Notebook on Cities and Culture
(Formerly The Marketplace of Ideas.) Colin Marshall sits down for in-depth conversations with cultural creators, internationalists, and observers of the urban scene all around Los Angeles and beyond.
S2E27: A Productive Obscurantism with Tom Lutz

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, 1903Cosmopolitan 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.

Direct download: NCC_S2E27_Tom_Lutz.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 2:34am UTC

S2E26: Dial M for Murderousness with Jay Caspian Kang

Colin Marshall sits down in Los Angeles' Sunset Triangle with Jay Caspian Kang, editor at sports and pop culture site Grantland and author of the novel The Dead Do Not Improve. They discuss his youthful Midnight in Paris dream of drinking in red leather bars with dead authors; the racy science fiction of L. Ron Hubbard; the current or former importance of New York City as a destination for a youngster with literary ambitions; his avoidance of the role of "tribal writer," tacitly assigned with explaining his culture to outsiders; growing up imprinted by the last "dangerous," pre-pop hip-hop, which he used as a tool to deal with otherness in his North Carolina high school; filling his main character Philip Kim's head with that and other preoccupations of the era in which he grew up, such as The Simpsons; the thirty-ish generation's combination of high ambition with almost patternlessly scattered efforts, as exemplified by Lena Dunham; slightly younger creators' instinctive consciousness of themselves as a "brand" based on their volume of output; his desire to write a hyper-real novel of San Francisco that would skewer — sometimes by actually killing — that city's more self-satisfied sort of residents; the divide between old and new San Franciscans, and those who fell in between by growing up there in the eighties, when the utopian dreams had fallen through and the town needed an identity; how Chris Isaak turned up in his book; the Virginia Tech shooting, and how he and other Korean-Americans knew immediately that an Asian school shooter had to be Korean; the comparative racial situations of San Francisco and Los Angeles, and what makes Crash "one of the worst movies ever"; coming out of a "hoity-toity MFA program" and writing a genre novel versus one that uses the elements of genre; Troy McClure quotes providing the book with a "funny unreal superstructure," and other aspects of The Simpsons' "large intrusion" into the text; and Los Angeles as a writer's escape from the writerly life which doesn't demand that you be as young, old, rich, or poor as New York does.

Direct download: NCC_S2E26_Jay_Caspian_Kang.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:14pm UTC

S2E25: Feel Literary with Adrian Todd Zuniga

Colin Marshall sits down at Hugo's Tacos in Los Angeles' Atwater Village with Adrian Todd Zuniga, founding editor of Opium magazine and impresario behind the international reading series Literary Death Match. They discuss what might make Los Angeles "the new Berlin"; his aim to make the city the literary center of the world by 2022; the hatred that flows into Los Angeles, but not out of it; Literary Death Match TV, the project that moved him here, and his battle against the idea of its being "too smart for television"; December 12th's live pilot shoot at Hollywood's Florentine Gardens; his experiences putting on Literary Death Matches in cities like Tulsa, Helsinki, Amsterdam, and Beijing; his love of his collaboration, whether or not it comes from growing up as the last of eight kids and always wanting to hang out with the most interesting people; how to "explode what literature is in the current pop culture landscape"; his frequent travel, his use of flights as a writing environment, and the thousand-page novel his travel memoir has become; turning your own experiences into fiction, and which rules that changes (especially the sexual ones); his transferring to 23 different schools in childhood due to the workplace conduct of his "tactless genius" father"; his current search for a "quieter sense of what life is" and the conflict between wanting to change book culture forever and wanting to go to sleep; and how he taps into the universal desire to feel literary.

Direct download: NCC_S2E25_Adrian_Todd_Zuniga.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 5:39pm UTC

S2E24: Every Part of the Pig with Camas Davis

Colin Marshall sits down in Portland's Pearl District with Camas Davis, food writer and founder of the Portland Meat Collective. They discuss why bacon has hit the zeitgeist so hard; her interest in fostering an "alternative economy of meat"; her former career writing travel pieces, which invariably and instinctively became food pieces; her education in the "meta-meta theoretical" exploration of food; how meat became cool again, after industrialization made it uncool (and not particularly tasty); her agreement with even the hardest-core animal-rights vegan about the horrors of industrial meat production; growing up in Eugene, where if you weren't vegetarian, you weren't cool; her return from vegetarianism to the meat-eating fold with a bacon meal while teaching in a women's prison; how American got itself into an entitlement mentality about cheap meat thrice a day; the importance of killing animals we eat ourselves, and how she finds some people are better at it than others; her time studying in southwestern France, what exactly separates French eating culture from American, and how the French are just getting into some of what has made American food unpalatable in recent decades; all the surprising things you can do with a pig's head; Portland's food consciousness and food renaissance, and how they might serve as a bellwether for a countrywide shift in attitudes about eating; Portland's suspicion of eateries that get "too big for their britches," which results in a certain elevated-comfort-food trademark cuisine; her butchery classes, in which she's found far fewer obnoxious hipster foodies enrolling than she'd expected; our rightful fear of most meat, and the meat we need not be scared of; and whether America has many small food movements, or one big food movement.

