In the twelve years from 1969 to 1980, David Bowie released a string of fifteen albums (thirteen studio and two live). With each new record, he gave us not only new sounds, but new ideas and new personas. He reinvented himself so that there was no stable Bowie; there was just the amorphous shapeshifter halfway between his last project and his next project. In retrospect, each album seems hinted at in the previous one, but in the moment, no one could have guessed the moves Bowie would make. Everything was revelation.
While Bowie’s greatest stretch of prolific genius was in the 70s, we are in the midst of philosopher Simon Critchley’s greatest stretch of prolific genius right now. He’s released twelve books in the first fourteen years of this millennium, including his meditation on the poetry of Wallace Stevens, Things Merely Are (2005); his hilarious compendium of philosophy viewed through the deaths of various thinkers, The Book of Dead Philosophers (2008); his collection of documents from the Archives of the International Necronautical Society, in collaboration with novelist and fellow necronaut Tom McCarthy, The Mattering of Matter (2012); his rumination on belief for unbelievers, Faith of the Faithless (2012); and his treatise on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, through analysis of various outsider interpretations of the famous play, written with his wife Jamieson Webster, Stay, Illusion!: The Hamlet Doctrine (2013). Critchley takes a cue from Bowie’s playbook, making what he calls “right turns” with each new project. Like Bowie, he reinvents himself so that there is no stable Critchley; there is just the amorphous shapeshifter halfway between his last project and his next project. Revelation.
Critchley has two books being released this Fall: an examination of the man he claims is the greatest artist of the last forty years, David Bowie, and a narrative involving another of his long-time obsessions, memory theaters. In this, our third annual conversation, we talk about those two new books, Bowie and Memory Theatre, in addition to Prince, Heideggerian deworlding, the failure of Joyce criticism, the problem of suicide, and much, much more.
Tyler Malone: Before we get into some of the deeper questions I have for you, I suppose I have to ask the standard questions when talking about a musician: What is your favorite Bowie album? And what is your favorite Bowie song?
Simon Critchley: That’s impossible because it really does change. Over the last week, I’ve been doing a couple long-form written interviews. One is with Rick Moody, the writer. He had asked me, “Why don’t you take Lodger seriously?” (Lodger is Bowie’s album from 1979.) So we’ve just written about a 7,000 word dialogue around that album. Because of that, at the moment, Lodger would be my favorite Bowie album. It was an album I knew really well. I bought it when it came out, and I’ve listened to it for 35 years — and yet there was so much on it that I hadn’t heard.
My favorite track at the moment is “Red Sails” off Lodger, which is the fifth track (the final track on side one when it was an album). It’s just a brilliant piece of music. I think with Bowie there’s always a kind of layering that the music has, a layering of sounds. There’s a depth to the tracks in terms of how much is going on and how much is semi-hidden. It’s sort of difficult to explain, but in “Red Sails,” for example, there’s an homage to one of my favorite bands, Neu!, from Germany. Bowie more or less lifts a drum and bass track from one of their songs, and lifts what they were trying to do with synthesizers and melodies. He fuses it together with this Orientalist lyric which goes for a certain period of time, and then there’s a point in the song, about 1:47 in, when a string synth part kicks in and the whole track sort of lifts to another dimension. At the same time, Bowie begins to run out of things to say, so you get this kind of word salad. There’s this line, “The hinterland, the hinterland / We’re gonna sail to the hinterland / And it’s far far, far far far, far far far away / Its a far far, far far far, fa da, da da da.” It goes into this kind of phonetic babble. The song is a microcosm of much of what Bowie did, which is to give us a series of acts of homage and allusions to music which he was eating up at the time, and then he transforms it and takes it to some other place, which is unique. Nobody else really does that in such a sustained way. Bowie, if you look at the amount of work he’s produced over such a long period of time, is the most important artist of the last forty years, for me, in any medium — any medium, books, anything.
Part of my project with Bowie, in so far as there is a project, is just to take him seriously in the way in which I think he should be taken seriously. He’s not a pop star. He’s something else; he’s an artist.
Besides the fact that you think he’s the most important artist of the last forty years, and besides what you say on the first page of your book, “that no person has given [you] greater pleasure throughout [your] life than David Bowie,” I wonder what it was that made you decide to write about Bowie now, at this point in your life and career?
