The top ten
0s&1s interviews of '16


What a year! Much changed, much stayed the same. There's nothing like forgetting about what exists and what doesn't by talking to people with ideas about the most privileged subject in the world: art—specifically, books.

This list is as arbitrary as anything.

For the complete set of conversations, go here.






10. "When the mental breakdown is real, you can't sell a personal essay about it"

In which Sarah Nicole Prickett discusses what we deserve, failing, lawsuits, porn, being blocked by Facebook, being worried none of it means anything at all & mor

Published 3/30 in The Art of Commerce

"Before I answer I want to go back to it being my idea, because that's a lot of why it's a failure. I met someone who wanted to publish it, but his idea of being a publisher was, I think, based on Lorin Stein's being an editor at the Paris Review. He wanted to be a sly charming figurehead who could transform like a white space in arts and letters, but he wanted to do it with more of a trust fund than perhaps a real great aptitude, and he wanted to say it was his idea. Also, he wanted to pay for one issue and own seventy-five per cent of the whole magazine. Which I couldn't afford. I also couldn't afford the lawsuit that, um, what's a word that isn't ensued."


9. "You have to risk execration in order to be great"

In which Andrew O'Hagan talks about the influence of The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer

Published 6/13 in Influenced

"If we don't seek to understand [Trump], we are seeking to misunderstand our times. I don't want to read another piece telling me how hideous he is. I want to know why he's liked. I want to know what his virtues are in the minds of the faithful. Because without that knowledge we are doomed. You should—especially if you're a writer—seek to understand the hatred in the eyes of your enemy. But also one should seek to reveal what is most repugnant to ourselves, because Trump has a kind of genius for connection with some very live forces in American life. Only bad writers or self-satisfied magazine hacks will settle for the self-compliment of finding Trump beyond the pale."


8. "It's somehow an elitist problem to worry about the death of magazines"

In which Gemma Sieff discusses the death of magazines, her Tinder article and 'Kenneth', pretension, highbrow flatness, second-order lowbrow & more

Published 8/17 in The Art of Commerce

"I did and didn't want people to read it. So I was like it's great there's a paywall, and Harper's is so . . .

Please finish that thought.

Forgotten. That's nice and accurate too. I mean, here's the thing. The BuzzFeed piece regarding the Stanford rape case, I found that whole thing pretty troubling. For a few reasons. The first is the traffic question. The garish red background. The news anchor reading it aloud. The victim's anonymity versus his mug shot, there are Hester Prynne vibes. This is NOT to suggest that rowers should go around raping people—swimmers sorry. It's to say that I'm not comfortable with the think pieces that follow some of these sex cases, which her letter was, a think piece—even if it was addressed to the judge. As Sarah Nicole Prickett just wrote about in n+1, it can be read very literarily, and indeed I had a strange response to that letter. I hesitate to admit that it was funny, in a very very dark way. Not the places where she talks about her anguish (I felt for her), but the Swedes on bikes. What makes me uncomfortable is a certain kind of mob mind that takes over when language is very easily forwardable and digestible, when it's about things that are murky and difficult and bad. Even the Ke$ha case. Lena Dunham in Lenny was all for Ke$ha, but later the judge was like there's just not enough proof. I don't want to be reading or writing about this stuff too quickly or early. Sensitivity takes time, and the culture of writing has sped up in some ways that make me uncomfortable."


7. "My whole world cracked open and the potential for what my life could be completely shifted"

In which Catie Disabato talks truly bleak dark nights, using criticism as fuel, ambition, comparisons to Ayn Rand, the power of pop stars, happiness norms & more

Published 3/22 in Thick Skin

"Very interesting question, especially because I'm a person who regularly says a joke that's also kinda not a joke: 'I've never been happy in my life.' That's not true any more, I experienced moments of real solid honest happiness in association with my book. And I experience moments of real solid honest happiness with friends and family sometimes. However, the Book High is a bright hot flame that burns through fuel fast. (I'm using lots of fire metaphors in this convo.) So, there was a definite come down, and I had some Rough Months in the latter part of last year. However, there is some kind of new norm, some different place I'm creating from. I don't think 'higher' is the right word to describe it. That's the wrong scale, it's like trying to measure water using one of those scales you have in your bathroom."


6. Clouds Gathered. Clouds Melted.

In which Adam Thirlwell improvises a book

Published 4/10 in A Bit Contrived

"Is it presumptuous to wonder about the true proportions - I mean those who've read me and those who haven't? Maybe in the end more people in the world have read me than haven't? Maybe your cashier was just shy? And after all, what's reading? My dream is to make the novel more like a myth - so that you don't need to be the person clicking your way through, or turning the pages. You just need to have heard about the story. And when the story's as giant as the story of Erik and his space quest, all the while wrestling with the everyday problems of wild sexual fantasy and insatiable appetites - gong bao prawn, enchiladas, paila marina (the farewell banquet with Lars was something I worked on for 4 years before I decided I had the scene right) - then I guess in my immodest way I hope with this novel I reached my ideal. I hope aliens are reading me."


5a. "In the Norman Mailer Stabs His Wife kind of way, in the big dicks swinging around kind of way"

In which Jessa Crispin talks aesthetics and political correctness, the dominant cynical remove of culture, anger today & more

Published 2/3 in The Art of Commerce

"If you are critical of what is popular, what is mainstream, you are instantly labeled pretentious. If you quote Nietzsche, you are automatically an asshole. This is tied in, I think, with the dominant cynical remove of our culture, sincerity is absolutely distrusted...stepping away from the dominant culture is, now, seen as almost an act of aggression. And you have to step away to position yourself as a critic in any way. But stepping away, stepping above, even if only to get a better view, is seen as being a rejection, and then it becomes, who the hell do you think you are?"


