Interviews from a multicultural perspective that question the way we understand America
SETI – Dr. Seth Shostak – Searching for E.T.
Back in America is a podcast exploring America’s culture, values, and identity. This conversation was recorded live on September 17. You can watch the unedited version on our Youtube channel.
Listen to this episode to learn more about the release of the Pentagon report on UFOs to Congress. The importance of cosmos exploration. The chances of finding extraterrestrial life in our lifetime.
After taking a long summer break during which my intern Josh Wagner took over Back in America with his excellent series Poetism I am happy to be back behind the mic.
My guest, Seth Shostak is a Doctor in Astronomy, and an Alien Hunter working with the SETI Institute, a research organization whose mission is to explore, understand, and explain the origin and nature of life in the universe. In fact, SETI stands for the "search for extraterrestrial intelligence". He has published more than 400 articles on science including regular contributions to NBC News MACH, gives many dozens of talks annually, and is the host of the SETI Institute’s weekly science radio show, “Big Picture Science.”
During our conversation, he said, “The equipment is getting faster and faster. We're looking at more and more of the universe. And on that basis that I've bet everyone a cup of Starbucks coffee, that we will find some evidence that we're not alone by 2035.
The SETI Institute https://www.seti.org/
Dr. Soth Shostak http://sethshostak.com/
The Big Picture Science Podcast https://radio.seti.org/
Poetism Part 7: Can you describe it all? Scott Stevens on the Cocteau Twins & Brigit Pegeen Kelly
If the particular cannot be repeated, it remains forever lost; and this is why there can be no ﬁnal closure to mourning. There can only be, alongside of mourning, learning to love new particulars ––Louise Fradenburg
In this week’s installment of “Poetism,” we’d like to ask about how words, poems, songs, and other kinds of art objects help bring life to a world. And by world, we mean a perspective, something experienced and understood in the innermost part of our being. Whether faced by inner solitude or loss, words attempt to communicate a state of affairs. But do they have to? Is there a way of placing listeners and readers directly into an experience without only describing it? Are there more direct ways of touching or “worlding” or elegizing? Or, in the words of this week’s poet, a moment: “Stands, the way a status / does in the mind.
Perhaps! And it is in this great abyss of a perhaps that this episode takes off. Our working theory is that the sonic qualities of words, and of language in general, can help transmit moods and sensations without the need for specific meanings. To ask such questions, Josh is joined by his college roommate Scott Stevens, a recent English graduate of Stanford University (and incoming Fulbright Scholar) who also speaks in Japanese and French. And, in the course of their dialogue, Scott they are assisted by the Cocteau Twins’ 1984 track “Amelia” off of Treasure as well as Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s “Field Song” from the collection Song (1995).
Over the course of their conversation, Scott and Josh touch upon the uniqueness of sound as a medium of communication, their difficulties of listening to the lyrics of a song, and poetry’s collective oral tradition.
For more Poetism, stay tuned for next week’s two-part series finale on Rachel McKibbins, blackface, and FKA twigs.
Poetism Part 6: Can you experience? Michael Leon Thomas on Whitehead and Pharoah Sanders
The sullen murmur of the bees shouldering their way through the long unmown grass, or circling with monotonous insistence round the dusty gilt horns of the straggling woodbine, seemed to make the stillness more oppressive. The dim roar of London was like the bourdon note of a distant organ.
These lines, from the opening pages of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, emphasize unseen background noises as constituting an environment. The bees, working through the grass, create the biological condition of possibility for nature and the world, especially in their unseen state. And, so too, does the roar of London create the background chatter that allows the plot of the novel to take off. In this week’s installment of Poetism, we’d like to ask a similar question about our own age: what is the background noise that has made all this––society, labor, world–– possible?
Michael Leon Thomas, a professor of philosophy at Susquehanna University, joins Josh in the studio to tackle the vicissitudes and interisies of Alfred North Whitehead’s conception of philosophy alongside Pharoah Sanders’ 1973 album Izipho Zam, particularly the 28-minute titular track which closes the album. For Whitehead, a worldview is always in the process of emerging, and our language needs to follow suit. A reformed logician, Whitehead balks against a wholly systematic view of philosophy, suggesting that it is in the gaps, silences, and wetness of philosophy that something happens.
And to figure out what this something might be, we turn to Pharoah Sanders’ enigmatic, if expansive, composition which traverses through various languages, instruments, and cosmologies. The bandleader himself cannot be heard until the last third of the track, creating and leaving space (a society?) in which music creation can happen. In other words, it’s a slow reconditioning process.
Along the way, Michael and I talk about why he’s decided to spend his life with philosophy, how experience feeds into our listening habits, the postcolony of American, and why philosophy might have more in common with poetry than one might assume.
To read more about Michael’s work on music, check out an interview in Aesthetics with Birds.
Here is the 2016 Pharoah Sanders performance mentioned in the episode.
For Poetism, stay tuned for next week’s episode on Brigit Pegeen Kelly and the Cocteau Twins with Scott Stevens
Poetism Part 5: Can you speak for others? Lorenzo Bartolucci on Seamus Heaney and Hozier
Across Northern Europe, so-called “bog people” have often been discovered shuffling around in the peat. While no one is quite certain where these quasi-mummified bodies come from––some date as recently as the 1940s––they have posed a strange mystery for countless poets and artists.
