Deceit, Desire, and the Contemporary Novelist

A conversation between Brandon Taylor, A. Natasha Joukovsky, and Trevor Cribben Merrill—moderated by Dr. Kevin Rulo

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Here is the full video of the fascinating conversation between the writers Brandon Taylor, A. Natasha Joukovsky, and Trevor Cribben Merrill which took place at the 2023 NOVITĀTE conference in October 2023. It was moderated by Kevin Rulo. I’m delighted to be able to share it for the first time with you here.

The discussion centered around the problem of “writing after having read René Girard”, as all of these novelists are doing (and doing at an extraordinarily high level).


has recently launched a Substack exploring this problem further, and has framed it up nicely in his first post. Trevor tells the story of how the writer Milan Kundera (author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being), his favorite writer as a new college, led him to René Girard through a footnote in one of his essays, Testaments Betrayed. This eventually led Trevor back to an appearance that the two writers, Kundera and Girard, made together on French radio in 1989. (You can listen to it here.)

“I had the double pleasure of reading you, and of reading you too late,” Kundera tells Girard—because he would have most likely had problems writing his first short stories had he already read Girard at that point. One could argue that Girard’s insights in his first book (Deceit, Desire, and the Novel) reveal too much, in a way that could cripple a novelist. It has the potential to make them creatively stuck, believing that they can never again write anything real—something that is not mimetically mechanistic, for instance.

As you’ll see, the panelists have different opinions on this point, and many others. I am grateful to reach of them for accepting my invitation.

The Interlocutors

Brandon Taylor

(who writes )is the author of the novels The Late Americans and Real Life, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize and named a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice and a Science + Literature Selected Title by the National Book Foundation. His collection Filthy Animals, a national bestseller, was awarded The Story Prize and shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize. He is the 2022- 2023 Mary Ellen von der Heyden Fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers.

A. Natasha Joukovsky

(who writes ) holds a BA in English from the University of Virginia and an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business. She spent five years in the art world, working at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. After business school, she began a career in management consulting, joining Accenture Strategy in 2014. Her debut novel, The Portrait of a Mirror, was published by the Overlook Press (ABRAMS) in 2021.

Trevor Cribben Merrill

(who writes is the author of a novel, Minor Indignities (2020), as well as of a literary monograph, The Book of Imitation and Desire (2013), and an essay, “The Situation of the Catholic Novelist” (2021). He has edited, published, and translated books, articles, speeches, and interviews by and about René Girard. His essays and book reviews have appeared in L’Atelier du roman (where he wrote a column on literature and current events), Esprit, First Things, The University Bookman, Dappled Things, and others

Moderator: Kevin Rulo
Kevin is Assistant Professor of English at The Catholic University of America and serves as both the Director of the Writing & Rhetoric Program and the Director of the University Writing Center at university. He specializes in transatlantic 20th century literature, especially the relationship between modernism and satire. His recent book, Satiric Modernism, examines the flourishing of satiric theory and practice in experimental literature and art from the previous century to the present. His research and teaching expertise includes writing studies and writing centers, with recent and forthcoming work on writing instruction for nursing graduate students and on the history of the essay.

I hope you enjoy the conversation.

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