An Introduction to the Life & Thought of Hannah Arendt: Presented by the BBC Radio’s In Our Time

Unsettling historical parallels between the newly-developing world order and the terrors that scourged Europe in the 1930s and 40s now seem undeniable to most informed observers of contemporary geopolitics. Europeans have their own political crises to weather, but all eyes currently seem trained on the military behemoth that is my own country. “These are not normal times,” admits Jane Chong at Lawfare. Though she critiques Nazi comparisons as needlessly alarmist, she "sees no reason for optimism." While references to history's greatest villain abound, we’ve also seen Australian scientist Alan Finkel compare the U.S. leader to Joseph Stalin for the suppression and censorship of environmental data.

The devastation Hitler and Stalin visited upon Western and Eastern Europe can hardly be overstated—and we still find it nearly impossible to comprehend. But not soon after the end of World War II, one of the 20th century’s most probing analysts of political thought attempted to do just that.

Hannah Arendt’s 1951 The Origins of Totalitarianism remains one of “several seminal works on tyranny and oppression that have recently gained popularity among readers,” notes Alison Griswold at Quartz. And Arendt’s 1963 classic Eichmann in Jerusalem also continues to inform the moment, offering a “sobering reflection,” writes Maria Popova, on what Arendt called "the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil.”

Arendt’s renewed relevance recently prompted Melvyn Bragg, host of the excellent BBC Radio program In Our Time, to bring three guest philosophy professors—Robert Eaglestone, Frisbee Sheffield, and Lyndsey Stonebridgeon air to discuss her ideas and influence. Bragg begins with a brief outline of Arendt’s biography, then turns to Sheffield, a lecturer at Girton College, Cambridge, for elaboration. They immediately address one of the most controversial aspects of Arendt’s young life, her affair with her mentor, Martin Heidegger, who joined the Nazi party and remained a true believer in its ideology.

But the conversation quickly moves on from there to encompass Arendt’s multi-dimensional thought. “There’s a great range to her writings,” says Sheffield. A trained classicist, Arendt wrote her dissertation on the idea of love in St. Augustine. Her most philosophical work, The Human Condition, drew on classical concepts to rank human activity into a hierarchy of labor, work, and action. She “wrote on a great range of topics,” Sheffield notes, though “there is a consistent interest in politics and political themes throughout her work.”

Yet Arendt rejected the label of political philosopher and is herself “hard to pin down” politically. Her 1963 book On Revolution, critiqued leftist and Marxist thought and praised the American Revolution for its constitutionalism. She was skeptical of the notion of universal human rights, and her essay On Violence made the argument that violence appears only in the absence of political power, not its ascendency. As we learn from listening to Bragg’s assembled panel of guests, Arendt consistently emphasized two classical concepts: the value of a civic and political order and the importance of the “life of the mind,” also the title of a two-volume work published posthumously in 1978.

In Our Time's short, lively conversation provides an excellent introduction to Arendt’s life and work. To dive more deeply into the Arendt corpus, visit Bard College’s Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities, browse the Library of Congress’s Hannah Arendt Papers, and read Lyndsey Stonebridge’s short online essay “Hannah Arendt’s Refugee History.” You'll also find an extensive reading list of primary and secondary sources at the In Our Time BBC page.

Related Content:

Hannah Arendt Explains How Propaganda Uses Lies to Erode All Truth & Morality: Insights from The Origins of Totalitarianism

Hannah Arendt on “Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship:” Better to Suffer Than Collaborate

Hannah Arendt Discusses Philosophy, Politics & Eichmann in Rare 1964 TV Interview

Hannah Arendt’s Original Articles on “the Banality of Evil” in the New Yorker Archive

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hear Jeremy Irons Read the Poetry of T.S. Eliot (Available for a Limited Time)

We may have come nearly to the end of January already, but we can still call 2017 a new year — at least until we've listened to the poetry of T.S. Eliot to properly ring it in. "There's surely no better poet than Eliot to help us confront the problem of finding meaning in a world where old certainties are being troubled," says Martha Kearney, host of BBC Radio 4's New Year's series celebrating his work.

