How to Make a Better World Without Centering Yourself: A Conversation with Alex McElroy
In Conversation with Maris Kreizman on The Maris Review Podcast
On what it means to be an “atmospherian”:
AM: To be an atmospherian is to be in the background. For the cult that Sasha and Dyson produce, Dyson sees it as something to strive for. For these men, rather than try to be at the center of things, to have power, they should instead strive to be in the background. Let other people go in front of them. Dyson is someone who is a career extra in films and TV and commercials. He’s also a magical extra—whenever he appears in the background, whatever he’s in does phenomenally well. People buy whatever ad he’s in, they watch whatever show he’s in. But whenever he’s given a main role, everything collapses. He uses his own history and his own failures and flaws to create a philosophical framework for how people should be.
MK: The way for a cult to succeed is to get attention. The atmospherians are all supposed to be in the background, and yet they need a spotlight, too.
AM: There’s a contradiction at the core of this book, and it was absolutely intentional.
On good intentions gone awry:
AM: I don’t think Dyson and Sasha know that what they’re doing is wrong. They’re in crisis. We’re all in crisis. And they think, as the driving force for the cult, what can we do to help? Their philosophical framework is a mug that says “white man’s tears.” That seems to be the central premise of how they’ll fix things. If we can collect white man’s tears and pass the chalice around, we can save the world. I think there’s something inherently good in that, but they’ve been shaped by the attention economy. I was curious about, how do you attempt to make the world a better place without centering yourself?
Alex McElroy is a nonbinary writer based in Brooklyn. Their debut novel, THE ATMOSPHERIANS, was published in May by Atria. Their other writing appears in The Cut, BuzzFeed, Vulture, GQ, Elle, Vice, The Atlantic, Tin House, and elsewhere.