91 episodes

Free-ranging discussion of books from the past that cast a sideways light on today's world.

Recall This Book Elizabeth Ferry and John Plotz

    • Arts
    • 4.7 ‱ 26 Ratings

Free-ranging discussion of books from the past that cast a sideways light on today's world.

    86 Dana Stevens on Buster Keaton (JP EF)

    86 Dana Stevens on Buster Keaton (JP EF)

    Dana Stevens joins Elizabeth and John to discuss Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema and the Invention of the Twentieth Century. Her fantastic new book serves as occasion to revel in the work and working world of Buster Keaton, that "solemn, beautiful, perpetually airborne man."
    Although packed with fascinating tidbits from Keaton's life, Camera Man is much more than just a biography. It performs its own airborne magic, lightly traversing topics like the crackdown on the use of children in vaudeville, the fluidity of roles before and behind the camera in early Hollywood and the doors that were briefly (ever so briefly) opened for female directors. Among other treats, Dana unpacks one of Keaton's early great "two-reelers" One Week ( a spoof of brisk upbeat industrial films) and his parodic "burlesques" e.g. of Lillian Gish.
    People, Films, Books and Ideas in the conversation include:
    Roscoe ("Fatty") Arbuckle: got Keaton his start in early films like Butcher Boy, reportedly filmed the day Keaton first stepped onto a set. He said "Buster lived inside the camera."
    "Cinema of Attractions." a phrase coined by film historian Tom Gunning to describe the way the early years of cinema (1895 to 1913, more or less) achieved success by way of gags, stunts, special effects and other dazzling technological innovations--rather than plot or character development,.
    John and Dana rave about Keaton's last great film (age 33!), The Cameraman (1928) and deprecate the later silents (with a silent caveat for the pancake scene Grand Slam Opera).
    Mabel Normand: Arbuckle's longtime collaborator and briefly a rising director--Charlie Chaplin kneecapped her at a crucial moment in her career. Dana singles out for special praise Fatty and Mabel Adrift (1916) starring Luke, the first canine movie star.
    Singing in the Rain as a MGM-friendly myth-making explanation for Clara Bow's eclipse (and the famous vocal failure moment: "I can't stand 'im")
    Steamboat Bill Jr. ( 1928, Buster Keaton feature) "Keaton's most mature movie" says Dana.
    Read the transcript here.
    ï»żElizabeth Ferry is Professor of Anthropology at Brandeis University. Email: ferry@brandeis.edu. John Plotz is Barbara Mandel Professor of the Humanities at Brandeis University and co-founder of the Brandeis Educational Justice Initiative. Email: plotz@brandeis.edu.
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 42 min
    85* Pu Wang and John Plotz Look Back on their Cixin Liu Interview

    85* Pu Wang and John Plotz Look Back on their Cixin Liu Interview

    Our first August rebroadcast was John and Pu's 2019 interview with SF superstar Cixin Liu (you may want to re-listen to that episode before this one!). Here, they reflect on the most significant things that Liu had said, and to ponder the political situation for contemporary Chinese writers who come to the West to discuss their work.
    They consider whether our world is like a cabinet in a basement, and what kind of optimism or pessimism might be available to science fiction writers. They compare the interview to a recent profile of Liu in The New Yorker, and ponder the advantages and disadvantages of pressing writers to weigh in on the hot-button topics of the day.
    Discussed in this episode:

    Cixin Liu, The Three Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death’s End


    Jiayang Fan, “Liu Cixin’s War of the Worlds” (New Yorker interview/profile)

    Yuri Slezkine, The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution


    Isaac Asimov, The End of Eternity


    George Melies (dir.), A Voyage to the Moon


    Fritz Lang (dir.), Metropolis


    Frant Gwo (dir.), The Wandering Earth


    Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov



    Transcript available here.
    Elizabeth Ferry is Professor of Anthropology at Brandeis University. Email: ferry@brandeis.edu. John Plotz is Barbara Mandel Professor of the Humanities at Brandeis University and co-founder of the Brandeis Educational Justice Initiative. Email: plotz@brandeis.edu.
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 31 min
    84* Cixin Liu Talks About Science Fiction (JP, Pu Wang)

