Michelle Kuo

Artforum, which recently celebrated its fiftieth year with a 554-page anniversary issue, has a kind of megalithic authority in the art world — imposing, storied, seemingly timeless. Founded in California in 1962, it moved to New York in 1967. Philip Leider, its first editor, was a charismatic and severely opinionated young man who became the anchor for an unlikely assortment of critics who wrote as though their — and all our — lives depended on it, producing dozens of definitive essays in the magazine’s distinctive square-shaped pages. Leider left in 1971; his coterie violently dispersed a few years later, and two of them, Rosalind Krauss and Annette Michelson, founded October — a journal with a reputation for even more recondite prose than Artforum.

Since that tempestuous epoch, Artforum has only become more formidable. It acquired a varicolored pop edge in the 1980s, when Ingrid Sischy — later the impresario of Interview magazine — opened its pages to a wide range of forms and contents that many of her predecessors had considered beneath interest; either a breath of fresh air or a noseful of garbage, depending on your taste.

The editor in chief of Artforum in these 2010s is Michelle Kuo, a preternaturally fresh-faced Harvard-trained scholar and writer. (Her PhD dissertation considers the odd amalgam of 1960s artists and engineers that went by the name Experiments in Art and Technology.) Kuo, who is Chinese American, hails from the cornfields of Indiana (or at least, a college town amid the corn) and worked in art-related new media ventures during the first dot-com boom. Her tenure as editor interested us in part because we edit a magazine ourselves, and have spent considerable time of late pondering the question of legacy.

Last November, the senior editorship of Bidoun met Kuo at an eerily deserted Le Pain Quotidien near Artforum’s offices to get her take on anniversaries, antagonism, and the state of contemporary criticism.

Negar Azimi: How old were you when you took over Artforum?

Michael C. Vazquez: I would like to point out that I let the woman ask the other woman her age…

Michelle Kuo: Normally people think I’m twelve. I’m thirty-five now, so in May 2010, when I became the editor, I would have been… I’m born in September. Does that mean I was thirty-two?

MV: We don’t really do math…

NA: We have a math intern. Have you read that Janet Malcolm essay on Ingrid Sischy? Who was like— 

MK: Yes, she was twenty-eight or so.

MV: Anyway, you became chief editor before you hit the Jesus age.

MK: Someone always reminds me that Roman Jakobson was nineteen when he wrote his magnum opus.

MV: I would like to point out that it’s crazy that someone always reminds you that. Anyway — so then how did you prepare for the job? Did you go back and read all the back issues as part of that process? Because that is an intimidating archive.

MK: You know, I had already worked here a few years when I changed positions, so there was a — somewhat false, as it turns out — sense of continuity. But in terms of the archive, it’s been a continuous process of reading as much as I can. There were a lot of things that were canonical that I had already read. And I’ve read more and more since I got here. There are always surprises. But preparing for the anniversary issue was the real crunch.

NA: Did you go to them with an agenda or an idea of what you wanted to do as editor in chief? What was your pitch?

MK: There were a couple of things I wanted to change or amp up… and a few things the magazine has always had to contend with. There’s language and readability — the much-discussed style of Artforum. It’s like Rashomon — depending on who’s talking, we either have a completely arcane, academic house style… or we have an almost slick, commercial style. I guess the writing that I most admire can be read on multiple registers — it will have that richness or polysemy. That’s one of the things I aim for and I would say that’s a long-term battle for any editor at this magazine.

Another goal was to make the most of the fact that I come from an art history background, whereas many of my predecessors were coming from a literary or publishing background. So there were certain things I wanted to privilege — certain forms or genres, texts that paid attention to the formal, to put it bluntly. I felt that too much criticism was inattentive to or simply glib about the material or structural characteristics of art today.

The last goal was to really extend the depth and reach of the magazine’s coverage internationally. That’s something I’ve worked very hard on.

One thing you quickly realize is that this institution is bigger than any one person. And you’re often trying to contend with many speeds at once — the speed of the market and the gallery world and the major institutions, and the kind of… longue durée of historical reflection. Eventually you recognize that you’re much more bound to a timetable. But you don’t want to be in lockstep with this churning cycle of the art world. Establishing your own rhythm in that cycle is all part of the practical and conceptual challenge of doing a monthly art magazine. And you do want to drive the conversation somehow. We just put the work of an eighty-year-old Japanese woman on the cover, and she is going to be new to many people.

NA: Who?

