Episode 6: Writing Then and Now: Martin Puchner (The Written World)

From its origins in clay tablets to its future on digital tablets, Martin Puchner has thought about writing in all its forms. In this episode, John and Elizabeth talk to Martin, the Byron and Anita Wien Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Harvard. They begin with a discussion of a very early writerly text–the epic of Gilgamesh, a version of which has been Englished by Elizabeth’s father. They discuss the different stages of world writing–from the time of the scribes to the time of great teachers like Confucius, Socrates and Jesus Christ, who had a very complicated relationship to writing. Are we on the cusp of a new transformation in the way in which writing occurs in the world?

M0005812 Sumerian Cuneifurm Tablet.

This transformation might have to do with coding, with the resurrection of the tablet and the scroll, or with the culture of curation that has arisen in a new era in which the ability. to write has been (significantly) democratized. Continue reading “Episode 6: Writing Then and Now: Martin Puchner (The Written World)”

Our Drugs, Our Stories, Ourselves

Public Books recently ran an article called “Our Drugs, Ourselves” by Susan Zieger, that touches on several of the issues that John, Elizabeth, and Gina discussed in our second episode about addiction. Zieger analyzes “the slimy lie at the bottom of ‘drugs’…the false belief that my natural experience is more authentic and valuable than your artificial one.” Zieger looks at this premise in High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence by Michael Pollan, and My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh. Zieger argues that community, and the practice of sharing experiences, are what need to undergird the use of drugs in order to prevent them from being demonized or fetishized. While the Pollan’s and Hart’s take up real-world concerns about addiction and experience of the sort that John, Elizabeth and Gina discussed, I am particularly interested in a phenomenon that Zieger traces in Moshfegh’s novel: the use, in recent(ish) fiction, of fictional drug brands alongside real ones. Continue reading “Our Drugs, Our Stories, Ourselves”

Upcoming Episodes…and More

Eagle-eyed fans of Recall This Book will have noticed  an implicit pattern: episodes dropped each Wednesday (err, now Thursday), with upcoming episodes announced with the closing credits.

However, that is a pattern that will hold true only during the academic semester, when the whole team is around to get to work. This upcoming week, for example, Brandeis shares in the Boston February break week. So we will defer episode 6, with Martin Puchner, until our return. It will come out on Thursday February 28th. Continue reading “Upcoming Episodes…and More”

Episode 5: The Comic Novel with Stephen McCauley

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 “Episode 5: The Comic Novel with Stephen McCauley”

Episode 4: An Interview with Madeline Miller about Circe

In this episode, John and Gina Turrigiano speak with Madeline Miller, author of the critically acclaimed bestseller Circe. They discuss Circe’s place in Greek mythology and in a retelling of the Odyssey “from below” or “from the side,” the concept of “mythological realism,” and the influence of The Once and Future King on Madeline’s writing. They touch too on the sweet family aspects that show up in Homer, and on Odysseus’s changing reputation throughout time. Then, in Recallable Books, Madeline recommends I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Conde and The Two Noble Kinsmen by Shakespeare. Continue reading “Episode 4: An Interview with Madeline Miller about Circe”

Episode 3: Old and New Media with Lisa Gitelman

In this episode, John and Elizabeth speak with Lisa Gitelman, a professor in the departments of English and Media, Culture and Communications at New York University. They discuss Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1935) and Rudyard Kipling’s “Wireless” (1902). Both works examine shifts in media technologies that people had only just gotten used to: what can Benjamin’s essay and Kipling’s uneasy story teach us about contemporary economic shifts to blockchain, or from artistic transmission to social media interactions? We investigate brain metaphors and their aesthetic implications, whether and how Benjamin is optimistic, (and another thing). Then in our segment Recallable Books, Lisa recommends “The Migration of the Aura, or How to Explore the Original Through its Facsimiles” by Bruno Latour and Adam Lowe, Elizabeth recommends “Mobile Phones and Mipoho’s Prophecy,” by Janet McIntosh and John thinks about recommending Henry James’s “In the Cage” but instead recommends “The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster. Continue reading “Episode 3: Old and New Media with Lisa Gitelman”