Episode 585 – Leonard Barkan

Virtual Memories Show 585:
Leonard Barkan

“Engaging in reading, body & soul, present & past, is an insurance policy against loss.”

With Reading Shakespeare Reading Me (Fordham), professor Leonard Barkan blends memoir and deep reading of Shakespeare’s greatest plays to explore his lifelong relationship with literature and the way(s) we use art to construct our identities. We get into what it means to read, hear, perform, direct, teach Shakespeare, why it took him a lifetime to get to this book, how he contrasts himself with a radically naive reader (and why it’s important to try to capture our naïveté), the gayness of Shakespeare’s two Antonios, the stories he couldn’t tell until his folks were gone, and the role Shakespeare played in Leonard’s gay coming of age. We also talk about Narcissism vs. Wissenschaft, his next book about the WWII loss of 434 paintings by the Great Masters (!), Cervantes’ role as Shakespeare’s literary peer, the on-stage therapy session he held at his career-celebration, and his stint as a theater director and what it taught him about teaching. Plus we discuss the strangeness of King Lear’s opening scene, the eerie humor of Hamlet, the fraught subject of having kids, the glory & limitations of mimesis, how it felt to see his book The Hungry Eye on a bookshelf in The Bear, the lifelong struggle of living up to his promise, and a lot more. Give it a listen! And go read Reading Shakespeare Reading Me!

“What does it mean to hypothesize that for Shakespeare’s audience for, say, King Lear, they didn’t know what was going to happen?”

“I didn’t want freedom; I wanted acceptance.”

“Making tragedy fun and making comedy profound: that’s the background work you have to do with students.”

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

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About our Guest

Leonard Barkan is the Class of 1943 University Professor at Princeton, where he teaches comparative literature, art history, English, and classics. His many books include The Hungry Eye: Eating, Drinking, and the Culture of Europe from Rome to the Renaissance (Princeton, 2021), Berlin for Jews: A Twenty-First-Century Companion (Chicago, 2016), Michelangelo: A Life on Paper (Princeton, 2010), Satyr Square: A Year, a Life in Rome (FSG, 2006), and Unearthing the Past: Archaeology and Aesthetics in the Making of Renaissance Culture (Yale, 1999), which won prizes from the Modern Language Association, the College Art Association, the American Comparative Literature Association, Architectural Digest, and Phi Beta Kappa.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Leonard’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4 digital recorder & interface. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Leonard by me. It’s on my instagram.

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