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Reading the Troubled Past

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What should we do with literature and philosophy from a discredited moral past?

Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe lambasted Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness as a deeply racist work that should be removed from the Western canon. Defenders of Conrad say the novel is simply an expression of its time and not an endorsement of the racist attitudes it represents. So how do we judge the moral legitimacy of older works of literature and philosophy? Should we shun writers for holding racist or sexist views? Or is it important to read—and censure—them? Is it fair to judge authors of the past by today’s politically conscious standards? Josh and Ken have no trouble reading with Julie Napolin from The New School, author of The Fact of Resonance: Modernist Acoustics and Narrative Form. Sunday, March 13 at 11 am.

Devon Strolovitch studied medieval Judeo-Portuguese manuscripts and earned a PhD in Linguistics from Cornell University before coming to KALW. He is the Senior Producer of Philosophy Talk, and since 2007 has hosted Fog City Blues, the weekly digest of Blues in the Bay Area and beyond.