Article 25

‘A Very Magnanimous Answer’

In Uncategorized on 09/25/2011 at 12:14 pm

The Brazen Heads talk about legacy, compliments, and philosophy

by Ariana Kateri

After typing David Foster Wallace into iTunes, I found what I thought was an old interview with him on a podcast called  The Brazen Heads. The interviewer began, “We have spent our whole lives in preparation for this moment.” This seemed appropriate considering the excitement for a show getting that interview. I heard what my confirmation bias led me to believe was Wallace, respond jovially:

“Ironically, I was literally standing here scratching my butt hole when you said that.”

“You’re scratching your butt- ? Okay, stop the podcast, go wash your hand.”

Sounding genuinely insulted, Wallace responds, “What?! Dude, no, I was doing it through my jeans. I’m fine.”

“Ohhh okay, well I guess then you’re going to wash your underwear, right?”

“Well, yeah, I mean, I guess someday.”

This was the most good-humored, life affirming interview I’d ever heard David Foster Wallace participate in. How did this interviewer just get a notoriously depressed and eventually suicidal David Foster Wallace to open the show by gleefully talking about his butt hole? And how could Wallace have possibly committed suicide after having had this kind of conversation in his life? At that final line I suspected this was far too much of a bro conversation to be Wallace and I restarted the podcast to hear the real hosts introduce themselves: Mark Derian and Derek Bronish.

The introduction of that episode and the story of how I found this podcast is deeply symbolic of the theme of The Brazen Heads and the hosts’ dispositions. Derian, with an education in Philosophy, runs his own online publication, Cock Rock, in which he writes about Philosophy, Chauvinism, and Love through the lens of an avid reader and humor writer. Bronish, with a background in Computer Science and who teaches at Ohio State University, writes movie and book reviews and often guest blogs on Cock Rock. The two run a weekly podcast, The Brazen Heads, and set their podcast apart from others by identifying within it a distinct philosophy: Be Brazen. The podcast takes on subjects such as masculinity, prejudging art, relationships, poetry, religion, weight lifting, working out, and challenging yourself, foot fetishes, Hooters, Wikileaks, and Lebron James, and wax philosophic to the end goal of promoting a clear philosophy: apply great value to having a sense of life in yourself and others, challenge yourself, and always self reflect.

Derian and Bronish sat down with Article 25 to talk about their work.

A25: Why did you focus on those topics in your tagline: Philosophy, Chauvinism, and Love

Derian: Well philosophy because ideas are important. Chauvinism because you can have good ideas in your head, but if you’re not a chauvinist about them…if you don’t believe strongly in yourself – and that’s all I mean by that: it’s not about hating women or being a narcissist or anything – you just have to be a chauvinist about it. Like, no I’m right. And maybe that’s a little biased, maybe that’s not objectively correct. But to achieve my goal of communication, I have to have a little bit of that. And love because if you don’t do it because you love it then what’s the point?

A25: Can you go more into what exactly is the main motivation for you of arguing your beliefs? Is it to change someone’s mind?

Derian: Not fundamentally; it’s not to change someone’s mind. It’s to just get the correct ideas out in the open and to have fun expressing the truth. There’s been millions of years of evolution to create the brains that we have to deal with something like truth, which is something that animals can’t deal with. So just the fact that we’re here on Earth and we’ve made it this far on the evolutionary chain to be able to deal with something like truth or recognize when something’s wrong, that’s a big deal. And that’s what an argument should be a celebration of – I’m celebrating this idea in my head and my ability to communicate it.

A25: You talk about reading The Man Who Laughs (by Victor Hugo) and how it’s hard to be objective about Hugo and this book. What specifically resonates so well with you when it comes to Man Who Laughs?

Derian: A big thing was the issue of dealing with psychological scars that everyone deals with and it’s portrayed in The Man Who Laughs as (protagonist Gwynplaine’s) smile that’s carved into his face. And how he overcomes that – how he thinks growing up that all he is, is this laughing man. He’s a clown, with a smile on his face. But actually, no, there’s something he was before that. And there’s the process Gwynplaine goes through to get over that; he’s not happy most of the book. But he becomes happy; he becomes self actualized.

And then there’s (the issue of) dealing with girls. There’s a point in the book where Gwynplaine is tempted by a girl who likes him for his laughter: (the deformity, a metaphor) for that which is bad in him, for that which is base.

Bronish: It’s the cynicism and insincerity that comes up as a theme over and over again on the podcast; it’s crystalized perfectly by this part of the book.

Derian: Yeah and that really struck a chord with me. Hugo basically dramatizes in the book that if Gwynplaine were to sleep with this girl who only sees the worst in him – that’s awful. And that’s something you never hear. Especially when you’re 21, 22, and trying to deal with girls – that’s something you never hear, you never think about, and it’s something that’s really important for your integrity. Like: oh I can say no to sex. I mean, that’s what it comes down to: I can say no to sex, it’s not something I need, there’s something more important going on.