MK: Tsuruko Yamakazi. She’s one of the last living members of Gutai. She’s still painting.

MV: We wanted to talk some about how you went about commemorating Artforum’s extraordinary longevity. This question of how to take stock of a literary life, and how to evaluate it. I liked that Cabinet magazine’s tenth anniversary event took the form of a public trial. They charged themselves with lying, political irrelevance, and aesthetic corruption, and then tried to answer the charges.

NA: We’re thinking about this too, because next year Bidoun will be ten years old.

MV: Inshallah.

MK: It was not even remotely on my mind when I took the job. I guess I started talking about the issue with my colleagues a year in advance, trying out different ways to approach it. The first thing I did was look back at earlier anniversary issues. And they were all pretty different. Jack Bankowsky had done both the thirtieth and the fortieth — the fortieth was a double issue about the Eighties. The thirtieth was more straightforward, interviews with previous staff members and some contributions from regulars.

MV: There’s that book Challenging Art that Amy Newman did, which is an oral history of the first… fifteen years of Artforum? And it’s really fantastic—

MK: She did an amazing job. I don’t know how she was able to get all those different people to say so many things on the record. It’s very hard to do that.

NA: Who is she?

MK: She was an editor at ARTnews, and she’s currently writing the biography of Barnett Newman. I had lunch with her — I was trying to do more research on Phil Leider, the founding editor, and she’d talked to him extensively for the book.

MV: He kind of went off to Israel and disappeared, didn’t he?

MK: Well, no — he first went to UC Irvine, and then taught at the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem. That’s why I always joke that I’m going to retire to a kibbutz when this is over. He really did seem to wipe his hands clean, though. He refused to be interviewed for decades. He didn’t want to have anything to do with the world that he felt so disappointed by, I guess.

MV: Ah. I mean, he’s such an interesting character. It’s weird to say, but I found that book so gripping, the personalities so Olympian. Not least because they take themselves so seriously. I mean, also, I love a well-done oral history more than almost anything. I love that book Edie to death. But there are so many incredible details in Challenging Art — including the fact that the tenth anniversary issue was basically an attack on the idea of Artforum.

MK: Exactly. They had attacked so many positions, they had to attack themselves as well. [Laughs] Obviously, times and contexts have changed very drastically over… half a century. And fifty years is so much text — I don’t think anyone could read it all and have a life. But there are some obvious things — pieces that are very well known, like Michael Fried’s “Art and Objecthood.”

MV: Perhaps less well known: Fried’s entire PhD dissertation on Manet, which took up an entire issue in 1969.

MK: [Laughs] Oh my God. That was wonderful. I’ve had people propose that format to me again, but I don’t think it’s repeatable. Anyway, there were all kinds of texts that were — are — fascinating in their own right. So I thought: What’s a way to revisit those slightly less canonical texts that were important in their time and are still extremely relevant? Almost like a hidden history of the magazine. But I didn’t want to get lost in hagiography — to just wallow in the past. How to look forward as well? I considered various themes that could do this temporal work, and in the end — and because I am, as you know, very much invested in the relation of art and technology, which was central to the era when Artforum started, and is all the more critical now, albeit very differently. So media and technology became the vessel… And those old chestnuts medium and media, which these days strangely span the lexicon of art historians, on the one hand, and Silicon Valley, on the other. So I thought it might be an interesting lens onto contemporary practice.

MV: As well as a very apt way to evoke many of the pivotal moments or conflicts in the magazine’s past.

MK: Yes. And then it turned out that there’s a letter in the archive of an artist named Chuck Csuri — a letter that Leider wrote to an art historian who was pitching an essay about Csuri.

NA: What year?

MK: In 1967. So that was a perfect artifact, dismissive but still prescient — the line was, “I can’t imagine Artforum ever doing a special issue on electronics or computers in art, but one never knows.” And this provided a fitting introduction to the entire anniversary issue, which was a big deal to us, of course — and drew a lot of attention when it came out. It became a nexus of everyone’s anxieties and desires, from every angle you could think of.

MV: Not just a big deal, but also just… big. Like, nearly insurmountably enormous. Because of all the ads. I actually — and I apologize, this is sacrilegious, I know, but — to prepare for our conversation with you I actually had to tear the thing apart, to make sure I didn’t miss any pages with articles on them. And this seems like a thing about Artforum — it’s almost like Playboy for the art market. Okay, that metaphor doesn’t quite work… But I mean — basically if there’s one magazine a gallery is going to advertise in, it’s going to be Artforum. Which in a sense makes it the paper of record, regardless of what happens at the level of ideas or writing. You know what I mean?

