S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership. I’m Stephen Metcalf, and this is the split culture Gabfest bad art friend, where are you, ED. It’s Wednesday, October 13th, 2021. On today’s show, Sally Rooney’s third novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You? Is both. You know, it’s more of the same, but also a curious departure. We discuss a writer’s darkly equivocal assessment of her time. Her generation and her own literary fame and then reservation dogs is a show on Hulu. It’s a wildly funny and original show. I love it about teen life on an Oklahoma reservation. It’s created by an all indigenous writers room and cast. And finally, at last we discussed bad art friend and the crossroads of MFA subculture, the internet and the wages of literary narcissism. Joining me today is Isaac Butler, author of the forthcoming The Method How the 20th Century Learned to Act. Isaac, welcome back to the show. It’s like three weeks in a row,
S2: three weeks in a row. And actually, I think this is my last one as a guest for a little bit. And so it’s been such a great pleasure doing this.
S1: Yeah, it’s been fantastic. And what we need to do is find a piece of theater before your book comes out. We’re inevitably going to discuss the book. I can’t wait to do it, but before that happens, let’s find something theater related or adjacent, or just an excuse to have you back on the show. As a guest guest and not a host.
S2: Any excuse to be on here is great by me.
S1: And of course, Dana Stevens, the film critic for Slate and also author of the forthcoming cameraman Buster Keaton, The Dawn of Cinema and the Invention of the 20th Century Dana. I see it every week. I’m so excited to read each of these books, but they go together so incredibly well. I mean, not to in any way absorb either one into the other, but they almost certainly tell a kind of a single story.
S3: Yeah, I mean, I haven’t read Isaac’s book yet, and he has not read mine, so I don’t yet know how to speak to that. But I think that both of us are trying to do something similar in form. I would say that it seems like both of us are trying to do a sort of cultural or intellectual history that’s told through a set of familiar characters, but is not only about those characters. Would you say that that’s fair, Isaac?
S2: Yeah, absolutely. I sort of half jokingly call my book. The biography of an idea, much like the World Only Spins Ford was the biography of a play. And, you know, I think that’s a kind of fun way to organize all these larger than life figures who people at least know a little bit about into a story that kind of transcends them.
S1: Guys are amazing. I mean, you know, and here I am, the bullshit artist who’s read neither, but I can’t wait to read both of them, and I want to combine them in an event. We’re going to do it, but we’re going to do it. We will discuss that off the mike. Let’s let’s make a show. We’re good. Yes. Yes. All right. Superb. Beautiful world. Where are you? As the third novel from Sally Rooney, the Irish novelist? It’s a novel in one sense, a novel about novels. It’s also about the nature of literary fame, about sex, divinity, civilizational collapse, which makes it sound all very grand. And yet it isn’t really. I mean, at its heart, it’s a story about a friendship conducted now, mostly by email between two friends, Alice and Eileen. Alice is an I all due respect to our own extraordinary critical wills to power around this table. I mean, Alice is, I think, inevitably going to be construed as the literary double of her creator Sally Rooney all obvious, you know, objections. To that aside, she’s a woman who’s still very young. Career has given her almost nothing but commercial and critical triumph, and very importantly to the novel and Alice money. When we first meet her, she’s recuperating from some kind of a psychiatric episode, a kind of a nervous breakdown that’s gestured to vaguely. She’s now in a seaside Irish town near the ocean, but at quite a distance from the literary swim. She’s done that quite on purpose. There she meets Felix on Tinder, a quiet and intriguing young man working in nothing job in a warehouse. He’s emotionally careful, to put it mildly, in a way that borders on being a little menacing. Eileen, meanwhile, works at a literary journal in Dublin on a pittance salary in her own estimation, squandering her talents and effectively, her 20s. She has a marvelous and slightly older male childhood friend named Simon, an observant Catholic and also a sort of secular saint. Typekit has a real world job working in parliament and with NGOs. He’s a perfectly lovely man who hovers between being a brother figure to her and a lover. Much of the book is epistolary. It’s an exchange of long searching, and it points intellectually daring emails between the two. This allows Alice to speak, I think, at least somewhat as Rooney. I mean, is impossible not to set aside some of one’s own critical conscience and have the naive reading here, which is that we’re meant to hear Rooney tell us about what it’s been like to be sad. The surreal experience of being Sally Rooney and being taken up by the global cosmopolitan, you know, elite and turned into a famous person, but also a kind of. Commodity, she despises her fame to the point of that nervous breakdown and as an is very nearly vowed to give up writing altogether. She’s also unsure, like Rooney herself, has been publicly unsure about how to make her Marxist very deeply held Marxist commitments go with her aesthetic ones whose lineage is more traceable to, you know, I don’t know, Virginia Woolf at times, it seems like, and the concomitant obligation to continue the novel is a bourgeois form of self-knowledge. I speak in tones that may sound slightly pretentious or self-important. They’re echoes from the, you know, they’re echoing the novel itself. But I’ll leave it there. I think we should turn to the panel. All right. What follows is now a kind of a book club segment. We presume that you’ve read the book or are committed to never reading the book. But for those of you who might yet read the book, there are some spoilers that come toward the end of the segment and there was fair warning before we drop them. Let me stop talking and turn to you, Isaac. You’ve read the book, what do you what do you think of it?
