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Archive for the 'Author Interview' Category

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Thursday Fiction Corner: A Conversation with Nicholas Mosley

Nicholas Mosely

“[O]n the whole, now, I feel very much a loner. There are the few who have something of the same style, and there are the few who have something of the same feeling about life which they want to express; but I don’t know of anyone who’s so involved with connecting the one thing with the other.” – Nicholas Mosley

We are proud to be distributing Dalkey Archive Press, one of the leading publishers of avant-garde fiction and literature in translation! One of the most exciting aspects of working with Dalkey Archive is the opportunity to work with their rich backlist, which includes books by some of the most interesting writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. One of the most notable of these writers is Nicholas Mosley, author of (among many other works) Hopeful Monsters, Efforts at Truth: An Autobiography, and Metamorphosis, which will be available in September. In today’s Fiction Corner, we are happy to present an excerpt from a conversation between Mosley and Dalkey Archive Press founder John O’Brien which first appeared in the Summer 1982 issue of The Review of Contemporary Fiction. You can find the conversation in full on the Dalkey Archive website.

A Conversation with Nicholas Mosley
By John O’Brien
From The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 1982, Vol. 2.2

This interview was conducted by mail over a two-year period during 1977 and 1978.


JOB: I think that you will agree that the concern, both thematic and technical, at the center of your work is that of “opposites.” Do you become conscious of such a concern “after” you have written? That is, I am assuming something here about the creative process: you do not begin with “ideas.” At what point do you discover that this is what you are working with?

NM: Opposites. Impossibilities. I think that this is answered in my long digression for your third question. At some stage in my life I got this obsession with “impossibilities,” not in the first place as an idea but as an experience: love as both creative and destructive: peace being what people said they wanted, but being boring: happiness being what one aimed at, but which could not be held. And together with this, what seemed to be the fact that literature (“good” literature) could only easily deal with life being to do with “failure”—not with life as a successfully going concern. And this being not because writers are perverse, but because there is something deep here in the nature of language. And language of course is representative of something about the way in which “consciousness” or the powers of description of consciousness work. So the effort of imaginative writing becomes that of trying to “say the unsayable.” What else are we trying to do? And what better?

JOB: I have been trying, without much success, to “place” you in a tradition with other moderns. A few names come to mind—Ford (“The Good Soldier”), Flaubert (“Bouvard”), Joyce, O’Brien, Firbank, Henry Green, John Hawkes, Jean Rhys. This may be a question about influences; or, it may be asking you to identify writers with whom you feel in company. I am stuck by the fact that the writers you have mentioned in your letters do not seem similar to you—Fowles, Salinger, and Patrick White.

NM: When I was young William Faulkner was my great love, not just because of the density of style, but because he seemed to be dealing with the question not of “what will happen next” but “what is happening now.” The first Faulkner novel I read was “The Sound and the Fury,” which I got hold of when we liberated a POW camp in Italy in 1944 and I liberated the Red Cross Library. I was about twenty. I had never heard of Faulkner and the book was a knock-out; I’d never heard of anyone writing like this. Not only the style, but the way in which you don’t exactly know what on earth has happened or is happening till about page two hundred—then it all becomes apparent in a blinding flash. The whole book. This seemed to be not only intensely exciting (the wondering for two-hundred pages was exciting) but to be exactly like life. What in god’s name, after all, was I doing aged twenty in Italy in a war? After that I got hold of everything I could of Faulkner’s. On my early romantic/tragic level, I thought the perfect novel was “The Wild Palms.”

My other two loves which came slightly later were Proust and Henry James: Proust because of his specific idea about life being “impossible” except in terms of art and memory; Henry James because although in a way he is dealing with “what will happen next,” his constant subtleties of shifting of his, and his protagonists’, and his readers’ moral attitudes, make it into a question of “what is happening now”—I’m thinking of “The Awkward Age” or “What Masie Knew” or the end of “Wings of the Dove.” All these writers fed, and nurtured, my underlying passion; but I suppose were probably damaging to my style. I was haunted by Faulkner probably till “Meeting Place.”


Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Interview with Mary Helen Washington, author of The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s

Mary Helen Washington, The Other Blacklist

“I’m trying to restore that tradition of mid-century black left radical resistance, so that we don’t remember the 1950s only as the era of ‘integration’ but as the era of black civil rights radicalism. I’m restoring the other blacklist, the black blacklist.”—Mary Helen Washington

The following is an interview with Mary Helen Washington, author of The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s:

Question: Why did you choose to focus on the 1950s?

Mary Helen Washington: I came of age in the early 1950s in Catholic schools in Cleveland, Ohio, fed on a steady diet of anticommunism at school, and, at home, a steady diet of integration, but both of those prescribed lessons—anticommunism and integration—separated me from the story of radical civil rights activity. While the black left of the 1950s was protesting discrimination on every front, from residential segregation to unions and factories, we black kids were being taught that integration meant blacks becoming acceptable to the white mainstream. When the left-leaning National Negro Labor Congress (NNLC) came to Cleveland for their 1952 conference, they staged a protest downtown against the airlines for refusing to hire blacks. Since stories like these were blacklisted by the anticommunists as well as the integrationists, black kids grew up in the 1950s with no access to a critical discourse on race. Radicals used terms like white supremacy and racial justice, not integration, while black kids were learning that we should dress, act, and speak a certain way as a marker of acceptability, radicals were defining integration as claiming the rights of citizenship—as you can see from the NNLC poster featuring the Statue of Liberty as a black woman.

Q: Why did you call the book The Other Blacklist?

MHW: Most of what we know about the McCarthy era focuses on the white left. Communism is seen as a white left radicalism, though black civil rights activists were deeply involved in radical movements in the 1940s and 1950s. People who were investigated by J. Edgar Hoover for being communists were routinely asked if they were involved interracially because civil rights activity was considered radical. This is a very powerful and commendable radicalism that black people don’t get credit for. They weren’t the Hollywood Ten, but they were the New York/Chicago 100. There’s a fine documentary on screenwriter and novelist Dalton Trumbo and his admirable resistance to HUAC, but there’s no documentary on black radicals like Alice Childress, Lloyd Brown, Julian Mayfield, Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett or Lorraine Hansberry [some of the figures in my book], who also paid a price for their radicalism. I’m trying to restore that tradition of mid-century black left radical resistance, so that we don’t remember the 1950s only as the era of “integration” but as the era of black civil rights radicalism. I’m restoring the other blacklist, the black blacklist.

