Archive for November 22nd, 2021

“One of the most brazenly intellectual shows on the digital airwaves” is in the news

Monday, November 22nd, 2021
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His 2016 discussion with legendary film director Werner Herzog discusses J.A. Baker’s “The Peregrine,” featured on “Entitled Opinions” (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

It seems to be the season for Robert Pogue Harrison. A few weeks ago, journalist Janet Albrechtsen ran a profile in The Australian, the continent Down Under’s leading national news paper. This weekend, Scott Anderson’s “Podcast an intellectual dig through past plagues and future tech” was published The San Francisco Chronicle. Christmas is coming early for one of Stanford’s most high-profile professors.

An excerpt:

Though he’s also an author and the guitarist for the rock band Glass Wave, the professor’s international following mainly comes from the creation of a pioneering podcast that’s now in its 16th year. “Entitled Opinions” is available on Apple Podcasts, where it consistently ranks in the top five most popular shows for literature globally.

Harrison today

Aqsa Ijaz was teaching literature in her home country of Pakistan when she discovered the show in 2012.

Ijaz would listen at night after finishing her teaching duties at Government College University in Lahore. She was hooked on the probing method that Harrison and his guests used in examining humanistic issues. Ijaz began playing the shows for her students.

“Robert has really influenced my own work, partly because he has a reverence for the past, but it’s not a cheap reverence,” said Ijaz. “The show was a strange expansion of my world.”

Harrison’s singular approach to the podcast’s lyrical monologues and long-form interviews is rooted in his early life. He was born in İzmir, Turkey, to an American father and Italian mother. His childhood was spent playing under umbrella pines and in overgrown ruins scattered through the countryside. At 12, he and his family moved to Rome, where he learned five languages and became entranced by the poetry of Dante.

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Glass Wave has its fans, but Harrison admits his biggest following comes from “Entitled Opinions.” It started with the idea of him interviewing fellow professors for a radio hour on Stanford’s KZSU FM. A writer at heart, Harrison began scripting intense opening monologues read over music, which evolved into an ongoing prose performance that he recites to Glass Wave’s blistering song “Echo.”

In the fall of 2005, a few weeks into the show’s run, a tech-savvy assistant producer uploaded it onto iTunes’ then-nascent podcast service. It wasn’t long before admiring messages were coming in from places as far-flung as Kobe, Japan. Harrison decided not to limit the show’s topics to literature. He’s since trod territory as varied as the historical Jesus, the Rwandan genocide and “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski.

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Lena Herzog, a Russian-born photographer and visual artist, has appeared twice on the show.

With another Entltled Opinions guest, France’s Michel Serres

“Even though I’ve been interviewed by places like the New York Times, these are the interviews I was most excited about — over the moon, really,” she said. “With Robert, it’s always a high-level conversation. … Intellectuals can be incredibly conformist, especially in the United States. Robert is not codified. He changes his opinions if warranted, and that comes from extreme rigor and discipline of thought. He makes for a very unusual intellectual.”

Recently, Harrison has brought that freethinking approach to questions about science and technology. He’s done shows with experts on cybersecurity, internet addiction, artificial intelligence and controversial biotech ethics. His most recent show, released on Oct. 8, featured an interview with renowned environmental landscape architect Thomas Woltz and focused on using outdoor design for better custodianship of the earth.

His conversations have been so probing that, in June 2017, Harrison was invited to give a presentation to some of the top gene-editing specialists in the world, including Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Anne Doudna of UC Berkeley. True to form, Harrison took the opportunity to recap Dante’s story of Ulysses sailing out beyond the Mediterranean Sea, only to meet his death in the Atlantic — a metaphor for where the scientific luminaries’ ambitions might be heading.

For fans, it was another sign that “Entitled Opinions” will continue as one of the most brazenly intellectual shows on the digital airwaves.

Read the whole thing here.

Entitled Opinion featured a two-part conversation with French theorist René Girard (Photo: Ewa Domańska)