PMA Podcast Transcript: Episode 2, Obstruction

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Chris:

Hello and welcome to the second episode of the PMA podcast. It's May 17th, 2016. Joining us today in the small Black Box studio is associate professor Nick Salvato, also the chair of the Performing and Media Arts Department. Nick, thanks for joining us today.

Nick:

Thank you so much Chris for making this time to chat with me.

Chris:

Absolutely. So today we're going to be talking about your second publication titled Obstruction, which just came out March 11th?

Nick:

Something like that. Yeah, the middle of March.

Chris:

Okay. It was, we're looking at it, it says how a bout of laziness or degressive spell can actually open up paths to creativity and unexpected insight.

Nick:

Yes. The person who wrote that copy for the back cover was very clever.

Chris:

Would that have been you?

Nick:

I had a say. I took a stab at drafting some language for that purpose and then it went through the rounds at the press. They have people in marketing and promotion whose job it is to be very facile with this kind of language. So yes, it identifies, as you'll have noted, laziness and aggressiveness as two of the obstructions. The other three that are centrally discussed in the book are embarrassment, slowness, and cynicism. All things that we take to be bad for our work lives. But I'm trying, in a way that I hope is interesting and unexpected, to disclose what value there might be. Surprising ways in which we might actually find useful and usable the things that typically we supposed to be obstructive to our work.

Chris:

Okay.

Nick:

Yeah.

Chris:

So tell me what's the origin of the research? Where did this all come from?

Nick:

I suppose that I stepped into it somewhat accidentally. I had an invitation from a graduate student in the music department some years ago to give a talk at a music department colloquium that he was at that time involved in running. And I was trying to think about what music or musicians I had a bee in my bonnet about that I could profitably write something about to share on this occasion. I had been in my adolescence a pretty intense Tori Amos fan. And I would describe myself as an ongoing recreational listener of her music but maybe not as a fan anymore. And this is a fandom that I found and find embarrassing. But I also knew that because I had spent so much time with the music and reviews and other journalistic responses to her output, that I had essentially already done the research to be able to speak in an informed way about her work. The trick was to figure out what to do with the embarrassment. And what I ended up doing was thematizing it. I'm giving a talk precisely about why that embarrassment might be interesting to reflect on.

Chris:

So the embarrassment is your own?

Nick:

The embarrassment is my own.

Chris:

Okay.

Nick:

Yeah. The question that I wanted to ask was how to put it to some good end. And what I ended up finding, and this was not something I could have anticipated before I started framing the question about what would I say about Tori Amos in this particular way, is that she in fact has a lot to teach us about embarrassment. It's not just that I was embarrassed by my former fandom and ongoing investment in the music, but that there are things in the work, both in terms of the lyrics that she writes and in terms of some of the compositional and performance choices that she makes on stage, that again, disclose something interesting and valuable about embarrassment and what to do with it.

Chris:

So we could take a look at say, "Y Kant Tori Read" compared to say her first solo release?

Nick:

Right. So Chris was telling me, I'm now telling you listeners before we started this conversation properly that he had not before yesterday heard of "Y Kant Tori Read" and now has had an ear full and an eye full.

Chris:

Yes, absolutely.

Nick:

So "Y Kant Tori Read" was the name of a band that Tori Amos fronted in Los Angeles in the late eighties. It was her effort to make a big pop splash and the album tanked. It's a terrible album.

Chris:

I had a hard time believing that it was actually her. As I was watching this video I thought, this is not the same Tori Amos that I knew when I was in college.

Nick:

Right? The huge hair, the thigh high leather boots, trying to do this kind of Lita Ford inspired tough chick thing that just does not work. And the synthesizers and the arrangements, everything about the choices that they made for this album is nightmarish. However, I think upon close inspection there is a kind of slippage or productive continuity between what's going on in that failed effort and what then unfolds in her solo debut "Little Earthquakes," which is as you know, a platinum effort that was critically lauded and much appreciated by many different kinds of listeners. If you really listen closely to the songs and you get past the arrangements the ways in which the things that she's doing as a songwriter for "Y Kant Tori Read" are not unlike the things that she does for "Little Earthquakes." I guess one of the other things I'm interested in is when the embarrassing episode of this effort and its tanking gets trotted out and when it's occluded from view. So "Y Kant Tori Read" is not listed in the official Tori Amos discography on her website. She has however shared stories on a number of occasions, including in the memoir that she co-wrote with the rock journalist Ann Powers about her life and work. There are times—occasions on which it seems strategic to present the failure of this effort precisely to celebrate the ways in which it was overcome.

