Tag : bat-segundo
Scarlett Thomas is most recently the author of Our Tragic Universe. Ms. Thomas previously appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #117.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Unusually pedantic about modifiers.
Author: Scarlett Thomas
Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: I wanted to address one review. Jessa Crispin in The Smart Set. She said, “Well, you adhered to the two laziest storylines that the world of fiction has ever thrown up. Love Conquers All and Secretly a Princess.” But to my mind, I thought this was a severe misreading and misunderstanding of the book. I mean, the book is very much concerned with how narrative must rely on contrivances in order to present life. On the other hand, when you have, for example, the deus ex machina of the magic money appearing in Meg’s account, this is something of a risky proposition for someone who is accustomed to the page-turning of your previous books. So I’m curious as to how much you worried or agonized over this, coming off of a fairly substantial success — particularly in the UK and particularly here among bloggers and the like. Did you just not care? Or did you worry about people misreading this? Because you’re presenting narrative within narrative within narrative and some people are clearly not picking this up.
Thomas: Yeah, I mean — God, there’s quite a lot there. I read the Jessa Crispin piece and I feel quite frustrated with it. Because the reading that she presents is the reading that’s set up for you in the book. That, in fact, it’s one character’s analysis of what’s happened. But the book sets it up as probably wrong. The reading that’s there –- I mean, this is just my own reading. Everybody is welcome to read it the way they like.
Thomas: But the idea is that you actively go through and think, “Oh! Aha! So it was the cosmic ordering that gave her the money. And then this and that and the other. Oh my god, everything’s prearranged. And there’s no free will and everything’s perfectly placid. And it’s just like Kelsey Newman. Do I actually want to live like that? Or would I rather read it a different way?” So that’s what you’re supposed to be doing with those ideas. And Jessa seems to have stopped a bit too early. The money device – it’s not really a deus ex machina. Because Meg has written these novels. And they have been optioned for TV. And she has got the money for it. And I think, as most writers know, you do these things. And everybody’s always talking about optioning this and optioning that. And you might get some money. And you never do. And one day, you open your online banking. And there’s some money. And it does kind of change your life. For me, The End of Mr. Y did so well in the UK and Europe that there were days when I’d open up my bank account and think, “Whoa! Where has that come from?” For the first time in my life. Because, you know, I’ve always been pretty poor. And I wanted to try and write out that experience of suddenly having some money. But, of course, it’s really hard to do in a novel. Because the novels are supposed to be about drama and struggle and conflict, and somebody striving. You’re supposed to get the money at the very end of the book. I wanted to play with the idea of getting the treasure in the middle. And then what happens to life after that? But I have to say that Meg is not really a princess. Not for me anyway. What was the other thing?
Correspondent: I was going on about how narrative has to rely on contrivances to some degree in order to represent life. But to phrase that in light of your last answer, what I think we’re talking about here is the problem with coincidences, which occur in reality and life all the time. And yet when you put them into a novel, then, all of a sudden, it seems like “Oh, that can’t possibly happen!” And that’s the problem with structure, I suspect.
Thomas: Well, you see, another thing I’m trying to do in the novel – maybe not so obviously; well, maybe it is obvious – is to look at coincidence. Is the world and our experience of it – is that somehow structured in a scientific or positivist and rationalist way? Is it structured on the spiritualists on some level? Because that’s also a structure that’s imposed. Is it completely random? Or the fourth option – I may have just said there are three.
Correspondent: Well, that’s okay. We’re not counting.
Thomas: (laughs) Yeah, I don’t think you can count. But the fourth option is more interesting to me. And I think that there is no structure. But there are lots of people who are aware of lots of different structures. Which is interesting. And there are things that happen that aren’t pure coincidence. So that things don’t just happen out of nowhere. But they happen through plots or series of events leading up to that that are so minute that you almost can’t see them. So, for example, towards the end of the novel, Frank and Vi turn up miraculously on the River Dart, where The Beast maybe is, and end up taking place in some action there. And for me, I really liked putting them there. Because I thought they were there because they read Alice Oswald’s poem about the Dart. So it’s not that they weren’t there randomly by complete chance. Everybody does everything for a reason. I’m really interested in that. And so looking at the reasons for why people do things, and why that might lead to something else, that’s what’s really fascinated me in this book. So I really don’t believe in complete coincidence. I believe in choices and desire and motivation of characters, and just how interesting it is when you look at the tiny aspects of that.
Correspondent: You’ve created almost by necessity, however, a system. And life is what happens when you make other plans. So I’m not certain if I entirely buy your causist explanation for these characters. Because I think you also portray much of the attempt to explain the universe, or explain the world around us, as a trap. And a way to avoid living without absolute cognizance. So I’m curious about how you managed to depict this double-edged sword here.
