Bonus! Available only on our website, Episode 10X includes a brief RTB discussion about Exit Zero, a stunning “auto-ethnography” that raises fascinating questions about what it means when people retell stories or anecdotes about their own lives as a form of evidence that helps explain their overall worldview.
Update: For more on autofiction, check out this essay on Ben Lerner by William Egginton from our partners at Public Books.
How does the past live on within our experience of the present? And how does our decision to speak about or write down our recollections of how things were change our understanding of those memories–how does it change us in the present? Asking those questions brings RTB into the company of memory-obsessed writers like Virginia Woolf and Marcel Proust. But it also takes up into the modern phenomenon of “autofiction,” a term which, if you’ve never heard of before today, you’re in good company! But by discussing autofiction writers like Rachel Cusk, Sheila Heti and Karl Ove Knausgaard, we begin to understand that the line between real-life fact, memory, and fiction is not quite as sharp as we had thought. Continue reading “10 Life, Writing, and Life Writing with Helena DeBres”
Helena DeBres had so many brilliant insights about the ethics and the future of life writing that the final third of our discussion overflowed the bounds of our ordinary format. So we present that final conversation to you here as a bonus episode–well, episodelette.
Elizabeth, John and Helena here discuss Christine J. Walley’s “autoethnography” Exit Zero: Family and Class in Postindustrial Chicago. They talk about the relation of an autoethnography to life writing a la Woolf or Cusk, the capacity of stories to both empower and to constrain, the semiological differences between Marxist philosophers and ministers, and when and how to use scare quotes. Continue reading “10x Bonus! “Exit Zero” and Life Writing”
Evita, Thatcher and HRC walk into a glass ceiling…In this episode, John and Elizabeth are joined by MIT anthropologist Manduhai Buyandelger to discuss women in political power in Argentina, Mongolia, the UK, the United States and beyond. At the conversation’s heart: Manduhai analyzes the legacy of “female quotas” in Soviet-era politics, as well as the narrow “lanes” that women politicians are sorted into.
For starters, Elizabeth discusses Santa Evita, Tomás Eloy Martínez’s riff on what happened to Evita Perón’s body before and after her death, and how much she looked, eventually, like Grace Kelly. Continue reading “9 Women in Political Power; with Manduhai Buyandelger”
When Recall This Book started back in January, we modestly thought we might manage one episode per month.Instead, we bolted from the gate fast: eight episodes in our first two-and-a-half months.
That is a sprinter’s pace, when what we have in mind is a marathon. So: a slowdown of sorts…but with the prospect of some great upcoming items. Continue reading “Spring Schedule and our new partnership with Literature Lab”
We frequently worry that we live in a “distracted age.” But perhaps the human condition is always to live “almost always in one place with our minds somewhere quite another” (Ford Madox Ford, “On Impressionism”). Join John’s conversation with Marina Van Zuylen of Bard College.
Van Zuylen, the author of The Plenitude of Distraction, makes the case that some aspects of distraction that are far more positive than they initially appear. Kierkegaard’s image of saving yourself from a boring philosophy lecture by watching sweat trickle down the speaker’s face is one highlight; her story about her real-life brain scan is another. Continue reading “8 Distraction, a Conversation (Marina Van Zuylen and John Plotz at Harvard’s Mahindra Center)”
On August 6, 2019, an article based on this podcast interview appeared in our partner publication, Public Books.
Fresh on the heels of our conversation with Madeline Miller, author of Circe, John Plotz has a talk with Samuel Delany, living legend of science fiction and fantasy. You probably know him best for breakthrough novels like Dhalgren and Trouble on Triton, which went beyond “New Wave” SF to introduce an intense and utterly idiosyncratic form of theory-rich and avant-garde stylistics to the genre. Reading him means leaving Earth, but also returning to the heady days when Greenwich Village was as caught up in the arrival of Levi-Strauss and Derrida to America as it was in a gender and sexuality revolution. Continue reading “7 In Focus: Samuel Delany in conversation with John Plotz (Nevèrÿon, Triton, Gertrude Stein and more….)”
In Episode 1 of Recall this Book, sculptor and Brandeis professor Tory Fair, John and I discussed minimalism. We were just starting out, and I felt a little out of my depth, not only with podcasting but also with the topic. Both Tory and John know a lot about work in their fields that describes itself as (or more often, is described as) minimalist, and they work in fields where the idea of minimalism has a clear definable life, even if artists, critics and others can’t necessarily easily define what it actually is.
I broke ranks and kind of broke the rules by describing the migration of the term minimalism into the realm of “lifestyle.” Broke the rules, I mean, because at first glance it seems that Donald Judd and Samuel Beckett have little more than a name in common with Real Simple or Simplify magazine or the blog Minimalist Baker. It feels a bit like comparing the discipline of anthropology and that store with the clothes made from cool fabrics that don’t seem to fit anyone quite right. I could feel John’s non-nominalist hackles (and mine too, if I’m being honest) ready to rise. Continue reading “Minimalism’s Untidy Travels”
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?
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 “6 Writing Then and Now: Martin Puchner (The Written World)”
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”
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”
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”
On June 6, 2019, an article based on this podcast appeared in our partner publication, Public Books.
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 “4 In Focus: An Interview with Madeline Miller about Circe (JP, GT)”
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 “3 Old and New Media with Lisa Gitelman”
You can listen to our podcast right now at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or Google Play.
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”
We hope you have been enjoying the first episode of our new podcast. Here is the slate of upcoming episodes for the first half of our inaugural season:
1/15: Minimalism with sculptor Tory Fair
1/22: Addiction with neuroscientist Gina Turrigiano
1/30: Old and New Media with media historian Lisa Gitelman
2/6: Circe with novelist Madeline Miller
Stay tuned for these episodes and more updates! You can listen to the podcast here on our website or by searching Stitcher or Spotify–Apple Podcasts and Google Play coming soon!
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”
Recall This Book is a monthly podcast exploring important books on a pressing topic. Each episode focuses on a contemporary problem or event and zeroes in on a book or books that shed light on it. We look backwards to see into the future: we can understand things about the future by choosing texts that shed a sideways light on our present situation, and attempt to shake up the terms of present debate by showing how a topic was approached in earlier times when a different version of this question had come up before. We aim to have lively barstool discussions–a warm but involved and potentially argumentative hashing out of the best way to think through difficult present-day issues. Sometimes we bring on writers to talk about their own books, sometimes we discuss these works with other academics in the field. Most episodes are hosted by Prof. Elizabeth Ferry, of Brandeis University’s Anthropology Department, and John Plotz, of Brandeis’s English Department.
Our first episode will be released on January 15, with the remainder of our episodes making up our first season released in the following weeks–check back here to listen along, or follow us on twitter at @recallthisbook.