Naomi Klein (BSS #140)

Naomi Klein is most recently the author of The Shock Doctrine.


PROGRAM NOTES: (1) Our Young, Roving Correspondent claimed that Milton Friedman supported the New Deal. Naomi Klein claimed that he did not. As it turns out, both Our Young, Roving Correspondent and Klein were wrong. In an October 2000 interview, Friedman professed his support for the parts of the New Deal that involved providing jobs and relief for the unemployed. This was the “very exceptional circumstance” that Our Young, Roving Correspondent referred to. Apologies on our end for failing to clarify. (2) For more information on United States suicide rates, here is a solid overview. If suicide is, as Klein suggests, linked explicitly to an economic downturn, what explains the slow rise in suicide during the Roaring Twenties — a then unprecedented period of prosperity? While it is certainly true that the suicide rate rose during the Great Depression, the point worth considering is that suicide is not completely linked to economics. (3) While Klein did not provide a supportive endnote in her book for the post-Solidarity Polish journalistic label “shock therapy,” here is a helpful reference point for those looking for more information: No less an authority than Jeffrey Sachs, who Klein identifies as one of the chief instigators of the “shock doctrine,” observed how “shock therapy” came to be in a 1994 lecture delivered at the University of Utah. Sachs believed that the journalistic label “shock therapy” played into the Eastern European belief that a drastic alteration of the economic system would produce results. While Klein is right to point out that this was a term in use, it remains our belief that it would have been more helpful to outline the specific points of causation.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Abdicating to journalists.

Author: Naomi Klein

Subjects Discussed: Milton Friedman and the University of Chicago school of shock economics, polarization of the superwealthy, consumer boycotts and “market democracy,” the New Deal, Augusto Pinochet, the good things about Friedman, Edwin Black’s IBM and the Holocaust, the damage from economic ideology vs. innate business corruption, writing an “alternative history,” relying too much on the “shock” label, Samantha Power’s A Problem from Hell, post-Solidarity Poland and “shock therapy,” quibbling with Klein’s footnotes, whether suicide rates can be exclusively linked to economic factors, Israel’s defense export economy, Margaret Thatcher’s England, and whether reduced inflation or the Falklands War boosted Thatcher’s approval rating.


Klein: I’m not sort of just projecting Chicago school ideals onto a country. I’m talking about specific places where key graduates of the program…

Correspondent: Well, I’m not disputing that.

Klein: …came to positions of power.

Correspondent: I am not disputing that there…

Klein: I’m just not quite sure where IBM fits in.

Correspondent: Well, what I’m saying is is that it’s not exclusively this Friedmanesque ideology that is causing these particular factors. I mean, what I’m wondering is — is I present the IBM scenario as, well, here’s a case of, in my view anyway, clear unethical business practice and yet it has nothing to do with Friedman economics. Just as, I mean, yeah, there are plenty of examples you give. The various leaders who are listening to lectures on tape and, of course, all the Chicago Boys, and all that stuff. I’ve definitely read the book. I’m just asking, where does Friedman depart from some of the unfortunate shock treatment that you describe to various…?

Klein: Well, I think the key thing to understand is that I am not arguing that this group of people, that they are the first people to employ these tactics to advance their political goals. And I, you know, I piss off people on the left by quoting Mao and Pol Pot and all these, you know, Communist figures of the past who shared a similar desire to use shock and crisis to push through their agenda, dreamed of societies being a blank slate on which they could build their ideals. I also draw…I also talk about fascism and Nazism and you know, I think that, the reason why I’m focusing on this group of people of the past thirty-five years, as opposed to the book just being a history of everybody who’s ever used shock is that I’m trying to present an alternative history of how we got to where we are. I’m trying to present an alternative history of the ideology that is the dominant ideology of our time, so dominant that we don’t see it. It’s the air we breathe. And I think that we have been living with a fairy tale version of history.

Categories: Ideas

George Saunders (BSS #139)

George Saunders is most recently the author of The Braindead Megaphone.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Feeling a little dead down there.

Author: George Saunders

Subjects Discussed: Writing fragmentary travelogue pieces, trying not to pre-process experiences, observational criteria, Dubai, responding to Ben Ehrenreich’s claim of “pulled punches,” journalistic integrity, on taking people to task, writing comprehensive journalistic accounts vs. one-week accounts, Saunders’s “limited talent,” on “liking to be liked,” the difference between fiction and nonfiction, Minutemen on the US/Mexico border, on taking on a persona, Bob Dylan, the response that came from “‘Borat’: The Memo,” on being called a “tool” and a “young fogey,” cheap edits, mean satire, political labels and satire, generalizations about everything between Los Angeles and New York, not going beyond the first impression, Donald Barthelme, Freitag’s triangle and rising action, why Saunders is savage in fiction, and writing rules vs. writing voice.


