Learn everything from Joyce’s Ulysses to contemporary Pop-Culture in just two Podcasts
What is in a song? In the melody, the style, the lyrics, the voice, the video? And what does a 100-year old book have to do with this?
Having already been a widespread medium of the early 21st century, the podcast has had a major boost in popularity during the Covid19-related lockdowns. As a medium and format it enables easy access to a variety of topics and is thus perfectly geared for the contemporary age's mobile consumption – one could even say it perfectly fits the ‘Zeitgeist’. A podcast which I hadn't heard of before I was asked to contribute to it myself, is Ralf Schlüter's "Zeitgeister" – aptly named after the "Die Zeit" foundation, who commissioned it.
Why do I like and recommend it?
As both a musician and scholar of cultural studies, I appreciate the way in which music is here featured: for each episode of the podcast uses a piece of music as a starting point for a short trip into the cultural history... of our present. This podcast looks at music – specifically songs and artists – and asks questions such as: What does a line by David Bowie tell us about our relationship to earth? Or what does a pose by M.I.A. tell us about the situation of Arab women? In doing so, the cultural journalist Ralf Schlüter follows the traces laid out in famous songs and pieces of pop-music that are more than a product of their time. His findings include secret messages and political statements, cultural archetypes and new utopias, and numerous references to novels, films and paintings, to advertising, comics and computer games... Or in short: the eclectic ‘logic’ of popular culture becomes sing- and dance-able.
As a Joycean, I also admire Schlüter’s other podcast “Ulysses lesen“. In preparation for the famous modernist novel’s centenary next year, he attempts to make James Joyce's Ulysses accessible to a wider German-speaking audience. This is indeed tricky. For while the novel is considered a modernist masterpiece, few have actually read it. In order to change this Schlüter asks, “Who is afraid of Ulysses?” and then takes us on an exploration through this at times funny, frustrating, comic, and complex book – excavating many references to the ‘pop-culture’ of the 19th and 20th centuries. He talks to writers, translators and critics, gives helpful background information and tips for approaching the novel as either a first-time or returning reader. I myself was invited to participate in one of the Reader’s Guide-episodes which will be available to members at the end of the year. Here, I could talk about my own scholarship on Joyce and the text’s many connections to music. In fact, I felt so comfortable talking with Schlüter that I began to read and sing these musical passages myself! So, don’t forget: in 2022, Ulysses will be 100 years old – perhaps the perfect time to read and discover this classic that nevertheless remains strangely contemporary.