An Invitation to “Orfeo”

What happened when Michael Silverblatt, host of KCRW’s literary talk show Bookworm, David Foster Wallace, and Richard Powers were together years ago in Santa Fe and heard a presentation on cellular mechanics?  Might it have been the impetus for Richard Powers’ new novel, Orfeo?  Here’s more on that from Silverblatt.

“The reason I’m looking forward to spending Tuesday night at ALOUD with Richard Powers is because of something that happened ten years ago in Santa Fe, which was the last time I saw Richard.  David Foster Wallace was there, so was John O’Brien of Dalkey Archive Press.  The four of us will never spend time together again, which is a source of sorrow, but wait.  Listen.

It sounds a little too good to be true, but the day after a public reading event, Lannan Foundation arranged for us to spend the morning at the famous science think tank in Santa Fe where Cormac McCarthy sometimes hangs out.  We spent the morning, I swear, listening to presentations on cellular mechanics, particularly penetration of the nucleus.

I don’t know if Richard will remember that morning, but he was the only one of us capable of asking intelligent questions.  David Wallace kept up a good front; I was overwhelmed and goofy; but Powers was, I swear it, thriving.

Anyone who reads Orfeo, Richard’s magnificent new novel, will find that it is about Peter Els, a classical composer who attempts to splice a musical structure into the DNA of a germ cell: a do-it-yourself hobby in a web-bought home laboratory.  His house and lab are raided by Homeland Security, and Peter becomes known as the “bioterrorist Bach.”

Everyone will be stunned by the evocations of twentieth century music:  Mahler, Cage, Shostakovich, Messiaen.  The connections between musical structure and cellular composition are stimulating, even mind-blowing.

But I want to know is did the seed of Orfeo, dare I call it the germ of Orfeo, get planted one morning ten years ago in a Santa Fe think tank?”

Join Silverblatt and Powers in conversation on January 28th at ALOUD.  

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