Virtual Memories Show 445:
Heather Cass White

“I’m sure that my obsessive focus on reading, as much as it is anything else, is a sign of a wound, or a lack.”

Author & professor Heather Cass White joins the show to celebrate her wonderful new book. Books Promiscuously Read: Reading as a Way of Life (FSG). We get into what reading does & doesn’t do for us, how we can lose ourselves & find ourselves in books, how this book gestated for decades while she was working on her scholarship of Marianne Moore, how she snagged the title from a line by Milton, and how promiscuously we should read the word “promiscuously”. We also talk about her read-to-bits childhood copy of Anne of Green Gables, the possibility of getting too much out of Henry James, the lessons she took from studying with Harold Bloom, why you shouldn’t read as if you’re going to die (prompted by my recent health issues), the importance of keeping a patient attitude toward poetry, why she decided not to do more reading about reading once she started to write a book about reading, and more! Give it a listen! And go read Books Promiscuously Read!

“My experience of reading is that it is a whole self experience. I can’t think of many part of myself that haven’t been engaged in some point in my life as a reader. So I liked that sense of ‘promiscuously’ as both unplanned, haphazard, random, but also as playful, contrarian and transgressive. I liked the word for every reason.”

“Once I started to investigate the files in my computer, I discovered ones going back 15 or 20 years. I realized that this book had been waiting for me.”

“There’s very little that happens throughout the day that doesn’t spark some little verbal association to a poem or a novel. A good half of what I think, I don’t know if I even think it, so much as these words are in my head and have taken up residence there.”

“In a funny way, this book is repaying a kind of debt. Reading has shaped my life in every way possible, it felt like I owed it something.”

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

Heather Cass White has edited several collections of Marianne Moore’s work: New Collected Poems; A-Quiver with Significance: Marianne Moore, 1932–1936; and Adversity & Grace: Marianne Moore, 1936–1941. She is a professor of English at the University of Alabama. Her new book is Books Promiscuously Read.

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 Heather by Crosby Thomley. It’s on my instagram.

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 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.

Virtual Memories Show 420:
John Porcellino

“I’m very content with my little corner of the world. I started this ‘zine when I was 20 years old, it’s become my life’s work, it’s allowed me to meet and interact with the most amazing people on the planet, it’s allowed me to share my thoughts and experiences with people, and that’s pretty great.”

With Drawn & Quarterly publishing new editions of King-Cat Classix, Map of My Heart, and Perfect Example, what better time for John Porcellino to return to the podcast? We talk about how King-Cat Comics & Stories has evolved over the ~30 years (!) he’s been making it, how the refinement of his art and storytelling mirrors the battle of intuition vs. OCD, and how his newest comics (even those written before 2020) reflect life during the pandemic. We get into how Buddhism has helped him cope with life and aging, his lurking concern that he has an expiration date, what he wants to accomplish before then, and what it means to publish issue #80 and to look at reaching #100. We also discuss the joyfully awful band Flipper and what it’s like being Flipper for aspiring storytellers, the example Lynda Barry set for him, the influence John has had on my stories in recent years, his joy at seeing his name drawn by Robert Crumb, and why his new dog Arlo is A Good Boy even when he barks during podcasts. Give it a listen! And go read King-Cat Classix, Map of My Heart, Perfect Example, and the latest King-Cat!

“There are two different things that happen to us in life. I think it’s a little harder to face the long, slow decline. From a Buddhist perspective, all life is change, and one of the major sources of suffering is trying to hold onto things.”

“OCD is a disease of doubt. It casts doubt on everything in life. It became tricky to separate the artistic process of making comics with this mental illness.”

“In the last 3-4 issues, I’ve gotten to the point where the spontaneity is present again, but I’ve got it on the fishing line, more conscious control over what I’m doing.”

“Crumb drew my name for a cover of Mineshaft, and I had this moments of, ‘I guess I can die happy now, because Robert Crumb took a pen to paper and inscribed my name on a piece of art.'”

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

John Porcellino was born in Chicago, IL, in 1968. He wrote and photocopied his first zine in 1982, at the age of fourteen. In 1989, Porcellino began writing his celebrated King-Cat mini-comic series, which has been ongoing for more than thirty years, winning acclaim from Time, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, Punk Planet, and the Globe & Mail. His work in King-Cat has been translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Swedish.

He is the author of Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man, King-Cat Classix, Map of My Heart, Perfect Example, Thoreau at Walden, and The Hospital Suite. He lives in Beloit, WI, with his wife and two cats and two dogs, and continues to produce new issues of King-Cat on a regular basis.

Follow John on Twitter and Instagram, and support his work via Patreon and listen to our 2014 podcast.

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 John & Arlo by him. It’s on my instagram.