“Late-Night time-Radio Speak-Present Host Tells All” is a brand new story by Cynthia Ozick. To mark the story’s publication, Ozick and Oliver Munday, the affiliate inventive director of the journal, mentioned the story over e mail. Their dialog has been flippantly edited for readability.
Oliver Munday: Your story, “Late-Night time-Radio Speak-Present Host Tells All,” is about an ageing radio host named Nicky. It’s a beguiling and profound character examine. What drew you to after-hours radio as a fictional setting?
Cynthia Ozick: Persistent insomnia, to start with, which turned, for a time, right into a nocturnal habit. A lot of night time radio is repetitious detritus: climate, site visitors, headlines, sports activities, nostrums for this and that ailment, the thrill and miasma of voices, voices, voices with uncooked cawings of what passes for music. Who listens (thousands and thousands do, from their beds), and why? But the true spur to this story was a query that was put to me in a dialog not lengthy earlier than—what do you most need out of your fiction? The reply got here so shortly, and so unexpectedly, that it startled me to the marrow: feeling, pure feeling. And I believed I’d search for it.
Munday: Nicky is described ambiguously and stays considerably enigmatic to the reader. We’re left unsure about particulars together with gender. Why withhold and obscure on this method?
Ozick: However it’s night time radio itself that obscures. When the listeners within the story—primarily previous males and a lesser contingent of previous girls, all of them hoarse, sick, fatigued, worn, resentful, opinionated—are roused to talk, we hear 100 accents and origins that puzzle, whereas the overlay of the native yawp of New York scrambles all of them. Much more noticeably, a few of the extra in style real-life talk-show hosts usually sound unidentifiably in-between (high-pitched male? low-pitched feminine?). No surprise, then, that when the attractive boy arrives, he’s stunned to see that Nicky is definitely Nicole.
Munday: At one level within the story, Nicky muses about potential listeners: “Should you name me, you hallucinate.” What’s the most notable distinction between the act of listening and the act of studying?
Ozick: Hmm. This can be the very first time this query has come into being. So let’s see … After we’re bodily gripping a ebook or something in static print, we’re free to look once more, to suppose once more, to moon and muse and ponder and dally, however responding to a voice (whether or not on the radio or to a instructor in a classroom or whereas talking at a lectern) means a fleeting one-time-only alternative, and we’re caught with no matter we’ve mentioned. Studying, then, is comparatively riskless. Listening is all danger. Studying can take its time. Listening is flying sans wings. Nor does listening to a voice on a recording provide a security internet: Consciousness of the persistent machine all the time intervenes. A ebook, too, could also be a form of machine, however it’s our unconscious respiratory that’s its motive and engine: We reside in a ebook.
Munday: Radio and podcasts have come to dominate media. Nicky apparently describes the floating voice of radio as a god that may reprimand and seduce. Does the disembodied but guiding nature of audio attraction to a world looking for idols?
Ozick: Immersion in late-night radio can actually level to such an remark. Although there are occasional rebels and cranky dissenters who’re quickly dismissed, allegiance to the talk-show host prevails—reliance on his private knowledge (largely his, extra not often hers), devotion to no matter of residence life he chooses to disclose, whether or not for comedian reduction or suspense (what is going to the brand new child be named?). Speak-show hosts develop into authority figures, if not like monks then like therapists. They’re trusted to supply continuity, connection, consolation, comfort, intimacy. Intimacy above all. You’re alone with the one who offers solace, at nighttime, within the quiet of night time. Even for those who don’t take part, even if you’re too diffident to name the quantity that’s infinitely repeated, the aura is that of prayer. Of petition. Of alleviation. Of submission.
Munday: One night time, Nicky is visited by an intruder on the radio station who accuses Nicky of being an impostor and pretend. This incident leads Nicky to query notions of efficiency and pretense; to the thought of “pure feeling.” This motif recurs all through the story. How does one attain the state of pure feeling?
Ozick: Imposture and fakery are a double-bladed razor. They’re the units and designs of the impostor and faker, the deceptive talk-show host himself. However on the similar time they’re what are most desired by the late-night listener, who might be shocked and stripped of delusion if confronted with the pragmatic indifference, the insincerity, of the radio performer. “We should not let daylight in upon magic,” Walter Bagehot mentioned of royalty (an previous quote evoked by a brand new coronation), and the state of pure feeling could also be one with that magic: It urges—it instructions—the muffling veil of night time.
Munday: I used to be reminded of Thomas Mann’s Loss of life in Venice whereas studying this story. Nicky turns into, very similar to Mann’s ageing protagonist, Aschenbach, obsessive about a younger boy’s magnificence and purity. You describe “the pathos of a boy’s lone massive toe.” Are magnificence and purity carefully linked?
Ozick: Mann’s Tadzio is an erotic incarnation, and in addition an emblem of Aschenbach’s craving for his personal irretrievable youth. However Nicky, the septuagenarian Nicole, sees within the stunning boy and his imaginings an immaculate but wayward harmless who represents magnificence, pure magnificence, proper right down to his least flesh-and-bone embodiment. Name him her aesthetic precept; he could certainly be not more than an apparition. As such, he’s additionally a take a look at case: It’s his presence that asks, as you do, Are magnificence and purity carefully linked? The reply I discovered—or, moderately, the reply that this story discovered—is not any; one thing extra urgent, extra needful, is at stake. Late-night radio is an outlet for pity, pure pity, and what’s pity if not emotion distilled?
However is there a catch lurking right here? Can pity be pure if the talk-show host, like Nicky herself, is merely an actor? I’ve left the conclusion to the reader, however right here is my personal view: Feeling, pure feeling, is a keen collaboration between the godlet and the believer who’s carried away.
Munday: You’ve written many novels and short-story collections … How does the method of writing quick fiction examine to that of novel-writing?
Ozick: Writing for me is tough labor, regardless of the size or the shape. I begin out in worry and doubt, and proceed on this state of extended discontent and acutely aware forcing, till sure unpredictable moments of pleasure take over, when the factor begins to know itself and its personal trajectory. Within the long-distance run of a novel, this will come as late as three-quarters of the best way via. The quick story at instances is aware of what it intends to occur from the beginning, however is wholly perplexed as to tips on how to get there. When the dam instantly breaks, even the phrases discover themselves. All in all, it feels higher to have written than to have to write down. However not writing, as each author will testify, is much more punishing than writing!
Munday: Apart from quick tales, what are you at the moment engaged on?
Ozick: How to not lie when writing make-believe.