"Our lives are so busy now that we need some help from the season to just take stock, both of where we've been and where we might like to go to," says the first episode's guest, novelist Jeanette Winterson. We need to inhabit "that inward moment that poetry's so good at," and that Eliot made entirely his own. The bulk of that broadcast comprises a reading of Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by Jeremy Irons, surely one of the poet's ideal living interpreters. (Note: you can stream all of the episodes in the series here.)

Irons reads more in the second, which includes a discussion with Winterson and Anthony Julius, Chair of Law and the Arts and University College London, about the opening of "Gerontion" and the "ugly references" made in Eliot's other poems. The discussion in the third, in which Irons takes on Eliot's immortal "The Waste Land," looks for the source of the power of its "poetry of fragments" with former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Scots Makar (something like a Poet Laureate of Scotland) Jackie Kay.

"The Waste Land" continues as a subject in part four, as its guest, the actress Fiona Shaw, has drawn acclaim for her own reading of the poem, but the Irons section of the broadcast offers various other selections, including "The Hollow Men," "Ash Wednesday," and "Journey of the Magi." Finally, in part five, Kearney and Rory Stewart, Member of Parliament and man of letters, talk about and hear Irons deliver Eliot's "Four Quartets," whose language Stewart memorized on a walk through Nepal and which he later used during his political campaign.

This poetic, conversational, and performative radio feast comes to nearly four hours (listen to all of the episodes here), but you've got only the next six days to stream it. Otherwise you'll have to wait until Radio 4's next, as yet announced calendar-appropriate celebration of Eliot. They've used his work to refresh audiences after a troubling year; perhaps they'll use it again to get us through the cruelest month of this one.

Related Content:

T.S. Eliot Reads From “The Waste Land,” “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” & “The Hollow Men”: His Apocalyptic Post WWI Poems

Listen to T.S. Eliot Recite His Late Masterpiece, the Four Quartets

Bob Dylan Reads From T.S. Eliot’s Great Modernist Poem The Waste Land

Hear Alec Guinness (The Legend Behind Obi-Wan Kenobi) Read T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets & The Waste Land

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Hear Kurt Vonnegut Visit the Afterlife & Interview Dead Historical Figures: Isaac Newton, Adolf Hitler, Eugene Debs & More (Audio, 1998)

Image by Daniele Prati, via Flickr Commons

Kurt Vonnegut wrote novels, of course, but also short stories, essays, and — briefly, suitably late in his career — correspondence from the afterlife. He did that last gig in 1998, composing for broadcast on the formidable WNYC, by undergoing a series of what he called "controlled near-death experiences" orchestrated, so he claimed, by "Dr. Jack Kevorkian and the facilities of a Huntsville, Texas execution chamber." These made possible "more than one hundred visits to Heaven and my returning to life to tell the tale," or rather, to tell the tales of the more permanently deceased with whom he'd sat down for a chat.

Vonnegut's roster of afterlife interviewees included personages he personally admired such as Eugene Debs (listen), Isaac Newton (listen), and Clarence Darrow (listen), as well as historical villains like James Earl Ray (listen) and Adolf Hitler (listen). Other of the dead with whom he spoke, while they may not qualify as household names, nevertheless went to the grave with some sort of achievement under their belts: Olestra inventor Fred H. Mattson, for instance, or John Wesley Joyce, owner of the famed Greenwich Village literary watering hole The Lion's Head. Only the Slaughterhouse-Five author's courageous and impossible reportage has saved the names of a few, like that of retired construction worker Salvatore Biagini, from total obscurity.

Famous or not, people interested Vonnegut, who claimed to get his ideas from "disgust with civilization" but also served as honorary president of the National Humanist Association. This aspect of his personality comes up in the Brian Lehrer Show segment just above, a listen back to Vonnegut's "Reports on the Afterlife" segments for WNYC's 90th anniversary. (You can listen to all the segments individually here.)

