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Episode 173 – Christopher Nelson

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Virtual Memories Show #173:
Christopher Nelson

“If virtue can be taught, it’s only by learning to ask the types of questions that make you a thoughtful person.”

st-johns-college-md_416x416My two-year term at St. John’s College’s Graduate Institute was the most important part of my life. During my recent trip back to Annapolis, I sat down with outgoing president Christopher Nelson to talk about lessons learned during his 26-year tenure, the books that guided him to the college, the ones he returns to, and the ones that gave him the most trouble as an undergrad, what he’ll miss and what he hopes to do next, his key advice for his successor, and more! Give it a listen!

“Running an institution and reading a budget were second nature to me. . . . Being able to participate in the life of the college so I could make good and deep judgements about what’s important around here; that was going to come from spending time in the classroom and with the faculty.”

We also talk about the unique situation of being the only president in the college’s 300+ years who is also an alumnus, why math and philosophy are for the young, while big novels are for middle age, how he grew into The Aeneid, the use of literature in understanding Japanese morality, why he returns to Middlemarch every few years, what he’d add to the St. John’s curriculum (even if he can’t bring himself to drop something to make room for it), and a lot more! Give it a listen! (and become a supporter via Patreon or Paypal so you can check out the big list of all the books we talked about this episode!)

“The commodification of higher education — like the monetization of every good in life — is deeply disturbing. It’s certainly something that’s always been in America. You read de Tocqueville and you see that it’s part of the American spirit to do that.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

27562111401_3c8353e5c4_zChristopher B. Nelson has been president of St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD, since June 1991. He is an alumnus of St. John’s (B.A. 1970) and a graduate of the University of Utah College of Law (J.D. 1973), where he founded and directed the university’s student legal services program. He practiced law in Chicago for 18 years and was chairman of his law firm when he left the practice to take his current position at St. John’s College. Christopher Nelson is a national spokesperson for the liberal arts, participating actively in the national conversation about higher education. Frequently a panelist and speaker on state, regional, and national programs, he has addressed issues of institutional autonomy in the face of government regulatory intrusion and changes proposed in the accrediting system. His current focus is making clear the value of liberal education – in providing excellent grounding for career and professional development and, most importantly, for an open-minded  pursuit of lifelong learning.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at the office of Christopher Nelson at the Annapolis campus of St. John’s College on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue enCORE 200 Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. B/w photo of President Nelson by me. Photo of Annapolis campus by me.

Episode 172 – Glynnis Fawkes

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Virtual Memories Show #172:
Glynnis Fawkes

“A lot of how I draw comes from Greek vases. They’re like ancient comics.”

AlleEgoCover_400wGlynnis Fawkes joins the show to talk about archeology, comics, dig romances, Homer and more! We celebrate her award-winning new comic, Alle Ego, figure out how to make art while raising a family (hint: mine your family to make the art), explore the correlation of Greek vases to comics, lament the savage history of Troy and Gallipoli, while embracing the comics-centric world of Angouleme, and more! Give it a listen! And buy Alle Ego, the new installment of her book, from her store.

“We’re here now, but human experience goes so far back. Relationships, love, death: this has all gone on so long.”

We also get into her journey from the Pacific Northwest to the Middle East, her senior thesis on satyrs & maenads, the demands of drawing urns based on fragments, the best way to learn drawing comics, her move away from fine art, her life-changing experience at the Maison des Auteurs, and bumping into Alison Bechdel at the supermarket. Give it a listen!

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

27026892976_7bb45c8368_mGlynnis Fawkes is a cartoonist, painter, and archaeological illustrator. Her current project is a memoir about working as illustrator on digs in Greece and the Middle East. She drew many of the pages for this book at a residency at La Maison des Auteurs in Angouleme, France in the summer of 2015. She recently completed 50 illustrations and cover for John Franklin’s Kinyras: The Divine Lyre (Center for Hellenic Studies Press, 2016). Glynnis’ background is in art and art history: a BA from University of Oregon, a BFA from the Pacific NW College of Art, and MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and Tufts University. During a Fulbright fellowship to Cyprus, she published a book of paintings, Archaeology Lives in Cyprus, and a book of cartoons, Cartoons of Cyprus. She spent almost 10 years working as an illustrator on archaeological projects and excavations in Cyprus, Turkey, Syria, Israel, and Lebanon, and continues to work in Greece. She began a doctorate at the University of Wollongong in Australia, but instead of finishing, married the famous archeo-musicologist John Franklin and had some children (now in school). She has exhibited paintings in Boston, London, Nicosia, Wollongong, at the Laura Russo Gallery in Portland, OR, and in Burlington, VT, where she now lives. She teaches a course in Comics at the University of Vermont and drawing at Champlain College. Glynnis is a member of the NY-based web comic collective Activatecomix.com and publishes on Muthamagazine.com.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Toronto Marriott Bloor Yorkville Hotel on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue enCORE 200 Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. B/w photo of Glynnis by me. Not sure who to credit with the color pic at the top.

