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

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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.

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Ato Quayson, Professor of English, Stanford University

Michaela Bronstein, Professor of English, Stanford University

Lanier Anderson, Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University


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