Adam Ehrlich Sachs, Pocket Interview No. 1

Adam Ehrlich Sachs lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His debut collection, Inherited Disorders: Stories, Parables, and Problems, has been described by The Rumpus as "endlessly sharp and engaging" and Publisher's Weekly has described him as a "perceptive observer of human nature and a distinctly promising talent." Recently, he talked with us over the phone about, among other things, fathers, shadows, contraptions, and the poignancy of precision. (listen to the interview)

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"I had divided up that week between being a historian, being a baseball player, and being the President. And I knew the days that I would do each and so that was my first ambition, I guess." 



STORYOLOGICAL: How were stories a part of life when you were a kid?

ADAM EHRLICH SACHS: We have a lot of joke tellers. Sort of like the Jewish joke tradition, which was alive in my family until me. Our generation kind of killed it. Although I realized at some point, this book is just kind of Jewish jokes. It's a collection of Jewish jokes when I thought I was writing literature or something like that. My grandfather on one side had this big collection of Jewish jokes he had memorized. And my father inherited that from him. And, so, I feel like in one dimension that was the main mode of storytelling in the family. 

I was not one of those people that knew I wanted to be a writer from the time I was three, and I didn't really start reading seriously till college and after. So, aside from the jokes, it was history and science and a lot of non-fiction stuff which I think has affected the book, too, in that I sort of ended up attracted to Borges and people playing with fact. People that have embarrassment about making things up which I think I have.

I’m still trying to work out why I do this and if it really is embarrassment. But there's something about working with something given. I'm constantly looking for constraints of various sorts and I think the constraint of reality and playing with it offers some kind of resistance that I like and lets me evade that embarrassment of sitting down and coming up with a guy named Stan. And like moving him around the house which is how I started for years and I couldn't figure out why I couldn't write in that mode but I couldn't.

STORYO: You said that you didn't start with the idea that you would be a writer. What were you imagining your future self to be?

AES: There's a family lore that I told my parents what I was going to be. I had divided up that week between being a historian, being a baseball player, and being the President. And I knew the days that I would do each and so that was my first ambition, I guess. My dad is a social scientist, but he's always kind of been one of those social scientists with science envy. He's an economist and economists have always had physics envy for 150 years. 

STORYO: Right.

AES: So, I think my first mode of rebellion, failed rebellion, was toward the sciences. 

STORYO: The hard sciences?

AES: The harder sciences, yeah. I ended up majoring in Atmospheric Science. Sort of doing atmospheric dynamics and hurricanes, studying hurricanes. I wrote my thesis on hurricane dynamics and things like that. 

STORYO: How did you end up going from Atmospheric Science to writing for The Harvard Lampoon

AES: Well I applied the first semester I got there. So in my own self-narrativizing it's actually—well—I have this story that I was just a science guy and it took years for me to understand that I wanted to write. But clearly that's not correct because already by the time I got to Harvard I wanted to be on the Lampoon

A nice thing about the Lampoon, the Lampoon is kind of a feeder. Half The Simpsons writing staff are mathematicians and a number of them have PhD's in math and science.1 So, it is a kind of an escape hatch for nerdy scientific Harvard undergrads who actually want to be writing comedy. And it's also screwed up a number of lives. You hear the success stories. It's unclear, you know, which one I'll be in 10 years.

STORYO: Did you have comedy heroes, or favorite standup comedians, that got you interested in writing comedy?

AES: I was a kind of a Simpsons obsessive. That was probably the main thing.

I've never really been into stand-up comedy aside from Louis C.K. He's one of a few comedy heroes, but I don't have that many. And I had read Vonnegut and Nabokov and other funny writers in high school and before. Another reason that my story is not quite right, I was already obsessed with Pale Fire in high school. Yeah this is—I’m breaking apart my own sense of self.

STORYO: Well, I mean, that's always a danger when you do an interview. I get worried about it when I talk to people.

