A Jeu of a Book: On the Preface to John Updike’s “Bech: A Book”

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Cynthia Ozick argued that hidden inside of John Updike’s Bech trilogy there is a theological reading of Jews. In 1965, Updike, the award-winning American WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) writer – Pulitzer Prizes in 1982 and 1991, National Book Award in 1964, PEN/Malamud Award 1988, etc – addressed what one could call his Jewish question: how does a American writer describe the American Jew by way of fiction? The answer to his question isn’t so simple. Yes, it is through comedy. But is it, as Ozick believed, through a theology that made Jews into the embodiment of Augustine and Pascal’s “carnal Israel?” Or is he just an endearing schlemiel character who has Roth and Singer as his progenitors?

With this question in mind, I started reading the first of Updike’s books on Bech – a Jewish American character, a writer.

Updike begins his narrative with Bech’s voice, addressing John Updike (the author) in a letter that comes in the wake of Updike’s book on Bech…that we readers are about to read:

Well, if you must commit the artistic indecency of writing about a writer, better I suppose about me than about you. Except, reading along in these, I wonder if it is me, enough me, purely me. (9)

Bech notes that in some of Updike’s representations of him, he appears as someone else:

At first glance, for example, in Bulgaria (eclectic sexuality, bravura narcissism, thinking curly hair), I sound like some gentlemanly Norman Mailer; than that London glimpse of silver hair glints more of gallant, glamorous Bellow, the King of the Leprechauns. (9).

Neither of these characters relate to the “real” Bech. Who does? “My childhood seems out of Alex Portnoy and my ancestral past out of I.B. Singer”(9). In other words, Bech sees himself as a cross between two specific kinds of schlemiel characters: one Roth’s Alexander Portnoy, a “sexual schlemiel”; the other, Gimpel, the memorable schlemiel of the story that made him an item in the USA in the late fifties (near the time this novel was written).

Bech says that Updike’s mis-readings of his character come from “something Waspish, theological, sacred, and insultingly ironic that derives…from you”(10). Yet, says Bech, “you are right.” About what? His misrepresentations?

He is right about the writer.

Bech launches into a strange reflection on writers and their demise in America:

Envied by Negroes, disbelieved in like angels, we veer between harlotry of the lecture platform and the torture of the writing desk, only to collapse, our five-and-dime Hallowe’en priests’ robes a rustle with economy-class just-set tickets….Our language degenerating in the mouths of broadcasters and pop yellers…I could mutilate myself like sainted Origen, I could like Jeremiah. Thank Jahweh these bordellos in the sky can soon dispose with the excuse of us entirely; already the contexts of a book count as little as the contents of a breakfast cereal box.

But the question not answered is this: is Updike right about the Jew? Has he answered the Jewish question in his fictional portrayal? Is the “real” me Bech is talking about an American Jew or an American writer? Is he a schlemiel or a writer? Can’t they be both, as Heinrich Heine said of the poet? (According to Hannah Arendt, for Heine, the poet is the schlemiel – the “lord of dreams.)

Bech’s Jewishness sinks in when he gets to the point: “I'[m sure that when with that blithe goyish brass, I will never cease to grovel at, you approached me for a “word or two by way of preface,” you were bargaining for a benediction not a curse”(11). What he offers is a criticism:

My blessing. I like some of the things in these accounts very much. The communists are all good people – good people…..Here and there passages seemed over edited, constipated; you prune yourself too hard….I like some of the women you gave me, and a few of the jokes. (11)

But the jeu, not the Jew gets the last word: “I don’t suppose this little jeu of a book will do either of us drastic harm”(12).

The irony of this final statement works on several levels. First of all, what kind of thing is Bech saying about Jews? By calling Updike’s book on him a “little jeu of a book.” he is making an anti-Semitic kind of statement. However, the word “jeu” means game in French. Is this book a “play”on the meaning of the Jew or on the comical meaning of the writer? Is this about Bech’s Jewishness? Or is this about Updike’s Jewish question?

For me these questions are all important, but as an American Jew it is even more interesting. In reading this book, do I expect Updike to show me what American Jewishness (circa 1967) looks and sounds like? Is the the crux of being an American Jew – as a result of Woody Allen, Philip Roth, and I.B. Singer, amongst others – for Updike, the award winning American novelist – tied to comedy and the schlemiel? Or is this assertion itself, as Ozick notes, a theological caricature of Jewishness?

