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Photo by David Shankbone

What Lawrence Weschler does is he writes about the world in ways that make it seem bigger and much more exciting—both more complex and more penetrable—than you ever thought before. He does this by writing (for magazines, in books, on the web) about art, politics, and science, drawing them all together. "I write about people who are just moseying along in the dailiness of their lives and suddenly catch fire," he says. It's not far-fetched that he's written about torture and repressive regimes: what interests him is that spark, "the thing that has to be repressed when repression takes place."

He also runs cultural things: New York University's New York Institute for the Humanities and Chicago's Humanities Festival; Alastair Reed calls him "The P.T. Barnum of the Mind."

In this far-ranging conversation, he talks about everything from how his Robert Irwin biography, Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, was self-medication; how modernism sprung from the invention of kindergarten; whether sub-Saharan clitorectomy or the North American college application process is stupider; a performance of Waiting for Godot by imprisoned lifers in Sweden (who escaped on tour!); and how The Stranger accidentally got him into a fight with his then-boss, New Yorker editor Tina Brown.

You really don't want to miss listening to this. Just saying. I'm going to listen to it again myself.