Imitation, Innovation, and Heresy in the Digital Public Square

A trialogue between Katherine Dee, Tara Isabella Burton, and Nathan Allebach, moderated by Geoff Schullenberger

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I am happy to finally be able to share this breakout room conversation from the 2023 NOVITĀTE Conference between

, , and Nathan Allebach, moderated by Compact Magazine’s Managing Editor Geoff Schullenberger (author of this excellent piece from 2016, titled “The Scapegoating Machine”, in The New Inquiry).

Geoff opens up the discussion by referencing a little-known essay written by René Girard, “Innovation and Repetition”, which can be found in this relatively obscure collection. (If you have access to JSTOR, you can also find it here.)

You’ll find an essay from me on “Innovation and Repetition” published here way back in April 2021, when there were only a few thousand subscribers to this newsletter. I had fun digging that one out of archives.

It’s clearly one of Girard’s most underrated pieces of writing. I’m glad Geoff used it to frame this wide-reaching discussion.

I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.

The Interlocutors

Katherine Dee, Writer and Podcaster. Katherine Dee is an internet historian and culture reporter. You can find her work in Tablet, the Washington Examiner, Unherd, the Spectator, and on Substack, at

Tara Isabella Burton, Author. Tara Isabella Burton is the author of SelfMade: Creating Our Identities from Da Vinci to the Kardashians, Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World, and the novels Social Creature, The World Cannot Give, and the novel Here in Avalon. She has written on religion and culture for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and more.

Tara published this fascinating guest piece—”Original Sin—A Theological Reading of Innovation”—right here last month.

Nathan Allebach, Creative Director at Allebach Communications. Nathan Allebach is a writer, creative director, and urbanist. He’s most known for personifying the meat brand Steak-umm in the form of cultural commentary on Twitter from 2017–2021, which was featured in The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, and more. In 2022, he produced a video about the importance of “third places,” which went viral with 1.4 million views on TikTok and 4 million views on Twitter. Since then, he’s been directing the social media marketing for Strong Towns, which is an organization that advocates for building more walkable and economically productive places. His writing has been published in Vulture, Arc Digital, and Insider, on topics like brand behavior, news literacy, and political taxonomies.

Geoff Shullenberger, Managing editor of Compact. Geoff Shullenberger is a regular contributor to publications including American Affairs, the Chronicle of Higher Education, The New Atlantis, and the Washington Examiner.

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