Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

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If the High Line Ballroom is an interesting venue, the Angel Orensanz Foundation is a gorgeous one. Not having ever been there before, I cannot divulge whether the blue and purple rear facade is a permanent feature or a creation of the lighting crew. Either way, the effect was jaw-dropping.

In these stately trappings, Saunders and Foer explored the concept of the Incredible. It was an interesting evening of chat. Unlike the earlier Pamuk/Rushdie event, Foer and Saunders genuinely didn’t see eye to eye on more than a few matters, and therefore something rather unexpected occurred — genuine hortatory verbal sparring, albeit respectful.

Both writers seemed honestly nonplussed to hear their work discussed in such fantastical terms. For Saunders, the emphasis is squarely on keeping the reader diverted; his craft manifests in getting the reader to keep reading — indeed, this is true of all writers in some measure: “Whatever effects you get, you only get them by being Groucho Marx.” Foer’s quick concurrence focused on the need to keep reader #1 entertained: “I have shut my own books, so many times….” Saunders later wished for temporary minor lobotomies, such that the author could approach each day’s work as if for the first time: “Paragraph three sucks. I ain’t readin’ any farther.” What others see as the outlandish in Foer’s work, he sees as a simple testing of the boundaries of the way things are. In his words, “nothing could be more real.”

Saunders is a natural cutup, as seen in his effort to explain the “baseline” narrative mode. If lion eats brother, the next day the discussion’s telling will be grounded in the reality of the lion. Once you’ve established the lion’s reality in story, then you can do something about it: “Let’s go get him; you go first.” On craft, Saunders often seemed the more insightful speaker, but that misses the point. Saunders got where he is through hard work, trial and error, and many false trails down Hemingway Lane. Not to dismiss the role of toil in Foer’s daily lot, but he’s clearly a natural. His description of seeking to induce “rigor mortis” in his readers was indelible, as was his heartfelt avowal of the importance of Kafka to his work. Never did they disagree more than when the subject turned to advertising, a staple of Saunders’s work and a subject he discussed with scarcely disguised glee (Foer’s take verged on horror). It was interesting to hear Saunders conjure a Tolstoy capable of describing both sides of the advertising transaction, the crone that advertising exploits and the advertising executive who exults in the artistry of it.

Foer explained his powerful ability to compartmentalize (when he’s not writing, he doesn’t think about it much) with a wonderful comparison. You may love swimming all the time, but when you’re not in the water, you’re not swimming. —Martin Schneider


I am wondering whether Jonathan is the son of Arno Safran, whom I knew as a teen-ager at a bungalow colony in NY (ca 1950’s). My parents were good friends of Hannah & Saul Safran, and my name then was Brickman. Marshall Brickman is my brother. Would love to hear, if I am correct. Currently reading extremely loud … it’s quite amazing!

gloria freundlichNovember 02, 2007

According to The New York Times, his parents are named Albert and Esther. I’m glad you’re enjoying the book. I haven’t read it yet, but I heard him read from it at the 2004 Festival. Thanks for writing in!

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