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Call in, Ishmael

Posted by Jim Concannon  December 6, 2006 11:19 AM

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Ever wonder if great literature matters in the Internet age, if it's relevant to digital times? The answer's yes, of course, for anyone who hopes to think widely and deeply. Broadband access delivers information quickly, but not wisdom.

Exhibit A aired last night on the PBS radio show "Open Source," during which erudite host Chris Lydon staged a high-wire act to stunning effect, offering an hour-long comparison of the present-day Iraq War to Herman Melville's 19th century novel "Moby-Dick." Lydon, clearly having creative fun with sweeping moral questions, quizzed guests Andrew Delbanco, Jonathan Raban, Sidney Blumenthal, and Susan Cheever about connections between great art and great war. The ensuing discussion included swept-away comparisons of Iraq to the untamed white whale and the driven Captain Ahab to Vice President Dick Cheney. And, lest we forget, the quest for oil is central to both sagas.

The metaphors sound far-fetched in print, but have a listen. This is great radio, and kudos to Lydon and his producers for sticking their necks out and making a challenging intellectual show work as entertainment and tutorial both.

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