26 October 2008

Podoholic

When you're in the middle of a full-blown podcast addiction you don't listen primarily because you're interested, but in order to drown out the deafening silence. The emptiness of your own thoughts hurts and terrifies you, gives you the shakes. Sometimes the continuing flow of spoken words barely cover the neurotic, nihilistic whirlpool, but ultimately the podcasts are slightly more dopaminergic - or "motivating" as we used to say back in the day - than the solitary confinement of your own thoughts. So you keep on listening, religiously. You're an information-junkie, and your drug of choice is the spoken word. The iTunes Store is your pusher and the BBC is a meth lab.

Every now and then, however, you stumble across something of extraordinary value. You're struck by delightful surprise as the words pouring into your ears suddenly speak to you in more ways than you thought possible. For 30 minutes, or an hour, or two if you're as lucky as I was todya, you're engulfed; your poor addicted brain, so accutely sensitized to extracting value from those streaming headphones, is showered in relevance, meaning, expectation, monoamines, creative memory formation and retrieval. For that short duration of time, your personality grows and you're completely attentive.

Nowhere are such experiences more likely than in Professor Robert Harrison's Entitled Opinions (about Life and Literature), live from the Stanford campus. Seventy four hours of material, and counting. For the longest time I avoided the two-part program entitled The Rescurrection, despite an interesting earlier program with the same guest (Prof Thomas Sheehan) entitled The Historical Jesus (that show preceeds the monumental '1910', with Harrison's brother Thomas). I guess I thought The Rescurrection would be a dry mulling over the relation between culture, scripture and historical data (don't get me wrong: some episodes of Entitled Opinions, like the most recent one on the heart, are pretty lousy). It was anything but dull.

In the first hour, Sheehan, a professor of religion and a catholic, subjects the fundamentalist conception of Christ's resurrection to intense critizism, scrutinizing historical and biblical sources and presenting a strikingly unorthordox account of what really happened after Joshua's death on the cross, almost two milennia ago. In the second hour, Sheehan's scrutiny turns to Harrison's own latent catholisism. I won't try to recount this second hour, let's just say that topics include the profound absurdity of human existence and of Christian faith, and how the two connect and mirror eachother, as well as the limits of human understanding and the exceptionality of life. It's a great exchange, and I'll end with a quote from it:

"If there is not an agency of mystification, then somehow the sacrality even of these everyday things with which we live or eat - bread and wine - cannot assume, let's say the proper dignity, or absolute value associated with life, that they deserve." -Robert Harrison

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