Episode 458 – Robert Emmet Meagher

Virtual Memories Show 458:
Robert Emmet Meagher

“As I grew as a thinker, as a scholar, as a teacher, I took Camus with me, and my appreciation of him grew as I did.”

With Albert Camus and the Human Crisis (Pegasus Books), professor Robert Emmet Meagher distills a half-century of reading and teaching Camus’ work to show us how the writer and thinker continues to resonate 60+ years after his untimely death. We get into his accidental origins with Camus and how Camus speaks to us today, the Human Crisis speech Camus gave in 1946 and how it remains relevant, why no one paid attention to Camus’ protests that he wasn’t an existentialist, Camus’ uneasy pacifism and Bob’s own antiwar activism (and how it affected his career). We also talk about why I was a dummy not to take Bob’s class on Camus when I was an undergrad at Hampshire (I did take his Sense & Spirit class in 1992), the Camus novel Bob had to grow into, his speculation on how Camus & his writing would have developed had he not died so young, and mortality, deathfulness, & how, as Camus put it, philosophy used to teach us how to die, but now teaches us how to think. In addition to Camus, we discuss Bob’s work with veterans and healing moral injury, why exactly Achilles in the Iliad is “swift-footed” and the moment my mythic/tragic view of him gets dashed on the rocks of Bob’s experience with soldiers, his draft-dodging conundrum and the deus ex machina that kept him out of Vietnam, his decision to teach & write about the subjects that interest him, rather than following academic trends, his status as a professor-in-waiting (but not retired!), how he’s been coping with the pandemic, and how this book was his melodramatic Final Class. Give it a listen! And go read Albert Camus and the Human Crisis!

“One of the remarkable things about Camus is that he wasn’t embarrassed when he changed his mind. And when he did change his mind, even over very strong public statements he had made, he would own up to it publicly. If he had embraced a position he now rejected, he wanted others to reject it too.”

“It was 1970, and I had spent two hours on a beach reading The Stranger when I was young, but now I had 6 weeks to give a lecture to a conference of noted Camus scholars from around the world.”

“My objection to philosophy is that, by the time I was studying it, it had become a parlor game. My study of classics — as a discipline, not the works themselves — followed the same path.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

Robert Emmet Meagher is Emeritus Professor of Humanities at Hampshire College, Amherst. Before Hampshire, he held faculty positions at Indiana University and Notre Dame. Across his 52 years of teaching he also held numerous visiting chairs and professorships in the U.S. and abroad, including at Trinity College Dublin, and Yale. His publishing career includes over 20 books, translations, and original plays, most recently Herakles Gone Mad: Rethinking Heroism in an Age of Endless War, Killing from the Inside Out, War and Moral Injury, and his latest book, Albert Camus and the Human Crisis. He has offered workshops on the translation and contemporary production of ancient drama at colleges and universities in the US and abroad, and has himself directed productions at such venues as the Samuel Beckett Centre, Dublin and the Nandan Centre for the Performing Arts in Kolkota, India. In recent years he has directed and participated in a range of events and programs concerned with healing the spiritual wounds of war in combat veterans, their families, and their communities.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Bob’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Bob by me. It’s on my instagram.

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