Neil Verma grew up in Burlington, Ontario, and did his undergraduate studies in English at McGill University. Last year, he completed his PhD in History of Culture at the University of Chicago, where he currently teaches in the College. He's working on his first book, Theatre of the Mind: Interiority in Radio Drama and American Culture, 1936-1956, forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press. Neil writes Ducks and Drakes, a blog about rhetoric, argument and other aspects of propositional writing.
Why do you blog? > I think that it makes me a better writer, but that's just a hunch. I know it makes me a better teacher, and that's my job.
What has been your best blogging experience? > I once interviewed a famous radio playwright who told me that his greatest satisfaction came when he received letters about his writing that were better than his writing. Blogging brings me similar messages from time to time, and they give me the same feeling.
What has been your worst blogging experience? > I'm embarrassed by how fussy I get about my banner art. Right now I'm using an inverted detail from Ed Ruscha's Hurting the Word Radio #2. It took me three days to get it just right. How preposterous is that? And I'm already bored of it.
What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > Have a concept. Don't be afraid of subtlety. Remember craftsmanship. Don't write about yourself. Try to achieve something.
Who are your intellectual heroes? > Michel de Montaigne, James Agee, Thorstein Veblen, Herodotus, Hannah Arendt, Warren Susman, John Dewey, Henry Adams, Siegfried Kracauer.
What are you reading at the moment? > The Illustrated Book of Genesis (R. Crumb).
Who are your cultural heroes? > Norman Corwin, Leonard Cohen, Buster Keaton, Louis Armstrong, Robertson Davies, Ernie Pyle, Stanley Kubrick, Dorothy Parker, Paul Klee, Vincent Price, Ambrose Bierce, The Ramones.
What is the best novel you've ever read? > Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry.
What is your favourite poem? > T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets.
What is your favourite movie? > The Night of the Hunter.
What is your favourite song? > 'I Only Have Eyes For You' by The Flamingos.
Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > I used to believe in capital punishment, but not any more. I support the war in Afghanistan, but I doubt my own reasoning constantly. I have begun to think that objective beauty exists, but I am not yet ready to face the intellectual implications of that belief.
Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major and lasting influence on how you think about the world? > Mill, On Liberty; Foucault, The Order of Things; Marx, Capital Vol. 1; Marcus Aurelius, Meditations; Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals; Kant, Critique of Pure Reason. I am too sceptical to be the devotee of any of these works, but the modes of reasoning in them inform how I assess arguments. They are inside my way of thinking.
Who are your political heroes? > George C. Marshall, Emma Goldman, Abraham Lincoln, Jawaharlal Nehru, Tommy Douglas, Martin Luther King Jr, Winston Churchill, Pierre Trudeau.
Do you think the world (human civilization) has already passed its best point, or is that yet to come? > Any civilization must convincingly profess that the best is yet to come, otherwise it is already just a ruin. Personally, I worry that our slogans are beginning to sound like lines delivered by an ill-prepared understudy to a drowsy matinee audience.
What would be your most important piece of advice about life? > Borrowed from Walker Evans: 'Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.'
Do you think you could ever be married to, or in a long-term relationship with, someone with radically different political views from your own? > No.
What do you consider the most important personal quality? > Imagination.
What personal fault do you most dislike? > Pettiness.
In what circumstances would you be willing to lie? > Many. Don't get me wrong: it is wrong to lie selfishly, or in a way that hurts others, or to avoid comeuppance. I never lie in the classroom or lecture hall. But I'd gladly lie as a way of softly dismissing a banal question. I'd lie to save a person from harm or shame. I would even lie for the sheer mischief of it. Lies are human. Lies are normal. They should be imprisoned by contextual prohibitions, not banished.
What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > Shopping.
What, if anything, do you worry about? > I worry about those less fortunate than myself, and about their increase both in number and desperation. I worry about being a good teacher. I worry about my wife coming home from work on the bus late at night.
Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > Some little town in the Gaspésie region of Québec.
What would your ideal holiday be? > I enjoy hiking and my spouse enjoys great cuisine. Maybe Thailand.
What do you like doing in your spare time? > I like to read books, preferably those with superior descriptive prose. Cooking helps me relax - soups, roasts, cakes, curries, that kind of thing. I'm thinking about buying a Wii.
What talent would you most like to have? > Balance. The tightrope-walking kind.
Who is your favourite comedian or humorist? > Fred Allen.
If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true, what would you wish for? > I'd increase the number of tenure-track professorships in the research sciences and the humanities at all institutions of higher learning. I may be stretching the parenthetical stipulation.
If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be? > Joe Louis, Zelda Fitzgerald and Groucho Marx.
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