To be continued…..

Neil Simon – an American Master of Schlemiel Comedy – Passes

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A few weeks ago I was walking through the streets of New York with a good friend, Jessie Freedman.  He’s a young Off Broadway playwright whose new wave Avant Garde theater has been written up in The New York Times and other places.    When the topic of what or who I was interested in these days came up, I said: Neil Simon.  I recalled how many of his plays were cast not just on Broadway, TV, and on the screen but also in Jewish Community centers around America (my mother acted in a few of them in my local Jewish community in Upstate, NY).   I told Jessie that I have noticed that the schlemiels in Neil Simon’s plays have gone un-noticed and have been poorly discussed.  He agreed.  And then we both agreed to not only go back through his work but to even start a reading group between Toronto and NYC.

Today, after I heard the news that he passed, I was besides myself and realized how needed such a study is today.  It seems to have come too late, but now is a good time to figure out what made his comedy work.  As Variety Magazine notes, he was the “King of Comedy Playwrights.”  And – I would add – he was the king of schlemiel comedy (move over Woody Allen and Larry David).

I’d like to make a few cursory observations about his work.   While he is most known for The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park, he was the author of countless plays that are equally laudable such as Brighton Beach Memoirs and Lost in Yonkers.   Many of his plays were turned into films and most of them cast the main characters as schlemiels.  To be sure, he saw himself and much of post-WWII American Jewry in this way.  Jewish American men play vulnerable schlemiels in most of these plays.  In Brighton Beach Memoirs – which are a reflection of his own life – we see that the schlemiel, for Simon, was to be seen in the context of the Jewish American family (mainly hailing out of New York).

He also adapted – through screenplay – the schlemiel classic The Heartbreak Kid (1972), which was written by Bruce Jay Friedman.  It casts the schlemiel in a more dark light – as does much of Bruce Jay Friedman’s dark schlemiel comedy (as in his book, Stern or A Mother’s Kisses).

Nearly forty years later, in 2007, the film was redone but cast Ben Stiller as the schlemiel character.  Once again showing how big the schlemiel character has become in Hollywood in particular and America in general.

But there are also moments when Neil Simon sees women as schlemiels as in Lost in Yonkers.   The childlike aspect of Bella – the main character – is endearing.  Like the children she takes care of they all discover things – as it were- for the first time.  This casts a much different, much more positive light on the character and shows that it is not bound to any one gender.

For Simon, the schlemiel character – it seems – gives wonder to American Jewish life and the family.  It shows the beauty of life in America for Jews as they discover how to fit in – in their own way.   It also shows the anxiety of Jews trying to adapt to American culture and the failures by way of the cuckold (an old theme no less, mined by Bruce Jay Friedman, Woody Allen, Ben Stiller, Seth Rogen, Adam Sandler, Amy Shumer, and many others).

But the important thing to note is that for Simon the schlemiel character – by and large – emerges out of a comical family dynamic and is an endearing character.  (Hannah Arendt saw this as one this characters main features – whether in Heine or Chaplin. The same can be said of what we find in the novels of Sholem Aleichem, Mendel Mocher Sforim, I.B. Singer et al.)   There is something particular about the schlemiel and its Jewishness for Simon, yet, at the same time, there is something in this character that can appeal to all Americans.   If there is any litmus test for this, his numerous awards, films, TV shows, and performances on and off Broadway show us that his characters were seen again and again by Americans and have – I would argue – become a part of the American sensibility.

Now that he has passed and in the wake of these reflections I realize how important it is to make a deep study of his work.  Schlemiel Theory has its work to do.  Now is the time to figure out why his work has such a deep impact on Jews and on Americans and his legacy to Jewish American theater.  May his memory be for a blessing.

 

 

 

Reading Adorno and Walter Benjamin though Don Quixote and the Schlemiel – New Publication

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Menachem Feuer – the author of Schlemiel Theory (www.schlemielintheory.com) – just published a new essay entitled: “Discovering the Truth of Sancho Panza: The Meaning of Comedy in Adorno and Benjamin’s Divergent Readings of Don Quixote.”  It is a part of a volume for Routledge’s Studies in Twentieth-Century Philosophy entitled Benjamin, Adorno, and the Experience of Literature.  It includes a variety of in-depth essays by great scholars on the differences between these two thinkers by way of Benjamin and Adorno’s readings of literature.