S2: I wrestled a lot with this book. I went back and forth on my feelings about it quite a bit, which I actually think is a very interesting thing for a book to do. I ultimately came down in the book’s favour, although I hope since this is a book club and we can be spoilery, we’ll talk about its ending, which I think is its weakest moment. I found myself very curious about Rooney success because I think that the success of normal people kind of elides how geared her signature writing move is, which is that both normal people and beautiful world where are you? Are related in an objective third person that only describes physical actions and dialogue and never enters the interior space of the characters. And so she is very deliberately depriving her readers of the key pleasure of realist fiction, which is getting to join another fictional person’s consciousness. She just will not let you do it. And so I’ve always been surprised that more people aren’t put off by that. I was actually put off by that. In normal people, the deliberate flatness of the prose eventually got to me. I was like, deliberately flat prose is still flat, you know? But particularly in this book, because it’s paired with the emails. And it turns out that Rooney is incredibly good at writing first person voice and in writing the mind of these characters as they kind of perform for each other in these e-mails. I found myself enjoying that mode more, seeing it more as a deliberate choice and getting really into it. That’s perhaps a very writerly way to start this conversation. But but I wrestled with that aspect of it, and I think the second thing which I went back and forth on are actually these two romantic relationships which do not make any sense whatsoever. And then about halfway through the book, I was like, Oh, the fact that these relationships don’t make sense, that there is no good reason for Alice and Felix to be together, and there’s no good reason for Eileen and Simon to be apart is actually the point, and it’s actually a thing that she is doing. And once that clicked for me, I enjoyed the book a lot more. I’ll say,
S3: Yeah, I think I liked this. This book better than normal people. The other Sally Rooney book her second novel that we’ve also discussed on the show because of the emails, essentially because there was a place that she left that that plane that Isaac described so perfectly that emotionally flat prose that deliberately leaves you outside of the characters psychologies, right? And and here we have what could easily have seemed like long disquisition on Marxism, because the emails between these two women who have been friends, you gather that they’ve been friends since their teenage years, right? And then they’re in their late 20s. They’re email exchanges are almost wholly about this kind of sense of alienation in late capitalism. There’s a really great early email. I think it’s from Eileen to Alice, where she talks about walking into a store, a convenience store or a kind of place to get her lunch on a workday and thinking about how all of the world suffering that, you know, all of the suffering of global capitalism has been channeled into this store so that she can have this kind of endless array of disposable, plastic wrapped goodies. And and those kind of conversations between the two of them are the liveliest and most sincere, really rich and psychologically detailed part of the book, which which is odd given that they are almost completely discussing, you know, politics and ideas in those emails and everything that happens in the non email chapters is about, you know, sex relationships, interpersonal dynamics, the things that should be more juicy and psychologically detailed. But they come across with that very unsettled A. Free flatness. And she’s really skilled. It writing in both modes, once in a while, there’s a third mode that comes in late in the book. For example, the wedding scene, which maybe you can get into later, but there’s a whole chapter about Eileen’s older sister’s wedding and these characters who have not been very significant in the book so far that we’ve barely met her older sister, her parents. They’re there. Suddenly, this kind of stream of consciousness as they think about the associations they have with the place the wedding is happening. And it was it was odd to suddenly be catapulted into that space. I’m not quite sure why that moment in the novel became a whole different third kind of prose that was neither the first person of the emails nor that exclusionary flatness of the rest. But she’s a skillful writer who can do all of those things well. I’m not always exactly sure why she’s switching between those modes, and I’m not sure that she solves the basic problem that her, you know, who were calling her double the novelist Alice in the book tries to solve. In other words, the break between, you know, one’s one’s ideas, the ideas that they’re working out in their emails, or presumably and Alice’s novels and just the, you know, the banal realities of their their daily lives, which is where most of their energy is invested.
S1: Right. I mean, my feeling is if if Alice Rooney and I understand that they are not exchangeable, no, no more than Stephen Douglas and James Joyce are. We’ve all had that English class. We understand that they’re not the same person that artifice a kind of striptease. You know, the nature of language itself prevents us from making that association to naively that. That said, I think we’d be a little nutty or a little too sophisticated for our own good. If we didn’t acknowledge that, that that’s an inevitable reaction to the Alice figure as a dapple for the for the for the author. You know, if she’s allowed, Alice is allowed to have this. Quite open love, hate relationship with her own literary production, I think we are as well, so I say kind of in the spirit of the novel itself that I loved and hated it and and it’s a great virtue of the novel that I did both quite deeply. I mean, you know, I was completely taken by the method this time and its control, in part because it’s not that it denies human interiority at all. In the same way, a Vermeer painting doesn’t deny the presence of human interiority, but rather places it in front of you rather starkly because we all inevitably only experience our own interiority as people, we experience everything else about life from a third person point of view, including the interiority of others, which we must extrapolate from their behaviour and their testimony. And and and as every, every literary artist knows, the discrepancy between behaviour and testimony is where the truth of writing comes in. And I think she’s I do think she’s a genius. I also encounter her across a huge generational gap and occasionally reading these delightedly as missives from a younger generation. Find myself wanting to throw the book violently across the room. The one other thing I want to get to is there have always been these gestures in all of her work about how hermetic and in some sense, silly and pompous. The Kadry of the liberal, artsy, hyper educated is and this kind of global cosmopolitan elite to which young people have mental talent become attached to very weaselly if they have a conscience about what that means. There is this gesture in Felix this menacing, kind of taciturn, withdrawn, very hard to read for us and for Alice, she puts the reader in the position that Alice is in. Like, what is it about like boys who withhold most of what they’re thinking, right? That kind of horrible allure that they have. And he has a kind of menace. There’s a class element to that story. Hasn’t read her books. At one point, he admits he’s actually not a good reader reader like actually sounds dyslexic from his own description of it. He comes from a different social class. She never really points his points this out explicitly, but she shows it to you beautifully. And there’s the I don’t want to give anything away, but there is a masterful, masterful scene. If I were teaching a fiction writing class, I would teach this over and over and over again. The taxi ride that Felix takes after a night on. He’s been on a bender and and he decides that he basically wants to have drunk sex with Alice, and she unwisely says, Yes, come over. And the conversation he has with the cab driver, which is two guys of a similar social class talking to one another in a certain register until the cab driver realizes that he’s dropping Felix off at a rich person’s house. And the turn that that conversation takes. And the implication that that puts a degree of masculine violence into Felix that he carries with him into the house. I mean, that is in ratable control over what she’s doing. So I end this book at the same point. I always end her books. I’ve picked it up from its spot in the corner where I violently threw it. I finished it greedily, and I can’t wait for the next one to love and hate.
S2: There’s a lot to unpack there. I mean, the thing that makes me end the book in the corner of the room and, you know, like, there’s no shame in fucking up the end of your book. Do you know what I mean? Like, books are complicated things. Endings are hard, but that, you know, it raises all this stuff and then it shrugs at it and goes back to the very heteronormative, you know, cosmopolitan things that it claims to be deconstructing. Like, she can’t figure out this problem in the in the book in the same way that Alison Eileen can’t transcend this problem. And so they kind of retreat back into the very old fashioned things that they’re supposedly struggling against at the beginning. In this way, that feels extremely pat, and to me, the wedding sequence feels extremely pat and sentimental. It is a cinematic moment, like in a rom com where everyone’s at a wedding and the lighting suddenly gets beautiful and a sentimental song plays in the background. Similarly, that sequence in the taxicab is amazing. It will look great in the TV show because television and film and theatre are where we deny people the interiority and fiction is where we go to get it. But I still also loved the book I’m just talking about. I want to voice some of the things that are frustrating about it. Just like Felix, the character is incredibly frustrating. I fucking hated him from the moment he showed up. He’s a misogynist bully. That’s what that’s what he is. And the and Alice is with him to punish herself because she does not believe that she deserves, because she believes no one deserves the success and love and adulation and riches that she has received in the book raises that really well. I know we’re getting into spoiler territory here, so listen. If you haven’t gotten to the end of the book or you think you might want to read the book, now’s probably the time to skip ahead. The story of feels like Rooney is telling is one that should end up with Eileen and Simon together and Eileen Allyson Felix no longer on speaking terms with each other. That’s what she’s building up to in that final climactic scene, and I feel like she blinks. I feel like she stares into the abyss and she blinks, which is fine. But if we’re going to talk about the things we loved about the book as well as the things we hated, I loved all the things that you did about it, Stephen. But these were the things that I found very frustrating about it.
