David Berman and Epistemological Closure in the Propaganda State

"There is no leisure with dignity in an unfinished world." – DCB, at NYU Writers House, 7/25/10

by Jeremy Schmall

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David Berman’s life has been one of failure and refusal. At least, that’s what he said at the very rare talk he gave at NYU on July 25th, the concluding event of the inaugural Open City Summer Writing Workshop. Although the idea of Berman being a failure was news to me—I am an enormous fan of his book of poems (Actual Air) and his former band (Silver Jews)—he does have a point. He didn’t follow up his book with another book, he refused to tour with his band for years, and when he finally capitulated, and the touring started to eke out money and win over a committed fan base, he quit music to fail at writing a memoir, and then nearly created a TV show based on his life, but walked away when he realized what that would look like. But both writing and music are behind him now. What he’s after instead—and which he communicated through a wide-ranging, associative, often sublime speech marked by long, meditative silences—focuses on his father, Richard Berman, a high-paid PR man who creates and disseminates misinformation on behalf of corporate giants. His work effects the choices we all make everyday.

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