(sub)Text is a podcast about the human condition, and what we can learn about it from the greatest inventions of the human imagination: fiction, film, drama, poetry, essays, and criticism. Each episode, philosopher Wes Alwan and poet Erin O’Luanaigh explore life’s big questions by conducting a close reading of a text or film and co-writing an audio essay about it in real time. Subscribe to bonus content at https://www.patreon.com/subtext.
Things Fall Apart in W.B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming”: Part 1
In 1919, the world seemed to have descended into anarchy. World War I had killed millions and profoundly altered the international order. Four empires, along with their aristocracies, had disintegrated. Russia was in a state of civil war, and Ireland was on the verge of its own. It’s these events that helped inspire William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming,” which famously tells us that “things fall apart,” that “the center cannot hold,” and that a new historical epoch is upon us. Just what rough beast is it that slouches, as Yeats has it, toward Bethlehem?
Filial Ingratitude in in Shakespeare’s “King Lear”
Do we owe parents our gratitude for our upbringing? What if they haven’t done such a great job? And anyway, perhaps we inevitably resent all the forces that have shaped the characters that confine and limit us. If so, the quest for filial gratitude is ultimately hopeless. It could even be a kind of madness: a foolish attempt to transcend the same formative forces that we resent in our parents, to be “unaccommodated,” free of the “plague of custom.” Wes and Erin discuss William Shakespeare’s "King Lear."
The “Intelligent Way to Approach Marriage” in Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”
L.B. Jefferies has the perfect girlfriend—beautiful, intelligent, wealthy—but too perfect, he insists, for marriage. And so he spends his time spying on the love lives of his neighbors, and ropes his girlfriend into this project as well. Which, strangely enough, turns out to be a really effective form of couples’ therapy. What’s the connection between voyeurism and what Jefferies calls “the intelligent way to approach marriage”? Wes and Erin discuss Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film "Rear Window."
The Acceptance of Mortality in Keats’s “To Autumn”
In this third and final installment of our series on Keats’s odes, we’re looking at "To Autumn," the poet’s last major work before his death at the age of 25. Keats’s elegiac meditation on the season also serves as a metaphor for his favorite subject matter, artistic creation itself. What parallels does Keats find between art-making and the bounty, harvest, and barrenness of autumn? And what can the poem teach us about loss and our own mortality? Wes and Erin discuss these questions and more.
Escape into Art in Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale”
Second in our series on the odes of John Keats is "Ode to a Nightingale," in which Keats imagines a journey into the realm of negative capability, a concept introduced in our previous episode on "Ode to a Grecian Urn." Keats hears a nightingale’s song and it inspires him to ponder such questions as, what makes an ideal artist? How might we access the world of artistic creation? How does art unite humanity across the ages? Wes and Erin discuss whether artists, however inspired, can escape the anxieties of a potential audience.
Truth as Beauty in Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn”
The poet John Keats is famous for the concept of "negative capability," his description of the ability to tolerate the world’s uncertainty without resorting to easy answers. Literary minds in particular should be more attuned to beauty than facts and reason. In fact, truth in the highest sense is the same thing as beauty, he tells us at the end of his poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn." What does that mean? Is it true? Wes and Erin discuss these questions, and how aesthetic judgments might communicate a kind of truth that is not strictly factual.