Q: You have a chapter called “Spycraft and the Black Literary Left.” Can you talk about the connection between government agencies, politics, and art?

MHW: Keep in mind that the Left and the Communist Party supported black artists when no one in white mainstream culture (with the exception of J. Edgar Hoover) showed any interest in black culture. They came to the defense of black culture because they saw art as a means to effect social and political change. One critic Willliam Maxwell says that Hoover should be considered an important historian of black culture becaue he always took black literary production seriously. The FBI files are thus a mixed blessing—a gold mine for biographical material because the FBI kept close track of the activities of radicals, and also a record of governmental abuse of artists and intellectuals. There’s a current play on Broadway about the life of Lyndon Johnson called All the Way that shows how relevant these issues still are. The character playing J. Edgar Hoover asks LBJ to justify his relationship with Martin Luther King because, Hoover claims, King is being advised by communists. The government, particularly in the age of McCarthy and Hoover, created the tradition of demonizing the Left that is still with us and that has resulted in the dismissal of an entire generation of black intellectuals and artists.

Q: Why is radicalism of the 1950s still relevant?

MHW: We’re grappling with the same issues today but without that radical perspective. I’m thinking about Rachel Jeantel in the Trayvon Martin case and all the discussion that was generated about Jeantel’s appearance and speech—the way she looked rather than the case itself. Another example is Paul Ryan saying “inner city” people live in a culture that doesn’t value work or doesn’t have a work ethic. And here we see how “inner city” becomes a code for “black.” The jurors from the Jordan Davis case in Florida, one white and one black, said that the Davis case, in which a black man was shot and killed because a white man thought his black music was too loud, was not about race. This kind of political illiteracy shows how and why we need what I call a critical racial discourse. As Boston Governor Deval Patrick said—“words matter.” Even more than words, the radical left—and, yes, I include communists– gave us examples of a powerful resistance. The Rosa Ingram case and the Trenton Six—which were also about racial violence inflicted on blacks– were fought in the courts, in the streets, and in African American artistic production. When Rosa Ingram was sentenced to death along with her two sons for killing a man she claimed had violently assaulted her, the left and civil rights groups organized the protests that eventually freed them, and, as part of that protest, artist Charles White made the Ingram case the subject of his 1949 drawing.


Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Interview with Jeffrey Bennett, author of “What Is Relativity,” Part 2

The following is the second part of an interview with Jeffrey Bennett, author of What Is Relativity?: An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why They Matter. You can read part one of the interview here.

What Is Relativity? Jeffrey BennettQuestion: You said above that relativity has “basic simplicity.” But relativity has a reputation for being very difficult. Which is it?

Jeffrey Bennett: The conceptual ideas of relativity are somewhat counterintuitive, but they are not difficult to understand. All you need is an open mind and a willingness to follow some simple “thought experiments” through to their logical conclusions, and then to consider the evidence that shows these conclusions to be correct. As to why relativity has a reputation for being difficult: For the most part, it’s an undeserved reputation coming from the fact that it seems weird when you first study it. However, if you want to go beyond understanding the concepts and actually use relativity to test scientific ideas or design new technologies, then you need to work with the mathematics of relativity as well as with the concepts. The mathematics can become quite involved, especially for general relativity, and I certainly hope that some of my younger readers will be inspired to learn this mathematics — but don’t worry, you won’t find any of this mathematics in my book, which focuses only on the conceptual ideas.

Q: Following up on that, you say that relativity can seem counterintuitive, but in the book you say it does not violate “common sense.” What do you mean?

JB: By definition, we can only have “common sense” about things that we commonly experience, and the surprising effects of relativity are not noticeable under the conditions of our everyday lives. Instead, they become noticeable only at speeds much faster than we ever travel, or in gravity far stronger than Earth’s. In the book I use an analogy to “up” and “down.” In our daily lives, common sense tells us that “up” is over our heads and “down” is below our feet, and this common sense works fine for things like basketball games. But if that was all there was to it, then people on the other side of Earth would fall off. The fact that they don’t fall of therefore tells us that our common sense isn’t telling us the whole story. In a similar way, the fact that relativity tells us that we’d measure space and time differently at high speeds means that our common sense about motion must not be the whole story either, even though it works fine for most things in our daily lives.

Q: You start the book with a chapter in which you take readers on an imaginary future voyage to a black hole, and in the process you say that “black holes don’t suck.” What do you mean by that?

Jeffrey Bennett: For some reason, it’s commonly assumed that if you went anywhere near a black hole, you’d be sucked in, or that if the Sun turned into a black hole then Earth would get sucked in. But it’s not true. At a distance, the gravity of a black hole is no different than the gravity of a more ordinary star, and you’d have to get extremely close to the black hole before you noticed any difference. Because black holes are so well known in popular culture, I decided that an imaginary journey in which we learned what would really happen on a voyage to a black hole would be a good way to introduce Einstein’s amazing ideas.


Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Interview with Jeffrey Bennett, author of “What Is Relativity?,” Part 1

The following is part one of an interview with Jeffrey Bennett, author of What Is Relativity?: An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why They Matter

What Is Relativity?,  Jeffrey BennettQuestion: Your book is titled What is Relativity? Ok, then, so what is it?

Jeffrey Bennett: Nearly everyone has heard of Einstein’s theory of relativity, perhaps because it is so prevalent in popular culture. For example, relativity lies behind real science ideas like black holes and the expanding universe, and also behind science fiction ideas of things like warp drive, hyperspace, and worm holes. The reason it comes up in these contexts is that the theory of relativity represents our current understanding of the nature of space, time, and gravity. As such, it provides the foundation of almost all of modern physics and astronomy, which means it also plays a critical role in modern technology. To sum up, relativity tells us how the universe actually works, and through technology it comes up in nearly everything we do in our daily lives.

Q: How does it gets its name? That is, what is “relative” about relativity?

