Volume 18

Guests on Volume 18: Leigh Eric Schmidt, on how the marketplace has shaped American celebration of the holidays; John Patrick Diggins, on how pragmatism fails to offer a coherent way of understanding of the world; Joseph Frank, on moral themes in the fiction of Fyodor Dostoevsky; Thomas Howard, on the supernatural thrillers of Charles Williams; Ken Myers, on Marsalis on Music, a book and a video series on music appreciation; Deal Hudson, on the themes of family in the work of Sigrid Undset, author of Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken; George McKenna, on how President Lincoln might have fought abortion; and Ted Libbey, on master English composer Henry Purcell.

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Part 1

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    Leigh Eric Schmidt on how the marketplace has shaped American celebration of the holidays

    Consumer Rites: The Buying and selling of American Holidays (Princeton University Press, 1995)

    Leigh Eric Schmidt, author of Consumer Rites: The Buying and selling of American Holidays, speaks about the influence of advertising on certain holidays. Advertising serves as a means to gather people from differing traditions together in commercial venues. This promoted a type of civil religion in the culture, particularly in the early part of the twentieth century. The trend of advertising defining holiday celebration started in the early 19th century. Schmidt notes that this has caused cynicism about the nature of holidays and their celebration in some parts of the culture, while others have reacted by trying to simplify the celebration of the holiday to make it more meaningful and avoid extravagant giving and receiving.

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    John Patrick Diggins on how pragmatism fails to offer a coherent way of understanding of the world

    The Promise of Pragmatism: Modernism and the Crisis of Knowledge and Authority (University of Chicago Press, 1995)

    John Patrick Diggins, author of The Promise of Pragmatism, sees pragmatism as the culture's answer to the main problem of modernity's crisis of knowledge and authority. He writes about Henry Adams as a man who lived in the time of the rise of pragmatism, doubted its validity, and saw that the American nation would never be run by ideas but rather by popularity. This means that government always functions in the same way, according to the desires of the people, even thought different parties may hold power. Diggins thinks that the political community which runs under a pragmatic government cannot function if there is not an agreed upon moral end in the community.

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    Joseph Frank on moral themes in the fiction of Fyodor Dostoevsky

    Dostoevsky (Princeton University Press, 1988)

    Joseph Frank, author of a multi-volume biography of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, says that Dostoevsky acts in many ways as a psychologist in his novels, though the Russian resisted the label because of the reductionist nature of psychology. According to Frank, Dostoevsky was skilled at articulating conflicts, placing the conflicts in social terms, and interiorizing them into psychological ones. This technique reflects similar struggles taking place in a much wider cultural context. Dostoevsky always wanted to emphasize normal character struggles, according to Frank, but instead used the grotesque to dramatize the clash of philosophical notions with orthodox notions of good and evil.

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    Thomas Howard on the supernatural thrillers of Charles Williams

    The Novels of Charles Williams (Oxford University Press, 1983)

    Thomas Howard, author of The Novels of Charles Williams, explains that Williams's novels often seem confusing to readers because of Williams's prose style and the location of many of the novels on the cusp between the proximate and the ultimate, the seen and the unseen. Howard believes an effective motif in Williams's novels was the use of "hyperreal" objects to serve as litmus tests for the motivations and foundations of the lives of the characters. Howard also integrates the themes of order versus disorder and heaven versus hell in Williams's work, and comments on the role of the imagination in awakening the reader from abstraction to reality.

Part 2

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    Ken Myers on Marsalis on Music, a book and a video series on music appreciation

    Marsalis on Music (W. W. Norton, 1995)

    Producer Ken Myers gives a brief review and introduction to Wynton Marsalis's video and book Marsalis on Music, in which Marsalis attempts to give young audiences an understanding of the basics of music appreciation. Myers points out Marsalis's willingness to take sides critically and defend musical forms and limits in his performances and improvisations.

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    Deal Hudson on the themes of family in the work of Sigrid Undset, author of Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken

    Sigrid Undset On Saints and Sinners: New Translations and Studies (Ignatius Press, 1993)

    Deal Hudson, editor of the anthology of essays, Sigrid Undset On Saints and Sinners, speaks about Undset's understanding of relationships, the effect of her biography on her work, and her role as a feminist. In many of her works she returns to the theme of the sins and good works of fathers and mothers affecting the lives of their children and grandchildren. Undset's own life reflects this theme. Hudson reviews her biography and notes that the themes of marital love, infidelity, and the joy and suffering of raising children all come from Undset's life. Hudson then comments on Undset's vision for the feminist movement. Her early, liberal political vision focused on voting and workplace rights, but her conversion to Catholicism transformed this vision into one where women are fulfilled in the possibilities and joys of raising children. This more conservative feminism has not brought her acclaim with the contemporary feminists who have exalted other "lost women authors" who reinforced contemporary ideology.

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    George McKenna on how President Lincoln might have fought abortion

    Professor George McKenna describes what Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) might have said about abortion, and how he might have said it.

    George McKenna, professor of political science at the City College of New York, proposes a Lincolnian approach to the issue of abortion. McKenna points out the parallels between the debate about the right to hold slaves and the debate about a woman's right to have an abortion. McKenna also highlights another parallel between the two debates: the use of evasion and euphemism in speech about both slavery and abortion. McKenna speaks about the appeals that Lincoln made to earnestly abolish slavery; Lincoln agreed that the states had a right to the making of their own laws as long as these laws were about morally indifferent matters but that inner, personal morality cannot be left as a matter of choice.

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    Ted Libbey on master English composer Henry Purcell

    Ted Libbey discusses Henry Purcell's (1659-1695) affinity for the Italian Baroque style.

    Music critic Ted Libbey discusses the work of English composer Henry Purcell, noting the influence of the change in the English church form Latin to English. Purcell wrote about seventy percent of his works for large, public chapel services and the remainder for small, more intimate services. His ability to assimilate the Italian Baroque style into his work, according to Libbey, allowed him to write so many large-scale works.