Continuing the Conversation: a Great Books podcast by St. John’s College

Continuing the Conversation: a Great Books podcast by St. John’s College

Enter a conversation where questions are more important than answers. Where curiosity and connection trump certainty and combat. Where history’s great thinkers provide a springboard for us to jump into big questions together. Enter Continuing the Conversation: our college’s antidote to the blustery world just beyond our library doors.

Episodes

June 20, 2023 42 mins

In the ancient world, art and religion provided a sense of meaning and order that was upended by science and technology. Today, our world is defined by consumerism, self-expression and a gnawing lack of meaning. Can the contemplative life of the mind play a central role in addressing this void? What about the role of its supposed counterparts—doing, making, and simply being? This episode seeks to untangl...

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This episode takes us through a close reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 94, which many consider to be his most enigmatic. Annapolis tutor Eva Brann brings a clear argument to the poem, taking us quatrain by quatrain through the poet’s descriptions of the beloved’s power over the poet through cold detachment and contingent self-mastery. For Brann, the sonnet provides exemplary evidence that “love and logic,...

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The power and beauty of Homer’s imagery in the Iliad is undeniable, and his scenes of battle often prompt vexing questions about ancient and modern virtues. Can killing and dying in war be beautiful? Is a just cause required for glory to be gained? Is war a courageous way of fulfilling human nature and, ultimately, of embracing the reality that death awaits us all? This episode, in which Annapolis host ...

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Socrates says that the intellectual practice of philosophy is a practice for dying. But what if the body is the vessel that can best prepare us for the end of life? In this episode, martial artists Krishnan Venkatesh and Claudia Hauer, both tutors in Santa Fe, sit down to discuss the problems of a philosophical separation of mind and body.

Through the writings of two essayists—the 13th-century Japanese author Dogan and the 16th-ce...

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If one could perfectly translate a literary work, would that translation make the original idea of the author universally understood by all readers? Or do the greatest translations bring new layers of creativity and meaning to a work, making its latent textures relevant for another culture or time—such as feminist translations of the Odyssey and Christian translations of Plato—even as they may dampen the original intentions of the ...

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What is the relationship between sports and war? And what is seminar's relationship to both? In this episode, Santa Fe host Sarah Davis and tutor Julie Reahard talk about Reahard’s passion for sports, her long-running commitment to the St. John's ice hockey team, and whether her experiences on the court are similar to those that play out on the battlefield of great texts like the Iliad and War and Peace.

As the conversation contin...

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Why is it difficult for people to talk to one another? Annapolis tutor Howard Zeiderman proposes a likely culprit: the difficulty that most humans have with listening. In this episode, Zeiderman joins host Louis Petrich to discuss the importance of learning to hear and understand the language of those who are unlike us, of supporting quieter and less represented voices in conversation, and of building true community through the com...

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In the Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln proclaimed that soldiers gave their life at the Battle of Gettysburg for a “new birth of freedom.” But what did he mean? In this episode, Annapolis tutor George Russell joins host Louis Petrich in a conversation that on the surface explores important Lincoln speeches and ideas within their Civil War context. But on a deeper level, it is a discussion about the often-conflicting ideas of f...

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Is it important to feel when we read literature? Or when we learn math and science? On a related front, what is the role of order and disruption in literature, in life, and in our observation of the universe? In this episode, Santa Fe host Sarah Davis and tutor Grant Franks explore the meaning and value of feeling, then launch into a wide-ranging conversation about the ways in which emotion, order, chaos, and discovery seem central...

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Why do writers travel? Why do some authors write their most influential works in foreign countries? Does the unknown bring new insights and transformation, or do new lands provide nothing more than romantic myths for the imagination? In the essay Self-Reliance, Emerson says "Traveling is a fool's paradise . . . My giant goes with me wherever I go." Is he right? Or is getting lost the best way of finding higher truths? In this episo...

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Annapolis tutor Chester Burke has spent many years teaching and shaping the laboratory program of St. John’s College, where mathematics and science are studied as liberal arts. This means that all students read the foundational texts of some of history’s greatest mathematical and scientific minds, in their historical order, while performing original observations, demonstrations, and experiments. These activities allow students to w...

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March 14, 2023 42 mins

Sophrosyne is the ancient Greek word for moderation, which is one of the four classical virtues. But what does Socrates’ definition of moderation really mean and how is it connected to another classical virtue: courage? Santa Fe tutor Michael Golluber explores this question by juxtaposing Plato’s Charmides against his own passion for the good life, which he defines as consisting of good food, good wine, good company, and good conve...

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What is home? Santa Fe tutor Paola Villa, Italian by birth, begins this episode with the Elvis Presley cliché “Home is where the heart is,” and then clarifies to host Sarah Davis that the heart is the crossroads between the stomach and the brain. From there, Villa shares French poet Ponge’s poem “Snails,” which describes the way that snails devour the land they cross, defecate on that land, and are fed by that land—all while carryi...

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March 14, 2023 50 mins

Is a book dead or alive? Can one be friends with a book or with the author behind the book? What are the promises and hazards of such friendships? Should we seek stability, loyalty, and reassurance of our deepest convictions and impulses? Or do real friends provide conflict, mystery, and depth, challenging and surprising us continually with new insights and contradictions? What if a friendship isn’t dyadic in nature but triadic, re...

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February 14, 2023 40 mins

Liberal education is education for freedom. What kind of freedom does it or should it cultivate?  Freedom without discipline is anarchy, and life without freedom is tyranny—or so says Annapolis tutor David Townsend, who joins host Zena Hitz in this probing conversation into the nature of freedom, the ways in which individuals and communities can cultivate it, and the need for self-discipline in tempering our freedoms. The two also ...

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What is it to write? What roles do ceremony, beauty, and material play in the act of writing? Not only is The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon  an early classic of Japanese literature, written in the 10th century by a lady of the Heian-era court, it is also—five hundred years before Montaigne— the world's first sustained portrayal of an individual self as she lives, thinks, and feels from day to day. A genre-bending mix of poems, lists,...

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February 14, 2023 53 mins

Does a contemplative life bring us closer to the divine, as Aristotle believed? Is it the highest form of human life or is it self-centered and lived at the expense of others? Can one lead a contemplative life while living in the real world? Philosophers, artists, mystics, and students have long pursued lives of solitude, contemplation, and creative exploration, only to encounter a recurring set of practical obstacles and vexing mo...

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January 19, 2023 46 mins

Can an ideal human community ever be achieved? Socrates believed such a community would only be possible if and when humans develop an “erotic zeal for philosophy.” Santa Fe tutor Patricia Greer was a founding pioneer of the intentional community and ecovillage of Auroville, India, where she witnessed first-hand the tension between philosophical ideals that exist in both Eastern and Western philosophy and the political realities th...

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January 19, 2023 58 mins

Family is an inexhaustible source of conflict for dramatists, novelists, and filmmakers—perhaps more inexhaustible than war. From Greek dramatists Aeschylus and Sophocles to Confucius, Vyasa, and Ozu, family is a problem, a question, and a source of both self-destruction and self-actualization. In this episode,  Santa Fe host Krishnan Venkatesh is joined by tutor Aparna Ravilochan for a journey deep into the heart of Thebes—where K...

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What are the limitations and possibilities of perception—and what do ancient mathematics and modern literature have to say about this question? Written in 300 BC, Euclid’s Optics is a foundational work of mathematics on the geometry of vision, while Swann’s Way, the first book in Proust’s multi-volume Remembrance of Things Past, published in 1913, states: “Even with respect to the most insignificant things in life, none of us const...

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