142 episodes

High Theory is a produced and edited by Kim Adams and Saronik Bosu, two tired academics trying to save critique from itself, along with two amazing collaborators, Júlia Irion Martins and Nathan Kim. In this podcast, we get high on the substance of theory, and we try to explain difficult ideas from the academy with irreverence. You can learn more about us on our website, or find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

High Theory High Theory

    • Society & Culture
    • 5.0 • 23 Ratings

High Theory is a produced and edited by Kim Adams and Saronik Bosu, two tired academics trying to save critique from itself, along with two amazing collaborators, Júlia Irion Martins and Nathan Kim. In this podcast, we get high on the substance of theory, and we try to explain difficult ideas from the academy with irreverence. You can learn more about us on our website, or find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.



    In this episode of High Theory, Mackenzie Cooley talks about animals. The animal lies at the center of science and the human, from imperial conquest and Enlightenment thought to the creatures on our dinner plates and beside us at the table. The practices of animal breeding and the politics of making life are, in Mackenzie’s account, key to understanding the history of race as a concept and term that emerged in the Early Modern World.
    For more animal encounters, check out her book The Perfection of Nature: Animals, Breeding, and Race in the Renaissance (Chicago UP, 2022). In it, Italian horses and Mexican dogs provide examples of controlled breeding before eugenics, helping us see how human difference was understood in the colonial encounter, and illuminate undertheorized notions of generation and its discontents in the more-than-human world.
    Tag dog and Bartolomé the cat sometimes participate in the making of High Theory, but the podcast is not necessarily pitched to non-human ears. If you want radio for animals, listen to Bad Animals on WFMU.
    Mackenzie Cooley is Assistant Professor of History, Director of Latin American Studies at Hamilton College. She is an intellectual historian who studies the uses, abuses, and understandings of the natural world in early modern science and medicine. And she has two Newfoundland dogs.
    The image accompanying this episode is a painting of a Newfoundland Dog by Charles Henry Schwanfelder (1812), from the collection of Temple Newsam House, Leeds Museums and Galleries.
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    • 18 min


    We often misuse the word melodrama with abandon, especially to characterize other people’s behaviors, but Greg Vargo defines it for us once and for all. Emerging in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as the predominant Western theatrical form, it is a genre of crisis. To that end, it employed hyperbolic language, extreme situations, extraordinary coincidences, stark oppositions and so on. Greg talks about his own ongoing work on melodramas about race, their histories of performance, and the storied career of the African American actor Ira Aldridge.
    Greg Vargo is Associate Professor at the Department of English, New York University. His research focuses on the literary and cultural milieu of nineteenth-century British protest movements and the interplay between politics, periodical culture, the novel and theater. His first book, An Underground History of Early Victorian Fiction: Chartism, Radical Print Culture, and the Social Problem Novel (Cambridge UP, 2018), won the 2019 North American Victorian Studies Association’s award for best book of the year in Victorian Studies. He has recently edited Chartist Drama (Manchester UP, 2020), a collection of four plays written or performed by members of the working-class movement for social and political rights known as Chartism. A new project focuses on anti-imperialism in nineteenth-century popular culture (across such media as penny novels and stage melodrama) as well as in radical politics.
    Image: © 2024 Saronik Bosu
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    • 22 min
    Close Reading

    Close Reading

    In this episode of High Theory, Jonathan Kramnick talks about Close Reading. Contrary to the name, it is less a form of slow or focused reading than an immersive practice of writing. The classic methodology of New Criticism has become, in Kramnick’s estimation, the shared foundation of literary studies in the university.
    Our conversation was inspired by Jonathan’s new book, Criticism and Truth: On Method in Literary Studies (Chicago, 2023). In the book he aims to “present a view of literary criticism as it is practiced across the academy in order to defend its standing as a contribution to knowledge” (vii). His defense of this foundational critical method joins a slate of recent metacritical books on the discipline of literary study, and the state of the humanities today.
    Jonathan Kramnick is the Maynard Mack Professor of English at Yale University. His research and teaching are in eighteenth-century literature and philosophy, foundations of literary theory and criticism, and interdisciplinary approaches to the arts. His prior publications include Paper Minds: Literature and the Ecology of Consciousness (Chicago, 2018), Actions and Objects from Hobbes to Richardson (Stanford, 2010), and Making the English Canon: Print Capitalism and the Cultural Past, 1700-1770 (Cambridge, 1999). His current book project on Alexander Pope, William Cowper, and the poetics of designed environments is titled Earthworks: Two Before Romanticism. He is also director of the Lewis Walpole Library and the editor (with Steven Pincus) of the Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History for Yale University Press.
    The image accompanying this episode was drawn by Saronik Bosu in 2024.
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    • 15 min