Saunders: Each one of the GQ trips was an eight to ten day thing. So really, in a certain way, the form would follow the experience. You know, you go to a place and you’re taking notes like crazy for eight days. And you don’t really know what’s good or what’s interesting and then you come home and start writing them up. And as certain things — you know how it is when you’re writing — sometimes, a certain thing would just lurch forward and it’s writable in some way you didn’t anticipate when you were there. So in a way, it was kind of like taking X number of those things, the ones that would sort of step forward and allow themselves to be polished, and then kind of trust that that was happening for a reason.

Categories: Fiction

Rupert Thomson II, Part Two (BSS #138)

Rupert Thomson is most recently the author of Death of a Murderer.


[This is the second of an in-depth, two-part conversation with Rupert Thomson, conducted over the course of two days. The first part, which can be heard in Show #137, details primarily with Death of a Murderer. The second part extends into his career. Many thanks to Mr. Thomson for being extremely generous with his time for this conversation.]

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Sketchily repentant about past prevarications.

Author: Rupert Thomson

Subjects Discussed: Transitory bridges, noir symbols, being called “David Lynch in print,” bland roadside motels, on Death being labeled as a “crime thriller,” writing novels with seemingly preposterous premises, James Hyne’s description of “the tension between distancing and empathy,” reading 47 novels for a prize, Martin Amis’s fiction vs. nonfiction, writing without judgment, car accidents, visceral motivation, Thomson’s nightmares, morphing from an intuitive animal, relying upon The Five Gates of Hell for a forthcoming memoir, manifestations of imagination, Death of a Murderer‘s theatrical qualities, first-person vs. third-person, the richer prose and poetry of The Book of Revelation, individuals vs. social constructs, the convalescence theme within Thomson’s work, subconscious motifs throughout Thomson’s work, the Orwell Estuary, on unexpectedly slipping in future book titles into books, Richard Yates’s book titles, Billy’s parents and family structure, prostitutes in the gray area, moral redemption, and Thomson’s favorite sentence in The Book of Revelation.


Correspondent: This was reviewed in the New York Times by mystery columnist Marilyn Stasio.

Thomson: Yeah. Famous one, is she? I mean, apparently. Yeah.

Correspondent: I have my issues with her, but nonetheless. But when she actually — when they decided to review this book — yours — the first part of the sentence was “Although not in any conventional way a genre novel…”

Thomson: I.e., shouldn’t be in this column at all. (laughs)

Correspondent: Exactly. So the question is: Is there a certain danger, I guess, in dwelling upon a subject like Myra Hindley, because people are going to go ahead and label it? “Oh, well, this must be a true crime!”

Thomson: I just hadn’t imagined they were going to do that. I really hadn’t. And sometimes in the past, I could understand why. They’ve tried it all the way along with me at certain points. I mean, with The Insult, for instance, they tried to sell that as a thriller in the UK. Anyone who wants a thriller is going to be kind of disappointed by The Insult, because it doesn’t deliver in the kind of obvious ways that thriller writers do. In fact, right from page one of that book, you’re going off in a completely different direction to the one you’d normally go in the thriller. And the thriller — having a guy shot in a car park, practically in line one of the novel — normally, you’d then find out what that crime was about, you know. And of course, this goes completely the other way. And equally, with Soft, that was put in crime sections sometimes. I mean, I didn’t really understand. It’s like if you put Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang in the crime section. Because that’s got crime in it. I mean, Ned Kelly was a criminal. So there’s no more reason for a book about Myra Hindley to be put in the crime section than there is for one about Ned Kelly.

Categories: Fiction

Rupert Thomson II, Part One (BSS #137)

Rupert Thomson is most recently the author of Death of a Murderer.


[This is the first of an in-depth, two-part conversation with Rupert Thomson, conducted over the course of two days. The first part details primarily with Death of a Murderer. The second part, which can be heard in Show #138, extends into his career. Many thanks to Mr. Thomson for being extremely generous with his time for this conversation.]

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Trying to be careful about British accents.

Author: Rupert Thomson

Subjects Discussed: Billy Tyler as one of “society’s dustmen,” Mira Hindley, bridges and Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” readers reading Thomson’s novels too fast, flashbacks, pitch-perfect similes, a momentary interlude for lunch, movie sound effects, getting used to being on the page, active behavior, metal bins, Thomson as a “morally outstanding” individual, filming in mortuaries, chance providing what a novelist needs, Percival and Arthurian namesakes, Old World patriarchal figures, the fixed quality of character names, protection from critical assessments, hopping around in genre, Billy Tyler’s homoerotic issues, gender, The Beatles’s “And Your Bird Can Sing,” Faulkner, Django Reinhardt’s large hands, characters who are extreme versions of the everyday, the possible ambiguity contained within Thomson’s endings, stones and millstones, snooker, being a police officer, truncated names and ellipses, MacGuffins, whether it is pigeons or chickens that come home to roost, and bland hotels.