Anyway carry on with your— 

AES: —my story coming apart—yeah. I feel like some combination of The Simpsons and Kurt Vonnegut and Nabokov made me think there's something to comedy. I think I'd sort of been able to make people laugh kind of in writing even though I've always been shy. I don't quite know why I thought I could do it. 

I had some instinct that maybe I couldn't do other kinds of writing—poetry and other things felt very foreign to me—but that this, this was something I could possibly do.


"I actually think the book started working in part when I gave up the novel form—or I shouldn't say it like that—but when I discovered the aphoristic form. When I realized that these two separate struggles were sort of the same theme. That my father's shadow and Bernhard's shadow had similar absurdities involved—similar dynamics—and I could think about them in the same book."

STORYO: Could you describe Inherited Disorders for our readers?

AES: Sure. It's called Inherited Disorders: Stories, Parables, and Problems.

It's 117 stories about fathers and sons in all sorts of different permutations and it's about rejecting your inheritance; it's about rebelling; it's about not rebelling. It's about legacies; it's about the anxiety of influence. Pretty much about anything you could think about in that area. 

STORYO: Reading the book, I did think a lot about The Anxiety of Influence and I also thought about Jonathan Lethem’s essay called “The Ecstasy of Influence.”2 They both felt present in the book: sons trying to run from their father's influence or inhabiting their father's influence—in one story literally stepping into the body of the father.

Was that something you knew you wanted to write about before you started writing or something where one day you thought, ‘Oh, I've been writing about that the whole time.’ 

AES: It was actually more of the second, or, I think the realization came right before I was able to start writing the book. 

I knew I wanted to write about fathers and sons but for a couple of years while I was failing to progress on it, I was interpreting that in a constricting way to really be about, for example, my relationship with my father, about actual physical and biological father-son relationships. I felt at the same time what I was actually struggling with day-to-day was a completely different struggle—which was Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence—trying to figure out what the hell I sounded like if I sounded like anything at all in my writing. 

So in the content I was sort of thinking about my father, but in the day-to-day struggle of it I was thinking about Kafka and Thomas Bernhard and Nabokov and how I could do what they did—which I loved—without simply being them or copying them or imitating them. Which I don't feel like I solved. And that will be a lifelong problem. 

Or if I do manage to solve it then I'll just become my own father and worry about sounding like myself. As Bernhard did. 

So, I actually think the book started working in part when I gave up the novel form—or I shouldn't say it like that—but when I discovered the aphoristic form. Also, when I realized that these two separate struggles were sort of the same theme. That my father's shadow and Bernhard's shadow had similar absurdities involved—similar dynamics—and I could think about them in the same book.

STORYO: You mentioned, in one of the interviews I read, how you ultimately shifted from writing a novel to writing fragments in part because writing in shorter fragments protected the stories from yourself. What part of yourself were you protecting the stories from? 

AES: As you could probably tell from reading the book I'm a very neurotic writer. So, this comes out in various ways. One palpable way it comes out is just my own sort of—it’s a little bit better now—but while writing this I would just get disgusted basically with whatever I was doing. And it's a little bit hard. It's you know—well you know as a writer yourself—when you feel that way it's hard to tell, or impossible to tell, when it has to do with the material and when it's just your own psychology gnawing at yourself.

I would just kind of lose faith in whatever I was working on. It was usually a new beginning to a father-son story, a father-son novel, and I would iterate it a little bit, change it a little bit, see a new way of doing it better and start again. 

So, yeah, just being able to write a story and put three dots after it, or put a number, and then on to the next one, there's something psychologically freeing about that. I could just move on. I could tell myself it's done and I'm not going to edit it. I will either keep it, or I won’t. I threw out tons. I probably wrote 200 stories. 

STORYO: A lot of your stories seem to be attempting to figure themselves out as they go. Sometimes it felt like the book was figuring itself out as a whole. Like it was becoming self-aware in my head as I read it. In a very pleasing way. 

Did you have a sense while you were writing that you were figuring out what it was as you were going? 

