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)”

Episode 13: Polynesia, Sea of Islands: with Christina Thompson

John and Elizabeth talk cultural renewal with Christina Thompson, author of Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia, a book that both tells a part of the history of Polynesia, and tells how histories of Polynesia are constructed.

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Tupaia’s map

The discussion also ranges to consider different moments of cultural contact between Polynesian and European thinkers and doers. Those range from the chart Tupaia drew for Captain Cook during the “first contact” era (above) to the Hokule’a‘s triumphant reconstuction of ancient Polynesian wayfinding, in which the work of David Lewis, Brian Finney and the Bishop Planetarium (below) served as invaluable background to the navigational achievements of Mau Pialug and Nainoa Thompson.

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Episode 12: RTB Presents “The Electro–Library” (with Jared Green)

In this warm summer episode, Elizabeth and John present a marvelous podcast, The Electro-Library, and they speak with one of its hosts and founders, Jared Green.

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Elizabeth, Jared and John play snippets from a recent Electro-Library episode on the decidedly non-podcasty topic of photographs, and use it as a  springboard to discuss the different aesthetic experiences of radio, television, film, reading, audiobooks, and podcasts. Which are the easiest and which the hardest artworks to get lost in? Would Frankenstein’s monster be more popular as a podcaster than as a YouTuber? (The answer to that one seems most likely to be yes). Continue reading “Episode 12: RTB Presents “The Electro–Library” (with Jared Green)”