There’s more to a book than what’s written on its pages: a book can change the world. In each episode of Writ Large, host Zachary Davis talks with one of the world’s leading scholars about one book that shaped the world we live in—whether you’ve heard of it or not. These conversations go beyond the plot summaries to unpack each book’s context and creation, and reveal its lasting influence on the ideas of today. Learn more at writlarge.fm
33:27Perhaps more than any other book, Ulysses has the reputation of being difficult—it is dense, allusive, and often hard to follow. But Joyce wasn’t trying to be challenging for its own sake, or because he sadistically wanted to punish future students assigned his book. Quite the contrary. With Ulysses, Joyce wanted to explore and convey what it is to be alive. And just like his book, life is difficult and confusing, but also thrilling and joyful. Catherine Flynn is Associate Professor, Affiliate of the Program in Critical Theory, Director of Berkeley Connect in English, and Director of Irish Studies at the University of California Berkeley. She is the author of James Joyce and the Matter of Paris. See more information on our website, WritLarge.fm. Follow us on Twitter @WritLargePod.
The Legitimacy of the Modern Age
32:08Those of us living today generally think of ourselves as modern, that we live in modern times, and that we are very different from the people of the past. But there is an important thing that we share with all humans who have come before—we ask ourselves big, hard questions about life, questions like how we should live and why the world is so full of suffering. Each era comes up with answers to these questions. And although sometimes the answers last a long time, they are never permanent. As times change, people demand new answers. In his 1966 book The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, German philosopher Hans Blumenberg explores the evolution of humanity's answers to our perennial questions. Martin Jay is the Ehrman Professor of European History Emeritus at UC Berkeley. He is the author of Discussing Modernity: A Dialogue with Martin Jay. See more information on our website, WritLarge.fm. Follow us on Twitter @WritLargePod.
35:39In the early 20th century, Europe and North America were undergoing a radical transformation. Scientific, technological, and political changes disrupted many traditional forms of life. The growth of cities opened up new freedoms and opportunities and scientists like Sigmund Freud and Ernst Mach were developing new theories about how we perceive the world and construct reality. These cultural changes gave birth to a form of art that reflected the new sensibilities of this era—modernism. The modernist literary movement was characterized in particular by its interest in revealing the inner psychology of its characters. And few texts were as successful in this goal as Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs Dalloway. Dora Zhang is Associate professor of English and Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley. She is the author of Strange Likeness: Description and the Modernist Novel. See more information on our website, WritLarge.fm. Follow us on Twitter @WritLargePod.
37:36In a podcast about books that have changed the world, I bring you the book that I think changed the world the most: The Hebrew Bible. Specifically, the first book of the Hebrew Bible: Genesis. The Book of Genesis is an account of the origins of the world, human beings, and the Jewish people. It is a foundational text for three world religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For thousands of years, Genesis has given its readers a foundation, a story that helps give an account of why the world exists, who we are, and how we should act. In a chaotic and unpredictable world, Genesis, this ancient set of stories, offers grounding, continuity, and deep meaning. Ronald Hendel is the Norma and Sam Dabby Professor of Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of The Book of Genesis: A Biography See more information on our website, WritLarge.fm. Follow us on Twitter @WritLargePod.
30:56Humans love stories. And no collection of stories is more beloved worldwide than the Middle Eastern folk tales known as One Thousand and One Nights. The original collection only contained about 40 stories. It was compiled into a manuscript sometime between the 8th century and the 14th century during the Islamic Golden Age. The stories were made popular in the West by the French translator Antoine Galland who got a hold of this original manuscript in the 1690s. Galland began translating and publishing these stories in French. They were an instant hit. But some of the most popular stories, such as Aladdin and Ali Baba didn’t appear in that original manuscript. Paulo Lemos Horta is an associate professor of literature at New York University Abu Dhabi. He is the author of Marvellous Thieves: Secret Authors of the Arabian Nights See more information on our website, WritLarge.fm. Follow us on Twitter @WritLargePod.
The Fire Next Time
41:36The writer and activist James Baldwin grew up in a majority white America that saw white American lives as standard and universal, and Black American lives as different and particular. But in his 1963 book The Fire Next Time, Baldwin showed that his life as a Black man in America was universally human. Josef Sorett is the Professor of Religion and African American and African Diaspora Studies at Columbia University. He is also chair of the Department of Religion and directs the Center on African-American Religion, Sexual Politics and Social Justice. He is the author of Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics. See more information on our website, WritLarge.fm. Follow us on Twitter @WritLargePod.
35:44The Victorian era is known for its class rigidity and moral strictness. In her 1847 novel Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë gave us a robust, layered character who pushes against cultural norms and fully embraces her complexity. She’s crabby, difficult, and gets depressed. But she’s also smart and passionate. And she claims the right to love and be loved because she is all these things—fully human. Sharon Marcus is the Orlando Harriman Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She is the author of Apartment Stories: City and Home in Nineteenth-Century Paris and London and Between Women: Marriage, Desire, and Friendship in Victorian England. See more information on our website, WritLarge.fm. Follow us on Twitter @WritLargePod.
A Theory of Justice
38:02How do you create a fair society? Who deserves to rule? What rights do citizens have? How are those rights protected? What does it mean to act morally within society? These are the kinds of questions political philosophers furrow their brows and scratch their chins trying to answer. In 1971, an American philosopher named John Rawls introduced a new answer: justice as fairness. Michele Moody-Adams is the Joseph Straus Professor of Political Philosophy and Legal Theory at Columbia University. She is the author of Fieldwork in Familiar Places: Morality, Culture and Philosophy. See more information on our website, WritLarge.fm. Follow us on Twitter @WritLargePod.
41:59When he was in his late 30s, the Italian poet Dante Alighieri got himself into some serious political trouble and was exiled from his beloved Florence. While in exile, he wrote one of the world’s greatest literary works, the Divine Comedy. In the story, Dante, the main character, must pass through the nine circles of Hell, climb Mount Purgatory, and ascend to Heaven to reach salvation. Along the way he meets all sorts of characters including the Roman poet Virgil, various politicians of his time, teachers from his school, and his one true love. Nassime Chida is a Core Lecturer in Literature Humanities at Columbia University. She is the author of Local Power in Dante’s Inferno. See more information on our website, WritLarge.fm. Follow us on Twitter @WritLargePod.
The Wretched of the Earth
34:26In 1925, on the French occupied island of Martinique, one of the most prominent voices in post colonial theory was born, Frantz Fanon. He was born to parents of both African and French descent, and was brought up in the ways of French culture. For most of Fanon’s life, he identified with French nationality. He even fought for France in WWII. But despite his initial loyalty to France, the French colonizers didn’t see Fanon as equal. In his early adulthood, Fanon began to see colonialism for what it really was. He became a vocal critic of colonialism. In his 1961 text The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon wrote about the psychological effects of colonialism, and the psychological hurdles of decolonization. Manan Ahmed is a historian and associate professor at Columbia University. He is the author of A Book of Conquest: The Chachnama and Muslim Origins in South Asia See more information on our website, WritLarge.fm. Follow us on Twitter @WritLargePod.