AES: Yeah, definitely. And that's something that all my—I guess that's kind of a tic of modernism but it's also a feature of all my favorite books at some point. And it can become really annoying, too, and I'm sure it does in my case. You know it becomes self-referential to the exclusion of everything else. 

But it's hard for me to do anything without at the same time reflecting on it. So to not have that part of it feels more inauthentic than to acknowledge what I'm doing and try to understand it at the same time. And that's always in tension with other, for me at least, with other things that fiction should do. It's in tension with having a plot; it's in tension with moving forward at all.

"dealing with the cat was a serious problem."

STORYO: The first story in the book is called "The Nature Poet." And it's about this poet whose father was a Nazi. All of his poems are about ferns and creeks, but all the critics say, ‘Oh you're writing about your father.’ And then by the end of the story he decides fine, I’ll write about my father, but in writing about my father it will somehow create the outline of a fern. And the critics finally see it. 

I wondered what other concerns—what fern like thing is inside the book that people aren't seeing? 

AES: Yeah, it's funny. I realized at the end, after a couple of those questions about fathers and sons, that I gained no knowledge about fathers and sons from this, or not really. And that actually wasn't really what the book was about. Or really that the antagonist of the book is not a father. That all the antagonists are sort of the son. It's the son projecting things about his father and letting those projections afflict him. 

So I think it has more to do with—well I don't want to say what my book is about—

STORYO: It's okay. It's what the interview is for. 

AES: Well, partly because I don't know. I don't want to reduce it. 

STORYO: Right. 

AES: I think it felt like it was about examining my own obsessiveness and compulsiveness and neuroticism and skepticism and finding all those things foolish which I already knew at the beginning. But still letting them play out. 

STORYO: Making it entertaining, at least. 

AES: Yeah, to try to make it entertaining. I mean hopefully if it's not just pure indulgence—which probably it is, too—it's that someone else who's also an obsessive compulsive person or, you know, someone skeptical to the point of not being able to move will laugh at some of these things, too. Yeah that would be a good outcome. That's kind of the outcome I was hoping for.

“ the spectrum of my pretentiousness that was on one side and Monty Python and the fish are always present on the other.”

STORYO: One of the things that Emma said in our podcast discussion of "The Philosophers" was that reading your stories felt sometimes like reading skits. Like Monty Python, but different. And the thing that was different to me was that there was more, you know, human emotion. Earnest drama stuff that isn’t really in a Monty Python skit where they’re hitting each other with a big fish. 

How do you find that balance where a story’s like a skit or a sketch and so funny, but then also still be a story?

AES: Well, I kind of had faith that if basically the motivating problem or problems got to the heart of something I was concerned with then that seriousness, or—I don't know about seriousness—but that feeling of not just doing pure absurdity would somehow infiltrate the stories. The fact that this is an actual close-to-home concern of mine would be there without my having to point to it every time. I'm not articulating this well—sorry this will sound very pretentious, but— 

STORYO: —that's okay. Probably means it's true. 

AES: Well, it's impossible even to say his name without sounding like an asshole. But I like Wittgenstein3 a lot.

I read him as a kind of poet even though I'm never quite sure what he's saying and I don't think anyone is. But one thing I really like about him is this kind of tension. You feel, often, like he's in a complete panic. Or, I feel that way. In this book On Certainty, he's dealing with skepticism of, you know, whether the world outside him exists. It's a kind of absurd fear, but I think on occasion I worry about it as well. And so, it's very—I mean it's in this kind of aphoristic way these single or a few sentences, and they're all kind of placid and reasonable, but you feel like under their surface is a guy almost in free-fall or just like you know completely panicking. 

You feel this kind of life or death concern somehow in the shadow of everything, behind everything. 

So I think, you know, in the spectrum of my pretentiousness that was on one side and Monty Python and the fish are always present on the other. 

STORYO: You mentioned the word seriousness. I remember reading you talking about this kind of idea that the great writers are the comedians but then the not-so-good writers suck all the comedy out of the really great writers and become serious and then that serious writer gets all the fame and the funnier writer gets forgotten. 