Chris:

Sure.

Nick:

But sometimes there's a different kind of origin story that's taken to be more saleable for Amos and that is to sort of skip over this embarrassing episode and jumped back to tell a story about her childhood. She was a prodigy who had a full scholarship at the Peabody Conservatory, but she also really liked rock music and struggled with conventional musical notation and playing The Beatles and not being able to read in the standard ways both added up to a lot of trouble for her. Her scholarship was non-renewed. When she tells the story, she tells it in slightly more melodramatic fashion and says that she was kicked out of the conservatory. But of course, because she came from a poor family, not having the scholarship renewed at a certain point in her study was tantamount to being kicked out. And this is associated in all kinds of ways with shame for Amos who has written about it in a number of different ways, and I'm interested in tracking the difference between the childhood shame and the young adult embarrassment which again can be positioned in related but also in different ways to tell a narrative that might be appealing to listeners or more intense fans about who Amos is and where she landed in her career after these various early life incidents.

Chris:

Okay.

Nick:

Yeah.

Chris:

So thinking along those lines and thinking about Tori having these obstructions in her life, what other obstructions are we looking at? What are the sorts of things are you sort of dealing with in your book?

Nick:

Right. So, well to answer that question let me jump back, I said that I stumbled into this project somewhat accidentally, or at least at first. That's the way that it felt to me. So I did this paper for the colloquium and realized that I could turn it into an essay, but was thinking of that as work to the side of what might be a book project for me. Right around the same time, I was trying to write a piece about a phenomenon that I noticed in downtown New York theater, let's say experimental theater that there were a lot of folks who were doing pieces that in one way or another responded to the phenomenon of lounge and more specifically were doing things that could be understood as parodic uptakes or satiric redos of lounge.

Chris:

Okay.

Nick:

So I was thinking about Kiki and Herb, but also Karen Finley's piece "Make Love." Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver in their collaboration as Split Britches did a piece called "The Lost Lounge." It seemed like there was a "there" there to unearth. Why were these performers all gravitating to the lounge idiom and doing weird things with it? But I stalled, and in a way that made me feel lazy trying to do this piece. I didn't want to let go of it though. And at a certain point it occurred to me that the piece that I could write was precisely about the blockage, the sense of being stuck and simultaneously of being lazy.

Chris:

You're researching and experiencing simultaneously.

Nick:

Right. And then when I thought about that next to what I was already up to on embarrassment, it seemed that there was a way to tie these two considerations together and then extend the purview to consider other blockages or hindrances to work that might not actually or only stay blockages or hindrances.

Chris:

Okay.

Nick:

So again, the way to make something of the laziness was to reflect on it. And to think about, as it ended up being developed for the book, a distinction between laziness as a state. A kind of ossification, a stuckness and lazing as a kind of playful, non-object oriented intellectual activity that there's a way in which one can let one's mind go to all sorts of interesting places and do something with that kind of relaxed or lazing meditative thinking that's different from very goal-oriented productivity.

Chris:

Okay.

Nick:

And what ended up also ironically happening along the way is that none of those performers who I just mentioned ended up saying is important to the project as I initially thought they would be. Instead I ended up writing more singularly in the chapter about a different group, The Dream Express. These collaborators, the actors Steve Mellor and Didi O'Connell doing work that they cowrote with the playwright Len Jenkin. The conceit is that they're a former couple who have an ongoing working collaboration and they do their lounge act in a series of really terrible spaces and seedy motels, bars and they're not particularly good at playing their instruments or singing their songs, and so the piece is a kind of extended and elaborate joke about the badness of this lounge act. But of course in its way it's a very good piece of work about a bad duo, but more importantly a duo who are also quite lazy. And it is suggested that they can't be bothered to rouse themselves to do better precisely because they're in these terrible spaces. The last ditch spots on the highway.

