18 episodes

The Cosmic Library explores massive books in order to explore everything else. Here, books that can seem overwhelming—books of dreams, infinity, mysteries—turn out to be intensely accessible, offering so many different ways to read them and think with them. Season one considered Finnegans Wake; in season two, it was 1,001 Nights. Season three, titled Mosaic Mosaic and premiering on April 11, journeys through and beyond the Hebrew Bible.

The Cosmic Library Adam Colman

    • Arts
    • 5.0 • 18 Ratings

The Cosmic Library explores massive books in order to explore everything else. Here, books that can seem overwhelming—books of dreams, infinity, mysteries—turn out to be intensely accessible, offering so many different ways to read them and think with them. Season one considered Finnegans Wake; in season two, it was 1,001 Nights. Season three, titled Mosaic Mosaic and premiering on April 11, journeys through and beyond the Hebrew Bible.

    3.5 You Take It from Here

    3.5 You Take It from Here

    It's not just the contradictions in the Hebrew Bible that puzzle and provoke readers—there are, throughout, passages of intense emotional or moral provocation. See, for instance, Ecclesiastes, which in the King James translation begins:

    Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.

    Ecclesiastes challenges familiar notions of what life is about, notions of meaning or usefulness. You have to respond to something like that. You have to think of your own answer to the book that declares: "There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after." Poetry often poses such challenges that can't be easily explained or resolved, but in return, these challenges might activate the mind. The poet and critic Elisa Gabbert says, "When I'm reading or when I'm writing, I'm just thinking better than I am at any other time." 

    The Hebrew Bible prompts you to figure things out on your own, with particular attention to language. As Peter Cole says: "At the very heart of this text, what do you have? You've got this ultimate transparency and ultimate opacity, which is the name of God, the four-letter name of God, which is unpronounceable, and no one really knows what it means."
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    • 21 min
    3.4 Struggling with Disaster

    3.4 Struggling with Disaster

    From the book of Genesis on, the Hebrew Bible presents a struggle with language: a struggle to establish meaning, to figure out the right uses of words, to understand one's place in the world. The famous early scene of struggle in the Hebrew Bible, Jacob's wrestling match with the divine, goes as follows in the King James translation: 

    Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? 

    As Peter Cole says, "The release from that one struggle, and the blessing, only comes with a knowledge of names." Even this physical wrestling match becomes a matter of language, then.
    Struggles with outright disaster generate language quests, too. Elisa Gabbert elaborates on disaster poetry in this episode, especially on the subject of W.H. Auden's "Musée des Beaux Arts." She says: "It reminds you how much text there is in a poem. It's wild." And she describes a proliferating kind of irony that radiates possibilities in so many directions, to which poetry might grant access.

    Find more from Elisa Gabbert on Auden’s poem here:

    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/03/06/books/auden-musee-des-beaux-arts.html
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    • 21 min
    3.3 Dream Interpretation

    3.3 Dream Interpretation

    Stuck in a lonely motel room, you have a good chance of finding a Bible, left for anyone similarly stuck in a strange interval between days. In this way, it’s yet another night book. The Bible also has famous night scenes, and dream scenes, too: Jacob's dream of angels, Joseph's dream of sheaves of wheat. So this chapter of “Mosaic Mosaic” explores dream interpretation and that foundational dream-interpreter Sigmund Freud, himself a close reader of the Hebrew Bible.

    "Literature guides Freud's thinking all the way through," says Tom DeRose of the Freud Museum in London. And one effect of reading such a literary doctor is a literary, tragic awareness—what DeRose describes as awareness that every effort to "bring things to a better place will inherently contain its own destructiveness within it." 

    Other tensions between contraries exist within the dreams and dream-like passages of the Hebrew Bible. The novelist Joshua Cohen calls the dreams in the Bible "highly demonstrative and overly obvious." He says that "the dreams that are presented are so clear,” which suggests "a way of taming dream space, denying dream space its wildness." On the other hand, the poet Peter Cole finds something like that wildness in the Bible, finds "that porousness of consciousness where the boundary of self is blurred." And so, somehow encountering both blurred boundaries and demonstrative clarity, we’re thinking in this episode of what interpretation can make of it all.
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    • 30 min
    3.2 Laws of Emotion