This week, Back in America’s Poetism team takes a look at one of Seamus Heaney’s bog-inspired poems “The Bog Queen” from his 1975 collection North. Written in the spring of the May 1968 movement and the beginning of the Irish “Troubles,” “The Bog Queen” ventriloquizes the voice of its eponymous queen, pretending to experience underground life before her eventual discovery.
In 2014, Irish musician Hozier released a setting of the poem, “Like Real People Do, ”removing many explicit references to Heaney himself, while keeping the ethos of the poem. For Hozier, the relationship of the fallen queen to her discoverer is one of love, even if from afar. Is it possible to love those who we will never meet? Can such a love be anything more than one-sided or wonderfully ironic?
To explore these questions, Stanford graduate student Lorenzo Bartolucci joins Josh in the studio to offer his take on love, Heaney, bog bodies, and American-ness itself.
If you’re enjoying this summer series, stay tuned for next week’s installment, featuring Susquehanna Philosophy Professor Michael Leon Thomas and the works of Alfred North Whitehead and Pharoah Sanders.
Poetism 4: Can you break a word? Gabriel Ellis on SOPHIE and Jos Charles
Who would I show it to
In this short one-line poem, W.S. Merwin condenses the anguish of loss, of being alive, and of the limitations of languages into a neat little package. Why write in the absence of finality? And what happens when mortality catches up with us?
In this installment of Poetism, Podcast Editor Josh Wagner takes to the studio to ask about the honesty of writing––can writing ever reflect a true impression of reality? To field such questions about life, poetry, and everything in between, Stanford graduate student Gabriel Ellis takes the mic. Studying musicology, Gabriel focuses on contemporary pop music, and especially what he terms “anaesthetics,” music that describes, induces, or creates a sense of narcotic escape.
Our conversation loosely tracks Gabriel’s musical career before turning to Jos Charles’ 2018 poetry collection feeld, which he reads in a faux-Chaucerian accent: “i care so much abot the whord i cant reed.” Then, we talk about the late SOPHIE’s 2018 track “Immaterial” off of Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides to explore a sonic tapestry of vibe.
Stay tuned at your dials for next week’s episode of Poetism, featuring dead Irish myths, Seamus Heany, Hozier, and more Stanford friends!
Note: Both Charles and SOPHIE identify as trans and use she/them pronouns, so we use both interchangeably.
Poetism 3: Can You Feel It? Johnnie Hobbs on D’Angelo and Amiri Baraka
She listen to a little of that D’Angelo music, some love’s melody, sophisticated-type rap, which she say sounds more like real music, like intelligent music, than some of that other music, then she cuts the radio off ––Gayl Jones, The Healing
Like the narrator in Gayl Jones’ The Healing, this week’s installment of Poetism focuses on and around “black music,” that is music which conveys a specific feeling of a sensation or time without explaining anything. For me, it’s like being a child at an adult’s card table; no one tells you how the game works, you have to learn by being attentive and tuning into the tricks at hand. But the joy is in the puzzle, almost as much as in the rules of the game.
When his producer tried to market his serpentine music as “neo-soul,” D’Angelo rejected that moniker for the more expressive and expansive “black music.” There’s history and respect in his 2014 collaboration with the Vanguard, “Black Messiah,” but also affection, nostalgia, and rage. In scholar D’Angelo’s own words, “it’s all about capturing the spirit. It’s all about capturing the vibe. I’m kinda a first take dude.”
To tackle such questions of lineage and history, actor and tap dance instructor Johnnie Hobbs joins me in this week’s episode. Our conversation starts with Johnnie’s own background and love for films––especially the rare period piece that displays the mundane. As Sumana Roy and Xander Manshel have noted, it’s rare for art made by people of color about the everyday to be accepted by mainstream culture. The vast majority of literary awards given to writers of color are for historical novels which focus on their ethnic identities. To be taught within the university, Indian novels need to be about what it means to be a postcolonial subject;––it’s uncommon to see a novel about one’s dreams of becoming a famous poet, midnight walks, and family fights.
And Johnnie has developed his own test to see whether a historical film can do more than just showcase violence against Black bodies. In the final minutes of the podcast, we turn towards Amiri Baraka’s “Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note” (1961) to unpack it’s own relationship to Black suffering and its future(s).
Stay tuned for next week’s episode on bubblegum pop and Old English verse in Jos Charles’ feeld (2018) and SOPHIE’s “Immaterial” (2018)––guided by anesthetic wizard Gabriel Ellis, who you might remember from his cameo in last week’s installment.
Are we at the end of our world?
Very thought provoking interview of Derrick Jenssen, Green Resistance! How small minded are we compared to the splendor of the nature and wilderness capable of wonders of adaptation such as the shark’s skin? Why do we consider creative art more art than natural sights like a wonderful light or landscape ? Thanks Stan for bringing quietly some revolutionary idea to our daily life
Amazing podcast !
Thanks a lot Stan for another very nice BIA podcast with Tricia. You have approached a very sensitive and emotional topic with humility and great listening ! Tricia, thank you so much for sharing your story.
Thank you Stan for the opportunity to share my story and my little dog Miki!