So PEL episodes are swell and all, but are quite long, and if you send them to your friends, they might just shrug and say they have no idea what's going on, and maybe you say "well, you just have to go listen from episode 1 and maybe do some web searching whenever anyone brings up a term you don't understand" and maybe they shake their heads at what a loser you are who would take the time to do such things.
This is to say that the appeal of PEL is as we well know, selective. But yet we at the ever industrious PARTIALLY EXAMINED LIFE LLC want to conquer the world and be known to and loved by one and all, and so we have long schemed about spin-off efforts that should SURELY have more widespread potential appeal than lengthy and involved textual debates about the meaning of "is" and whether the concept of number is empirical and how to best translate logos. Maybe people will want to hear more about music! Maybe they'll want to hear about science fiction! Or movies more generally? Wes wants to start a politics podcast (maybe that'll happen, but it will likely not involve the rest of us).
Well, one idea we've returned to time and again is a shorter-form philosophy podcast, and I think we've hit on a good version of this here with A GLIMPSE INTO PHILOSOPHY, but we want your feedback to make sure this is actually accomplishing what it aims to. Below you'll find three 8–9 minute recordings I made that each rooted in a figure and concept that PEL has covered, but are meant to be easily understood independent of those conversations; I point listeners at the end back to the PEL episode(s) to learn more. Unlike the precognitions we tried recording for a while, these clips are not meant to comprehensively introduce the reading, and include almost no basic, wikipedia-type information. I ask a question relating to the real world, I claim that the figure in question has something to say about it, and then I lay out some twists and turns that hopefully expose a little interesting nuance while "keeping it real."
So take a listen and give some feedback here. Are these clear? Interesting? Maybe play one of them to a friend who doesn't like philosophy so much or would find PEL overwhelming. While these probably all supplement pretty well the PEL eps in question, we're picture that this be its own podcast, on its own feed (would you want to also have them right there in the PEL feed?), spread out onto other publications (the first one is already up on openculture.com), luring folks to the deeper waters of philosophy.
Note the logo at the top of this post is NOT what we'd be using; it's just something I slapped together that I find hilariously awful.
Here's the first one I recorded, on our recent Sartre ep:
Here's the second one, on our current Nietzsche ep:
And finally, here's one on an older PEL episode. These take a bit more effort to get back in the spirit of a previous discussion, but would constitute at least half the output of this new podcast.
Whether this would end up as a Mark solo endeavor or if I can get Wes and Seth and Dylan to record their own episodes remain to be seen; I'm definitely bugging them to do so, as I'd prefer this be more continuous in that respect to PEL, and we also haven't ruled out having more than one of us on an episode.
Also, just to clarify/emphasize, none of this would replace PEL conversations; it would be a parallel effort to run alongside and also leverage our past conversations, to hopefully bring those to a wider audience. Plus, people have at some points criticized us for not expressing our OWN views in the PEL discussions enough, and I think this project responds to that critique.
So speak up, and don't spare my feelings; feel free to comment on this blog post or email me at email@example.com.
I think this is a great idea! I think the general public are much more used to things being offered to them in bite size chunks of a few mins length these days. (Youtube etc). Therefore I think a lot of potential listeners may get turned off simply by the length of the normal PEL episodes. So this will be a good way in to see if a thinker grabs your attention to then go and find out more.
Mark Linsenmayer says
stephen wallerstein says
I listened to the talk on the last man.
I missed the give and take, the dialogue, which you find in the full-length PEL episodes. My take is that if you want to understand Nietzsche or any thinker of his level, 8 minutes just isn’t enough. You need to read him, to listen to podcasts like PEL (if you haven’t taken classes on him), to reread him, and maybe even listen to a few PEL episodes a second time.
I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but Nietzsche in 8 minutes somehow cheapens him and maybe in some way cheapens you as a thinker, since one of your (I’m speaking of the whole PEL team) chief virtues is your intellectual complexity, your refusal to come to neat conclusions, your unwillingness to solve all the world’s problems in a tweet or in 8 minutes.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Thanks. I’ve added the clarification to the post that this is an additional effort, not a replacement for PEL. The long discussion takes a stab at understanding the text. The short one uses that understanding to try to make a point.
Peter Hardy says
Hi Mark, I’ve only listened to the Sartre one (something I knew nothing about) and was really impressed, fantastic stuff.