    3.2 Laws of Emotion

    “We regulate each other’s nervous systems,” says the neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett in this chapter of “Mosaic Mosaic.” “We are the caretakers of each other’s nervous systems.” So feeling—and thinking—and the regulations of law join together; the idea that laws exist apart from our nervous systems, our feelings, doesn’t quite work, in this sense.
    The poet Peter Cole here describes an emotional state associated with the language of rules and ritual in the Hebrew Bible, and in Leviticus particularly. He says, “I was just totally spellbound by the choreography of sacrifice.” And the novelist Joshua Cohen speaks of living law, a kind of vital legal system that emanates beyond the Torah, through commentary and debates ever after.
    Laws, rules, rituals: these, you’ll hear, are all alive with feeling. “Regulation doesn’t mean damping down,” Lisa Feldman Barrett says. “It just means coordinating and making something happen.” Poet and critic Elisa Gabbert describes poetry as “a vibration,” which in a way might match the nervous-system correspondence described by Lisa Feldman Barrett. In literature as in legal regulation, we learn in this chapter, language coordinates responses, and it participates in the merging of thought with emotion.
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    • 39 min
    3.1 Introduction

    3.1 Introduction

    This season, we're rambling through and beyond a book sacred in multiple traditions, a book that keeps generating debate and commentary and tangents. It's the Hebrew Bible, home to Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and his Ark, David and Goliath, and prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel. Here, in a season we're calling "Mosaic Mosaic," it especially prompts conversations about the mysteries of thought and language.

    The novelist Joshua Cohen explains in this episode that the Hebrew Bible poses fundamental questions about language. As he puts it: "Why are there letters, actually? Why do the letters form words? This is the most basic question of the Bible." There, language makes things happen on a grand scale. God creates the world by language, by declarations: "let there be light"—Cohen mentions the idea that "one could create life through the combination of letters." And in the Bible, after Adam comes to life, he gives names to things and thereby begins exploration of the world by language. Here's Robert Alter's translation of that scene in Genesis: 

    And the LORD God fashioned from the soil each beast of the field and each fowl of the heavens and brought each to the human to see what he would call it, and whatever the human called a living creature, that was its name. 

    The poet, translator, and MacArthur genius Peter Cole speaks of "the burden of the Bible," which he calls a "pain in the desk chair"; yet he adds that "everything is somehow in it, but only if you use it as a tool for reflection, or a prism, so that both you and the world end up in its pages somehow, refracted by the text." The written word can align past and present, or antiquity with you, the contemporary reader, and some sort of harmony might occasionally result. (Elisa Gabbert, speaking of poetry generally, describes in this show the experience of encountering a text that "feels like how you're feeling.")

    At the end of our last season, on 1,001 Nights, radio host Hearty White recounted this realization: "When you're talking about Bible stories, you're not talking about Bible stories at all. It's an excuse to talk about other things. It's just a jumping off point." Along those lines: this season, we're starting with the Bible and jumping into explorations of language, the mind, emotions, and more. 
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    • 32 min
    Season 3 Trailer: Introducing Mosaic Mosaic

    Season 3 Trailer: Introducing Mosaic Mosaic

    The Cosmic Library explores massive books in order to explore everything else. Here, books that can seem overwhelming—books of dreams, infinity, mysteries—turn out to be intensely accessible, offering so many different ways to read them and think with them. Season one considered Finnegans Wake; in season two, it was 1,001 Nights. Season three, titled Mosaic Mosaic and premiering on April 11, journeys through and beyond the Hebrew Bible. 

    Guests for season three include: Peter Cole, the poet and MacArthur genius whose new book Draw Me After will be out this fall; Elisa Gabbert, poet and poetry columnist with the New York Times–her latest book is Normal Distance; Lisa Feldman Barrett, psychologist, neuroscientist, and author of books including How Emotions Are Made; Tom DeRose, curator at the Freud Museum in London; and Joshua Cohen, the novelist whose books include Book of Numbers. 
     
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    • 3 min

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5
18 Ratings

18 Ratings

Cisco Bananas ,

Is a podcast about Finnegan’s Wake listenable?

A joyous yes! As a reader, I’ve always stood timorously before the literary Everest that is Finnegan’s Wake. Unsure whether my past reading experiences had sufficiently prepared me, I could neither begin the ascent nor put aside the desire to make the climb. After listening to the first episode of F&F, I finally feel up to the challenge. My newly found confidence stems from the fact that the deeply-skilled host Adam Colman will be the one leading the Everest expedition. Onwards, ever onwards!

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