JB: Let’s start by dispelling a common misconception: Einstein’s theory does not say that “everything is relative.” Rather, the theory refers specifically to the relativity of motion. You can think of it like running on a treadmill: If the display says you are running 6 miles per hour, it means that is your speed relative to the rubber mat on the treadmill. Your speed is different if you measure relative to something else. For example, your speed relative to the exercise room is zero, because you’re running in place; your speed relative to the Moon is nearly 1000 miles per hour, because that is the speed at which Earth’s rotation carries you in a circle around Earth’s axis each day; and your speed relative to the Sun is about 60,000 miles per hour, because that’s how fast Earth moves in its orbit. Einstein’s theory gets its name because it describes how measurements of space and time differ for observers moving relative to one another.

Q: You also say that “relativity” is in some sense a misnomer for Einstein’s theory, because the theory rests on foundations built from two absolutes. What are these absolutes?

JB: The theory gets its name from the relativity of motion, but the fact that motion is relative had already been known for centuries. So the real foundations of Einstein’s theory lie in his assertion that two particular things in nature are absolute: (1) The laws of nature are the same for everyone; and (2) the speed of light is the same for everyone. All the astonishing consequences of relativity can be derived from these two absolutes, both of which have been verified by countless observations and experiments.


Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Thursday Fiction Corner: An Interview with Melissa Malouf


“I should have but failed to include in the front matter of this novel something along the lines of: “The characters in this work are fictitious and have no relation to real persons.” But I’m glad I didn’t do that particular bit of lawyerese. It’s entirely true, but not.” – Melissa Malouf

We are proud to be distributing Dalkey Archive Press, one of the leading publishers of avant-garde fiction and literature in translation! In today’s edition of Thursday Fiction Corner, we have an interview with Melissa Malouf, author of More Than You Know. Enjoy!

Dalkey Archive Press: In More Than You Know, the main character, Alice, drives cross-country from California to Vermont. This is a very “American” experience. Hannah, who Alice is driving to confront, is Swiss. What made you make her foreign?

Melissa Malouf: Hannah Jensen, international transfer student, initially strikes Alice Clark as someone who needs her help, her friendship, her tutoring, her guidance on an American college campus. But the ways that Hannah turns out to be “foreign” have little to do with her country of birth, yes?

DAP: Alice refusing to play into Hannah’s game becomes a game unto itself. She has been dwelling on the death of her friends for far too long and the game truly feels like it has lasted 30 years. The Jensens, too, have been waiting all this time for Alice to come visit them in Vermont. I can’t help but wonder what the Jensens have been doing for the past 30 years. Did they have their own trajectory, their own story that you never wrote down?

MM: I can write down only what Alice finds out. And one of the things she finds out, from the policeman Burt Gonzales and from the Jensens themselves, is that THEY have continued, for all these years, to make room for boarders.

DAP: Who and what inspired the places and characters Alice meets along the way?

MM: Once I knew that Alice was going to make the trip across country, I had to figure out a route that she could manage.

I went to AAA and got several possible TripTiks. Alice is not a traveler, is not on an eat, pray, love mission, is not, as she says, “modern.” So the trip had to make sense. And I suppose this is where the characters she meets along the way come in: she may be making the “American” road trip, but she is, as they remind her, sometimes helpfully, an “innocent abroad” (and has been — not Hannah — all along?)

DAP: What were some of the inspirations for this book?

MM: I should have but failed to include in the front matter of this novel something along the lines of: “The characters in this work are fictitious and have no relation to real persons.” But I’m glad I didn’t do that particular bit of lawyerese. It’s entirely true, but not.


Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Philosophy as Narrative, Dialogue, Disruption: An Interview with Paul W. Kahn

Finding Ourselves at the Movies: Philosophy for a New Generation, Paul W. Kahn

Next up for our feature on Paul Kahn’s Finding Ourselves at the Movies, we highlight excerpts from the author’s recent interview with Critical Margins. Here, Kahn details some of the themes found in his book, as well as touches on some of the problems faced by philosophy today and how film can help to address them.

First of all, Paul, one of the first statements in your book is the following, “philosophy begins with narrative, not abstraction.” Could you give us some examples from both ancient times and our own day?

While there are fragments preserved from the pre-Socratics, Western philosophy begins its written tradition with Plato. Plato, however, wrote nothing that we would identify as a philosophical text. He wrote something that looked considerably more like drama. They were dialogues that addressed particular questions in a dramatic context.

The tradition of writing dialogues continued for some time in classical thought. Cicero and Seneca, for example, wrote dialogues. In modern philosophy, David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion may be the most famous. The narrative form of reflective inquiry is rooted for Westerners in Christ’s use of parables. Modern philosophers have sometimes used a narrative form – most famously in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In popular culture, I am reminded of the very successful work Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.

You say, “Increasingly, what we have in common is the movies.” Is that mainly because so many movies now are of the blockbuster type that millions flock to whereas other forms of media that we once shared (e.g., the evening newscast) have declined?

It is true that the movies that we most share are the blockbusters, which link us to audiences around the world. There is nothing else quite like that, except perhaps some television series that endlessly rerun, and maybe the Oscars. Movies with less popular appeal than blockbusters often link the members of smaller groups. We share the viewing habits of those with whom we are likely to find ourselves. I suspect that whatever we see, we want to talk about with our friends, partners, coworkers, and associates.

One of the aims of your book is to discuss the relationship between film and philosophy. On that note, could you please tell us what films you think reflect this statement from your book, “To imagine the possible is to construct a narrative?”

Every movie imagines the possible through the construction of a narrative. An account of natural development does not include the possible. We don’t say that an earthquake was one of several possible events. We say it happened and it had to happen because of shifts in the tectonic plates that preceded it. A narrative does not work that way. A narrative always sets the actual against the possible. We are interested in human stories because of the choices made, but choice requires a belief that other possibilities were present – the choice could have been different.


Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Does Multiverse Theory Bring Theology Into Science? An interview with Mary-Jane Rubenstein

Worlds Without End

In a recent interview with Andrew Aghapour at Religion Dispatches, Mary-Jane Rubenstein, author of Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse discusses her inspiration for studying the history of the idea of the “multiverse,” the complex philosophical and religious underpinnings of the idea of many worlds, and how religious thought is present in modern scientific multiverse theories.

What initially inspired you to write Worlds Without End?

