Sherman makes critiques available to all on iTunes
Published: Monday, October 15, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 03:10
Last year, Prof. David Sherman (ENG) spent his sabbatical creating a podcast after listening to “Philosophy Bites,” a podcast featuring academic philosophers discussing “focused, curious questions or concepts in the world of philosophy,” according to Sherman. After listening to “Philosophy Bites,” he thought about how a series of podcasts could benefit the literary world.
“We learn a lot from each other and that trickles down to our students in our classrooms, but mostly, readers out in the world have no idea of what we’re learning in our research,” Sherman said in an interview with the Justice.
For this reason, Sherman decided to begin to conduct a series of interviews with professors and scholars on the work they were doing in the literary world and create a podcast called “Literature Lab.” Granted, he realized that there were already podcasts on literary topics, but he mostly found interviews with authors explaining characters and choices about details—Sherman was looking for something more.
“What I wanted were more in-depth conversations with people about their obsessions, their intellectual obsessions, … just deeper conversations about more precise issues, that might seem very specialized or rarified but that have a lot at stake, that have really interesting consequences for anybody,” he said.
Sherman explained that many shows that feature authors publicize their books for audiences, but “those conversations rarely get into larger issues of literary studies,” he said. An example he gave consisted of an author publishing a successful vampire novel, but never explaining the history of the gothic novel, its requirements or social consequences.
Most of the critics Sherman has interviewed so far are local scholars. His most recent interview was with Robert Crossley, a retired professor from the University of Massachusetts Boston, who spoke about the tradition of writing about the planet Mars in literature. “As it turns out, there’s a very entrenched Mars tradition. People have imagined, people have used Mars to imagine life on earth in all sorts of very creative ways,” Sherman said.
Another topic covered in one of Sherman’s podcasts is about the role of literature in prison and alternative sentencing in prison. He interviewed Robert Waxler from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, who started a program called “Changing Lives through Literature” 20 years ago. The program finds “a kind of probation where convicts of serious crimes can take intense literature classes as an alternative to going to jail, as part of a program. The point of the class is to talk through issues that make them understand behavior better,” according to Sherman. The program has been successful and spread across the country.
Sherman said he would like people outside the literary world to also experience the podcasts. He wants people to see that critical ways of considering literature are an enjoyable part of the process. A critical approach “has to do with literature being at the center of a conversation where you’re trying to figure out things together. I would hope that the consequence would be that people would take new kinds of pleasure in their reading,” he said. “I guess the corollary to that is that people who aren’t in academia get a better sense of what people in literature departments do.”
Some other topics of the podcasts already on iTunes include an interview with Harvard University’s Nicholas Watson about medieval imaginative theory, concerning the mind and imagination 500 years ago; Carrie Preston at Boston University on Ezra Pound’s relationship with Japanese Noh theater; and Laura Tanners from Boston College on 9/11 fiction, especially Don DeLillo’s Falling Man.
Sherman comes up with the ideas for the podcasts, which he uploads once or twice a month, from conversations with other literature professors. “It’s a mix, sometimes I suggest something or they already have something they’re really interested in and I can suggest something a little different. It’s mostly I’m going to where they are. Mostly I reach out,” he said.
Sherman is planning on creating podcasts with interviews with Brandeis professors as well, now that his series has gotten off to a good start. “I didn’t want to start with all Brandeis [professors], but now I have just interviewed [William] Flesch (ENG), he’s talking about close reading, the idea of close reading, and Ulka Anjaria in the English department. She just came out with a book on the Indian novel from India, so I’m interviewing her,” he said.
Sherman stresses that the podcasts can benefit anyone who enjoys reading, not only those who are directly involved in literary studies. A misfortune in the field is that historically, people do not buy books about books, literary theory, literary studies or literary history, according to Sherman.
Another problem with the field is that many scholars write articles and publish them for other people in the literary world, but few others are exposed to their work. “I want to do this for a really long time. I want to do this as long as there’s interesting work going on. I want to help get it out there.”