Chris:

If you even visit the website, you take a look at it and it has this feeling of being almost an old GeoCities website. It has this very old archaic kind of feel. I was poking around there and I looked at shows, upcoming shows that were listed, and there was an art piece or art show that was going on in Coney Island and it listed it as sometime in August and it had the dates listed, and then I followed the New York Times article and it was actually two years ago that it had occurred. So it's not even being kept up to date. So just sort of letting things become flotsam and jetsam on the Internet as it is.

Nick:

Yeah. So there is something, I think, that unites what you're describing with what I was saying a moment ago about Amos. So within the diegesis of the performance piece, The Dream Express, it's a little bit confusing that the piece has the same name as the fake band. There is a kind of thematization of laziness, but then outside what happens within that work, that is in the actual production of the work and in the maintenance or rather non-maintenance say of their website, they're also arguably lazy or lazing. They're not particularly careful archivists of what they've done. They've never commissioned, for instance, any video of the work. I saw them do a version of the show several years ago, not at that time thinking I was going to write about them, so I didn't take the kinds of notes that I would ordinarily do as a theater studies person. And then when I realized sometime later that they would be the perfect object for this chapter on laziness in the book, I had a moment of panic which I described in the book because I didn't take great notes and there was no video to find.

Chris:

There's nothing to be found even out there on YouTube.

Nick:

Right. So how was I going to do it? But what I end up arguing in the book is that relaxing in that moment rather than worrying can put one in a frame of mind that is conducive to a useful recollection. So lazing with my thoughts about The Dream Express got me to a place of remembering things that I didn't even know I could remember about the performance that I had attended precisely because I could let go and give in to that way of thinking back.

Chris:

It's still rattling around somewhere in the back of the brain.

Nick:

Yeah. And it's different. I mean, what I can end up saying is certainly different from what I would have said if I had taken those more scrupulous notes. But nonetheless, I'm trying to make the case in the book that there is a different kind of value in finding my way to that material in the fashion that I did because I had to.

Chris:

Okay.

Nick:

Yeah.

Chris:

What about a cynicism? That's another topic that comes up in Obstruction.

Nick:

Yeah, so cynicism I think is in some ways the hardest one to make the case for as a useful and usable experiential phenomenon. Cynicism is rightly usually a dirty word as merely or only a blockage to the good. I think we're right to understand cynicism in that way when we understand it that way. Nonetheless, and perhaps somewhat perversely, I wanted to think about whether there was some kind of value to be found in it. Could cynicism sometimes be other than toxic?

Chris:

Okay.

Nick:

And again, I set myself that question as a kind of challenge that I thought would be harder than the ways in which I would find the value in the other obstructions. In each of the chapters it is becoming clearer over the course of our conversation, I hope, the case studies that I take up provide these object lessons. There are any number of places one could go to find examples of cynicism in the archive in which I dwell, which is popular, although sometimes unpopular culture of roughly the last 20 to 25 years. And we can name any number of cultural productions that strike us as cynical from say 1990-ish to 2010-ish, but which ones would do something interesting and good and vital with their cynicism?

Chris:

And you have a strong focus on Daria.

Nick:

Right, which I think puts me in a very different place from where I would have been if, say I had thought about the pervasive cynicism in The Sopranos or the cynicism that might not be thematized representationally but certainly informs a lot of other television production.

Chris:

Okay.

Nick:

I talk in the opening gambit of the chapter about how there was a moment when I thought I might like to write about the USA Network police procedural Silk Stockings, but decided cynically that no one would take seriously a scholarly chapter on such a bad object.

Chris:

Sure.

