Arts Desk

Maggots, Watermelon, and Mother Rooney Unscrolls the Hurt: The Best Q&As of 2010

Welcome to listicle season, suckas! With arts editor Jonathan L. Fischer quarantined for rabies (RIP), we are going to start running some motherfucking annotated lists of things that we like up in here!

For starters, a list of badass Q&As ‘we’ read this year. Observe the Q&A; most abused and mocked of all content/gimmicks:

Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis: Steve Carell from Between Two Ferns

This being the end of the year, and me being a sucker for Q&As done right, you can find my favorite written examples from the past year below the jump. (Including, but not limited to, Q&As that feature maggots, watermelons, and the decline of Gallagher!)

Most fucked up Q&A: “THE WOMAN WHO FELL TO EARTH,” from Vice. September, 2010.

This is a Q&A with plane-crash Juliane Koepcke. In 1971, Koepcke and her mother were aboard a commercial flight heading over the Peruvian rain forest when their plane was struck by lightning. Ninety-two people died; only Koepcke lived. She survived for nearly two weeks in the Peruvian rain forest despite some injuries before being discovered by laborers. In this Q&A, Koepcke talks with odd detachment about treating a wound that was full of maggots, which freaks the shit out of her interviewer.

You only broke one bone after falling from the sky?
Well, other things were found later when I saw a doctor. I had strained the vertebrae in my neck and I had a partially fractured shin, but that was a fissure only, not too bad. And I tore my ACL—which was the worst of all the injuries, actually, but I didn’t know about that until I was in a hospital bed. That’s when the swelling and the 104-degree fever set in.

So, in the jungle, you didn’t just block things out mentally but also physically.
The only thing that made me nervous, or let’s say concerned me, was this little patch on my upper arm. It wasn’t any tragic wound or anything, but it was small and open and flies had laid their eggs in it. The maggots hatched underneath my skin and ate a hole into my arm.

Oh my God.
I was afraid they might have to amputate my arm. After our dog had a similar thing—I think it was the same kind of fly too—it got infected. I was concerned and I thought, “I have to do something about this. I have to get these maggots out of my arm.” But that wasn’t exactly easy. I had this ring that was open on one side that you could squeeze together, and I tried with that. It didn’t work because the hole was so deep. So I tried with a stick, but that didn’t work either. Only after ten days, when I found a boat with a motor and a barrel of diesel fuel, was I able to do the same thing we had done to our dog—pour petroleum into the wound. That brought the maggots to the surface. Not all of them, but the majority. The people who found me and the doctor who treated me extracted the rest.

Most depressing interview: Gallagher, the AV Club. Dec., 2009.

Technically, this interview was published less than 12 months from today, on Dec. 29. So, technically, it is going on my list. This. The man who used to smash watermelons like a damn hooligan is now a grumpy, lawn-owning, 63-year-old racist. In a nutshell, this is the sad clown.

Gallagher: Comedians need meaning. We need to know what words mean, and our society now is intent on blurring the meaning of just about everything. And the legal system also! “What is an adult? What’s premeditation? What is a felony?” It’s very difficult. “What’s improper behavior?” I ask these cops. If the kids already have their pants mostly down and they’re facing a wall, how do you know they’re not about to pee on the wall? Because this is what you do with homeless guys. You would catch them with their pants half down and you would get them for indecent exposure and public urination. And the cop told me, you can’t arrest them until you see the “brown round.”

AVC: What? What’s that?

Gallagher: That’s your dick. I guess everybody has a brown dick.

Most refreshingly un-pretentious: “Return of the Woodster: The Rumpus Interview With Gary Shteyngart,” in The Rumpus. July, 2010.

Shteynart’s newest book, Super Sad Tue Love Story is not laugh-out-loud funny, but sort of what you’d expect from a book that is marketed to/by the literary hipset as “an ingenious satire” (Mary Gaitskill), “keen-edged satire” (David Mitchell), “one of the funniest and most frightening books I’ve ever read” (Edmund White), and Shteyngart’s “soulful, smart, and hilarious best” (Jay Motherfucking McInerney). But even though his bookflap makes me want to put a pillow over his face, Shteyngart’s interview with the Rumpus is so self-deprecating that I now want to get baked with the guy.

Rumpus: What surprised you about this book?

Shteyngart: That I could allow the love story to take center stage with each subsequent draft. The initial drafts read like a bad version of an Isaac Asimov science-fiction magazine. I mean, that was what I grew up with.

Rumpus: Isaac Asimov?

