Transcript of Diet Soap 195: Former People

Transcription by P.H. Higgins

While You’re Waiting: Another Podcast Appearance

From Diet Soap 195: Former People

Original Link: https://formerpeople.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/while-you-are-waiting-another-podcast-appearance/

Working Link to Audio: https://douglaslain.net/diet-soap-podcast-195-people/

00:54 [Introduction]

Douglas Lain

Hello and welcome to the 195th episode of the Diet Soap Podcast. This week I talk to the editors of Former People. Former People is an online literary journal run by C. Derick Varn and Steven Michalkow. I know I’m saying his name wrong but forgive me. It is Wednesday, October 23, 2013; just around 11 o Clock, and I am Douglas Lain the host of this podcast…

02:27

D

C Derick Varn and Steven Michalkow are editors of the online journal Former People. Steven is a native of Chicago, a prose writer for such fine publications as The Hypocrite Reader, and a management consultant. C Derick Varn lives and teaches in Torreón, Mexico. He is also the editor of The North Star blog, a writer whose work has appeared in Writing Disorder and Unlikely 2.0 and he’s my cohost on the Pop the Left podcast. But today we’re going to not talk about politics but aesthetics, literature, and what it means to be a “former person.” So, guys, thank you very much for coming onto Diet Soap. 

03:12

C. Derick Varn

Thanks for having us, great to be here.

03:17

D

So, okay, to start out: what does the name of your online publication mean?

03:24

C

Steven do you want to handle that? Or do you want me to?

03:27

Steven A. Michalkow

Sure, I can start. So, it is derived, in part, from the book [Former People by Douglas Smith] and then the concept of a Former Person in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. Namely, it was the result of the aristocracy having not only having lost in both the revolutions, the provisional government revolution and then finally in the Red Revolution, and then in the civil war basically becoming Former People: they were no longer a part of the conversation; they were, as it were, outside of the society. And that has certain relevance, at least for me personally given family history being similar to that, if not identical to that. But also, the whole concept of the whole situation of modernism as-such in the contemporary literary setting. It feels somewhat similar; if not sort of a condition of being ostracized, at the very least a subtle acknowledgement that you have passed your epoch. And now you have to give way to something else.

04:43

D

Derick, do you want to add to that?

04:45

C

I’ll add a little bit to that, because for me it’s even a little bit… it’s a little bit even more than that. The key thing about, for me, with the Former People, particularly after the Civil War, they’re literally named “Former People.” It’s not a catch-all title, that’s what the government calls them. So, they have no workers’ rights or whatever. And not just the former aristocracy, we’re talking about the children of the former aristocracy were these people, who did not really do anything in the revolution, prior to the revolution, because they were too young. And the catch to that is, even though you’re replaced by a new epoch, my reading of Soviet history is that, that epoch isn’t even what it claims to be. So, you’re being replaced by a dishonest epoch. And it’s actually in the same spirit of the other blog that I write which is called Disloyal Opposition to Modernity. Which can get confusing because Former People is about literary neomodernism and Disloyal Opposition to Modernity is about philosophical and political modernism, and they just happen to use the same word.

06:04

D

Okay… huh…

06:06

C

They’re not actually related… [or] they’re related but they’re not actually the same things.

06:10

D

So, these Former People, after the Red Revolution, they weren’t organizing politically against the Bolsheviks?

06:22

C

Not at all. A lot of them, some of them, were liberal allies. Some of them just tried to hide out. Some were friends with leaders, with different leaders of the Russian Communist Party who fell out of favor; so, some of them were friends with Zinoviev, some of them had ties to Kirov…. But the thing is, because of the way they were [categorized] you could pretty much put them in a gulag or execute them for any reason. Like, more than … most people, even in Stalin’s Russia, you had to at least have a show trial. But children of the aristocracy weren’t even entitled to that, they could just be liquidated. 

07:03

D

And what was the big threat from the former aristocracy to the new regime? Why were these people needing to be erased? What was their… Do you know?

07:14

C

Do you want to take care of that, Steven? Because it’s closer to your family background than mine. 