Thomas: Yeah, it might. I don’t know. I mean, you don’t have to buy it. But it’s absolutely how I wrote the book. That okay, on some level, when you write a novel, you do have to impose some kind of scheme on things which don’t have a scheme like that. You need a beginning, a middle, and an end. You need to choose when you take up with the carrots. When you let them go. All of that. Yes, you do impose a structure. But for me, one of the most interesting moments in the book was when I realized that Arthur Conan Doyle, when he believed in the Cottingley Fairies. For him, the fairies were more believable than these working-class girls who could actually forge pictures of fairies. I found that so fascinating. Because for that to be your explanation – because it was impossible for him to believe in the motivation of the girls, for him to think his way into their lives and the way they would have planned something, wasn’t just a coincidence. They didn’t just happen upon the pictures. They actually made them. And that’s a wonderful thing to imagine. I think it’s great and so inventive. And then, for him, it was easier to believe in the fairies. For him, the more believable plot or the more believable story is that the fairies exist. And, for me, that was a really central image in the whole book.
Correspondent: So even if you don’t clutch to the Kelsey Newman-like idea, you still can find solace in either the Conan Doyle fairies or, as Meg has in this childhood flashback, where there’s this guy who says, “I can teach you magic.” Which is interesting in light of the fact that her father is very much about finding an explanation for the universe with numbers. And so it seems to me that the burden of these characters is very much to find any kind of explanation –- or even the self-help books that Meg must review for this particular column. That this is really the onus for almost all the characters. Either that or you have the option of just tossing your car into the river.
Thomas: Yeah, absolutely. I’m fascinated with the process of looking for explanations for things, and understanding things scientifically. Which has always been my urge. Even though I’m not into the kind of — this nouveau atheist movement is not my thing at all. Because any explanation that makes sense would be okay for me. Usually it’s a kind of scientific explanation. Sometimes, it’s not. But if I’m up in a plane, I want to know how it flies. I want to know why I’m not crashing.
Guy Maddin is most recently the author of My Winnipeg, a book version of the film of the same name. For listeners who are fans of reading and watching films, this conversation accounts for all experiences and contains more than a few prevarications.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Reconsidering the veracity of his topography.
Guest: Guy Maddin
Subjects Discussed: Whether living in Winnipeg for many year makes one an expert of Winnipeg, expertise and confused feelings, the importance of not straying from your methods, pleasant feelings and hellish depictions of Winnipeg, the strength one obtains from retellings of Icelandic sagas, the difficulties of laughing at smallpox plagues, “My Winnipeg” vs. “My New York,” Marcel Dzama, artists doing their bit for Winnipeg, being murdered by a puck, Winnipeg purse-snatching, being indoors in Winnipeg, Canadians who are being unduly rattled by Americans, James Frey and the problems with American memoirs, finding the disclaimer, naked laps, getting a nude model in Winnipeg and Manhattan, quick cutting in Maddin’s films after 2000, title cards and Godard, walkout ratios in Maddin’s films, smelling the mildew in the tableau, live elements to Maddin’s films, J. Hoberman’s assessment, Maddin reading his own press, the IMDB, Internet ego searches, getting rid of obsessions, having to live with Guy Maddin the character, Darcy Fehr as the only actor to play “Guy Maddin” twice, the Seattle Guy Maddins, having an actor impersonate Guy Maddin at a Chicago event, why Guy Maddin hasn’t played himself, whether or not Darcy Fehr is Maddin’s Jean-Pierre Léaud, similarities between Brand Upon the Brain‘s Sullivan Brown and Antoine Doniel, redacted dialogue in My Winnipeg, Ann Savage, the OCD quality that Winnipeggers have, recurring handshakes, ramming the audience over the head, editing lessons learned from Cowards Bend the Knee, title cards, actors who performed scenes in several different languages in the early sound era, Maddin’s shift from storyboards to spontaneity, editing speed and cramming ideas, good actors vs. bad actors, George Toles’s dialogue, the official report on the Guy Maddin Casting Couch, hockey locker rooms, chorizo metaphors, walking and coming up with ideas, Guy Debord, W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, how walking gives you courage, the advantages of sleeping in hallways and on ladders, time travel and peregrinations, the grim nature of the future, and not being a great planner.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: If I were to say My New York, you would look at me and declare me the world’s ultimate narcissist….
Correspondent: …and yet, when you say My Winnipeg, you can get away with that. And I think that you have a little bit of advantage being in Winnipeg and being able to say that. I really wish that I could say My New York, but I would just be looked at as if I had the biggest head in the world.
Maddin: Well, so many people have done New York too.
