Virtual Memories Show 451:
Jacques Berlinerblau

“I think what’s different about Roth is the wink and the nod and the game; he’s signaling to us in his fiction that he’s writing about events and people that are very close to him, and yet repeatedly denied doing so. No one else engaged in that gamesmanship with the readership and the critical apparatus around the study of the literature. Why did he need to play that game?”

Professor Jacques Berlinerblau joins the show to celebrate his new book, The Philip Roth We Don’t Know: Sex, Race, and Autobiography (UVA Press)! We get into a deep dive on All Things Roth: #metoo, reverse-biography, metafiction, rage merchants, Rothian Path Dependency, literary legacy & reputation, the changing expectations and tolerances of readers, and the writer Roth cites more than any other in his books. We also talk about the scandal around Roth’s biographer and why I think it’s greatest metafictional novel Roth never wrote, the role of race & racism in Roth’s work (and in Jacques’ broader areas of study), why Jacques never wanted to meet Roth, his love of The Anatomy Lesson, the disillusionment he had upon reading Roth’s letters in the Library of Congress, why we should all read My Dark Vanessa, whether not winning the Nobel really burned Roth’s ass, and so much more! Give it a listen! And go read The Philip Roth We Don’t Know!

“Roth studies needs a huge kick in the ass. Several, really. The first is that we have to stop letting non-Roth-scholars set the agenda for this writer. I can think of no American writer whose interpretation is brought to us by so many non-scholars.”

“It’s a dilemma for Roth scholars: did he know a lot about postmodernism and metafiction and just didn’t want to admit it, or did he just independently have very similar thoughts about how literature works? . . . Did he read literary criticism about anyone besides himself?”

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

Jacques Berlinerblau is Rabbi Harold White Professor of Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University and author of Campus Confidential: How College Works, or Doesn’t, for Professors, Parents, and Students. His new book is The Philip Roth We Don’t Know: Sex, Race, and Autobiography.

Follow Jacques on Twitter.

Dr. Jacques Berlinerblau
Professor, Center for Jewish Civilization
Walsh School of Foreign Service | Georgetown University

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

And, because you read this far, here’s the painting that Roth owned, which Jacque’s agent sent him. As we said during the episode, there is NO way to do this justice:

Virtual Memories Show 450:
Robert McCrum

“People should be free to do Shakespeare anyway they like: in 5 minutes, 5 seconds, 5 days, 5 hours, underwater, in a desert, on a mountain. It’ll always work; he’s indestructible, in that sense.”

With his new book, Shakespearean: On Life and Language in Times of Disruption (Pegasus Books), author & literary editor Robert McCrum uses Shakespeare’s plays, poems, life and history to examine how Shakespeare is a mirror of human experience, and why his lines continue to resonate 400+ years after his death. We talk about Robert’s history with the plays (beginning with his role as First Fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the age of 13) and the 2017 performance of Julius Caesar in Central Park that inspired the book, the ways in which the Plays and the Sonnets complement each other, and how those works influence our understanding of the self and self-consciousness. We also get into the vicissitudes of literary reputation, the way Shakespearean fits as the capstone of Robert’s Disruption Trilogy, along with My Year Off and Every Third Thought, the first play Robert’s Shakespeare Club plans to see post-pandemic, the snobbery that drives Shakespeare denialism, how America became Shakespearean, and the urban myth that Shakespeare wrote King Lear during lockdown, as well as the ways plague influenced Shakespeare’s entire career. Plus: where I should begin with Wodehouse, what prompted Robert to finally finish Proust (and then re-read him), and the nightmare of interviewing Philip Roth! Give it a listen! And go read Shakespearean: On Life and Language in Times of Disruption (as well as My Year Off and Every Third Thought)!

“Any writer can tell you: if you write things down, you begin to make sense of things. If you’re surrounded by chaos and you begin to make notes, you begin to make sense.”

“It seems that Shakespeare and his contemporaries got used to the plague, so the plague references in his work are comparatively few and far between, and they’re not striking. And yet there’s no doubt of a connection between then and now.”

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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

Robert McCrum was born and educated in Cambridge. For nearly twenty years he was editor-in-chief of the publishers Faber & Faber, and then literary editor of the Observer from 1996 to 2008. He is now an associate editor of the Observer. He is the author of Every Third Thought, My Year Off, Wodehouse: A Life, six novels, and the co-author of the international bestseller, The Story of English. His new book is Shakespearean: On Life and Language in Times of Disruption.

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 Robert by Katherine Anne Rose for The Guardian. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 449:
Scott Newstok

“Let’s try to think our way into what we value about learning in our lives, in whatever realm: a craft, a sport, a musical activity. It’s about the complex joys of getting better.”

With How To Think Like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education (Princeton University Press), Scott Newstok explores the Bard’s schooling, how it contrasts with the No Child Left Behind model of today, and how we’re failing both students and teachers. We get into Scott’s love of Shakespeare and the history of education, why the drive for “assessment” is inimical to real learning, the false oppositions about education today, the value of play & conversation, and how the pandemic may have put the nail in the coffin for distance learning. We also get into his new project on Montaigne, the importance of having a couple of key teachers in one’s youth, the importance of student evaluations, why he’ll opt for Marlowe over Shakespeare if he needs to turn students on to Elizabethan theater, his thoughts on translating Shakespeare into “modern English, the scaleability of a Renaissance education, and more! Give it a listen! And go read How To Think Like Shakespeare!