07:19

S

So, there are a variety of reasons one could conceivably think this way. There’s certain elements of the whole notion of a sort of counterrevolution, [a] resurgency. Admittedly, the civil war just happened, and many of these people, if not directly, were involved in it. Family members were involved in it. The idea of a restoration was basically not going to be tolerated, nor even thoughts of contemplating such a reality. So that sort of happened in there. And arguably there’s a certain, if you want to get just vaguely emotional about it, a certain degree of resentment. It’s like, “no we are not going to allow any sort of vestige of the past going forward. This is going to be a reconstituted society.” 

08:13

C

Yeah, and… and you know, again, we [unintelligible 08:19] back to the political, we’re all bogged down in the history. Or, non-political, but we’re all bogged down in the history. But… I think it’s very interesting, to me, that despite all the talk of proletarianization, you know, and Marxism that, if you had been opposed to the proletariat, [but] if you worked for the common good of the proletariat, you could be a part of the future; after the Civil War that’s just not allowed. Which is interestingly strange because most of the leaders of the Bolsheviks weren’t… also weren’t of the proletarian class. So… But they weren’t of the aristocratic classes. And a lot of the Former People even admitted that half of what they got they had earned. I mean, there’s a really good book on it, and there’s a couple of the families who really talk about, like, who say that the Russian aristocracy was the reason why the Bolsheviks happened. Not the Jews, not any of the other things going on in the right-wing of Russia; and they were even sort of Liberal allies, but their children were still liquidated in the purges. You know, and some of these people were even kind of down outside of Russia. So, they really wanted to get rid of them.

09:37

D

Yeah. Well, what I’m curious about is not so much the unfairness or the inhumanity that was on display after the Red revolution, but the motive behind it. This fear of restoration that lay behind it even though these Former People were sometimes allies and were not organized politically. [That] there was this uneasiness, this anxiety in the Bolshevik party I guess about the former aristocracy. Now, your magazine is called Former People; are you guys aiming for some sort of restoration for what’s been lost? 

10:23

C

I would say no, because we don’t consider ourselves modernists. We use the term neomodernist, and we use it for a reason. But what we’re interested in are some of the questions that I feel like literary postmodernism has swept away, particularly in what would sort of be considered high or academic literature. And… and I think it’s like, you know, it’s tied to both reactions to communism and reactions to capitalism, but basically that most art that considers itself high art is more and increasingly concerned with irony and flippancy and all that. And I keep on hearing that that’s supposed to be over, right? Since the 90’s I’ve heard that that’s supposed to be over, but I don’t know, Jonathan Franzen seems pretty damn flippant to me. So, we’re sort of reacting to that. We, you know, we would… we’re interested in that conflict, and we have some theories on that too, some of which I think you might be interested in Doug, particularly given what you write, but where those questions that were a big part of the 20th century literary [issues], where they went. Where they’re being dealt with now…

11:51

[Intermission]

14:05

S

If there’s a restoration of something going on, I don’t think it’s so much an exact, you know, “let’s reproduce the exact tones and flourishes of modernism,” as much as, you know, re-exploring a point of view.

14:23

D

And this is something you both have said which I find interesting, because you both have said “no, we’re not trying to restore modernism.” But I kind of think of the Soviet revolution as an example of modernism, and the Former People being something else. Being, romantics or… I’m not sure what literary school I’d put these former people in, but it seems like they would have a kind of authority that wasn’t modern. It would be pre-modern. 

14:53

S
Well, then, we’re left with the question of how do you deal with a character, admitted he’s outside of the Russian context, but how do you deal with a character like T.S. Eliot? Or arguably, more to the Russian context, how do you dear with a character like Vladimir Nabokov? Or… 

15:11

C

Or Bulgakov.