Producer Marty Goldensohn talks about recording them at Vonnegut's apartment, where the famous writer would answer the phone every few minutes for a brief talk with one curious fan after another, none of whom he'd taken any pains whatsoever to keep from finding his phone number. "It was a wonderful thing," says Goldensohn. "He had a way of talking, hearing what he wanted to hear, thanking, and hanging up very nicely. Sixty seconds." He'd also mastered, adds Lehrer, the art of the one-minute trip to the afterlife, and the stories this unusual radio format allowed him to tell surely drew from the vast range of experiences and emotions to which Vonnegut had exposed his mind not just through reading, but also with such frequent and brief yet very real human connections he'd make on a seemingly near-constant basis.

A little bit less than a decade after these recordings and the subsequent publication of their print collection God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian, the unceasingly smoking and drinking Vonnegut would, at the age of 84, make his own final trip to the afterlife. There he now presumably awaits (possibly beside Kevorkian himself) the next correspondent intrepid enough to come up and interview him. Given the events of the past decade, listeners could certainly use whatever dose of his characteristically clear-eyed and sardonic perspective he might have to offer.

Related Content:

Hear Kurt Vonnegut Read Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat’s Cradle & Other Novels

Hear Kurt Vonnegut’s Very First Public Reading from Breakfast of Champions (1970)

Hear Kurt Vonnegut’s Novel Cat’s Cradle Get Turned into Avant-Garde Music (Featuring Kurt Himself)

An Animated Kurt Vonnegut Visits NYU, Riffs, Rambles, and Blows the Kids’ Minds (1970)

Kurt Vonnegut’s Term Paper Assignment from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop Teaches You to Read Fiction Like a Writer

Kurt Vonnegut Diagrams the Shape of All Stories in a Master’s Thesis Rejected by U. Chicago

In 1988, Kurt Vonnegut Writes a Letter to People Living in 2088, Giving 7 Pieces of Advice

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Bill Murray & Gilda Radner Deliver the Laughs in Two 1970s Skits for National Lampoon

Bill Murray is America's kindliest, most eccentric, best known secular elf, spreading joy throughout the year, as he treats strangers to impromptu birthday serenades, poetry readings, and bachelor party toasts.

How will younger fans, who've never been exposed to the brash Murray of yore, react to his late 70s Santa, above, for the "National Lampoon Radio Hour”? This Grinch is a spiritual forefather of such department store baddies as Billy Bob Thornton and that guy from A Christmas Story.

Forget about Flexy the Pocket Monkey… Murray’s sham-Claus gleefully denies even the humblest of sweet-voiced little Gilda Radner’s requests - a Nerf Ball and a Pez dispenser.

Saturday Night Live fans of a certain vintage may detect more than a hint of Lisa Loopner’s boyfriend Todd De LaMuca in Murray’s vocal characterization. Instead of Noogies, he sends Radner giggling through “the trap door.”

Man, these two had chemistry!

They revisited the scenario in a holiday sketch for Saturday Night Live’s 3rd season, with Santa downgraded from “evil” to “drunken.”

Murray’s “Kung Fu Christmas” for the National Lampoon Radio Hour’s 1974 Christmas show, above, makes a smooth vintage chaser.

In addition to Radner, collaborators here include Paul Shaffer, Christopher Guest, and Bill's brother Brian Doyle-Murray, a lily white line up unthinkable in 2016.

The lyrics and silky vocal stylings conjure visions of a disco-gritty yuletide New York, where “every race has a smile on its face.”

This time Radner gets to do the rejecting, in an extended spoken word interlude that finds Christopher Guest showering her with offers ranging from a house in the South of France to a glass-bottomed boat. (“Didn’t you like that Palomino horse I bought you last year?”)

Murray who continued to explore his musical urges with his SNL character, Nick the Lounge Singer, was replaced by David Hurdon when "Kung Fu Christmas" was recorded for 1975’s Good-bye Pop album.

Related Content:

Watch Bill Murray, the Struggling New SNL Cast Member, Apologize for Not Being Funny (1977)

Stream 22 Hours of Funky, Rocking & Swinging Christmas Albums: From James Brown and Johnny Cash to Christopher Lee & The Ventures

Stan Lee Reads “The Night Before Christmas,” Telling the Tale of Santa Claus, the Greatest of Super Heroes

Bill Murray Reads Great Poetry by Billy Collins, Cole Porter, and Sarah Manguso

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Radio Garden Lets You Instantly Tune into Radio Stations Across the Entire Globe


A pretty cool project.