AES: Yeah. 

STORYO: Why do you think—

AES: —do you agree? 

STORYO: Yeah, I agree. I think the last film comedy that won the Academy Award was Annie Hall back in the 70s when it was cool to be funny and neurotic. It was a great decade I'm sure. But, yeah, I don't know why our culture seems to prize seriousness over comedy or why comedy means not serious. Because I assume you took the book seriously, even though you're being funny you’re—

AES: Yeah, very seriously. I mean it's my daily obsession. But yeah. I don't know. So maybe the most cynical of my theories about this is that most people are reading for the wrong reasons. I mean I kind of think literary culture is one of the worst cultures we have.

And if you read, you know, authors through the centuries, the good ones are always complaining about this. This is nothing new, or nothing about our particular culture as shallow as it is. I think culture's always mostly 99% shallow assholes. 

And then there's me. Right. This can't help. This is going to sound worse than my name checking Wittgenstein. 

But, yeah, I mean I do think a lot of book chatter—especially you know prize chatter and review chatter and all that bullshit—has to do with advertising one's taste and connecting yourself to what is seen to be intelligent and prestigious and comedy just doesn't have that aura around it.

STORYO: Like Louis C.K., who, I mean, he didn't become world famous and renowned as a young comedian. It took a long time. 

AES: Yeah. And then even longer to become, not just a famous comedian, but, you know, someone on The New Yorker website referenced Gogol4—which was right I think—but it takes time. I mean within comedy people get famous or not quickly however quickly they do, but then to sort of crossover and be seen as, you know, the philosopher comedian that he's taken to be now, I think that takes longer than a young serious novelist writing about wandering around a city and thinking about the holocaust. That's a much quicker route.

STORYO: There's so much wandering around cities. 

AES: Yeah. The flaneurs. Those assholes. 

STORYO: Though, I really like the word flaneur. 

AES: It's a better word than it is a thing to write about. 

STORYO: Yeah. Well, I mean that's life. Just a better word than a thing. 

AES: Yeah.

“...for thousands of years that's fucked people up trying to bring that same level of precision to ethical thinking and, you know, you spend a whole life and there's still how many thousands of ethicists out there, and they're often among our smartest people, but they also seem among our most absurd people.”

STORYO: A lot of the stories in the collection are about insistence. An artist insisting on what their work means or critics insisting on what the work is supposed to mean. 

Was that something you were conscious of while you were writing the book?

AES: Yeah I think that was a concern. 

I'd started a Ph.D. in history of science and left it after a couple of years and ended up actually taking a bunch of literature classes in it. And, also, I spent that time also reading a lot of fiction outside. 

So, there was—I think I did feel, or was interested by, that tension between these writers trying to create things that are supposed to elude so easily pindownable meanings and that sort of thing on the one side, and on the other side, just being—both in literature classes and also in the history classes—it’s just a series of different theories to explain the world basically. That's what history is.

You have Marx and you have Foucault5 and you have the formalists in literature and it's just lots of different ways to take all these things that are supposed to be singular and subjective and pin them down in a system of meaning.

And I kind of like both of those. It wasn't like I was celebrating the meaning creators over the others. I actually feel personally closer in a way to the analysis side. 

I like Kafka a lot—but he always feels more mystical than I am capable of being. He's great because he has both. I feel like a constant tension in him, too. You feel this mystical urge, but you also feel him parodying it. He creates “Before the Law,” that great parable in The Trial, but then he has pages and pages of absurd commentary about what it could mean.

STORYO: I love nonsense and I love precision and I wondered how in you those two things get married? 

In  one of your stories, "Precision," a son goes to his father's tombstone and the father's tombstone has a mathematical constant on it and the son has figured out the latest decimal decimal point and putting it on the tombstone cracks the tombstone. 

It was, well it was funny but it also was so sad. This feeling that in searching for precision, or understanding, you just end up ruining everything anyway. 