Nick:

Whereas Daria has a kind of cred, a series that was much loved by many viewers and lauded by various journalists who responded to it, and it is a great television series. It is also deeply cynical but not only or merely cynical in the everyday sense that we associate with that word. So the move that I make in the chapter is to think back quite far to ancient Greek cynicism, a philosophical movement, if you like, that at first blush is very different from modern or postmodern, or contemporary cynicism, but might be productively thought alongside it. So I try to make the connections between the cynicism of our moment and that of Diogenes, the philosopher whose name is most often invoked when talking about classic cynicism, and I look along the way at some other connective tissue between that very old moment and the much more recent philosophical moment that I find interesting is a lecture course that Michel Foucault gave in the 1980s, one of the last things that he did professionally before his untimely passing in which he talked about the ancient cynics, and so I sort of stitched together an account of that very old philosophical movement and what slender classic literature there is on it, the Foucaultian movement from the 80s, and this cultural production of about 15 years ago to again make an account of cynicism that is more dimensional than the sort we would offer if we only dwelt in a more everyday understanding of what the term means. And what I can say by way of embroidering on what I was describing to you a moment ago is that one of the things I learned from this mash up of Diogenes and Foucault and the makers of Daria and Daria herself, if we like to think of that fictional character as having some kind of being, is that cynicism need not be only understood as opposed to a valuable ethics or progressive politics. It might in its own slippery, strange way serve for instance, an ethics of care for oneself and for one's community. And it is indeed about the ethics of care and self-care that Foucault is thinking when he turns to Diogenes and others and whose name ancient cynicism gets understood, yeah. So that chapter, as I said was, was challenging to work in a number of ways because of the presumption that cynicism is just a bad thing, but it was also a great deal of fun to work on because I got to rewatch all of Daria.

Chris:

Oh, absolutely. It's funny, I had not watched an episode of that in so long and they're very hard to find out there unless you have a cable subscription that you can go out to mtv.com and watch something—punch in your code. What was it that I got to watch last night? It was the only one I could find. I think it was "That Was Then and This Is Dumb," I think where Daria's parents have some old hippie friends who show up and they sort of revisit that point in their life and then realize somewhere at the end that that's not where they want to be after all.

Nick:

Yeah. I'm so glad that you bring up that episode. It's one of my favorites and indeed one about which I write in the chapter. You know, one of the challenges beyond this project for anyone doing television studies is to figure out at what scale an appropriate and valuable criticism gets done. Does one zoom all the way out? Does one zoom all the way in? Do you talk a lot about a given scene or sequence in an episode? Do you try to talk about a lot of episodes? Do you try to situate the series alongside others, either of the same moment of cultural production or earlier in television history? These questions have no easy answers. They're ongoing ones, but I will make a point about this episode. I promise I'm getting there. I had to think very strategically about where I would do close analysis, where I would do the more zoomed out thing and try to say, in a more broad stroke sway, some things about MTV circa 2000 and what it meant to be doing animation there, an episode on which nonetheless I do alight with some close attention is the one that you just described "That Was Then, This Is Dumb," and it's interesting to me precisely because there's a reflexive moment in it in which Daria describes her quote "bitter nineties cynicism." One of the things we learned from the episode though is that there is actually a connection to be made between the optimism slash idealism of her parents' hippie friends and that bitter nineties cynicism. So they, they are originally presented as opposed to each other, but over the course of the episode, which introduces some really interesting complexity, we see that there's a kind of continuity between Daria's worldview and the hippies' worldview.

Chris:

Yeah.

Nick:

And so that to me was a fascinating and instructive moment precisely for my project of trying to figure out something good to do with cynicism.

Chris:

Oh, fantastic.

Nick:

Yeah. And I will add that while you are a good person and therefore find it difficult to land on Daria episodes online, people who may be engaging in less legal behavior could find a trove of things.

Chris:

Oh, they're hidden out there somewhere, right?

Nick:

Yeah. I do talk a little bit at the very end of the chapter about the question of piracy, and it came up for me in the course of my research for a number of different reasons. One of which is that when Daria was released on DVD, all of the, or almost all of the original music that had been used to provide it with its very alt-millennial soundtrack had to be scrapped because they couldn't afford the rights.

Chris:

Oh, this is most unfortunate.

Nick:

It's very unfortunate. And so a group of super fans, also pirates, have done this massive, massive restoration project where they've reinserted the music clips that were used in the original broadcasts so that one can have that sense of the series if one is willing to go down that—

Chris:

Which I can't condone.

Nick:

Right.

Chris:

Cause the other hat that I wear here in the department is computer support, and I have to say something like don't pirate videos. Don't do it. That's my PSA for today.