15:13

S

Or Bulgakov, yes, exactly. I don’t think you could fairly call these three gentlemen romantics. They were certainly influenced by it just given their situation in time, but I think what you will see in these, basically in modernism in general, and then in these three particular instances is… You know: what is modernism? It’s a response of some kind to “The New,” or the conditions in which they found themselves. So, in the aftermath of World War One, all sort of notions about, be it aesthetic criteria, or conceptions about what the good life is, or what art is; everything sort of just gets blown asunder by the events of 1914 going onwards. And what I think you see in Eliot, and in Nabokov in a way, and perhaps even in Bulgakov, is this idea of “we remember this culture that had some sort of meaning or had some sort of structure to it, but we acknowledge that we are no longer in that position where it holds through. It’s shattered in many obvious ways.” So, they’re trying to deal with the navigation through this environment while, at the same time, remembering, you know, these things that have passed. So, I don’t think they were out to, as it were, necessarily restore any old-fashioned notions of this, that, or the other, as much as they were using that point of view to reflect on what they were experiencing in their now. 

16:55

C

And I would like to add to that too, a little bit more on the Russian context. Because, the avant-garde in America, and early on in Russia, was associated with Communism and with the Soviet project. But that association doesn’t last very long at all! Most of the avant-garde architects and writers in Russia who were tied to Lenin and the early Revolution are liquidated by 1937. They’re almost all dead. And a lot of, a whole lot of the modernists in the Anglophone world, you know, who had ties to communist parties, they also turn away. You see that with the Surrealists, you see that with Auden. You see that with… to a lesser degree with William Carlos Williams and some people [who] kind of flirted with Socialism; and then you also see a lot of the more ambivalent writers, Eliot being the prime example, they become more and more reactionary over time. And interestingly, in the States, as they become more reactionary, they’re actually more considered to be Communists. So, for example, there was this big movement in the 1940s 50s to get rid of modernism from the college curriculum because it was considered to be Communist. Which is kind of crazy to me because, at the same time, what communism was embracing as its literary standard wasn’t that far from what these old, mostly Christian people in the government were trying to push, because the communists were pushing Soviet Realism which was actually a throwback to 19th-century art. And, in the Americas, that’s really what… that’s what they wanted to! They didn’t like this avant-garde stuff, what they wanted was good old realistic fiction. Even though, you know, most of the early modern social realists did have vaguely socialist sympathies, if they weren’t outright Communists in the States. That was much more okay than Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound, even though those were Fascist sympathizers. So it was a really weird time, and it sort of, I mean, you know, I have a bunch of material theories for this, but it sort of collapses in the 60s; and things start getting, in my mind, kind of weird, and you start seeing the emergence of high modernism blurring into postmodernism, and then postmodernism becoming more and more obsessed with flippancy. 

19:45

D

So what you’ve done is you’ve associated modernism with these Former People, even though at the moment when that happened the avant-garde, anyway, was set against the Former People, at least formally. Now, you’re trying to, not resurrect modernism, but maybe find the next step? So, you’re really actually looking forward rather than looking back, even though you’re referring to these Former People.

20:17

C

Well, I think that a lot of, to go back to the analogy, I think a lot of the children of the aristocracy, if you actually follow their lives, because the Former People… most of the aristocracy, by the time the former people come to existence, let’s be clear: they’re dead. They died in the civil war, or they died in the revolutions. These are the children, and it’s like the children of a lost age. It’s weird because it happens that terminology turns up in the United States but for a very, very different reason, you know, we’re not talking about… no one was liquidating, you know, the Lost Generation. Well, maybe other than World War Two. So, you have this, this issue of, the metaphor is actually quite precise: “we’re not people who are the old way, we’re their children.” And looking at the aesthetic values of that, and some of the conclusions we come to might not resemble at all the conclusions of the modernists. One of the problems we have in submissions is a lot of people think we want modernist pastiches, like “go out and write like William Carlos Williams or Wallace Stevens and then submit us that!” And, that’s not really what we’re doing. That’s not our primary interest aesthetically. Do you want to add to that Steven?