Maddin: I’ve got the advantage of just being among a small handful of artists doing it. The artist — the now New York-based artist — Marcel Dzama from Winnipeg has been doing Winnipeg quite a bit. I was out for drinks with him last night and we were chatting about how we’re doing our little bit to keep Winnipeg on the map. But things happen there on their own. They’re always kind of remote outpost kind of things. And stark and grizzly things. You know, someone murdered by a puck. Or Susan Sarandon’s jewel theft turned into a disembowelment. And I don’t know, a bus riding decapitation. Most recently, I just returned to Winnipeg for a couple days and the first story I read in the paper was about a gang of teenage girls who roam the streets and hack with a hatchet the purse strings of women walking around near them. One purse snatching was foiled by the purse holder flinging a cup of molten hot Tim Hortons coffee in the assailant’s face. I don’t know. There’s just this kind of stuff going on all the time. And obviously, it’s not unique to Winnipeg. But it seems like the headlines are being written by a 19th century translator of Brothers Grimm stories half the time.
Correspondent: Or perhaps some of the people who commit these crimes are doing so to alleviate the intense indoorsdom of being in Winnipeg six months of the year.
Maddin: Yeah, exactly. Cabin fever. It’s that kind of year. And they’re just writing their own legends. We don’t really — Canadians don’t really talk about their history. They don’t really boil down legends or folk tales the way every other country does. Possibly because we’ve been dwarfed so badly — rattled so badly by our presence right next to America.
Correspondent: I’m sorry about that. Really.
Maddin: No, no, no, no. It’s kind of good.
Correspondent: You don’t deserve it. There’s a lot of great things that come out of Canada.
Maddin: No, no. Whatever. You know, my temperament is part of that whole thing. And I kind of like it. I kind of like feeling like when you roll over, I should look out.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Pondering new author taxonomies.
Author: T.C. Boyle
Subjects Discussed: How to conquer jet lag, Ellen Key’s The Woman Movement, the individual vs. the spirit of the time, feminism and Frank Lloyd Wright, notions of education, Miriam’s presence and hypercaffeinated prose, balancing the women in The Women, the ABAB narrative of the first section and Talk Talk, representing Wright through his women, novelizing a fictive novelist’s biography, Blake Bailey, the burdens of chronological order, parallels between Wright and Boyle, the question of what anybody really knows about history from hearsay, seeing the details through an ever-shifting prism, the novel as a suspect medium, Riven Rock, dashes, sentences, and parenthetical information, annotations and “the rest is commentary,” art standing above morality, balancing empathy and the satirical impulse, rejecting reader expectations, reputation and renown vs. not knowing, why cruelty is necessary, reevaluation, empathy and narcissism, and understanding an artist.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Boyle: I try to get it both ways. I try to involve you in something in a satiric way. And yet it should also move you. And of course, in this book, I had to do that because of the tragedy of Mamah, which will conclude the book. So you have to set the reader up for that throughout. And I think there is tragedy throughout the book. Tadashi’s life is incredibly tragic in many, many regards. So again, I’m playing one element against the other throughout. And there is commentary upon commentary upon commentary. And, for me, it opened up the structure and it made it fun. It made it invigorating. A lot of the footnotes exist to give you information that I would like you to know about Frank Lloyd Wright and his buildings and where he was at any given time. But a lot of them also, I just express surprise on the part of Tadashi. And I find the hilarious.
Correspondent: Well, the question is: Okay, the reader wants to know about the artist. And essentially you believe — your own particular view is — that the art should stand above any morality. This is interesting because we don’t know about the artists. And simultaneously, well, you do have many details about Taliesin, as well as the skies and the views and all that. But I’m curious if this almost runs counter to the impulse if you’re playing with the reader’s expectations. So that they will never know about the artist, even though this is, in fact, why they read your books. Whether that’s entirely fair to the reader.
Boyle: Well, don’t forget that when I am creating art, I don’t mean to be fair to the reader or unfair to the reader. Those questions lie right outside the parameters of what I’m doing. I’m dreaming something. I’m creating something for my own purposes. I deliberate to you. And I hope that you interact with it in some way. And obviously you do and other readers do. Sophisticated art, to my mind, doesn’t provide answers and doesn’t have an agenda other than art itself. So I think a book like this one, of all my books, is probably the one in which the reader will be most engaged to try and unravel the truth of what it is in its own right. And don’t forget. I’m not writing about an unknown figure here. Kinsey, as you know, was recognizable second only to the President in this country in his time. But by the time I wrote about him, everyone had completely forgotten who he is. No one knows who he is. And Kellogg too was lost to the mists of history. But again, Frank Lloyd Wright, there’s been a thousand books. There’s a cult. People are lined up in Chicago today, freezing, to get in and go on the tour. So this is someone who has been written about eternally and is very well-known. My interest is: How do I get a new angle on this?