Five or six years ago, I was clamoring to find something to write for a conference on energy, a topic about which I knew nothing at all. One morning, I came across a feature in the New York Times Magazine on “dark energy”: the negative pressure that’s accelerating the expansion of the universe, causing galaxies to race away from one another faster and faster as time goes on.

I was struck not only by the metaphorics of this substance (it’s said to be “dark,” “mysterious,” “strange,” “creepy”) but by the psychological instability it seemed to be causing among the researchers who discovered it (“no one expected this,” “it’s like hell without the fire,” “we’ll never understand this thing but we can’t not study it”). This was my entry point: as someone who studies the history of philosophy and theology, I was fascinated by a group of scientists professing a freaked-out, studious devotion to an inscrutable darkness. (more…)

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Interview with Caren Irr, author of Toward the Geopolitical Novel: U.S. Fiction in the Twenty-First Century

Toward the Geopolitical Novel, Caren IrrIn a wide-ranging interview with Critical Margins, Caren Irr discussed her new book Toward the Geopolitical Novel: U.S. Fiction in the Twenty-First Century. In the book, Irr argues that one of the dominant trends in twenty-first century American fiction are works that have a multinational or global reach. More precisely the works of writers such as Edwidge Danticat, William Vollman, Junot Diaz, Chris Abani, Susan Choi, and others are geopolitical in the sense that they explore issues arising in international disputes, travel, or networks.

Irr contends that the work of these contemporary writers differs from twentieth-century political novels not only because of the preponderance of interest in the global but because of its more skeptical attitude toward ideology or political doctrine. Irr explains:

The internationalism of the Old Left is an important source for some of the writers working in a contemporary geopolitical vein, but the concern with ideology and political conversion so apparent in mid-20th century works is usually absent in the new writing. The newer authors almost never position themselves as part of an international political movement, and very often they seem to be more concerned with documenting global processes rather than urging readers to adopt particular positions on them. In that sense, they tend to be problem novels rather than persuasion novels.

In the interview Irr also discusses the different genres that make up the twenty-first century geopolitical novel:

The genres I used to organize my project are all modifications of important existing forms. The digital migrant novel emerges out of immigrant assimilation narratives. The Peace Corps fugue is a variation on the political thriller. Neoliberal allegories develop out of the national allegory, while contemporary revolutionary fiction fuses the historical novel with apocalyptic near future fiction. Expatriate satires largely build on and invert conventions of the classic expatriate narratives of the 1920s.


Thursday, February 20th, 2014

The Post-Book


As close readers of our blog might have noticed in our recent New Book Tuesday posts, we are now distributing Dalkey Archive Press. Needless to say, we are very excited to be working with one of the leading publishers of avant-garde fiction and literature in translation. Today, we have a fascinating excerpt from a conversation in BOMB Magazine’s BOMBlog between S. D. Chrostowska, author of Permission, and Kate Zabreno. The two “discuss Permission, the vagaries of readership and publicity, rag-bags, and the transgressive novel as essay, commodity, and monster.” You can read the interview in its entirety here.

The Post-Book
S. D. Chrostowska

… By semi-public I did not mean small presses and poetic novels. I am not arguing for writerly oblivion, for self-mortification for the sake of Literature, unless as a ritual of asceticism. The existence of this literature is, as you point out, largely funded, dependent on grants and academic support. I am not romanticizing this. And I share what I take to be your concern over the increasingly public nature of writing as encouraging automatic over-sharing and self-indulgence. I think the book industry still keeps a tight rein on this, but not for long as literary publishing continues its transition to the digital. The blog and the book each have something to offer us. The blog is great for unlacing, for defining oneself by overstepping limits normally in place or, in the way you conceive it, as a counterattack against self-censorship, against the self-discipline that leads to partial self-erasure. The idea that no one reads us does, as you say, liberate, and publicness constrains. Anonymity is not the answer because we identify with Anon too. Nor is the answer to the problems that come with publicity to be found in the handwritten diary—not, anyway, for the self-aware writer who expects his/her private work to fall into the hands of others. As the standards relax thanks to the fluidity of written communication, professionalism and relative formalization catch up with us in the permissive online environment, which is neither a womb nor a solipsistic mind.

I am trying to highlight that there is no escape from publicity if you are a dedicated writer. Giving it up is not an option. One can resist some of it, discipline oneself spiritually for being overly invested in one’s public self, distracted from core concerns. And one can certainly fight against its pernicious systemic effects. This is what I find so refreshing and valuable in your work.

Isn’t it possible for the tide to turn? For certain writers to become semi-private without feeling they are sacrificing something—ambition, praise, recognition? For writers to go underground, where it is safe to say that with the aid of modern technology their work will be preserved for those who come later when the tide turns again? For writers to embrace ephemerality, not as preparatory for the real work of writing, not as a means of working up to the world of the book, but as valid in itself? For writers—some writers at least, or for some of the time—to self-semi-publish? (more…)

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Interview with Michael Yogg, author of “Passion for Reality: The Extraordinary Life of the Investing Pioneer Paul Cabot”

Passion for Reality, Michael YoggThe following is an interview with Michael Yogg, author of Passion for Reality: The Extraordinary Life of the Investing Pioneer Paul Cabot. Find out how to win a FREE copy of Passion for Reality!

Question: Why did you chose to write about Paul Cabot?

Michael Yogg: I knew Paul for the last 16 years of his life (1978-1994) and worked for his company for nearly two decades. I’ve spent most of my life in the investment business but have been trained as both an historian and an investor. Paul was an important pioneer of the mutual fund industry in the 1920s, when he was also known for his denunciations of corruption on Wall Street. He had a major hand in crafting New Deal securities legislation, including the Investment Company Act of 1940, which is still fundamental to mutual fund regulation. He was an extraordinary investor, in part due to his insistence on meeting managements face-to-face, long before most of his competitors did so. He also was among the first to value stocks on earnings, their price/earnings ratio and growth rate, rather than the more traditional dividend yield that had prevailed before the mid-1920s. He quintupled the Harvard endowment when he was treasurer. And he was a tough, no-nonsense corporate director. But the most important reason for the book is who he was, not what he did, his personality and his character.

Q: Tell us more about that.

