Interviews, readings, music, and more from the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Kate Zambreno: To Write As If Already Dead; & Susan Bernofsky: Clairvoyant of the Small
On this week's show we're joined by two authors, Kate Zambreno and Susan Bernofsky, who have both written a magisterial work about a past literary master.
First, Medaya Ocher and Kate Wolf talk with Kate Zambreno about To Write as if Already Dead, a study of the writing and photography of Herve Guibert (1955-1991); and, in particular, his work To The Friend Who Did Not Save My Life, which documents Guibert's diagnosis and disintegration from HIV, and portrays a character based upon his close friend, philosopher Michel Foucault.
Then, Kate is joined by Susan Bernofsky to discuss Clairvoyant of the Small, her biography of Swiss author Robert Walser (1878-1956), one of the most influential modernist writers in the German language. Susan’s biography portrays Walser not just as the eccentric outsider figure he’s often made out to be, but as a fully formed artist, with serious creative aspirations, proliferate charms, and many complications. Clairvoyant of the Small offers a nuanced picture of his turbulent life—much of its drama stemming from financial precarity, family legacy, and the sweeping pendulums of early twentieth century European history—as it also illuminates the complexity and beauty of his writing.
Joan Silber: Secrets of Happiness
Author Joan Silber, whose previous work Improvement won both the National Book Critic’s Circle Aware and the Pen Faulkner Award, joins Kate and Eric to discuss her new novel Secrets of Happiness, a multi-vocal story that radiates out from a single family dealing with a father's intimate betrayal. He has a secret family that he told nobody about. As it moves across characters and continents, Secrets of Happiness considers the weight of love, family, and other attachments in a world where nothing is as it seems, and happiness is a fleeting experience best savored in the presence.
Also, Sarah Schulman, author of Let the Record Show: A Political History of Act Up New York, 1987-1993, returns to recommend Natasha Trethewey’s Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir as well as Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All by Martha S. Jones.
Carol Anderson's The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America
Professor Carol Anderson, whose previous work White Rage won the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award, joins Kate and Eric to discuss her latest book, The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America. The Second takes a long historical look at the emergence and development of the second amendment—"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed"—against the backdrop of anti-Black violence, fear, and public policy. Professor Anderson reveals the various ways in which slavery—and, in particular, white slaveowners' fears of slave insurrection—shaped the Second amendment from the very beginning, with long-reaching effects that we continue to face today, a year after the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer. America's most infamous constitutional amendment was not about guns, but about the racial divides through which a white man wielding a gun receives Constitutionally-lauded legal protections, while in the hands of a Black man in America, a firearm can so often be a death sentence.
Also, Jacqueline Rose, author of On Violence and On Violence Against Women, returns to recommend both Anna Burns' The Milkman, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2018, as well as Eimear McBride's A Girl is a Half-formed Thing.
Matthew Heineman: The Boy from Medellin
Filmmaker Matthew Heineman joins Eric to talk about his latest documentary, THE BOY FROM MEDELLIN, which centers on reggeton superstar J Balvin (the voice and creative force behind such massive hits as MI GENTE, I LIKE IT,, AGUA, and countless other songs). Heineman's camera turns its gaze on Balvin as the pop star returns to his home city of Medellin for the last stop on his world tour. That homecoming takes a dramatic turn as the country is plunged into anti-government protests led by Colombian youth. Heineman shares what it was like to capture a superstar caught between the desire to entertain and the demands of fans on social media that he speak to the political crisis of his homeland; to witness a brilliantly talented performer with his reputation and tour all on the line.
Also, Claire Phillips, author of A Room with a Darker View: Chronicles of My Mother and Schizophrenia drops by to talk with Kate and recommend Schizophrenia: A Brother Finds Answers in Medical Science by Ronald Chase.
Sarah Schulman: Let the Record Show ACT UP NYC, 1987-93
Writer Sarah Schulman joins Kate and Eric to discuss her new book Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York 1987-1993. A longtime activist, Sarah was a participant in the history she writes about. Back in 1987 Sarah joined The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, known as ACT UP, in New York City. Let the Record Show is a focused, exceedingly thorough look at ACT UP’s organizational tactics, its diverse range of members and intersecting causes, and its profound impact in fighting for access to treatment and more national attention for people with AIDS at a time when the US government was barely addressing the crisis. The book builds on over 200 oral histories Sarah and her collaborator and fellow ACT-Upper Jim Hubbard conducted with former members. In an ecstatic review, the New York Times wrote that "it’s not reverent, definitive history. This is a tactician’s bible."
Also, Helen Oyeyemi, author of Peaces, returns to recommend James Robertson's To Be Continued, or, Conversations with a Toad.
Jacqueline Rose: On Violence and On Violence Against Women
Kate and Medaya are joined by feminist critic Jacqueline Rose to discuss her new book On Violence and On Violence Against Women. Jacqueline's addresses the prevalence and persistence of violence through the analytical lenses of feminism, history, psychoanalysis, politics, and literature. Jacqueline argues that violence in our times thrives on a form of mental blindness; and elucidates its relationship to the rise of politicians like Bolsonaro and Trump as well as broader society's complicity in these horrors.
Also, Larissa Pham, author of the collection Pop Song: Adventures in Art and Intimacy, returns to recommend Annie Ernaux's A Girl's Story (2016), which was released last year in translation.
Best LIT podcast around
Colin Marshall is a perfect interviewer!
Check his outstanding podcast NOTEBOOK ON CITIES AND CULTURE (also in iTunes) if you think I am exaggerating. And I am not his grandmother, by the way!
I <3 Colin Marshall