Is that something you think about, or have to deal with? And when did it happen, exactly? Challenging Art doesn’t really talk about it, but it doesn’t seem like the early Artforum had that same kind of… commercial savvy or whatever. It was definitely in the red when Leider left.

MK: Well, it sort of went up and down. The first time there was a considerable chunk of advertising was the Eighties. But then the recession hit in the Nineties, so the issues get very slim again. Throughout, though, it’s always been a small operation, very different from magazines owned by big media conglomerates. As to the function of the advertising — there’s an old cliché, that there are people who just read the ads and others who just read the editorial.

MV: I guess I just confessed which kind of person I am. [Laughs]

MK: “Never the two shall meet.” But I actually think there are many people who enjoy both. In terms of sheer volume, this fiftieth anniversary issue is definitely the biggest one ever. But the next largest one was October 2008 —

MV: On the cusp of the bust.

MK: Right. So this relationship between the editorial and the business side, or the lack thereof, is something that everyone is always conscious of and has been for a long time. And there’s no doubt that they implicate each other in terms of reception. But that implication can be generative, it’s something we have to be reflexive about, and it cuts to the core of anxieties surrounding the production and reception of art itself right now.

MV: There’s a story in Challenging Art — it’s basically the very last thing in the book. It’s a really incredible — in the sense of terrible — moment, when John Coplans, who took over from Leider and kind of presided over the breakup of the old group —

MK: Yes.

MV: — and also published a number of pretty influential pieces in a mode that was much more… social history of art, if you will. Including, like, some of the very first articles to talk critically about the CIA and abstract expressionism, which Serge Guilbaut cites as being very influential on the research that became How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art.

So one night, Coplans is at some opening at the Met and Leo Castelli walks over to him and smiles and says, “I got you fired.” Presumably for running all of these… somewhat Marxist, material culture–type pieces? And reviewing things negatively? Which then led to advertisers withholding money and stuff. Although it’s somewhat contradictory, because it seemed like it was under Coplans that Artforum stopped losing money. And of course this is all transpiring in the wake of the Scull auction, which kind of inaugurates the art world as we know it.

MK: One thing that I still find remarkable about that period, or a little earlier — I’m going back to the really olden days —

MV: Oldener.

MK: — was the idea that you could have a magazine publish “Art and Objecthood,” [Robert Morris’s] “Notes on Sculpture Part 3,” and [Sol LeWitt’s] “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” all in one issue. Held together, in such tension. Because a) the stakes seem so high, and b) these inquests are so diametrically opposed. That is really interesting to me. I suppose because one fears, you know, being too wedded to one gallery’s program, or being too closely aligned with some coterie of artists — on the one hand, that’s exciting, to be part of a moment or movement, but it’s… that’s not necessarily what I’m interested in. So I always find moments when vastly different discourses are held together in tension, even conflict, the most provocative. And Artforum at various times has done that. By the same token, the Eighties are often maligned, but I find it astonishing — the vast range of things they could write about, even just the things that made it onto the cover — 

NA: Those cats smoking cigarettes. [Laughs]

MK: Yeah! Those cats! Wait, did we talk about that, or did you…?

NA: No, I just love it.

MK: [Laughs] Yeah, it’s amazing. I’d always assumed that that cover was tied to a portfolio of an artist’s work — it’s by a Japanese photographer, so I thought it was his portfolio… but no, it’s actually tied to a portfolio about — cats in art? [Everyone laughs] An eight-page portfolio, very serious. Serious and loose at the same time. There’s a humor there that is coupled with the market boom and some very grave issues. The Reagan Revolution. But there was something really fun that I was not expecting. It was a real pleasure, going over those issues, seeing that in action.

MV: Yeah. I really liked how you had people write new material about old material. A lot of it was really great. The Thomas Crow piece in the anniversary issue on Phil Leider’s epiphanic freak-out. And I mean — I had no idea that Lipstick Traces had started off as one of Greil Marcus’s columns in Artforum. About… cowboy philosophers? Which was his way of talking about the Situationist International and The Return of the Durruti Column and the band Gang of Four.

MK: Yeah, insurrection in every form. I mean, the columns. That was one of the things I was struck by —  that no one had revisited, say, Barbara Kruger’s television column. Which was over the top.