MY: Paul received a traditional, upper-class Boston Brahmin upbringing, and this shaped his character. But he was also an iconoclast, a rebel really; his personality and his strong will made him stand out. When he discovered dishonest behavior he became incensed. In spite of all the ethical problems we face in the financial markets today, no one gets as angry as Paul did when he detected and publicized mutual fund price manipulation, and when the perpetrators tried to shut him up by pressuring a bank where he was a director. “I flamed up. I got so god damned mad.” His morality and his temper extended to his private life. When he was reprimanded for bringing his close friend Sidney Weinberg, a Jew who was then head of Goldman Sachs, to his private club, his response was to tell the club president to stick the club up his ass. And Paul promptly resigned. He accomplished more than his contemporaries because of his stubbornness and what today is called “out-of-the-box” thinking.


Monday, January 27th, 2014

Santiago Zabala on Communism’s Present and Future

“After all, politics is not supposed to be simply at the service of everyday administrative life, but also to provide a reliable guide for everyone to fully exercise existence. But when these and other obligations are not met, philosophers tend to become existentialist, that is, to question and propose alternatives.”—Santiago Zabala

Santiago Zabala, Hermeneutic Communism The Los Angeles Review of Books recently featured Hermeneutic Communism: From Heidegger to Marx, by Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala. In his review, Eduardo Mendieta wrote that the book, “teaches us that we not only have to interpret the inheritance of communism in ever more generative and creative ways, but also fashion a more ecumenical and humane ‘we,’ through the new stories we tell about how we got where we are today and where we should be going in the near future.”

The LARoB also published a wide-ranging interview with Santiago Zabala about the book and the resurgence of communism in political practice and theory. In the interview, Zabala also placed his and Vattimo’s views of communism and philosophy in the context of the works of a range of other thinkers, including Badiou, Heidegger, Derrida, Searle, and Fukuyama. For Zabala and Vattimo, the failure of the Soviet State or communist political parties has ultimately:

[D]isclosed its unrealized potentialities that must be endorsed in order to modify, as Slavoj Žižek puts it, the “coordinates of what appears as possible and give birth to something new.” Hence communism is not an eternal set of rules that are present in every epoch of history to be applied rapidly, but simply a movement that “has to be reinvented in each new historical situation.”

Zabala continues:

However, communism is not proposed any longer as a program for political parties to repeat previous historical regimes, but rather as an existential response to the current neoliberal global condition. The correlation between existence and philosophy is constitutive not only of most philosophical traditions but also of politics in its responsibility for the existential well-being of humans. After all, politics is not supposed to be simply at the service of everyday administrative life, but also to provide a reliable guide for everyone to fully exercise existence. But when these and other obligations are not met, philosophers tend to become existentialist, that is, to question and propose alternatives.


Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Interview with Gaurav Desai, author of Commerce with the Universe: Africa, India, and the Afrasian Imagination

Commerce with the UniverseThe following is an interview with Gaurav Desai, author of Commerce with the Universe: Africa, India, and the Afrasian Imagination:

Question: The subtitle of your book refers to the “Afrasian” Imagination. Can you explain the term “Afrasian”?

Gaurav Desai: My book is concerned with the ways in which a number of individuals and communities that have historically traversed the Indian Ocean have imagined their lives and their interactions with communities that have been ethnically and culturally different from their own. The book, for the most part, looks at narratives of South Asians in East Africa writing in the twentieth century, but I frame their lives in the longer history of commerce across the Indian Ocean ever since antiquity.

I dedicate a chapter on Amitav Ghosh’s In an Antique Land which itself provides a theoretical and methodological model for reading such lives contrapuntally. Here the life and travel of a twelfth century Tunisian Jewish merchant and his Indian slave Bomma gets read against more contemporary travels across the Indian Ocean. In invoking the term “Afrasian,” which, incidentally I borrow from Michael Pearson, I hope, like him, to signal an inclusive space of exchange that is not ethnocentrically delineated. My usage of the term “Afrasian” is meant not to delineate a particular ethnic community – such as South Asians in East Africa – but rather the entire nexus of individuals who have historically crossed (and continue to cross) what we have conventionally called the “Indian” Ocean. Thus, the Tunisian Jew Ben Yiju is as much of an Afrasian as the twentieth century merchant Kalidas Nanji Mehta who is also the subject of one of my chapters.

Q: In some senses, your own biography interests with the concerns of the book. Reading through your book, one gets the distinct sense of an author who is working with lived knowledge, presenting a first-hand account of the lives and texts of South Asians in Africa. Yet, you only address this in the last few paragraphs of the book.

GD: I chose not to situate my personal history upfront, since I didn’t want the book to be read as being about me. But in a way, it is true that my readings of both the fictional and autobiographical narratives by South Asians in East Africa draw on my experience as an Indian teenager moving from Bombay (now Mumbai) to East Africa (first Nairobi and then Dar es Salaam) in the early eighties. I am sure that even the texts that I chose to focus on address questions and concerns that I have privately pursued for a long time.

To give just one concrete example – one of the prevalent stereotypes that I challenge in the book is that of the Indian businessman or corporate manager as being someone completely lacking interest in literature and the arts. This stereotype has always wrung false to me since my own interest in literature and theater was most enthusiastically nurtured by my father who happened to be one of those corporate types. When I turned in the book to what some might call CEO narratives – those of Mehta, Madhvani and Manji – I was more interested in looking at the role of literature, art and the imagination in shaping their lives than in any practical wisdom that they might have to offer to aspirant CEOs. In a broader framework, I was keen on exploring the connections between the world of commerce and the imaginative world of literature in order to suggest that what many consider to be antithetical pursuits may not necessarily be so.


Friday, December 20th, 2013

Interview with Nancy Warner, Coauthor of “This Place, These People”

Nancy Warner, This Place, These People

The following is an interview with Nancy Warner whose photographs accompany text by David Stark in This Place, These People: Life and Shadow on the Great Plains. To view photographs and excerpts from the book click here, here, and here.

Question: What is your own personal relationship to rural Nebraska? How did this shape the project and your choices as a photographer?

