Ulrich C. Baer public
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Where, when, and how does American literature begin? What constitutes the canon of U.S. literature, and how is it distinct? While monuments and history books are the most prominent battlefields in our current culture wars, the debate over what belongs in the canon of great American literature has not subsided. I spoke with Professor Sarah Rivett, P…
 
Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice delights, charms and entrances readers since its anonymous publication in 1813. The Bennett sisters need to marry rich, for otherwise they'll fall into poverty and social disgrace. Will arrogant Mr. Darcy be the solution, and will the fiercely proud, intelligent and also charming Elizabeth settle for this soc…
 
To learn more about the Haitian Revolution in fiction, I spoke with Professor Marlene Daut specialized in pre-20th-century Caribbean, African American, and French colonial literary and historical studies. Her first book, Tropics of Haiti: Race and the Literary History of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World, 1789-1865, was published in 2015…
 
Today we talk a lot about a need for genuine dialogue, and for conversations across partisan divides and differences. What is a true, authentic, and meaningful conversation? Martin Buber's landmark 1923 book, I and Thou, examines and also proposes how genuine dialogue can happen. The short book proposes that "I and Thou," and "I and It" are insepar…
 
Hannah Arendt's 1967 essay on "Truth and Politics" centers on the uneasy relation between truth-telling and politics. Lying has always been part of politics, Arendt says, but something shifts with the wholesale attack on our ability to distinguish between fact and fiction, truth and make-believe. How can we be committed to the truth when politician…
 
"Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the order of angels?" This angsty cry opens poet Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies -- one of the greatest poetic masterpieces of all time that grounds us, modern beings, in a disenchanted, mechanized, and godless world. Is there a meaning to our lives beyond our immediate, material conditions that does not…
 
Kate Chopin's absorbing 1899 novel The Awakening tells the story of Edna Pontellier, a married woman in New Orleans who questions her life choices, and seeks something else. What does she want? I spoke with Professor Rafael Walker, who has written and thought deeply about Chopin's writings, to find out whether Chopin's novel fits into the narrative…
 
Jane Johnston Schoolcraft is the first known American Indian literary writer, the first known Indian woman writer, the first known Indian poet, and the first known poet to write poems in a Native American language. A poet who wrote in at least two languages, navigated several cultures and expressed her pride of belonging to the Ojibwe (Chippewa) pe…
 
Recalling the great confessional narratives from St. Augustine to Jean Jacques Rousseau, from Benjamin Franklin and Frederick Douglass to Henry Adams, James Weldon Johnson's 1912 novel, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, relates the emotionally gripping tale of a mixed-race piano prodigy who can pass for white in turn-of-the-century America. F…
 
"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary," is the line many remember from middle or high school, or a Simpsons episode. It's the opening of Edgar Allan Poe's poem "The Raven" which flutters not only though America's collective unconscious but is celebrated in Europe, Latin America and Asia as one of the great achievements of A…
 
Something different today: I was lucky to speak with writer Doon Arbus about her debut novel, The Caretaker, published September 2020 by New Directions books. It's a spell-binding, intricate and haunting tale of a world-renowned philosopher's house museum filled with his collection of objects, and the mysterious man who becomes the museum's caretak…
 
Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel Jane Eyre is one of the great love stories of all time, but it's also the story of a woman who speaks her truth even when this means risking everything she wants. Jane, an orphan raised in a cruel family and struggling to survive in a world where poor women have few chances, falls in love with dashing and mysterious Mr…
 
Marx has never left us. In our era of populism, political polarization, and the pandemic, concerns central to Marx such as economic inequality, the consolidation of power in the hands of the few, and the fate of workers - whether officially designated as essential yet treated, exactly, how? - are urgently discussed. How should we think about Marx t…
 
Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray was the novel that scandalized, challenged, and inspired Victorian England with its tale of a beautiful young man who trades his soul, captured in a portrait, for eternal youth. Dorian wants to experience life fully, and the book became evidence in the trial where Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard lab…
 
“The fantasy of isolation, the fantasy of intervention: they create recluses and activists, sometimes both, in us all.” This is Brenda Wineapple on the friendship of Emily Dickinson, in my view America's greatest poet, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, editor, writer, abolitionist, activist, and soldier. During this time of a global lockdown, let's l…
 
Why is everyone talking about Michel Foucault these days? How can Foucault's work have so many resonances in our contemporary world? What were his insights and discoveries that have influenced disciplines as diverse as cultural studies, gender and queer studies, or post-colonial studies? There is no doubt that Michel Foucault was one of the greates…
 
"It is impossible it should be the plague, everyone knows it has vanished from the West. -- Yes, everyone knew that, except the dead." Albert Camus's world-famous 1947 novel The Plague is about the human response to extreme circumstances. For a long time the book was read as an allegory of people resisting fascism, but the plague never quite stays …
 
Why read books in dark times? Daniel Defoe, known to most as the author of Robinson Crusoe, published A Journal of the Plague Year in 1722, about the plague that decimated London's population in 1665. The gripping account is presented as a survivor's story who confronts his world being ravaged by an invisible and extremely contagious disease. But D…
 
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