Nick:

Yes. That is a good PSA, you know. Well, so I mean one of the things about the move to release the series in the way that was done with this very sort of ham-fisted music that was written probably fairly hurriedly for the purpose is, was that a cynical move? You know, are the folks who are going to make money off the sale of the DVDs engaging in a kind of practice that we would want to call cynical or would we want to defend it against the charge of cynicism and argue for the good of releasing even a quote unquote compromised version of the series on DVD? My answer to that question is that it's more complicated than either calling it cynical or saying that it's worth defending.

Chris:

Yeah. The music component is so important. It has everything to do with the time in which it was released. There are other series that have been released in a similar fashion who also could not obtain the rights to the music and it's just not quite the same, or they've tried to throw something in there. This very sort of bad keyboard, a very eighties sounding piece that just doesn't, it loses something. It loses its original feel, so.

Nick:

Absolutely. I will say that I am glad to be able to have the experience. I'm not going to tell you how—

Chris:

That's okay. You don't have to. La la la la la, I can't hear you.

Nick:

Of hearing that music. I do think that the animation, the writing, the vocal work all stands up well enough that even in the compromised version with the new sound bites, it's eminently watchable material. It's so much better with the other music involved. And there was a different kind of web effort to do work on the series. So before the legally questionable restoration project came along, there were other folks who were doing archival work on the series at a site called Outpost Daria, and what they had done was meticulously catalog what all the song uses were in the episodes so that if one visited the catalog of episodes synopses that they made available, one could see what all of those pieces of music were and you could more legally recreate for yourself a sense by following that trail. However, that valuable resource, which I was grateful was still online when I began this project, has since gone away.

Chris:

Oh no.

Nick:

And we can talk about this, I suppose, in a way that is bigger than just thinking about what's going on in this book Obstruction. If you work on digital things, contemporary things, online things, what is your archive? How stable or not will it be? What can you count on staying? What will go?

Chris:

Absolutely.

Nick:

I would not have predicted in the moment that I was looking at a lot of the material that people had lovingly put on this site Outpost Daria that it would ever go away because I thought the superfan commitment would mean that they would always be ready to pony up the money to preserve the site, and I don't know why they decided that they didn't want to continue in that effort. I've not been able to track down an answer to that question that is sufficient, but nonetheless that is worth noting.

Chris:

We seem to have this feeling as a society that things are permanent somehow out there on the web. I found it now I can just go back whenever, I'll send people links and then it'll just be there, you know, and finding that things are just sort of slipping and disappearing and going away check Wayback Machine by chance to see if, I guess those are usually like really old sites. How, how recent has it been that this has sort of disappeared from the web?

Nick:

It disappeared I think, I want to say two years ago, maybe three.

Chris:

Oh, okay so unlikely that it's on Wayback Machine, although might be worth trying to see if for some reason it got archived.

Nick:

I should and I am a little embarrassed, but if my book is right in its claim, it's okay to be embarrassed that I haven't done that Wayback work. But part of the reason is that my research had come to a point of basic closure by the time that the website went away. And I do talk about having navigated it and that it disappeared in the book. I've been burned on other occasions similarly or worse. I mean, as I say in this instance, I had used the site with some depth before it went away and I had enough in my notes that that was just fine for my purposes. But for instance, you know, when I'm teaching the history of television or in any number of instances really teaching international theater histories, there are lots of online resources that I will use in one iteration of a course, and then the next time I'm teaching that class, they're gone and it's produced in me a kind of paranoia. Now I grab everything that I can and download as much as is possible knowing that I shouldn't count on things staying where they are online. With every passing week, month, year there's more and more and more out there for us to grab with a fair amount of ease at the same time that the disappearance effects are getting ratcheted up or intensified, and the tension between those two phenomena, I suppose could provoke a kind of cognitive dissonance in us but one that we should be able to manage. We're pretty lucky at the end of the day with how much stuff is out there.

Chris:

Oh, absolutely and it's overwhelming at the same time.

Nick:

Yeah.

Chris:

Yeah. How about aggressiveness?