S3: Also, I think that the fact that it ends on a on a surprise pregnancy and that that pregnancy is presented as a kind of capitulation to domesticity or something. I mean, the very last chapter of the book is is one of the emails. So the part of the book that I liked better from actually the letter writer that I liked better Eileen, who I think is the strongest voice in those in those email exchanges. And she’s saying that to her surprise, she turns out to be pregnant. And despite her reservations about bringing a child into the world, she’s going to go ahead and have this baby and that somehow Isaac, combined with what you were saying, is that almost like a Shakespeare comedy ending where everybody finds their mate and then we have to check off all the boxes and say she’s with him and he’s with her. It felt like an uninterrupted happy ending and one that that didn’t really do justice to, you know, the level of of complexity that these two women brought to their thinking in other exchanges. And I guess, like you, Isaac, I feel like I’m not going to hold it against the book that the ending felt a little soft. But, but but it was not my my favorite part of the book, and I don’t think I love this book as much as as U2 did. I mean, while I think Rooney is very skilled at constructing that kind of flat prose that locks us out, there’s a little bit of an I get it feeling for me in those chapters, especially when she takes forever to introduce a character both of the two main female characters. Allison Eileen are introduced in this kind of icy third person voice about the woman took her left hand and riffle through her. I don’t know. There’s this description of them checking social media that’s very cold and distant. And you know, I guess the idea is supposed to be that they’re alienated by their own technology and that we all are in a sense, trapped by by social media and the surfaces that it presents and the surfaces we present on it. And all of that is very well observed had it just been a short story. But if we’re going to end up figuring out who these women are and what their names are and where they’re from and so forth, eventually why do we have to go through this period of experiencing them as you know, icy women without names doing things in offices? I don’t know. There were there were moments when the thing that made me want to throw the book had to do with that, that alienated tone and it taking forever to warm up and kind of get into their psychology. Like if we’re just going to end on two heterosexual couples ending up together in one of them is having a baby. Why did we go through all that icy alienation in the first place?
S1: OK, I really regret having to cut this conversation off here. The truth of the matter is I have so much to say about this book, but so be it. It’s the format. We’re going to have to take this one to email people. So a lot of you’ve read this book, please email us. Let’s, let’s continue talking about it. Anyway, beautiful people, where are you? By Sally Rooney, the Irish novelist? Check it out, and let’s let’s move on. OK, before we go any further, this is typically in the podcast where we discuss business Dana what what do we have?
S3: Stephen, our only item of business this week is to talk about Slate. Plus, we’ve gotten a lot of listener emails from last week’s discussion of the show squid game. In particular, some listeners took issue with the fact that we didn’t. All three of us finish every single episode of the series before talking about it, because Steve likes good game better than Isaac and I did. He has committed to watch the entire thing. He’s not all the way through it yet, but when he is done with it, he’s going to talk about it some more on the show. But in the meantime, on Slate Plus this week, we’re going to talk about finishing things in a broader sense, not only for talking about them on podcasts, but in life in general. If you start reading a book, if you start a TV show or a movie and you’re really not interested or even put off by it, do you keep on watching? At what point do you decide I’ve committed enough time that I’m just waiting on three to the other side? And when do you decide it’s time to give up? So we’re going to explore that issue on Slate Plus today. So if you are a member, you can look forward to that segment later on in the show. And if you’re not a slate plus member, as always, you can sign up at Slate.com. Slash culture plus signing up costs only a dollar for your first month, and for that dollar, you will get ad free podcasts and bonus content like the segment I just described. That kind of bonus content also appears on other slate podcasts like Slow Burn or the Political Gabfest. And of course, with a membership, you get unlimited access to all of the writing on Slate.com. It’s also worth mentioning that you’ll be supporting us, our work and the work of our brilliant colleagues at Slate. These memberships are really important to keep the magazine going, so please think about signing up today at Slate.com slash culture plus once again, that Slate.com slash culture plus, OK, Steve, back to the show.
S1: OK, well, you can find reservation dogs streaming on Hulu is also an effects show. It’s created by Sterling Harjo, who created the comedy troupe The Fourteen Ninety Ones, which is just the most poignant name for a comedy troupe, and Taika Waititi, the director and writer of Jojo Rabbit and an actor in his own right. It takes place in Indian territory. That’s what it’s officially called in Oklahoma, and it centers on a little clique of indigenous teens for glorious, disaffiliated, trying to make enough cash to leave for better things as they perceive it in California by make, I mean, beg borrow. But mostly still, there are little Tarantino RSK clique of would-be gangsters, and they’ll fix anything, including the copper and lampposts. All right, let me set up this clip as best as I can. This show is very unapologetically itself. It’s an immersive experience. It throws you into this world without explaining anything. I think it does it beautifully. You will be disoriented slightly when you hear this clip. I defy you not to be amused. In it, the four would be reservation dogs run into a pair of brothers on bicycles. These guys recur in the show over and over again. They’re incredibly, incredibly funny in real life. They’re a pair of Native American rappers. Let’s check it out.
S4: I got to go get those dickheads back. Kind of gang was both red and blue, and the mafia couldn’t make up their minds. If they want to be Bloods, the Crips more, maybe they’re blips. Well, maybe they’re creds. A wax star. Purple? Who are they? Why are they in the village? Oh, they’re new. The founders aunty just move over there by house as she fights. So yeah, and they are all cousins. I guess some chick named Jaggi with blonde hair was the leader of a gang and city of a big thing Jacki’s. And when she moved here, they initiated her cousin. They probably killed some people. And I mean, look, if y’all, why are they looking for us? Because they heard y’all with a reservation bandits? We told them, that’s why. That’s my bad thing. Shit. I kind of told me out of the office and down, and they asked me which our gang name was. And that’s all I could think of. Why would you tell them we’re in a gang, bro? Always wanted to be in a gang. I guess they tried to take you off the throne and take you out to town. So they wanted us to join their gang too, but kind of want to see how this plays out. Be careful. They seem serious when making them that when I got bad, bad, bad, we’ll just be stopped. And then.
S1: Some things I love so much, it’s short circuits, my critical ability, really, I cannot hold this thing at a distance, it’s immersive. I immersed in it. I loved it. I want to dive back in the pool. I’m watching every minute of it. What about you?
