Comforting Conversations, pt.1

Sunday, May 17, 2020

What is it

In troubling, uncertain times, the arts and humanities are more important than ever. Engaging with works of literature can provide both much needed insight into our current struggles and a sense of perspective in a crisis. In what ways do novels or plays help us come to terms with human suffering? Can fictional narratives about past pandemics shed light on our current situation? And how can storytelling or music help bring us together in isolation? Josh and Ray converse with a range of Stanford faculty members about how philosophy, music, drama, and literature can provide comfort, connection, and a sense of community.

  • Lanier Anderson on Albert Camus' The Plague
  • Michaela Bronstein on narrative and fiction as imaginative tools
  • Ato Quayson on the social value of oral storytelling

Comments (1)'s picture


Sunday, May 17, 2020 -- 12:19 PM

Prof. Bronstein sees reading

Prof. Bronstein sees reading fictional narratives as a way of becoming aware of the way we see our lives, too, as narratives. In that recognition lies the possibility of choosing between competing ways of telling the story, or even of inventing a new narrative. This is abstract, and therefore difficult to apply to specific instances. An example she gives is of a play by Tony Kushner in which German leftists living in 1931 try to imagine what lies ahead for them, and what they should do about it. we witness them crafting a narrative about their past and current situation, unaware of what is to come in Hitler's rise, which the audience knows very well. Thus we can see the strengths and weaknesses of their various stories about themselves and their situation. The play might inspire us in the audience to think about the ways we act, or fail to act, based upon the story we tell ourselves about ourselves and our moment in history.

Unlimited Listening


Buy the Episode


Listen to the Preview



Ato Quayson, Professor of English, Stanford University

Michaela Bronstein, Professor of English, Stanford University

Lanier Anderson, Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University


Bonus Content


Upcoming Shows

07 June 2020

Misogyny and Gender Inequality

With the recent #MeToo viral campaign, along with the wave of prominent male figures toppled for being serial sexual harassers or worse, the topic of...

14 June 2020

Time For Summer Reading

When John and Ken began shopping around their idea for a philosophy-on-the-radio show nearly 20 years ago, many believed it would never work, let...

21 June 2020

Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre was one of the first global public intellectuals, famous for his popular existentialist philosophy, his works of fiction, and his...