Nick:

Well, I suppose it's fitting to jump there since we're talking about the web and what's there and what's not precisely because that chapter takes up a blog that is, I'm happy to say, still available for people's perusal.

Chris:

Which is?

Nick:

A blog called fourfour.

Chris:

Okay.

Nick:

Which was generated by a journalist named Rich Juzwiak, probably the least famous person on whose work I dwell in this book. I'm very happy to be championing it though because I think he's a really great writer, but more than a writer. He's someone who's made a lot of interesting video. He became kind of famous in that Internet way for a video that he did—a pioneering effort in super cutting in which he stitched together a variety of moments from reality television in which contestants on series say, I'm not here to make friends. And what's so great about this edit is that Juzwiak lets people skewer themselves simply by showing in a fairly unvarnished way all of these moments back to back to back. He doesn't have to do anything particularly elaborate or complicated to indicate what is baleful about this corner of the reality TV world. It's very sly, so he was getting some attention and heat and traction for this video. He thought when he started the blog that it would be largely a place for him to write about music and also to revisit old pleasures and savers. He says in the opening gambit of the blog that he could write about very contemporary things as a paid journalist in any number of other forums, and so he thought that the blog would be a place to train his tend to regard on things that no one would consider of journalistic value because they're not things that are immediately in our media landscape. So he might revisit some, you know, Mary J. Blige album from over a decade ago. Okay, that was the stated intention in that first blog post. The way that the thing drifted landed him somewhere quite different. He actually did end up spending a lot of time on things that were of the moment. The blog became most well known, and I think most regularly read, for its bizarre, witty, and campy recaps of 10 full cycles of America's Next Top Model. So I became interested in exactly that facet of the blog. There is something really digressive about the way in which Juzwiak writes about episodes. These are long wayward posts that go to all kinds of unusual places, but he always manages somehow also to be offering a synopsis of what happened in a given episode, and when they're taken collectively together, they produce a kind of encyclopedic effect. So I was interested in the way that one could learn from Juzwiak's blogging activity how to digress, how to be wayward, how to follow one's nose or gut to all kinds of strange places and nonetheless have it add up to something coherent, and if not rigidly whole, holistically collective. That's not really the word that I want. I don't mean collective in the sense of producing something collectively. I mean the work of collecting.

Chris:

Okay.

Nick:

Collector's work.

Chris:

So he's now working for Gawker, correct? Writing for Gawker?

Nick:

He is, and certainly the popularity of this blog played a hand in getting him that gig. He arrested the blog right about the same time that he took up the work at Gawker and the final post for the blog is a kind of heartbreaking. I should qualify that statement. It's not the final, final post, but it's a post that feels final in a certain way because it's one in which he renounces his recapping effort and says that it left him exhausted and that he looks back on the work as a kind of waste of time. Now one could say simply on the basis of his getting the gig at Gawker that it wasn't a waste of time because it opened up a career opportunity for him. I'm trying to make the case that there is indeed a whole other sort of aesthetic and intellectual value in revisiting this blog, which may feel dated now in certain ways, but I'm also interested in the datedness of it.

Chris:

Okay.

Nick:

Or I want to use what we could take to be the datedness of it, to raise some questions about the quote unquote old, the quote unquote new, how they interface with each other, how we need to challenge some of the ways in which we think about so-called new media. And so-called new media's relationship to older media. I think the blog is positioned in an interesting way to answer some questions about those issues, and I also think, as I said, that it has this really great pedagogical value, this instructional value for the would-be digresser who also wants to do something good with his or her digressing. Juzwiak may not have been in a position by the time he was done with the blog to feel the value of his recapping effort, but I could. At the same time, it seemed important to me in the book to acknowledge that difference between his perspective as the maker of the blog and mine as a scholar doing research on digital networked creative activity. So I talk in the conclusion about exhaustion. I'm pivoting from the meditation on aggressiveness via thinking about Juzwiak's account of being so fatigued by his effort to ask the question is there value to be mined in exhaustion or other things that along the way occurred to me as possible objects from my contemplation, but that didn't make it into the book. So I talk about exhaustion. I talk about worry, which at a certain moment in this book's percolation I thought it could be a kind of counterpoint to laziness, and my answer in the conclusion is for me right now, no, there isn't enough usable and useful stuff in exhaustion or worry for me to want to make the case for their value. Other folks might treat those punitive obstructions in a different way, but it seemed important to me to end the book on a note of some complication to say that it might not be the case that obstructions can be useful or usable in the ways that I've proposed about the five that are central to the project and to be humble and offer a sort of caveat on what was foregoing in the book in that concluding gesture.