2 (hopefully) constructive thoughts:
> If you’re aiming it at non-philosophers, while you did a very good job of keeping the points simple and jargon-free, perhaps it was a little too fast-paced. I felt it covered a lot of stuff quickly, which is great, but a beginner might feel overwhelmed at this whirlwind of thought and prefer something more focused on fewer ideas.
> On the other hand, the fact that you’re doing that rather than a focused description of say Sartre’s existentialism in general, makes the podcast more unique and valuable. Seeing as there are lots of things like Philosophy Bites that already do that well, I mean. An alternative way of making these Glimpses stand out from other shows would be to involve contributions some of the other three of you, making these more continuous with, and in the spirit of, PEL. I think I would miss that, if these were all solo. But I’m all in favour of sacrificing the 3 or 4 person discussions in order to make shorter, more accessible content.
Writing this I see how difficult it is for you to balance… many thanks!
Mark Linsenmayer says
Thanks, Peter. If you get a chance to listen to the other two, I’d be interested to hear if you think the whirlwind calmed down enough that those are more comprehensible. Best, -Mark
Frank Levi says
These are really good! I miss the precognitions, and I think this is an even better idea. I’m also excited about the idea of Wes doing a podcast about politics. (sub)Text has been consistently great!
Luke T says
Thanks for soliciting our feedback on your new PEL product, Mark! I think I understand the temptation you are under here, to cast an ever wider net and reach a larger and larger audience. I’m personally of the mind however that, ‘selective’ though your core listenership may be, the extended, discursive episode explorations are PEL’s comparative advantage and niche in the – pretty large by now – philosophy podcast soundscape.
If these teaser spots are meant chiefly as a ‘gateway drug’ to regular PEL fare, therefore, then maybe the effort (plus cameos by the rest of the quartet) is worth it. As a longtime listener myself, though, I found them to leave a little something to be desired.
Those precogs back in the day, by the way, were great stuff! I gather PEL’s demanding production schedule makes their more regular recording perhaps prohibitive? They were definitely value-added and dense. Never lacking for richness and complexity, and they gave me more motivation to keep up with you guys on the primary source reading and consumption.
If you had to choose between different recipes for ‘PEL Lite,’ in other words, I would recommend going back to the PreCog routine. GLIMPSES have (at first blush, at least) too much a whiff of New Coke.
Finally, if you are just looking for a new and clever way to package your cooperative-learning technology, I have some (possibly) outside-of-the-box ideas that I will send to you via private email. They are probably going to sound a little raw and open-ended if I point directly to them here, but – if any struck your fancy – we could have that exchange as appropriate.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Thanks. We stopped doing precogs sheerly because they were getting about half the traffic of a regular episode and introduced the complication of us either having to assume during the full episode that listeners have listened to and remember them or re-explaining the same ground. I probably would have kept going, but none of the other guys wanted to participate or thought it was worth paying me to do them. (Ditto for aftershows, incidentally.)
I’m certainly glad that current PEL listeners like our regular format (that being the selection bias; they wouldn’t be current listeners if they didn’t). I have no intent to mess with that. Re. your message to me, I’m about the only one of us four that is honestly interested in world philosophy, I think, and end up being the one to have to shoehorn that into our schedule; I doubt it’ll increase to more than 1-2 per year. (Lao Tzu will be next, hopefully mid-to-late summer. Islamic philosophy is still competing with Neo-Platonism and Aquinas as things we’d sure like to get to. I still very much have your various messages about that flagged.) As far as “diversity,” we’ve had many more requests for more female representation and treatment of identity issues than for world philosophy, which is something that I think we’ve responded to quite a bit of late (and will probably do The Second Sex before too long). “Less well traveled” roads = fewer interested listeners.
Thanks very very much for your feedback and your continued interest in PEL despite our not getting to some of these topics you’d like us to handle! Best, -Mark
Luke T says
Yep, understand. And, selfishly, I’d rather have you guys try to be the master of one part of the (large) discipline, rather than jack of them all. Keep up the noble work, Mark!
Jennifer Tejada says
I’m not sure if I am the person to give feedback, but you asked so here it is!