    84* Cixin Liu Talks About Science Fiction (JP, Pu Wang)

    John and Pu Wang, a Brandeis professor of Chinese literature, spoke with science-fiction genius Cixin Liu back in 2019. His most celebrated works include The Three Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death’s End.
    When he visited Brandeis to receive an honorary degree, Liu paid a visit to the RTB lair to record this interview. Liu spoke in Chinese and Pu translated his remarks in this English version of the interview (the original Chinese conversation is atÂ ćˆ˜æ…ˆæŹŁèźżè°ˆäž­æ–‡ç‰ˆ Episode 14c).
    Mr. Liu, flanked by John and Pu (photo: Claire Ogden)
    They discuss the evolution of Mr. Liu’s science fiction fandom, and the powerful influence of Leo Tolstoy on Mr. Liu’s work, which leads to a consideration of realism and its relationship to science fiction. Science fiction is also compared and contrasted with myth, mathematics, and technology.
    Lastly, they consider translation, and the special capacity that science fiction has to emerge through the translation process relatively unscathed. This is a testament to science fiction’s taking as its subject the affairs of the whole human community–compared to the valuable but distinctly Chinese concerns of Mo Yan, or the distinctly Russian concerns of Tolstoy.
    Discussed in This Episode:

    Cixin Liu, The Three Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death’s End


    Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace


    Stanley Kubrick (dir.), 2001: A Space Odyssey


    E.M. Forster, “The Machine Stops“

    Mo Yan, Red Sorghum


    Read the transcript here
    ï»żElizabeth Ferry is Professor of Anthropology at Brandeis University. Email: ferry@brandeis.edu. John Plotz is Barbara Mandel Professor of the Humanities at Brandeis University and co-founder of the Brandeis Educational Justice Initiative. Email: plotz@brandeis.edu.
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 50 min
    83* Elizabeth Ferry and John Plotz on Zadie Smith

    83* Elizabeth Ferry and John Plotz on Zadie Smith

    John and Elizabeth look back at Recall This Book’s 2019 conversation with Zadie Smith, so you may want to listen to that again before proceeding. Elizabeth and John try their best to unpack Zadie Smith’s take on sincerity, authenticity and human sacredness; the “golden ticket” dirty secret behind our hypocritical academic meritocracy; surveillance capitalism as the “biggest capital grab of human experience in history;” and her genealogy of the novel. If we had to sum the day up with a few adjectives: funny, provocative, resplendent, chill, generous, cantankerous.
    Discussed in this episode:

    Tony Judt, Postwar


    Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy


    Nicholas Lehmann, The Big Test


    Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge


    Doris Lessing The Fifth Child


    Muriel Spark, The Girls of Slender Means


    Stephen McCauley (with JP on RTB) Barbara Pym and the Comic Novel


    Hilary Mantel, Beyond Black (and others
)

    Joseph O’Neill, Netherland


    J. P. Toussaint, The Bathroom


    Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader, A Room of One’s Own, “Moments of Being”


    Philip Roth, The Counterlife, Exit Ghost


    ï»ż
    You can read the transcript here:
    RTB 15x Ferry and Plotz on ZS
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 27 min
    82* Zadie Smith in Focus (JP)

    82* Zadie Smith in Focus (JP)

    In this 2019 episode, John interviews the celebrated British writer Zadie Smith. The conversation quickly moves through Brexit (oh, the inhumanity!) and what it means to be a London–no, a Northwest London–writer before arriving at her case against identity politics. That case is bolstered by a discussion of Hannah Arendt on the difference between who and what a person is.
    Zadie and John also touch on the purpose of criticism and why it gets harder to hate as you (middle) age. She reveals an affection for “talkies” (as a “90’s kid,” she can’t help her fondness for Quentin Tarantino); asks whether young novelists in England need to write a book about Henry VIII just to break into bookstores; hears Hegel talking to Kierkegaard, and Jane Austen failing to talk to Jean Genet. Lastly, in Recallable Books, Zadie recommends Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s The Bathroom.
    Transcript of the episode here.
    Mentioned:

