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There’s a famous line from a Bob Dylan song that goes “she’s got everything she needs...she’s an artist...she don’t look back.” 

As a person who loves art—music and literature especially—I’ve always been haunted by that line. Does an artist really not look back? Is looking back somehow a threat to creativity? What about Proust? Did he ever look anywhere but back? 

My guest today is Jonathan Lethem, one of my very favorite writers since I read his early novel Fortress of Solitude. He’s also the author of Motherless Brooklyn, Dissident Gardens and much more. Lethem is an artist who experiments and explores, playing with forms and genres and trying on new masks, but he also spends a lot of time rummaging through the stacks, unearthing things that are lost or forgotten. His latest book is More Alive and Less Lonely, a collection of essays about books and reading. 

Jonathan Lethem Quote: I’ve often thought that if there was a choice that I’d better be inauthentic, because that might be more interesting. Life is theater at a certain level. And I always believed that wanting to make something that was interesting, valuable, and expressive wasn’t necessarily about authenticity. It might be about putting on a great costume. Putting on a great show. And I’ve often had that instinct that the way to become something more than myself…something other than myself, was to remember to play.

Surprise conversation-starter clips in this episode

Henry Rollins: what is punk? 

Michelle Thaller on human cyber-evolution

About Think Again - A Big Think Podcast: Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. Since 2015, the Think Again podcast has been taking us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives.

You've got 10 minutes with Einstein. What do you talk about? Black holes? Time travel? Why not gambling? The Art of War? Contemporary parenting? Some of the best conversations happen when we're pushed outside of our comfort zones. Each week on Think Again, we surprise smart people you may have heard of with short clips from Big Think's interview archives on every imaginable subject. These conversations could, and do, go anywhere.

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