Just how smart do you think your audience is, rather just how smart do you think the audience you are trying to reach is? I actually found this more difficult to understand in some ways especially imagining listening as one of the people I might consider sending this to.
I liked Nietzsche the most because of the use of rhetorical questions as examples. I found Machiavelli the most difficult to understand as it relates to the actual book. If you’ve never read the book and know nothing about Machiavelli this isn’t easily understood. The people who can understand these are already interested enough in these ideas to want the nuance of the long form. If you’re aiming for an audience who currently has no interest in philosophy and likely has the vocabulary/reading level to match that – then this is not going to interest them IMO. If it were an English paper I was grading, I would say – I need a more concise thesis statement and I need to see the subsequent paragraphs relate back to that central statement more often because I am not making the connection always. It feels more stream of consciousness. I want to be able to summarize your point at the end of this schtick and I can’t. Except for Nietzsche. That one was close.
I guess I’m saying it’s too hard to understand – except Nietzsche episode.
I listen/watch/take internet courses on a lot of this stuff for the VERY average person and while at times it’s a little too dumbed down, when I listen to something about a particular person, I am left with a solid grasp of what they were about. I like that. I think at the end of the day there is some ego involved in feeling like – hey – I know something about these old guys. I got that with Nietzsche but less with Machiavelli. Sartre had a strong central point but when you said you didn’t really like it and that you’d rather see an argument – I wanted that to be followed up more. I hate when there are comments in an episode and never followed through – which happens a lot – “we won’t discuss that now but…” etc. It’s this kind of clutter in the conversation that isn’t for listeners. It doesn’t help propel my understanding in any way. I do want your opinion! I just don’t want it without understanding why – especially when you go on to say – writing is inherently political! Did you change your mind about liking political literature halfway through the talk? If you don’t like it – does that mean you don’t like literature? I just wanted to understand how to connect those thoughts.
I don’t know how helpful that is. But as a PEL listener – I would love more of these. I would listen to them in conjunction with the other podcasts and get even more out of them. I just don’t think 2 out of the 3 would be anything I would send to a friend. I’ve tried many times with many people and they are like – no – too many big words. I’m guessing that most of your other listeners maybe have more intellectual friends? No idea – hard to come by for me.
Thanks for all you guys do. I hope this wasn’t discouraging. Wes’s last episode regarding Melanie Klein was an example of a perfect episode for me in the sense that it took one concept that is really complicated and broke it down in a way that I understood by the end. It was very satisfying.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Thanks, Jennifer, that’s very helpful and honest, though dispiriting. It’s difficult finding a formula that I actually feel I would be excited cranking out a lot of, and I thought I hit it here, but if it isn’t going to do the job we want it to do, then it’s probably not worth bothering.
The Sartre one was more of a learning experience and I would probably not post it as episode #1 of the new podcast, but I had thought that I was getting more accessible as I went, i.e. that Machiavelli was best. I’m less interested in just presenting a clear explanation of the concept (there are already a million videos online doing that, or just read wikipedia) as seeing if I can actually play with it with some back-and-forth thinking in a way that will be engaging. So the idea is not to state my thesis, clarify the thesis, then argue for the thesis, but to preserve the ambiguity of “Sartre said this… it sounds like bull… but on the other hand, here’s why he said it… and let me explore that through some examples… but here are my problem with those examples… now you decide.” I still might try that again but with fewer ideas per minute to keep it more comprehensible.
So I guess I need to think about this (and see what other folks say), and maybe try a slightly different approach with the next one.
Jennifer Tejada says
So I listened to Machiavelli two more times, three total. I get what you’re going for after you explained and after listening to again. This often happens with me with your regular episodes. It’s just so dense for someone like me that I need to listen a couple times to even understand the whole. Same with this -, so I think the above mentioned ideas about thinning out the content so slower listeners can keep up may be the trick. The Machiavelli episode was actually really fun once I realized what you were saying.
Again – this is all because I’m shamelessly slow on the uptake. I don’t want to discourage at all! And you (guys) will obviously get better and better as you go along as well.
s. wallerstein says
It’s not that you are slow. I also have to listen to those regular episodes that especially interest me several times. No one has perfect concentration for 70 or 80 minutes and just when you have assimilated what one of the team has said, another says something which takes a few seconds to assimilate and you fall behind. That happens to everyone, I’d bet.