AES: Yeah. That's a nice way of putting it. 

You know I feel like a lot of—for example, ethical philosophy, I like reading it. It all seems completely absurd to me. Do you know Derek Parfit? He died recently6 but wrote, you know, how many thousands of pages in On What Matters. Trying to prove that Kantianism and utilitarianism and one other are all the same.

STORYO: Like the string theory of philosophy. 

AES: Yeah, exactly. 

My dad also likes thinking—he thinks there are ethical truths to be discovered, and so this impulse to think with incredible rigor and precision about something like ethics is all something that Wittgenstein thinks and talks a lot about: trying to bring a kind of precision that is not to be found there. 

There's something really poignant about it, because I respect and I have the same urge. You want to be able to say you know something is good or not. Or certain politics are right or not. And because we have that kind of precision in science and in math, do you think you should be able to also when you're talking about right and wrong? And just for thousands of years that's fucked people up trying to bring that same level of precision to ethical thinking and, you know, you spend a whole life and there's still how many thousands of ethicists out there, and they're often among our smartest people, but they also seem among our most absurd people. Coming up with their cases and deducing consequences and clearly it's all on a foundation of nothing.

STORYO: A lot of your stories reminded me of the time when I was a math person—I mean I still love math—and of this idea that if you started with a false premise you could prove anything was true and that the great anxiety of being a mathematician is that you'll prove something is true and then realize that you started in the wrong place. And it feels like a lot of your characters, they start in the wrong place in their attempt to prove something true. 

AES: Yeah. I mean and that's Kafka's great trick, too, and sketch comedy. And you just kind of grant one absurd thing, whether or not you recognize it as absurd, and then from then on you have this tight logical chain. And, yeah, it makes you feel like a lot of theologians and ethicists do that. Make one leap of faith. Although, the theologians have more of an idea that they're doing it than the ethicists, and then you know you spend 40 years tightly, logically reasoning about this completely absurd set of circumstances that you've leapt into without realizing it.

STORYO: For some reason it also reminded me of screwball comedies—like the 40s/50s comedies. I have my own pet theory7 that a screwball comedy isn't really that much different than a horror movie. It's just that no one dies in the end, but it's like you do one thing wrong—there's some misunderstanding—and it just grows and grows and grows. One of your stories, “Concerto for a Corpse.” It has this kind of gruesome logic to it that reminded me of Edward Gorey and Edgar Allan Poe. The son is chopping off parts of his body in the hopes that he won't have to play his father's concertos anymore. And his father composes a nine finger, then an eight finger, then a seven finger concerto. It's not clear if this is a misunderstanding between them or just deep, deep cruelty.

AES: I like that description. And, you know, by the way those two are two of my favorites, also. Edward Gorey and Edgar Allen Poe. And I've had a similar thought I think about horror and comedy. Slightly different valences but basically the same kind of dynamic to both of them.

I think it might have something to do with this use of logic. In a lot of realist novels the appearance of logic in the plot, for example, that would ruin the work or make it seem unserious or deterministic or not like life. Cause like we all know life is random and you know precipitous and whatever. So a novel in the you know James Wood realist mode should have that kind of chanciness to it. 

STORYO: Right. 

AES: There's both something I think low-brow to the use of logic in your plotting, but, also, I think in the best absurdist works, which I love, that that's there, too. And it's ideally a kind of logic that the author, in the best case, has sort of forged himself. You know you feel like Kafka-logic is its own kind, or Beckett logic. They’ve sort of formulated their own kind of logical laws. And then all of their works obey it in a way that—or Bernhard, or Gertrude Stein—becomes boring and predictable, but great. 

You know all my favorite writers I feel like are completely boring and completely repetitive. And this book is not great but it's repetitive. Like I got the repetitive part. I don't think there's anything to fear about being repetitive.

“But, those are good enough, right? Some laughs and some delusions of meaning.”

