For Your Ears: Podcast Roundup
Here are just a few podcasts that caught my attention these past few months, with choice quotes from each. You can view my occasional podcast roundup series for Longreads here.
John Freeman and Robin Sloan
Failure was something that these novelists all kept talking about, which is a weird thing with the Nobel Prizes and endowed teaching positions and everything. It’s easy to look at them and think, you’re establishment; but most of them, I think, if they are any good, still see themselves as outsiders. They still feel like they’re one bad sentence away from failure; and they feel like they’re living on the edge, and I think that comes from the fact that they’re projecting the very limits of their imagination and mind out into the world. The things if I said to you now, they would probably be uncomfortable and socially awkward, but they’re doing it by themselves, in the dark. Yes, they have editors and publishers waiting for these books but they never know if they’ve completely gone off the reservation. And so, when you sit down with as a journalist with someone like that, and their book’s not yet out — you’re a month ahead of schedule, sometimes two — and you’re one of the early readers you develop intimacy quickly because you’re one of the first people outside of the inner circle when you’re a novelist of some success you wonder how much they get criticized by their friends anymore, and that’s a very exciting couple hours.
Jerry Stahl on forgiving yourself
I’ve never forgiven myself. I think eventually you realize that it’s just another form of self-indulgence to keep beating the shit out of yourself so you sort of try not to. If you fuel all of that guilt you’re going to be the guy who walks into a room who radiates self-loathing, which God knows I’ve been for years before I realized people were passing out whenever I walked into a room. I think you do it as much for other people because it just becomes a fucking bore to carry that cross around.
Bret Easton Ellis on Twitter
I don’t know if I care necessarily about other people’s reactions toward opinions. And I’m not even really talking about jokes. I get attacked for opinions. People get attacked for their likes and their dislikes. And mostly they get attacked for their dislikes because to be negative in the Twittersphere is akin to hate speech almost. [Tells the story of him tweeting something negative about Alice Munro] … The next morning when I woke up I noticed that I had some emails and that sometime during the night while I slept a thousand news agencies had picked up that tweet and I became the villain of the narrative of Alice Munro winning the Nobel.
Now, you can say, you know that kind of sucks, should I have done it? But then you get into this weird self-censoring thing and I’m not really interested in doing that. Yea, I had to deal with a lot of shit from people for a couple of days who felt I was attacking an 80-year-old Canadian woman when in fact I was just voicing an opinion; and that’s kind of the problem with Twitter, I guess, but only if you really care what other people think.
… I care about having opinions and I care about putting them out there, I don’t care about the reaction toward them to the degree that if I cared enough about the reaction I wouldn’t put them out there but I do think that having an opinion about stuff, whether it’s negative or positive, and using your Twitter account to, you know, try to get anything from Stoner by John Williams noticed or various books I liked last year, you know, get them out there, and also having dissenting opinions about stuff, I think that’s cool and I like that about Twitter a lot. What I don’t really care about is if people get super upset with something that I tweet about. I do care about my opinion and I do care about putting it out there but in terms of not putting something out there because I’m afraid I’m going to get a lot of negative response and people want to beat me up, I’m not in that realm.
Wendy Lesser on reader’s block
Of course now there are books on tape so people who have trouble with their eyes in any way — having the book come in through the eyes — have an alternative. I would say another alternative is to try an author who works very slowly on the sentence level. Some examples are Samuel Beckett, J.M. Coetzee, Emily Dickinson. They’re people who if you read one sentence — or in the case of Emily Dickinson, eight lines — you get a huge amount. So, the issue is not quantity there, and you don’t feel as if you’re speeding through, you can get the pleasure of reading out of a very small segment. But I think, frankly, one should honor one’s blocks. If you have reader’s block at the moment there’s probably a reason like you’ve read too much bad stuff recently and you need to give it time to flush out of your system.
Greek Tragedy and Contemporary Political Spectacle
What’s so interesting about tragedy is even as it confirms what we sort of think is true about life, which is most of us just want to have a medium life, without attracting the ire–or the jealousy–of the Gods. It nonetheless is crucial to look at stories about people who go to the extremes, because it simultaneously satisfies our desire to see the great while confirming the rightness of our choice not to be one of them, I guess you could say.
As someone who was trained as a classicist, it’s basically how I see [contemporary political spectacle], you know. So, these things occur to me. You know, but then there are some things that happen which are so strongly reminiscent of actual Greek material–like the Tamerlan Tsarnaev burial controversy. It’s the first thing you think of as a classicist: the refusal to bury the body of the enemy is a culturally fraught situation that calls into question essential cultural values about what it means to be an enemy and whether there is a transcendent morality that applies even to one’s enemies; and this is of course is the central animating question of Sophocles’ Antigone, and so when that started to happen–the Tsarnaev thing–I just thought, I have to write about this. Because it just shows that the Greeks is not just old stuff that we curate because we think it’s good for you. Greek civilization continues to be vibrant because it’s just that they happen to write or make their art in a very elemental way about questions that are animating to all cultures, and so when these things happen today it seems worthwhile pointing out that this has been dealt with in a sort of incredibly distilled way by a great culture, which happens to be the culture to which we are heirs.
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