NA: I wanted to ask you about art criticism, because there’s such a — it’s not just Artforum — a global mode of being highly congenial. [Kuo laughs] Like, if one did a structural analysis of the average art review, whether it’s theoretically inclined or not, it tends to be thickly descriptive, then there’s some name-checking, some boilerplate, and then… you know, it’s very rare that someone takes a position of any kind. Unless it’s a museum show, I often find—

MK: Yes.

NA: I wonder what you think about all that. Are we talking about a small community of individuals afraid of hurting their friends? Why are the stakes different now? Are there stakes?

MK: Well, I think those are two separate things. One is that the stakes are not what they were. Maybe it’s — and others have said this too — maybe it’s because, in a way, the stakes are higher? So a young artist today is entering into a much larger art market, and a much larger… art meat grinder [laughs apologetically], for lack of a better term, than they were in the early Sixties. They’re not just laboring away in their loft or whatever, making work, and maybe someone will see it, maybe they won’t. They’re entering a more highly public, a more highly professionalized, monetized platform. And one reaction to that is a tempered, timid, critical response — “social grease.”

But the other thing is that I find that a lot of the reviews or writing you’re talking about — I mean, there isn’t even that much description. They’re very knee-jerk. They’ll name-check some references, maybe, but in the end it’s an impoverished version of social art history. They read the work as a very transparent signifier for some sort of social or economic context, like neoliberalism… or whatever. That is a very reduced state of criticism, and that’s something that I hope to militate against. My secret is that I’m actually a reactionary formalist…

MV: [Laughs]

MK: Not so secret now, I guess! But I’ve always admired the way Yve-Alain Bois looks at very limited bodies of work — for example that of Barnett Newman, who only made, like, 140 paintings in his lifetime, or Mondrian — almost like a closed system. And within that system he can identify generative devices that everyone else was blind to — and how they change over time. It’s a stunning recognition — to be able to see, suddenly, how Mondrian is inventing new pictorial systems, piece by piece. Similarly, it was a revelation to hear him unpack what happened, month by month, between Braque and Picasso in 1912. To me, that type of piercing visual and theoretical acumen is very much missing from art criticism today.

MV: That’s great. But I’m not really sure what that means? I mean, part of what’s confusing to me is that, as I barely understand it, Artforum 1.0 was reactionarily formalist, and then when that consensus broke down it was over the question of pluralism… Or diversity of media? Like if they wanted to do an issue on film or dance or whatever, it was the end of the world.

MK: Well, there are different types of formalism, and the kind I am talking about is as far from mere description as it is from no description at all. Certain parts of the early Artforum were definitely wedded to Greenbergian formalism, which is itself a kind of impoverished way of looking at things (mere description, and often poor description at that). That’s what you’re talking about when you say “Artforum 1.0.” But that early Artforum was just as engaged with the breakdown of Greenbergian formalism, of medium specificity and purity — Smithson, Minimalism, LeWitt, they’re all figureheads of that very move to the heterogeneity and promiscuity of postwar art.

And then Annette Michelson and Rosalind Krauss turned to this incredibly generative discourse around structuralism and Russian formalism, which at its best is also the very opposite of Greenberg. They opened up the magazine to film, etc. And I guess I feel very indebted to that approach — that it can be reinvigorated today. But that’s not to say that you couldn’t have a lot of other approaches. In fact, I think that any theoretical apparatus is just one of many that you could apply, case by case. Anyway, when I say “reactionary formalism,” that’s a bit of a provocation, but [laughs]… the kind of formalism I’m talking about seems like the least employed but most potent weapon that people are not using right now.

MV: Weapon… in what fight?

MK: In the struggle to understand, or bestow some kind of meaning onto, works of art. And, what’s more, onto the incredible shifts in perception and sensation that we’re undergoing at this moment in time.

NA: Or just to look. People don’t… do people look enough?

MK: People definitely don’t look enough…

MV: I think part of what I’m still unsure about is the stakes? I think this is all impacted by spending time in the stark discursive universe of the early Artforums, which can feel like another planet. There’s something funny and interesting and kind of appealing about the way they talk. And not that many people sound like this. I feel like I encountered this language in the Nineties reading the New Republic — reading Marty Peretz, who is, like, a racist dick who writes with sweeping, almost thrilling moralism —

MK: Right! Yeah.

MV: Or Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor there — those two guys would write things, and I would be like, “There is something just almost intrinsically compelling to this rhetoric.” And Philip Leider totally has that.

