“The Forbidden Ritual of Thought”—An Ode to My Favorite Podcast: Entitled Opinions


SKE English

If—for the purpose of ascertaining academia’s thoughts on mankind’s most exigent problems—one were to conduct a survey of scientists, psychologists, philosophers, and the like, I imagine that the phenomenon of thoughtlessness (or, the negation of the phenomenon of thinking) would be given scant attention. 

Indeed, there are few who identify thoughtlessness among man’s most ruinous banes—much less engage in an active campaign against it; but if there exists such a thing as a vanguard against modern thoughtlessness, Robert Harrison, professor of Italian literature at Stanford, and host of the idiosyncratic (the adjective that a recent guest employed to describe the show) Entitled Opinions podcast, could be said to be leading the charge. 

Indeed—to keep with the analogy—there is an almost military feeling that strikes the loyal listener of Entitled Opinions when the show’s theme song plays, especially following a lengthy hiatus; in a recent conversation, I likened the feeling to being reunited with some formerly triumphant phalanx (not that I am familiar with the feeling), which had, just a season ago, marched across the “dark places of the earth” and, under the banner of the forbidden ritual of thought (a reference to a favored expression of Harrison), shed, not blood—but light.   


It is difficult to estimate the extent to which the podcast, and its host, have influenced my own writing and my own thinking; my habit, for example, of prefacing most of the transcriptions of the interviews that I conduct with off-beat meditations on some aspect of the conversation are partially inspired by Harrison’s monologues, and I suspect that many readers find this habit either vain or snobbish; however, I cannot brook the feeling of complicity that the production of predictable journalistic prose engenders. I would rather be considered eccentric, foolish, or vain than perfectly adequate—or, worse, mediocre.

Two summers ago, while visiting my brother in Silicon Valley, I made half a pilgrimage the studio where the podcast is recorded, which is located below Stanford’s Memorial Auditorium (sometimes referred to as “the catacombs”). Following a walking-tour of the campus, I made my way to the auditorium, only to discover that its doors were closed. Undaunted, I circled round the building and found an open door on the back of the theater. Pussyfooting through a storage room containing various theatrical props, I considered briefly whether to continue onward to the catacombs, but was ultimately repelled in my pilgrimage by the thought that the Americans have sometimes been known to gun down trespassers; and while I love Entitled Opinions—I was not yet prepared for martyrdom (for presumably, one cannot think, when one is dead).

A few thoughts on what it is exactly that I like about Entitled Opinions: One, the obscurity of some of the show’s subjects continually fascinate: Russian Futurism, Psychogeography, Medieval Islamic Thought, etc., are among some of the titles that will catch the eye of anyone browsing through Entitled Opinion’s catalog; two, Harrison’s interlocutors include well-spoken and thoughtful luminaries like Werner Herzog, Lena Herzog, Richard Rorty, Peter Sloterdiijk, Andre Nightingale, Tobias Wolff, Vinton Cerf, and more; but, finally, it is Harrison’s monologues—which sometimes preface his interviews, and, at other times, serve as standalone episodes—that shed light on the world behind the world, inaccessible to those who do not engage in the forbidden ritual of thought. 

Entitled Opinions: https://entitledopinions.stanford.edu/simone-de-beauvoir-jeremy-sabol

Words: RTH




Spaghetti Carbonara