Chris:

Okay. Well we have one more to cover which would be slowness, I think.

Nick:

Yeah, so the chapter on slowness is the one that's also about recent cinematic work. There has been an interest among a number of scholars in cinema and media studies in slow cinema, although that can mean a couple of different things. It could be really long work or it could be work that feels slow of whatever duration it is. I got interested in the films of Kelly Reichardt as examples of films that feel slow without being long. So the two features of hers, "Old Joy" and "Wendy and Lucy", that I discussed in most detail in the chapter both clock under 90 minutes. They feel a lot longer than that, but I want to argue in a good, pleasurable way. Now I would have challengers—

Chris:

Okay.

Nick:

In that assessment. There are indeed folks who think about Reichardt's films that they're slow and boring, although there are any number of other people like me who think that they're richly and densely and pleasurably slow. So I wanted to learn from this slow cinema something about related critical enterprise. We, all of us, have less time for all the things that we want to do than we wish. So my question for myself was, could I, with the limited time that I have for thinking, research, writing related activity, inhabit the precious minutes that I have in a way that would make them feel slowed in a good way, in a pleasurable way, in a way that would generate value for me as an intellectual laborer without simply tricking myself into doing something that feeds the productivity machine of our neo-liberal corporatized university landscape? And I'm well aware that finding ways to have one's time feel happily slowed could in fact just be contributive to what critics like Fred Moten and Stefano Harney call the academic speed up. So this is tricky business.

Chris:

Okay.

Nick:

Nonetheless, a reader of the book will find that I do try to make the case for slowing time in a way that I think is defensible and again, learn something about how to do that from Reichardt's slow cinema.

Chris:

Okay. One of the things I want to talk about today is you also have a website that accompanies the book itself.

Nick:

Yes, I do.

Chris:

Yes, you do, and you can find that at www.obstructionbook.com. There you will find a blog which has you, you have not been lazy at all. You actually have a recent post as of May 14th, I believe.

Nick:

I do. It was my inaugural post. I was very nervous about generating that writing because I am not someone who has blogged in the past. So I'm learning a new trick. We're trying.

Chris:

How does it feel?

Nick:

It feels okay. I think how I'm making my peace with it is to try to find topics for consideration that are genuinely interesting to me that I don't think I would be giving short shrift to in the form of a post that by its nature has to be shorter than the other kinds of writing to which I am more used—that is writing essays or books.

Chris:

Okay. I guess it sort of brings up the question as to whether—does the publication—is it the end of the work or is it just the beginning now that there's all these additional social media features or you know, these pieces like blogs, including additional media always having to continue working away at this. So you know what—

Nick:

Yeah.

Chris:

Where is it taking you?

Nick:

It's a "both and" phenomenon, I think for me anyway, I wouldn't wish to speak on behalf of others who write academic monographs who might think and feel differently about this, but in a certain way, the work is done when the book is an object in the world, but in other ways it is just the beginning. Yes. The research is finished. Yes, those sentences are what they are. I'm not going to rewrite them, but I will have occasions like this one to talk about the work and in that sense extend my inhabitation of Obstruction if you like it.

Chris:

Okay. I want to read for our listeners out there, there's a review on the site and it's Aaron C. Thomas. He states that he gives Obstruction five stars at GoodReads and he writes, "My chief takeaway from Obstruction is, I think, that I want every one of my graduate students to read this book as a way to learn how to write. Salvato demonstrates so deftly and so beautifully that a critical interest in the culture we consume can facilitate all kinds of intriguing writing. But also that it is ok to be interested in all sorts of things, and that looking at the very things in which we are interested can yield fascinating results." Do you think you're going to find this book ending up in the graduate courses as well as sitting in the campus store? Yeah, stacks—

Nick:

I hope so.

Chris:

Around the country.

