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Interview

Forward Thinking

Claire Schwartz: According to the poet Marie Howe, who studied with Joseph Brodsky at Columbia, Brodsky said: “You Americans are so naïve. You think evil is going to come into your houses wearing big black boots. It doesn’t come like that. Look at the language. It begins in the language.” You’ve written about the relationship between language and the social imagination—in particular, about the ways that totalitarian regimes in Russia and, more recently, the current government in the United States, have eroded public speech. Would you describe what you mean by that and how you see language functioning in public space right now?

Masha Gessen: For totalitarian regimes, language is an instrument of subjugation. It’s a way of controlling both behavior and thought. Attempting to ensure that words mean what the regime says they mean is a way of undermining people’s ability to inhabit a shared reality outside of what the regime says reality is. There are all sorts of tricks the regime performs along the way—such as using a word to mean its opposite, or almost its opposite. 

Interview and comic by Jess Ruliffson

The Final Act

Dr. Thomas A. Andrew served as New Hampshire's Chief Medical Examiner for two decades, retiring in September 2017 amid the growing opioid crisis. Now he's studying to become an ordained deacon in extension ministry to help at-risk youth on the Appalachian Trail.

Photo by Damon Casarez

The Sky Is Calling

On February 14, 2017, Jim Edwards spoke with Jack Hitt as part of the ongoing series “Amateur Hour,” in which various tinkerers, zealots, and collectors discuss their obsessions. Edwards is a retired aerospace engineer with a passionate interest in astronomy and space exploration. His home observatory in Redondo Beach, California, is designated U73 by the Minor Planet Center for his collection of asteroid data. Edwards has recently been collecting data on the exoplanet WASP-33b. The conversation that follows has been edited for brevity and meaning.

Photograph by Adam Watkins

Amateur Hour: Social Justice

On August 5, 2016, Tricia Griffith joined Jack Hitt onstage at the Institute Library in New Haven, Connecticut, as part of the ongoing series “Amateur Hour,” in which various tinkerers, zealots, and collectors discuss their obsessions. Griffith operates the online forum Websleuths, which is dedicated to crowdsourcing solutions to baffling crimes, including in-depth examinations of cold cases and the uncovering of key evidence in ongoing investigations. The conversation that follows has been edited for brevity and meaning.

David George Gordon serves scorpion. Photograph by Carol Hodge.

Amateur Hour: The Grubmeister

On April 21, 2016, David George Gordon spoke with Joshua Foer as part of the ongoing series “Amateur Hour,” in which various tinkerers, zealots, and collectors discuss their obsessions. Gordon, who is a science writer, is also known as “The Bug Chef.” He often travels around the country to put on live cooking performances that promote the nutritional value of insects. He is the author of The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, as well as other books about whales, cockroaches, and Sasquatch. The conversation that follows has been edited for brevity and meaning.

Photograph by Fred Viebahn

An Interview With Rita Dove

In Germany, I began to experience what it was like to think in another language. Also, the way Germans looked at me—with curiosity but no racial baggage—was so different than Americans. I began to understand a little bit more about my own country and how I fit in or not. 

The Devil’s Tail: Reading From the Lives of Authors

I spent a day with V. S. Naipaul in the fall of 1980. He was teaching undergraduates that semester at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, and he’d agreed to be interviewed for a projected special issue of Salmagundi magazine. My companions on this visit were the novelist Bharati Mukherjee and my wife Peg Boyers. From the first, in our preliminary phone conversations, Naipaul had expressed objections about my friend Bharati. “Why bring an Indian with you?” he asked.

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