Back in America

Poetism Part 2: Are we numb yet? Lisa Robertson and the Airborne Toxic Event with Mitch Therieau

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Episode notes


Why are we so blind, why do we see so little, when there is much around us to see?


So asks philosopher Alva Noë in Strange Tools, an exploration of how art objects contain, persuade, envelop, and direct our attention. What happens when we love a song, poem, or a moment in a day? How do these works of art direct and misdirect our attention? What––physically, emotionally, actually––happens to us in these moments of transport? And how can we talk about any of this without poorly paraphrasing that direct experience?


These are the questions Podcast Editor Josh Wagner was left with at the end of our last episode of Poetism. So, in this week’s installment, Josh invited Mitch Therieau, a Stanford researcher working on contemporary literature, to unravel the interstices of Lisa Robertson’s R’s Boat (2010) and the Airborne Toxic Event’s 2011 hit “Numb” off of All at Once.


Robertson’s poetry captures fleeting moments of stillness and the everyday, placing them in complex and abstract forms, while Numb’s soundscape desensitizes listeners to the world around them. Over the course of their conversation, Mitch and Josh plumb the surface-level depths of Robertson’s avant-garde poetry and trace the music history at the core of the Airborne Toxic Event’s track.


Longtime listeners might be interested to compare Mitch’s idea of what America is with Josh’s––way back from his first episode with Back in America.


Stay tuned for next week’s episode with Los Angeles-based filmmaker and tap dancer Johnnie Hobbs, featuring Amiri Baraka and D’Angelo and The Vanguard.


Check out frontman for the Airborne Toxic Event Mikel Jollett’s 2020 memoir Hollywood Park.