Absolutely no reason. I’m a great believer in circumstance. The original title for Lodger was “Planned Accidents.” That was the title Brian Eno was going to give to the record, which in many ways describes the methods they were using. I think writing is like that: it’s a series of planned accidents. When we had our second conversation, last summer, I was in physical therapy because I had broken my shoulder. I was having a terrible time. I hadn’t been able to write for two and a half months. I was on serious painkillers, which were great. My mind was working in a very different way. It wasn’t uninteresting, but I just wasn’t able to write. Then the third week of August last year I was finally able to get to the keyboard. I’d bought a Kindle because I only had the one hand. I couldn’t hold a book at all, so the Kindle was helpful. I was reading very superficially, very fast on the Kindle, and mostly things on Bowie. I hadn’t planned to write anything on Bowie, but I had seen the Bowie show in London and the album had come out. I just seemed to be looking at him in a new way and the book came out of me because suddenly I was able to write again. I had like ten days free before the fall semester began, and it just poured out of me.
You mention Hamlet a few times in the book, and even have a section called “Hamlet in Space,” so I’m wondering if the move to Bowie had anything to do with your Hamlet book, Stay, Illusion!, which we discussed last year. Would you say your approach to Shakespeare’s Hamlet opened up an avenue through which you could better view Bowie?
Always with me, I just do these right turns. If there’s a method to my madness it’s just that I take right turns and I try to go somewhere else. In many ways, I learned it from Bowie. Bowie would finish something, and then he would do something else, really very different. You can see traces of what he was doing in the previous work, and anticipations of what you would see in the next work. You could see a kind of shape, but he changed. With me, it’s like that. I wrote a book on Hamlet and then I wrote a book on Bowie with references to Hamlet in it.
The short chapters feel reminiscent of the style in the Hamlet book as well.
The form of the book, yes, is reminiscent of the Hamlet book in terms of the short, staccato chapters. I really like that form because it allows me to say things and then shift attention. I originally had the Bowie book in two sections: one was history/biography and the other was an analysis of the songs. I looked at it, and I was thinking about cut-up technique, and I thought, “Why don’t I cut this up?” I had a hard copy and I began to literally cut it up and move the pieces around just to see what kind of disjunctions I could make. I brought things from the very end of the book into the early part of the book — and it worked. So it’s related to the Hamlet book formally more than in any other way.
And yet you found a lot of the things you’ve focused on throughout your career in Bowie: illusion, reality, nothingness, the absurd, inauthenticity, love, faith, etc. This might seem a bit chicken-egg-y, but do you think it’s because of your love of Bowie that you’ve become interested in these concepts or because of your interest in these concepts that you found something to love in Bowie?
It is kind of “chicken and egg,” but what I’d want to say in response is about pop music, which remember is just music that was popular. For me, and for most people I know, it was pop music that opened up the world. Pop music was the avenue to a sense that there might be another way of being in the world. That extraordinary identification. Music is a way of being weird. Music is a confirmation that you’re a misfit.
Also, for people of my generation especially, and I think this may still be true, music was the gateway to literacy. A lot of what I read, I read because of Bowie. You listen to Diamond Dogs, and you realize he’s thinking through William Burroughs. So you wonder, “Who’s this guy William Burroughs? I should read him.” It was the same way that the first I heard of J.G. Ballard, which was “Atrocity Exhibition” (the first track on the last Joy Division album). For working class English boys and girls, it was an avenue to a world of letters. I don’t think that’s fully understood. The book is polemical in the sense that this area of activity, pop music, is just not taken seriously. It doesn’t have a discourse that gives it its due, gives it its place. We have great discourses around literature, but around pop music all we have is a sort of dumbness. Bowie is the most important artist of the last number of decades, and he made pop music, and it was fucking amazing. We need to take that seriously, much more seriously.
Talking about taking pop music more seriously in general, besides Bowie who are some other recording artists that you think have freed people to — and I’m quoting you now — “become some other kind of self, something freer, more queer, more honest, more open, and more exciting”?
Over the summer I gave two talks which were loosely based on the Bowie book. A couple interesting things happened. After the first talk, this woman said, “Yeah, I agree with everything you say, but for me it would have been the Smiths.” I completely get that. I gave the other talk to a bunch of artists, and someone said Sonic Youth. There were a lot of African Americans in the audience too, which itself was unusual in that context. They didn’t really care that much about Bowie or know that much about Bowie, apart from maybe Young Americans. I met a woman after and she was passionate about George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic. I know that stuff. I grew up listening to black American music, so I did my discography and proved to her that I knew my stuff. And then we talked — she’s like 25 or 26 — and everything was “the mothership connection.” Someone else there said, “Well, what about Prince?” And I thought, “Yeah, you can make a very compelling case for Prince.” They’re very similar in a way. Prince was doing in the 80s what Bowie was doing in the 70s.
