The Liminalist # 260: An Emissary from Vanishing Worlds (with Jonathan Lethem)

Return conversation with Jonathan Lethem on his new novel The Arrest, the spell of stories, wrestling ourselves free from language & exiting an exhausted paradigm,

Part One: Opening the Door for the News (0 – 35 mins)

Speculative fiction & predictive fiction, anticipating the covid crisis, longing for dystopia, Kunstler’s World Made By Hand books, Dr. Bloodmoney, diagnosing the appetite for dystopia, Hollywood aggrandizers, culture imposed upon nature, opening the door for the news, the limited views of hilly roads, a flicker of the past, how The Arrest was written, The Pale King, a rural Chronic City, drawing on literary powers, the most photographed barn in America, sticky koans, the life we thought we were living, a hoaxed career, David Graeber’s bullshit jobs, James Brown’s field of distortion, Brown’s cape man.

Part Two: More Perceptual Bubbles (35 mins – 1 hr 11 mins)

Motherless Brooklyn movie, Hollywood interest in Lethem, time-averaging, perceptual filters, what sci-fi designers get wrong, different ages of objects, a cacophony of different pasts, the undistributed future, the conspiracy of attention, the middleman, an emblem of enabling, Trump and Michael Cohen, the humanizing effect of serflings, the nightmare of Trump, the super-car of the constructed identity, ideological bubbles & safety bubbles, the infantilization of James Brown, a nihilistic monster-king, Lethem’s reliance on the falsifications of NPR, Alan Watts, thrift store work, choosing idealism over immediate compassion, the experience of the body.

Part Three: A Razor’s Edge Over Uncharted Waters (1 hr 11 mins – 1 hr 45 mins)

What Lethem’s wrestling with, Maddy as the pivot of indeterminacy, is Lethem self-rejecting, debunked male protagonists, Orson Welles’ dyads, two sides of Lethem, the sorcerer and the apprentice, the issue of complicity, the lure of American culture, Lethem the wizard, Jasun’s Hollywood complex, Lethem’s lethal text, a book of quiet consent, Bruce Sterling & the Martian concentration camp, Amnesia Moon, an ideological ocean of toxic masculinity, a bridge to the past, an emissary from vanishing worlds, a razor’s edge over uncharted waters.

Part Four: The Unnumbered Days (1 hr 45 mins – end)

Losing oneself in the unnumbered days, the Buddhist silence, born in Babel, moving beyond language, the exhaustive declaration, a MIC-drop, covid talk, elusive losses of freedom, the assumptions of the present, avoiding death, the imposition of a narrative, global awareness, The Man Without Qualities, a moment of silence and collapse of meaning, a canary in the coal mine, an ambassador for Philip K. Dick & pulp sci-fi, the end of the progress myth & the hour of self-examination, exhausted paradigms, a They Live moment, the essential reflexive, an appetite for intervention, talking across a breach, the work of weeding, Lethem’s abandoned super-car.

Lethem portrait art by Martin Jolly

Jonathan Lethem official site

Songs: “Pirates” by Entertainment for the Braindead; “Taxidermy Plastinated Mixx” by Mr & Mrs Smith; “Broken Land” by The Bones of J.R. Jones; “The Garden’s Song,” by Art of Flying; “Changes” by Short Hand.

8 thoughts on “The Liminalist # 260: An Emissary from Vanishing Worlds (with Jonathan Lethem)”

  1. What a gift to listen in on a conversation between friends at any time and in any place, but to hear out of the noise-wracked aethers on this Indian Summer afternoon in Brooklyn, this dialogue of two sympatico souls felt as warm and wonderful as the day. Thank you Jasun and Jonathan.

  2. I love this interview – thank you. Looking forward to reading this book. Not sure if I agree with Lethem about your mode of cognitive self-questioning becoming more prevalent in the population. Yes, there is much unveiling of bad business that used to be taken for granted, but I also see so much more polarization of opinion, so much more clutching at one’s chosen narrative, and excoriation of narratives that are contradictory or offensive. This is reinforced, exacerbated and perpetuated by our many forms of media. And if one happens to question unquestionables – for instance, is it actually good to be wearing masks? to be preventing the spread of covid in the first place? what about Sweden? is there something perhaps a little bit problematic about bubbling ourselves? then one is excoriated for “not caring about other people”. The common narrative can’t even consider that it is concern for others that might drive such a viewpoint. I am concerned that, while people may be making altruistic efforts (and that’s nice), those efforts might be doing more harm than good. I think the current scenario is driving changes, but I am not romantic about those changes reflecting “what the world needs now”, at least not necessarily in a nice, earthy crunchy way. There are so many narratives. It’s like jumping on ice floes

  3. Love the interview but was a little nonplussed by JL’s attitude about COVID, which is all too mainstream, which is the narrative eviscerating society. I imagine he feels a lot of fear about the issue. Being a COVID denier in California right now is akin to being a holocaust denier. I wonder if you think of JL as a part of the ‘intelligentsia.’ He characterizes you towards the end as an outsider who needs to “humble himself to feel less exceptional.” I feel the same way towards people who trust Dr. Fauci.

  4. Congrats on the move. Cops with dogs checking for masks on the Skytrain this week… You’re getting out just in time. We are much closer than most can imagine.

    Speaking of camps, I don’t get your connection to this guy, but admire your ability to separate the man from his agitprop. I suspect their civil war won’t be kind to those who think figures of speech will provide potable water.

    Good luck.

  5. Generally, it was one of those Liminalist podcasts where the world seems to cease turning, everything around me silences and the two voices I hear are as if they’re in my own head, speaking my own thoughts. It’s an experience unique to your podcast, and, believe me, I’ve tried it with plenty others.

    • Seconded… well, at least, most consistently with this podcast….
      Why I love these conversations is the two perspectives blend and meld as well as contrast allowing one to place oneself in the path of a deeper truth (transmission) which is in the spaces between the two perspectives — and often times here, in the spaces left open by the speaker…


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