Nancy Warner: Coauthor David Stark is my cousin. Our great-grandfather, August Stark, filed a claim under the Homestead Act in Elkhorn Township, Cuming County Nebraska in 1865. Part of that farm is still in our family. I made the first photographs in this series in the old house on the Stark farm place. After that, relatives and people in the area helped me find other places to photograph. The combination of my own emotional connection with such places, dramatic lighting, and richly textured surfaces inspired me from the beginning.

Q: The images and words in the book do not have a direct relationship in the sense that the photos do not necessarily illustrate the words and the words do not explain the photographs. How did you and David conceive of the words and images as working together in the book?

NW: David and I paired the photographs with the text based on the voices themselves: the sounds, rhythms, and emotions that seemed best to set off the feeling of each photograph. We were inspired, in part, by the photo texts of Wright Morris.

Q: Was there a particular rationale for not including photographs of the people who contributed their thoughts about life in rural Nebraska?

NW: The focus of this photographic project has been the buildings themselves. The people are present in their voices, and in the stories told by the photographs. As Wright Morris says in The Inhabitants, “In all my life I’ve never seen anything so crowded,so full of something, as the rooms of a vacant house.”

Q: You cite the photographs of Solomon Butcher and Wright Morris as inspiring your photographs. To what extent do you see these photographs as part of a longer tradition of depicting rural America?

NW: The photographers mentioned in the afterword are only a few of the many who have recorded life on the Great Plains since the middle of the nineteenth century. Solomon Butcher stands out for me in part because, as David says in the afterword, “While Solomon Butcher’s photographs portray objects in familial surroundings, Nancy Warner’s photographs portray objects in abandonment. Almost 150 years after Butcher persuaded the homesteaders to pose outdoors with their possessions, Nancy goes into the decaying buildings to photograph what’s left behind.” Many of Wright Morris’s photographs also feature interiors and the objects they contain.

Q: Many of the photographs capture images of decay and desolation but to what extent do you see the photographs as preserving or providing a documentation of a way of life that is fading?

NW: David’s afterword describes the settlement of the area and changes in farming practices that led to the abandonment of the farm houses. Farming is still very much alive in Cuming County today, but there are fewer small family farms. One way of life is fading, but the farming way of life continues to evolve. The emotions evoked by the photographs help to keep these places and a simpler time alive in the memories of readers.

Q: What has been the reaction of the photographs and the book among people in rural Nebraska?

NW: The book has been well-received in Nebraska. Since the book has come out and articles about it have been published, I’ve heard from many Midwesterners who’ve thanked me for doing it and told me stories about their own home places. The people in Cuming county are proud to have been part of the different stages of the project, and consider the book their own.

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Joseph Cirincione talks Iran with Fareed Zakaria

Nuclear Nightmares

This week our featured book is Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late by Joseph Cirincione. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we have a video from Joseph Cirincione’s recent interview with Fareed Zakaria

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Nuclear Nightmares!

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

Interview with Richard J. Meyer, author of “Wang Renmei: The Wildcat of Shanghai”

Wang Renmei

The following is an interview with Richard J. Meyer, author of Wang Renmei: The Wildcat of Shanghai. In the interview Meyer discusses Wang’s onscreen career as well as her turbulent off-screen life and his own interest in Chinese film:

Question: How did you get interested in Chinese silent films?

Richard J. Meyer: I had the opportunity to visit the Taipei, Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai film archives when I was a Fulbright Scholar at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University in 1996. I had studied silent films at New York university as a PhD candidate. The first Chinese silent films I screened were at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in Italy in 1995. I realized then that they had never before been available in the West.

Q: Is that why you have produced several DVD’s of Chinese silent films?

RJM: Yes. I restored the films and commissioned musical scores to accompany them. I also recommended that the publisher of my books include DVD’s of them with each publication.

Q: Why did you write about Wang Renmei?

RJM: I had written books about famous stars of Shanghai films before, namely, Ruan Ling Yu, whose funeral procession attracted 300,000 people in 1934, and Jin Yan, the handsome hulk referred to as “the Rudolf Valentino of Shanghai.” Jin was married to Wang Renmei and the story of her life captivated me.

Q: What in particular interested you about her?

RJM: Her life reflected the turbulent period of China’s history in the twentieth century. What is more revealing is that her life was intertwined with Mao Zedong. Wang’s father was Mao’s teacher in Hunan where both grew up. The young Mao stayed in Wang’s house and often played with her when she was a small child. Later, he helped her get out of trouble during the Cultural Revolution.

Q: What DVD did you include with Wang Renmei: Wildcat of Shanghai

RJM: Wild Rose is her first starring role and her co-star is Jin Yan. Wang demonstrated her ebullience and zest for life in her performance. She charmed audiences and became famous as a result of her exuberance on the screen.

Q: What do you like especially in the film?

RJM: There is a scene in which Wang as a peasant girl is introduced to the wealthy parents of Jin Yan who had purchased modern clothes for her in Shanghai. The story is almost a Chinese pygmalion. She is seen attempting to walk in high heels and falling to the floor at the feet of the father. Later, she knocks over a tea cart and is thrown out of the mansion.

Q: How would you describe Wang Renmei as an actress?

RJM: Before she was discovered as a movie star, Wang was the leading performer for the Bright Moon Singing and Dancing Troop. Wang had a haunting voice and sang the theme song in The Song of the Fishermen which was China’s first international award winner at the Moscow Film Festival in 1934. The skills she had learned as a stage performer translated to her performance on the screen. Her enthusiasm plus her singing endeared her to countless numbers of fans throughout China.

Q: How do the films produced in Shanghai produced during the 1930′s compare with contemporary Chinese films?

RJM: The films of early Shanghai were more daring in their criticism of social conditions in Chinese society and the anti-Japanese atmosphere. Even though the government censored all films, the directors and writers were able to camouflage the message by using the melodramatic soap opera formula.

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Steve Hamm on Smart Machines and the Era of Cognitive Computing

Yesterday we heard from John E. Kelly III in a lengthy conversation about his experience as a researcher at IBM and his take on the history of computing as well as his vision of its future. Today we hear from the co-author of Smart Machines: IBM’s and the Era of Cognitive Computing, Steve Hamm.