That’s amazing that someone said Prince because my next question was going to be about Prince. Bowie has been my second favorite artist since my late teens or early twenties, but with Prince, who’s my #1, I had a moment at around twelve almost identical to what you describe in that first section of your book as having with Bowie. I saw him perform this lesser known song, “Pussy Control,” on the VH1 Fashion Awards, and I didn’t even know who or what he was. I was just blown away by the sexuality of it, the ambiguity of it, everything. It changed everything for me.
That’s amazing. Page Dr. Freud at that point. With Prince, you’re right, there is that raw sexuality, and it was coded in very strange ways. On some levels it’s incredibly masculine, and then it’s “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” He’s playing with gender in a way that’s very similar to Bowie, but also in a much more risky way due to the homophobia of American society, and particularly African-American society.
You also mentioned someone bringing up The Smiths, who are another favorite of mine, but for me Prince seems more connected to Bowie because they both do something very few other pop musicians do: span multiple decades by making every album a completely different thing (new sounds, new ideas, new personas). Bob Dylan is the only other musician I can think of who sustains that constant transition into newness for decades.
And there are very few artists where there’s just too much going on for a period of time. For Bowie, it’s the early 70s. He’s just having too many ideas. He was making his living as a songwriter. He writes Transformer for Lou Reed. He writes two Iggy Pop albums, or at least one of them he basically writes everything. Prince was like that. He was writing for everyone. In the UK, every third song on the charts in the mid-80s was written by Prince. But does Prince have the same staying power as Bowie? I don’t know.
It’s fun talking about music, isn’t it? It feels almost . . . scandalous.
It is indeed. In addition to Prince and Bowie, I’ve felt “an extraordinary intimacy” — using your words from your book — with a handful of authors and artists of various types. There are some I feel closer to than I do even with my closest friends and loved ones. What is it about art that allows us this intimacy with its creator without our ever actually knowing or meeting them?
I don’t know. You know it when you see it. It really is like that. It’s a quality of truth that certain artists have. The main philosophical claim I make in the book is to separate truth from authenticity, to get it away from the “authenticity cult” (which is particularly present in the US). I wanted to celebrate the inauthenticity of music: its pretense, its illusion, its fakery, the masks that people use. There are artists who are completely inauthentic like Bowie where there’s just a truth, and that truth makes a claim on you. You know it when you see it. It happens. Likewise, you know it when you don’t see it, when it’s not there, when you see someone imitating it. But there are certain creatures who have that capacity. I don’t know why it is. We reach out with our fingers and say, “Yeah, that’s me.” We know it’s not us. You’re not Prince; I’m not David Bowie. This is an error, but we still think it’s us. “I know what that is.” “You’re speaking directly to me.”
You can think about it negatively and realize that 99.9% of music doesn’t do that. But amazingly some of it still does. Why isn’t all music total shit? People like Simon Cowell have tried to destroy everything that’s noble about music. Why hasn’t it been totally reduced to crap? I don’t know, but still good stuff comes through. I went to the Grammys a couple years ago and it was rubbish as usual. All the artists were there, Beyonce and Rihanna. Everything felt like it had been recorded on a laptop. And then Adele just got up on stage and belted out a song. I thought, “Fuck, this is amazing.” She can sing. Her singing voice has no correlation to how she speaks, but she’s got whatever it is. She’s got that thing.
The other night I was reading a piece on Michael Jackson, which quoted him as having said, “Deep inside I feel that this world we live in is really a big, huge, monumental symphonic orchestra. I believe that in its primordial form, all of creation is sound and that it’s not just random sound, that it’s music.” You seem to fight against this romantic conception of the world and of art. You write, “Music like Bowie’s is not a way of somehow recalling human beings affectively to a kind of pre-established harmony with the world[. . .]Rather, Bowie permits a kind of deworlding.” Would you say your definition of great art then is, in a sense, art that deworlds?
Yeah, for me, it is. This gets us to a big philosophical claim which I don’t really argue properly in the book because I’m not really sure I can argue it.
We’re in our heads. We have consciousness and a relationship to objects. We live in a kind of subject-object world. You might say we’re theoretical spectators on the world, and philosophy begins from that. We ask questions like: “Does the external world exist?” “Do people out there have minds like me?” One claim about music is that it cuts beneath that to a level of attunement to the world that is deeper than consciousness. It’s a very attractive thought. You can find that in Nietzsche. You can find that in Schopenhauer. Music speaks to the will, the unconscious. That’s an interesting thought. The nice part of that idea is that music reconnects us with the world.