21:56

S

So, again, this is I think where I was sort of going with the notion of a point of view. Arguably, modernism is in some way responding to, again, the concerns of “the new,” y’know to steal Robert Hughes’s phrase “the shock of the new.” Again, going back to the whole notion of World War One, in particular, really just throwing everything asunder; I think what I conceive of as, if you allow me a chance at digression, the sort of historical development of a lot of what was going on aesthetically I think you get a situation where the moderns were, as it were, concerned with what this new things-being-torn-asunder means for them. So, there’s a lot of questioning going on: what exactly is going on? What is the meaning of this? So on and so forth. I think when you get to postmodernism, I think that it’s a question of being concerned to the point that you begin to question your own self-notions of, you know, writing as-such, or the art as-such. And then, you know… we’ve entered an epoch where the self-referential, or the self-consciousness, really became dominated to the point where now, as Derick said, it’s almost a continuous flippancy or irony by virtue of… we’re not confident in almost anything. And so, again, continuing with the point of view, what a neomodern point of view would be is then: okay, what is the current shock of the new that’s concerning us? It’s this condition of extreme, you know, flippancy, extreme irony almost at the cost of everything else; and then, again, it’s like we’ve reached that point where we again remember what it was… the authors that influenced us… that now we’re having a new series of concerns to be considered with. But what’s interesting is that, at least for me personally, I’m just reminded more and more of how perhaps Eliot would have thought about something, or Nabokov would have thought about something. Admittedly, Nabokov is a difficult in-between figure, but hopefully that gets a little bit more along the lines of why it isn’t just a reproduction of modernism. 

24:12

C

Yeah. Or, if you look at our aesthetic influences, if you were actually looking at where they line up they tend to be these sort of, I hate to use this big academic word, but liminal characters: they’re the people who stand between transitions into modernism and out of modernism. And that’s even true in genre fiction! And we’re also really attracted to people who start off progressive and end up reactionary, and also the other way around. You know, Steven and I are both big fans of weird fiction and Lovecraft and actually will defend that as part of our literary movement; but one of the interesting things about Lovecraft is he starts off as an arch-reactionary and a horrible racist, and he dies almost a socialist and a moderate racist. If you can be such a thing. He’s less racist than when he started. 

25:12

[Intermission]

27:24

D

I’m reminded of an interview I did with an artist in town. Not a writer, but a visual artist; and he was someone who had done an installation in a mall, in a mall gallery, and it was a confusing installation. I kind of felt like he pulled a good practical joke on me when I encountered him, and so I had him on the podcast, and I kept asking “with these shocks, with these waves you’re breaking the frame. You’re making me question where I’m at and, you know, pulling tricks on me and things. Are you aiming at creating a situation where I have to go on and question my everyday life and question the political situation I’m in, or the society I’m in?” And he said, “no! No, absolutely not, I’m just creating this moment. This little moment. Not trying to change anything, I don’t want to make anything new. I don’t believe in progress.” And I think that’s kind of where maybe postmodernism is. Would you agree that that’s what you’re struggling against? That attitude? 

28:32

C
I think we’re struggling against the idea that it’s all the same, yes. That everything is equivalent to everything else. You do see in a lot of postmodernists, particularly the visual arts more than even the literary arts; but, you know, I’m cautious of the word “progress” too, but I do think you have real change, things really do change, and when you question something it affects something else. And so, you know, one thing that Steven and I talk about a lot, is the way postmodernism has had trouble dealing with serious questions, and you see authors who are completely haunted by this. I mean, David Foster Wallace’s career and life trajectory is like… it’s almost like watching someone die of the bitter irony of depression.

29:24

S

Not almost, that absolutely is the case.