Episode 165 – Fred Kaplan w/#NJPoet’s Corner

Virtual Memories Show #165:
Fred Kaplan (& #NJPoet’s Corner)

“I asked someone who had worked at Tailored Access Operations [the NSA’s black bag division], ‘I’m in your cubicle at work; what am I seeing?’ and he said, ‘I’m sitting at a monitor, and I’m typing code. And behind me is a supervisor, and behind him is a lawyer, and they’re taking down all of my keystrokes.'”

dtcoverFred Kaplan rejoins the show to talk about his new book, Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War (Simon & Schuster). (We last talked in 2013). We get into the tangled, wild-west story of how cyber warfare is waged, where it might go in future, and why it’s the ultimate asymmetric warfare. Fred also tells us about the role of cyber in the success of the Iraq surge, the story of Stuxnet, the problem with not having rules of engagement for cyber war, how he came to respect the NSA, the statist/libertarian divide at the core of encryption battles, and what he thinks of Edward Snowden. Give it a listen! And go buy Fred’s book, Dark Territory!

“In the US, privacy has become a quaint notion.”

Then Charles Bivona joins us for his monthly installment of #NJPoet’s Corner, where we focus on his dream course: Batman Studies. Go listen! And buy #NJPoet, Chuck’s newly-published poetry collection!

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

FredKaplan-byCarolDronsfieldFred Kaplan is the national-security columnist for Slate and the author of Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War, as well as of four other books, including The Wizards of Armageddon, 1959: The Year Everything Changed, Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power, and, most recently The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War, which was a New York Times bestseller and Pulitzer Prize finalist. A former Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter for The Boston Globe, he graduated from Oberlin College, earned a PhD from MIT, and lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Brooke Gladstone.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Kaplan’s home in Brooklyn on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. The conversation with Charles Bivona was recorded on the same setup, at his homeI recorded the intro and outro on the same setup. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Kaplan by Carol Dronsfield.

Episode 153 – Rachel Hadas

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Virtual Memories Show #153:
Rachel Hadas

“I’ve never felt so happy, but I’ve never felt so mortal.”

41jSXgwsSYL._SX358_BO1,204,203,200_Poet Rachel Hadas returns to the show to talk about her new books, Talking To The Dead (Spuyten Duyvil Press), and Questions in the Vestibule (Northwestern University Press). It’s been two years since we last talked (over here), so I had plenty of questions for her. How did she rebuild her life after losing her husband to early onset dementia? How did she wind up pals with James Merrill (and what’s her take on his Ouija poems)? What do we lose and gain in the act of translation? And how did she become a love poet after spending her career writing elegies? Listen in to find out!

“It’s like Forster said, there’s a sense that the great poets are sitting at a table, synchronically all writing at the same time.”

515iK7+qPaL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_You should check out this extra material from our conversation: Backdrop: Merrill in Stonington, a video essay Rachel made with her husband, Shalom Gorewitz, and The Art of Empathy: Celebrating Literature in Translation, a collection of essays commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts. Also, here’s the blog post I wrote about translating Tolstoy.

“I’m at a point in my career where I feel fortunate to be able to publish what I’m writing.”

Also, if you want to find out who she’s reading nowadays and get a list of the books we talked about, join our Patreon and become a monthly contributor to The Virtual Memories Show! At the end of February, the new episode of our patron-only podcast, Fear of a Square Planet, will go up with a bonus segment about who Rachel’s reading lately and why.

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

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About our Guest

Rachel Hadas’s book of selected prose pieces, Talking To The Dead, was published by Spuyten Duyvil Press in 2015. Her new book of poems, Questions in the Vestibule, is forthcoming (April 2016) from Northwestern University Press, which will also publish her verse translations of Euripides’ dramas Iphigenia in Aulis and Iphigenia Among the Taurians. The author of a score of books of poetry, essays, and translations, Hadas is Board of Governors Professor of English at Rutgers University-Newark. She and her husband, artist Shalom Gorewitz, have been working on marrying poetry and video; some of their collaborative work, including a piece about James Merrill, can be seen at www.rachelandshalomshow.com.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at Ms. Hadas’ home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. All photos of Ms. Hadas by Shalom Gorewitz.