I want to add a twist on that. It certainly is operating at some deeper level than consciousness. It is speaking to our unconscious at some level, but I think it pulls us out of the world, rather than reconnects us to it. It gives us a breathing space where we’re free of the world. I think this is why listening to music in your bedroom is so important. Your bedroom is a place where you can be alone, away from the family, away from all of that. For me, it’s this deworlding, pulling you away from the substance of the world, that’s interesting about music. It’s related to Heidegger in a way.
Yeah, you mention Heidegger either immediately before or immediately after that deworlding quote I pulled out.
Anxiety for Heidegger is the mood that first reveals the self. It’s the mood where the self is first precipitated, precipitated against the world. The world as it were drops away, slips away. What’s revealed is me, but not me as some substance, rather me as a nothing — a me that is a kind of mood of anxiety or boredom or a bundle of neurons or whatever it might be. That’s the zone that music speaks to. That’s the claim I’d like to make, as strange as it seems.
There’s this lovely moment in the section titled “Discipline” where you’re talking about Bowie in the 80s. You write, “We mustn’t forget that there have been awful moments to be a Bowie fan. There have been some illusions I really could have done without.” I wonder if you could talk more about the 80s era Bowie, maybe what you were feeling then and what you feel about it now.
I think I overdo it in that sentence. There has to be a fall. I’m constructing a rather convenient narrative: there’s the great Bowie of the 70s, the fall in the 80s, and then he slowly crawls his way back in the 90s, and he is resurrected as Christ triumphant with Heathen and Reality in 2002 and 2003. Then he disappears again only to reemerge again, the second coming in 2013. I needed to tell a story about Bowie, and the work of the 80s is the casualty in that. I mean I do think there’s bad work in the 80s, terrible work, like Tonight and Never Let Me Down. But there are also things there that are redeemable. There are good tracks by Tin Machine. It’s not entirely disastrous. Also, at that time, I wasn’t really listening to much of it. I was studying mostly. I was doing philosophy in those years, and I was trying to put my boyish love of Bowie to one side.
In the 80s, I think he just lost interest. He was happier. He was off the cocaine. He was probably living just a regular, healthy life. He had his acting career, which is a disaster. He can’t act. I wish he could act, but the only film he’s good in is The Man Who Fell to Earth, where he’s basically himself. The rest of it just isn’t good.
I would say his acting is his music in a way, no?
Exactly, his acting is his music. The paradox of acting, of course, is that great actors don’t act. A great actor, whether it’s Philip Seymour Hoffman or whoever, isn’t pretending. It’s them. They’re speaking words that are written down for them, but it’s them. People that can’t act act. And that’s Bowie. When he’s acting, he’s pretending. When he’s performing, he’s not acting, even when he’s acting a role. When he’s playing as Ziggy or the Thin White Duke, it’s true, he’s not pretending.
We’ve discussed various films and filmmakers in our previous conversations. I’m curious if you’d want to see a great Bowie biopic on screen? Whether a sort of standard biopic or a more experimental play with the mythos of the musician like the Bob Dylan film I’m Not There. And if so, what you’d want from it?
I rewatched Control by Anton Corbijn, the movie about Joy Division. I didn’t like it when I first saw it. I had watched it with Jamieson, and I thought maybe it was too much from the wife’s perspective. I thought it didn’t get it in the way 24 Hour Party People really got what it felt like to be young in those years. But I was at Cornell, bored out of my mind, because the place is a shithole full of vegans, so I rewatched it. The first shot is Ian Curtis walking back from the record store to his dreadful, little, shitty house in Macclesfield with a Bowie album under his arm. He puts it on, and he’s smoking cigarettes while listening to it. There’s a great shot of him applying mascara. It’s the fourteen/fifteen year old Ian Curtis — that gets it right, what it meant to be a fan.
The other film that gets it right, which Jonathan Lethem put me on to, was Velvet Goldmine by Todd Haynes. It’s great because it’s completely inaccurate; the details are all wrong. When I watched it years ago, I felt exactly that: that it was all wrong. But actually it’s a lovingly crafted evocation of that time and what it felt like to be a fan. All the details about it are kind of half right and half wrong, and that kind of works. In many ways, it’s the fakery of Velvet Goldmine that is good.
