In each of your essays there seems to be a point, or multiple points, where you ask, “Is this how we’re supposed to feel? How do we know that we feel this way, and why do we feel this way, and is this okay?” You’re constantly questioning the legitimacy or the validity of certain emotions. The only other author I’ve ever seen do that is David Foster Wallace. He questioned those aspects of authenticity.
Yeah. Yeah. And he was a very important writer to me. I’m drawn to his work for precisely that reason—the way that he’s constantly interrogating authenticity and feeling. In terms of that idea of imagining our way into the lives of others, he has that amazing moment in that commencement speech [at Kenyon College] where he talks about, you know, life is gonna happen in these small, totally banal theaters—like if you’re waiting in line at the grocery store and a person cuts in front of you and you hate them for a moment, remember, his son might be dying of cancer, or whatever. The sense of knowing that you don’t know, and also just trusting that everybody’s lives are beyond your imagination and probably hold a lot of grief. I always thought that was such an important ethical call, but also important insofar as we constantly keep having to do that, over and over again—having to remind ourselves. We have this idea that “authentic empathy” is the empathy that you feel immediately in response to a person or a situation, and I’m actually interested in the kind of empathy that’s willed into being by practice or intention. And I think a lot of Wallace’s writing, especially in Infinite Jest—I think he’s really interested in intentionality and action as routes to authenticity as well.”