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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Interview Meme

Questions from Meghan:

1. Science fiction is to _____ as the color red is to _____. Explain your answer.

Hmmm. Well, science fiction is to the future as the the color red is to the color infrared. A vivid, visible show at the border of -- and in some sense pointing to -- but not really resembling -- something else which we are fundamentally, ineluctably unable to experience.

Or, "literature", and "bell peppers". Because it's sweet.

2. Blogging about one's children -- guilty pleasure? Important statement to be made? Will stop when they can read?

That's actually three questions.

I feel like the blogs I most admire tend to center on certain obsessions -- say, "cosmology, history, speculative fiction, politics and feminism", or "capitalism-as-fraud, the-hilarious-stupidity-of-others, and pro wrestling", or "speculative fiction, the history of science, meditations on daily existence, and constantly changing blog addresses". I love it when people like Haddayr and Karen blog about raising their kids. Parenting and writing are my favorite things to do; the two only kinds of non-alienated labor I regularly engage in. So it seems less a guilty pleasure than, you know, the thing which there is to blog for me.

There would probably be more important-statement about it if I were braver. I more report the cute and clever things the kids do and say. I don't blog very much about the conflict, difficulty, worry, and uncertainty of raising kids. Partly because I'm acutely aware that the internet is forever. My kid's prom dates will be reading this. You know.

Aviva already carefully vets everything I post about her. I actually had to redact an entry once when it turned out I had revealed certain secrets involving imaginary people which were not for public consumption; since then I get everything pre-approved. Noah so far seems happy to have me post whatever.

3. Is there a specific goal you're working towards in your fiction -- a certain thing you want to do? Has it changed? What is it right now?

I think the main things are process things -- being persistent, being reliable, sitting down often enough with the pen, having courage -- courage, for instance, to tear into something I thought was pretty much done and remake it radically, or (conversely) courage to call something finished and kick it out the door when I still feel uneasy about it but it's time. Pushing through resistance. Writing what frightens me. I'm actually a very scaredy-cat writer.

Emotional depth is something I worked on for a long time, and am still, perhaps, forever, working on. I have a tendency towards distanced, cerebral writing which can be chilly. Sometimes I try to blow through that, smash it into smithereens. But then I have to beware overcompensating into sentimentality.

I think to write novels, I have to endure more messiness. Not having everything heading towards a perfect resolution. Not going for easy answers, even if they are superficially complex. Hanging out longer in the unknown. This is scary right now.

4. Internet fights -- so 2004, or timeless pleasures, like ice cream?

Like Ben & Jerry's Rainforest Crunch.

5. Were you always very extroverted, or did you have a phase of introversion at some point in your life?

Was very introverted from age 6 to age 15, I'd say. Though I was arguably quite extroverted then with the people in my head.

If you wish to replicate the virus, post a comment to that effect, and I will ask you five (different) questions.

Posted by benrosen at July 20, 2006 11:21 AM | Up to blog

"If you wish to replicate the virus, post a comment to that effect, and I will ask you five (different) questions."

May I play if I only met you the once and you probably don't really know anything about me but I think you're awesome? It looks like fun.

Posted by: Em Tersoff at July 20, 2006 07:40 PM

I'll play. Ask away, Rosenbaum!

Posted by: Matt Hulan at July 21, 2006 09:15 AM

Hmm... I don't have a blog. Can I answer 5 questions here in your comment section?

Posted by: Ethan at July 21, 2006 11:19 AM


1. Did you really make your class read Other Cities? And what did they think, if so?

2. What is the scariest thing you have ever done?

3. In my high school, superimposed upon (and largely obscuring, in terms of the everyday thoughts at least of the privileged) the more intractable and universal distinctions of race and class, we had a bunch of artificial, chosen, homebrew youth subcultures to chose from, which were, roughly: punks, stoners, hicks, jocks (in two varieties: football and associated team sports, who were hard-drinking and brutish, and track/tennis/etc, who were blond and insouciant) metalheads, nerds (also in two varieties: academic ones, and proto-geeky D&D ones), and drama fags. (What am I forgetting, Matt?) Musical taste had a great deal to do with defining identity, but it was as much identity *within* those broad subcultures (Depeche Mode drama fags as distinct from Frankie Goes To Hollywood drama fags) as between them. Is this still the case? What is the taxonomy? (Are there still something called spooky-kids, and do they hate goths?) What values are associated (claimed by themselves, or thrust upon them by their enemies) with each tribe?

4. You appear, from cursory Googling, to be the only person in North America in your age cohort without a blog. How did this come about? Is it a considered stance? More broadly: everyone is famous now, right? If a young lady in Milwaukee is interested in ascertaining the seriousness of the intentions of a young gentleman suitor, she need not rely merely on the opinions of her close society: she can upload a video of them flirting to YouTube, where thousands of commenters from Kuala Lampur and Edinburgh can offer their interpretations of his manner and words. What is it like growing up in the Panopticon? Or am I exaggerating this effect?