Pick a place on the globe. Any place. Then tune in and hear what's playing on the radio in that location.

The service is called Radio Garden, and here's what it's essentially all about:

By bringing distant voices close, radio connects people and places. Radio Garden allows listeners to explore processes of broadcasting and hearing identities across the entire globe. From its very beginning, radio signals have crossed borders. Radio makers and listeners have imagined both connecting with distant cultures, as well as re-connecting with people from ‘home’ from thousands of miles away – or using local community radio to make and enrich new homes.

While Radio Garden lets you tune into broadcasts across different geographies, another service previously featured here on OC--Radiooooo--lets you hear radio broadcasts across time. That is, historical broadcasts.

Between the two services, you'll be covered spatially and temporally. What more could you want?

via Boing Boing

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George Orwell’s Life & Literature Presented in a 3-Hour Radio Documentary: Features Interviews with Those Who Knew Orwell Best

via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Say you find yourself in a one-party state that promises to dismantle every civil institution you believe in and trample every ethical principle you hold dear. You may feel a little despondent. While a “this too shall pass” attitude may help you gain perspective, the problem isn’t simply that you’re on the losing side of a political contest. As George Orwell wrote in 1984, total authoritarian control means that “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” The epistemic baseline you took for granted may become increasingly, frighteningly elusive as the ruling party reshapes all of reality to its designs.

With more vivid clarity than perhaps anyone since, Orwell characterized the mechanisms by which totalitarianism takes hold. His 1948 novel has not only given us a near-universal set of terms to describe the phenomenon, but it also gives us a metric: when our society begins to resemble Orwell’s dystopia in pervasive and alarming ways, we should know without question things have gone badly wrong. Whether we can do much about it is another question, but we should remember that Orwell himself was not simply an armchair observer of Fascism, Soviet totalitarianism, or oppressive English colonial rule. He fought Franco’s forces in Spain during the Spanish Civil War and as a journalist wrote critical articles and essays exposing hypocrisies and abuses of law and language. The impact of his work on later generations speaks for itself.

In the CBC radio documentary The Orwell Tapes, in three parts here, we have a comprehensive introduction to Orwell’s work, thought, and life. It opens with alarming soundbites from lightning rods (and villains or heroes, depending on who you ask) Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. But it doesn’t stray into the clichéd territory of overheated conspiracy those names often inspire. Instead we’re largely treated throughout each episode to firsthand accounts of the subject from those who knew him well.

“CBC is the only media organization in the world," says host Paul Kennedy, "with a comprehensive archive of recordings featuring people who knew Orwell, from his earliest days, to his final moments. 75 people, 50 hours of recordings." Edited snippets of these audio recordings make up the bulk of The Orwell Tapes, hence the title, making the program oral history rather than sensationalism. The interviewees include friends, former girlfriends, comrades-in-arms, and critical opponents. Each episode's page on the CBC site features a list of names and relations to Orwell at the bottom.

But of course, accusations of sensationalism always follow those who warn of Orwellian trends and tendencies. Like many of our contemporaries, Orwell was a contradictory figure. He served as a colonial policeman in Burma even as he grew disgusted with Empire; he considered himself a Democratic Socialist, but he never looked away from the authoritarian horrors of state communism; and he has been held up as a pillar of resistance to state surveillance and control, even as he also stands accused of "naming names." But the overall impression we get from Orwell's friends and colleagues is that he was fully committed---to writing, to political engagement, to telling the truth as he saw it.

In releasing The Orwell Tapes this month, the CBC gives us five reasons why Orwell "is still very much with us today." Some of these---modern surveillance, the corruptions of power (and the power of corruption)---will be familiar, as will number 3, a variation on what we've come to call "empathy" for one's opponent. The 4th reason, CBC notes, is the renewed relevance of socialism as a viable alternative to capitalist predation. And finally, we have the continued danger of speaking truth to power, and to those who serve it religiously, uncritically, and often violently. As Orwell wrote in the preface to Animal Farm, "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they don't want to hear."

