36 episodes

Phi Fic is a monthly, candid conversation on recommended fiction. We dive into the plot, characters, philosophy, ideas, and best lines, in a discussion full of SPOILERS!



Nathan Hanks hosts fellow readers Cezary Baraniecki, Daniel St. Pierre, Laura Davis and Mary Claire, with the occasional guest. Thanks to Christopher Nolen for the music.



Phi Fic is a member of the Partially Examined Life podcast network, and originated as the Philosophical Fiction group in PEL's Not School.



Recommendations, questions, etc. for phificpodcast@gmail.com

Phi Fic: A Fiction Podcast Nathaniel Hanks, Cezary Baraniecki, Mary Claire, Daniel St. Pierre, Laura Davis

    • Books
    • 4.1, 21 Ratings

Phi Fic is a monthly, candid conversation on recommended fiction. We dive into the plot, characters, philosophy, ideas, and best lines, in a discussion full of SPOILERS!



Nathan Hanks hosts fellow readers Cezary Baraniecki, Daniel St. Pierre, Laura Davis and Mary Claire, with the occasional guest. Thanks to Christopher Nolen for the music.



Phi Fic is a member of the Partially Examined Life podcast network, and originated as the Philosophical Fiction group in PEL's Not School.



Recommendations, questions, etc. for phificpodcast@gmail.com

    Phi Fic #35 12 Stories by James Baldwin

    Phi Fic #35 12 Stories by James Baldwin

    Join us with Mark Linsenmeyer in a previous discussion on two short stories by James Baldwin: “This Morning, This Evening, So Soon” and “Sonny’s Blues.” Both are included in the collection Going to meet the Man (1965).



    This is an unprecedented and critical time to listen to this remarkable man.



    For the first time in my life I felt that no force jeopardized my right, my power, to possess and to protect a woman; for the first time, the first time, felt that the woman was not, in her own eyes or in the eyes of the world, degraded by my presence.





    So says the narrator in James Baldwin’s remarkable scrutiny of racism in “This Morning, This Evening, So Soon,” reminiscing about the moment he realized that he had truly fallen in love. His life in Paris has allowed him a freedom to live beyond the color of his skin, but now he is returning to the turmoil of the United States with his wife and son.

    In our discussion of this beautiful short work, Mark pinpoints Baldwin’s examination of the psychological internalization of the degradation of racism, with Mary citing the abuse of the narrator’s sister and her friends by the police. Laura delves into the question of the “other” in society, while Cezary posits that racism today seems to be subsumed in discussions of different cultures. Nathan highlights Baldwin’s argument that our understanding and perspectives on racism are influenced by differing realities—which is Baldwin’s reply in the famous debate with William F. Buckley.

    We then discuss ”Sonny’s Blue’s,” Baldwin’s story of family, responsibility, suffering, race, and freedom. The narrator’s younger brother, Sonny, is a brilliant musician who is imprisoned for selling and using heroin. On his release he moves in with the narrator and his family, and the brothers struggle to communicate. Sonny’s music finally offers them a way toward understanding and perhaps even a sort of freedom.





    All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it … But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air … another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours.



    We highly recommend Baldwin's famous debate with William F. Buckley as well as "Raoul Peck’s 2016 Oscar-nominated documentary ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ [which] brilliantly channels the righteous antagonism of Baldwin’s vision of the American dream." (https://www.theringer.com/2017/2/2/16043470/i-am-not-your-negro-raoul-peck-oscar-nomination-james-baldwin-d53738d8e0ca)





    If you have thoughts, recommendations, or questions that you want to send our way, please do via phificpodcast@gmail.com.



    Hear more Phi Fic.



    Thanks to Christopher Nolen for our music.

    Special thanks to Mark Linsenmayer for being our guest! And if you haven't already done so, check out the PEL's James Baldwin on Race in America episodes.



    Photo from Magnolia Pictures.

    • 1 hr 37 min
    PhiFic #34 The Canterbury Tales-Part One

    PhiFic #34 The Canterbury Tales-Part One

    It happened in that season that one day

    In Southwark, at The Tabard, as I lay

    Ready to go on pilgrimage and start

    For Canterbury, most devout at heart,

    At night there came into that hostelry

    Some nine and twenty in a company

    Of sundry folk happening then to fall

    In fellowship, and they were pilgrims all

    That toward Canterbury meant to ride.