S3: Yeah, me too. I’m already, I think only an episode and a half from the end. And it’s very snackable. This was very different than what I expected. I mean, I was excited to do it because I’ve heard lots of good things about it, and it just seemed like an unusual perspective for a show to have. But honestly, I was expecting so much more of a of a slog just in terms of themes. I mean, obviously, you know, a show set on a reservation is going to be in part about poverty and disaffection and alienation. And you know, there’s there’s dark themes that come up in this show, for sure. I won’t spoil it with all of them are, but I knew that it was about these teens who were turning to crime to try to make money, to get off the reservation. So I think I was just expecting something sad. And, you know, sort of stealing myself for, you know, this, this gritty teen drama. And it’s not that this doesn’t have serious themes, as I said. But the very first image that you see in the show of the four main characters the teens who style themselves as the reservation dogs is straight out of like the little rascals or a cartoon. It’s that classic kind of angle where there’s a tree and you see their their foreheads kind of stacked up as they peek around the tree as they’re planning their heist of this, this truck full of spicy potato chips. And and from that moment, I just felt like this is I know whose hands I’m in now, right? I’m in the hands of somebody who knows how to stage a comedy with even some slapstick in it. I should have known because Taika Waititi’s name is connected with this. The showrunner is named Sterling Harjo, but he is working with Taika Waititi, who we already know from. You know, his work and what we do in the shadows and, you know, in the Thor Ragnarok movie is somebody who is able to infuse a lot of wit and playfulness into genres that you don’t necessarily associate with that. And the fact that this show does that and does it so consistently is is my favorite thing about it. Like, I love a show that will take on these kind of themes while remaining committed to being funny in every scene.
S1: Yeah, I’m totally with you. Isaac, what about you?
S2: Yeah, I loved it. I’m one episode away from the ending, totally hooked on it in every way. What it it does not proceed how I think I expected it to, and I would guess how most people expected it to, which is that the first episode sets up very clearly this kind of ongoing serialized dilemma plot where these four kids are turning to crime to raise money, to get to California, to rival gangs coming and wants to beat them up. Right? But the show does not spend a lot of time on that plot line at all, actually. I mean, there’s a little bit here and there, but what it really does is it opens up into what really feels like a series of beautiful, interconnected short stories that that give you this sense of this whole world and life and establish what the critics shave. Vasser writing it for Roger Ebert talks about is this real dialectic where the land that they are trying to escape is also the thing that gives their life meaning. And and that’s really beautiful. And like an interconnected series of short stories every episode, there’s some elliptical reference to something that happened in another one. So it just really begins to feel like you are getting this whole world. There’s also great guest performances. It’s always wonderful to see where study, you know, the acting is is so good in this very simple way, particularly from a Devery Jacobs, who plays Elora Danan and Paulina Alexis, who plays Willy Jack, who’s like the great character of this year. Willie Jack is an amazing, amazing character.
S4: So you think your uncle knows how to do a curse? A curse told you to have their hair? Didn’t you say you liked your dish or some?
S2: I mean, I was just super into it, and because of that structure, it can also tonally range a lot. I mean, there is a lot of sadness in this show and a lot of brokenness in this show, but it’s also very funny and it also has room for the supernatural. Like, I just can’t wait for there to be more of it. I wish there was more than eight episodes this season. I’m so into it.
S1: Yeah, I’m just I’m just so right there with both of you. I’m going to pound the table on this. I think this is the best show that I’ve seen in years. It’s because I just think it’s like, I think it’s perfect. It’s tonally perfect. It’s so in control of what it’s doing while seeming so casual about its approach. You think that you’re beaming into this real world and you’re a fly on the wall within it. It’s beautifully done, is never overdone. It is very funny. It’s not joked and I love the way it refuses the two major modes of TV. It is not joked, and I’ll throw rock on The Simpsons as it plays into a lot of writers room driven comedies where. You know, overpaid wise asses, sit around a table and try to one up each other and it gets crammed into a 23 25 page script, a style I’ve come to legitimately hate. To me, it’s as anachronistic as the braying laugh track of the old Seinfeld’s now on Netflix. It’s it’s jokes are come by honestly and entirely to the situation in the character. This is not trying to please you, right? It’s like really hard to genuinely entertain people without trying to please them. Geniuses can do it. The people behind the show are clearly that. And the second thing is it refuses violence it or it understands real violence and the role of violence in a community like this. Therefore, it it very playfully refuses violence of the kind that we’ve been seeing in shows like Squid Game very early on. And I believe the first episode, there’s a Tarantino as loving parody where there’s a drive by featuring paintball is so gorgeously done and it brings on a hallucination and is very important.
S4: My time we gave everything. We died for our people. We died for our land. What are you going to do? What are you going to fight for? Oh, I just fucking with you. But for real, though? Listen to what I said.
S1: It shows you the way the show is going to play with a reverence for elders and the culture of elders and ancestors at the same time undermining it and genuinely playing with it and saying that the only way we could psychologically cope as exiles in our own continent, right, like that. The fucking poignancy of that can only be psychologically compensated for with humor not only, but it needs humor to be psychologically compensated for. I think they’ve made something truly, truly extraordinary. I watched all four of the leads. I agree with you, Isaac, though those two, but also to Pharaoh Woon, a Thai playing the kind of somewhat lanky, kind of beautiful, slightly withdrawn boy, troubled boy. He’s terrific. He’s kind of the center. He and Devery Jacobs are at this kind of center of the gang in some sense, and their interplay is extraordinary and Dana. I think what the show to get one of these things authentically correct is so hard to do, but to get both in the same show to really feel as though you are hanging out with teens in a in a in a in a work of popular art, right? So you kind of don’t follow everything they say. They’re incredibly cool and you sort of want to be one again. But actually, you don’t,
S4: you know, as many of the current looks, all kinds of fucked up really show the side. Oh yeah, that’s fine. We’re going to have to go to California now. It’s where all the best surgeons are not are going to have to reconstruct some shit for, Oh,
S1: I believe these are real teenagers, right? These characters are speaking in the voice of completely authentic teenagers, and I really, really believe that they come from this culture of dispossession, and it’s not in any way ostracized or romanticized. It’s being shown in some, in some, you know, really, really deeply true way to not probably an audience overwhelmingly made up of of. People who don’t know that experience close up anyway. I’m so glad we all love the show. I mean, every single person listening to the sound of my voice, please watch the show.
S3: Yeah, all four of the teenagers really underplay their parts, which is something that you know, very young actors don’t always do. And not all these actors are that experienced. The actor who plays cheese, one of the four, one of the two boys
S4: I named cheese. My pronouns are he him and his? I’m a Native American.
S3: Cool. I think this is his first acting credit at any rate, it’s his first acting credit anywhere near this size, and they all seem to be playing on the same register. They don’t have that sense. And here I throw back to the Clint Eastwood movie we talked about last time. The actors don’t seem to be coming from different schools of acting that aren’t reconciled with each other at all in this show.
