Listen to an analysis of a book, film, play, or poem. A philosopher and poet discuss their meaning, themes, symbols, and motifs, with a view to co-creating an entertaining audio essay in real time.
Dead Wall Reveries in Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener”
Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener” is subtitled a “Story of Wall St.,” yet there is almost nothing in it of the bustle of city life, and entirely nothing in it of the hustle of the trading floor. The story’s walls block out the streets, serving on the one hand as a container for a colorful assortment of human Xerox machines, on the other as a blank projection screen for the reveries of a man who seems to quietly rebel against the very concept of imitation. Can we continue to live and work, if we strongly prefer to do nothing that is derivative? What happens to our aspirations, if we come to fully appreciate the gravity of fate? Could we continue to tell our own stories, if we were liberated from all idiosyncrasies of character? Wes & Erin analyze.
Cursed Kids or Psych-Au Pair? “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James
The story begins and ends with two variations on the meaning of the title. On the one hand, to give another turn of the screw is to ratchet up the horror of a good ghost story, in this case by involving children in it. On the other, it’s to treat the cause of that horror as if it were just another of life’s many obstacles, to be overcome both by screwing one’s courage to the sticking place, and by suppressing awareness of what is revoltingly unnatural in it. Whose screw turns out to be looser—the audience that enjoys such stories (and sometimes believes them), or the teller who manufactures them? Wes & Erin analyze Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw.”
Gentility and Injustice in “Gone with the Wind” (1939)
Gone with the Wind— adjusted for inflation, the highest-grossing film in American history— has undergone several critical reappraisals in the 82 years since its production and release. Certainly the film romanticizes the Antebellum South and the Confederacy while glossing over the evils of slavery and stereotyping many of its black characters. Yet it may also provide a sharp critique or even satirization of its white characters— the ambivalent, arrogant, and deluded plantation owners who fail to acknowledge that their so-called “fairy-tale kingdoms” are built on the backs of slaves. What can we make of Rhett Butler’s characterization of the Confederate “Cause” as the “Cause of Living in the Past”? And why does even the modern, adaptable Scarlett O’Hara remain in thrall to a childhood dream that, like the “gallantry” of the Old South, was nothing more than a fantasy? Wes & Erin anazlye.
Realism as Cruelty in “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams
In the transition from stage to screen, "A Streetcar Named Desire" retained its long-running Broadway cast with a single exception: the role of Blanche Dubois, which passed from Jessica Tandy to Vivien Leigh. Like Blanche, Leigh was the odd woman out. A symbol of the glories of the studio system, married to the symbol of English stage acting, her classical training ran contrary to that of her Method-trained co-stars. Thus to the clash of wills between Blanche and Stanley Kowalski was added a clash of acting styles— and the struggle between the death of Old Hollywood and the birth of Brando and the New. Which principle— Blanche’s fantasy or Stanley’s realism— makes for superior art? Can the conflict between magic and truth ever be resolved? And is all realism a form of cruelty? Wes & Erin discuss Tennessee Williams’s "A Streetcar Named Desire."
Prestidigitocracy in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939)
The Wizard of Oz is supposed by the land’s inhabitants to be its most powerful magician. But far from having any actual power, he is not even native to the place in which real magic is in plentiful supply. Oddly, this supernatural world seems to be secretly governed by mundane sleight of hand, and growing up, for Dorothy, involves uncovering the flimsy basis of adult authority. Which magic is more potent: the childish imagination, or the symbolic power of grown-ups to educate it? Wes & Erin analyze the 1939 film, “The Wizard of Oz.”
Formulated Phrases in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot: Part 2
Wes & Erin continue their analysis of T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” In Part 1, they covered roughly the first third of the poem. In Part 2, they begin with a discussion of Prufrock’s coffee spoons, and then continue on to: his allusions to John the Baptist, Lazarus, and Hamlet; the disjointed portrait of his probable love interest; and the twinning of aging and fantasy in the final stanzas.
Like a class where everyone has done the reading.
Great dynamic between Erin and Wes. Their different perspectives always seem subtle and productive, and both are great readers. This is the only podcast that has ever convinced me to re-read entire books.
Nodding by the fire, take down this book…
Very insightful and intelligent analyses, although the tenor of the conversation can feel extremely stiff and wooden at times. Not everyone needs to be bubbly and bouncing off the walls, but this is some powerful sleepy-time energy. Also, I find that Wes’s takes/tastes are a bit too stuffy and formal. In this way, he comes off as a Siskel to Erin’s role as Ebert.
“Sub text” review
Insightful / interesting / Intelligent. / /Pleasant. The Hosts work well together & are lovely to listen to. Really well done . 5 stars!