The Hedgehog and the Fox
James Danckert: Boredom is trying to tell you something
Charles Dickens introduced the word 'boredom' to the English language in 1853, but the feeling it describes dates back much further. You can find it in the Bible or the work of classical writers. Only recently, though, have psychologists investigated what boredom is actually trying to tell us. And the news is not all bad. In this episode, Professor James Danckert reveals some of the latest discoveries in the science of boredom.
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80. Arnold Weinstein: The Lives of Literature41:56Arnold Weinstein, Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature at Brown University, discusses his latest book, The Lives of Literature, and his own life of literature: the authors that have mattered most to him, what students have taken from his courses, and which books have recently become unteachable. He writes, 'The best books interrogate their readers—jostle their assumptions, challenge their own sense of "me" – and the teacher's calling must be to convey this "live”.'
79. Conversations with Translators: Laura Marris on Camus's The Plague42:39Translator Laura Marris discusses her experience of translating Albert Camus's 1947 novel, The Plague, during the Covid pandemic: 'I would be working on the scene where the doctors are meeting with the prefect of the city to try to convince him to put in more stringent public health measures. And then I would read the paper and there would be stuff about the CDC, Trump and I'd just think this is a very bizarre parallel. In the end, that was also something I had to think about, and potentially correct for, because this is a book about a plague that was translated during a plague, but it shouldn't really be like a COVID book. It should have like a longer life, I think.'
78. Laura Clancy: Running the (royal) family firm51:08When she tells people she’s researching the royal family, Laura Clancy, our guest on this week's episode, often encounters the response that the UK has more important things to worry about. Plus the associated responses that the royals don’t cost that much, that they’re good for the country, or that ultimately they don’t really matter. For a lot of Britons, they just are, a bit like the weather. Laura disagrees. She says: ‘we cannot talk about inequalities in Britain without talking about the monarchy’. Her book, Running the Family Firm (Manchester University Press, 2021), argues that ‘the principles by which monarchy works are key principles by which the whole system works, and in understanding monarchy we can begin to make sense of the system.’ In this interview, she discusses what she discovered in the course of her research...
77. Polly Barton: Fifty Sounds (part 2)30:14This is the second half of the conversation I had last autumn with Polly Barton, a translator from Japanese and the author of a terrific memoir cum reflection on language and translation, Fifty Sounds. In the first part we talked about Polly’s early fascination with Japan and language, and her decision aged 21 to go to live and work on a remote Japanese island and her experience of learning the language. In this part we talk about her decision to become a translator, some of the challenges that presented, and presents, and also about her book.Fifty Sounds has fifty chapters, each of which takes a single Japanese word as its starting point or leitmotiv. All of these words are so-called ‘mimetics’, a distinctive and richly expressive class of word in Japanese that merits its own chunky dictionary, but which in the English language we generally pay little attention to. They’re words that give colour and individuality to storytelling; the kind of words that convey the speaker’s sense of being an embodied person in the world, alert to its texture and feel. In choosing to build her book around these words, Polly seems to get to the heart of Japanese, or if that is too grand a claim, to capture the essence of what it meant to her to learn Japanese and to begin to glimpse the world through the lens of Japanese.
76. Polly Barton: Fifty Sounds (part 1)36:02In this first part of my conversation with translator and writer Polly Barton, we talk about Polly’s early fascination with Japan and how she found herself on a remote Japanese island at the age of 21. ‘Sometimes’, she writes in her book Fifty Sounds, ‘I wonder how I ever thought I’d survive, setting out for a rural island with just a handful of Japanese words to my name.’ But survive she does and goes on to tell the tale...
75. Nicholas Cook: there's more to music than meets the ear39:50'Music somehow seems to be natural, to exist as something apart – and yet it is suffused with human values, with our sense of what is good or bad, right or wrong. Music doesn't just happen, it is what we make it, and what we make of it. People think through music, decide who they are through it,' says Nicholas Cook, my guest in this episode. His quest in his recent new edition of his highly influential Very Short Introduction to Music (Oxford, 2021) is to explore those human values. In this podcast he talks about how the world of music and our relationship has changed since the first edition appeared in 1998, in an era before smartphones and streaming...Nicholas Cook was until his retirement in 2017 the 1684 Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge.
74. Craig Robertson: Cabinets of curiosities38:03In this programme we’re looking at what I thought of as ‘the humble filing cabinet’ until I read Craig Robertson’s fascinating book, The Filing Cabinet: A Vertical History of Information (University of Minnesota Press, 2021). It’s easy to regard filing cabinets as space-hogging lumps of metal from a bygone era filled with dusty files; an obsolete way of storing information now that all our data lives in the cloud. But previous generations thought of their data as ‘live’ too, and a century or so ago, filing cabinets were being marketed as the essence of modernity and business efficiency, the very heart of the modern office – or perhaps more accurately, its brain. Listen to the interview and find out how much this not-so-humble piece of office furniture can tell us about work, information and gender roles in the 20th century.
72. Juliana Adelman on the Beasts of Dublin30:52Nineteenth-century Dublin was a city full of beasts: horses, pigs, cattle, sheep, dogs... all living in close proximity to the human residents. Historian Juliana Adelman describes the city thronged with beasts and explains why animals were often at the centre of Dubliners' heated debates about the kind of city they wanted to live in – and what that meant for the animals.