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Notebook on Cities and Culture S2E27: A Productive Obscurantism with Tom Lutz

Notebook on Cities and Culture‘s upcoming third season will take it to Japan, Mexico City, Vancouver, and elsewhere — if, and only if, we raise $4000 to fund it. For details on how you can help the show go fully international, visit its Kickstarter page, where the fund drive runs now to December 21st.

Colin Marshall sits down in Silver Lake with Tom Lutz, founding editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books, professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, and author of the books CryingAmerican Nervousness, 1903, Cosmopolitan Vistas, and Doing Nothing. They discuss whether the internet has brought about a new golden age of the essay; giving writers the word count they need to write about the subjects they want to, such as the literature of Romania; “publish what you want to read” as a guiding editing principle as “write what you want to read” is a guiding writing principle; the team of specialized editors that help him sift through a hundred pitches per day; why on Earth the name Los Angeles Review of Books was still available in the 21st century, and the seat of its “steampunk” appeal; the curiously “doubled relationship” non-New Yorkers have to New York publishing; how his readership turned immediately global, and whether coming from as international a city as Los Angeles necessarily entails that; the internationalism of “taco trucks and Korean spas,” and the attendant indifference of distinction between “high” and “low” culture; connection as the very purpose of essays, and cosmopolitanism and debate as the essence of literary culture; the possible corrupting influences of the review form itself; the surprising pieces he has run, such as Ben Ehrenreich’s consideration of the “death of the book” which became a consideration of Bruno Schulz; what’s to be done about the divide between popular writing and “professionally deformed” academic writing; the value of clarity, honesty, curiosity, and a little bit of obscurity; whether to rule out the parts of Los Angeles by now written into the ground, such as the freeways, the beach, and the entertainment business; his early wanderings through Los Angeles and how they placed him in the city the way books couldn’t; and literature’s inability to catch up with the expansiveness of Los Angeles, the way he couldn’t read everything printed in the year 1903, and the way even Herbert Spencer couldn’t capture his entire life in his three-volume autobiography.

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