    —Canterbury Tales, General Prologue (translated by Nevill Coghill)

    In this episode we are reading selections from the Canterbury Tales by the 14th century English poet Geoffrey Chaucer.  In this Part One of our readings, we discuss the General Prologue, the Miller’s Tale, and the Wife of Bath’s Tale.

    In Part Two we will be reviewing the Pardoner’s Tale.

    Why read Chaucer?  He wrote in a time that felt like it was falling apart and perhaps becoming something completely different.  His world was hardly a static medieval idyll: it was marked by the Black Plague, a crisis of religious authority, and the breakdown of England’s political order.  The Canterbury Tales is essentially an effort to come to terms with that complex reality.

    Written in the late 14th century, the Canterbury Tales is a short story sequence presented as a series of “tales” told by a random assortment of pilgrims.  They pilgrims are strangers, having fallen together into a traveling group by chance and circumstance, but they turn out to be a cross section of the then-emerging bourgeois class.  They tell the tales as a game to pass the time while traveling from London to Canterbury Cathedral, with the teller of the best tales getting a free dinner as a prize.

    In addition to the tales, Chaucer lets the tellers speak in prologues where pilgrims explain their lives and perspectives.  The text itself is presented as a recollection of a narrator who refers to himself as “Chaucer,” giving the book a metafictional dimension.

    Oddly, this narrator appears to be a bit more naïve than the real life Chaucer, who had a long career as a diplomat and executive for the King of England.  With a “dumb” narrator, the reader is left to puzzle out the book’s underlying ideas without the author’s guidance.  It’s a book that forces you to figure it out for yourself, an approach that seems thoroughly modern, but which reflects a long tradition of philosophical works from the Platonic dialogues onward.

    The participants in the discussion include the usual crew, Nathan, Cezary, Laura, Jennifer, and Daniel.

    The book was written in Middle English (a creole combination of the French, German, and Scandinavian languages of the time), but most of us read a modern translation.  Have no fear, you do not need to know a lick of Middle English to understand us.  But for a taste of how Chaucer sounds in the original, see the following video showing a dramatic performance of his poem, “Complaint to His Purse”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeUYtCcBO7I.

    If you have thoughts, recommendations, or questions that you want to send our way, please do via phificpodcast@gmail.com.

    Hear more Phi Fic discussions at Hear more Phi Fic.



    Thanks to Allan Bowley for help with the audio.

    Thanks to Christopher Nolen for the music

    • 1 hr 14 min
    PhiFic #33 Repost: The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster

    PhiFic #33 Repost: The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster

    We are Reposting our Discussion on The Machine Stops by EM Forster because The Machine is stopping.

    Stay Safe!

    'Cannot you see, cannot all you lecturers see, that it is we that are dying, and that down here the only thing that really lives is the Machine? We created the Machine, to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now. It has robbed us of the sense of space and of the sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation and narrowed down love to a carnal act, it has paralysed our bodies and our wills, and now it compels us to worship it. The Machine develops - but not on our lies. The Machine proceeds - but not to our goal. We only exist as the blood corpuscles that course through its arteries, and if it could work without us, it would let us die."

    - The Machine Stops

    On this episode we read The Machine Stops by EM Forster, a cautionary tale written in 1909—on the threat of ungoverned technology. The story follows two characters—Vashti and her son, Kuno, during a time of post-apocalyptic earth. Mankind has been forced to relocate and live underground because the air on the earth’s surface has apparently become unbreathable. As a result, people live in empty rooms—or pods—underground, surrounded by buttons which, when activated, determine their day.

    There were buttons and switches everywhere - buttons to call for food, for music, for clothing. There was the hot-bath button, by pressure of which a basin of (imitation) marble rose out of the floor, filled to the brim with a warm deodorized liquid. There was the cold-bath button. There was the button that produced literature. And there were of course the buttons by which [Vashti] communicated with her friends. The room, though it contained nothing, was in touch with all that she cared for in the world.

