For episode 20 we decided to step back and consider where we are and where we’re going.
We started this show early in the year when we were both adapting to the economic and cultural conditions of the pandemic. The show was born out of our friendship and a decade of conversations about systems of cultural meaning. We wanted to present the experience of being a PhD student and researcher in the humanities in a more accessible format. At the same time, we wanted to contribute a more nuanced and elevated level of discourse into the public sphere.
That project still continues. Over the last twenty episodes we’ve had some great guests, incredible conversations, and captured a few moments of original thinking. We continue to refine our voice and style and we continue to search for that perfect level of complex discourse. Our goal is to push the boundaries of status quo cultural intelligentsia, but not to the point of rupture. In other words, we want our listeners to be engaged, uncomfortable, but not alienated and confused. We hope that our episodes leave the listener with a mental sweat, a rush of endorphins, and a certain level of exhaustion that primes the intellectual muscles for growth. Ours is not an easy listening show; it’s for people that want to push their powers of critical thinking to another level.
This is a lofty goal and our commitment to our own intellectual integrity may mean that the project itself is doomed to fail. But we take our lessons from Samuel Beckett, who built an epistemology of failure across plays and novels: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” His is the kind of radical finitude that your hosts fully endorse.
It’s in the pursuit of this ever-failing project that we discovered a new intellectual project: to rediscover the humanities.
Practically this means that we intend to use the show as an intellectual anchor point for an ecosystem of thinking, writing, speaking, and engaging with the world around us. From here on out, the podcast will be where our most raw ideas begin to work themselves out. Over the next few weeks we’ll continue to refine these ideas in conversations with guests and with each other.
For the casual listener, nothing will really change. We believe that our new approach will bring in more listeners and we look forward to growing our community in a deliberate way. We’re excited to engage with listeners and excited to direct our free form exploration of ideas toward more specific ends.
From a project perspective, two directions emerge from this repositioning. First, there is the project of the humanities as an institutional formation. Our stories are very much bound up with a postwar institutionalization of humanities departments. Today, that institution is in peril, but although many have observed how universities are shuttering their formal engagement with the humanities, the discourse of the humanities has never been more broadly received in culture, business, and politics than it is today. Accounting for these diametrically opposed tendencies is critical to understanding the role and future of the humanities as a discursive formation.
In parallel to this project is what we might call the “applied humanities,” a term that describes our desire to demonstrate the “real world” value of a humanities education. In German these studies are literally called “spirit-sciences” (Geistwissenschaft); in business they are sometimes referred to as “soft skills.” Both terms reveal and obfuscate the truth of these analytical powers. Both terms encompass the idea that the humanities train you to communicate the uncommunicable. Another way to think of this is as a “metadiscourse”—a language that reveals the ways that language and communication work.
The most succinct way to frame our renewed vision for the podcast came in the episode itself: We seek to offer a rich alternative to the algorithmic wasteland.
In a practical sense, what we’re driving at is the ability to make distinctions. For us, the practical foundation of all knowledge is found in the distinction. In a moment of history where quantitative, statistical, and program-based knowledge is prized above all others, we offer an alternative system of knowledge—modes of distinction—that unlock areas of discourse that these other modes can’t access. These are new tools for the analytical toolkit and what we offer is not only a new set of tools to use, it’s also a better and more informed way to know what each tool actually does.
This is all to say that we’ve got big plans for the podcast. Our community today is small, but we believe that over the next 12 months we will add many new fellow travelers to our ranks. We welcome everyone and we’re honored that you want to join us on this journey.