5. What is the technique of writing fiction you would most like to be able to pull off?

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at July 22, 2006 10:40 PM


1. What is the best thing about moving to Roanoke?

2. What does the Goddess think of Cheetos? (I know, I know, the Goddess is the quantum superposition of all possible opinions about Cheetos, but come on -- what does she *really* think? We're all friends here.)

3. What is your greatest regret?

4. What was it about the Cliffs? Can you articulate the distinctive sensibility, the historical significance, the gestalt, the wah?

5. If you could change one event in musical history (in which you were not personally involved) during the period 1853-1999, what would it be, and why?

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at July 22, 2006 10:47 PM


But of course.

1. How have your ideas about art changed in the last three years?

2. Duchamp's urinal or Meier's Civilization? Discuss.

3. What distinguishes political art from propaganda?

4. Where have you been most at home and why?

5. What should I be writing?

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at July 22, 2006 11:23 PM

Answers! And thank you. :)

Posted by: Em Tersoff at July 22, 2006 11:56 PM

Oops. Meant to link: https://hobbit-em.livejournal.com/191522.html#comments

Posted by: Em Tersoff at July 22, 2006 11:57 PM

Well, and I haven't blogged for two weeks, and have been vaguely looking for inspiration to get back to it, so if you are willing to overlook our limited acquaintance and sock me with five, I'll respond and be all grateful and whatnot.

My non-blogging of late may in fact be related (now that I think about it) to your idea that good blogs are related to obsessions or non-alienated labor. I was, I think, becoming alienated from blogging by considering it as a production obligation, distinct from my own interests. When you say that writing and parenting are non-alienated labor, I'm thinking that parenting is, for me, and I don't (for good and sufficient reasons) parent-blog, but that I need to re-identify myself with thinks I like to think about, in order for blogging about them to be less, well, alienating. Since I primarily used to write about political rhetoric (one of my own obsessions), and since politics and the rhetoric thereof are too depressing to contemplate at the moment (or perhaps, since I cannot avoid contemplating them, simply depressing, which depresses my output), I think I need to shift emphasis. But to what?


Posted by: Vardibidian at July 23, 2006 08:52 AM

Despite extremely limited acquaintance (two conversations at WisCon, basically), I'd like to play if you have anything for me.

From my perch at the Procrastination & Non-Writing Workshop, it sounds like a useful activity.

Posted by: BenBurgis at July 23, 2006 06:34 PM

My answers are posted at my blog (holychao.blogspot.com). Click on my name to be taken there directly. IF YOU DARE!

Posted by: Matt Hulan at July 23, 2006 10:52 PM

1. No, I never made a class read Other Cities (though I have read selections from it to my girlfriend). If I were to have them read it, I suppose Maxis.
would be most appropriate, but honestly that is the one story in the collection that I don’t enjoy (having actually worked at Maxis). My favorite is the one about the city of censors.

2. Scariest thing I ever done… that’s interesting, because it isn’t the same as my scariest moment (i.e., I interpret intentionality on my part being required). What jumps to mind was telling a certain person, many years ago, that I had a crush on her. I was completely terrified.

3. Boy, I don’t think I particularly qualified to talk about high school cliques… the students at the college I teach tend to skew older than typical college students (24, perhaps, being the average). I can spot the differences between the fashion design students and game art & programming students, but beyond that…

4. I also seem to be the only higher-level mammal without a cel phone. If this is a panopticon and I’m the only one without a blog, I suppose I must be the guard. In that light, I must re-evaluate my current project (which crawls across flickr using facial recognition algorithms for my own nefarious, artistic purposes). It’s true, though, even my dad blogs. I think the main issues against blogging is a) I don’t think many people would be interested in reading it, b) I doubt I would be good at keeping it up-to-date, and c) most of the interesting things in my life I don’t want to share with the world.

5. I would love to write good fiction… especially if it were effortless. :) I used to think I could write pretty well, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I can write reasonably coherently and cleanly, but I am not (and won’t ever be) an inspired writer. Actually, reading your brilliant stories helped put things into perspective (yeah, I’m ok at writing, but I’m no “Ben”). Luckily, my writing talent seems perfectly suited for writing grant and commission proposals as well as artist statements that are light on the bullshit.

Posted by: Ethan at July 24, 2006 12:36 PM

Ethan! Those are Em's questions! (She does write fiction, and just graduated from high school). Answer your questions, above, which are about artand travel and stuff!

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at July 24, 2006 02:03 PM

However, thanks for calling me brilliant. Also, I find it amusing that your answer to #3 is the same as Em's.

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at July 24, 2006 02:05 PM


1. What kinds of non-alienated labor do you regularly engage in? (And is the liturgical meaning of "avodah" relevant in this context?)

2. If you, thought-experiment-wise, had to convert to another religion, what religion would it be?

3. If you, thought-experiment-wise, had to convert to another biological phylum, what biological phylum would it be?

4. How do you feel about nationalism and its interaction with culture? Is real-world political power useful, inevitable, corrupting, redemptive, any combination of these, for a "people"? Under what circumstances? And what constitutes a "people"?

