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Madame Psychosis in the Margin?

I received an interesting email some time ago from a WMBR listener, Tom Murray, who suggested my show, In the Margin of the Other (ITMOTO), partially inspired David Foster Wallace’s fictitious Madame Psychosis and her radio program from Infinite Jest. I confess that, while I know something about DFW, I’ve never read him and this is the first I’ve heard of the connection.   I finally had time to do some exploring, got in touch with several  researchers, and read some articles.  I learned a) it’s well established that he listened to WMBR, and b) there is an enormous body of information, speculation, and musing about DFW.  And it is true, too, I was on the air in the evenings in the early to mid ’90’s when DFW was  spinning out Infinite Jest and listening, apparently, from his apartment up the road in Somerville, or maybe it was Brighton

The character Madame Psychosis was a DJ with a late night show — ‘Sixty Minutes More or Less with Madame Psychosis’ on WYYY.   In the book, she’s also known as Joelle vanDyne and PGOAT (Prettiest Girl Of All Time)….so beautiful, she was deformed and wore a veil to cover her face.

What I found, I admit, is intriguing.   Here is a description of the show from a paper by Steve Moore  that was cut from the final book manuscript:

The account of Madame Psychosis’s radio program was likewise greatly expanded for the book version, though some sections were cut from the MS., e.g. an ethnic survey of reactions to the radio show’s obscure background music: “Madame Psychosis’s cued musics [sic] make Arab MIT students ache for minarets and muezzins’ azans, their foreheads itch for the feel of non-representational carpet. German graduate students get lumped-throated envisioning Tubingen roses blooming time-lapse in perfectly ordered rows. The Canadian kids don’t think of anything at all. The Swiss kids cop images of prolix clocks,” and so on. “Mario’s convinced Schtitt would like this music if you could get him to take the Wagner off and try something else for once, in his office” (MS 88).   

You can listen to excerpts from my show in the “Listen/Watch” section of this blog.

And the following reference to “otherness” relative to Madame Psychosis’ radio program from a paper by Travis W. Stern is an interesting parallel to my show, as “the other” is/was a defining aspect of ITMOTO.  Read more about my concept for “the other” here.

In Madame Psychosis’ radio program, she reads the names of various afflictions or ailments that have come to define these people as a lesser “other” to regular society (IJ 185 – 192). By getting these outcasts to “don the veil” and “openly hide,” UHID members re-enter society on their own terms, and define themselves physically with the veil. Based on how they had come to be known, and seeking equality rather than superiority, they have taken control of their “otherness” and with the assistance of privacy the veil provides, have come together to be seen as a regular part of society. No longer isolated, rather they are linguistically bound together

And one final reference.  It’s the intrigue, I suppose, of the meaningful association DFW makes between death and its “mediator” given that he was chronically depressed and committed suicide about a dozen years later.

One of the first dreams Don Gately has after he’s visited by Jim Incandenza’s ghost features Joelle van Dyne as the figure of Death, and looks like this:

Death is explaining that Death happens over and over, you have many lives, and at the end of each one (meaning life) is a woman who kills you and releases you into the next life…. Death says that this certain woman that kills you is always your next life’s mother. This is how it works: didn’t he know? …This is why Moms are so obsessively loving… they’re trying to make amends for a murder neither of you quite remember, except maybe in dreams. As Death’s explanation goes on…, the more unfocused and wobbly becomes his vision of the Death’s Joelle…, until near the end it’s as if he’s seeing her through a kind of cloud of light, a milky filter that’s the same as the wobbly blur through which a baby sees a parental face bending over its crib, and he begins to cry in a way that hurts his chest, and asks Death to set him free and be his mother, and Joelle either shakes or nods her lovely unfocused head and says: Wait. (850-51)

My college economics professor, Dr. Whitehead, used to say “everything happens in the margin.” That adage is what partly inspired the name of the show…reflects that principal place of activity as I weave it together.  I suppose I’ll never know for certain, and I don’t want to imply too strong a connection; these are snippets that caught my eye as I contemplate the possibility that DFW may have been listening and time has strangely lapsed forward.   That I am  in some way ‘visited’ by his presence across time and space stimulates my curiosity and imagination.



How will we use our inventions?

Public broadcasting will be free, and it will be independent, and it will belong to all of our people. Today we rededicate a part of the airwaves for the enlightenment of all people. — President Lydon Johnson on November 7, 1967 upon signing the Public Broadcasting Act

I was invited to speak at a leadership breakfast hosted by American Public Media at the Public Media Development and Marketing Conference in Denver, Colorado, on July 11, 2014.  PMDMC is the largest gathering of public media radio and television stations – 1,100 attended this year.  Read my remarks here or, if you want to go deeper, watch the session that includes presentations by APM’s Peter Clowney and Localore producer Anayansi Dias Cortez.  

What’s Outside? Public Media 2014


Localore was a year long, $2 million AIR production.  It was designed to spark new,  producer-led innovation at public radio and television stations across the U.S. during  a time of change.  We hired a dozen lead producers and planted them at ten radio and  TV station across the country in cities large and small.  Collectively, Localore involved  more than two hundred collaborators — community storytellers, designers, coders,  shooters, editors, reporters, radio hosts… and stretching into the community… musicians, priests, farmers, violin makers, librarians, etc… The assignment for our producers was to “Go Outside.”  We wanted our teams to invent new ways to blend digital, broadcast, and “street” plaforms, to help take their incubator stations outside their dominant mindsets, and we wanted them to physically go outside to the far corners of their local communities.  Our long term goal is to plant new seeds to build out the strengths of public media and carry service to more Americans.

This report, “What’s Outside?,” unpacks what we found out there.  I hope it informs stations, producers, and those invested in public media who are inspired by the possibilities of what lies ahead.

Consider these new realities…


March 28, 2014. It almost wasn’t Localore. Back in the summer of 2011, when AIR was designing its initiative pairing independent producers with local stations, “Purple Mountain” was one of the names proposed by a branding company; it captured the idealism, civic  intention and long view of what the core production team was focused on as we laid out Localore’s interconnected parts.

But the words “local” and “lore” spoke to both the problem we were addressing and solution we were proposing — taking local stations outside of their comfort zones by creating new integrated storytelling models to carry public media to new corners of their community.

The sprawling network of 10 skunkworks and 200 collaborators that eventually emerged was part multimedia production, part community-development blueprint, part new talent cultivation engine. From this new ecosystem, which now stretches from big cities to small towns of America, we see hopeful signs that the seeds we’ve planted to inspire change have begun to take root.

– See more at: To follow paths charted by Localore, consider these ‘new realities’

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