S1: Here, here. OK, please check it out. Reservation Dogs is on Hulu. It’s from Fox. We just couldn’t, couldn’t possibly love it more. All right. Moving on. OK, well, Robert Coker of The Times Magazine had a story that went viral and was discussed quite heatedly on Twitter and elsewhere it was called Who is the bad art friend? Art often draws inspiration from life. This is its subtitle, but what happens when it’s your life? Inside the curious case of Dawn Deutschland v. Sonia Larsson, and it does turn into litigation because this is America. Let me try to summarize it, and by panelist should jump in if I go horribly awry. I think the point of the story is that it could be either one of these protagonists who’s the bad art friend? Dawn is an unpublished writer. She’s white, which is important to the story. And I would say gently, she’s a recognizable type, someone for whom writing, is therapy a way to explore and possibly heal a damaged self. She’s prone to oversharing and perhaps suffers from something of a savior complex. And in fact, what she does is she donates a kidney for no other reason than to cherish her own sense of altruism. I would argue she expects to be told by social media over social media that she’s been something of a saint, but she’s made what turned out to be a series of fundamental errors, one of which is believing that this kind of MFA ish circle of friends that she’s made both in person and online are real friends, and the ugly truth comes home to her over time when nobody responds to her posts about the kidney. And then it becomes clear in a horrifying way to her that another writer, Sonja Larsen, who’s part of this world and has is published and has vastly more social power and literary power than Dawn, has used the kidney donation as a premise for a short story. It’s relatively uncontroversial, but from there things do generate quite gravely in a way. Isaac, maybe I’ll start with you. I hope I summarized that it’s hard to summarize it. It gets more complex from there. I mean, importantly, there’s a theft of specific language from a Facebook post into especially an earlier version of the short story. It gets tweaked, but not really radically. In the final version of the story, the story gets pulled from a festival. It doesn’t become the sort of official short story of Boston. They’re now lawyers. It’s a scrum. It’s gone, and it turned into a chaotic scrum and it’s not yet resolved. Begin where you please, sir.
S2: Yes, this story that made its author under $500 in its entire life has led to years of lawsuits and counter lawsuits, and is now this big story in the New York Times. I mean, I don’t know about the two of you, but my perhaps because I follow a lot of writers, you know, all anyone seems to want to talk about on social media. Is this story and who is in the right and who is in the wrong? I think it’s a testament to Robert Corker’s original piece that he writes it in such a way that, you know, it’s called Who is the bad art friend? And your opinion about that changes, you know, almost by the paragraph. It’s an extraordinarily well-written article. I do think the discourse around it has gotten a little out of control. I mean, you know, the the Sonia Larson’s group chats are now a matter of public record because of these lawsuits. You have a lot of sort of amateur sleuths kind of doing what what true crime fans do and going through these documents and posting the juiciest parts of these group chats online to talk about, you know, does this make her a terrible person or not or whatever? And I feel like that conversation has gotten a little far afield of to me, what’s really fascinating about this, which is that every couple of months it feels like, you know, we get shocked anew or horrified anew about this thing. That’s always been true, which is that writers of, you know, fiction and by fiction, I guess, I mean, all fictive work, whether it’s a play or movie or whatever. Borrow from real life. They borrow from both their own lives and the lives of other people. And often those borrowings do not happen with permission. And that’s sort of the way it’s always been, and we seem to be going through this period where we maybe want to renegotiate those norms. And I’m not sure how that’s going to shake out, frankly.
S1: Dana, what about you?
S3: I mean, I feel like the two of you. There’s a lot of ways to tell this story. It’s been retold many times from different perspectives. There’s other ways to construct it besides the way that Robert Coker did in writing this 10000 word long investigation of the legal struggles between the two. But I feel like we’re shutting out of this conversation, the extent to which there is legitimate grounds for a plagiarism case here. I mean, I don’t think it is just a question of renegotiating the norms of borrowing from someone’s life the way. For example, that piece that ran in slate a few months ago about that was a follow up to the viral cat person story, right where a woman said something like this happened in my life. And you know, to see you to see it recast in this story was very strange, and she tells the story. Fascinatingly, and I’m sure that was very strange, but that was, I think, a legitimate case of, you know, a writer picking up things magpie style from the world and weaving them into a nest of their own creation. Whereas in this story, there are there’s an actual verbatim use of some of the language that don the woman who donated her kidney at the beginning of the story uses in her Facebook posts about it that this other, more successful writer lives straight from the Facebook story later on, because she starts to become aware that it’s going to be a legal problem. She rewrites that slightly, but I mean, there definitely is a case of intellectual property theft that’s at the heart of this story. And I think another detail that’s that’s been overlooked is that it wasn’t just a $425 fee for this story that was being argued over the more successful of the two writers and the one who lifted that language from the others Facebook post. Sonia got an immigrant grant, in part based on having written this story for $25000. So I mean, at least in the in the somewhat small stakes world of these Boston based writers that this story investigates, I think there is a significant difference between these two warring writers in terms of who has profited the most from this. This bit of language in the in the private Facebook post.
S1: Hmm. I mean, to me, this is several. What makes it such a compelling piece of journalism is the way culture tells us. I do think it’s an expertly spun tale so that you are in this state of constant suspension or sort of paragraph by paragraph, as Isaac says, going back and forth between who you think might be the bad art friend. But it’s also just there are so many overlapping questions. There’s a legal question about the status of social media posts. In terms of copyright law, but to be determined in part by this case, no doubt there’s the ethical question of what kind of a friend is this person to this other person and what did she owe her that she didn’t give her? I think she was in the bare minimum, venal and incredibly dishonest in the face of this. And then there’s, I think in some ways, a very tired and already determined question about what it is to take some of the details of somebody else’s life, whether you’re close to them or not and weave it into a work of fiction. I mean, that’s just all of humanity has involved doing that. As people point out, I would say that there is a difference in the age of social media, which is the barrier to entry of posting your rebuttal or telling the world what it felt like to have that happen to you is now incredibly low. So if Philip Roth did it to you in 1955, you had to suck it up, but you don’t have to suck it up anymore, nor should you. The antidote to speech is more speech. You should be free to tell your story your point of view. Whether you think that this person was incredibly two-faced with you and lured you into saying or doing things you might not have ever done, or if you don’t know the person directly, the extent to which they did not mix their own fictive creativity with the raw materials of your life in order to remake it into art. And therefore that work should be reconsidered, as in some ways, possibly deficient. I mean, all of these, all of these are now altered. The supposedly settled debate over the relationship between real life and fiction is unsettled by the fact, as it should be by the internet. What struck me about this story? I mean, for obvious things that have been said about her already have been said. Let me say what struck me about it, and hopefully it’s somewhat novel is just the sheer pathos of it. You know? In part because in the age of social media, I personally and both of these people write like I am both a semi damaged person with a distorted sense of how others see me, who would probably be horrified to discover how I’ve been chatted about by people I mistook at some level as friends. I mean, I think we all at least suspect that there is the possibility that that happens. And I’m also a venal narcissist who wants literary glory and am part of a dog eat dog ecosystem in which, like, you know, when someone else succeeds, a little part of me dies. I would love to have a, you know, relationship whose raw material was so ripe for fit of remaking that it turned me into my generation’s Truman Capote. I mean, like, I’m both. I’m both of these. And so it pains me to see what both of these people are doing and have done to one another.