Direct download: NCC_S2E24_Camas_Davis.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:55pm UTC

S2E23: Stumptown Shaolin with Dan Halsted

Colin Marshall sits down in the basement of Portland's Hollywood Theatre with Dan Halsted, head programmer there and founder of the 35mm Shaolin Archive. They discuss fake Bruce Lee films; his adventure of rescuing classic kung-fu film prints, including gems like The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter and The Boxer's Omen from a shuttered, junkie-surrounded theater in Vancouver; his youth in a distant Oregon town with 600 people, his move to Portland, and his discovery of kung-fu cinema; how much more kung-fu movies offer than the fighting; the advantageous openmindedness of Portland filmgoing culture; exploitation films and Quentin Tarantino's high-profile love thereof; how different cities react to kung-fu movies, like the robust Chinese turnout in San Francisco or the disappointing attendance in St. Louis; kung-fu movies as a gateway to Chinese culture; 36 Chamber of Shaolin as a gateway to kung-fu movies; the evaporation of celluloid film, and the apparently dramatic shift in the way those under age twenty experience cinema; the various meanings of terms like "exploitation" and "grindhouse," and how the attendant concepts cannot be separated from the seventies, a time when Hollywood acted serious and independent film acted frivolous; what Portland's smallness affords a film programmer; why audiences sometimes prefer watching a beaten-up print to a pristine one; how Portland has successfully integrated food and alcohol with filmgoing; his experience getting tased, and how the Portland police force, known for its own aggression, tried to use kung-fu movies against him in court; and his never-ending task of pushing outward the limits of local film taste.

Download the interview from Notebook on Cities and Culture’s feed or on iTunes.

Direct download: NCC_S2E23_Dan_Halsted.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:44pm UTC

S2E22: Uncaptive Rider with Jarrett Walker

Colin Marshall sits down in southeast Portland with Jarrett Walker, public transit consultant and author of the blogs Human Transit and Creature of the Shade as well as the book Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking About Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives. They discuss how Portland "turned the battleship" toward sustainable transport in that least likely of all decades, the seventies; the city's discovery of its own extraordinary capacity for self-promotion in the nineties; his adolescence there spent in fascination at the buses departing to all their myriad destinations; how thinking about transit makes thinking about cities more interesting; the unfortunate divide between urban design and transport planning; how the North American revolt against highway-building also hampered the construction of transit infrastructure; a city's transportation system as the ultimate test of its citizen's freedom; the close relationship between a city's density and its transit possibilities, and why fantastically inefficient systems are always pleasant to ride; how he has come to love Los Angeles, during its current transitional moment, as someone who has hated it; Los Angeles' place as a "city on the edge" that always captures the imagination, no matter the petty judgments it draws; Los Angeles' distinctive geography offering the best possible opportunity for transit-building; the questions he asks about whether a city wants him to understand the whole of its transit system, and whether it treats him as a free actor; the surprises that delight him now that he's gotten used to confusing, sad, and unpleasant transit experiences; airport stations and their tendency toward "symbolic transit"; and the importance of whether a city treats transit as a commuting device or as an all-purpose urban structure, and whether or not it's motivated simply by the coolness of the vehicles.

Direct download: NCC_S2E22_Jarrett_Walker.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 2:21am UTC

S2E21: Grittiness and Heart with Kevin Sampsell

Colin Marshall sits down in Portland's Montavilla with Kevin Sampsell, publisher of Future Tense Books, editor of Portland Noir, and author of the memoir A Common Pornography and the novel This is Between Us, forthcoming from Tin House. They discuss the meth crime to be found beyond 82nd Avenue; Portland from the vantage point of his childhood in Washington's Tri-Cities; how he met other writers by publishing his own "lo-fi chapbooks"; how one forges one's own unique voice by maintaining their not-giving-a-crap nonchalance; his chronologically un-pinpointable founding of Future Tense and its surprise success with Zoe Trope's Please Don't Kill the Freshman; writing as a kind of martial art, which develops you even if you start out flabby, and which demands its own kind of meditation; how he became a (more) serious reader at Powell's Books; his love of southern writers, and more generally those who combine grittiness and heart; how unimportant he finds sense of place in fiction, yet how much praise he won for "capturing the Tri-Cities" in A Common Pornography; his technique of mixing the mundane with the shocking and hoping for the best; moving from the "no style" and short chapters of his last book to the longer chapters and conversational style of his new one; and the attractions of the Portland writing life, including having space to live and being in a place where nonfiction writers and poets might actually associate.