5. What's the best children's book I may not have heard of?

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at July 24, 2006 03:11 PM

Ah... I thought that was a "Hmmmm...," not an "Em" :) These questions make much more sense!

1. In the last three years (i.e., pre-graduate school vs. Mother-Fucking-Artist [MFA]) I've gone from being relatively hostile to art that leans to conceptualism to thinking that art without some conceptual basis feels thin.

2. Duchamp's urinal, for sure. "The Fountain" has changed the course of art by implying that art is whatever an artist says is art. Even today, there are flame wars between critics over Duchamp (loser or god?)--the reason they care is that the merit of conceptual art mirrors the merit of Duchamp's art. While I'm not one to think offending people equates to great art, it is notable that the urinal still hits the general public in the gut (as opposed to seeming quaint and irrelevant).

Sid Meier's game was a seminal work, but it hasn't been the basis of mainstream games that have followed (I'd give that nod to Castle Wolfenstein 3D). In anycase, it's a lot less impressive to be a standout in the 25+ year history of computer games than the 4000+ year history of art.

3. I think political art & propaganda are two different axis. There is art that is propaganda without being political (I'm thinking of the more bland social realist paintings). There is art that is political without being propaganda (Leon Golub's paintings, for example). There is art that is both propaganda & political (John Heartfield's collages), and of course art that is neither. My measure of good political art is that is isn't editorializing (writing is a much better venue for that) and that it has aesthetic, emotional, and intellectual interest.

4. I've been very at home here in Portland... I suppose owning my own house might be part of it (but I suspect it isn't)... I think it's because I feel very vibrant in my personal & professional life here.

5. Well, I think you should write what you enjoy, of course... but I'm looking forward to your first , non-collaborative novel. I also think that reaching a non-SF audience (ala Haruki Murakami) is very exciting.

Posted by: Ethan at July 24, 2006 03:18 PM


1. What is the best thing about having the name "Ben"?

2. What is your plan for fleeing your current life, if you suddenly learned you were pursued by mobsters, the government, evil conspiracies, etc.?

3. What's the best book I may not have heard of?

4. What is the best story you've abandoned?

5. How's Clarion?

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at July 24, 2006 03:22 PM

(Cross-posted to https://www.journalscape.com/HorseloverFat/2006-07-25-13:57/)

1.A certain quiet but heart-warming certainty of my innate superiority to all non-Ben's.

2.I will retreat to an alternate historical timeline. Based on my readings of historical texts on the topic (“The Man in the High Castle”), I believe this feat can be accomplished by losing myself in contemplation of the Taoist properties of a particularly finely crafted piece of jewelry. Once I am in the other world, of course, I will have to flee to the central Rocky Mountain region, as the only part of the historical United States safe from both German and Japanese control.

3.The best book you've never heard of is a long, untitled scroll written by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred to test the ink in the pen he would ultimately use to write the Necronomicon. The scroll contained heart-wrenching and bittersweet poetry, as well as an accurate prediction of every historical development in between the Crusades and the Red Sox victory in the 2004 World Series. The reason you've never heard of it was destroyed centuries ago and all physical evidence of its existence has been eradicated. I am only aware of its existence by means of a personal intuition.

4.The best story I've ever abandoned was called, “The Modern Era: A Jazzpunk Morality Play in Three Acts.” Its central conceit was the underground use of futuristic alien technology in Chicago speak-easies during prohibition.

If that doesn't sound promising, you should see the worst stories I've ever abadoned.

5.Clarion is ocassionally exhausting, frequently exhilerating and more or less constantly entertaining. Nothing quite compares to living with with sixteen very smart and very funny characters who share your interests....or to having your stuff gang-critiqued by them. I could happily do this for years, never mind six weeks.

Posted by: BenBurgis at July 25, 2006 05:09 PM

I'm starting at the bottom and working my way up, since when I started at the top and worked my way down, the prolixity was beyond bearability. So the answer to #5 is 17 Kings and 42 Elephants by Margaret Mahy.

And the prolix version, of course, is in my Tohu Bohu.


Posted by: Vardibidian at July 26, 2006 04:42 PM

#4 doesn't admit of a short answer, but I'll say that real-world political power is necessarily corrupting and is potentially redemptive, and what's more is necessary for redemption, which means that the world is a fucked-up place. News to everyone.

#3: Arthropod. Nice to have an easy one.


Posted by: Vardibidian at July 28, 2006 10:46 AM

#2: Confucian-influenced ancestor worship. Or vice-versa.


Posted by: Vardibidian at July 30, 2006 11:26 AM

#1: Acting, parenting, moving house. Avodah and non-alienated labor overlap in the sense of mindfulness, but are not to be confused, one with the other. I am looking for something in the overlap, but also elsewhere.


Posted by: Vardibidian at August 1, 2006 09:28 AM
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