Genealogies of Modernity Episode 8: The Enemy of Morality Is Not Modernity, It’s Me


The great English essayist and linguist Samuel Johnson was writing during the Enlightenment – the period some historians identify as the beginning of the modern age. American author and philosopher David Foster Wallace worked more than two centuries later, in the “post-modern” style. But these two writers shared a common problem: once modernity fractured society’s sense of shared moral norms, how could you write persuasively about morality? This episode looks at how Johnson and Wallace attempted to solve this problem; what struggles plagued their solutions; and why our modern, pluralistic landscape makes their work more valuable than ever.

Researcher, writer, and episode producer: Kirsten Hall Herlin

Featured Scholars:

  • Walter Jackson Bate (1918-1999), Professor of English, Harvard University
  • Matt Bucher, Managing Editor, The Journal of David Foster Wallace Studies
  • Jack Lynch, Professor of English, Rutgers University
  • D. T. Max, Staff Writer, The New Yorker

Special thanks: Dutton Kearney

For transcript, teaching aids, and other resources, click here.

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Zachary Davis

Zachary Davis is the host of Ministry of Ideas and Writ Large and the Editor-in-Chief of Radiant.

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