Episode 151 – Harold Bloom

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Virtual Memories Show #151: Harold Bloom

bloom_4I visited Harold Bloom in New Haven and we recorded a podcast. He recited poetry, and we talked about his new book, The Daemon Knows, the weight of age, the intifada of the young, and the epigraphs of his life. You should give it a listen!

Here’s some of what he said:

“I’m a reader and a teacher. Writing comes out of reading and teaching. Those are all three words for the same thing. I don’t think I’m going to be remembered at all; I don’t think any of us get remembered.”

“Much as I permanently dislike T.S. Eliot’s prose — whether literary criticism (so-called) or his abominable religious writings . . . — or the whole essential nastiness of the man — misogynistic, anti-semitic, proto-fascist, despising Freud, full of a kind of contempt for humankind — at his best as a poet, he’s beyond argument.”

“As you get old you get exhausted. You lose patience, not with your students, but with the nonsense that passes for criticism or passes for scholarship. For a while, I was proud to say I was the pariah of my former profession. Now I don’t even think I’m that. I think they’ve forgotten me, which is good.”

“If in my youth you had asked me, ‘Harold, who is the better, more authentic poet: Alexander Pope or William Blake?’, I would have said Blake, of course. Now I’m not so sure. I read Pope with more pleasure, although I don’t know if Blake wants to be read for pleasure.”

“I’m a Melamed. I don’t teach Tanakh, I don’t teach scripture; I teach the secular canon, but I take the same attitude towards it that Hillel or Akiva said, ‘Build a hedge about the scripture; be resolute in judgement; raise up many disciples.”

“You want to be remembered by whoever’s going to recall you, for as long as they’re alive, with a certain degree of love. That’s about all you can hope for.”

I went full Maron on my intro; the conversation with Bloom starts at the 12-minute mark. Oh, and if you want to find out who he’s reading nowadays and get a list of all the books we talked about, join our Patreon and become a monthly contributor to The Virtual Memories Show!)

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

24214491192_b2e8cddb17_zHarold Bloom is a Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale university and a former Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvard. His more than 40 books include The Anxiety of Influence, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, The Western Canon, and The American Religion. He is a MacArthur Prize Fellow, a member of the American Academy of Arts & Letters, and the recipient of many honorary awards and honorary degrees, including the Academy’s Gold Medal for Belles Lettres and Criticism, the Catalonia International Prize, and the Alfonso Reyes International Prize of Mexico. He lives in New Haven, CT. His new book is The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime (Spiegel & Grau).

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at Professor Bloom’s studio on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photos of Prof. Bloom by me.

Episode 132 – Rootless People

Virtual Memories Show #132:
Christopher Bollen – Rootless People

“I wanted to be a writer since I knew that I couldn’t be a detective.”

tumblr_noaa2szheD1u3hieto1_500We close out the summer of 2015 with a great summer novel, Orient (Harper) by Christopher Bollen! We talk about his new book, the difference between a “smart murder mystery” and a “literary thriller,” the perils of Male First Novel Syndrome (as evinced in Lightning People: A Novel), the challenges of writing about Long Island, how his years at Interview magazine honed his ear for dialogue, his fascination with rootlessness, why it’s too easy to parody the contemporary art scene, and more! Give it a listen!

“Remember how you could totally judge a stranger by what they were reading? Now we’ve totally lost that cue, thanks to e-books.”

We also talk about Christopher’s impending 40th birthday, his reverse mid-life crisis, “kids today,” the people he now realizes he should’ve been nervous about interviewing when he was young, the allure of detective stories, why childhood bookish shut-ins have great skin when they get older, how I once nearly blew up a shopping mall back in my high school years, and whether the actual inhabitants of Orient were peeved about his new novel.

“You don’t interview Fran Lebowitz; it’s more like you’re her audience.”

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We talk about some books and movies in this episode. Here’s a list of ’em (Note: if I ever go to a Patreon crowdfunding model for the show, this is the first thing that goes subscriber-only):

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Christopher BollenPortrait_Christopher-Bollen2 is a writer who lives in New York City. He regularly writes about art, literature, and culture. His first novel, Lightning People, was published in 2011. His second novel, Orient, was published by Harper in May 2015. He is currently the Editor at Large at Interview Magazine.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, which seems to have become our unofficial theme song (I’ll ask DB if it’s okay to make it official). The conversation was recorded at Mr. Bollen’s apartment on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Bio photo of Mr. Bollen by Danko Steiner; not-as-good photo by me.

