104 episodes

Think About It engages today's leading thinkers in conversations about powerful ideas and how language can change the world.

Think About It Ulrich C. Baer

    • Books

Think About It engages today's leading thinkers in conversations about powerful ideas and how language can change the world.

    GREAT BOOKS 34: Karl Marx's The Communist Manifesto, with Vivek Chibber (NYU)

    GREAT BOOKS 34: Karl Marx's The Communist Manifesto, with Vivek Chibber (NYU)

    Marx has never left us. In our era of populism, political polarization, and the pandemic, concerns central to Marx such as economic inequality, the consolidation of power in the hands of the few, and the fate of workers are urgently discussed. How should we think about Marx today? I spoke with Professor Vivek Chibber at NYU who has published Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital (Verso, 2013), and Locked in Place: State-Building and Late Industrialization in India (Princeton, 2003).

    • 59 min
    GREAT BOOKS 33: Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray with Nicholas Frankel

    GREAT BOOKS 33: Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray with Nicholas Frankel

    Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray was the novel that shocked, challenged, and inspired Victorian England with its tale of a beautiful young man who trades his soul, captured in a portrait, for eternal youth. I spoke with Professor Nicholas Frankel of Virginia Commonwealth University, whose biography Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years, to see how one of the first true celebrities and his only novel changed the way we live in the world today.

    • 1 hr 13 min
    GREAT BOOK 32: Emily Dickinson: Isolation and Intervention, with Brenda Wineapple

    GREAT BOOK 32: Emily Dickinson: Isolation and Intervention, with Brenda Wineapple

    I spoke with Brenda Wineapple, author of White Heat, about Dickinson's remarkable assuredness, her confidence, and her decision to spend much of her life secluded in her father's home in Amherst, Massachusetts. In this state of being on her own, Dickinson had intense, passionate and transformative relationships, including one with the editor, writer, abolitionist and soldier Thomas Wentworth Higginson. "Are you too preoccupied to say whether my verse is alive?", she asked. He wasn't. 

    • 1 hr 12 min
    GREAT BOOKS 31: Truth and Knowledge for Michel Foucault, with Ann Stoler

    GREAT BOOKS 31: Truth and Knowledge for Michel Foucault, with Ann Stoler

    Is "truth" a historical construct? Michel Foucault's work investigates this and other concepts. I spoke with Ann Stoler of NYC's New School for Social Research about Foucault to understand his investigations. How can we think of "truth" as something historically and culturally specific, rather than an absolute, unending value? Stoler's pathbreaking work on the politics of knowledge, colonial governance, racial epistemologies, the sexual politics of empire, and the ethnography of the archives.

    • 1 hr 8 min
    GREAT BOOKS 30: Frighteningly Relevant: Albert Camus's The Plague, with Caroline Weber

    GREAT BOOKS 30: Frighteningly Relevant: Albert Camus's The Plague, with Caroline Weber

    Novel laureate Albert Camus's 1947 novel The Plague is about the human response to extreme circumstances. For a long time the book was read as an allegory of people resisting fascism, but the plague never quite stays only a metaphor. I spoke with Caroline Weber, Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Barnard College to discuss how brilliantly Camus shows the wide range of human responses to extreme conditions, and how literature provides a model for getting through our current crisis.

    • 1 hr 16 min
    GREAT BOOKS 29: Why Read in Dark Times? Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year, with Jenny Davidson

    GREAT BOOKS 29: Why Read in Dark Times? Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year, with Jenny Davidson

    Why read books in dark times? Daniel Defoe, known to most as the author of Robinson Crusoe, published A Journal of the Plague Year in 1722, about the plague that decimated London's population in 1665. The gripping account is presented as a survivor's story who confronts his world being ravaged by an invisible and extremely contagious disease. But Defoe survived the plague as a five-year-old by leaving London. The book he published some fifty years later is a fictional recreation of a period when most certainties and routines held dear by Londoners crumbled around them. Why did people not heed the first warnings and prepare better? How did they behave once the pandemic devastated neighboring parishes? Did the crisis bring out the best in people? And how did Defoe's narrator account for his choice to stay in the city when he had the chance to escape, only to realize that protecting his property was a vain concern when faced with imminent and gruesome death all around him. 
    Why read such a book right now, during the COVID-19 global pandemic? Jenny Davidson, a literary scholar, novelist and extreme athlete, is an expert on Defoe and novels in general. She explained how reading fiction can give us the experience of deepened time destroyed by a 24-hour cycle of catastrophic news, how reading can be an escape into a quieter yet deeper state of mind, and why Defoe's book is not only a brilliant historical document but ushers in the genre of the novel we take for granted today. 
    I personally was inspired and uplifted by this conversation with Jenny, after reading Defoe's Journal twice in a week. The book allowed me to process the jumble of panic, denial, fear, frustration, confusion, anger, sadness, and paralyzing mania that has gripped me for weeks now. By reading Defoe's incredibly vivid description of people's responses to the plague, I could cycle through these responses via another setting, and thus let my brain and heart come to rest for a moment. Jenny explained why reading creates this space of deeper quiet for our mind. 
    We ended the conversation with suggestions of what to read now that so many listeners are in quarantine: books that will let you escape reality without denying it, and give you a sense of being in the world while the world as we know it falls apart around us. 
    Jenny Davidson is a Professor of English and American literature at Columbia University in New York City. A voracious reader, novelist, and brilliant scholar, she is the author of four novels, several books of literary scholarship and an avid blogger. She also competes in ultra-marathons, triathlons, and all sorts of other completely astonishing athletic competitions. 

    • 1 hr 8 min

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