlandia Prize. Oneiron was also a candidate for the Nordic Council Literature Prize 2017. Her most recent novel is My Friend Natalia.

Follow Laura 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. Fancy photo of Laura by Jarkko Mikkonen. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 425:
Vivian Gornick

“I’m a writer who developed around the practice of lucid, simple, compact writing. I turned out to be something of a minimalist. . . . but for a long time I felt myself a negligible writer because I couldn’t write big.”

Literary and feminist legend Vivian Gornick joins the show to celebrate her new collection, Taking A Long Look: Essays on Culture, Literature, and Feminism in Our Time (Verso Press). We talk about the biggest shock of looking back at her work for this career-spanning collection, why she organized it from most recent to oldest, and the difference between being smart and being wise. We get into the process of discovering her voice and figuring out she’s a minimalist, how she got better at judging her own work, her criteria for culling books from her apartment (and her embarrassment when one showed up in an unexpected place), the importance of rereading (and why she wrote a book about it), and why the New York Review of Books recently said she “has long enjoyed an audience of literary depressives and feminists”. We also discuss her 1970s essays on feminism, the movement’s evolution in the past 50 years, how the Brilliant Exception became the rule, why political correctness if different than ideological splits, the New York she loves most, and why she’s dying to go to a movie theater again. Give it a listen! And go read Taking a Long Look and Unfinished Business, and sheesh, all her other books, like Fierce Attachments!

“Our generation of feminists was unusual, not historically, but in terms of the lives we’re living now. Ours is the generation that raised it all over again. The generations that follow are somehow ground down because they don’t have that revolutionary excitement and energy.”

“If the thinking is sloppy, if it doesn’t justify itself, that’s the biggest shock in reading your own stuff.”

“Every year I go through my books and I ask, ‘Are you going to read this again? Are you EVER going to read this? Is this something I emotionally have to keep on the shelf?’

“If you have the talent and the drive — which are the least part of accomplishment — then if you live long enough and are privileged enough to become more and more yourself, then that’s the way the work should fulfill itself.”

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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

Vivian Gornick is a writer and critic whose work has received two National Book Critics Circle Award nominations and been collected in The Best American Essays 2014. Growing up in the Bronx amongst communists and socialists, Gornick became a legendary writer for Village Voice, chronicling the emergence of the feminist movement in the 1970s. Her works include the memoirs Fierce Attachments — ranked the best memoir of the last fifty years by The New York Times — and The Odd Woman and the City, and Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader, as well as the classic text on writing, The Situation and the Story.

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 Vivian by someone else. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 424:
Jen Silverman

“What strikes me is how our culture has evolved such that if we’re not being witnessed we feel like we don’t exist. The desire for fame is really just the desire to be witnessed to such a degree that you feel like you HAVE to exist.”

What price fame? With her debut novel, We Play Ourselves (Random House), writer and playwright Jen Silverman tells a comedic tale of theater life gone wrong, internet humiliation, a teenage feminist fight club, queer absurdist puppetry, the boundaries of documentary filmmaking, and a lot more. We get into the roots of her novel, what writing for theater and TV/film taught her and what she had to unlearn for this book, how she balanced her love for absurdism with narrative realism, and how to figure out which stories belong in which medium. We talk about the difference between “theater” and “Broadway” and how the pandemic has wiped out the communal experience of theater (for now), how the economics of theater can perpetuate a lack of diversity and how it feels to be “the woman” playwright in a season, how she learned to navigate the heightened unreality of LA, the difference in searching for The Path and finding A Path, why the hunger for being seen can warp pretty much all human activities, why she draws sad pandas, and more! Give it a listen! And go read We Play Ourselves!

“I’m really interested in art forms that reflect us back to ourselves in unexpected ways.”

“In theater what I’m doing revolves around the question, ‘What is the invitation that I’m extending to my audience?’ How am I inviting them into this space, this live gathering that can only happen in a theater? A novel is not theater, and it felt like a couple lifetimes of me asking, ‘What is a novel?'”

“Absurdist theater is a very specific tool for thinking about power dynamics, about politics, about human relations inside communities.”

“Since the pandemic, the more plays I’ve read on the page the more I found myself able to engage with the art form as a form that I love, as opposed to the absence of theater in my life.”

“Each play is a new interrogation. In my process, form and content and the way they talk to each other is very important, so each play by necessity takes on a different form than the last play or the next play.”

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

Jen Silverman is a New York–based writer and playwright. She is the author of the story collection The Island Dwellers, which was longlisted for a PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for debut fiction. Her plays have been produced across the United States and internationally, and she also writes for television and film. She is a two-time MacDowell Colony fellow, a member of New Dramatists, and the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts grant, a Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Fellowship, the Yale Drama Series Award, and a Playwrights of New York Fellowship. Her new novel is We Play Ourselves.

Follow Jen on Twitter and Instagram. She draws sad pandas.

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 Jen by Zackary Canepari.

Virtual Memories Show 422:
Anahid Nersessian

“I’ve never had a period of separation from Keats, like I’ve had with other authors or bands that I love.”

Let’s commemorate the 200th anniversary of John Keats’ untimely death with a conversation with Anahid Nersessian, author of Keats’ Odes: A Lover’s Discourse (University of Chicago). We get into how she read Keats’ letters to Fanny Brawne at WAY too young an age, how she’s lived with his poems since childhood and how they’ve changed for her over the years, and why it kills her that no one has disinterred Fanny’s final letters to Keats (which he never read and are buried with him). We talk about her relationship to the western canon, the implicit (and explicit) sexual violence of Ode on a Grecian Urn, her harassment by a Latin teacher in high school and how it affected her career path, Keats’ radicalist, proto-Marxist tones and the benefits of reading The Communist Manifesto in funny voices as a 7th grader. We also discuss what it’s like to have a couple of strict old-school Freudians for parents, why she doesn’t have time for social media (and why she didn’t go overboard integrating her personal experiences into the book), the thread of Keats’ Odes that has led to her next book on the Cato Street Conspiracy, and more. Give it a listen! And go read Keats’ Odes: A Lover’s Discourse!

“Keats and Marx share a horizon or an ambition for human beings, a horizon of freedom realized in social life.”

“For the personal material in the book, I told myself I wouldn’t self-censor, if something came up that seemed relevant to a particular poem or to an understanding of Keats’ life, but I also wouldn’t push myself to be more explicit about aspects of my life.”

“In the Romantic period, things were intensely partisan and politicized. We think that our public world of the arts is politicized, but you should’ve seen the Regency period.”

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

Anahid Nersessian was born and raised in New York City. She attended Yale University as an undergraduate and got her Ph.D in English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago. After spending three years at Columbia University, she moved to Los Angeles, where she currently teaches in the English Department at UCLA on the unceded territory of the Gabrielino/Tongva peoples. She is the author of three books, Keats’s Odes: A Lover’s Discourse (Chicago, 2021), The Calamity Form: On Poetry and Social Life (Chicago, 2020), and Utopia, Limited: Romanticism and Adjustment (Harvard, 2015), and has published widely in top scholarly journals as well as in the Los Angeles Review of Books and Public Books. She also founded and co-edits the Thinking Literature series at the University of Chicago Press.

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 Anahid by someone else. It’s on my instagram. Portrait of Keats by William Hilton.