29:29

C

Yeah, and … and he’s struggling, right? To write…. I mean, like, if you read his essays, he’s talking about writing literature that has a moral point, that goes back to modernist credentials; and yet, you feel like he can’t do it. Like, he keeps on falling into postmodern tropes, and he’s not willing to make judgments in his literature. He’s not willing to judge his characters. And you just see it sort of… like, if you read his writings, particularly once you get to Oblivion and the last set of essays, you really feel like it’s, you know, yes there’s some chemical imbalances going on there too, but this is eating him alive. And he can’t figure out a way out of it. He can’t write his way out of it. So, he’s a pivotal figure for me, and you know, Steven and I disagree on David Foster Wallace a little bit, but we both agree that he was a person who took the problems of postmodernism seriously and could not figure them out. Which is why he’s interesting. And there are some other writers like that. I think William Gaddis is someone like that, I think David Marks is someone like that; but a lot of what, you know, a lot of what flies right now in literature, even in stuff that people don’t consider avant-garde, postmodern literature, is very… meta? But it’s not deeply meta, it’s like soft meta. It doesn’t really make you question anything; it doesn’t really make you question the consciousness of the author or anything like that, and it’s very, very flippant. And, I know I’ve used that word a lot, but particularly in poetry. If you read poetry right now that’s supposed to be avant-garde there’s lots of questions about… you know, there’s just lots of Nintendo references and stuff. And like, Puerto-Rican-slash-Chinese-street-pidgin-slang. And I’m interested in all that stuff, but a lot of times, outside of identity politics, it doesn’t push it anywhere. Like, there is some identity politics a lot, but that’s really, like, it… There’s identity-political questions and after that there’s not a whole lot else allowed; and that’s because identity questions, as much as they’re political, they’re also self-referential. Like, you know… like when I’m totally obsessed with my jewyness, or whiteness, or my maleness, or this or that – those are real questions, I’m not belittling them. They exist in a social context. But they’re also framed totally in a self-referential way, and if you read someone like Eliot or Nabokov, or even someone who’s more modern, more contemporary, like J.G. Ballard, you get the sense that, while they talk about the self, they’re trying to bracket as much of themselves out. Even when they’re writing about themselves. I mean, if you read Ballard’s autobiography, you don’t actually feel like you know him any better. So… and those are the kinds of questions and people that we’re really interested in. 

32:29

S

Yeah, if you don’t mind me pressing a little bit more on David Foster Wallace, because I think you raised some of the… well we think of him a little differently, but I think we’re approaching him from a very interesting way, and I think in describing him maybe I’ll get, Doug, to your question. For me, David Foster Wallace has, for quite a bit of time right now, been a sort of bête noir to me. Namely, there are things he does which really, shall we say, annoy me. But I cannot help but keep thinking about him, and he’s very sort of … whatever he was doing seems very central to a lot of what I think about. And I think, to Derick’s point about the self-referentialness, self-centeredness, or arguably just [simple] solipsism: I think what David Foster Wallace was sort of manifesting was just trying so desperately to get out of this notion of solipsism, but every time you try it you just completely fall back into it. And I think that’s why his book Brief Interviews with Hideous Men almost really gets to the melancholiness of that. I think it’s arguably his saddest book and perhaps even his best. And what sort of… when I think about him and sort of try to think about, okay, how would he be somewhat different from some of the modernists I really like? It’s that if you look at, I think T.S. Eliot’s probably the best example, but I think Nabokov sort of has elements too, part of the notion of what their art was doing is somewhat escaping that notion. I think Eliot really tried to depersonalize a lot of it; and in his mind, he saw some sort of solace in the meaning of the high Anglican church, and I think Nabokov’s solace was just the pure aesthetics of writing in-and-of itself. And that’s an interesting thing to me.

34:22

D

We were going to be talking about aesthetics and so far we’ve been talking about philosophical movements, philosophical traps like solipsism, attitudes like irony and flippancy, politics. But I think the common understanding of aesthetics is it has to do with beauty and shaping things. So how do you view aesthetics, and can you separate out aesthetics from these other things? I don’t think you guys think you can, but what is your definition of just the word “aesthetic?”

35:00

S

Again, I think this is probably tied to why, at least from a personal level, I don’t necessarily say I have a theory that I typically follow. I think that there’s a certain degree of irrationalism when it comes to aesthetics, and when we talk about beauty it’s just certain… Again, you asked me the question the other day of, like, who are my influences in terms of aesthetic judgement, and the three that I gave you were Vladimir Nabokov, James Wood, Harold Bloom; and, obviously, I think there are various criticisms you could make against all of them, but I think in each instance there’s a certain manifestation of … aesthetics becomes the highest criteria somewhat removed from various other forms of judgment. I think Nabokov says it best, it’s like, to the whole question of “why” in his lecture on the Metamorphosis: in the transforming of our main character into a beetle, people ask the question “well, so what?” And Nabokov says there is no answer to “so what?” It’s just a feeling, your soul must vibrate in response to that. 

