The Liminalist # 78: The Lack Behind the Mask (with Jonathan Lethem)


Part one of a return conversation with author Jonathan Lethem, on the religious sense and being scarred by reality, an international lexicon, defining oneness, the astronauts’ betrayal, writing outside oneself, negative capability, the noose of trauma, A Gambler’s Anatomy, a novel in code, Nabokov & the Lolita puzzle, Lethem’s rebus, in the presence of the clue, a lived-in narrative, losing the metaphoric thread, the existentialist horror tradition, the pull of the past, successful mourning vs. doing a geographical, overlaps between Seen & Not Seen and A Gambler’s Anatomy, Graham Greene & the ex-pat motif, national identity & trauma, a traumatic legacy, Lethem’s bad charismatic father figures, a guru in the background, Curtis’ The Mayfair Set, the naïve journey into (and out of) the aristocracy, Bruno’s origins, a capacious container, Lethem on Sebastian Horsley, a self-designed vacuum, the inability to suffer, the reincarnation of Chase Steadman, the love that risks tragedy, transposing literary avatars into new genres, the last part of the novel, Bruno’s wrong turns, degenerate soul companions, the fantasy trope of angelic rescue, a series of violent anti-climaxes, symbiosis of theme and narrative, Lethem’s disillusionment with Occupy, Lethem’s unactualized insights and Bruno’s disempowering power, a manufactured uprising, the rich & the poor as shallow & deep, the confines of the eye in the pyramid, an author in exile from idealism, a self-generating division, the space between Chase Steadman & Bruno Alexander, seeking the bridge, Lethem’s arguable literary status, the ephemerality of a literary reputation, a dance of fixation, a dangerous complicity, Lethem on Lethem, the man behind the mask.

Lethem’s site.

Previous podcasts with Lethem.

Songs:  “The Kommema and his Religion” by SunWalker;  “What Am I to Do,” by The Lovetones; “Hard Work,” by Sounds in the Olive Grove; “Seesaw,” by Origami Conspiracy.

3 thoughts on “The Liminalist # 78: The Lack Behind the Mask (with Jonathan Lethem)”

  1. “socially very well-placed” lulz

    if Ed Norton makes that Motherless Brooklyn movie though – good for Lethem


  2. I appreciate Mr. Lethem’s dividedness about radicalism’s revolutions, Horsley viewing them as so many revolving doors–hence doors given to countless revolutions–in which the elites always come out on top. However, we may be in a unique position in history where the paradigm of hierarchy may permanently be shattered given a confluence of man-made and natural catastrophes such as peak oil, global warming, financial collapse, and an overall reversal of the religion of “progress” at the end-times of modernity. The difficulty is in discerning what may lay in store as being at all palatable to us, used as we are to the perks of modernity. What may be discerned is an abandonment of the nation state, a resurrection of intensely local modes of being, and an ethos of cooperation versus competition. These future possibilities may bear only the signs of their impossibility and somehow the elites may flip to the top, instantiating hierarchy, in a sort of jiu-jitsu of historical determinism. But I harbor the hope that it may not be so.

  3. From Lethem: ‘Meaning is being produced, not referred to.’
    That to me is one of the best encapsulations for the process of writing I’ve ever heard. Especially for novel writing.
    That is also an excellent counterpoint to the thesis I know you’ve argued eloquently for Jasun regarding writing as a distancing, protective measure, as a means to retreat within the intellect.
    I think both are true.
    Like any activity, writing is neutral and can be abused or otherwise. For me, the impulse to write is not to numb myself or protect myself (I had far worse habits for that) but to engage with my deepest self in an intensely alive and intimate capacity.
    Allowing something to grow beneath my fingers that I am not completely in control of (ie my intellect/ego) is one of the most amazing experiences. Meaning is indeed formed that could not be otherwise apprehended.


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