Shteyngart: Oh, God. [Makes masturbatory motion.] Anyway, but then it became—the more knowledge I dropped on this book’s fat ass, the less it was compelling. The more I pulled back and let this lovestory go, the more I felt confident of the book’s vitality. All I want from a book is to feel like it’s as alive as I am, but a lot of the fiction I encounter is just dead. It says, “I’m a piece of wood, but a brilliantly designed piece of wood.”

Rumpus: A very pliable piece of wood.

Shteyngart: I’m so pliable! Look at me, I’m the Woodster! Mwah-mwah!

Tie: Best interview with a dead person that was published on the web for the first time in 2010: Barry Hannah in the Oxford American, David Foster Wallace in Slate.

The difference between Wallace and Hannah is that Wallace died young and famous, and Hannah just died. In a review of Hannah’s posthumously published best of anthology, former Paris Review editor Nathaniel Rich described receiving a letter from Hannah in which the Mississippi fiction writer began a letter to Rich with, "I'm not accustomed to this kind of thing, but I'm the author of Geronimo Rex, Airships, Ray, High Lonesome. . . " Rich, born in 1980, came into being several years after Hannah had written his greatest work, “Geronimo Rex.” Ironically, the Paris Review is filled with people like Hannah: Writers’ writers. An interview he did at the beginning of the decade with OA Editor Marc Smirnoff revealed just how weird Hannah was. And an interview Tom Scocca (WCP alumnus!) did with Foster a few years earlier reveals just how normal the novelist was despite the weird persona he crafted in his nonfiction.

From the Hannah interview:

THE OA: How meaningful is criticism to you?

BH: Criticisms never made a difference in my work. They hurt other writers, apparently. I just skim the bad ones. This last one, in the New York Times, the fellow, a British guy, a film critic, thought that Yonder Stands Your Orphan—which I think is my best book, and I don't think that will change for a while, until I write my next one—was just a parade of eccentrics and gargoyles and that it was repetitive. These folks may also be eccentric, but it seems to me that privately we are all monsters, if we'd only look at our obsessions. I'm not, in other words, trying to put on a freak parade. I am trying to get to the bottom of our last, basic, desperate questions and the loves, desires, and terrible needs that sometimes may come off as freakish to others. And I certainly wouldn't want to be repetitive, but I read that, and it doesn't hurt me. I know that you need a good New York review to sell more books, but I'm changing nothing, and I'm not belligerent about that—I'm just going to do what I can in the next book. I've been in a room with authors who are physically challenged by reviewers. I mean, they want to attack them with their fists. I don't know that I've ever faced but about two critics who wanted to destroy my career. Those are curious people. But they're out there.

From the DFW interview:

Q: Like I know it's on a left-hand page toward the bottom. But that doesn't happen. Like I get lost in your stuff. How hard do you want the reader to have to work?

DFW: You know what? To be honest with you, it's not something that I—I don't really think that way, and I don't think that way because I just don't, I don't want to go down that path of trying to anticipate, like a chess player, every reader's reaction.

The footnotes, the honest thing is, is the footnotes were an intentional, programmatic part of Infinite Jest, and they get to be kind of—you get sort of addicted to 'em. And for me, a lot of those pieces were written around the time that I was typing and working on Infinite Jest, and so it's just, it's a kind of loopy way of thinking, that it seems to me is in some ways mimetic.

I don't know you, but certainly the way I think about things and experience things is not particularly linear, and it's not orderly, and it's not pyramidical, and there are a lot of loops. Most of the nonfiction pieces are basically, just, look, I'm not a great journalist, and I can't interview anybody, but what I can do is kind of, I will slice open my head for you. And let you see a cross-section of just a kind of average, averagely bright person's head at this thing.

Q: How much gag writing do you do? To what extent when you're doing these things do you try to be deliberately humorous, and how much do comic effects just sort of arise from the thought processes?

DFW: I'll tell you. I think another reason why I'm not doing any more of these for a while is, by the end, I think the last one I did was the Lynch thing, there really was kind of a shtick emerging. And the shtick was somewhat neurotic, hyper-conscious guy, like, showing you how weird this thing is that not everybody thinks is weird.
I think it's more that kind of trying to—trying to notice stuff that everybody else notices but they don't really notice that they notice? Which I think a fair amount of good comedians do that, too. I don't think, I would never go, oh, it's time for a gag, and just stick in a gag or something.

These are just a handful of the ones that really stuck out for me. If I could find a link, I’d add John Mayer’s interview with Playboy. Feel free to add your own in the comments!

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