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Feuer’s essay uses the schlemiel – the “Jewish Don Quixote” – as a central way of distinguishing between the two thinker’s readings of Don Quixote.  According to Gershom Scholem, Walter Benjamin’s favorite Kafka parable was the “Truth of Sancho Panza.”  Benjamin has written of this parable extensively in his work and especially in his famous essay on Kafka.

The point of Schlemiel Theory is to show – as Feuer has done in this essay – that the schlemiel character is an important figure in Jewish Philosophy and can be used heuristically to understand the role comedy plays in Jewish Philosophy, thought, literature, and culture – a role that has yet to receive its due.

Stay tuned for more publications on the schlemiel by the author of Schlemiel Theory.  They are on the way.

More schlemiel theory!

Notes on Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Who is America?”

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Comedy opens up our senses.  It helps us to see things differently – with new eyes and ears.  Sometimes, we laugh so hard that there is a revelation that comes – physically – through tears.   In Jewish American comedy, this laughter exposes us to a kind of embodiment.   However, its confusing.  Is this laughter – at things Jewish and by Jewish American comedians – an embodiment of something Jewish, something American, or even something “self-hating” or anti-Semitic?  Where does embodiment fit in Jewish comedy?   Where – in particular – does embodiment fit in Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Who is America?”

In his book on Jewish Comedy, Jeremy Dauber defines humor in seven different theses.   1) Jewish humor is a response to persecution and anti-Semitism 2) Jewish comedy is a satirical gave at Jewish social and communal norms; 3)  Jewish humor is bookish, witty, intellectual and illusive play; 4) Jewish comedy is mordant, ironic, and metaphysically oriented; 5) Jewish comedy is focused on the folksy, everyday, quotidian Jew; 6) Jewish comedy is about the blurred and ambiguous nature of Jewishness itself (xiv).  The seventh thesis – which he actually ranks as the fourth – is that “Jewish comedy is vulgar, raunchy, and body obsessed.”

Instead of placing Sacha Baron Cohen in the chapter that addresses this thesis, Dauber places it at the very end of his first chapter, “What’s so Funny About Anti-Semitism.”   He argues that Cohen has a “transgressive delight in displaying (or purporting to display) a hidden and not so hidden anti-Semitism in famously tolerant America.  He does this primarily by means of one of his characters, the Kazakstan journalist Borat, who attempts, in his interviews, to get his subjects to accede to his rabid anti-Semitism”(48).

The response to the character’s song “Throw the Jew Down the Well” or his character, Bruno’s expression “on the train to Auschwitz” is “basically a testament to the docility and occasional inanity of people caught up in the media spotlight; whether it pulls the cover back on anti-Semitism, as some watching have indicated, may be less plausible, especially given the deeply contrived, if hilarious, circumstances, Cohen creates to let his art flourish”(48).

The greater takeaway for Dauber is the “position of confidence and strength Jews have in the American culture”(48).   He assesses this position by way of taking note of a scene from Larry David where he makes an “assault on the Christian majority: his astonishing protestations of ignorance about that culture.  In one episode, in which he stops a Jews conversation to Christianity by disrupting the prospective converts baptism, he claims he doesn’t know what a baptism is, or what it looks like. David’s character’s cluelessness is a comic foil…but suggests two lessons”(49).

The two lessons are two sides of the coin: one positive, the other negative.  On the one hand, David’s schlemiel-like ignorance is an “apotheosis of Lenny Bruce’s approach – I don’t need to know,” a “kind of fuck you to the ostensible majority power”(49).   On the other hand, it is also a reminder to his viewers “that comedians, that Jews, are different, so essentially so that they can know little about the outside world”(49).  The latter, he calls, a “neurotic” stereotype that feeds into self-hatred.

Dauber argues that this prompts the biggest question of all for American Jews who partake in the comedy of Sacha Baron Cohen,  Larry David, or Sarah Silverman (who employ humor that makes Jews look odd, different, inept (like schlemiels, in the worst sense): “Is it the safety and security of the American Jewish community that allows David, Silverman, and Cohen the comfort to  wallow in such neurotic (not to say self-hating) comic behavior?”(49, my emphasis).