5b. [Insert inflammatory remark]

In which Jessa Crispin returns to discuss her feminist manifesto, BORINGASFUCK, producing profit vs. good work, defining personal success & more

Published 5/15 in The Art of Commerce

"It made me feel like the Paris Review is maybe run by children. And no, they did not get in touch. But also, it's not really gratifying because who cares if the Paris Review knows I exist? I honestly don't care. I wasn't throwing a brick through their window in the hopes they'd finally look up and see the real me. I was trying to make a point about how writers always have to be for sale, and that state of being for sale limits what you can say or do, and what do you know, the Paris Review overlooked all of that to offer themselves up for sale. If anything, it was a beautiful bit of obliviousness."


4. "You put all this energy into trying to make sure the worst thing doesn't happen, but then when it does, it's really liberating"

In which Sheila Heti talks about words that don’t mean anything, comparing her work to Girls, fictional narcissism, her James Wood review & more

Published 2/2 in Thick Skin

"James Wood admitted to me, later, that he had been wrong about the book. That it was much better than he realised at the time. He put it on his list of the best books of the year, though the review itself was fairly negative. I think book reviewers often review books too quickly after reading them.

But anyway, when I first read the review, I was sitting in a parkette in New York. And I read it in the magazine. And I felt very excited and giddy. I felt he misunderstood the book, and this made me happy. It felt more exciting than if he'd totally understood it."


3. "Indulge your mischief, forgive yourself your pettiness, covet the extravagance and impracticality of your imagination"

In which Greg Jackson talks about the influence of Calvin & Hobbes

Published 6/1 in Influenced

"...Can I summarize anything I would characterize as 'full genius' period, much less in a short paragraph? The genius of Calvin & Hobbes, simplified horribly, is that of speaking to the spirit of any audience, of any age, and - I am projecting here - of any temperament. It is, in this one definition, a perfect art: it has the widest possible appeal without in any sense compromising its values or pandering. Its moral perspective is strong and unapologetic, but it doesn't preach or turn away those who disagree. It treats motivation, in the broadest sense, as suspect: self-excusing, self-flattering, self-interested, self-deceiving. I think it treats its own motivation with this same humorous and ironic skepticism. This comes across as warmth and open-mindedness, and for young people especially it teaches a healthy sort of self-doubt and self-interrogation. That's too many 'self-' constructions, but we're doing Freud here. C&H gave you permission to indulge your mischief, forgive yourself your pettiness, covet the extravagance and impracticality of your imagination, open yourself in an unguarded way to experience, strive to disdain what is unimportant and love what actually is important, and to take the ironic stance necessary to forgive yourself and others when you all fail to live up to your values, as you inevitably will. Watterson was also a master of concision. Me, less so..."


2. "The impulse to live a meaningful life, and the damage that impulse can cause"

In which Garth Greenwell talks about the influence of Death in Venice—both the novella and the opera.

Published 11/21 in Influenced

"It's a strong statement to say a) desire and b) the impulse toward meaning are both against the cohesion of a life...Was this something on your mind even as a teenager?

I think they were. Certainly I was aware of the ways in which desire is a disruptive force: it's hard for me to imagine a queer person who doesn't understand that very early on. And I was aware that the shame I was taught to associate with desire was at odds with the dignity and order I sought elsewhere, especially in music and art. And also, a little later, in certain kinds of religion, where it was very clear that what was presented to me as a coherent life required a kind of abnegation that was tantamount to self-destruction.

But I think I also sensed early on that this is a false dichotomy, that any too easy division between Apollonian and Dionysian presents a false image of the human. (This is a point made by both Mann and Britten.) Certainly I sensed early on, reading Baldwin and Genet and Winterson and Woolf, that art-making is deeply, necessarily connected to desire, that the kind of art I wanted to make is bound up with the drive of desire."


1. "I am afraid my writing arm is going to be sucked into the publishing machine, and be pulverized by it, or just yanked off by it, and I'm going to bleed out right here before I make another book"

In which Merritt Tierce discusses money, "waiting for inspiration", the publishing machine, paying bills, criticism, the Second Book & more

Published 9/26 in The Art of Commerce

"Is it a matter of sticking to your voice so that a publisher feels confident in how it might sell it?

I suppose. Because I don't want to stick to 'my voice'—what if I want to write a 19th-century epistolary novel next? Part of me feels like I don't give a shit what is expected of me, and part of me just feels buffeted by the whole experience of being published. (That is NOT a complaint—and I'm glad you pointed out the morality component that was deliberately missing in my essay and yet present in some of the responses—my almost universal orientation is: whence any 'should'?) When I say buffeted, I mean it just rocks you, the first time out—you've been floating in your still pond for however long and then suddenly you're in a river with an intense current. Publishing is a machine that does what it does. You're grateful, of course, to have the connection to it, because part of what it does is present your book to thousands and thousands of readers. That's the whole point of publishing. But that's not the point of writing. And I am afraid my writing arm is going to be sucked into the publishing machine, and be pulverized by it, or just yanked off by it, and I'm going to bleed out right here before I make another book."