36:11

D

I wonder about turning to the irrational and how disconnected that really is from the postmodern? 

36:21

S
The, you know, the solipsism question, particularly with David Foster Wallace, if you… In my mind, the whole notion of the footnotes, of the tangents, it’s like any sentence he says automatically is going to be subject to criticisms and thoughts about it. I think there’s a famous story: if you ever look at his syllabus for his class, I mean, like, it’s basically a David Foster Wallace syllabus! It has your basic, you know, “purpose of class,” and then there are tangents and footnotes to it, his questioning about the sort of power dynamic between him and the students, all of these things. It’s like, it’s almost as if he cannot bring himself to make a statement without, perhaps, thinking about it in three or four different ways and trying to really dig apart what exactly it means. In a way, I mean, it’s almost like rationalism on overdrive to the point where it ceases to function. So, perhaps that’s where the overlap begins. It’s almost as if you’re revving your engines so much that the belt breaks and it’s… you’re finished! You have to sort of deal with that broken state.

37:27

[Intermission]

39:12

D

I kind of like the idea of a crude rationalism, or crude thought, where you are… Where you think things through just far enough that you have an idea. You don’t have to get down to the subatomic, but you at least have a good shape of an idea that you’re working with, and that it’s not just something that’s handed to you, but you can see your own thought shaping it. It is an acceptance of a certain kind of irrationality, but I like to, when I’m writing, kind of know what my ideological take is, what my reasoning is behind what I’m doing, and kind of think it through. [I like to] justify the choices I’m making philosophically, but I don’t feel as though I have to write a dissertation before I can write a novel, you know? And maybe that’s what David Foster Wallace fell into was that his novels became dissertations in a way. 

40:17

S

I think he did sort of express that trouble, because if you listen to some of the interviews he would do on, I think the most famous one that comes to mind is, like, Charlie Rose? I think he did two? I think in the first one he really, again, talked about sort of a manifestation of what I was talking about a little bit earlier, he acknowledged that part of him really wants to have something of the academic, avant-garde literature that really is challenging to the reader, forces someone out of their typical suppositions; but part of him also feels like, “well actually it should be fun!” And maybe that was a sort of expression of a desire for, I think maybe, the solution you possibly have found that’s like, “we’ll be rational enough. We’ll be rational to the point that we can function, and we’ll go from there.” Almost like a muted rationalism, but it just seemed like for whatever reason he just couldn’t put the brakes on it. 

41:15

C

Yeah, to pop back into the conversation, I think that’s all very tied into what we’re talking about with aesthetics too; because my definition of aesthetics actually is a little different from Stevens and it is a little bit closer to yours Doug, or what I think yours is, I don’t actually know what yours is. My definition of aesthetics is, like, a commitment to both awe, and to following something through. Which seems… that seems not at all related to aesthetics, but to me what beauty is, is a vision that’s going to go where the vision would necessarily go; and when you pull back from the consequences of that vision, and even if the consequences are horrifying to you, then you have sort of sold beauty out. So for example… Steven and I are both, like, obsessed with weird fiction, but I think that weird fiction and fantasy literature are something I am committed to because a lot of times they are about taking an idea and following it through to whatever horrifying, or not horrifying, outcome you get. And I think that was part of the shock of the new and the early modernists too, that’s why they were so interesting. Like, if you read The Wasteland, The Wasteland has a logic to it that Eliot, who was already flirting with becoming a Christian but had not yet, was kind of horrified by! But he kept going through it. And so, like, yeah you have to figure out what your ideological commitments are, and sometimes those ideological commitments are not explicit. I think, for example, Nabokov has ideological commitments; I think that, you know, when he says he’s just an aesthete, I think he’s lying. But, aesthetics for him is, like, primary; [it’s] one of the primary things of things of his ideological commitment, and that is to produce something that is cogent and coherent in-itself, no matter how out of touch with the world that it actually is. And Nabokov’s talk about amoralism has always sort of baffled me too because Lolita and Ada are both highly moralizing books. 