Jennifer Tejada says
Thank you, Stephen. That’s a really good point. I appreciate the kind words.
James Mansell says
I am a big fan of the longer PEL episodes. I put on the head phones and listen in chunks throughout the weekend here in New Zealand.
I see what you are trying to do with these shorter Glimpses – to increase your audience by not daunting them with length. However, I suspect the Glimpses as they stand would be too dense for somebody not already interested in PEL. Perhaps, like Jennifer, they are hard going because you have crystalized a lot of content into 8 short minutes. Feels like gazing into the platonic form of the Phil lecture done on speed. I listened to Nietzche and Machiavelli. I got a lot out of Neitzche but felt like I was running ten yards behind trying to catch up with the previous thought.
I had a few wider thoughts about your challenge.
Are trying to solve the wrong problem with the Glimpses ? I think it is potentially content rather than length that puts the non-PEL selective audience off. And the Glimpse content is still pretty up there, thoughtful and challenging.
Secondly, if you are aiming for a streamlined approach in the shorter form, then I think 20-40 minutes would still be fine – I seem to remember hearing somewhere that that is the optimal podcast length (??). And I think if you had taken 20 minutes and slowed down the Neitzche and provided thinking space or examples, then that would be a really good podcast on its own merits – the content is great. Definitely going to have another listen
But then, I am still not sure it would bring in those not already interested in PEL. I think it is still pretty PELish kind of content – introductory, but still a lot of big ideas in there. But maybe doubling the length might solve that challenge.
I was wondering what kind of segments or markets you were looking to develop? More philosophy interested PEL kinds of people or other non philosophy but PEL-ish people?
If it is more PEL-o-philes interested in philosophy then the strategy might include partnering with other philosophy podcasts for cross-selling to identify potential PEL-o-philes who don’t already know about PEL. So buddy-up with Stephan West for example and up-sell those in his audience (and vice versa). Or in general reach out to other channels where your latent “interested in philosophy” audience is to up-sell them into deeper PEL content. In this case a longer form Glimse …or Gaze (20 min) might be a useful bridge – but maybe you don’t need so many of them in that case. Just some that do good cross over between a popular West episode and one of your popular PEL sessions. An entry point to discover your content. Some sense of partnering makes sense where the partner is not going to cannibalise your audience with the same content. I cannot think of any that would.
Alternatively try to attract more of the current thinkers and interview them – Dan Dennett and others who would bring large followings with them. You did a move in this direction with Frances Fukuyama I think (?) then need to promote the Fukuyama/PEL material to pull in Fukuyama fans.
That all helps if your market is people interested in philosophy.
You have a great product. If you have a broader niche, then arguably its a podcast for thoughtful enquiring people who want to be challenged. Not necessarily those merely interested in philosophy. It has lured people like me and Jenifer et al who love to be challenged and think. There will be others less familiar or interested with philosophy as such, but who are interested in thoughtful challenging content. If so, then the market building strategy will need to include new products that leverage the PEL teams ability to analyse things in depth and then do cross-selling to pull people across from other markets.
As you say, you are already doing this to some extent. The fiction and sci-fi, or Politics podcasts are products that will attract people/markets not necessarily interested in philosophy in the first instance, who then might be the kind of people who would go on to then discover and cross-over into PEL. I bet there are lots of people interested in literature, current events, politics, etc that are into long form deeper, thoughtful but challenging discussion. But in this case as well, it strikes me that the problem is generating leads who can come into the PEL suite of offerings. The product is not a philosophy podcast any more, Its a house of podcasts with lots of views on the partially examined life – psychology, politics, literature for people who want to think and be challenged. But, in a similar vein as above, Its still a market development challenge – perhaps there are marketing channels (sci-fi podcasts or authors) that pull those kinds of audience across from those other domains.
And apologies if you have rehearsed all this elsewhere. Im probably taking this way off course.
