18: Fictional Empathy: Rita Felski and Namwali Serpell (with JP)

John travelled to Odense, Denmark for a conference called “Love Etc.” (RTB is for it…) and fell into this conversation about empathy, identification and “uncritical reading” with the novelist Namwali Serpell and literary theorist Rita Felski. Hannah Arendt’s distrust of too much feeling, not enough thinking loomed large; so did Zadie Smith’s recent article in defense of empathy. The room was unexpectedly resonant–but so were Serpell and Felski’s insights.

Mentioned in the episode:

Michael Warner, “Uncritical Reading

Zadie Smith, “Fascinated to Presume: In Defense of Fiction

Namwali Serpell, “The Banality of Empathy

Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)

George Eliot, “Middlemarch”

Hannah Arendt, “Truth and Politics

Cartherine Gallagher, “The Rise of Fictionality

Noel Carroll, Beyond Aesthetics

Brett Easton Ellis, American Psycho

John Bender and Michael Marrinan, Culture of the Diagram

Sophocles, The Women of Trachis

Bernard Williams, “The Women of Trachis: Fictions, Pessimism, Ethics

Hans Christian Anderson’s charming, tiny house:

Listen to the episode here:

Read the transcript here:

Upcoming: in early December, string theorist Albion Lawrence discusses the powers (and pitfalls) of scientific collaboration with EF and JP. They try to decide if they should be jealous of the sorts of teamwork and back-and-forth that nowadays profoundly shape all branches of science. Maybe a case can be made for an elective affinity between solitary cogitation and disciplines like anthropology and literary history. Or maybe JP and EF just need their alone time, curled up in the corner with a favorite blanket….

17: In Focus: Mike Leigh (JP)

The British filmmaker Mike Leigh puts the move into movies: he never stops changing, never stops inventing. In nearly 50 years of filmmaking, he has ranged from comic portrayals of ordinary life amid the social breakdowns of Thatcher’s Britain (Life is Sweet, High Hopes) to gritty renditions of working-class constraint and bourgeois hypocrisy (Meantime, Abigail’s Party, Hard Labour) to period films that reveal the “profoundly trivial” elements of artistic life even two centuries in the past (Topsy-Turvy, Mr. Turner).

Leigh (did you guess he was our Mystery Guest from the grainy photo we posted last week?) contains multitudes. What Roland Barthes says about the novels of Marcel Proust is true of Mike Leigh films as well: you notice different things every time you return to them.

When he sat down with John in Columbus, Ohio (at a Victorianist convention, no less!) they were united by love for a hometown boy made good: James Thurber. The conversation ranged from recording working-class voices in the 19th century to Method acting to the pointlessness of fetishizing closeups to the movies John had never seen and should have–and that’s only the first twenty minutes. It cries out for footnotes, but maybe the best result of all this talk would be simply your decision to go off and see a couple of (or four, or five, or like John seven) Mike Leigh films you’d never seen before. You won’t be sorry.

Discussed in this episode:

Continue reading “17: In Focus: Mike Leigh (JP)”

15x: Afterthoughts on Zadie Smith (John and Elizabeth)

Zadie Smith touched down at Brandeis because Swing Time was this year’s New Student Book Forum selection. It made for a busy day: on top of the podcast, she spoke to faculty and undergraduates at two different events. So, lots of material to discuss.

Continue reading “15x: Afterthoughts on Zadie Smith (John and Elizabeth)”

15: Zadie Smith (in conversation with John)

In this episode, John interviews the celebrated British writer Zadie Smith. Zadie’s horror at the idea of rereading her own novels opens the show; she can more easily imagine rewriting one (as John’s beloved Willa Cather once did) than having to go through them all again. From there the conversation quickly moves through Brexit (oh, the inhumanity!) and what it means to be a London–no, a Northwest London–writer before arriving at her case against identity politics. That case is bolstered by a discussion of Hannah Arendt on the difference between who and what a person is. As Zadie puts it, “When you say my people, you can[‘t] know for certain who those people are by looking at them and by hearing what they have to say. I think what fiction as a kind of philosophy always assumed is that what people make manifest is not all that people are. There’s a great part of human selves which are hidden, unknown to the self, obscure, and that’s the part that fiction is interested in.”

Zadie Smith at Brandeis with a slightly freaked out John (credit: Mike Lovett, Brandeis)
Continue reading “15: Zadie Smith (in conversation with John)”

Fall RTB Lineup: Writers, Scholars, Auteur

The RTB crew were busy over the summer. Like an iceberg (although not quite as cool….maybe more like a duck) most of what we do lurks beneath the surface, invisible and inaudible. Getting Cixin Liu’s words out there in both Chinese and English was fun, but it was also daunting; ditto our presentation of The Electro-Library.

So we are especially delighted to announce our 5-episode Fall 2019 lineup. This season poses new challenges, some conceptual, others geographic. John is going on the road to track down an elusive English filmmaker (a first for us!) in Columbus Ohio, of all places (November 21).

Back home, Sharon Marcus will come to Brandeis to discuss her wonderful new book about stars and stardom, The Drama of Celebrity (airing December 12 – for all these dates, read “if all goes well”).

Christine Walley from MIT– her marvelous work on postindustrial working-class Chicago features in Episode 10x–will also be dropping by (November 7). The physicist Albion Lawrence will be on hand (October 17) to help Elizabeth and John tackle that age-old academic question, why can’t humanists collaborate the way scientists do?

Starting us off with a bang, though, is a writer who constantly gets compared to Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis (ouch?!) but is really the closest our generation has come to the “moderate modernism” of Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster. From White Teeth to NW, she has staked her claim to chronicle London as colorfully and cogently as the Kinks and the Clash. Yup, the one, the only Zadie Smith.

Can you tell I’m a little excited for this interview? It kicks off our season, airing on September 26th. And it will be followed by an “aftermath” in which we dissect her words and then discuss the talk (and talking to) that Smith gave to Brandeis undergraduates during her visit.

Episode 14x: Afterthoughts about the Cixin Liu interview (Pu Wang and John)

In May, John and Pu interviewed SF superstar Cixin Liu (you will want to listen to that episode before this one). In August they entered the studio again to work on the final edits for that interview in both its Chinese and English versions. While they were there, they took some time to reflect on the most significant things that Liu had said, and to ponder the political situation for contemporary Chinese writers who come to the West to discuss their work.

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In the original interview, Pu leans forward to fine-tune a translation….
Continue reading “Episode 14x: Afterthoughts about the Cixin Liu interview (Pu Wang and John)”