On This Podcast, “Quotomaniac” Paul Holdengräber Reads His Favorite Quotes
“Quotations are signposts, a part of my sentimental education, part of the way I breathe in the world,” says Paul Holdengräber. “I need those words of others in order to think, to be.” As the host of the podcast Quotomania, a project from Onassis Los Angeles (OLA)—at which Holdengräber serves as founding executive director—and the nonprofit radio station Dublab, Holdengräber shares some of his favorite words from leading minds across history. Far from a random mash-up of pithy statements, the show, launched this past fall, is a treasure trove of incisive and moving thoughts, selected by one of the most passionate self-professed quotomaniacs of our time. The featured lines offer listeners insight into how their originators understood the world—and how Holdengräber does, too. “I believe with Michel de Montaigne that ‘I only quote others to better express myself,’” he writes in the podcast’s description.
To fully appreciate the concise podcast—episodes clock in at around a minute and a half, and consist of Holdengräber reciting a brief introduction, the quote, and the name of its author—consider its host’s extensive, dialogue-focused background: Before moving to Los Angeles, in 2019, Holdengräber was the founder and director of The New York Public Library’s LIVE from the NYPL cultural series, which he ran for 14 years. During his tenure, he engaged countless luminaries across creative industries in vibrant conversations, with the aim, as he puts it, to provide “cognitive theater.” Holdengräber, who has been honored by the French and Austrian governments for his contributions to the arts (and who was the guest on Ep. 20 of our At a Distance podcast), also hosts The Quarantine Tapes, an OLA podcast about changing perspectives in the midst of the pandemic (on which The Slowdowns’s co-founders, Spencer Bailey and Andrew Zuckerman, joined philosopher Simon Critchley as guests in January). He also runs an ongoing conversation series with OXY Arts, Occidental College’s L.A.-based center for art and culture, and previously hosted the Literary Hub podcast A Phone Call From Paul. Holdengräber’s experiences shine in his skills as an interviewer and conversationalist. Spirited, perceptive, and warm, he embodies active listening at its best.
Quotomania’s episodes are lean in service of space for listeners to mull over the lines Holdengräber recites in his eloquent, Werner Herzog-esque timbre. (Not surprisingly, he has interviewed Herzog on more than one occasion.) Each ends with an ethereal outro track, offering a moment of heightened tranquility in which to sit with the words that were said. Extensive episode notes reveal the original speaker or writer’s biographical details, as well as links to previously conducted conversations in which Holdengräber cited the quote. “I use the same quotation on different people as a form of medication, a trigger to see how people react,” he says. “They react, of course, completely differently according to who they are.”
Quotomania’s words of wisdom come from thinkers past and present. They include “I am alive then. That may come in useful” (Samuel Beckett), “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” (Janis Joplin), and “In true dialogue, both sides are willing to change” (Thích Nhất Hạnh). Musings from Aristotle, Wendell Berry, Anaïs Nin, Georgia O’Keeffe, Blaise Pascal, Sylvia Plath, Rumi, and Mark Twain are also among those featured.
After recording more than 150 episodes, Holdengräber’s passion for creative thought hasn’t waned. “People are hungry for substance,” he says. “They want to be nourished.”