Best wishes, and keep up the good work. Love what you do.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Thanks, James, for your thoughts. Having Dennett on is still a possibility. Strangely, we’ve found that we don’t really get much of a bump based on the topics we choose or guests we have, though I think Very Bad Wizards being utterly transformed through their being on Sam Harris’s podcast tells something about the possibilities for this crossover. The key is likely a matter of being invited elsewhere rather than having folks on our show (though one would hope for reciprocality; Stephen West doesn’t have guests on his show much though has given us a shoutout on social media and such multiple times), so I’ve been angling to appear on VBW and perhaps when I get myself down to L.A. on Dr Drew/Adam Corolla, which would be potentially huge. For the most part, the L.A. comedy community that rules podcast land (Maron, Hardwick, Rogan, etc.) wouldn’t much benefit from appearances on our show and wouldn’t have us on, though I haven’t exhausted all points of potential connection there.
The experience of trying to get an audience for NEM has gotten us a bit scared about putting ANYTHING in a new channel, because we’re pretty much starting from scratch in that case, and will most likely at best peel off a sub-section of PEL listeners rather than tapping into a whole, new, larger crowd. So a lot of the point of this new form is specifically to see if some existing publication with a large readership will publish them (when they wouldn’t publish PEL on content grounds, though they may respect the PEL accomplishment). The feedback I’m getting here makes me doubt that will happen.
Albi Bilali says
I second Harry’s comment though I do think 8-10 minutes may be a bit too short for a podcast. I also think the pace is slightly fast in the episodes above, I found the Machiavelli one the easiest to follow along with, but I have already listened to the full length PEL episodes (for all 3) so I imagine I would be even more lost with a brand new topic. I had the same feeling listening that I have watching people do 5-10 minute article presentations in seminars, which is that I can keep track of the main point but I have to choose between listening along or thinking about/reflecting on the presented material, it’s difficult to do both.
I read some of the other comments, and while I agree that what draws me to PEL is also what prevents it from being an easily-digestible ‘mainstream’ podcast, I think this is still a worthy endeavour. I was looking for a podcast like PEL for a long time before I happened upon it, and I’m sure there are others out there who would love the PEL format but are only able to find the more mainstream stuff. It might also help to be more selective about what topics you cover, at least in the trial run. I imagine very few people are curious to hear what Sartre thought about Literature or what Herder thought about Art Appreciation (though that episode ended up being very interesting to listen to).
Any thoughts on making this a video series instead of a short-form podcast?
Luke T says
Hey again, Mark.
The more I get to chewing over this thread, the more I wonder whether you guys should not consider a future route which – at first blush – will probably seem very counter-intuitive. Indulge me still, please.
In my previous message, I was trying to persuade you to consider nudging PEL in the direction of an even more rangy (and generalized) philosophical reach. Given that the imperative of almost all mature markets (iTunes’ podcast-land now arguably being one of them) is to specialize!, specialize!, specialize!, I don’t know that your goal shouldn’t be to become yet more niche, and not the other way around.
Why so? Well, if it you were to execute as much smartly (and your C.V. to date is pretty promising on this score) – of course, yes, your core audience would stay the same size, or even potentially diminish a little – but you could also probably raise the ‘price of admission’ on the back-end (through some sort of layered, or tiered, access) to make up for the attrition in gross numbers.
I could imagine, for example, PEL being the ‘go to’ and most accessible authority on all content Virtue Ethics or Existential Thought. The dexterity and sophistication that you and fellow hosts bring in terms of comfort level with the these two genres, apprehension of Ancient Greek, and so on, puts their sub-disciplinary focus head-and-shoulders above all other general audience philosophy podcast fare.
Okay, but maybe you get bored with those themes from time to time, and make momentary pivots to the philosophy of mind or deontology. Fine. But, in the blooming buzzing confusion of your now 213, two-plus-hour-long episodes, there is most certainly a strong relief to be found in early Western thought, and post-modern genealogies.
When I conjure these conceptual schemes, my mind traces back automatically to your site, and nowhere else (myself having listened to the gamut of online, philosophy-related fare). You ought to, therefore, put your foot to the gas pedal on them, and amp up even more your weed-pulling and navel-gazing with the ancients and existentialist contemporaries.
Thanks for humoring me once more.
Evan Hadkins says
If you would like to put each one in a Facebook post I’ll share them and see what reaction they get.
Michael Murray says
I agree with what Luke T says, that you’re content should actually be LONGER. There are so many times that you guys go into the weeds and it’s what I’ve always love about the podcast. Maybe the comment section is reserved for this type of additional expansion?