Dauber gives “one answer” that is disturbing.  He argues – by way of a comment by Israeli illustrator Amitai Sandy – that Jews are better than even anti-Semites at creating “the best, sharpest, most offensive Jew hating cartoons every published.  No Iranian will beat us on our home turf”(49).    The last words of his chapter – following this claim – are hard to accept: “Black times do call, it seems, for black comedy”(49).  Is it the case that the main point that Sacha Baron Cohen is making is that Jews today are – even though Dauber doesn’t like to use the term but does – self-hating  out of a historical pathology to do so? The word “do”sounds odd.  What does it imply that these dark times “do” call for this?  Is Sasha Baron Cohen’s work an echo of a historical perspective tainted by deep anti-Semitism?    This, for Dauber, is the problem because it is a kind of Jewishness that is not simply self-deprecating (and neurotic, think of Woody Allen, Adam Sandler, etc) but self-destructive.

This question has a specifically American focus for Dauber.  After all, all of these comedians are rooted in Jewish American culture or base most of their comedy on it (like Sacha Baron Cohen).  Moreover, Dauber cites an Israeli who notes this self-hating aspect to point out that there is a blind spot in Jewish American comedy that can’t see anti-Semitism or how the caricature of Jews feeds into this.

While Dauber notes that Cohen is trying to expose the naivite and possible anti-Semitism of Americans, he also – as we see above – rejects that thesis because the circumstances that they are put in are bizarre. There is no real revelation of what Americans are (namely, anti-Semitic at their core).  The trick is to believe that such a disclosure is being made.  But this, Dauber argues, only makes American Jews look bad because it is more than a “fuck you” to American culture; its also an act of self-hate that feeds anti-Semitic stereotypes.

Cohen, it seems, is very aware of this issue.  For this reason, in terms of embodiment, Cohen wants us to ask a question: When we see America, who do we see? It is not “what do we see”?   It is “who” is America.  The schlemiel-like mistranslation of the Israeli is telling.  It seems to counter Dauber’s argument.

When we see America through the eyes of someone who is playing a caricatured Israeli, something else comes through.  What does Cohen’s character, Coloniel Eran Morrad show us?

He doesn’t simply show us that America is gullible – as he does in most of his other work – he also shows us that many of the people who meet this character think of him not as a caricature but as a “real” Israeli.  They trust that Israelis know about terrorism, weapons, and self-defense.   What does it mean that we laugh at this trick?   We – as “insiders” to the joke – laugh at his eyebrows, his make up, and so on because we can see that it is a caricature.  It is a fake embodiment.  They can’t see that.  But is it also, as Dauber would say, a sign of entitlement to show how stupid Americans are?

Cohen’s origins are fascinating because he has Israeli parents and a strong connection to the country.   Would this character and his own identity counter what Dauber is saying?  Or is this also a parody of the Israeli masculine stereotype?  This seems to be more than an insider joke.

Who is America is also the question, who is Israel?  What does an Israeli look like? How do they act?  But is it the case that the “who” may transcend both?

One interesting cultural confluence right now is the fact that Fauda is one of the most popular shows on Netflix.   One sees more faces of Israelis than ever as a result of this show, which has a cast that is mostly Israeli.

How is Jewishness embodied in America or Israel?  And how does humor put a new angle on these kinds of embodiments?  With the question “who is,” we come close to something that is more relational.  In our time, this is at the core of our relations.  Jewish American humor can bring this out, but to do so it will have to pass through stereotypes and caricatures of Jewishness.   The question of who one is, of embodiment, must pass through Larry David, Sarah Silverman, and Sacha Baron Cohen as much as through Fauda.  Comedy can either break the stereotype or reinforce it.   That all depends on “who” we see not just “what” we see.  Embodiment has a face.  Perhaps, through humor, we can see it…or fail to see…who is “facing” us.

A Schlemiel in the Park

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Yesterday I was taking a stroll in Central Park when – out of nowhere – a group of young French tourists came up to me and asked if they could take a photo with me.  I asked them why and they told me that I “looked like a New Yorker.”    What does a New Yorker look like, I wondered.  The first thought that came to me was that – in the wake of so many films by Woody Allen and so many episodes of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, and so much more media – the image of the male schlemiel has become prominent in the mind of many people around the world (especially in France which loves Jerry Lewis and Woody Allen) as the image of the New Yorker.    One could argue that the “body of Jewish comedy” (something I have written on) is deeply informed by the stereoypical image of the New York Jew (as schlemiel).

