There are approximately a bazillion podcasts out there, so it’s fair to wonder whether the world needs another one.
I say it does.
- Toni Morrison was right
- Literature deserves better
- We deserve better
- Sushi and country music
- Learning and Web3
As Toni Morrison observed, “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Technically, Morrison’s use of the word must is a modal verb. It’s an indication of an obligation and not exactly a command. But I can’t shake the idea. To me it’s an imperative.
It’s true: there are a lot of podcasts out there. So? There are also a lot of songs, taco trucks, and software applications. Imagine the catastrophic loss if the next generation looks around and thinks: It’s all been done. Fuck it.
Besides, there ain’t nothing (or if there is, I haven’t found it yet) like my new podcast: LIT AF.
I have loved reading my whole life. It makes me sad to know so many bright young people who think reading sucks because they had shitty introductions to the experience. Every time a high school English student thanked me for helping them see reading in a new way, I felt humbled and honored – I want to share that feeling with more people.
I have also loved profanity my whole life. Books are full of sex, murder, racism, economic inequality, anger, and foul language. I want to talk about the good stuff in ways that make the classics worth reading but aren’t allowed in the classroom.
We need a podcast for that.
Literature is essential to the experience of being human.
In his book Sapiens,Yuval Noah Harari points out that story is the ultimate human competitive advantage. Our shared abstractions and fictions allow us to organize in large numbers. Language itself isn’t that special – lots of animals use it. But we won out over everything else, including other hominids, because we can share concepts like religion and sports teams and countries no matter what language we speak.
You can translate a novel into any language.
Stories really do connect us. Literature – imaginative or creative writing that has artistic value and speaks to our innermost selves – is nothing less than magic. Authors work hard for hours, days, weeks, months, years to conjure that magic and bring it to life. Their work wasn’t meant to gather dust on a library shelf. As Salman Rushdie put it, “A poet’s work is to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it from going to sleep.”
And also occasionally to get laid.
We need a podcast that honors literature in a human way.
“Teach it as literature” is the answer to a riddle: How do you make sex boring?
In a world that constantly competes for our attention, classic novels are losing. The way they’re presented puts us to sleep. As a result, we are losing our ability to understand their language. This is a great loss. Les Mis is a fine musical, but the book… holy shit. Victor Hugo’s Preface:
“SO long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine, with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, there will be a need for books such as this.”
We need messages like this to be delivered by people who know what they’re talking about and aren’t afraid to say so. When I was at a student at UCLA, Professor Charles Berst stood on a piano and imitated Charles Dickens yelling at his characters late at night so loudly that neighbors called the police. It made an impression.
We need innovation in teaching and the arts just as much as we need it in our technology, economy, and natural environment. Humanity, creativity, and a sense of VOICE.
LIT AF is a statement. We can’t afford to forget our past, and we definitely can’t afford to dismiss it as boring just because we don’t understand it.
I think country music sucks. The problem, of course, is that there are many different types of country music, and, since I am a city mouse from Los Angeles and not a musician, I don’t actually know what the hell I’m talking about.
Our experience of a thing does not necessarily reflect a quality of the thing. It is inaccurate to call a book “boring” just because I feel bored when I read it. The book may or may not be well-written, but that’s a different conversation.
As I wrote to high school students on a course blog:
“Seek to better understand the books you don’t love. Someone more experienced and knowledgeable than you thought they were worth reading; it’s your job to understand why. Turning up your nose isn’t an option unless you want to look like that spoiled kid who only eats fish sticks. Sushi isn’t for everyone, but you don’t have any business saying “ugh” unless you can (a) recognize the qualities of truly excellent sushi and (b) explain why the mouthful you just spit out isn’t it. As you may remember from the beginning of our exploration, the value of our opinions is a function of evidence and logic, not an inalienable right that others are obligated to accept because we are ‘entitled.'”
Ask any of my students and they’ll tell you: I lead from the front. I don’t ask anyone else to do what I’m not willing to try myself. I’m picking the first book – The Great Gatsby – but after that, LIT AF members will tell me what to read.
We need a podcast that stretches our thinking through works of literature that have been hiding in plain sight.
On one level, the LIT AF podcast looks familiar. Recorded segments of audio. Got it.
But under the hood, LIT AF is a Web3 learning experience. Listeners can form a community. In addition to the usual perks, like commenting privileges, event access, and members-only discounts, anyone who buys a token can also participate in making decisions that directly affect the direction of the podcast.
Want to meet a particular author with me in a livestream conversation? Have a favorite book you want me to read next season? Head over to litafpodcast.com and become a member to unlock your voting privileges.
In true Open-Source Learning style, I’m exploring Web3 by working with it where everyone can see it. This is my first experiment in podcasting and in Web3, and I’m excited to see how it goes! As always, I’m curious to know what you think, so please drop me a line and let me know.