MV: Yes.

MV: This somewhat crazy, super moralizing discourse, but it’s literally thought provoking. Like at the end of Challenging Art, Amy Newman gets various people to talk about legacy. And most of them are like, “Oh, I don’t know, blah blah blah.” And then Leider is like, “We need to do a thought experiment about how we cannot even imagine what the world would be like, what world we would be in, if Robert Smithson hadn’t died in 1973.” He’s like, “What if nothing that we know Picasso for had happened? What if Picasso had died in 1908? Because that’s what happened to us.” I love that.

MK: Right. This kind of apodictic —

MV: But then even back then, let alone now, I don’t quite get the stakes. They’re all like, “We’re holding the line.” [Kuo laughs] And I’m like, “I don’t know what you are holding the line against.” And, like, what’s… who’s on the other side of the line?

MK: One of them actually says, “It’s nothing less than the fate of Western civilization that is at stake.” It was a culture war, and they felt as if it could determine the very outcome of society. You know, the other thing — it’s from that book, too — is when Rosalind Krauss says that suddenly they went from that sort of belletristic, wishy-washy language to art criticism, to a language that was hard, that was verifiable, that could generate these kind of empirical statements and judgments. And that this was a revelation. I still feel like that is the font for all of what comes afterward. Even though it’s a very schismatic breakup. And that legacy of legitimation or apodictic pronouncement is still something that people associate with Artforum. But it’s not the same, obviously. There’s no way that we could still do that with the same effect.

One thing that I find interesting is that some of the most strident critics of that time were artists themselves, talking about their fears, criticizing other artists. And that is just — it’s the dodo, I mean, you will never have that happen again. Which I totally understand… But that mood, I find so amazing.

NA: You don’t think it’s possible again?

MK: I don’t know if it’s possible again. Right now, it seems like… it’s not possible.
 But to get back to that question about what the stakes are today — to me it seems like there’s a lot of criticism that essentially functions as glorified press releases. And it may be old-fashioned to think that that’s not all that there is, but…

NA: You mean that sets the tone…

MK: Yeah, or it becomes a very watered-down discourse. People are not really engaging what they see or how they perceive. That, in and of itself, makes a difference. So someone like Fried — even if he came to the “wrong” conclusions about Minimalism, etc. — paying that much attention to an artist’s work would be beneficial in this day and age, when most people go and just read the press release, or look at the Tumblr post, and come away with a very prescribed, one-sentence understanding of what that work was about. There’s no risk. Even Warhol would be way too bored by that, I think.

NA: Can we talk for a second about what might be the most controversial image in the history of Artforum? I’m talking about that centerfold image of Lynda Benglis, where she’s holding a dildo to her crotch.

MV: And she’s naked, and has very prominent tan lines, and sunglasses. It actually looks like an outtake from some lost X-rated Duran Duran video.

NA: As I know you know, Benglis claimed that she was making a point about the “male ethos” of the art world. But the image was denounced as exploitative and brutalizing… by the two female members of Artforum’s inner circle, in fact. Rosalind Krauss and Annette Michelson both cited it when they resigned from the magazine to start October, though of course there were many factors that led to that little apocalypse.

MV: Cindy Sherman supposedly said that that image changed her life.

NA: But I feel like there’s an echo of this in — whether you call it political art or not — a certain body of work that is highly celebrated not for its formal qualities but because of its social mission or ethos or its supposed politics. In these cases it looks like the content — the so-called “good politics” — trumps formal or other considerations, and ends the conversation before it’s begun, really. Which is a shame.

MK: If I can read a description of a work and that’s all that you need to know about the work, it’s probably not a very interesting work. [Laughs] Even the dematerialization of the object, or the advent of institutional critique — they did produce things, like paperwork… or experiences, like seeing rearranged studs on a wall. Or audio guides… those sorts of artifacts, or just ephemeral moments, are themselves crucial! But this is also a false dichotomy; form and content are inseparable. And so to change someone’s perceptual experience might be to change their experience as a political subject as well. This is what the Russian formalists were talking about in terms of defamiliarization, of “estranging” one’s perception in a literally revolutionary way. I think that’s still an interesting model of how to think through subject matter or politics in tandem with apprehensible form. So the first thing I would say is, I think this question, or this answer, is still very much with us today. And I think a lot of what people are describing when they try to reconcile political content and sensuous form — from the “redistribution of the sensible” to the renewed interest in materiality and the “agency of objects” — is still in the mold of defamiliarization. Now, whether or not defamiliarization is really possible nowadays, in a consumerist era, in which our perceptual capacities are being upgraded all the time by new technologies and products… That’s a very good question, I think, and it’s the dilemma that we confront now.

