|11/18/17 Dialectic and Dystopia: A Century Before and After the Russian Revolution Through Literature
November 7 marked the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. I commemorate this crucial historical event in an oblique manner by examining the works of key creative writers and other thinkers from the 19th century up through the aftermath of World War I and the Russian Revolution who confronted modernity's essential philosophical and existential issues. Writers discussed include Mary Shelley, Charles Fourier, Friedrich Engels, George Eliot, Herman Melville, Imre Madách, Jules Verne, Fyodor Dostoevsky, György Lukács, Leon Trotsky, and Yevgeny Zamyatin, with mentions of others and with Theodor Adorno and Richard Wright as a coda. All of this is to illustrate the historical failure to render irrational society rational and, with respect to world views, the unresolved dialectic of reason and unreason in the modern world.
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|5/26/17 Robert Zend: Between Budapest & Toronto, Between Zero & One, Between Dream & Reality
Robert Zend (1929-1985) was a Hungarian multimedia writer, who emigrated from Hungary in 1956 and established himself in Toronto, Canada. I present an overview of his works, themes, and influences. I illustrate Zend's themes of exile & identity, sources & inspirations, myth & religion, metaphysical notions, & the interplay of dream & reality with poems, prose fragments, & summaries of short fiction. Finally, I recount my engagement with Zend, my project of translating his work into Esperanto, the enthusiastic support of the Zend family for this project & the revelation that Zend himself was an Esperantist.
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|5/7/16 Frigyes Karinthy: the Hungarian Swift & his musical robots
Frigyes Karinthy (1887-1938), known in our English-speaking world as the creator of the concept of "six degrees of separation" in 1929, was one of the great innovative geniuses of modern Hungarian literature, as a translator and original writer of literary parodies, poems, plays, stories, novels, and essays with a satirical bent and a penchant for fantasy. Out of over 20 volumes of original works in Hungarian only a small fraction have been published in English and/or Esperanto translation. (Karinthy himself was an Esperantist.) This year marks the centennial of Karinthy's 1916 utopian novella "Voyage to Faremido," in which Jonathan Swift's Gulliver undergoes his fifth fantastic voyage, this time to a realm of intelligent robots that speak or sing a language based on musical notes and from their vantage point of greater perfection present a counter-narrative of humanity's flawed evolution. I review Karinthy's life, work, ideas, and influence, with emphasis on "Voyage to Faremido" and its evident influence on Sándor Szathmári's "Voyage to Kazohinia."
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|5/7/15 Adorno for Autodidacts
Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969), a preeminent philosopher, aesthetician, literary and cultural critic, pioneer in social psychological research and the social criticism of music, was a chief exemplar of critical theory, associated with the Institute for Social Research, popularly known as the Frankfurt School. In part 1 I provide an introduction to the Frankfurt School and to Adorno's intellectual career and reception, along with my assessment of his importance. While Adorno, a product of a highly cultured European bourgeoisie, has been criticized as elitist and resigned to abstinence from transforming the social order, I propose to demonstrate the opposite. While some thinkers now advocate "Adorno for revolutionaries," I judge this to be a misguided effort. I argue for something new and different--the relevance of Adorno to autodidacts and working class intellectuals. I illustrate my case in part 2, which consists of a series of quotes from the works of Adorno on the role of intellectuals, theory and practice, the division of labor, critical thinking, and autodidacts, with my comments on Adorno's themes and the structure of his arguments. All this is to defend the thinker given the impossibility of the unity of theory and practice. Finally, I mention Richard Wright, who apparently never read any of the critical theorists, but as a militant intellectual who rose from the bottom of society, might well have found Adorno's perspective congenial.
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|5/6/14 Science Fiction, Utopia, and the End of Imagination (1)
I tell a story interweaving the developments in ideas of utopia, dystopia, and in science fiction from the 16th century to the future. I briefly discuss the utopias of the 16th and 17th centuries and the proto-science fiction of the 17th and 18th centuries. The bulk of my presentation focuses on the 19th century, in which science fiction takes shape, new utopian prospects arise, dystopian scenarios emerge, and the future is invented. I begin the story of true science fiction with "Frankenstein" (1818) and continue with developments in France and the USA, with an excursion into futuristic works from Hungary. I discuss key roles played by Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, and Edgar Page Mitchell. I review the history of time travel fiction prior to and including H. G. Wells. I then summarize developments in utopianism. Towards the end of the 19th century dystopian works appear. Wells' "The Time Machine" (1895) marks a historical turning point, as do his other science fiction and futuristic works. Finally, I review key dystopian works covering the years 1920-1970.
