Renunciation

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January 1, 2017
(was 01.17.2016)

Ah, January.  Season of diets and fasts and cleanses, of "Drynuary" and "Veganuary."  Why does being virtuous always seem to mean giving up pleasure?  This hour, we explore the concept of renunciation and our complicated feelings about it. Giving something up -- whether a glass of wine or a way of life -- can be hard and painful.  The experience can change people in ways they don't expect -- for better and for worse.    

  1. The Man Who Invented "Dry-nuary"

    Could you give up alcohol for a whole month?  No cocktails with friends, wine with dinner, or beer after a game.  Ten years ago, John Ore and his wife started a new tradition and named it "Dry-nuary."  Today, people all over the world observe it. 

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  2. The Story of a Contemporary Hermit

    Howard Axelrod was accidentally blinded in one eye in a freak accident when he was in college.  Disoriented and depressed, he retreated to an off-the-grid cabin in the Vermont wilderness.  He stayed there, alone, for 2 years.  Now he's published a memoir about his period of renunciation, "The Point of Vanishing."

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  3. The Religious Roots of Renunciation

    Shulem Deen was a Skverer— a member of one of the most insular Hasidic sects in the U.S.  Then he got curious about secular life and the world outside his small village in Rockland County, NY.  The community branded him a heretic and expelled him.   And his wife and five children renounced him. 

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  4. Renunciation as a Creative Force

    Renunciation can be a creative force. American scholar Ross Posnock tells stories of writers, philosophers and artists who've committed "acts of abandonment", leaving careers and creative lives behind.  They weren't failures, Posnock says -- they were necessary departures that led to creative and intellectual breakthroughs.

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  5. David Foster Wallace on Alcoholics Anonymous

    David Foster Wallace wrote memorably about AA in his famous novel "Infinite Jest." Writer Marshall Boswell reads one of his favorite passages.

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  6. How Prohibition Shaped America

    Prohibition gave us speakeasies, jazz clubs and bathtub gin.  But a new revisionist history uncovers a more disturbing legacy: campaigns against immigrants, the War on Drugs,and the rise of America's "incarceration nation" . Historian Lisa McGirr's "War on Alcohol" traces the unintended consequences of America's experiment in collective, state-sponsored renunciation.

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