    -The Machine Stops

    Vashti and Kuno live on opposite ends of the world and communicate, like everyone else, via “blue plates” which they hold in their hands while their faces appear on the plates and they talk to one another (Skype/FaceTime, anyone?). Vashti visits Kuno and learns that, in a rebellious act, Kuno travelled to the surface of the earth and found other humans living there. Yet, the Machine caught him and has threatened him with “homelessness”. Homelessness = death and traveling up to the surface--out of the machine--is a criminal repudiation of the deity--The Machine. Vashti returns home dismissing her son’s madness and continues her life inside the pod—but then The Machine starts to break down—life support to enable travel to the surface disappears and religion is reintroduced. What is the fate of our characters?

    We are joined again by the irrepressible and wonderful Dan Johnson and Jennifer Tejada, as we explore this fascinating, prescient story!

    And take a look at:

    The Machine Stops: Did EM Forster predict the internet age?

    https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-36289890

    If you have thoughts, recommendations, or questions that you want to send our way, please do via Hear more Phi Fic..



    Thanks to Christopher Nolen for the music

    • 1 hr 24 min
    Phi Fic #32 Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Phi Fic #32 Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    There was some element of loneliness involved—so easy to be loved—so hard to love.

    -Tender is the Night

    This episode we are reading Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Reflected upon by Ernest Hemingway: “…in retrospect, Tender is the Night gets better and better,” which came a good time after his first comment to F. Scott: “Not as good as you can do.”

    The novel follows the emotional demise and world of Dick Diver. Diver, a Yale-educated psychiatrist, and his wife, Nicole—once his patient and a diagnosed schizophrenic—are extremely well-to-do (thanks to Nicole’s family), and are living as expats in the French Riviera. While there, Dick meets Rosemary Hoyt, a teenage movie actress phenom whose beauty and innocence attracts him despite his commitment to Nicole. He ends up having an affair with Rosemary, as his identity and sense of meaning fall apart. As Dick suffers, Nicole gets stronger and leaves him for another man. After they divorce, Diver returns the U.S.—to work in obscurity.

    The book is written in 3 non-linear sections detailing the evolving, internal, suffocating weaknesses of Dick Diver––as a husband, as a doctor, as a man. Fitzgerald once said: “A whole lot of people just skimmed through the book for the story,” [he] complained, “and it simply can’t be read that way.”

    “…it was as if for the remainder of his life he was condemned to carry with him the egos of certain people, early met and early loved, and to be only as complete as they were complete themselves.”

    -Tender is the Night

    Join Nathan, Cezary, Laura, Jennifer and Daniel, as we tackle this intriguing novel—and try to make sense of sentences such as:  “Like most women she liked to be told how she should feel…” as well as the meaning of the title, which was taken from John Keats’ poem Ode to a Nightingale.

    It was noted by the critic, R.W.B Lewis about Fitzgerald’s prose: "His words are never in love with themselves.”

    Watch the 1962 movie starring Jason Robards and Jennifer Jones:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7PEi096qUQ

    If you have thoughts, recommendations, or questions that you want to send our way, please do via phificpodcast@gmail.com.

    Hear more Phi Fic..

    Thanks to Allan Bowley for help with audio.

    Thanks to Christopher Nolen for the music.

    • 1 hr 42 min
    Phi Fic #31 Sula by Toni Morrison

    Phi Fic #31 Sula by Toni Morrison

    Because each had discovered years before that they were neither white nor male, and that all freedom and triumph was forbidden to them, they had set about creating something else to be.

    -Sula

    In this heart wrenching and brilliant novel by Toni Morrison, we are carried through a world called The Bottom:

    That was the way it got started. Not the town, of course, but that part of town where the Negroes lived, the part they called the Bottom in spite of the fact that it was up in the hills. Just a n****r joke. The kind white folks tell when the mill closes down and they’re looking for a little comfort somewhere. The kind colored folks tell on themselves when the rain doesn’t come, or comes for weeks, and they’re looking for a little comfort somehow.

    -Sula

    We meet a faction of characters from Shadrack, our opening knight in broken armor fighting WWI, who came home to establish National Suicide Day; Eva Peace, grandmother to the title character, Sula, who had one leg because she had placed one under a train to collect the insurance money--to Chicken Little, a young boy who is thrown into a creek by Sula, and drowns.

