Put Mikhail Iossel, a stranger, and Hannah Arendt into a shaker and what do you get? One odd conversation.


Mikhail Iossel, author of Every Hunter Wants to Know: A Leningrad Life and contributor to The New Yorker, was born in the Soviet Union. Two years after his 1986 arrival the U.S., he began writing in English. Now he writes in both English and Russian … in Montreal. He’s also a former Wallace Stegner Fellow in Fiction at Stanford. All that’s bound to give him an unusual perspective, and sometimes makes for an odd conversation, too. Here’s one brief one:

Recently in a conversation at a social gathering (god knows, I love those), a young man I hadn’t met before told me he wanted to be a prominent American poet.

How prominent? I asked him.

Well, prominent prominent, you know, he replied. Prominent, you know. It’s just a word.

I merely would like to understand the gradations of prominence here, I explained. Prominent to the point of selling out Madison Square Garden with an evening of your poetry – or prominent enough to be a reasonable potential contender for a tenure-track position of an assistant professor of English at East-West Podunk Hollow State College?

The second, he said, after a thought.

Then another man, still young but older than the first, slightly unsteady on his feet and with a drink of scotch in his hand, joined us and, staring off into space meaningfully, said that he found it difficult to love the world as it is, with all the horrible and evil stuff and all the injustice taking place in it.

I don’t have a problem with her, either.

I was kinda quoting Hannah Arendt, if you’d like to know, he added in a somewhat wounded tone, fixing his diffuse gaze on me, when we said nothing in response to that statement of his. Do you have a problem with Hannah Arendt?

I don’t have a problem with Hannah Arendt. I have zero problem with Hannah Arendt. I respect Hannah Arendt.

She also said that one doesn’t always have to speak, I told him, and he immediately took it personally and was up in my face and wanted to know what I meant by that and whether maybe I would like to take it outside.

At that point, his wife, suddenly materializing by his side with an apologetic smile, took him by the elbow and led him away.

One person was there with a dachshund. A very pretty little thing, turbo-charged, toffee-colored. Extremely friendly. It later peed on the floor. I forget the name.

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.