43:37

S

I would agree with that.

43:39

D

Before you were… while you were taking a break there, Steven and I were talking about whether or not reason should be connected to aesthetics, kind of an aesthetic that’s based on philosophical reason, and he was saying David Foster Wallace was an example of someone who tried that and, you know, self-destructed with that approach. And I would say that, that the moment that we’re in is one in which [it] seems hyperrational like he said, but [it] is also so hyperrational that it’s abandoned reason. Basically, there’s this relativism that has popped up, you know? 

44:25

C
It’s unmotivated. I’ve thought about this a lot: it’s unmotivated reason, it’s reason for-itself. The problem with that is reason in any form, whether it’s first/second-order logic; whether it’s modal logic; whether it’s psychologically motivated reading: it has to have premises, it has to be based on a certain series of ideas. If it’s not, it turns in on itself. Like, if you… and I think, like, any freshman in a philosophy class should be able to realize this, because when they don’t have motivated reason, when they haven’t accepted premises, the first trap that you do fall into as a philosopher is solipsism; because you do realize that without some sort of second-order premise you can’t actually prove that even you exist, but that you can kind of think that you experientially exist, but you can’t get any further than that. Like, you have to have some sort of second-order motivation. I think that’s a, you know, a big philosophical problem. But I mean, I also think that’s why, like, when people say they are non-ideological, I always think they’re lying. 

45:37

D

Yeah, me too.

45:39

C

I mean, it’s just… it’s just dishonest. 

45:41

D

Yeah, well, here’s what I remember, is when I was in university and actually majoring in philosophy I talked to a philosophy professor from another university who I ran into through a friend and… anyway, we were talking about what philosophy is for, and I was saying kind of naive things: “philosophy is for discovering the meaning of life, figuring out what existence is! Why are we here?” Those kinds of questions. And she was saying that professional philosophers just don’t think about it that way anymore, that philosophy is simply a discipline of the mind that gives you the training you need to think rationally, but that it is impossible to arrive at these things like “what is the meaning of life?” or “what does it mean to be a human being?” That that’s not something that philosophy can even touch anymore. So, I would say that the problem that you are discovering in David Foster Wallace is a problem that’s equally a problem in literature; but also in philosophy, in reason itself, in thought. That we need to not give up on the idea that we can use philosophy to do these things that we want it to do, like tell us what it is to be a human being. And we can’t give up on literature doing that either, so…

46:59

S
I’m not really interested in literature that’s there for the sake of teaching, but perhaps it’s sort of, let’s say, illuminating or reflecting some sort of higher understanding of life as such. But you have this desire to do so, and then faced with the limitations on the tools at your disposal to do so. Arguably like, you know, possibly like through manifestations of reasoning, concerns with the nature of text itself. Maybe that is the current condition of the postmodern position right now, perhaps we’ve entered a time where the desire to seek more sort of stopped, and maybe that… You know, Derick and I maybe are reflections or manifestations of wanting to really see that desire come back. I don’t know, maybe? It’s a difficult position, I think we all recognize that. 

47:54

[Intermission]

50:16

D

So let me ask you guys kind of a concluding question which is, and I’m going to get Steven in on this, so do you have an ambition here to, starting with your web journal, to eventually find a model where you could publish maybe book-length works and actually have a small press going that is a business enterprise? Would that be your aim? 

50:43

S

So Derick and I have actually explicitly talked about this potential notion, as we go forward we would like to see the ability to do that, be it as a sort of book-on-demand type feature, and we’ve thought about economic models that will allow us to do that and not literally give up the last bits of our pennies in order to make that happen. That is certainly where we foresee ourselves going, on at least one level. Again, it’s perhaps, in the sort of physical actions of Former People we should echo what we would like to see in the writing, and we have to just be honest and take it where it’s leading us.

51:26

[Outro] 

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