Feb 1, 2021
My guest today is Zena Hitz, a tutor at St John’s and the author of an excellent book called Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life. Her book explores the meaning and the value of learning for its own sake, through images and stories of bookworms, philosophers, scientists, and other learners, both fictional and historical.
That’s the jumping-off point for this episode. We also talked about the relationship between religion and the Liberal Arts, why studying the Liberal Arts has become so unfashionable among average people, and how an essay about Oedipus Rex inspired her to become an intellectual.
1:37 - What about Oedipus Rex grabbed Zena's attention and inspired her to pursue intellectualism.
7:05 - What Zena sees as a "good" question in an intellectual frame, and why good materials can get you to them more easily.
9:55 - Why the most profound questions won't show up at the beginning of your inquiry, and how the common person's depth of inquiry has seemed to dwindle since the past.
13:19 - How Zena maintains her attention reading books when it is so easy to be distracted.
17:00 - Why it is decadent, complacent, and undermining to ourselves and our community to pursue education only in what will get us work.
23:53 - How people pursued lifelong learning in the past and why it's even more viable of an option today.
28:07 - What Zena hopes to give to the world at large through her work.
33:51 - How the monumental shifts in wealth and inequality have hindered people's ability to contemplate ideas they deem important.
36:20 - The differences in solitary and communal efforts to contemplate intellectual topics.
39:40 - Why we shouldn't be consuming books, but rather engaging directly with them.
44:03 - Why Zena believes that the idea of a patriarchal or caucasian canon is a myth.
49:02 - How education is a means of training your mind while simultaneously freeing it.
53:04 - The affinity between the liberal arts and religion.
55:11 - Where Zena learned how to write and why she has trouble writing if she doesn't have an audience.
58:42 - How to use writing to improve your thinking.
1:01:30 - Why St. John's has deliberately set itself apart from research universities.
1:05:33 - The crisis in Zena's life that kicked off her political thinking and essays, and why she believes that our current institutions are becoming increasingly disconnected from our humanity.
1:13:23 - What brought Zena to religion when there is a historic amount of people leaving it.