Would you like to to hear a long-form conversation about the history of the vinyl LP? Or about the history of human rights? About the plight of book reviewing in America? The wild excesses of the art market? The nature of boredom? The true meaning of North Korean propaganda? What it’s like to live in Bangkok? What it’s like to go on a road trip with David Foster Wallace? The answer to all of the above: of course you do. And now you can hear these conversations and many more besides in the complete archive of the public radio show The Marketplace of Ideas, which has just now come available to stream on Youtube.
How, you may wonder, did I get such early word of this interview trove’s availability? Because, in the years before I began writing here on Open Culture, I created, produced, and hosted the show myself. The project grew, in a sense, out of my dissatisfaction with the radio interviews I’d been hearing, the vast bulk of which struck me as too brief, fragmentary, and programmatic to be of any real value.
What’s more, it was often painfully obvious how little interest in the subject under discussion the interviewers had themselves. With The Marketplace of Ideas, I set out to do the opposite of practically everything I’d heard done on the radio before.
Like all worthwhile goals, mine was paradoxical: to conduct interviews of the deepest possible depth as well as the widest possible breadth. On one week the topic might be evolutionary economics, on another the philosophical quarrel between David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, on another the history of American film comedy, on another the legacy of Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and on another still the ascent of Californian wine over French. (This principle also applied to the political spectrum: I delighted in bringing on, say, the granddaughter of Barry Goldwater as well as a former member of the Weather Underground.) An interesting person is, as they say, an interested person, and throughout the show’s run I trusted my listeners to be interesting people.
The same went for my interviewees, whatever their cultural domain: novelists like Alexander Theroux, Tom McCarthy, Joshua Cohen, and Geoff Dyer; scientists like David P. Barash, Alan Sokal (he of the “Sokal Hoax”), and Sean Carroll; critics like James Wood, Greil Marcus, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Dave Kehr, and J. Hoberman; economists like Tyler Cowen (twice), Robin Hanson, Steven E. Landsburg, and Tim Harford (twice); biographers of Brian Eno, Nick Drake, and Michel de Montaigne; translators of Jorge Luis Borges, César Aira, and Robert Walser; broadcasters like Peter Sagal, Robert Pogue Harrison (of Entitled Opinions), Jesse Thorn, and Michael Silverblatt; philosophers like Kwame Anthony Appiah and Simon Blackburn; technologists like Steve Wozniak and Kevin Kelly; filmmakers like Ramin Bahrani (director of the existential Werner Herzog-narrated plastic-bag short previously featured here on Open Culture), So Yong Kim, Andrew Bujalski, Aaron Katz; and musicians like Nick Currie, a.k.a Momus (twice), Jack Hues of Wang Chung, and Chaz Bundick of Toro y Moi.
The Marketplace of Ideas aired between 2007 and 2011, and the passage of a decade since the show’s end prompted me to take a look — or rather a listen — back at it. So did the fact that a fair few of its guests have since shuffled off this mortal coil: Arts & Letters Daily founder Denis Dutton, film critic Peter Brunette, literary scholar Angus Fletcher, documentarian Pepita Ferrari, writer and editor Daniel Menaker, cultural polymath Clive James. That interview with James was a dream fulfilled, due not just to my personal enthusiasm for his writing but the ideal of intellectual omnivorousness he represented — an ideal toward which I strove on the show, and continue to strive in my pursuits today. Even more than our conversation itself, I fondly remember an exchange after we finished recording but before we hung up the phone. He thanked me for actually reading his book, and I told him I’d thought all interviewers did the same. His response: “That’s the first naïve thing you’ve said all hour.”
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.