S2: Yeah, I guess I feel a little torn here because I do think there’s a difference between interpersonal ethics and artistic ethics. I think there’s a difference between, you know, what you owe another person because of basic human decency and what you owe another person in terms of art. And I think it’s pretty clear that, you know, there’s some violation of the former in the story, but I remain conflicted about whether there’s violation of the latter because of that long history that you talk about Stephen. You know, I do think that another reason why social media has forced a kind of reexamination about this and why we keep having these dust ups about it is that we all have. In addition to the very thing you’re talking about, Stephen is is this this anxiety that we have over what is being made or what is happening to all the stuff about ourselves that we are sharing all the time? Right. That that, you know, when you say something on Twitter, when I say something on Twitter, you know, I’m thinking, like, this is a conversation with my friends. Do you know what I mean? Like, this is a conversation that Dana and I are having about our, you know, mutual love of this actor or whatever, right? Even though it turns out actually anyone with a Twitter account or even not, you could just Google. It can read that conversation. You know, I’ve become much more guarded about what parts of my personal life I share on there, for example. And I and I think there’s this anxiety about like, how much of myself have I exposed? I thought it was really fascinating to read this article in light of an article that dropped online the exact same day that we read for Prep here, which is about WGC Bald and the borrowings that that that he did to, you know, write his unbelievable body of work, including the emigrants, which I happened to have just read for the first time a couple of months ago and is a, you know, cataclysmic novel. I mean, it is incredible. And one of the most powerful segments in it is a part where he quotes at length from a diary. And it turns out what he’s really doing is quoting at length from like a diary that a friend of his loaned him, not knowing that it was going to end up in the book, and the friend wound up very wounded by that. I feel that, you know, they bombed again. It’s like, I don’t want to. I don’t know that I want to exist in the world without the emigrants and without that diary in it, even if that was kind of a shitty thing to do. So I remain very, very torn about this and I and I think that it’s hard to come down clearly and to make a clear rule and that we have these norms and that we’re always renegotiating. It is part of why these stories stick around for so long because there isn’t always a clear right and wrong, even if there’s a clear right and wrong of like this was kind of a shitty thing to do to another person. All right.
S1: Speaking of shitty things to do to another person, Dana, I’m going to pivot to you and ask a question to have us go out on, which can only be answered over the course of a 500 page master’s thesis. But see what you can do with it, which is to me, the ultimate, the ultimate judge. There is, you know, once the courts are done and Twitter is done, the judge is really kind of, you know, I mean, posterity is a grand way of putting it. But do you really care that Melville kind of plagiarized large parts about the whale from in Moby Dick from another source? Do you really care that Hamlet’s plagiarized? Of course not. You don’t care at all. You’re like, whatever you steal away and is able, that’s going to be the same thing. If it isn’t, now it’s going to be in 100 years. People aren’t going to care. You know, everyone’s dead. You know, all the aggrieved parties are six feet under. But this book, you know, this work still lives in. If it’s if that’s alive to us, that’s what we judge it by its own sort of intrinsic such as they are, you know, merits of yes or no. Can we import that into our understanding of how living people relate to one another? Or is that just too abstract?
S3: I mean, I think to really properly answer that question, I would have to have read the story in question. The kind of. Which is the actual piece of art, right, that is being batted around in the in the bad art friend discourse. I would throw people to a really excellent review of that, of that story, just an essay about that story and about this whole controversy. By Katie Waldman in The New Yorker. Katie Waldman, wonderful book critic formerly of Slate, who always has something insightful to say. Yeah, I mean, according to her reading of that story, you know, it’s not exactly the Moby Dick of short stories by by Boston writers in the last decade. But even if you think this is just such a petty sounding story of a dispute between two people, neither of whom you would want to know and I mean something that culture does very well, and this story is keep on reversing your sympathies and then reversing the reversal so that there’s not there’s really not a villain or a hero of this story, and everybody comes off looking pretty petty and pretty bad. But I would still tell people, if you’re not too completely sick of hearing people talk about this story, it is worth the investment of time. It will make you think about things that reach far outside the world of these two women and their petty legal disputes. And it’s got a racial angle that we haven’t talked about, which is that the author of the story is Asian-American and sort of turned the kidney donation story into a racial story in a way that it wasn’t in real life. She makes it that it’s a sort of white savior narrative, right where the kidney goes to someone of a different race in real life. It went to an Orthodox Jew who, you know, was was a white man as the donor was a white woman. So all of this other stuff enters into it. Apparently, the kidney donation and dialysis community is also up in arms about this story and about the way the woman is depicted, who who donated her kidney, who, you know, for whatever reason she may have done it did save someone’s life by doing it right. And I think the fact that she, after she performed this altruistic gesture, proceeded to be somewhat narcissistic in seeking praise for it seems like a separate story from the fact that, you know, she she did some good in the world anyway. I mean, this story is a stone throwing upon that makes a lot of concentric ripples, and I think it’s worth engaging with, even if from the outside it sounds sort of like a incomprehensible tangle.
S1: Well, listen, I asked you for a 500 page master’s thesis and you gave me a beautiful haiku about the stone and the ripples in the pond. I love it. That’s that’s why you’re Dana Stevens. So this came out October 5th in the Times. You’ve probably read it if you’re listening to the show. If you haven’t, it’s called Who’s the bad art friend? I do think it’s a masterfully delivered piece of journalism from Robert Culture. All right, let’s move on. All right, now is the moment in our podcast when we endorsed Dana, what do you have?
S3: Yeah, I feel a little lazy that I didn’t search very far for my endorsement this week, but it offered itself in the very long and very useful research document that our production assistant, Nadira Golf, made this week. It’s a piece in time by Devery Jacobs, who’s one of the young actors in reservation dogs and and she wrote something about the prevalence of suicide in indigenous communities for For Time magazine. That’s just so thoughtful and so beautifully written, and it just it just really struck me that, you know, a young person who works in a completely different field who is not a writer by profession in any way, wrote something so thoughtful and so beautifully written. So the piece is called How Reservation Dogs is opening up a crucial conversation about suicide in indigenous communities. It’s in time, and it’s by Devery Jacobs. We will link to it on our show page.
S1: Isaac, what do you have?
S2: All right. My mind connects to our R Rooney discussion. Let’s see if we can figure out what it is before I say the title. It is a film from the 1990s set in New York City, about two old female friends there in their twenties. But they’ve been friends for a long time whose problems in their romantic relationships begin to create sort of fractures in their friendship. I am, of course, walking, talking. Yep, there it is. And I couldn’t walk one of
S3: my favorite movies in the world. I absolutely love that movie.