There are documentaries about Bowie which are pretty good too. There’s a BBC documentary called Five Years which is quite interesting. But I worry a biopic would be a mistake. Which actor would play him? It would be so easy to find fault with it.
Let’s talk about your other book coming out this month. Your first published work of fiction Memory Theatre.
I don’t even know where to start. I write in order to forget. It’s gone once it’s done, and then I have to upload it to speak about it in a way. So Bowie was gone, and I had forgotten about it. I’ve been uploading it back in the past month or so to talk about it, with you, and with others. So Bowie has been uploaded, but Memory Theatre has not been uploaded yet. I wrote it and I reread it when I got the first copy about three weeks ago. I read it very slowly checking for typos, the way I tend to do. Then I put it down. I don’t know what to make of it. I really don’t know what I was thinking.
People have said it reminds them of Tom McCarthy’s Remainder. Do you remember the first line of Remainder? Yeah, that’s me, first line of Remainder. So it is Tom McCarthy-like. I wasn’t writing it to be like Tom, but there are weird echoes. I’ve got no idea what’s going to happen to it. My agent loved it and wanted it out there, so she did everything. I don’t really have a view yet. I don’t approve of philosophers writing fiction in general. It’s a bit lame.
But one of the great things about your work is that it rarely fits a mold. It’s never just one thing. While this is fiction, it does retain your philosophical perspective, and it also feels like some new surreal form of thematic memoir. So, to me, it makes sense that you would write something like this. Being skeptical of philosophers writing fiction is probably warranted, but I think this does sort of fit in with your project in general (if you would say you have a project in general).
When I got it back, I was sort of surprised at how essayistic it felt in places when I’m talking about Hegel and Francis Yates. There’s a lot of very didactic stuff. On one level it’s all made up and on another level it’s all true. None of the views I attribute to Michel Haar are views that he held, but I did know him. But it’s all me, it’s all my ideas. The way I read it is in terms of the descent into psychosis. There’s some intensely personal things in the book, which I don’t know if people will pick up on or not, but there was something about it that allowed me to say intensely confessional things in this oblique form. But you’ve read it, I’d be curious to know what you think of it and what associations you had because you’re a person of broad learning and reading.
Well, thank you, and once again thank you for letting me be one of the first readers a year ago. I reread it again last week and enjoyed it as much if not more than I had before in its earlier draft. One of the things that I noted a year ago in my comments via email to you was that it reads like a fictional counterpart to The Book of Dead Philosophers. One line in Memory Theatre is “Their purpose was to plot the major events in a philosopher’s life and then to use those events to explain their demise.” Is this in a way you fleshing out the brief “Exit pursued by bear” entry you gave yourself in that book? Exit pursuing tidal charts, perhaps.
Yeah. When I first met with the publisher in London, we were doing edits, and I decided I should write some acknowledgements. We did it in third person style. At the end, I put that I was interested in this book as a sequel to The Book of Dead Philosophers. I sent that off, and then I thought better of it and deleted that bit. I think it would be making it too obvious. But it is kind of a sequel — or the books are at least in my mind parallel, and the madness in each is parallel. So yeah, you’re right.
What was your experience writing this in comparison with your other work?
There are things I work on for years. I have this really big book on philosophy and tragedy that really is compendious. It’s going to be thousands of pages long, but I don’t think I’ll ever do it. I like having a project like that though. Whereas the other projects seem to be written in short, concentrated bursts. Memory Theatre was written just after Stay, Illusion! It was a kind of pullback from it, given that Stay, Illusion! had been written with my wife and was a book about love. I needed to take a right turn and go in a different direction. So I wrote about a loveless universe, a universe of obsessional neuroses and psychoses, which is really the world of Memory Theatre. Here is someone who is just radically alone. It came out really in one piece, in quite a short period of time. I’ve revised it a lot though. I got some really good feedback from Dan Frank. Dan is a patient reader of my work. He sees structural issues very clearly. He’ll often just say, “It’s all good, but it’s the wrong way around. You’ve got to inverse it. Flip this to there.” So I worked hard on shaping the ending.
How did the inclusion of the images by Liam Gillick come about?
Again, circumstance. You saw it. And then after you saw it, I don’t know where it went next. Maybe nothing happened? My publisher wanted to publish it, and I said, “Okay, I leave it to you.” At some point, maybe in January or February, I was just hanging out with Liam. I sent it to him and he read it immediately. He just got it; he got what it was about. He then began to think, “Well, this could be an art book.” Things changed, and so it took the form of the images that are in the book now.