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|9/7/13 The Contributions of Esperanto to World Culture: Part 3: The Esperanto-Hungarian Literary Connection (Continued)
I reiterate the main points of parts 1 and 2, with a reminder of the importance of Esperanto for Hungarians then and now, especially as a conduit for Hungary's humanistic cultural heritage in the face of bigotry and barbarism. I then review the activities on behalf of Esperanto on the part of leading Hungarian writers associated with the literary journal "Nyugat" (1908-1941), with special attention to Mihaly Babits and Frigyes Karinthy. I also discuss the classic verse drama "The Tragedy of Man" by Imre Madach, with a passage in Esperanto and English translation. I outline the landmark Esperanto anthology of Hungarian literature of 1933, with a note on author Mor Jokai (1825-1904). I round out my presentation of the pre-World War II era by highlighting two additional Hungarian Esperantist writers, Lajos Tarkony and Imre Baranyai.
Following fascist, Nazi, and Stalinist repression, Esperanto publishing resumes in Hungary starting in 1956. I discuss the leading Hungarian Esperanto cultural magazine "Hungara Vivo" (1961-1990) and the prominent editor, scholar, and critic Vilmos Benczik. I summarize the literary achievements of two important postwar Hungarian Esperantist writers, Endre Toth and Istvan Nemere. I close with a quote from Graham Greene's novel "Stamboul Train".
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|5/3/13 The Contributions of Esperanto to World Culture: Parts 1 & 2
Part 1: Overview: The concept of culture is discussed, as is the question of whether and in what sense the Esperanto community can be considered a culture, a question on which even the most celebrated Esperantist literati have differed. I emphasize the Esperanto phenomenon as a subculture and culture-forming process, with overall humanitarian contributions to world civilization, and artistic, mainly literary contributions, of both original works and translations. I discuss the perspective and literary contributions of Esperanto's creator Zamenhof in relation to the Esperanto movement and world situation of his time. I recite two original poems of Zamenhof in Esperanto and in English translation. I give a general historical map of the development of Esperanto literature.
Part 2: Hungary: After World War I, Hungary became the world headquarters of Esperanto literature. The publishing house Literatura Mondo was headed by Tivadar Soros, father of George Soros. I provide virtually unknown historical tidbits on racial issues from the literary journal, also called Literatura Mondo. I then discuss the towering figures of the period between the world wars, the Hungarians Julio Baghy and Kalman Kalocsay. I end by reciting two original poems by Kalocsay in Esperanto, with English translations.
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|11/17/12 Atheism & Humanism as Bourgeois Ideology
I propose a framework in which the intellectual basis of the atheist - humanist - skeptical movement, particularly in the USA, can be seen as a progressive bourgeois ideology that, while marking an historical advance beyond pre-modern, pre-industrial, pre-technological, pre-capitalist, supernaturally based forms of unreason, addresses only one half of the cognitive sources of irrationality of the modern world, and is ill-equipped to grapple with the secular forms of unreason, which can be denoted by the term "ideology". I argue that the Anglo-American intellectual heritage of atheism has never absorbed the indispensable heritage of German philosophy and social theory from Hegel to Marx to 20th century critical theory and thus remains philosophically underdeveloped and ensconced in a naive scientism. I furthermore argue that American atheism/humanism lacks adequate historical perspective due to the historical amnesia induced by the two historical breaks of McCarthyism and Reaganism. To combat historical amnesia I highlight not only relevant intellectual history but the buried history of working class atheism. I also sketch out some relevant philosophical aspects of the history of the American humanist movement beginning with the first Humanist Manifesto of 1933. I then discuss the intellectual consequences of the political repression of the McCarthy era. From there I discuss two prominent influences of the 1960s and 1970s, atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair and humanist Paul Kurtz. I highlight Kurtz's dialogue with the Yugoslav Marxist-Humanist philosophers and his failure to learn from the encounter. Finally, I discuss the intellectual shortcomings of the so-called "new atheism" and today's celebrity atheists in the context of the depressing political perspective of our reactionary neoliberal era. I also don't spare the dissidents within the movement from my accusations of intellectual superficiality. I end on a note of bleak pessimism.
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|5/6/12 The Utopian Vision of Sándor Szathmári
We examine the fiction and ideas of Sándor Szathmári (18971974), eminent Hungarian & Esperanto writer, author of utopian & dystopian fiction, futuristic & science fiction, philosophical & social satire. His novel Voyage to Kazohinia, written in 1935, ranks with the dystopian literature of the timeZamyatin, Huxley, and Orwell. Szathmári is little known in the English-speaking world, but this is about to change with the imminent publication of the English translation in the USA by New Europe Books. In this episode we summarize the novel and Szathmári’s 1964 novella “Machine-World” published in Esperanto, with special attention to the underlying conceptual structure of Szathmári’s fictional universe. It is also fitting to commemorate Szathmári this year, the 125th anniversary of Esperanto in the public arena.
