Anne Elizabeth Moore on Finding Minor Moments That Build a Picture of the World
In Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl
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From the episode:
Brad Listi: One of the ways that this book is structured—or one of the ways that all of these different essays hold together—is that it moves deftly from the outside in and then back again. So we’re talking about, for example, the garment industry and clothing and labor conditions in Cambodia, then we’re talking about models doing that work, and that work is very concerned with surfaces. And then there are portrayals of women in horror films, and the ways in which those films teach us about how the body can go wrong.
And then there are essays in this book about the body going wrong, and they’re concerned with your struggles with autoimmune disease and disability. And then things get very internal, and the body horror that you’re experiencing is very much something that’s on the inside and is unseen and not very well understood by even doctors.
Along with those concerns, you do this wonderful job of diving into history again and illuminating for me somebody who is just not on my radar: Paul Ehrlich, Nobel Laureate, inventor of chemotherapy, and a guy who existed on—this is my favorite thing—he existed on like soda water and cigars. Like literally that was it. So one of these great doctors who smoked like a chimney, drank water, and was phenomenally unhealthy.
Anne Elizabeth Moore: Constantly was testing his own drugs on himself and then getting sick from them.
Brad Listi: Strange guy, too. I want to say somebody wrote a biography of him who worked for him, right? It was his assistant or something.
Anne Elizabeth Moore: Martha Marquardt. His, like, nursemaid. She was technically his secretary but 100 percent took care of him, body and soul. She maybe had some Stendhal syndrome because she just really thought he was the greatest, most genius person in the world, and there’s no indication that he ever said a kind word to her or ever gave her a place to sit or was ever aware of her as a human in his life at all. So, yeah, her biography was fascinating.
Brad Listi: Other things that are fascinating—and I imagine as you were writing this were probably exciting to you—is this weird synchronicity that Paul Ehrlich married into a textile family. So here we have this guy who you’re writing about primarily because of his connection to autoimmune disease, and then finding out that he also has some sort of connection to the garment industry. Time is a flat circle. It’s all connected.
Anne Elizabeth Moore: In my research process, those are the moments that I’m like, Oh, yeah, now I’m definitely doing this. Where you’re just like, Oh, of course, the way that he is going to think about medicine is directly related to the fact that he thinks garments just appear on the table in the form of table linens, and he’s not aware that his wife went through this whole crazy system and owns all these garment factories. I’m all about those minor moments that build out to this larger picture of the world.
Brad Listi: But this is not preconceived. This is stuff that you’re stumbling into. And it has that affirmative effect, where it’s like, Okay, I’m on the right track.
Anne Elizabeth Moore: Yeah. But there are, of course, hundreds of other things that I stumble into that don’t end up doing that. I’m reading and researching and thinking and asking questions and Googling weird word combinations constantly. And so there are hundreds of ways that all of these essays could have gone had they elicited more of those humor moments for me. Because when you combine two bad things together, it’s funny, I guess.
Brad Listi: Speaking of which, you mentioned weird word combinations in Google. What did you say at the top of the conversation, like capitalism bullshit or something?
Anne Elizabeth Moore: Bullshit democracy.
Brad Listi: Oh, bullshit democracy. Is this something that you do on the regular? Just to try to generate ideas or to find things online that might help you?
Anne Elizabeth Moore: It’s not a regular practice, but remember when the internet was new and people were like, You can look things up! You just type words in! I remember I was at dinner with this guy named Michael Gerald, who’s now an entertainment lawyer but at the time he was the frontman for this band called Killdozer. He and his partner would update me every time we hung out with them on the status of their internet search for the phrase “Hitler jokes.”
And I was always following in my mind the trajectory, both of Hitler jokes, but also this idea that you could watch how a culture shifts if you just followed certain bizarre combinations of things and how many people were engaged in thinking about them. Because now Google Hitler jokes, it’s not funny anymore. But mid-1990s, it was something else.
Brad Listi: So it’s devolved. We’re in a process of devolution.
Anne Elizabeth Moore: Yes, in case you hadn’t noticed, things are devolving.
Brad Listi: Yeah. I get that. That seems like one of the markers. If the Hitler jokes are getting evil then we’re not in a good time.
Anne Elizabeth Moore: I think that’s true of most kinds of comedy. If the jokes stop being funny, then things are getting bad.
Anne Elizabeth Moore was born in Winner, SD. She is the author of Unmarketable (2007), the Eisner Award-winning Sweet Little Cunt (2018), Gentrifier: A Memoir (2021), which was an NPR Best Book of the Year, and others. She is the founding editor of Houghton Mifflin’s Best American Comics and the former editor of Punk Planet, The Comics Journal, and the Chicago Reader. She has received support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Ragdale Foundation. She is a Fulbright Senior Scholar, has taught in the Visual Critical Studies department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and was the 2019 Mackey Chair of Creative Writing at Beloit College. She lives in the Catskills with her ineffective feline personal assistants, Taku and Captain America.