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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Literary podcasts educate and inspire

Published: August 31, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.

This past spring, the Creative Writing department began a program called Literature Lab. Literature Lab is a series of podcasts, available on iTunes with a free subscription, featuring different authors who discuss different genres of writing. David Sherman, an assistant professor in the English department, leads all of the podcasts.

The podcasts are well produced and the questions and answers are clear, even over the recordings. The topics of the different podcasts are relevant to the literary world and today’s society. It may be a challenge for Sherman to connect the literary world and modern day issues, but he succeeds in doing so.

One podcast released in April is titled “Virtual Reality in 9/11 Fiction,” featuring Laura Tanner from Boston University. Throughout Sherman’s interview with Tanner, the discussion of the text is related to today’s society. Tanner particularly mentions social media and how it affected the experiences of the event. Tanner approaches the problem with the idea of locating the real; drawing attention to the contrast between the immediacy of the event and the fact that 9/11 seemed unreal. It could have been considered something out of a movie because of the way 9/11 was constructed.

A different podcast in the series, “Things To Do With Books In Victorian Britain,” talks about how people viewed the books, and how they saw the difference between texts and books. Before the interview begins, Sherman says that it is important to look at the spirituality of the text. Later in the podcast, Sherman delves deeper into how people would take the idea of books as material objects for granted, and use them for purposes other than reading and enjoyment.

The most recent podcast, “The Gothic Novel,” discusses the genre of Gothic writing, which is considered a dark literary form. In the podcast, it is revealed that Gothic writing is not necessarily only a literary form, but can also be considered a cultural form. Sherman states that a major aspect of Gothic novels is the idea that something in our world is dangerous, but what that is, is not clear. He elaborates and says that this is due to a dangerous aspect of ourselves, used to hide behind normal behaviors.

In discussing the Gothic genre, he mentions the historical element of vampires, with a focus on the earlier years. Vampires are once again a popular character in writing, so the historical significance of vampires that began with “Dracula” is once again relevant. When “Dracula” was first published, the cultural aspect of vampires was associated with violence.

The idea of cultural boundaries and cultural symptoms are all a common theme in the podcasts. They mix in the historical significance of the writing and how it relates to the cultural significance of the topic today. The arts department’s values are directly connected to the podcasts, because both are focused on historical and modern day culture.

Brandeis, as a university, prides itself on being up to date on modern issues and learning how to integrate those into different areas of study. The Creative Writing department has the ability to initiate a program that does so, while maintaining a focus on writing.

The culture of the arts at Brandeis encourages the community to raise questions and use the arts as a teaching opportunity, while leaving room for enjoyment. The Literature Labs are informative but also raise questions about relevant aspects to our lives as students, such as social media and how to differentiate between material value and symbolic value of an object. It is important to the arts at Brandeis for students to experience new areas of the arts that they had not previously seen.

Literature Lab accomplishes these goals. The ability for people to hear professors of other schools talk about different works in varying genres is a rare opportunity. The interviews give insight into ideas outside of literature, sometimes focusing on the history of paper or social media. The professors expose others to writing they may not approach by choice.