Nick:

I am honored and humbled by the effusive praise with which Aaron Thomas—

Chris:

It is very nice.

Nick:

Saluted the book. You'll have gathered from our conversation that I may be more prone to embarrassment, that's why I've written about it, than other folks, but I do get a little embarrassed hearing those words about the book at the same time that I am very grateful that it is being received in that loving and appreciative fashion, and I do hope that people teach it. It's a funny thing about writing books. They go out into the world and sometimes we hear a lot about how they're landing and sometimes crickets. I have no idea yet what I will hear or won't hear about this book, but if folks out there are hearing this and also teaching or planning to teach the book, I would love for you to let me know that and would be super appreciative and honored and humbled and embarrassed by all of it.

Chris:

And there's also a contact on your website as well so you can get ahold of you directly. A little form on there, yes?

Nick:

That's right.

Chris:

Yeah. Speaking of the book itself, just looking at it as we're holding it up here, but people can't see it, but a very fetching cover. You want to tell us a little bit about that?

Nick:

Sure. So one of the things that I didn't tell you, Chris, about the writing of the book was where it happened, which was in a number of locations. Here in Ithaca, of course. In New York City where I spent time on a sabbatic leave. I was also very fortunate to have an Appel Fellowship that gave me an extra semester's leave time that mapped onto the period in which I was writing this book. I spent that leave about five months of it anyway, in Buenos Aires, which was an incredible experience for all kinds of reasons. While I was there, I got intimately acquainted with the work of the visual artist Liliana Porter, who now lives and works in New York City, but is from Buenos Aires originally, and a really wonderful retrospective of her work was featured at a museum in the city at the time that I was there where I found myself again and again because lots of friends and family visited me and my partner while we were living there, and it was something that we kept wanting to show people. So I was thinking a lot about her work and living with it in this way and the piece of hers from which the detail is taken that provides the book with its cover image was not one that was in the museum where this retrospective was happening. Nonetheless, I don't know that I would've found my way to it had I not been keyed into her work in the special way that I was because of what was happening on the ground for me in BA. Liliana is an incredibly generous person who let me use this image for free. That almost never happens to authors who are trying to find images and secure the rights to those images for things like covers of books. I think that it's beautiful. I think it speaks to the questions and issues and challenges that I'm grappling with in the book in ways that are meaningful without being cheesily nail on the head, and yes, I'm just happy to take this occasion to give her a shout out because she's wonderful, and it's delightful to be able to have engaged with an artist who is such a nice human being as well as being such a brilliant maker of work.

Chris:

Okay. What else can we expect, Nick?

Nick:

Well, I'm trying to figure out what comes next for me as a writer.

Chris:

Anything in the works right now?

Nick:

There is a long-term project that I am only at the very beginning of. Clearly with this book just coming out I couldn't be otherwise then at the very beginning of it. My idea at the moment, I hope that it stays true in the fullness of time as I keep working away at it is to produce a third monograph whose working title is Late, and it will be about a number of the different lateness effects or meanings of lateness that get conjured in television. Thinking of television roughly from 1980 to 2010—a period in which television is itself growing old as are many of the featured players in it. So I'm interested in things like aging onscreen, fashioning representations of death onscreen, but I'm also interested in the late night part of the programming grid or the really late, late part of it for the insomniacs among us, who are watching things like videos on VH1 at three o'clock in the morning or buying things on QVC at four o'clock in the morning.

Chris:

Oh dear.

Nick:

And so my hope is to find a coherent way to tell a story about all of these different forms of lateness and how they tumble out together in television and why they tumble out together in the ways that they do in television. But as I said, these are super early days, so it will be a while before I can make good on the promise I've just given that this is a thing.

Chris:

Okay, well, very good. Nick, thank you so much for joining us down here, joining me. I'm Chris Christensen. Nice to have you all listening once again, and anything else you'd like to leave our listeners with?

Nick:

Thanks to you, Chris, for taking the time to chat with me. Appreciation for those who are listening and excitement about not just the work that I described to Chris as a scholar, but also the work that I get to do here in PMA as teacher and now chair of the department. So yay, PMA.

Chris:

Alright, thanks, Nick.