A25: (To Bronish) is there an example of an author or some kind of art or media that you feel subjective about, similarly to the way (Derian) feels about Hugo?

Bronish: I could probably say the same for the movie, Five Easy Pieces. Much like The Man Who Laughs, it’s the story of one man reaching masculinity starting from essentially emotional childhood. He’s an adult at the beginning of the movie but he’s utterly juvenile in his relationships, he’s petulant; he’s basically a child, emotionally. The movie is about him reaching this maturity by coming to grips with some family issue – psychological scaring, similar to what (Derian) was saying.

A25: What’s the most affecting compliment you’ve received or could receive?

Bronish: I guess the larger point is that (compliments) don’t make a big impact on me. There’s not one that I view as pivotal. The nicest thing you could do for me is look at my work, or read something that I write, or listen to a point that I make and respond in a way that interests me.

Derian: Yeah, if you respond to something that I’ve written in a way that shows you get it and you understand what I was talking about. Nietzsche said, “The voice of disappointment (speaks); I listen for an echo… and hear nothing but praise.” (The Brazen Heads philosophy is consistent here as Derian highlights a related Victor Hugo quote in an old Cock Rock entry: “He who is thirsty for flattery, vomits reality.”)

A25: What is one of the most cathartic pieces you’ve written?

Derian: One of the most cathartic (pieces) was my essay on (the Guns N’ Roses album) Chinese Democracy. How I drew parallels between the album and the actual Chinese Democracy – the country China, becoming freer. I talked about how China’s going through a transition where their communist government is becoming more liberal, in the good sense. I’m thinking: that’s a top down solution, not a bottom up (solution).If China really wants to change, they have to change some basic cultural premises like putting more emphasis on the individual – things that naturally lead to a free government, which is what the West went through for a time. And it’s what China and the East has to go through, too. I drew the comparison between that and Axl Rose going through the making of the album, Chinese Democracy. This guy went through a lot of internal struggle to be able to make this album; it was 14 years in the making and he was an insecure perfectionist about the whole thing. Basically Axl had to get his inner issues worked out, before he could release the album. It wasn’t about the music – changing a note here and there – it wasn’t about that, even though he was telling himself it was about that. It was about his inner state that he needed to change to produce this album. It just felt really good to write it.

Bronish:  I think that’s an interesting meta point: (turning to Derian) that catharsis to you means satisfaction, basically. That’s a hallmark of you doing the work that you’re supposed to be doing.  It’s not as if (Derian’s) most cathartic thing ever written is: oh this miserable thing I jotted onto paper and it was good to get it out. If that’s where your catharsis comes from, it might be a red flag of some sort.

Derian: What I want The Brazen Heads to be is I want people who listen to it to understand the world better. I don’t like consuming something and feeling discontented. Even if I like a piece of art aesthetically (but) it leaves me discontented: I don’t want The Brazen Heads to be like that.

A25: You do talk about that when you touch on David Foster Wallace and how he stops short of offering an alternative when he identifies negativity (in one’s mind)

Derian: His commencement speech about the importance of focus and how he goes to the grocery store and he focuses on all the bad aspects: that’s a good way to portray why focus is important. But…I think what it does for me also is that it reminds me of times where I’ve gone to the grocery store and just looked at people who look like they had diabetes or something. And it made me feel that sense of discontentment that he was feeling, (as I was) reading that speech.  Also with his essay when he goes on a cruise. Same thing. It’s just laughable that this guy can have a miserable time; he’s so smart that he can figure out how to have a bad time on a cruise. Just by noticing all the little peccadilloes that people do and just zoning in on them (negatively).  Like, oh what does that mean? It probably means that she’s spoiled rotten. You’re on a cruise, just relax.

Bronish: For as much as I love Wallace, it says something negative about your personality if you view those peccadilloes as flaws, as opposed to things that enrich people’s personalities. Finding out somebody’s quirks is a glorious thing.

A25: How do you want to be remembered?

Derian: Honestly, I don’t really care. I know it’s like a manly thing to want to care about your legacy, but after I’m gone… it’s all about: Did I have fun on earth? Did I do what I wanted to do? And did I carry with myself some sort of integrity? I mean, how I’m remembered… I don’t know, that’s up to other people. What other people think of me is really none of my business when it comes right down to it.

Bronish: That’s a very magnanimous answer. Something you have to understand about (Derian) for that answer to make sense is that (his) value system is set up so that (he’s) able to pursue things for purely (his) own ends without being an epicurean or just pure pleasure seeker. What makes (him) happy is stuff that –  just consequentially – will earn a legacy, like writing.

For me, I do want to be remembered. I’d like to be a successful writer, or critic. It actually matters to me to leave some sort of professional legacy because it’s not enough for me to just say I would like my life to have been lived so that I’m happy. Because, to me, there’s avenues to my own happiness that are a little bit too easy. So I have to make sure that I challenge myself more.

Hosts Derek Bronish (left) and Mark Derian (right) of The Brazen Heads


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