S2: I know. In fact, I think this is like a foundational film for our friendship. Dana. I think early on, we tweeted at each other about our mutual love of this movie. Nicole Holofcener first film. It is a perfect time capsule of 90s New York. It is a wonderful it’s both a romantic comedy and a comedy of friendship. It’s filled with great performances, especially from the criminally underrated and harsh. I just it’s so great. And also, if you’re, you know, young, let’s say you’re in the younger millennial Gen Z. You’ll get to see this fascinating thing called an answering machine, and you’ll get to learn about this bizarre technology and how it worked, because a lot of it is spent with people doing this thing, called talking on a phone, and sometimes they talk to an answering machine. Anyway, it’s so great. Just please watch it. It’s streaming on HBO Max. I think it’s also streaming on Hulu. You know, it’s just a wonderful movie. If you like Sally Rooney, it’ll be right up your alley and then you can go watch all of Nicole Holofcener other movies. It’s a wonderful body of work.
S1: I love that the answering machine is now like the astrolabe or the, you know, medieval rack or something. It’s.
S2: Anyway, the the telegram
S3: and the best scene in that movie revolves around an answering machine misunderstanding involving the great Kevin Corrigan, who I think I saw for the first time in that movie.
S1: So I want to endorse an essay that just blew me away. It seems like a, you know, a perfect example of the Typekit by Jessica Riskin in the New York review of Books. It’s called the title of the essays Nature’s Evolving Tastes and It’s a Take Off. It’s a review essay pegged to a new set of essays about Darwin’s Descent of Man, where Darwin belatedly and reluctantly began to apply his theories to human behavior, which is obviously the most politically controversial aspect of Darwin’s work. To what extent can we explain what we do, what we choose, who we are, or how we self conceive, how we mate, how we do all of everything in relation to our evolutionary inheritance and the way that that’s been politicized. It’s a it’s just a learned calm, lucid explanation of what Darwin actually seemed to believe, which is almost exactly contrary to how he’s often construed by AI. Well, what do you want to call them like market neoliberals? I mean, she doesn’t politicize the subject herself. Professor Riskin, she’s a Stanford professor. The history of science. As I understand it, she’s it’s so judicious. It’s so beautifully done. But she leaves no room for some of the people who’ve profited most off of. I think, overstretching Darwin to explain, you know, our our political dilemmas back to us in a kind of pre concluded way, you know? I mean, I’m thinking about people like Janet Pinker and and and especially Dawkins. You know this this just fantastically hypocritical attempt to speak in the totally purified tones of science when in fact, it is absolutely the most, you know, ideologically imbued set of theses anyway. I don’t want to detract from the essay. The essay does not grind it. You know, there’s no axe grinding in this essay at all. It’s just a perfect example of someone who actually has a deep knowledge of the subject, calmly explaining how it’s so commonly gotten wrong and very consequentially gotten wrong. So anyway, it’s let me say again it’s by Jessica Riskin. It’s in the current New York review of books. It’s called Nature’s Evolving Taste, and it puts paid to neo Darwinism, in my estimation. Isaac, this was a great run, this was a great set of shows, and one of the principal reasons was you are just a great interlocutor. I there’s nothing I wouldn’t want to discuss with you. Come back soon.
S2: Well, thank you so much, Stephen. I feel the exact same way and I can’t wait to come back. I’ll miss you guys.
S3: Yeah, Isaac, it feels like you’re a part of the show now, so we need to have you on more often now that you’ve done these three
S2: three episodes stretch. Awesome. I look forward to being the Joan Rivers to The Tonight Show of the Gabfest.
S1: Excellent, of course. Dana Stevens you’re just the cornerstone man. This was good with this was a really good set of shows. And as always, just a delight.
S3: As ever,
S1: you will find links to some of the things we talked about today at our show page. That’s Slate.com’s LGD Culturefest, and you can email us at Culturefest at Slate.com. Our introductory music is by the glorious Nick Britell, the the film composer. Our production assistant is Nadira Goff, our producers Cameron Dru’s for Isaac Butler and Dana Stevens. I’m Stephen Metcalf. Thank you so much for joining us. This is a great show and we will see you soon.
S5: Hello, and welcome to this
S3: light blue segment of the Slate Culture Gabfest this week we are talking about finishing works of art inspired by the fact that people were very upset. We had not all seen every episode of Squid game last week. That was, in particular, a show that was difficult to finish for reasons we articulated in that segment, but often also we just simply don’t finish a show because we don’t have time. Otherwise, we would never be able to talk about TV because there’s so much of it, and it takes so long to watch it that we’re not talking about the specific squid game omission this time, but using it as a jumping off point to talk about finishing stuff. This was partly inspired by the fact that when it was brought up in one of our calls, Isaac, you said that your wife, Anne, is an obsessive finisher of things that I wanted to hear just in your own household. How does the finish versus not finish work when you’re watching a movie or a TV show together?
S2: Well, you know, we very rarely abandon movies because it’s just a less less of a time commitment. You know what I mean? Although it’s gotten a little more frequent now because we tend to watch films what I call parent style, which is broken up into 45 to 60 minute chunks after our child has gone to bed. But, you know, with TV shows, I’m probably the one who will bail out of a TV show or a book earlier than than she will. And I’m so I’m, you know, I’m the devil on the shoulder, right? Always going like, you’re not liking the book. Just stop reading it. You don’t like it. You’ve read 150 pages. That’s enough. You know you don’t like it. Just set it down and read something else. But she is a better, more loyal person than I am, and she will stick it out to the bitter end. So sometimes you know she’ll be reading the same book for for months on end because she’s just got to get to the end of it. And I just I just there’s too many books in the world. I just can’t do that anymore.
S3: That’s unusual. The book thing, I mean, finishing a TV series that is much more than I do, I’m constantly abandoning TV shows. But of course, that’s also in my case and Stephen also just a professional fact, right? I mean, we’re not starting something up, necessarily because we think that we’re going to love it beginning to end. We want to be able to join the conversation about it. But finishing a book you aren’t enjoying, I mean, you could be committing depending on the length of the book, you know, days of your time to doing something just because you started doing it. I just wonder, where does she draw the line if she if she happens to leaf through something in a bookstore? That’s obviously trash. Obviously, she doesn’t feel obligated to finish that. Is it buying the book? I just wonder what moment is it that you feel like now I’m all in and I owe this book finishing it?
S2: I don’t know. It’s usually, you know, once she says, like, this is the next book I’m going to read. It’s like she’s she’s going to read it, but she also chooses the book. She’s going to read very carefully. I would say. And so, you know, by the time she’s made the commitment to do it, I think she has, you know, oriented herself around the idea that this book is the next book she’s reading. You know, so, so, so it can be it can be challenging. I find myself abandoning books way more often the older I get, you know? To me, it’s like, OK, if the book is recommended by people whose taste I trust, I will tough it out often, or I’ll tough it out further. I might get to halfway through the book. But you know, if if that’s not the case, I’ll often probably at about the 30 percent mark, I’ll probably bag out. You know, if it’s if it’s a book where the at least the sentence level writing is above a certain level of competency. But then I just feel like the book isn’t doing something interesting or I’m falling asleep while I’m reading it. Or, you know, whatever it is all all all often bag out of it at about a third of the way through.
