This week’s Great Political Fiction is Friedrich Schiller’s monumental play Mary Stuart (1800), which lays bare the impossible choices faced by two queens – Elizabeth I of England and Mary Queen of Scots – in a world of men.
This week’s episode on the great political fictions is about Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) – part adventure story, part satire of early-eighteenth-century party politics, but above all a coruscating reflection on the failures of human perspective and self-knowledge.
In the first episode of our new series on the great political fictions, David talks about Shakespeare’s Coriolanus (1608-9), the last of his tragedies and perhaps his most politically contentious play.
In the penultimate episode in our series on the great essays, David talks about Ta-Nehisi Coates’s ‘The Case for Reparations’, published in the Atlantic in 2014. Black American life has been marked by injustice from the beginning: this essay explores what can – and what can’t – be done to remedy it, from slavery to the housing market, from Mississippi to Chicago. Plus, what has this story got to do with the origins of the state of Israel?
This week’s episode in our series on the great essays and great essayists explores Umberto Eco’s ‘Thoughts on Wikileaks’ (2010). Eco writes about what makes a true scandal, what are real secrets, and what it would mean to expose the hidden workings of power. It is an essay that connects digital technology, medieval mystery and Dan Brown. Plus David talks about the hidden meaning of Julian Assange.
This week’s episode in our series on the great political essays is about David Foster Wallace’s ‘Up, Simba!’, which describes his experiences following the doomed campaign of John McCain for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000. Wallace believed that McCain’s distinctive political style revealed some hard truths about American democracy. Was he right? What did he miss? And how do those truths look now in the age of Trump?
For the last episode in our summer season on the great twentieth-century essays and essayists, David discusses Joan Didion's 'The White Album' (1979), her haunting, impressionistic account of the fracturing of America in the late 1960s.
What was interpretation and why was Sontag so against it? David explores how an argument about art, criticism and the avant-garde can be applied to contemporary politics and can even explain the monstrous appeal of Donald Trump.
This week’s episode in our series on the great essays and great essayists is about Simone Weil’s ‘Human Personality’ (1943). Written shortly before her death aged just 34, it is an uncompromising repudiation of the building blocks of modern life.
For the second episode in this season of History of Ideas, David discusses the Scottish philosopher David Hume and explores how eighteenth-century arguments about the national debt can help make sense of American politics today.