MV: So then would you, as editor of Artforum, have published that Lynda Benglis image, do you think?

MK: What? [Laughter] I mean, honestly, I wasn’t there, so —

MV: Because that’s somehow related to this question, in a way.

MK: I think the circumstances are very different. And would I, at that historically specific moment in time, would I have found it objectionable? I don’t think I can know, because it was both an extremely political and personal debate. The people involved couch it in different ways. You can talk about it in terms of the division between editorial and advertising.

MV: Right.

MK: Because she actually placed that image in the magazine as an advertisement for her upcoming show. But then there’s the role of feminism and whether hers was an antifeminist stance. But — I would just have to say I don’t know. Because I wasn’t there at the time.

NA: I have a question about writing, because I know from personal experience that you’re an uncommonly writerly editor. Above and beyond Artforum, just in general. So I was wondering what… worries you, or doesn’t worry you, about criticism today? People love to moan that art magazines are unreadable. To what extent does that concern you? And if it does — what are you doing, if anything, to address that?

MK: Well, one thing I’ve tried to do more of is artists’ projects, where you don’t necessarily need a lot of explanation. So you might just be confronted with a very weird or compelling set of images, and that’s it. We’ve also introduced a type of piece that’s just one writer on one work — a close reading. Writerly-wise, I favor clear prose — but necessarily not simplistic prose. There’s a difference. Whether this means using short sentences or specialized terms or an arch or seductive tone, I like language that says something and conveys ideas, an argument. Even a mood. As you know, we have a lot of writers who have their own highly identifiable style, which is something that I really love and enjoy. So long as they are not unnecessarily, self-indulgently obfuscating — you know, contrary to the myth of Artforum, I think everyone here is committed to hacking our way out of that forest of obfuscation. We may not always be successful, but we try. Blood, sweat, and tears.

NA: Who are your favorite critics?

MK: I mean… I can’t go on record and answer that, because I think all of our critics are amazing.

MV: Of course — you love all your children. [Laughs] What about: Who are your favorite critics… who don’t write for you?

MK: Well, somebody whose writing I love, who has written for us, actually, but is just in a different world, is Peter Galison. He’s a historian of science, but he’s also an incredible writer. And he tackles very arcane subjects — I mean, it’s sort of an impossible task to make, say, the history of particle physics labs [laughs] interesting, but he really does. I’m also a vehement devotee of mystery — I do like when there’s suspense to a text. It might be a cheap thrill on my part, I don’t know, but it’s —

MV: No, I believe that just means that you like the essay, a form we’ve had for several hundred years [Kuo laughs], and which works by making you excited about something that’s about to happen.

MK: But not that many essays successfully do that! I’m trying to think of other writers — M. F. K. Fisher. Agatha Christie. Louis Marin. These are just off the top of my head. Writers I take a lot of pleasure in.

MV: Have we talked about how I think a vastly underrated form of prose — even underrated by her publisher, who insists on publishing her works without the prose from the original editions — is to be found in Marcella Hazan’s early cookbooks?

MK: I know, yes!

MV: Those original mass-market paperback versions of her books are some of my favorites. They have some of the finest uses of language to describe sensual objects that I’ve ever read. Speaking of engaging what you see — and feel, and taste.

MK: I actually grew up with her cookbook. My mother had it.

MV: Oh my fucking God.

MK: I know. I know! And you’re right, food writing is really —

MV: We’ve been working on all these interviews and at one point I thought: I just need to interview people that I like. And the person — actually the people — that I like most — who I don’t know at all — are Marcella Hazan and her husband Victor, who is like the secret sharer in all her books.

NA: Is she Lebanese?

MV: No, but her mom grew up in Alexandria. She’s totally Bidoun.

NA: I know who she is. She’s got the right eyebrows.

MV: She’s 110 percent Bidoun.

MK: Can I be Bidoun because of the Silk Road or something?

MV: Obviously.

NA: That’s why you’re here. [Laughter] Mike is Bidoun because of his eyebrows.

MV: The eyebrows are Mexican. It’s actually because I’m from one of the great Middle Eastern cities in the world: Detroit!

MK: Detroit. [Laughs] It’s true! I know.

MV: People don’t know.