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New York Review of Books Podcast Gets Political (Like It or Not)

by Jake Mohan 


Tags: literary news, books and publishers, authors, new media, podcasts, interviews, readings, radio, politics, New York Review of Books, The Sound of Young America,

nyrb podcast

The Sound of Young America’s podcast aficionado Podthinker (née Colin Marshall) recommends the New York Review of Books’ new(ish) podcast, which debuted in June and already is filling out an impressive archive of conversations with literary luminaries such as Oliver Sacks and Edmund White.

I am grateful to Marshall for turning more people on to this terrific podcast, but I take issue with his one criticism of the NYRB’s audio and print content: that it’s too political. “Evidently, the editorial board of the magazine will not rest until a certain number of otherwise pleasing articles are dragged into the much [sic?] of unseemly political territory,” Marshall writes. “Your podthinker has, in other venues, repeatedly reached the conclusion that when it comes to the place of politics in art, it doesn't have one.”

Really? There’s no place in art for politics? I know a few people who’d disagree—namely, 99 percent of my favorite writers, musicians, filmmakers, and visual artists.

It still amazes me when people deem politics a separate and easily demarcated external force we can segregate from the rest of our world. Marshall evidently prefers a “pleasing” aesthetic universe free of political content—which, remember, includes but is not limited to gender, race, class, education, the economy, transportation, healthcare, and war (or “something about Iraq,” as Marshall refers to an interview with CJR contributor and foreign affairs scholar Michael Massing). Because really, who cares about such trifles? And who could possibly be interested in Joan Didion’s ideas about the narratives of presidential campaigns or Samantha Power’s global policy analysis?

I encountered this same desire to segregate politics from life while writing about the politics of bicycling. While I certainly share the public’s weariness of partisan rancor and have developed an acute allergy to the mere mention of Sarah Palin’s name, I firmly believe that it’s naïve and unwise—let alone impossible—to try and scrub our daily lives clean of politics.

Pardon me. I seem to have lost focus and let the unpleasantness of politics divert me from my main point, one on which Marshall and I agree: the NYRB Podcast is definitely worth checking out. And so is the Sound of Young America, which boasts shows featuring art/media darlings like Patton Oswalt, George Saunders, and cast members of the Wire—three cultural forces whose work is, no doubt, completely devoid of political overtones.

chelsey perkins_1
10/24/2008 4:57:44 PM

Hallelujah. No matter how hard I try, I can't think of one single thing that can be segregated completely from politics. And I've never understood how people believe politics can be separate from everything else. This is why I struggle with people who call themselves apolitical or apathetic, because I truly believe that's impossible. Given the trigger issue of their interest, everyone comes to the defense of their beliefs at some point in their lives. Having spent a fair amount of time around people who are "apathetic," I've seen this in action. I don't think politics can or should be separated from anything. By attempting to do so, the raw complexity of a particular idea, issue, etc. is stripped, and I also think critical thinking is discouraged.