STORYO: When you finished writing the book, did you have any sense of hope or accomplishment? One of the things that I remember talking about in the podcast was about how all of these people were going to such absurd lengths to accomplish what was impossible that I kind of got excited by it and hopeful. I wondered if that was your experience writing it, or if you would go back and forth between despair and hope?

AES: Yeah that's my normal vacillation. But, no, I think it had been so long—years of failed projects—so, 20 pages into this—realizing that this was a form that I could maybe possibly finish something in, and that felt like it was not drying out and stultifying as I was writing it, as it usually felt, but started like deepening and changing—I remember that. Like two months in. That was probably the best feeling of the book. Like this is happening. This is working. 

And a lot of it was actually pretty pleasurable to do. In the end the last few months were actually probably the worst again because the downside of this form is there's no ending to write towards really. 

STORYO: I wondered how you shaped it. 

AES: Yeah. 

STORYO: Did you just like throw the stories in the air? Or let your cat walk on them? 

AES: That was—the dealing with the cat was a serious problem. We were in an apartment where my office—she could open the door. So I printed all the stories out and was putting them on the floor—it took me a long time to try to order them—and she would want to come in and like sail, you know, just like skid across the papers. So we bought all these ropes and had to like tie up my door to a lamp to keep it closed. And then she would bang on it all night trying to open it. This is mixed up with the ending of this book not being so pleasurable, I guess.

STORYO: I felt like there were more moments at the end of a kind of grace and mystery. Was that something you aimed for? Like the story “The Flying Contraption,” where the son has been told not to fly the flying contraption because it doesn't work. And then the son does and you end on a moment where maybe the flying contraption didn't fall immediately and the son rethought everything he knew.

AES: So, concretely, I notice there's a bunch of, well there's deathbed scenes everywhere. 

I like me a good deathbed. But there's probably a higher concentration of deathbed scenes at the end.

That's a superficial observation. Yours is a much better one. 

Well, I think I wanted good stories mostly at the beginning and at the end. And a bit of a slog in the middle. And I think actually the stories that I felt were more—the better ones—were usually the ones where I felt like I didn't know exactly what I was saying. Or where I had that open-endedness even for myself. Whereas there are some that are just straight comedy basically and I feel like I know what they're saying and I don't like those as much. But if they made me laugh sometimes I decided to keep it anyway. You'll find those in the middle I think. 

STORYO: You mentioned somewhere about the way a joke told often enough, or a joke extended long enough, reaches a moment of tediousness that if you can push past it, it becomes funny again. 

Was that something you felt in your own repetitions in the book? 

That in fiction, as tedious as this might feel, if I can get enough stuff here maybe it will push past it to something—you know maybe not profound, though I thought, you know, there's some good profound stuff here—but at least more than the sum of its parts? 

AES: I think I had to have that faith. If this were to be a book because the book has to be a certain length to sell it. And I'm writing in this form so it better be sustaining interest. 

It is true of Proust. His dinner parties that go on for hundreds of pages. At a certain point they're tedious and then you push through and it becomes absurd. And that's Beckett and that's Gertrude Stein, often. And Bernhard and children's stories. That's what I meant about children having a higher tolerance for, you know, a dog going up to you and asking you if you like his hat. That can go on and on for a kid and become completely ludicrous in a lovely way. And, yeah I like that. I don't think I've ever outgrown that or at least I want not to have outgrown it.8

STORYO: Do you think there's something on the other side of that absurdity? Like, you know, tediousness if you stay with it long enough in the hands of someone that's skilled can become this kind of glorious absurdity. Is there something that happens after absurdity? 

AES: Yeah, so it probably goes tedious, absurd, tedious, tedious, absurd, tedious. And then you die, right? I mean it just goes back and forth and it obviously cycles back to tedious but then if you can push with it, it goes back to a good place.

STORYO: There's no grace in this? 

AES: Oh, no. There's no grace. There's no salvation. 


AES: I mean I'm a Jew so... 

STORYO: Occasional delusions? 

AES: Yes, delusions. 

STORYO: Delusions of meaning at some point, right? 