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|5/22/11 Theorizing Social Paranoia
“You’re not paranoid if they’re really out to get you.” This adage reveals a fundamental problem in addressing the question of social paranoia and the concomitant phenomenon of conspiracy theories. Without the consideration of truth content, or a commitment to some view of social reality by which we could divide rational from irrational truth claims, we are left with a formalistic account of social paranoia based solely on defining characteristics of what Richard Hofstadter famously dubbed the “paranoid style.” In this episode we seek to outline all aspects of this problem, move beyond the “moderate” liberal assumptions of the 1960s, and suggest directions for future exploration.
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|10/18/10 Manny Fried's memoir published / Science, Religion & the Black community: symposia at Howard University
First, I review Manny Fried's life as labor organizer and playwright, then introduce his newly published autobiography. My second topic consists of a summary and commentary on two symposia at Howard University on 28 September, organized and moderated by student Mark Hatcher. The first was a dialogue on "The Poetry of Science" featuring Richard Dawkins and Neil de Grasse Tyson. The second was a panel on "Science and Faith in the Black Community", featuring Dawkins, Anthony Pinn, Sikivu Hutchinson, and a Mr. Stieger. Finally, provoked by a new essay collection on the new atheists I am obliged to review, I comment briefly on a pervasive historical amnesia that permeates the secular humanist/atheist community as well as its critics, gutting the totality of the history of the movement within the 20th century, which, thanks to the McCarthyism of the 1950s and the triumph of neoliberalism in the 1980s, has been effectively disappeared.
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|7/19/10 A Dying Culture, Raggedy Poets, a Farewell to Martin Gardner, and the Historical Trajectory of Secular Humanism
This episode begins with an introduction and explanation of the show's new title, "Studies in a Dying Culture," borrowed from the title of a book by Christopher Caudwell in the 1930s. Ralph next reads his poem "Raggedy Poet Society", a poem about the elder generation's attempt to express itself at a time when it has become culturally obsolete. Next comes a tribute to the recently deceased writer Martin Gardner, best known for his publications on mathematical recreations and on fringe "science" and extraordinary knowledge claims. The balance of this show is devoted to setting the historical stage for the evaluation of the ideologies of the atheist/humanist/skeptical movement(s) in the USA and current controversies dividing different factions of atheists and humanists.
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|6/7/10 Centennial of the International Esperanto Congress of 1910 in Washington DC
Ralph Dumain recapitulates his contributions to the national Esperanto congress that took place in Bethesda, MD, May 28-31, 2010. Ralph outlines different perspectives from which to view the 1910 International Congress, including one never before considered, the African-American perspective. Ralph reviews the coverage of the 1910 Congress in the Washington press and summarizes his progress in seeking out reports on Esperanto and international languages in the black press. The most important and earliest African-American Esperantist uncovered so far is pioneer civil rights leader William Pickens. Ralph also discusses the relevance of the Eastern European Jewish background of Esperanto's creator, Dr. L.L. Zamenhof. Ralph recites his three Esperanto translations from the poetry of William Blake along with the English originals. Fred Mohr chimes in with questions about language and music and the capacities of other animals compared with humans, and raises the directly relevant question of whether people who speak the same language really speak the same language.
(59:38) or click here .....for direct download right click here
|5/10/10 Flatness and Depth in Life and Thought
Ralph Dumain and Fred Mohr join Richard Wicka as they discuss a variety of topics prompted by Ralph's interests and ruminations. Topics include: self-definition, autodidacticism vs. formal education, overcoming the division between everyday and intellectual life, the inadequacy of only half-way decent intellectual fare in a society barren of intelligent public discourse, the fundamental psychological problem of habit, rigidity, and fear of thought as potentially even deeper and more ingrained than social prejudice, historical changes in patterns of American racism and the consequences of de facto social segregation, the age-old question of whether language fixes thought and its boundaries, impressions upon revisiting Buffalo (including the interplay of ordinariness and eccentricity, crudity and intelligence), Ralph's interest in and historical research into the history of the Esperanto movement, and the recent upsurge of black atheism.
(60:00) or click here ..... for direct download right click here
For other media on Ralph Dumain:
Ralph Dumain interviewed by Jim Pray, Buffalo, NY, 4 June 2006. Click here.
"As Long as You Are Still Breathing": Five Minutes with Ralph Dumain (video). Click here.