While some people may wince at the idea of the Jewish body as a caricature and stereotype, the fact of the mater is that Larry David, Seth Rogen, etc and many others still, to this day, draw on it in order to disarm negativity about Jews and others.    We can’t get away from stereotypes in America, but that is something that these artists worked through.  Even so, New York does and remains, to this day, a city that is identified with Jews.  This has negative and positive implications.  It can tap into something anti-Semitic or its inversion.   The idea of a New York Jew is based in fact.  After all, New York houses the largest Jewish population of any city in the USA and outside of Israel.  It has been the home of Jews since the 19th century (and even before).    Jewish art, culture, and commerce have flourished in New York.  Take a visit to the Jewish Museum on 5th Avenue to see for yourselves the rich history of Jews in this city in all of these aforementioned fields.

I am proud to say that I come from a  few generations of New York Jews.  And, strangely enough, the photo was taken not far from where my father lived part of his childhood: on Central Park West.  I’ll admit that I embrace and have – since I was a child – emulated the image of the New York Jew.   I always wondered what a New York Jew was so when I would visit (I was raised in Upstate New York) New York City to see my relatives I’d always get a good look and pay close attention to their bodies and gestures.

Like Michael  Wyschogrod argues in his book The Body of Faith, Judaism is embodied.  While in the past Judaism was thought of in terms of ideas or beliefs, Wyschogrod argues that this led to the abstraction of Judaism and of God.   He suggests that Judaism (and God – Hashem in Hebrew) is to be found not in this or that idea or distinction but amongst Jews.    What I find so novel about the schlemiel is that its a comical registration of Judaism and that registration has a location in New York. Contrast that to the relationship of the Jewish body to Jerusalem which is embodied in the Temple, the pilgrimages, the priesthood, etc etc.

Judaism is a religion that is grounded in people and places.

With that in mind, I said yes.  Take my photo.  I’m a Jew from New York.  And I embrace the schlemiel.   I am a Schlemiel in the Park.

 

 

On Hollywood Schlemiel Managers: Adam Sandler’s “Sandy Wexler”

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Without a doubt, Adam Sandler is one of the main four actors and screen writers who, over the last few decades, has popularized a new variety of the American schlemiel. That star-studded list includes Ben Stiller, Seth Rogen, and Judd Apatow who – in nearly every film – have starred (or casted actors) as schlemiels. They are – so to speak – the next generation of actors and filmmakers who followed the lead of Woody Allen whose film Annie Hall (1976) made the schlemiel into a national staple (arguably because this film, unlike the others, received a bevy of Oscars). One scholar – Daniel Itzkovitz – makes a fine distinction, however, and calls Sandler (and Stiller) a “new schlemiel” because he has displaced the schlemiel’s Jewish character and made it into an American everyman character. The same can be said for Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow.

While there are “new schlemiels” like Sandler, there is another new variety of schlemiel that casts a shade of darkness over this comic character. We find this by filmmakers like Noah Baumbach and the Coen brothers. The Coen Brothers films Serious Man (2009) and Inside Llewelyn Davis (2013) are a case in point. J. Hoberman has taken note and has argued that the latter film draws on the dark comedic schlemiel we find in Bruce Jay Friedman’s novel Stern. While Hoberman’s insight is important, it fails to take note of the implications for Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, et al. The stakes are high. The only filmmaker who has a keen insight into what is at stake with this new (dark) depiction of the “new schlemiel” is Noah Baumbach. He has cast not only Ben Stiller – as in the films Greenberg (2010) or While We Are Young (2014) but also Sandler and Stiller in his Meyerowitz Stories (2017) as schlemiels who have more tragic and sad notes than comical ones. Film critics from The New Yorker – like Richard Brody and Ian Parker- are more interested in this darker shade because they find it more sophisticated and intelligent. However, Brody is clearly more in favor of the darker side when it comes to Gretta Gerwig playing – in Frances Ha (2012) or Mistress America (2015) – or casting the schlemiel, as in her recent film Ladybird (2018). For this reason, one need not be surprised by Richard Brody’s negative take on Adam Sandler’s recent Netflix film, Sandy Wexler (2018). I think that Brody’s reading missed the mark and is something of a red herring. What Sandler is recovering – of the schlemiel – in this film is noteworthy.