AES: Definitely. Yeah. But those are good enough, right? Some laughs and some delusions of meaning.

“I kind of feel like I can investigate enough to know OK there's nothing here for anyone. And you're all deluded. But I can't say that to a theoretical physicist as much as I would like to.”

STORYO: I don't know if you ever happened to watch this thing called Inside the Actor's Studio—that was hosted by this guy James Lipton—but he had a questionnaire he would always do at the end of his interviews that was taken from Bernard Pivot. It was this French talk show host who had taken the questionnaire from Proust. 

So this is my place to drop a bunch of fancy sounding names. 

It's 10 questions and just answer off the top of your head. Attempt not to think about it too much, I guess.

AES: Alright. Are these one word...well, all right go ahead. 

STORYO: Yeah they can be, they can be. We're already thinking too much about this. I'm even giving you too much introduction to the process. 

AES: Yeah. Bernard Pivot. What would Pivot want to hear? 

STORYO: What is your favorite word? 

AES: Oh, geez. 

This is actually might be my worst nightmare by the way.

I have a bunch of words that I think are innately comedic. And sandwich would be one. That's a comedy word. So, I'll go with that. 


STORYO: What is your least favorite word? 

AES: Well, because we talked about it, let's say flaneur. The word itself is good, what it represents is bad. 

STORYO: What is your favorite smell? 

AES: Maybe my cat. My cat's fur. That weird? 

STORYO: I don't know. It's sweet, which somehow feels appropriate for the book—which is weird and sweet. 

AES: We just brought the cat to the vet yesterday, and she's kind of recuperating.

STORYO: My sister had a fun absurd moment with our cat. The cat was sick and so she took the cat to the vet and when she got to the vet the cat was already not alive anymore. 

AES: Oh, no. 

STORYO: But, she didn't know at first and so she's like come on let's go see the vet and we'll get you fixed up. The vet's like no, that...the cat's dead. 

AES: That is the least funny Monty Python sketch that's ever been. Oh, that's so sad. 

STORYO: What is your least favorite smell? 

AES: I think gas station. I get really paranoid about like fumes and what they do to my brain. So a good gasoline fume. I mean you kind of like it, but it scares me. 

STORYO: What do you wish that you knew more about? 

AES: Theoretical physics. You know the basic stuff of the world that'd be nice to know. If it can be known. 

STORYO: Right. Back to: is there a truth? Maybe in theoretical physics. 

AES: Yeah, I don't think so. But it's one world that I've no idea. I feel like there's something there and I don't know what it is. There's no way I can ever really investigate that on my own. Like a lot of things you can investigate on your own and make sure that there's nothing there. Like ethics. I kind of feel like I can investigate enough to know OK there's nothing here for anyone. And you're all deluded. But I can't say that to a theoretical physicist as much as I would like to.

STORYO: What do you wish you knew less about? 

AES: Maybe our current political scene. 

STORYO: If we pretended that your life had a soundtrack. Name three songs just off the top of your head. 

AES: Maybe a Leonard Cohen song. "Bird On a Wire."

Some Dylan. Maybe: ”Don't Think Twice.”

Let's say some repetitive Bach. "The Goldberg Variations." I listened to that a lot while writing the book to convince me that repetition is a high virtue. 

STORYO: What is your favorite kind of story?

AES: Something that starts in a recognizable world and builds to a point of pure blissful insanity and inanity and pointlessness. 

STORYO: What would you say is your least favorite kind of story? 

AES: A man strolling through either New York, or Paris, or Berlin. Thinking about the burden of the Second World War and how it still infiltrates every aspect of our lives. 

STORYO: William Faulkner said this thing. He said that the only thing worth writing about was the human heart in conflict with itself. If Faulkner came back from the dead to write the story of your life what would that story be about? 

AES: Well, for me, I feel like it's the human head in conflict with itself. So it'd be about some privileged sort of upper middle class dude sitting in a room and thinking to the point of confusion and not getting any comeuppance for it. At least not yet. 

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