Matthew Specktor on the “Cubist Razor Blade” of Extreme Success
In Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl
Matthew Specktor is the guest. His new book, Always Crashing in the Same Car, is out now from Tin House.
From the episode:
Brad Listi: I think a lot about whether or not I even want success, if it requires what it seems to. I have a complicated relationship with Los Angeles. I have a complicated relationship with the notion of success and with ambition. I’m not sure if I trust this idea that it’s good to be hyper-ambitious and hyper-competitive and to want to win. I’m like, well, A, what does that mean? What do you got to do to win? B, what are you winning? What are the costs involved?
Matthew Specktor: That is exactly the question we should all ask. I mean, look, I think everybody who writes—or probably everybody who does anything; certainly anybody who’s listening to this particular conversation—has some endeavor in their life where you feel like, at least some reptilian part of your mind is like, I really want to blow up. I want this to be huge. I want my novel to sell 500,000 copies. You want something, right? I mean, there’s a certain kind of ambition that’s wired into all human nature and all human endeavors.
And yet, the wages of success, of certain kinds of success, of sort of loud, public-facing success, are brutal. I’ve never really seen them help anybody. I’ve never seen them help anybody creatively; I’ve never seen them help anybody personally. And I’ve seen and known a lot of people who have met that fate. I’ve known, obviously, people in the movie business who’ve had that experience. I’ve known musicians and I’ve known writers, whether it’s writers who have had that that experience quite young, like Bret Ellis. I mean, we all know the more contemporary analogs of people who win MacArthur Genius grants, people who win big literary prizes, people whose writings are turned into very successful films or television shows. Those people are all out there. And I suspect that almost all of them, speaking honestly, would tell you that that is an experience they have had to survive, not that it was a great or easy boon to their lives. Although surely in many respects it was.
But that it was also something that had to be navigated, something that had to be negotiated, something that kicked up complicated interior feelings. I can’t say what those feelings are because it hasn’t happened to me. But I can guess. A little more than guess—I can kind of feel them on the moderate success that I’ve experienced myself. And they’re double-edged. In fact, there are more than two edges. They are like holding cubist razor blades in their serrations and in their problems.
To listen to the rest of the episode, as well as the whole archive of Otherppl with Brad Listi, subscribe and listen on iTunes or wherever else you find your favorite podcasts.
Matthew Specktor is the author of the novels American Dream Machine and That Summertime Sound; a nonfiction book, The Sting; and the forthcoming memoir The Golden Hour (Ecco/HarperCollins). His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Paris Review, The Believer, Tin House, Vogue, GQ, Black Clock, and Open City. He has been a MacDowell fellow, and is a founding editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books. He resides in Los Angeles.