    In this episode of High Theory, Matt Seybold tells us about Criticism, the glue that holds the bricks of culture together. Cultural critics are a necessary component of the intellectual ecosystem, who have the power to analyze both the material conditions and the myths that make up our world.
    Matt is the host of the American Vandal Podcast at the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College. In his recent podcast series, Criticism, LTD, Matt investigated the state of criticism in the academy and the public sphere. There is a nifty substack newsletter with the transcripts from Criticism, LTD, if you’re keen. Kim and Saronik were among the many podcasters, public intellectuals, and critics that Matt interviewed for the series, and we’re excited to have him back on High Theory to tell us about his investigations.
    In the episode he offers a recuperative reading of Mark Twain’s acerbic take on critics in his late notebooks: “The critic’s symbol should be the tumble-bug; he deposits his egg in somebody else’s dung, otherwise he could not hatch it.” (see p. 392 of this Harper & Brothers, 1935 edition of Twain’s Collected Works, on archive.org). He references Jacques Derrida’s book, Limited Inc (Northwestern UP, 1988), which contains the *famous* essay “Signature, Event, Context” and a critical debate about Apartheid. And he also discusses Jed Esty’s Future of Decline: Anglo-American Culture at Its Limits (Stanford UP, 2022) and our episode with Jed on the Rhetoric of Decline. You can also take a listen back to Matt’s earlier episode with us on Economics.
    Matt Seybold is Associate Professor of American Literature & Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, as well as Resident Scholar at the Center For Mark Twain Studies. He is the executive producer and host of the American Vandal Podcast, and founding editor of MarkTwainStudies.org. He is co-editor (with Michelle Chihara) of of the Routledge Companion to Literature & Economics (2018)and (with Gordon Hutner) a 2019 special issue of American Literary History on “Economics & Literary Studies in The New Gilded Age.” Recent articles can be found in the Mark Twain Annual, American Studies, Reception, and Los Angeles Review of Books. He tweets (or exes?) @MEASeybold.
    The image for this episode was made by Saronik Bosu in 2024.
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    • 21 min


    In this special episode of High Theory, Ramsés Martínez Barquero and Abigail Cowan interview their graduate student colleagues about teaching. They turn our attention to graduate study as one of the foundational aspects in building academic knowledge, and show us graduate instructors encountering the classroom as a learning environment for teachers and students. Abigail and Ramses recorded interviews with eight fellow graduate students in a story circle they held at the PennState Humanities Institute as part of their Public Humanities Fellowship program. The episode weaves together stories of anxiety and humor, pushing against self doubt, and finding community while pursuing graduate studies.
    Ramsés Martínez Barquero is a M.A/PhD student in the Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.
    Abigail Cowan is a graduate student for the Department of English and a teaching assistant for English and Comparative Literature.
    Kristina Bowers is a PhD student at Penn State University studying Rhetoric and Composition and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.
    Vani Gupta is a doctoral student in the HDFS Department at Penn State University.
    Ash Mayes is a master's student in the English department.
    Ana Sofía Semo is a second-year graduate student in the Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, and now she teaches Spanish 2 in the Spanish Basic Language Program.
    María José Andrade Gabiño is a Ph.D. student in the Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese Department.
    Alex Mika is a second-year PhD student in the Penn State English Department studying Shakespeare's cultural legacy via literary, cinematic, and dramatic adaptations of his works.
    The image for this episode was made by Saronik Bosu in 2024.
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    • 19 min


    In this episode of High Theory, Pardis Dabashi tells us about plot. A plot consists of a change with stakes that establish norms. This seemingly simple structure shapes novels, films, politics, and our world, from easy seductions of comfort to difficult promises of liberation.
    In the episode, Pardis references Thomas Edison’s 1903 film, Electrocuting an Elephant, which is super sad, and kind of terrifying, but an economical explanation of plot. She also discusses Max Ophüls’s 1953 film, The Earrings of Madame de... as an example of a film with a potentially liberatory plot. We recommend you watch the latter, not the former. Other texts referenced in this episode include Mary Anne Doane’s The Emergence of Cinematic Time (Harvard, 2002) and Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism (Duke, 2011) and Female Complaint (Duke, 2008).
    The occasion for our conversation was Pardis’s new book, Losing the Plot: Film and Feeling in the Modern Novel (U Chicago Press, 2023). If you’d like to get yourself a copy there’s a 30% discount on the University of Chicago Press website with the promo code UCPNEW. It’s a book about film and literary modernism, including the work of Nella Larsen, Djuna Barnes, and William Faulkner. The cover is really beautiful, and it’s definitely worth a read if you’re interested in either of the genres it addresses.
    Pardis Dabashi is an Assistant Professor of Literatures in English and Film Studies at Bryn Mawr College, where she is also Affiliated Faculty in the Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and North African Studies Program (MECANA). She has published everywhere, and is friends with everyone! She teaches courses in twentieth-century literature, film studies, Middle East studies, and theory. She was also one of the first guests on High Theory! You can listen to her 2020 episode on The Autonomous Work of Art if you’re feeling a flashback.
    The image for this episode is a publicity still from George Cukor’s 1936 MGM film Camille, showing Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor in a tense embrace. Digital image from Wikimedia Commons.
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    • 18 min

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5
23 Ratings

23 Ratings

roryandclara ,

So helpful!

I am new to the podcast and already grateful for several things: 1) tight editing means each episode is packed with solid content 2) variety of topics helps orient me to new discussions and fields 3) fun and passionate hosts and guests!

Hippeaux ,

Theory Is Fun

By engaging scholars who are enthusiastic about their favorite concepts, this pod manages to make ideas that might otherwise seem ephemeral and abstract into conversations that are accessible and entertaining. Great premise, well executed.

Christiansico ,

A funny and warm take on theory

Kim and Saronik have created a kind and open podcast that allows the listener, whether they are versed in many of these concepts or not, to understand complex ideas in a fun and digestible format.

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