In the interview, Hamm considers how congnitive computing represent the third stage in the evolution of computers. He also explains how these new “smart machines” are different than their predecessors and particularly equipped for the age of big data:

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Interview with Steve Hamm, coauthor of Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing

Smart Machines, Steve Hamm and John KellIn the following interview, Steve Hamm coauthor of Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing, discusses cognitive computing and how it is changing the work and research being done at IBM and elsewhere:

Q: What is the era of cognitive computing?

Steve Hamm: John Kelly and other leaders at IBM believe that we’re on the cusp of a new era in computing. Scientists at IBM and elsewhere are creating machines that sense, learn, reason and interact with people in new ways. These machines will help people overcome our mental biases and penetrate complexity so we can make better decisions.

You can think of a cognitive system as a truly intelligent assistant that helps individuals live and work more successfully, and that helps organizations become more efficient and effective. The implications are huge for individuals, businesses and society as a whole. With these technologies, we will be able to make the world work better and more sustainably.

Q: Is IBM Watson a cognitive computer?

SH: Scientists in IBM Research see Watson as a transitional technology. Using machine learning, natural language processing and statistical techniques, they were able to achieve an amazing feat: to beat two past grand-champions at the TV quiz show Jeopardy! Watson represents a major first step toward the era of cognitive systems—and, in fact, the Watson technology of today is much improved over the technology that was showcased on Jeopardy!

However, scientists at IBM and elsewhere are working on advances in a wide range of technology fields, including learning systems, information management, and hardware systems design, which will ultimately produce computers that are very different from today’s machines. They will operate more like the human brain works, though they will be by no means a replacement for human intelligence. They’ll be extremely powerful yet also extremely power efficient.


Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Antonio Negri in conversation with Gabriele Fadini

Spinoza for Our Time

This week our featured book is Spinoza for Our Time: Politics and Postmodernity, by Antonio Negri, translated by William McCuaig and with a foreword by Rocco Gangle. We’ve excerpted brief parts of a longer conversation between Antonio Negri and Gabriele Fadini from the journal Rethinking Marxism, in which Negri discusses the role of political theology in relation to his own political philosophy.

Be sure to enter our Book Giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Spinoza for Our Time!

Materialism and Philosophy

Gabriele Fadini: … [T]heology can be seen as a constituent element of revolutionary process even without knowing it as such. Thomas Muntzer and his political theology ofthe revolution gives us an example, and nowadays some of his ‘‘descendants’’ like Camilo Torres and the liberation theology movement continue the struggle for liberation in Latin America, leading us to reflect on these themes. What are your thoughts about this tradition?

Antonio Negri: At times there is a certain type of theology that intersects with revolutionary events. It is necessary, however, to clearly designate exactly what kind of theology we are speaking about. We must be clear here because it is equally certain that not all theologies cross revolutionary phenomena but, on the contrary, there are some theologies that cross the opposite of revolution: namely, pure ideological reproduction of Empire.

Theology becomes important for revolutionary thinking when charity and love (agape and amor) are assumed to be unrestrainable powers–where, in other words, the same logos, the same rationality is placed at love’s disposal. From this point of view, amor has first an epistemological, and then soteriological, importance. That is, it is love that individuates which are the forces and the powers that can develop the common and, through the common, realizes more and more charity. This epistemological power of love is joined to a power of liberation. Liberation here emerges as a thorough materialism, which moves from a focus on soteriology to all-out revolution. In this sense, it is necessary to try to understand what is the relation between charity and poverty, love and poverty–that is, the relation between theology and history, theology and politics.

There are two paths. The first is one in which poverty is equated with power, and so the relation between theology and politics is possible because poverty is the capacity to express different forms of love, the organization of passions, and ultimately the unfolding of desire. In the second, poverty is that flat and desperate situation that only the transcendental can redeem. It is clear that it is only the first conception of poverty that can make amor operational. That is, it is clear that only the nonmystical determination of poverty can give love a political role.


Monday, October 7th, 2013

Interview with Michael Emmerich, author of The Tale of Genji: Translation, Canonization, and World Literature

The following is an interview with Michael Emmerich, author of The Tale of Genji: Translation, Canonization, and World Literature. In the interview, Emmerich discusses, among other subjects, how The Tale of Genji became a classic of Japanese literature, how it changed reading habits, its place in world literature, and his first experience with the novel:

The Tale of Genji, Michael EmmerichQuestion: We tend to think of The Tale of Genji as a kind of immortal classic but in fact its history is more complicated. How did it become a national classic or emblematic of Japanese culture and literature?

Michael Emmerich: Genji was written in the early eleventh century, so of course the story of how it achieved its present status as one of the preeminent classics of both national and world literature is very long—a millennium long, in fact—and very complex. I argue that while Genji came to be regarded as a “treasure” very early on at an elite level, ordinary readers had little or no interest in the tale until surprisingly recently. The work that first managed to interest a truly popular readership in Genji—if only indirectly—was a sort of early modern graphic novel called A Fraudulent Murasaki’s Bumpkin Genji that was published over the course of thirteen years, from 1829 to 1842. The way I see it, Bumpkin Genji was crucial because it inspired for the first time in a popular readership the desire to know more about Genji, and then offered itself up as an enjoyable means of satisfying that desire, without actually having to read Genji itself. In other words, Bumpkin Genji popularized the notion of the complete translation of Genji into vernacular Japanese. Then, almost exactly a century later, from 1939 to 1941, the novelist Tanizaki Jun’ichirō published a translation into the Japanese of his day that became a best-seller. That was when Genji really came to be re-canonized not just as a celebrated but unread “treasure,” but as a “national classic” in the sense of “a classic of the Japanese people”—as a work for which, and to which, Japan and its citizens were somehow responsible.

Q: What has been the role of The Tale of Genji in the popularization of Japanese literature in English?

ME: Scholars have long recognized the importance of Arthur Waley’s translation of the tale, The Tale of Genji, which was issues in six volumes from 1925 to 1933. Waley’s version was widely read, and was praised by reviewers from the time its first volume appeared as one of the great works of world literature. In my book, though, I explore the role an earlier partial translation that has now been largely forgotten played in making Genji known—though less as a literary classic than as a portrait of eleventh-century Japan, and as a work by a woman writer. This translation, published in England in 1882, was done by a young Japanese named Suematsu Kenchō. At the time, the publication of a work translated from Japanese was such a rarity that it was actually considered newsworthy, and the notion that women writers had played such a crucial role in creating what is now known as classical Japanese literature made its appearance even more sensational. It’s hard to say how much of an effect the attention Genji garnered, first in 1882, then in 1925, then in 1976 with the publication of Seidensticker’s translation, and again in 2001 when Royall Tyler’s appeared, has had in popularizing Japanese literature more broadly, but I do think it has helped give people an image of Japanese literature as something worth paying attention to.

