38 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

    • Philosophy
    • 4.0 • 23 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#37 The Sound and the Fury

    Phi Fic#37 The Sound and the Fury

    WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THIS BOOK?

    In this episode we struggle, spin and madly rub our eyes as we work through the puzzling and enigmatic beauty of William Faulkner’s "The Sound and the Fury".

    Father said clocks slay time. He said time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.

    -The Sound and the Fury

    The Sound and the Fury takes place in Jefferson Mississippi, between 1910 and 1930 and is about the Compsons, a once southern aristocratic family now in a desperate, decaying state.

    The book moves back and forth in time and is broken up into four chapters: the first chapter is written from the point of view of Benjy, a 33-yr. old mentally disabled man and the Compson’s youngest son; the second chapter is written from the perspective of Quentin, the Compson’s eldest son, chronicling his life at Harvard and his subsequent suicide; the third chapter is through the voice of Jason, Quentin’s younger brother, as he struggles to be the man of the house after the deaths of his father and brother, his mother’s emotional breakdown, as well as being the charge of his sister Caddy’s teenage daughter, all amidst his anger and vileness toward everyone; the final chapter is written in the third person, following Dilsey, the mother of the black American family who care for the Compsons. The fourth child—Caddy—the only daughter—does not have a chapter of her own though she is arguably the reason for Faulkner writing this book in the first place.

    Hello, Benjy.” Caddy said. She opened the gate and came in and stooped down. Caddy smelled like leaves. “Did you come to meet me.” she said. “Did you come to meet Caddy….[she] put her arms around me and her cold bright face against mine. She smelled like trees. “You’re not a poor baby. Are you. You’ve got your Caddy. Haven’t you got your Caddy.

    - The Sound and the Fury

    There is little plot. And the book is largely written in stream of consciousness.

    “The Sound and the Fury” is famous for being extraordinarily difficult to get through as Faulkner mercilessly plays with time, not defining which character is speaking at a given moment, and erratically uses grammar throughout. This is particularly evident in the first chapter written in the voice of Benjy, the mentally disabled son.

    Our shadows were on the grass. They got to the trees before we did. Mine got there first. Then we got there, and then the shadows were gone.

    -The Sound and the Fury

    Join us as we try and make sense of that which defies and revolts against sense. Laura loved the struggle of the read and Cezary had an equitable position. (Nathan was absent). Yet, both Jennifer and Daniel disliked the book finding it an very uncomfortable read. However the overall consensus was that it is a remarkable effort. In 1949, Faulkner won the Nobel Prize to which this work made a significant contribution. "The Sound and the Fury" is considered a masterpiece albeit a “quintessentially difficult work”.

    “We could hear the dark.”

    -The Sound and the Fury

    In a 1983 memoir, Ben Wasson, an editor who was working with Faulkner, recalled that one day “Bill came to my room as usual. . . .[and]  tossed a large obviously filled envelope on the bed. ‘Read this one, Bud,’ he said. ‘It’s a real son of a bitch.’ . . . ‘This one’s the greatest I’ll ever write. Just read it,’...and abruptly left.”

    -The New Yorker

    By Hiltin Als, 2008

    Check out James Franco's attempt to film "The Sound and the Fury":



    Unfortunately, Nathan wasn't able to join us this time but fear not--he will be back!



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



    Click to hear more Phi Fic/a...

    • 1 hr 23 min
    Phi Fic #36 The Canterbury Tales–Part Two

    Phi Fic #36 The Canterbury Tales–Part Two

    In this episode, we are discussing the Pardoner's Tale from the Canterbury Tales, a book of stories by the Late Medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer.  This follows up on our last episode, where we discussed other selections from the book, which is about a group of not-quite-pious pilgrims traveling to Canterbury Cathedral who pass the time by telling each other stories. Here is a link to that prior episode and a short introduction to the book.

    The Pardoner's Tale, together with its Prologue, is a candidate for the best short story in the English language. It's about a corrupt "Pardoner," someone who sells indulgences for the Church (a practice leading to the Reformation). His Prologue is a confession of his own wickedness, told with unrepentant pride and glee. Silver tongued; he boasts of his skill in persuading people into giving him money for the sake of a religion he obviously no longer believes in. The story he tells is a sort of sermon in the form of a folktale. The moral of his tale is that greed corrupts -- so you should give him your money. This depiction is obviously a satirical attack on the Church's corruption, yet as a character, the Pardoner is strangely attractive, even seductive.

    "Greed is the root of all evils.

    Thus can I preach against the same vice

    That I use, and that is avarice.

    But although I am guilty of that sin,

    Yet can I make other folk depart,

    From avarice, and they repent of it."

    -The Pardoner's Tale

    Some have read the Pardoner as having residual religious impulses that make him a psychologically complex character, while others have viewed him as a figure of pure evil. Even if the Pardoner is evil, however, it's unclear what we are to take away from our encounter with him. Are we to conclude the Church at the time was also evil and should be abandoned? Does the Pardoner, like Milton's Satan, somehow unwittingly, perhaps Providentially, work toward the good even while pursuing evil? Might the Pardoner's thoroughly secular worldview and dim view of human nature actually be correct in certain ways?

    If you'd like to learn more, here is a post that Daniel did for the PEL blog on the philosophical implications of the Pardoner's Tale. The participants in the discussion include the usual crew, Nathan, Cezary, Laura, Jennifer, and Daniel.

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



    Click to hear more Phi Fic.



    Thanks to Christopher Nolen for our music.

    Thanks to Allan Bowley for Audio editing.

    • 1 hr 1 min
    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.



    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

    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

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5
23 Ratings

23 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.

eddieZfrancis ,

Doesn’t Fully Live Up to Its Name

I’ve given this podcast several listens in hopes that the level of discourse about the literature would delve more deeply into the philosophical questions that sometimes arise (or could/should). Too often, such questions go unasked, are given short shrift (and are seldom related to actual philosophers’ ideas), or, worst of all, derailed by distracting pop culture references. A couple of the hosts try to keep it focused and rigorous to some extent, but the others either don’t have the tools to meet that level of interaction...or maybe this podcast is supposed to be mainly fic without any real phi? I can’t tell, but I’ve been disappointed too many times to try again.

sgerot11 ,

Love

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

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