Our Summer series on the Brahmin Left, winding down as Fall approaches, was inspired by our bracing but terrifying interview with Thomas Piketty. It starts from the assumption that a major realignment (or, rather, a “dealignment”) from the class-based politics of the mid-20th century is underway all over Europe and North America–and perhaps worldwide. What caused that? Piketty’s explanation centers on the rise of the Brahmin Left. He maintains that Left parties have abandoned the working-class for an increasingly highly educated voter-base (as if on cue, Nate Cohn recently supplied this analysis).
We spoke with Matt Karp, Jan-Werner Mueller and Arlie Hochschild and learned far more than we bargained for. Karp is among those who point to political changes produced by the waning power of labor in our post-industrial era; Mueller points to populist revival and ethnonationalism resurgent; Hochschild notes the breakdown in the narratives that succeeded in tying working-class white voters to Left parties in the 20th century. Other scholars (we spoke with Quinn Slobodian in 2019 for example) see in the Right’s recent successes the latest twist in a neoliberalism controlled by corporate elites.
Now, Adaner, Elizabeth and John come together for a “wrap” conversation: what unites our three guests, and what divides them? Elizabeth ponders the series as a whole, wondering: what exactly do we mean by “the left” anyway, let alone the Brahmin Left?
Upcoming episodes: Next week marks the debut of a new feature. From now on, each month we will publish a short essay on the month’s big theme. So keep your eyes peeled for a Brahmin Left piece, hitting your browser three days into fall. And then…… October is Octopus Month (put away your chopsticks, please….). For starters that a terrific conversation with Peter Godfrey-Smith, author of the best book we know on the alterity of octopus consciousness: Other Minds. More cephalopod-themed material will follow throughout the month.
Finally, all listeners and readers who are interested in the gentle art of podcasting are cordially invited to the inaugural Humanities Podcasting Symposium, held over Zoom, October 15-16. Latif Nasser of Radiolab will headline two days of workshops, seminars and discussions among scholars students and amateurs who have fallen in love with the pedagogical and intellectual possibilities the medium affords. Elizabeth and John will both be presenting. Join us! RSVP here
Elizabeth is joined by Elizabeth Bradfield, poet, naturalist and professor of poetry at Brandeis, in a conversation with the poet Sean Hill, author of Blood Ties and Brown Liquor (2008) and Dangerous Goods (2014).
Sean read his “Musica Universalis in Fairbanks,” (it appeared in the Alaska Quarterly Review) and then, like someone seated in an archive turning over the pages of aged and delicate documents, unfolded his ideas about birds, borders, houses and “who was here before me.”
The Black Lives Matter movement and the policing-related deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others have struck a nerve worldwide. Our“Global Policing” series aims to capture the protests over systemic racism and policing in their various national forms.
In Turkey, for example, a June 19 article in the English edition of DuvaR. news magazine reported that Footage of the detentions of five individuals detained at pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) press conference in Istanbul reveal shouts from the civilians begging the police to stop pressing on their backs and telling them that their chest hurts…reminiscent of the recent police killing of black Minneapolis resident George Floyd, remembered with his words “I can’t breathe!
Steve brings light to dark corners in this the second installment of Books in Dark Times. He sings the praises of Charles Dickens, of Anthony Trollope (Elizabeth, offstage, chuckles delightedly) and the world-escaping delights of both Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and the Mapp and Lucia novels of E. F. Benson. He concludes with sweet words for the sour genius of a trio of late 20th century American pessimists: Joan Didion, Dorothy Baker and Iris Owens.
In this episode John and Elizabeth sit down with Brandeis string theorist Albion Lawrence to discuss cooperation versus solitary study across disciplines. They sink their teeth into the question, “Why do scientists seem to do collaboration and teamwork better than other kinds of scholars and academics?”
The conversation ranges from the merits of collective biography to the influence of place and geographic location in scientific collaboration to mountaineering traditions in the sciences. As a Recallable Book, Elizabeth champions The People of Puerto Rico, an experiment in ethnography of a nation (in this case under colonial rule) from 1956, including a chapter by Robert Manners, founding chair of the Brandeis Department of Anthropology. Albion sings the praises of a collective biography of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, A Message to Our Folks. But John stays true to his Victorianist roots by praising the contrasting images of the withered humanist Casaubon and the dashing young scientist Lydgate in George Eliot’s own take on collective biography, Middlemarch.
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.
On this episode of Recall This Book, John talks to Stephen McCauley, a novelist and Professor of the Practice of English and Co-director of Creative Writing at Brandeis. Nobody knows more about the comic novel than Steve, and there is no comic novelist he loves better than Barbara Pym, a mid-century British comic genius who found herself forgotten and unpublishable in middle age, only to roar back into print in her sixties. Steve and John’s friendship over the years has been sealed by the favorite Pym lines they text back and forth to one another, so they are particularly keen to investigate why her career went in this way. Continue reading “5 The Comic Novel with Stephen McCauley”
In this episode, John and Elizabeth speak with Gina Turrigiano, a neuroscientist at Brandeis, about a number of different facets of addiction. What makes an addiction to a morning constitutional different from–or similar to–an addiction to Fentanyl? What are the biological and social factors to consider? Should the addict be thought of in binary terms, or addiction as a state that people move into and out of? They contemplate these questions through biological, anthropological, and literary lenses, drawing on Marc Lewis, Angela Garcia, and Thomas de Quincey. Late in the episode, there’s also a Sprockets joke. Then, in Recallable Books, Gina recommends David Linden’s The Compass of Pleasure, Elizabeth recommends When I Wear My Alligator Boots by Shaylih Muehlmann, and John recommends Sam Quinones’s Dreamland. Continue reading “2 Addiction with Gina Turrigiano”
In this episode, John and Elizabeth speak with Tory Fair, sculptor and professor in the Art Department at Brandeis about minimalism. They discuss the difference in involvement expected from the viewer of a minimalist work and other work, and compare modes of minimalism, from Donald Judd to Samuel Beckett to Marie Kondo. Their discussion of the correct amount of guidance to expect or to want from an artist also turns to a lively chat on the experience of going to the museum, and whether that is best approached as directed by the artist or curator, or as a search for an unexpected occurrence. Then in Recallable Art, Tory recommends the Daybook Installation at DIA by Anne Truitt, and John recommends Aesop’s fables. Continue reading “1 Minimalism with Tory Fair”