Correspondent: So by him being more well known than Kinsey or Kellogg, you can then justify this notion of not knowing Frank Lloyd Wright. That’s what you’re saying. Of the reader not knowing.
Boyle: If this is your interpretation, I would say yes. But again, I think you do know him. You do see him from his point of view a few times. But I didn’t want to represent his point of view a great deal. Because then you know his motivation and you know what he’s thinking. I would rather have it — that’s why I called it The Women. I’d rather have him viewed from other perspectives so that you can make your own determination. And, yes, I think part of that determination is that he was incredibly narcissistic. Maybe one of the most narcissistic people who ever lived. And yet narcissism, as we talked about with regard to Peck Wilson in Talk Talk, can be very damaging to everybody around you. I like to hope and think that I am sympathetic to people whom I meet and with people who are close to me. And that far from damaging them, I might even be aiding them in some way. A narcissist like Frank Lloyd Wright though, or Kinsey or Kellogg, doesn’t view the world in that way. Everybody else is simply valuable, only as they fit into his regime. So I think that any reader, even the least sophisticated reader of this book, will have a portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright that may be more true than what you get from a biography.
(Photo credit: Christopher Felver)
Tony Stone is the director, writer, producer, editor, and actor of Severed Ways, a film about Vikings that opens in limited release on March 13, 2009.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Unsure of whether he wants to be a Viking or not.
Guest: Tony Stone
Subjects Discussed: The many crew positions that Tony Stone worked, music clearance people who keep weapons under their beds, making a film with seven chapters, how a two week shoot went on for three years, not getting the visuals right the first time, motivations for handheld camera work, accepting art as it is, “Greedo shoots first,” contemporary slang transposed into Viking talk, A Knight’s Tale, how far filmmakers can go in “modernizing” historical settings, the ethics of killing chickens on screen, Ingmar Bergman’s Shame, helpful ways of agitating both vegetarians and meat eaters through cinema, filming a defecation scene, the appropriate constituency of shit for a beautiful shot, Charles Leland’s Algonquin Legends, abstaining from profiling the Abenaki religion, paganism, anarchy, and secular humanism.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: “This fish is pretty killer.” Well, “killer,” as I understand it, is a recent modifier in the English language.
Stone: Yes, it is.
Correspondent: And I don’t think necessarily that the Vikings were using this or that the Nordic tongue had any answer to “killer.” So why the modernization of etymology here? Is this an inroad point along the lines of the Viking headbanger who likewise appears in this?
Stone: Yeah. It’s that. But it’s also that a lot of the times, you’d watch any period piece or historical film, whether it’s Romans or barbarians or whatever else, they’re speaking in semi-Shakespearean accents in their Old British. It doesn’t really make any sense. And everything’s very formal. There’s no reason why, a thousand years ago, they weren’t just as casual as us and they had their own vernacular. So this is using a piece of dialogue — like “This fish is killer” — is basically more of an accurate translation in my mind. Because you’re taking whatever their vernacular was and putting it into our vernacular. So you understand the tone and the vibe of what they’re actually saying. So I actually find there’s more accuracy in it. And we’ve just been so beaten down by the traditional Hollywood stupidity of how I’m dealing with history in films. So that sort of explains why I wanted it there. And of course, the film is trying to bridge the past and the present. And so it’s maing these characters have mannerisms that maybe the dude walking down the street has. Or whatever else. It’s trying to just not have it be this distant, far off, separate thing. It’s trying to make it more current and now. And it is with us.
Correspondent: But on the flip side, there is a certain point where it becomes ridiculous; i.e., A Knight’s Tale, for example. In which you have the Nike swoosh in the Middle Ages. Do you remember this film?
Stone: Yeah, I do. I do.
Correspondent: I mean, it was totally ridiculous. It was fun. But at the same time, one does not look to this for verisimilitude.
Stone: “The Boys Are Back In Town.” Yeah.
Correspondent: So the question is: how far can you go with this?
Stone: Yeah, that’s interesting. A Knight’s Tale. I forgot about that. It’s been a while. But yeah. They use modern music.
Correspondent: “We Will Rock You.” Yeah.
Stone: Then there’s that amazing part where they’re going back to London. And the Thin Lizzy song comes in. “The Boys Are Back In Town.” (laughs) It’s very incredible.
Correspondent: I mean, if we’re talking about Hollywood stupidity, I’m wondering how…
Stone: Yeah. Obviously, there is a level of absurdness to it. I’m not going to deny it. But I think the film is sort of rebellious in a way. It’s trying to set up a dialogue. I don’t know. But in a way, like I’m saying, it’s sort of modernizing the Viking. Making him a current character. Making him more similar to somebody maybe you know is the idea. I’m just getting away from that wall that’s usually put up in terms of dealing with historical material.