Dicussions of literature from a philosophical perspective.
Phi Fic 'Philosophical Fiction' from The Partially Examined Life
Dicussions of literature from a philosophical perspective.
Stendhal’s Red and Black (Le Rouge et le Noir) - Phi Fic Ep. 46
One of Nietzsche’s favorite novels, Le Rouge et le Noir contains some of the most profound psychological analysis in all of fiction. The novel tells the story about a young man from a modest background who seeks a glorious career, but ends up in enormous trouble as a result of his love affairs. The novel is divided into halves, with the first half being about a job where he ended up having affair with his boss’s wife, and the second half being about another job where he has a passionate romance with his boss’s daughter (all hell breaks loose at the end). The setting is France in 1830 right as the restoration monarchy is losing its grip on power to the rising bourgeoisie, and the writing seethes with pent-up energy.
Fabrice, Nina, Rob, and myself, Daniel, investigate what this novel has to say to us today with a focus on how Stendhal’s ethical beliefs are similar to and yet quite different from Nietzsche’s. Though written before Nietzsche’s works, in some ways the novel seems to present a sort of deconstruction of Nietzsche’s binaries of weak vs. strong, master vs. slave, etc. – to the point where one wonders what Nietzsche thought of all of this (his own remarks on the novel are incredibly cryptic).
Though the title is usually translated as The Red and the Black, we read a new translation of the novel that renders the title more simply as Red and Black. In this episode, we took the opportunity to have an interview with the translator, Raymond MacKenzie. Having sampled just about every major translation of the novel written in the last hundred years or so, I believe that MacKenzie's translation does the best job at balancing fidelity to the original French with maintaining a strong sense of style in English.
Below are the start times for the show’s three segments. While a synopsis is provided in the audio, the synopsis also appears in the text below in case that is more convenient.
Start times of segments:
0:49 – Synopsis and historical background
8:48 – Interview with the translator Raymond MacKenzie
42:15 – Discussion among Fabrice, Nina, Rob, and myself (Daniel)
The novel is divided into halves that are referred to as different “books.” Book One opens in the fictional town of Verrières in eastern France. This is the home of our protagonist, Julien Sorel, who’s a sensitive intellectual young man in his late teens. Julien’s father looks down on him because he’s not very good at physical work, and his brothers beat him up, so he is looking to get away somehow.
Julien starts studying to join the clergy under the instruction of a local priest named Father Chelan. Even though Julien is studying to become a priest, he’s actually a hypocrite who’s joining the clergy just to advance his place in the world. In fact, Julien isn’t really religious at all, and instead believes in the ideals of the French revolution and views Napoleon as his hero.
Julien finally manages to get away from his family when he gets hired by a local aristocrat named Monsieur de Rênal, who’s the mayor of the town of Verrières. The job is tutoring the mayor’s children, and it requires Julien to live with the de Rênal family at their house. Once Julien is living with the de Rênals, the mayor’s wife, Madame de Rênal, immediately takes a liking to him. Even though she’s about 30 years old, she has never really experienced love and doesn’t understand what it is. Julien eventually begins to make advances on her, but initially it’s not even because he really likes her; it’s because he feels like it’s somehow his quote “duty” as a lower class person to seduce an aristocratic lady like her. After he sees how much she loves him, though, he eventually falls in love with her for real.
The de Rênal family end up taking a trip to their country home for the spring where Julien and Madame de Rênal spend the season t
The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton
Join Nina, Daniel, Fabrice, and Rob us as we discuss Edith Wharton's 1913 satire of American ambition, The Custom of the Country.
The Poetry Episode (Dickinson, Baudelaire, Bishop, Byron)
Each of the four contributors picked a different poem to read and discuss for this episode. The poems we picked are listed below. Also below are links to the poems and the starting point for each segment.
Emily Dickinson, "The Brain is Wider Than the Sky" - 2:35
Charles Baudelaire, "The Albatross" - 13:05
Elizabeth Bishop, "The Art of Losing" - 29:45
Lord Byron, "Darkness" - 40:38
Want to join the Phi Fic podcast?
We’re looking for people to come join the show as regular contributors to the Phi Fic podcast. The idea of the show is to discuss literature from a philosophical perspective. I will be handling all the back-end work and costs associated with running the show, so you can focus on the readings and contributing to our discussion. We’re hosted on the website for the Partially Examined life, and we usually get over a thousand listeners per episode, so this is a great opportunity to get your voice out there. You’ll also have a say in deciding what we read. If you’re interested in joining us, please contact me at the email address firstname.lastname@example.org. --Daniel
PHI FIC #43 Bleak House by Charles Dickens
An unwritten novel by Virginia Woolf
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.
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.
Love the conversation, the jokes, the selections and the whole production in general. Excellent.