Interview, Rich Russell

I had this idea a few weeks ago, that to break things up during a particularly hectic part of my life--finishing a book, traveling, singing, and so forth--that I'd talk to some of the cool people I know on the Internet and elsewhere, and conduct a little interview series where I'd get to introduce you to some of the really interesting people that I've met in my travels thusfar, and ask them some questions about what they do, what they're interested in and up to in the world.

The first entry in this series is by my friend Rich Russell who has a rather and I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.


  • Who are you? What do you?

    I was supposed to be a Rachel. So when mom regained consciousness and dad told her he had named me Richard, you can imagine her initial confusion. And then when my sister was born and I, who liked to sometimes pretend to be a girl when I was little (it was the eighties, after all; what of it?), was confronted by this actual Rachel, you can imagine how threatened I felt; there could be only one Rachel in our house, after all, and the jig was up for me. Rachel is dead; long live Rachel! So robbed of my infant identity, I later became a teacher, like my mom, which was either flattering identification with her or an attempt at character annexation, I can't decide which.

  • Handmade or Store bought?

    Handmade

  • *Really?*

    Well, unless I have to sew it, carpenter it, cobble it, tan it, cure it, or cook it myself; in which case, store bought.

  • Lets talk about technology: What kind of technology do you use, and what's the coolest thing that technology enables for you? What about your technology do you find frustrating?

    I'm teaching a few classes online this semester, so it's nice to be able to work with students who might not otherwise be able to attend school, due to their hectic family and/or work schedules. (We use the Blackboard Learning System, in case you're looking for shameless plugs that might generate ad revenue: "Blackboard Learning System, connecting students with their teachers and their futures.")

    And my sister lives out in L.A. now, so it's nice that we can video chat once a week over coffee; there's an added saccharin intimacy established by the video element. Because it's not real togetherness, is it? It's a kind of ersatz togetherness between my sister and me, the ersatz Rachel. E.M. Forster, in Howard's End, compels us to, "Only connect!" I don't know what that means anymore, though, when I'm teaching online or talking to my sister over Skype. Even when the wireless has a strong connection, I think, "This isn't what Forster meant at all." He meant that there would be nothing between human beings -- and other beings -- except ourselves. I feel, in some ways, here has risen the connection that repels. We believe we are closer; we believe we are connected, unless Comcast is being a fuck-up. But, like my one student who says he has taken so many of his classes online at this point that he's afraid to enter a real classroom and interact synchronously with fleshy classmates, have we lost the ability to be intimate? What does 'intimate' even mean anymore?... (But I love my iPhone. But I realize that is a manufactured desire.)

  • Favorite Post-structuralist/Post-modernist? Who are the runners up?

    I was going to go with "Freddie" Jameson, because I loved what we read of him when I read him back in a Post-modernism course at the New School with Professor Joshua Gaylord (lol gay lord) in 2002. Or Roland Barthes; but I'm sure a lot of people will go with R.B. So I think I'll choose Angela Carter instead, especially for her novel The Passion of New Eve, which still haunts me nine years after I first read it; some of the most sublime moments in all of literature. Runners-up: Muriel Spark, Laurence Sterne. (Miss Congeniality: Russell Edson.)

  • The single scariest thing about the future?

    The future is neither good nor bad.

  • Favorite Website?

    I subscribe to The Atlantic but still find myself spending a lot of time on theatlantic.com.

  • What do you think was the most important event of the last 15 years? What's going to be the most important thing about the next 10 years?

    9/11/99; I had been living in New York for about three weeks then. I was about to fall in love. It would be like a holocaust. (This is all about me, after all, isn't it? Or did you mean for humankind in general? Yes, I suppose that's what you must've meant; well...) In ten years, the most important thing for humankind (and not just me) will be to see what we have done to this planet. This feels like a lame response, because it's so chic right now to care about the planet (I've always cared!), but I am curious to see. Will there be sulfur aerosol sprays diffused into the atmosphere like in Blade Runner? Will there be flying cars like we've been promised there would be flying cars ever since The Jetsons? (FYI: I think we're past wanting flying cars, aren't we? I'd be more happy for some high-speed rail.) Will I ever get to see a narwhal?

  • One thing that you wish you could learn?

    I would like to read all of Proust. Because I have masochistic tendencies. And I like small buttery sponge cakes.

  • Edmund Spenser or John Milton?

    Milton, hands down. I never did make it through all of The Faerie Queene(lol faerie queene). That old Spenserian scheme drives me coo-coo after awhile; I do believe it is the rhythm of madness.

  • Where can we find more about you/your projects?

    I blog and am rarjr on twitter.

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