Thomson: As a novelist, you know there are — I wonder how many, I sometimes wonder how many decisions there are that you make in writing a novel. I mean, I guess it probably goes into the millions. But then I think about all the decisions you don’t make, where you simply trust what your intuition has given you, because, in the case of Newman — for instance, you just mentioned Peter Newman — I didn’t think twice about that name. Newman’s a fairly ordinary name. And I wanted just an ordinary, fairly solid — and, in fact, Susie, I chose that name because Susie, because Billy Tyler marries a girl called Susie Newman, and I sort of wanted to her have a sexy-sounding name. A name that tripped off the tongue. And then I liked the fact that she had become Sue Tyler. You know, she had become dull. As a result of having married.

Categories: Fiction

Antoine Wilson (BSS #136)

Antoine Wilson is most recently the author of The Interloper.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Finding creative ways of using Photoshop.

Author: Antoine Wilson

Subjects Discussed: Tonal beacons within The Interloper, Martin Amis, stifling the Nabokovian influence, frisbees and sex, conformist thinking, allusions to Sisyphus, technical writing, emotional candor, psychological experiments, generic establishments, reflection vs. invention, thong underwear, Roman mythology and Southern California, the relationship between Don Quixote and Knight Rider, technological being, Photoshop, Owen and Luke Wilson, prioritizing events, writing fictitious letters vs. writing narrative, how The Interloper made the rounds and ended up at The Other Press, and paperback originals and satirical novels.


Wilson: Maybe some of the more classical allusions came from the fact that I was reading Don Quixote while I was writing the book.

Correspondent: Oh, okay.

Wilson: And also had only recently realized that Knight Rider was a recapitulation of all those knight errant stories. So I was sort of interested in that kind of thing and…

Correspondent: But, wait, Knight Rider, you say?

Wilson: Yeah, the TV show.

Correspondent: Yeah. The relationship between Knight Rider and Don Quixote.

Wilson: Yeah. Knight Rider, Michael Knight, is a knight errant.

Correspondent: Yes.

Wilson: He roams the countryside looking to perform acts of chivalry for various people on his trusty steed, KITT, and then he’s got his patron, Devon, and then his woman is totally desexualized — well, she’s sexy, but she’s not sort of in a sexual relationship with him. The other woman on the show.

Correspondent: Bonnie was Dulcinea? Jesus.

Categories: Fiction

Gabe Kaplan (BSS #135)

Gabe Kaplan is most recently the author of Kotter’s Back: E-mails from a Faded Celebrity to a Bewildered World.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Not suffering scoundrels riding on past television achievements.

Author: Gabe Kaplan

Subjects Discussed: Why those duped by email wanted to be included in Gabe Kaplan’s book, celebrity stature, celebrity auctions, Scientology and John Travolta, television ratings, Dick Clark Productions, sixty-year-old celebrities fighting each other, Sioux City, Iowa and parades, the art of composing email, X-rated rap songs, Letters from a Nut, career-planning, Gabe Kaplan merchandising tie-ins, how Radar was duped by fake Stalinist history, Wilt Chamberlain, the ethics of duping people, Jerry Falwell’s refusal to be included in the book, why so many standup comics end up being cast in positions of authority, and television high-school teachers.


Kaplan: They picked me and I was, I think, the first person who they did a sitcom about, basically, their standup comedy. I would talk about being in a school with the Sweathog type of guys, and growing up in that kind of New York City school system where they always put you in the class with people who were as brought as you were. And this was my act. So we just translated it into a sitcom where the only fictitious character is Kotter. Everybody else was based on someone I had went to school with.

Categories: People

Marianne Wiggins (BSS #134)

Marianne Wiggins is most recently the author of The Shadow Collector.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Responding to the recent allegations concerning Bat Segundo and Vanessa Hudgens.

Author: Marianne Wiggins

Subjects Discussed: Fictive alter egos, Philip Roth’s The Counterlife, James Frey, Kurt Vonnegut, Hemingway’s screenplays, Edward Curtis, ephemera, patriarchy, W.G. Sebald, 20th century photographers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, truth vs. legend, “book time” vs. real time, photo manipulation, the similarities between Photoshop and Soviet propaganda, Abu Ghraib, novels as news source, literary antecedents, Absalom! Absalom!, disclaimers, dialogue, long em-dashes, the difficulties of writing novels in London, California geology, the exhaustion of writing measured prose, Las Vegas and Hunter S. Thompson, and bathtub symbols.


Wiggins: One interviewer said to me that he thought I wrote in the equivalent of jazz improvisation. And fortunately, given the luxuriant elasticity of the English language and our grammar, you can make all these elliptical riffs. You can put a dash in a parentheses and keep a whole thought going seamlessly, if — I mean, I hope the reader doesn’t get lost midway through the sentences and say, What? (laughs) Where is this going and what is this about? But my mind moves in that, with that rapidity. So it’s almost a musician’s notation more than a grammarian’s.

Categories: Fiction

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