Q: How has the reception of The Tale of the Genji changed over time?

ME: To tell the truth, I’m somewhat skeptical of the notion of “reception.” In the case of Genji, hardly anyone reads it in the original classical Japanese these days, and even fewer people read it in the form in which it was originally circulated—in calligraphic manuscript rather than typeset book. Instead, most people come into contact with Genji through what I call “replacements.” Translations are perhaps the paradigmatic form of replacement, but there are all kinds of other replacements, too: digests, guides, movies, manga, artworks, designs on kimono. So many people have created so many different kinds of replacements of the tale over the millennium since it first appeared that it would take a book even to begin to explore the trajectory they have followed—as it happens, Columbia University Press has published just such a book: Envisioning the Tale of Genji, edited by Haruo Shirane—but I think one might at least say that, over the centuries, the forms Genji’s replacements take have moved further and further away from the forms in which it was first circulated.


Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Interview with Laura Frost, author of The Problem with Pleasure

“It’s a rare work of academic literary criticism that finds a general audience. There is still a kind of snobbery—not unlike the modernists’, actually—that if it’s not ponderous, contorted, and insular, then it’s not serious. God forbid that scholarly work should be fun, stylish, and have a distinctive voice.”—Laura Frost

Laura Frost, The Problem with PleasureThe following is an interview with Laura Frost, author of The Problem with Pleasure: Modernism and Its Discontents. For more from Frost, you can also read her post “Of Muscle Cars and Modernism,” (part 1, part 2). We are also offering a FREE copy of the book!

Question: Why focus on pleasure in modernism? What exactly was the problem that modernists’ had with pleasure?

Laura Frost: If you read a lot of modern literature, you appreciate “the fascination of what’s difficult.” It’s tough going: it involves a lot of deciphering, decoding, and interpretation. This is something all scholars in the field acknowledge, but it tends to get lost or naturalized as modernist techniques become familiar to us. When you teach modern lit to undergraduates, for example, it reminds you of how challenging it is. While the students are asking, “Why is this author making things so hard for me?” you are trying to convince them that it’s interesting, consequential, and, well, fantastic. Modern critics and writers constantly invoked the concept of pleasure and difficulty to distinguish their project from other forms of culture.

Q: How would they define or defend difficulty as a pathway to pleasure?

LF: The critic Q. D. Leavis, for example, described popular fiction, cinema, dancing, newspapers, and radio as producing “cheap and easy pleasure,” while she argued that modernist fiction gives rise to pleasure that has to be struggled for and earned: pleasure that almost doesn’t even correspond with conventional definitions of pleasure. Remember, this is the period of Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle, which explores the attractions of contorted, painful, and seemingly unpleasurable pleasure. That’s a great description of modernist readerly pleasure. The usual ways of thinking about modernism, such as the high/low or elite/popular culture divide are actually based on these distinctions about different qualities of pleasure. However, even as modernists set up these distinctions and valorize hard cognitive labor, they clearly recognized the attractions of the culture (popular novels, cinema, and so on) they put down, and they are constantly sneaking in similar techniques. So if you consider modern literature through the lens of pleasure, you get a new reading of old paradigms, a new understanding of interwar culture, and a new understanding of what it means to read and enjoy modernism.

Q: The role of technology plays an important role in your book. How did new technologies and the explosion of popular mass media shape modernists’ views of pleasure?

LF: Mechanized, automatic pleasure is something many modernists criticized as inauthentic and meaningless: “fake pleasure.” Emergent technology was thought to facilitate this effortlessness, in which machines do not so much alienate (like, say, the mechanisms in Chaplin’s Modern Times) as they make simple, somatic pleasure all too accessible.

Cinema was a key example of this ambivalence about technology and pleasure. Authors describe cinema spectatorship as intoxicating, distracting, regressive, hypnotic, and escapist, but also as disorienting, alienating, addictive, boring, or even nauseating. The circumstances of cinema going—sitting passively in the dark and watching–were thought to produce a distinctive mental and physical reaction in the viewer. The addition of sound added a new dimension: many critics of early talkies felt that there was something overwhelming about all this stimulation. The momentous transition from cinematic silence to sound in the interwar period is a recurring reference point for the authors I examine: for example, it underpins the pornographic “feelies” in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World; My book weaves films such as D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance, The Jazz Singer, the blockbuster Rudolph Valentino film The Sheik, British nature documentaries (The Secrets of Nature), Douglas Fairbanks comedies, and Felix the Cat cartoons throughout the story of modern literature as authors set up cinematic pleasure as a foil for the more deliberate, cognitive pleasures of reading.

Q: Your book ends with a discussion of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Does the modernists’ ambivalent, difficult relationship with pleasure have anything to say about our contemporary era that at times seems awash in entertainment and pleasure?

There’s a scene in the film Before Midnight (2013) where a group of characters sits around a dinner table and the talk turns to pleasure. The Julie Delpy character, Celine, brings up a classic scientific experiment about pleasure, where James Olds and Peter Milner embedded electrodes in the brains of rats, allowing them to stimulate the pleasure-centers of their brains. The rats neglected food, water, and their young in order to keep feeling good. (David Foster Wallace also writes about this experiment in Infinite Jest.) Celine’s husband, Jess (Ethan Hawke), speculates that we have become like the rats, that “we’re pleasure-obsessed, porn-addled materialists, ceding our humanity to technology at the same moment that computers are becoming sentient.” The modernist nightmare of amusement on demand has been realized, at least for those who can afford it. Leaving aside the computers and the electrodes, the discussion about virtual pleasure is not that different from the early twentieth century debates about culture. There was a widespread sense that technologies of mass culture were corrosive because they made simple, base pleasure too accessible, and that people were mindlessly consuming them.