Direct download: NCC_S2E21_Kevin_Sampsell.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 11:41pm UTC

S2E20: Conservatively Progressive with Carl Abbott

Colin Marshall sits down at Portland State University with Carl Abbott, professor there of urban studies and planning and author of Portland in Three Centuries: The Place and the People. They discuss the debate over Portland's status as a "small city" or a "big town"; the distinctive ease of making connections in the city; how modern-day Portland enthusiasts would look at the place before 1965 and see Akron, Ohio; the oft-made comparisons between Portland, Seattle, and Austin; the history and continued presence of agriculture and industry around the "cool Portland" of today; Microsoft and Boeing, the "accidental" companies that made Seattle the younger sibling that out-competed Portland, one with better booms but worse busts; Portland's "conservatively progressive"  politics, and how that sensibility shows up in its light rail system and central library (especially as compared to Seattle's); the relationship between the city's vaunted "livability" and its patterns of diversity; how he came to Portland and when, exactly, the city turned away from its former stodginess (and when its porno theaters started turning into revival houses); Portland entrepreneurship, which Portlanders prefer to call "D.I.Y."; how best to engage new immigrants and hip youngsters in "Portlandism," a civic-minded, participatory approach to incremental problem-solving; science fiction's visions of cities, which present recurring patterns related to urban theory; and whether Portland counts as a utopian project, if a practical one.

Direct download: NCC_S2E20_Carl_Abbott.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 7:17pm UTC

S2E19: Small Town Cop with Matt Haughey

Colin Marshall sits down in Portland's Slabtown with Matt Haughey, founder of MetaFilter, the most civilized community on the internet, co-founder of Fuelly, and creator of several other sites as well. They discuss his escape from San Francisco's "goofball startup culture"; what it means for MetaFilter to be "civilized"; his desire not simply to create "a safe place for people to yell past each other"; the importance of keeping personal identity out of debates; the strange backend provided by MetaFilter's question-and-answer service Ask MetaFilter; the second-most popular Ask MetaFilter thread of all time, Colin's own "What in life did it take you a surprisingly long time to realize you've been doing wrong all along?"; the strange popularity of questions about how to talk to girls, relate humanity, and/or live life, also known as the "forever alone" series; what it takes to become one of MetaFilter's ten worst users, drunk on power or stupidity; the hyperarticulate sourness that makes bad comments on MetaFilter especially bad, and how it leads to users pre-emptively armor-plate their sentences; Portland as a setting for the simple life, but also the good one; advertising's domination of internet business models, and the bite mobile browsing even now takes out of that; who's actually clicking those ads that ostensibly support everything; the benefits of living down the long tail, and of executing difficult-to-describe ideas that are therefore difficult to replicate; where to shut yourself off from the net in Portland, be it on a bike or at a food cart; and how a Portlander can possibly react to a kid on a unicycle, in a Utilikilt, playing a bagpipe, topped with a Darth Vader helmet.

Direct download: NCC_S2E19_Matt_Haughey.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:11am UTC

S2E18: 200% Happier with Mia Birk

Colin Marshall sits down in southeast Portland with Mia Birk, author of Joyride: Pedaling Toward a Healthier Future and President of Alta Planning + Design, which strives to make biking, walking, and mass transit an integral part of daily life. The discuss exactly how much happier he would have been riding a bicycle to the interview than riding a bus; the way Portland "got the ball rolling" for its cycling infrastructure development in the nineties; the moments of surprising hostility she found upon first pedaling down Portland streets; bicycle infrastructure as a facilitator of cooperation; how to extend enthusiasm for cycling beyond the guys in Lance Armstrong spandex to those who simply need to get somewhere; the ill effects of America's having spent decades incentivizing driving, and exactly how European cities like Copenhagen pulled so far ahead; how she gauges the cycling in a new town, asking first to see "the good, the bad, and the ugly"; the importance of creating conditions of delight for riding in a city, and the need to re-teach the occasional public official how to use a bike before doing so; how the declared identity of a city affects the implementation of cycling within it; how she finds you can fit "a little party" into every day; and what, exactly, to do when you turn up in Portland yourself, jonesing to ride.

Direct download: NCC_S2E18_Mia_Birk.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 5:51am UTC