“It’s rewarding to take any writer and speculate on what kinds of models and inspirations and practices they had as children that helped them do what they did.”

“I was lucky to have a wonderful range of teachers at an early age who modeled thinking, no matter the discipline or topic.”

“I’m incredibly sympathetic to teachers who go into the field these days who then discover the stultifying series of assessments and oversights that turn them off from the profession or sap them of their enthusiasm.”

“I would point to a peer of Shakespeare like Marlowe as someone who can draw students in, with the sex, drugs, rock & roll dynamic of Elizabethan theater.”

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

Scott Newstok is professor of English and founding director of the Pearce Shakespeare Endowment at Rhodes College. A parent and an award-winning teacher, he is the author How To Think Like Shakespeare, which was named a 2020 book of the year by the Times Literary Supplement and was a finalist for the Association of American Publishers (AAP) Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence (PROSE). He’s currently working on an edition of Michel de Montaigne’s essays on education.

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 Scott by Chip Chockley. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 448:
Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn

“The cultivation of the inner life is a way of looking at the self as though the inner sanctum isn’t a lonely, isolating chamber of echoes, but can be transformed into a rich inner garden.”

With Ars Vitae: The Fate of Inwardness and the Return of the Ancient Arts of Living (Notre Dame Press), Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn explores how different philosophies of the ancient Greeks and Romans continue to play out in our modern era. We talk about the interplay between antiquity & modernity, how we can learn to move beyond therapeutic culture, and why she’s a born Platonist (the book also gets into Gnosticism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Cynicism). We also get into why instrumentalizing people is one of the worst developments of our time, what it means to have an authentic outward-facing inwardness, rather than the inward-facing outwardness of our age, whether philosophy prepares us for death (and whether it should). Plus we discuss how students have & haven’t changed over her 30 years as a professor, the vale of WikiHow, the moment she was entranced by a philosophy seminar titled “Love”, and what virtue is & whether it can be taught. Give it a listen! And go read Ars Vitae!

“In Platonism we can find a way to renew our sense of why on earth we would ever want to act virtuously or good, or restrict our desires, or think about someone other than ourselves. That’s what’s missing from our times, what’s fallen away in the modern therapeutic consumer culture.”

“You can often understand divisions among people by asking what their underlying reasons are. You find sources of commonality, or at least something that would allow people to stay in the same conversation, if you go below the claims people are making to the reasons for those claims.”

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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

Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn is a Professor of History at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and author of Ars Vitae: The Fate of Inwardness and the Return of the Ancient Arts of Living. Her research interests include modern American social, cultural, and intellectual history, ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, ancient and modern thought/history of ideas/philosophy (US and Europe), comparative literature, film and visual culture, Plato and Neoplatonism, and the arts. Her other books include Black Neighbors — which won the Berkshire Prize — and Race Experts: How Racial Etiquette, Sensitivity Training and New Age Therapy Hijacked the Civil Rights Revolution, as well as three edited volumes. Professor Lasch-Quinn’s writing has also appeared widely in both scholarly and prominent public venues, including The New Republic and The Hedgehog Review.

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

Virtual Memories Show 447:
Peter Schjeldahl

“My job is to give people something to read that is enjoyable and in some other way perhaps worth reading. It’s almost not about the art; it’s about the concentration, the absorption.”

I traveled up to the Catskills this weekend for a round of Rip Van Winkle-themed putt-putt golf, lunch, and some conversation with New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl. We get into Peter’s 2019 diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer and how he gained & then lost the persona of The Dying Man during his one piece of memoiristic writing about it. We also talk about his accidental transition from poet to art writer in the ’60s, why his two criteria for writing about art are quality & significance, his bias for authenticity over authority and sophistication over education, how HOWL changed his life, why he hates reproductions of paintings, why it took him years to come around on Rembrandt, his experience of revisiting Velazquez’ Las Meninas over the years, the piece of art he’d like to revisit when we can travel again, his love of (& aesthete’s approach to) fireworks, and plenty moreon the art of living! Give it a listen! And go read Hot, Cold Heavy, Light: 100 Art Writings 1988-2018

“There’s no art to dying at all.”

“Having talent is like being put in lifetime charge of a wild animal that you have to feed and nurture and obey. And it doesn’t care about you; if taking a bite out of your ass would help the work, it’ll do that in a second.”

“Bad art is its own punishment.”

“The only thing a reproduction has in common with a painting is the image.”

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“All of my deep art historical knowledge was learned bit by bit on deadline.”

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

Peter Schjeldahl has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1998 and is the magazine’s art critic. He came to the magazine from The Village Voice, where he was the art critic from 1990 to 1998. Previously, he had written frequently for the New York Times’ Arts and Leisure section. His writing has also appeared in Artforum, Art in America, the New York Times Magazine, Vogue, and Vanity Fair. He has received the Clark Prize for Excellence in Arts Writing from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute; the Frank Jewett Mather Award from the College Art Association, for excellence in art criticism; the Howard Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, for “recent prose that merits recognition for the quality of its style”; and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is the author of four books of criticism, including The Hydrogen Jukebox: Selected Writings, and Let’s See: Writings on Art from The New Yorker. His latest book is Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light: 100 Art Writings, 1988-2018.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded on Peter’s back porch 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 Peter by me. It’s on my instagram.