This style of information delivery via the “Glimpse” reminds me of the flashy kitsch videos they make on the “School of Life” YouTube where cardboard cutout images of Schopenhauer etc. float across the screen while a smooth English voice gives an inadequate treatment of varied thinkers. If these are to serve as a sort of “teaser” for the full episodes, why not condense them even more? I don’t think its snobbery on your guys part to just do the long format episodes. Intellectualism and philosophy isn’t for everyone and this feels like its oriented towards those who can only be wrenched out of the cave kicking and screaming and yet still resist the drink once they’re there. I say leave them behind.
Mark, it seems as though you particularly have an infinite desire to create content and that’s terrific. We’ve all benefited from it in massive ways so I’m sure you could handle/enjoy the Glimpse. But what if people just start listening to those instead of the full episodes? I hope this helps in some way and I could go on but will leave it at that. Best of luck!
Mary Ricci says
I think that if shorter episodes will help pique the interest of more listeners, it’s a great idea.
I liked all three.
Luke T says
I can’t help but add to Michael’s sentiment. One of the most promising and original conceits of PEL (as I’ve understood the project) was to bring the cooperative learning / St. John’s seminar environment online, pushing this extremely valuable learning experience into both a global (i.e. long arm’s-reach) and virtual (i.e. slow-steep and asynchronous) format.
Basically, in other words, to democratize the intellectual growth of philosophy subject matter’s (natural, or most potentially-latent?) audience, and to collect extra benefits – over time – for all stakeholders involved (meaning the hosts, the guests, dedicated followers, and curious standers-by). That’s the no-kidding, creative destruction PEL has brought to the adult learning environment, and what makes this site different (in my judgment) from almost every other philosophy podcast out there.
If your oeuvre is like a bicycle, therefore, and you have to constantly keep it going somewhere – vice stopping in place and simply falling off – the direction you want to steer, if I may immodestly suggest as much, is honoring more faithfully that initial inspiration and intuition you had: The civically-minded, cooperative learning spirit.
How that specifically get cashed out, I suppose, is up for some respectable debate, but at least part of it should be drawing folks in more closely to your readings (i.e. engaging your audience such that we are each more deeply-invested in, and responsible for, subsequent episodes), and finding a way to make those time and opportunity-cost trade-offs (for you) viable and sustainable for the life of your personal intellectual journeys, and public program.
For my denatured two cents, that is to say, I would double down on PEL’s seed-stock Muse, and find more and more ways to differentiate her makeup from the ever growing mob of part-time, hobbyist radio-show hosts.
Evan Hadkins says
I think part of the discussion is, is this about opening up new market? Line extension is always tempting. It would be interesting to know how much PEL listeners also listen to shorter philosophy podcasts – like Philosophy without any gaps. Which I do like, but not nearly as much as PEL.
I think the appeal of PEL is that it is, to some extent, doing philosophy. The other stuff I know of is talking about it or explaining.
Luke T says
Precisely, Evan. Doing philosophy (not just talking about it), in all the activity’s fits and starts and failures and triumphs. So maybe this is an empirical question, whether folks would pay more for greater access to the original experience. But the price of that (I would guess) has to way cheaper than paying for the bricks-and-mortar, four-year accredited equivalent.
An apples-to-apples fair comparison, precisely? Maybe not. But measured over the course of ten plus years, it might well be.
Michael Murray says
I might be suggesting a completely taboo idea but here it goes. Maybe you guys could double the amount of money required for citizenship? I for one would be willing to pay 10 dollar a month for the PEL, granted I have now a serious sentimental and historical attachment to the podcast so take that for what it is. Gradations of membership? Maybe ask for ten but add in a disclaimer of sorts which says that people should also not be required to go up to ten if it is economically unwise for them? I’m not by any stretch of the imagination economically well off and 10 dollars wouldn’t be breaking the bank for me.
I’m sure it would go a long way to assist you guys with your content.
Ultimately I feel as though brevity in the context of philosophy is not a good thing. The idea of content time reduction to increase dissemination “possibility” probably wouldn’t have a negative effect on you but it just might be a time suck. This podcast has an incredible reach. My ex-girlfriend who watches vapid reality television shows on MTV that I thought were reserved for 12 year olds , has picked up your podcast on several occasions and listened to full episodes!
Jennifer Tejada says
Michael!! Your poor ex-girlfriend -LOL