    At the center is Sula, a wandering, self-determined girl, who becomes best friends with another young girl named Nel, and despite their differing backgrounds--Nel comes from a home of “oppressive neatness” and Sula's mother is known as “sooty”—a bond develops between them which is not merely unbreakable, but fueled with oxygen.

    In the course of the novel, Sula and Nel encounter the growing pains of sex, family, religion, racism, ambition while trying desperately to know who, in fact they are. But one day, as Sula and Nel are playing in the field near a creek with a young boy name Chicken Little, Sula starts twirling Chicken around in her arms, and ends up tossing him into the creek where he drowns.

    Nel and Sula stood some distance away from the grave, the space that had sat between them in the pews had dissolved. They held hands and knew that only the coffin would lie in the earth…They relaxed slowly until during the walk back home their fingers were laced in as gentle a clasp as that of any two young girlfriends trotting up the road on a summer day wondering what happened to butterflies in the winter.

    -Sula

    Their friendship forever changes after that day, and as they grow older—they confront even deeper fractures between them. Then one day, many years later, after visiting the grave that held Sula, Nel breaks down and cries:

    “We was girls together,” she said as though explaining something. “O Lord, Sula,” she cried, “girl, girl, girlgirlgirl.”

    -Sula

    Join Nathan, Laura, Jennifer and Daniel as we breathe deeply and journey through this incredible story, launched by Nathan's insightful first question: How many tears were shed reading this one?

    If you have thoughts, recommendations, or questions that you want to send our way, please do via phificpodcast@gmail.com.

    Hear more Phi Fic.

    Thanks to Christopher Nolen for the music.

     

    • 2 hr 21 min
    Phi Fic #30 One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez Part 2

    Phi Fic #30 One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez Part 2

    Only then did he discover that Amaranta Úrsula was not his sister but his aunt, and that Sir Francis Drake had attacked Riohacha only so that they could seek each other through the most intricate labyrinths of blood until they would engender the mythological animal that was to bring the line to an end. Macondo was already a fearful whirlwind of dust and rubble being spun about by the wrath of the biblical hurricane when Aureliano skipped eleven pages so as not to lose time with facts he knew only too well, and he began to decipher the instant that he was living, deciphering it as he lived it, prophesying himself in the act of deciphering the last page of the parchments, as if he were looking into a speaking mirror.

    -One Hundred Years of Solitude

    Join us as we continue our study of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ epic, One Hundred Years of Solitude. In this Part 2 episode, we look at moments which we didn’t have a chance to discuss in Part 1, namely, the “insomnia plague,” the “four year rain,” the “Civil War” the fate of the character Rebecca and the matriarch Ursula's, overwhelming fear that a child would be born into the family with a pig's tail—did that happen? We’ll see.

    Then he skipped again to anticipate the predictions and ascertain the date and circumstances of his death. Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.

    -One Hundred Years of Solitude

    We also discuss the themes which Nathan, Laura, Jennifer and Daniel each found to be what resonated most: the circularity of time, memory, loss, humanity, and the caution the novel leaves us with about living life.

    If you have thoughts, recommendations, or questions that you want to send our way, please do via phificpodcast@gmail.com.

    Hear more Phi Fic..

    Thanks to Allan Bowley for audio assistance.

    Thanks to Christopher Nolen for the music.

     

     

    • 1 hr 6 min

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5
21 Ratings

21 Ratings

orangecat2020 ,

Discussions are Fantastic - Please no reader monotone.

I really enjoy the selections of books and discussions. The only thing that drives me crazy is that, when reading passages from the books, dear god use some voice variation. The monotone kills me. And one of you, I think has “actor” in your profile. I’m not expecting a dramatic reading, but emphasis and tone is important in trying to convey an idea - especially when the audio is not ideal.
I cringe with the droning when you read from some of my favorite books.

sgerot11 ,

Love

Love the conversation, the jokes, the selections and the whole production in general. Excellent.

HerrJager ,

Excellent podcast!

Great discussions and book selections so far. Really enjoying this.

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