Episode 130 – The Cult of Experience and the Tyranny of Relevance

Virtual Memories Show #130:
Elizabeth Samet –
The Cult of Experience and the Tyranny of Relevance

“How do you learn things? How do you acquire the patience to admit when you don’t know things? I think those are really important things for an Army officer to know.”

41X6zxtIM4L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Elizabeth D. Samet has been a professor of English at West Point since 1997. We talk about the tension between education and training at the military academy, the importance of books to soldiers and officers serving overseas, learning West Point’s unique argot, preparing her students to be unprepared, trying (and failing) to convince Robert Fagles that Hector is the moral center of the Iliad, why she doesn’t teach Henry V to plebes, how not to get caught up in the tyranny of relevance, why she balked at learning the fine art of parachuting, and more! Give it a listen!

“The question I’m endlessly fascinated with is, what do we call war and what do we call peace and can we draw these nice distinctions? It seems to me right now that we can’t.”

NOTE: The opinions Elizabeth Samet expresses in this interview are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of West Point, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.

We also talk about teaching students who are both future Army officers and 18-year-old kids, how West Point and the student body changed after 9/11, her new anthology (Leadership) and her first two books (Soldier’s Heart and No Man’s Land), her house-on-fire list of books to save, her quarrel with Plato, and her adoration of Simeon’s Maigret novels. Bonus: I tell a long, awful and emotional story from last weekend (it starts around the 75:00 mark, so feel free to stop long before that).

“I have this idea about Plato: no one loves Plato who does not already think himself a guardian.”

We talk about a lot of of books in this episode. Here’s a list of ’em (Note: if I ever go to a Patreon crowdfunding model for the show, this is the first thing that goes subscriber-only):

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Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Samet_0044F PUB-Bachrach©Elizabeth D. Samet is the author of No Man’s Land: Preparing for War and Peace in Post-9/11 America (FSG). Her first book, Soldier’s Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point (Picador), won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Current Interest and was named one of the 100 Notable Books of the Year by The New York Times. Samet’s work has appeared in various publications, including the The New York Times, The New Republic, and Bloomberg View. She is also the editor of Leadership: Essential Writings by Our Greatest Thinkers, which is out this month from Norton. Samet won the 2012 Hiett Prize in the Humanities and is also the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is a professor of English at West Point.

Credits: This episode’s music is On, Brave Old Army Team by West Point Marching Band. The conversation was recorded at Prof. Samet’s apartment on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Formal photo of Prof. Samet by Bachrach; bookshelf photo of Prof. Samet by me.

Episode 115 – Idlers and Belgians

Virtual Memories Show:
Edward Mendelson – Idlers and Belgians

“I have a private test for whether I’m an individual person or whether I’m part of the culture: I go to the supermarket and I look at the supermarket weeklies, and if I recognize the names, then I’m not a person, I’m a product of collective culture.”

moral-agents200Professor Edward Mendelson joins the show to talk about his new book, Moral Agents: Eight Twentieth-Century American Writers (New York Review Books), which profiles Lionel Triling, Dwight Macdonald, Alfred Kazin, William Maxwell, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, WH Auden, Frank O’Hara. We discuss the role of individuals in mass culture, the intellectual’s temptation to be a leader, the outdated figure of the Beloved Professor, Orwell’s misinterpretation of Auden, the writer he was terrified to meet, the failures of identity politics, the purpose of Columbia University’s Core Curriculum, his lack of nostalgia for the era of public intellectuals, the way certain books need a year off from teaching in order to recharge, and more. Give it a listen!

“All these writers were tempted by the way they were taken seriously.”

We also talk about why he hates one of my favorite novels, why he agrees with my take on Achilles’ uncanniness in the Iliad, why professors think students are getting dumber year after year, how the economic collapse of the ’70s led to improved colleges across the country, why he thinks Stoner is a study in self-pity, and more! Go listen!

Edward Mendelson on the Virtual Memories Show

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

At Columbia since 1981, Professor Edward Mendelson has also taught at Yale and Harvard. A recipient of American Council of Learned Societies, NEH, and Guggenheim fellowships, he is chiefly interested in 19th-and 20th-century literature, formal and social aspects of poetry and narrative, and biographical criticism. He is Auden’s literary executor; his book Later Auden (1999) is a sequel to his Early Auden (1981). His book, The Things That Matter: What Seven Classic Novels Have to Say About the Stages of Life, was published by Pantheon in 2006. His new book is Moral Agents: Eight Twentieth-Century American Writers, from New York Review Books. He has edited a volume of essays on Thomas Pynchon and, with Michael Seidel, Homer to Brecht: The European Epic & Dramatic Traditions. He has prepared editions of novels by Hardy, Bennett, Meredith, Wells, and Trollope, the first five volumes of a complete edition of Auden, and selections of Auden’s poems and prose. His essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Review of Books, London Review of Books, TLS, the New York Times Book Review, and many other journals and collections, and he wrote an introduction for a new edition of Gravity’s Rainbow. He has also written about computers, music, and the visual arts. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was the first Isabel Dalhousie Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh.

