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The subject, in a word, is despair, both public and private. The poets and spiritual seekers Christian Wiman and his wife Danielle Chapman are back to goad us, each with a new book. Their project is staring into the abyss, in the Nietzsche formula, to see if the abyss stares back, or talks back. And I think it does. Christian Wiman and Danielle Cha…
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Frantz Fanon is our interest in this podcast. The man had charisma across the board in a short life and a long afterlife. A black man from the Caribbean, he went to France, first as a soldier to help free the French from Germany, then to become a medical doctor and a psychiatrist, and then to North Africa to serve a revolution against France in Alg…
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The question is how digital tech picks and chooses the content that comes to your phones and your brain, or, as Kyle Chayka puts it in a brave new book Filterworld: “how algorithms flattened culture.” What is the chance that devices that know your likes and dislikes better than you do are ever going to surprise you or teach you? What’s the tilt, ov…
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Oldest and far the richest among American universities, Harvard is the apex, in some sense, of American intellectualism, and it will be a long time figuring out just how it lost a big game it didn’t seem to know it was playing: a high-stakes free for all, it turned out to be, with poisonous words like plagiarism and anti-Semitism threaded through t…
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The only way into this podcast is a long leap headfirst into postcolonial French fiction, of all things, and a novel titled The Most Secret Memory of Men. Our guest is the toast of literary Paris, the first novelist from sub-Saharan Africa to win France’s highest book prize, the Goncourt: Mohamed Mbougar Sarr. The first thing we feel in this magica…
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On the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, we’re face to face, almost, with an American political type that’s gone missing in our third century. Check this resume: he’s principled, he’s prepared, a two-fisted aristocrat networked with farmers and workers; a thinker and writer at risk, without fear, talking ideas and enacting them, getting re…
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With the historian John Judis we are looking for a longer timeline in the crisis of Gaza, Israel, Palestine. It has been, in fact, a century of layered conflict between Arabs and Jews, two peoples in stop-and-go warfare over a small plot of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. John Judis. What if (as in James Joyce’s most famous…
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The question that resurfaces in a time of horror may be what remains when memory is wiped out, when the unspeakable is left unspoken, in someone’s hope, perhaps, that it’ll be forgotten? Where does history live? Jeremy Eichler’s answer is that music becomes the code of our darkest secrets. Jeremy Eichler. Babi Yar is the ravine in Kyiv where Nazi i…
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Just a month into the ferociously brutal and reckless war in Israel-Palestine, on what feels like a hinge of history—outcomes wildly uncertain—our refuge is Chas Freeman, the American diplomat, strategist, and historian. We call Chas our “chief of intelligence” in the realm of world order and disorder. Chas Freeman calls himself sick at heart at th…
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In this podcast, two old friends in and out of journalism talk about the Middle East war, which comes to feel more like a contest in war crimes. Steven Erlanger joins us—he’s the New York Times‘ chief diplomatic correspondent in Europe. Steven Erlanger. We start with the terms Steve recently put forth in the Times: the assumptions—or some of the ma…
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We are listening in the dark, after a catastrophe yet to be contained: more than 1,000 Israeli civilians killed in a terrorist invasion from Gaza two weeks ago, thousands more Palestinians dead in a first round of punishment from Israel. “Only the beginning” says Prime Minister Netanyahu, while President Biden, in support, warns him against “all-co…
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The question is marriage. The answer in this podcast is Clare Carlisle’s sparkling book, The Marriage Question: George Eliot’s Double Life. George Eliot, born Marian Evans, was the towering novelist of Middlemarch, Silas Marner, and more. She put a man’s name on her author’s page. She built very nearly a religion on her foundational ideas about mar…
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Zadie Smith is a writer who matters, twenty years now after White Teeth, her breakthrough novel when she was just out of college. Her new one is titled The Fraud: fiction that pops in and out of two centuries. It can feel very Victorian and it can feel very 2023. Frauds, trials, disbelief abounding. Think of Zadie Smith as the current title-holder …
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It’s Labor Day week, 2023, and Henry David Thoreau is the heart of our conversation. It’s not with him, but it’s driven by his example: American thinking at its best on the matter of how to make a living. John Kaag. Have no doubt that the gabby man-about-Concord in the 1850s was a worker: expert surveyor, gardener, as many trades as fingers, he sai…
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Harry Smith was the oddest duck you never heard of in the art underground: an unsightly, often obnoxious genius. Only the artists knew him, but it was a multitude: Bob Dylan, who sang the roots music that Harry Smith collected; Thelonious Monk, who talked him through the bop era; Patti Smith, the songster—no relation; the poet Allen Ginsberg, who l…
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It is said about Noam Chomsky that he has been to the study of language what Isaac Newton was to the study of gravity after the apple hit his head. Chomsky had the “aha!” insight: that the power of language is born in our biology—it’s not acquired. Chomskyan linguistics came to explain how the human species alone got that gift of language. But it’s…
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In The Country of the Blind, where the writer Andrew Leland is guiding our tour, they do things differently. They have their own identity riddles, their network of heroes and not-so-heroes. They have their own senses of beauty and of sexual interest. They have their own sore spots when sighted people speak of their disability. They have their own F…
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