What connects Langston Hughes to Hong Kong, Malcolm X to Mecca, and Syrian merchants to the 9/11 memorial? In this episode, English professor Wai Chee Dimock shows us how to read quintessentially American writers from an international perspective. From this angle, major American concerns like race and money start to look a little different.
The idea of putting spaces between written words didn’t develop until thousands of years after writing itself was invented. Before then, even literate people could only recognize words by reading aloud. And since then, we’ve read aloud for many different reasons. Our guest Roger Chartier walks us through a few of the most interesting — from raucous Shakespearean theaters to railway passengers cozying up with strangers to listen to a novel.
During the Renaissance, a writer could be imprisoned just for claiming that a husband beating his wife should show mercy. It wasn’t that the authorities wanted merciless wife-beatings. The issue was that they understood criticism of a tyrannical husband as criticism of a tyrannical king. English professor Julie Crawford explains how power relations within the home have underpinned political thinking for many centuries.
What happens when we apply today’s ideas about social networks back onto literature of the past? It’s easy to think of these networks as a new feature of 21st century life — but our guest Paul Saint-Amour argues that earlier novels also had a profound understanding of how information travels.
Our guest Heather Love is out to convince us of the value of description — yep, plain old description. In our conversation today, she argues that description has gotten a bad reputation in literary studies.
We live in a world with a long history of atrocity — from the colonization of the Americas to the Japanese massacre at Nanking. Our guest Bruce Robbins is curious about how these past atrocities show up in novels. In our conversation today, he focuses on how the novel plays with time. By paying attention to these shifting timelines, Bruce suggests that readers can begin to imagine a more just future.
Sometimes it pays to zoom in. Today, we focus on some opening sentences which reward close attention. Our guest is Jenny Davidson — an English professor who’s also a novelist herself. She shows us how these carefully-crafted opening sentences can orient, intrigue or even mislead us.