Brody’s reading of the Sandler film sees it as a poor imitation of Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose (1984). For Brody, the master depiction of the “schlemiel talent manager” is mastered by Woody Allen.

The difference between the two is clear. It is not merely because Allen’s film came first. It is because -for Brody – Allen’s film is more intellectual and gritty. The comic failures of Allen’s depiction of the schlemiel manager are more sophisticated and meta. The mismatches are more profound.

What Brody doesn’t see in Sandler’s film is what Sandler’s new project portends about the schlemiel and his/her place in Hollywood, not New York. Broadway Danny Rose is a film that is more connected to the American schlemiel’s roots in New York and the Borsht Belt. For Baumbach (and for Brody, it seems), it has closer ties to New York than to Los Angeles and for that it should be commended. The new schlemiel that Itzkovitz is interested in, however, is to be found in Hollywood not New York. For this reason, Baumbach’s Meyerowitz Stories suggestion that we revisit the schlemiel – and in a darker shade – in New York is noteworthy. The only film that Baumbach cast stiller in – as a dark schlemiel in Los Angeles (albeit as a schlemiel traveling from NYC to Los Angeles) – was in Greenberg.

What is lost in all of this darkness and geography is what Stiller is looking to redeem in this character. Sandy Wexler is a charming schlemiel character whose honesty and humility are commendable. He manages – in this film – to help one of his talents by the name of Courtney Clarke (played by Jennifer Hudson) to become a star. He sees talent in people who Hollywood skips over. In other words, the schlemiel talent manager sometimes gets it right and this earns the love of Clarke in this film. But instead of hitching himself to a star, Wexler goes on to help the needy who are in search of stardom.

Jennifer Hudson – in an appearance on Good Morning America – takes note that what she loves about Sandler is the “family vibe” that he brought to the film. I would argue that this insight is important because the charm of his character is not simply the romantic element but the paternal and family element that Sandler brings to this schlemiel character. The schlemiel – as I have said elsewhere – draws its comedy on this family aspect. It is – like the schlimazel and the nudnik – a family member. To be sure, the classic American Jewish joke about the schlemiel situates him amidst a table with a schlimazel and a nudnik. All are hungry but it is the schlemiel that gets the soup.

Although Brody may not like this family element and find it to mainstream, the fact of the matter is that the charm of Shalom Aleichem’s characters – from which many American schlemiel derive their root – is based on the character’s being situated in a family and in relation to others. The schlemiel cares for others – think of I.B. Singer’s Gimpel – however, sometimes, on the way to helping others he or she stumbles and spills the soup. In Sandler’s film, Wexler’s eye for talent shows that while he cares for others he doesn’t always see things right about their talent. But with Jennifer Hudson’s character, he gets it right. Sometimes a broken clock is right one time a day.

This character gives us what Irving Howe once said of the schlemiel – light and sweetness. If we lose this character to the dark reflections on finitude by the Coen Brothers or Noah Baumbach or the criticism of Brody or Hoberman which looks primarily for the dark iterations of the character as noteworthy, we will lose something very special. Adam Sandler should be commended for this; strangely enough, it is Jennifer Hudson who got it right, not Richard Brody.

My Recent Interview on the “Left In Podcast”

 

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Yesterday, I was interviewed by Matthew Mausner – the host of the “Left In Podcast.”  Our conversation was a breath of fresh air.   The atmosphere he creates in his podcast is conducive to real, honest conversation.  We both believe that open conversations on podcasts can bring us to places we’ve never been.   In today’s world – where most conversation is pre-digested though social and political group think – we are looking for something fresh and new.  Like Socratic, wandering philosophers, we are looking for some kind of truth that can emerge out of dialogue.

The podcast is broken into two parts.

In the first part, we discuss my personal experiences in the academy. Has the new socio-politcal aspect that has become the lens through which to read most – if not all – subjects in the humanities? Has it overshadowed a lot of scholarship? What has happened to what once was called the “diversity of thought,” socratic conversations (in search of truth), and the importance of freedom and singularity in our institutions of higher learning? Is everything political?

In the second part of the podcast, we discuss a new kind of litmus test for testing the dogma circulating these days all around us.  Laughter at oneself is the best place to start; it is the bar of all bars in our post-post-modern culture. Are people who can’t laugh at themselves our greatest challenge today?