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And as a nonfiction writer, and a reader, I’m always puzzling over the mysteries of ethos, when and why we trust and distrust whom we do, in life and in writing. Malcolm’s perfect as a ghost text hovering behind your book, I think. I suspect some of the things we condemn as narcissistic in others might be more accurately defined as how everyone has to perform—in capitalism, or online—doing things formerly considered vain, things we feel guilty or anxious about.But also Malcolm’s thinking about writing—the quote from she uses as an epigraph, about how when we believe an argument, we’re really trusting the person who speaks or writes it, and then her famous opener about what frauds writers are, when they tell others’ stories—“Every journalist who is not too stupid or full of himself to know what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.” Like the journalist she writes about, and the murderer, too, the narcissist is bad because he fakes an “I,” rather than you rather than being genuinely interested in you.Often an editor helps to lay bare the structure that will let the idea happen, rather than being told to the reader.
INTERVIEWER When I talk to fellow nonfiction writers, I’m always interested in how they locate themselves along the prose or argument continuum.
When you sit down to write an essay, are you primarily thinking prose—sentences, words, tone—or are you thinking argument, what you might wish to say about a subject?
Is the well-being of future humans even worth fighting for, if all millennials are assholes? I started reading passages aloud early on, in 2013, when I started writing.
INTERVIEWER Your various chapters, as I read them, follow a surprising, slyly circular design—you often start with an observation that looks true, even self-evident, and then complicate it, such that the opposite of that initial observation is ultimately just as compelling, maybe even more true. Did you see that circular design as echoing the way narcissism operates, or perhaps is said to operate? At the first event, I started with “The narcissist is, according to the Internet, empty,” which I thought was a funny line, the Internet calling people empty, and two people started crying.
The word was everywhere—this diagnosis of everyone’s ex, condemnation of the personal-essay trend, fear of the coming selfie apocalypse.
I was feeling afraid of the Internet and unprepared for this meeting with Mitzi, and she was also asking if I had a memoir to write.
I started wanting to exorcise this fear, so I think, I hope, the circular design lets the reader alternately suspect others and herself and me of the disorder until she’s just exhausted and stops worrying so much.
Anyone who would pick up a book with this title is probably worrying too much.
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