What's in a name? What's in a curse?
Porochista Khakpour was born in Tehran in 1978 and raised in the Greater Los Angeles area (South Pasadena, to be exact). Her first language was Farsi, her second (and luckily mostly forgotten) tongue, Valley Girl. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and The Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars MA program. She has been awarded fellowships from Johns Hopkins University, Northwestern University, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Yaddo.
She began writing as an arts and entertainment journalist—her subjects have spanned from clubs (Paul Oakenfold!) to couture (Paul Poiret!); Maggie Gyllenhaal (Maggie’s first big feature!) to Fabio (Porochista’s first feature at 16!); New York City’s finest drinking establishments (Paper magazine bar columnist, 2000-2001, as well as New York magazine online bar critic) to rural Illinois’s most dangerous skydiving compound (2004 staff writer stint at The Chicago Reader). Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The Village Voice, The Chicago Reader, Paper, Flaunt, Nylon, Bidoun, Alef, Canteen, nerve.com and FiveChapters.com, among others.
She currently spends a third of her time in New York City and two thirds three hours away in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania where she teaches Fiction at Bucknell University.
Porochista Khakpour: Darius and Xerxes, they are actually common names in . . . among Iranians, but . . . so I wanted to have that sort of level or reality. But they were both very interesting kings in Persian history, and I looked at a lot of … writings on the two. And they were men who were constantly wrapped up in comedies of errors – both very great kings. But they seemed like great muses for my actual characters in examining the sort of abstract accounts of their histories. They kind of became the ideal muses for them, because Xerxes particularly was a sort of corrupt and controversial king who was always tripping over his own foot. And so I liked the idea of toying with ancient history a little bit playfully. And there’s a sense in the novel of from the minute they were given their names – in particular Darius naming his son “Xerxes” – that they were cursed. And I like to toy with the . . . with curses and those sort of superstitions in the novel a bit, too.
Well to what degree, you know, is it sort of voodoo and hocus pocus to say a particularly turbulent time in history is causing a lot of the psychological warfare between two men? That in itself seems like magical thinking to me. But it’s thinking that I’ve always been very immersed in and interested in. And looking at these, you know . . . these accounts in ancient texts, it’s full of absurdities, and psychology is absent from it. And that became quite interesting. A lot of Persian proverbs . . . A lot of the Persian mindset is informed by superstitions, and historical superstitions, and magical thinking.
Recorded on: 1/18/08
The characters Darius and Xerxes were named after very interesting Kings in Persian history, who were wrapped up in comedies of errors.
Political activism may get people invested in politics, and affect urgently needed change, but it comes at the expense of tolerance and healthy democratic norms.
- Polarization and extreme partisanships have been on the rise in the United States.
- Political psychologist Diana Mutz argues that we need more deliberation, not political activism, to keep our democracy robust.
- Despite increased polarization, Americans still have more in common than we appear to.
An amateur astronomer discovers an interstellar comet on its way to our Sun.
Take the circumstances in your life seriously, but not literally. Here's why.
- Galileo was quite controversial, in part, because he argued that Earth moved around the sun, despite people's senses deluding them that the world was static.
- Evolution may have primed us to see the world in terms of payoffs rather than absolute reality — this has actually helped us survive. Those who win payoffs are more likely to pass on their genes, which encode these strategies to get to the "next level" of life.
- It's important to listen to people's objections because they may bring something to your attention outside your ken. Learn from them to make your ideas sharper.