Credits: This episode’s music is Homesickness by Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Mendelson’s office on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Mendelson by me.

Episode 111 – Time, Memory, Friendship, Poetry, Art

Virtual Memories Show:
Prue Shaw – Time, Memory, Friendship, Poetry, Art

“It’s a cliche to say that the whole of medieval civilization is there in one book, but that’s true, and you get to understand that more and more as you read it.”

WhenAmericaMetChina5 J2.inddScholar Prue Shaw joins the show to discuss Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity (Liveright Press). We talk about our favorite parts of the Dante’s Commedia, the poem’s transformation for her over the decades, Dante’s challenge of expressing the inexpressible (especially in Paradiso), the fate of Jews in Dante’s afterworld, and the reasons why we all — poets and non-poets, believers and non-believers — should be reading Dante. Give it a listen!

“I think it’s very indicative that our strongest word of disapprobation in the present moment is ‘inappropriate’. We don’t say anything is wrong or bad, but inappropriate.”

We also talk about readers’ reticence toward starting the Commedia, why the Paradiso is the most difficult of the three books, the strange role of Ulysses in the poem, Dante’s “mercy rule,” why she chose the structure and themes for Reading Dante, the perfect epigraph to her book, which she discovered too late for inclusion, and why I need to get to the Uffizi!

Prue Shaw w/Gianfranco Contini

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

Prue Shaw is Emeritus Reader in Italian Studies at University College London, and the editor of the edizione nationale of Dante’s Monarchia and of a digital edition of the Commedia. Her latest book is Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity (Liveright Press). She lives in Cambridge, England. You can find her extensive bio at her site.

Credits: This episode’s music is Hell by Squirrel Nut Zippers. The conversation was recorded at Ms. Shaw’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 Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Ms. Shaw by me.

Podcast: From Billiards to Bach

Peter Kalkavage on The Virtual Memories Show

Virtual Memories: Peter Kalkavage – From Billiards to Bach

“No one can be deeply affected by this course of study and not want to go beyond it. It gets you excited about ideas, questions and authors. To read one author is to lead you to another.”

hegelshrunkHow does a man go from being a ne’er-do-well in a Pennsylvania mining town to a tutor at St. John’s College? Peter Kalkavage joins the show to talk about his path to that Great Books institution, what he’s learned going into his 38th year as a tutor, how he fell in love with the college’s music program, what his study of Hegel taught him, what he’d add to the St. John’s curriculum, and more! (Also: Iliad or Odyssey, which offsets the question of “Luther or Calvin?”)

“In my time here, the one change that has irked me the most has been the shift from Luther to Calvin in the sophomore seminar. There were understandable problems with Luther . . . on the other hand, he deals in a blunt and powerful way with questions of freedom, secular authority, and faith-vs.-works. Calvin seems too relentlessly negative and too obsessed with the question of predestination.”

We also discuss his upbringing, The Big Lebowski, the teacher who got him to turn himself around, his favorite area to teach, how Dante taught him the possibilities of poetry, the question of whether we’re ever mature enough to read the curriculum, and the recent move to rebrand St. John’s College.

“We have to be very careful not to present ourselves in what we think might be an attractive way which misrepresents what we most have to offer our students, the country and the world: our curriculum. That’s the most important thing. Not our location, not our extracurricular activities, but the program. ‘The following teachers are returning to St. John’s next year. . . .'”

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

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Peter Kalkavage has been a tutor at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., since 1977. He is director of the St. John’s Chorus. Dr. Kalkavage is the author of The Logic of Desire: An Introduction to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, and has produced translations of Plato’s Timaeus and Statesman for Focus Philosophical Library. He is also author of two texts that have been used in the St. John’s music program, On the Measurement of Tones and Elements: A Workbook for Freshman Music.

Credits: This episode’s music is the opening credits to Miller’s Crossing by Carter Burwell. The conversation was recorded in Peter Kalkavage’s office during the St. John’s College 2014 Piraeus seminar on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Peter Kalkavage by me.

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