    Zadie Smith, White Teeth, NW, Swing Time, “Two Paths for the Novel” “Embassy of Cambodia,” Joni Mitchell: Some Notes on Attunement” “Zadie Smith on J G Ballard’s Crash“

    Willa Cather, Song of the Lark (1915, revised 1932)

    Elif Batuman, The Idiot


    Charlotte Bronte, The Professor and Villette


    George Eliot, Middlemarch


    Pauline Kael, various film reviews


    Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time
In Hollywood


    Ursula Le Guin, “The Story’s Where I Go: An Interview”


    Doris Lessing, The Fifth Child


    Hilary Mantel, Beyond Black and Wolf Hall


    Dexter Filkins, “The Moral Logic of Humanitarian Intervention” (on Samantha Power)

    Patti Smith, Just Kids


    Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge, Olive Again


    Gary Winick (dir.), Thirteen Going on Thirty (starring Jennifer Garner, not Anne Hathaway)

    Sally Rooney, Normal People


    Toyin Ojih Odutola

    Matthew Lopez, The Inheritance


    Jean-Philippe Toussaint, The Bathroom


    ï»ż
    ï»żElizabeth Ferry is Professor of Anthropology at Brandeis University. Email: ferry@brandeis.edu. John Plotz is Barbara Mandel Professor of the Humanities at Brandeis University and co-founder of the Brandeis Educational Justice Initiative. Email: plotz@brandeis.edu.
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 54 min
    81* David Ferry, Roger Reeves, and the Underworld

    81* David Ferry, Roger Reeves, and the Underworld

    Since the original airing of this episode in June 2021, Roger Reeves' second book Best Barbarian was published by W. W. Norton, and the paperback edition of David Ferry's translation of The Aeneid was published by the University of Chicago Press.
    The underworld, that repository of the Shades of the Dead, gets a lot of traffic from heroes (Gilgamesh, Theseus, Odysseus, Aeneas) and poets (Orpheus, Virgil, Dante). Some come down for information or in hopes of rescuing or just seeing their loved ones, or perhaps for a sense of comfort in their grief. They often find those they have loved, but they rarely can bring them back. Comfort they never find, at least not in any easy way.
    In conversation with Elizabeth for this episode of Recall this Book, originally broadcast back in 2021, poets Roger Reeves and David Ferry join the procession through the underworld, each one leading the other. They talk about David’s poem Resemblance, in which he sees his father, whose grave he just visited, eating in the corner of a small New Jersey restaurant and “listening to a conversation/With two or three others—Shades of the Dead come back/From where they went to when they went away?”
    Roger reads “Grendel’s Mother,” in which the worlds of Grendel and Orpheus and George Floyd coexist but do not resemble each other, and where Grendel’s mother hears her dying son and refuses the heaven he might be called to, since entering it means he’d have to die.
    Mentioned in this episode

    David Ferry, Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations, University of Chicago Press

    Virgil, The Aeneid, translated by David Ferry, University of Chicago Press

    Roger Reeves, King Me, Copper Canyon Press

    Jonathan Culler, Theory of the Lyric , Harvard University Press.


    Read transcript of the episode here.
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 47 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
26 Ratings

26 Ratings

jj_review ,

👏

I discovered the podcast after listenting to the episode with Christine Desan... what an amazing program !! Thank you for these amazing conversations and for the exciting resources attached to each episode.

uhhfdrry ,

Great interviews with authors & other creators

The conversations are lively, erudite, and smart!

current highschool teacher ,

Brilliant pod about arts and letters

This is a great podcast on arts and letters with conversations as wide-ranging as they are intellectually rich. Highly, highly recommended!

Top Podcasts In Arts

NPR
The Moth
Roman Mars
The New York Times
Snap Judgment and PRX
Rusty Quill

You Might Also Like

Longform
WNYC Studios and The New Yorker
Death Panel
Slate Podcasts
This American Life
WNYC Studios and The New Yorker