Related Content:

Huxley to Orwell: My Hellish Vision of the Future is Better Than Yours (1949)

George Orwell Tries to Identify Who Is Really a “Fascist” and Define the Meaning of This “Much-Abused Word” (1944)

George Orwell’s Six Rules for Writing Clear and Tight Prose

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hear a Great 4-Hour Radio Documentary on the Life & Music of Jimi Hendrix: Features Rare Recordings & Interviews

The legacy of Jimi Hendrix’s estate has been in conflict in recent years. Since his father’s death in 2002, his siblings have squabbled over his money and battled unlicensed and bootleg venders. But Hendrix’s musical legacy continues to amaze and inspire, as Janie Hendrix---his stepsister and CEO of the company that manages his music---has released album after album of rarities over the last couple decades. Not all of these releases have pleased Hendrix fans, who have called some of them mercenary and thoughtless. But it is always a joy to discover an unheard recording, whether a live performance, wobbly studio outtake, or semi-polished demo, so many of which reveal the territory Hendrix intended to chart before he died.

In 1982, some of that unreleased material made it into a four-hour Pacifica Radio documentary, which you can hear in four parts here. Produced by what the station calls “some of Pacifica’s finest” at its Berkeley “flagship station 94.1 FM,” the documentary does an excellent job of placing these recordings in context. With help from Hendrix biographer David Henderson, the producers compiled “previously unheard and rare recordings” and interviews from Hendrix, his family, Noel Redding, Ornette Coleman, Stevie Wonder, John Lee Hooker, John McLaughlin, Chas Chandler, and more. After a newly-recorded introduction and a collage of Hendrix interview soundbites, Part 1 gets right down to it with a live version of “Are You Experienced?” that pulses from the speakers in hypnotic waves (listen to it on a solid pair of headphones if you can).

“I want to have stereo where the sound goes up,” says Hendrix in a soundbite, “and behind and underneath, you know? But all you can get now is across and across.” Somehow, even in ordinary stereo, Hendrix had a way of making sound surround his listeners, enveloping them in warm fuzzy waves of feedback and reverb. But he also had an equally captivating way with language, and not only in his song lyrics. Though the received portrait of Hendrix is of a shy, retiring person who expressed himself better with music, in many of these interviews he weaves together detailed memories and whimsical dreams and fantasies, composing imaginative narratives on the spot. Several extemporaneous lines could have easily flowered into new songs.

Hendrix briefly tells the story of his rise through the R&B and soul circuit as an almost effortless glide from the ranks of struggling sidemen, to playing behind Sam Cooke, Little Richard, and Ike and Tina Turner to starting his solo career. We move through the most famous stages of Hendrix's life, with its iconic moments and cautionary tales, and by the time we get to Part 4, we start hearing a Hendrix most people never do, a preview of where his music might have gone into the seventies---with jazzy progressions and long, winding instrumental passages powered by the shuffling beats of Buddy Miles.

As has become abundantly clear in the almost four decades since Hendrix's death, he had a tremendous amount of new music left in him, stretching in directions he never got to pursue. But the bit of it he left behind offers proof of just how influential he was not only on rock guitarists but also on blues and jazz fusion players of the following decade. His pioneering recording style (best heard on Electric Ladyland) also drove forward, and in some cases invented, many of the studio techniques in use today. Processes that can now be automated in minutes might took hours to orchestrate in the late sixties. Watching Hendrix mix in the studio "was like watching a ballet," says producer Elliot Mazer.

This documentary keeps its focus squarely on Hendrix's work, phenomenal talent, and uniquely innovative creative thought, and as such it provides the perfect setting for the rare and then-unreleased recordings you may not have heard before. Pacifica re-released the documentary last year as part of its annual fundraising campaign. The station is again soliciting funds to help maintain its impressive archives and digitize many more hours of tape like the Hendrix program, so stop by and make a donation if you can.

Related Content:

Jimi Hendrix Plays “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” for The Beatles, Just Three Days After the Album’s Release (1967)

Jimi Hendrix Plays the Delta Blues on a 12-String Acoustic Guitar in 1968, and Jams with His Blues Idols, Buddy Guy & B.B. King

Jimi Hendrix’s Final Interview on September 11, 1970: Listen to the Complete Audio

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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