The Uses of Literature


This series of podcasts explores the ways in which reading and studying literature can have a widespread social value. Understanding how literary writers have represented issues such as ageing, world politics, or science can help us to construct better societies today.

Brexit and the Democratic Intellect, by Simon Grimble

The debate surrounding Britain’s vote to leave the European Union exposed, among other things, a suspicion of ‘experts.’ How did intellectuals become alienated figures? And how might citizens and academics come together in order to better understand the attitudes and experiences of the other? English lecturer Simon Grimble reflects on why, despite being in the position of an ‘intellectual,’ he failed to engage with the democratic process and discussion.

Contaminations: Literature and Climate Change, by Michael Mack

In a world on the brink of environmental catastrophe, we have come to realise that humankind is not superior to nature, but intimately bound up with it. In his new book, Contaminations: Beyond Dialectics in Modern Literature, Science, and Film, Michael Mack shows how the division between man and nature is just one of many false separations that influence the way we think. In this podcast, Mack explains more about his philosophy, the role that literature plays in it, and how the concept of contaminated thought may help us to conceptualise climate change in particular.

Why We Don’t Write Poetry About Climate Change, by Matthew Griffiths

Matthew Griffiths explores how climate change is employed to expose age old poetic concerns, and calls for a new account of the cultural significances of this massive anti-glacial effort on the part of humanity. This podcast was recorded at an Inventions of the Text seminar in 2011.

How Literature Challenges Our Infatuation with Numbers, by Michael Mack

How has the recent economic crisis challenged our trust in data-driven disciplines such as economics and medicine? In dealing with the problems of our time, what is the value of less quantifiable ways of thinking, such as literature? In this conversation, Michael Mack highlights the ways in which literature can help us to come to terms with issues such as mental illness, encouraging us to recognise how it shapes our humanity beyond the ‘objective’ medical account. Mack discusses the work of writers such as Sylvia Plath, Jonathan Franzen, and Bernard Malamud, showing how these writers challenge our dangerous infatuation with numbers. Read more about this podcast here.

How Literature Changes the Way We Think About Ageing, by Michael Mack

Michael Mack, author of How Literature Changes the Way We Think, explains how literature can help us to respond to the changing demographic of an ageing society. Writers such as Charles Dickens or Philip Roth present positive images of the elderly, which compare with more naive celebration of youthfulness such as that seen in the TV series, Mad Men.

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