In a way, someone like Liam is constantly building memory theaters. It’s a constant construction of these kind of weird, deathly palaces. There’s something about the sensibility of the book that spoke to his sensibility, and we felt we should collaborate.
I know you’ve mentioned Borges and Casares as influences on this novella. What other fiction writers would you say have been a big influence on you?
Joyce. Ulysses. For the launch of Faith of the Faithless, I was in Dublin, and I bought a very expensive copy of Ulysses at the Sweny’s Pharmacy where Bloom goes at 11 o’clock in the morning to buy items for Molly. I’m actually looking at it right now. It’s the copy I refer to in the first paragraph. I read Ulysses promiscuously. I dip into it. I read thirty pages and then go somewhere else. I was looking at the sentence structure in Ulysses and how odd it was, and that was a big inspiration. Not that I’m comparing myself to Joyce, but it was there, with me while I worked.
Another thing that was an inspiration was the work of a French artist Philippe Parreno. I’ve worked with him for years. He did this artwork called CHZ, continually habitable zones. It was a project in Portugal about a garden, an environment that renewed itself, regenerated itself. The end of the book in a way is a series of allusions to that.
And actually the Casares connection was suggested to me. I hadn’t read The Invention of Morel. I think it was Pierre Huyghe actually who was talking about it. The great thing about the Casares book is that it’s a conventional Robert Louis Stevenson adventure story on one level, but he uses that form to pull and twist. Memory Theatre is also, I would say, a very conventional narrative, but in that conventional structure, you can then play with the weirdness of it.
But don’t think I have the intentions to have a career as a fiction writer. I don’t. I was very pleased that people have said nice things about it, but it’s a one-off.
We’ve talked about Joyce a lot in previous conversations. Ulysses, I’ve said, is the only book that I’m never not reading. I’m always in the middle of a reread, or just dipping in and out, as you say, picking pieces up a la carte. It seems to be the same for you. Could you imagine writing an examination of Ulysses maybe in the same vein as your Hamlet book?
No, I don’t think so. Part of my love affair with Tom McCarthy has to do with Joyce. He’s the third person in bed, as it were. The first thing Tom and I wrote was about Finnegans Wake. Tom is Stephen Dedalus, which I guess makes me Bloom, or something, I don’t know. Tom would just start to quote passages: “Ineluctable modality of the visible . . .” Maybe with him I could write something on Joyce again? It’s there, but it just doesn’t need to be written about. It’s a kind of program Ulysses; it doesn’t need to be written about. But who knows? That might change.
I find the Joyce world really boring. If there were a world of scholarship that would be interesting, it’d be the Joyce world, but it’s just not. They’re just doing conventional criticism of the most archival, historical kind. If Joyce does anything, he allows you to think in a different way. I guess very few people are up to that task.
My criticism of people like Tom, and Hari Kunzru, and Jonathan Lethem, and David Mitchell, and all these people, is that they’re great writers and really clever people, but they haven’t really taken the form of the novel beyond Joyce. We’re still in the kind of Ulysses moment. I wonder about that. I’m happy I’m not a novelist. Maybe Finnegans Wake was a failure, but it’s still territory that we haven’t really begun to explore yet. It still lies ahead of us.
Before I let you go, I wanted to ask about what you’re currently working on. What should I look forward to interviewing you about next time?
The next book is a book on Levinas. I gave these seminars in the Netherlands last summer on him. I got them recorded and transcribed while I was unable to write because of my shoulder. I later rewrote them and the Oxford University Press is going to publish them as a book called The Problem with Levinas. It’s an attempt to make sense of my infatuation with Levinas. I’ve got something new to say, and I try and say it. It uses the conceit of the lecture, the Lacan seminar, that informality of being able to move from one topic to another.
After that I’ve really got no idea. I’m thinking of writing a philosophical defense of suicide, as a short polemical text. I’ve got an axe to grind about suicide. It’ll be a little comedic as well, but it’s a serious point. We have no language for really thinking through the problem of suicide. It’s a right that people have, and it should be defended against the current legal framework, which is basically framed by a Christian metaphysics, which is terrible. We need to find a language which will allow us talk about suicide. This connects back The Book of Dead Philosophers, which hopefully provides a vocabulary for thinking about death.
Tyler Malone is a writer and teacher. He is the Editorial Director of Patrick McMullan’s PMc Magazine and the Interviews Editor for the Tottenville Review. He has contributed articles, reviews, and interviews to various literary magazines including The Millions, Full Stop, and Literary Traveler. He was once known as “the Reading Markson Reading guy.”