Ocean Vuong–A Life Worthy of Our Breath: An Interview with Krista Tippett

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Due to a wonderful review on our blog, I put Vuong’s novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, on reserve at my local library.  I had to wait, but I finally read it a few months ago.  I was excited to learn that Krista Tippett had recorded an interview with Ocean Vuong.  I highly recommend listening to their conversation even if you have not read the book.  I like to listen to the uncut versions at OnBeing, although there is also a shorter, more polished version available too.  Here’s the link: https://onbeing.org/programs/ocean-vuong-a-life-worthy-of-our-breath/.

6 comments on “Ocean Vuong–A Life Worthy of Our Breath: An Interview with Krista Tippett”

  1. Vuong has gained a lot of traction here though I still have yet to read anything myself– I do feel encouraged to do so when the time is right 🙂 I am currently in the middle of Book 2 of the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. It is easy reading between final papers and final exams this week…

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  2. Astonishing, Barbara.Thank you! Like drinking amazement from a firehose. An humble person with an outsized intellect. I want to read his essays now.

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    1. I’m so glad you loved the interview, Teri. I found one of the threads of the conversation, the use of endless violent metaphors to talk about seemingly everything, to be especially powerful. It was so jarring when Vuong shared that he had been complimented, after a powerful poetry reading, by a listener who said, “You killed it!” As Vuong spoke, I thought about COVID-19 and the medical profession, a “healing” profession, in which “war” vocabulary is abundant. We battle, conquer, overcome, control, wipe out….disease. Those are not healing words. A women whom I knew years and years ago came into my mind. She and her family had been Christian pacifists for generations. Acting out of a deep commitment to her faith, she refused chemo therapy for cancer. She could not, with integrity, turn her body into a “battleground.” Perhaps a different way of framing things using a language of comfort, cooperation, coexistence, enhancement…. could change both the kinds of medical treatments we develop and how they are delivered. Both patients and doctors might be far better served in the process. I have always believed that language matters. Vuong’s insights on the language of violence and his ability to communicate his thoughts with incredible eloquence were a real gift. His determination to live awake to the power of every word he speaks, including his tone, challenged me to be far more vigilant as I bring my own thoughts to life in the words that I choose to use. What a brilliant teacher.

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      1. Barbara, his point about the violence of American language has been much on my mind, too. Last night I heard that “You killed it!” given as a compliment to a singer for her performance on TV. And I noticed, for the first time, again on TV, the phrase “the beaten path.” It slides right by…but, really, *beaten*? Why are we so quick to use our fists?

        Another thing I also loved was his long, long attraction to the Noah’s Ark story. In the face of apocalypse…or in the course of your daily life, for that matter…what should be saved? What would you build your ark around? Yes, great teaching.

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  3. Barbara, how many ways can I thank you for steering us toward this incredible and deeply moving conversation? I second everything that has been said above and would like to add a few things that jumped out at me, that I jotted down while listening.
    He said “…you are a participant in the future of language…” that people often will say to young people that the future is in their hands but he says, no “…the future is in your mouth…”
    And re words on the page vs words in a room – “…the sonic reality to see how your language falls in someone’s body…” and “…the voice is the body…”
    And, talking about how much of our language and communication with each other has become fluff, meaningless, he mentions that “…we built shame into vulnerability…” which ties right back into the violence embedded in so much of our language.
    He speaks of language as a living, breathing being, which just really hums for me. I think I may have to download transcript so that I can read and reread. Thank you, Barbara, thank you so much.

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