S1: Right? I mean, it sort of depends. Are you reading, you know, Ulysses or remembrances of things past? I mean, the point of it is kind of the majestic totality, and it’s the difficulty of getting to the point where you’ve read the whole thing. Then maybe bailing isn’t such a great idea. You’re supposed to move through the thicket of it, right? The glorious thicket of it with some disease, I think, or any use or whatever. But I love on the flip side, I love this anecdote from Life of Johnson. You know, Boswell’s biography sort of of of of Samuel Johnson. Mr. Elphinstone talked of a new book that was much admired and asked Dr. Johnson if he’d read it. Johnson, I’ve looked into it. What sort of in stone have you not read it through? Johnson offended at being thus pressed and so obliged to his own cursory mode of reading, answered tartly. No, sir, do you read books through and through is italicized. Like what kind of fucking war? I read the whole book and that’s always stayed with me. And you know, the abandonment can be the highest form of respect. I don’t know. I don’t know if I want that on my T-shirt, exactly. But you know, you don’t have my you don’t have my attention. Uh, you know, in my time ahead of time, the contract is never written that if I started, I need to finish it. I owe that to. I owe my time only to myself, you know, and and there are too many books in the world and there are too many other things to do. The TV shows my commitments even lighter. I mean, the the sunk costs you know, of of an episode and a half three episodes in. Saying Phuket, like, I just I’m not, you know, I would have abandoned that preposterous, you know, cyborg baby movie we watched the other day because I found it incredibly retrograde, pretentious, stupid like the French doing their worst self imitation. No way I would have finished that movie. I mean, it’s just the highest form of self-respect is is when circumstances merited total abandonment. That’s Ed, you know, I agree with Isaac. If someone you trust is recommended, something you know. You know, I think I think I think you pushed through. And certainly if there’s a thing like, you know, you’re meant to experience Moby Dick as ponderously long it is, it’s digressions, right? I mean, and and to sort of say, Oh, you know, I could book, I just stick to the adventure story is beside the point. You should reduce it. Try to read the whole thing.
S3: Yeah. I’ve talked before about my experience of reading Moby Dick on this show. It took me 15 years to finish it. If you if you count all the years that it lay fallow on my bedside table and bookshelf, and I read some of it for grad school and sort of didn’t know if I would ever finish it and then committed myself to reading it only on vacations that I would just take it with me on summer vacation every summer. And that would be my summer reading, and it was like the opposite of a beach read write the most challenging possible thing. And it ended up being such an incredible pleasure to finish it because it left the zone of obligation or or timing or, you know, feeling that I had to get through it in some, even in the space of my lifetime. It was just like as long as I’m always chipping away at it, you know, and it was it was an utter joy. But I think maybe of the three of us, I might be the earliest abandoned her of all. Not with movies, as you say, Isaac, it’s not that big of a time commitment to finish a two hour movie. So unless something is really actively turning me off, I mean, often with movies, I sort of need to watch them right? I mean, the writing about them or we’re talking about them in the podcast, or they’re just part of the current movie conversation and I want to be up on them. But yeah, I completely agree that it has to do with advancing age and feeling like I don’t know anyone my time. And, you know, maybe in another another life, in another phase of my life, I’ll even come back and finish this. Or maybe someone else will convince me one day that it’s worth going back to finish, but I’m not going to climb that hill just for the sake of climbing it.
S2: Well, is there, you know, when we’re talking about abandoning things, you know, is there something you’ve abandoned and gone back to a second time and then fallen in love with it? Did that? Has that ever happened to you? Like, you’ve set it aside, and then a year later, something sounds like a no, actually, that’s really good and you pick it up again and then you’re you’re.
S3: So that’s not quite that’s not quite the same as the Moby Dick’s two story I was telling, because I love that from the beginning when I was reading it, there were just times when it was the wrong commitment for my, for my life circumstances. I’m trying to think of a circumstance where I turn back to something and loved it. Do you have one, Steve?
S1: I mean, I’ll give you a really weird one. Bright lights. Big City had this moment in the 80s, you had to read it. It was the bob book, and it was, you know, that part of that series of books. What’s his face published? You know, that put those covers? And and I think I started it and the second person form of it, right? It’s you, you you. When really it would normally be. I mean, it’s not literally you, the reader or you plural, whatever, but turn me off right away. I thought the book was just some sort of zeitgeist hustle from some shitty boomer, and I was like, Fuck this, I’m not going to read it. Well, I finally read it because I was writing a book about the 1980s, and it was just a homework assignment. You know, it’s a wonderfully misunderstood book in some sense, a grief memoir. In some sense, too. I had to aspects I never would have believed that it had, which was is a grief memoir. It’s really about. I can’t remember who he’s lost, maybe his mother, but that’s what sends him into this drug fueled frenzy, and I thought that was quite honestly delivered. And it’s a very sharply observed satire of the workings of The New Yorker and the final phases of the Shine era. It’s very funny, it’s very sharply observed, and I thought it was just this kind of scattershot. You know, I go to the clubs, you know, sleep with supermodels and do a lot of coke and then like eat a loaf of bread at the end and you’re fine. And it was like, you know, now it’s a really, really sort of strangely interesting and successfully delivered work of pretty minor literature. But but I was grateful for it. I’m trying to think of others that fit that description where you’re like, Oh, this thing has a reputation for being this. But when you really read it, you discover the heart of it lies elsewhere. I know there are other examples of that. I just wish I could think of them off the top of my head.
S3: Steve, that’s a great one, and I love that novel when it came out. And I think is the it’s the best thing. Jay McInerney has ever done. It’s one of those first novels that just nails it. You know, right out of the gate and in a way he was always trying to to recapture that lightning and things that he did later on. Although I will say that I do love his wine writing. He has a really, really excellent book called A Hedonist in the Cellar. That’s just about his love of wine and pairing it with food. And it’s really funny and just some sort of great food writing. I’m trying to think of an example of something that I went back to after having abandoned it, and it’s making me feel very inflexible in my beliefs because I can’t think of an example right now, so I’m going to throw it out to listeners and ask them if there’s something that we should go back to. What’s a movie or a TV show or something? We’ve talked about that I didn’t give fair shrift to, and I should I should go back and revisit. Maybe you can make me have that experience if I haven’t had it myself. All right, well, I love that topic that was that was fun to talk about it, and I will also keep it in mind as we cover culture in the future, knowing that what our different policies are on abandoning something or not. Thanks to all of you who are Slate Plus members for helping to support our show for Stephen Metcalf and Isaac Butler, I’m Dana Stevens. Thanks so much and we’ll talk to you next week.