Recorded on Jan. 14, we give some off-the-cuff updates to our take on the pandemic and our coping strategies. Plus, updates on PEL book, transcripts, and a potential black history month episode (Angela Davis?).
What’s the post-COVID future of movie theaters? Mark, Erica, and Brian compare past moviegoing habits and reflect on the big-screen vs. small-screen decision. How would we optimize the theatrical experience? We consider films affected like Tenet, Soul, etc.
Sponsors: Visit ExpressVPN.com/pretty to get three months free.
What explains the enduring appeal of Auden’s September 1, 1939? Was he right to repudiate it? Wes & Erin discuss.
On Reasons and Persons (1984), ch. 10-13. What makes a person persist over time?
After using various sci-fi examples to test the Lockean (personhood=psychological continuity), physicalist (same brain=same person), and Cartesian (same soul=same person) theories, Parfit concludes that the whole notion is incoherent and isn’t actually what we care about when wondering “will I die?”
Sponsors: Visit TheGreatCoursesPlus.com/PEL for a free trial of The Great Courses Plus Video Learning Service. Organize your Inbox: Get a free trial and save $25 at sanebox.com/pel. See headspace.com/PEL for a free month of guided meditations. Start a new monthly donation and have your first matched up to $250 at givewell.org/PEL (choose podcast and partially examined life at checkout). Learn about St. John’s College at SJC.edu.
Don started the NY-based Life in a Blender in the late 80s and has put out ten albums of tunes with off-kilter lyrics and increasingly elaborate arrangements. We discuss “The Ocean is a Black and Rolling Tongue” (and listen at the end to “Soul Deliverer”) from Satsuma (2020), “Falmouth” from We Already Have Birds That Sing (2014), and “Chicken Dance” from Two Legs Bad (1997). Intro: “Mounds of Flesh” from Welcome to the Jelly Days (1988). For more see lifeinablender.net.
Sponsors: Get three months free Internet privacy protection at ExpressVPN.com/NEM. Get 15% off MasterClass at masterclass.com/EXAMINED. Get a month’s free trial of guided meditations at headspace.com/NEM.
Returning heroine Vi (now a grad student in comics history) joins Erica, Mark, and Brian to put the new film in context, bringing in the weird ideas of WW’s creator as shown in the 2017 biopic Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. Do the new film’s themes actually make sense? We talk political ideals, truth, love, feminist utopias, ’70s TV, and more.
Sponsor: For a free audiobook and 30 days free, visit Audible.com/pretty or text pretty to 500-500.
One last take on John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), covering Book II, ch. 21 and 28.
What makes a moral claim true? Do we have free will? What makes us choose the good, or not? In this coda to our long treatment of Locke’s opus, we bring together all he has to say about morality, which is strangely modern yet also just strange.
Is suffering’s “human position” something that can be redeemed? Wes and Erin discuss Auden’s poem Musée des Beaux Arts.
What explains the immense quarantine-time popularity of this quaint reality cooking show? What do we get out of watching talented amateurs bake things? Stephen, famous for playing Scar in The Lion King on Broadway, joins Erica, Brian, and Mark to consdier the format, context, and appeal of the show.
More on Book II (ch. 22-33) of John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding.
On relations, then personal identity, with more on substances (spiritual and material), the various ways in which ideas can go wrong, and how mental association can entrench irrationality that disrupts clear thinking.
Sponsors: Visit HelixSleep.com/PEL for $200 off a mattress and two free pillows. Get $35 off meal delivery at SunBasket.com/PEL, code PEL. Visit TheGreatCoursesPlus.com/PEL for 14 days of free access. Start a new monthly donation and have your first matched up to $250 at givewell.org/PEL (select podcast and Partially Examined Life).
An extra-long Nightcap looking forward to PEL coverage in 2021, with some political dialogue on the state of the country and what we might want to do about it. Plus, we respond to listener emails: Will doing philosophy put a crimp in your science career (or other prep for your legit day job)?
Recycling a great music discussion featuring a past NEM guest from Mark’s other entertainment podcast for the New Year!
Plenty of songs try to tell stories, but do the pop song format and narrative really mix? Rod Picott joins Pretty Much Pop to talk about classics by Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, formative nightmares like “Leader of the Pack” and “The Pina Colada Song, borderline cases like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and more. How does this form relate to theater, videos, and commercials?
What has the Internet done to comedy? Tiffany, purveyor of social media bits and song parodies, joins Erica, Mark, and Brian to think about new ways of making and consuming comedy over TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and other social media. Maybe given current events we should describe the goal as something other than “going viral”?
Sponsors: Get 10% off a month’s counseling at BetterHelp.com/Pretty
On Book II (ch. 22-33) of John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689).
Simple ideas get complex quickly when you put them into words, and can give rise to various philosophical problems that are either easily cleared up when you figure out how the complex idea is built out of simple ideas, or if they can’t be so broken down, then we really don’t know what we’re talking about and should just shut up.
Sponsors: Visit uber.com/pel for a $50 voucher credit. Learn about St. John’s college at sjc.edu/PEL. Have your donations matched up to $250 at givewell.org/PEL (select podcast and Partially Examined Life).
Join the office party, where Mark holds mini conversations on philosophy, art, and life with all PEL and PMP co-hosts, plus Ken Stringfellow, Jenny Hansen, and the members of Mark Lint’s Dry Folk, whose 12 tunes are presented in succession with nary a partridge in sight. Will these 12 spirits turn you (or Mark) from errant ways? BYOB!
What makes a film transcendently bad? A cult classic, as opposed to merely unwatchable? Child Jackey appeared in 1966’s Manos: The Hands of Fate, and she joins Mark, Erica, and Brian to discuss growing up in community theater, being reintroduced to her family movie by MST3K, and the over-confident auteur.
We also touch on Birdemic, Catwoman, The Happening, and Battleship, as well as films about the making of bad films: The Disaster Artist, Best Worst Movie, Ed Wood, and Dolemite Is My Name.
A 2011 episode on John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government (1690), with a fresh introduction connecting it to the present.
What makes political power legitimate? Like Hobbes, Locke thought that things are less than ideal without a society to keep people from killing us, so we implicitly sign a social contract giving power to the state. But on Locke’s view, nature’s not as bad, so the state is given less power. But how much less? And what does Locke think about tea partying, kids, women, acorns, foreign travelers, and calling dibs? Featuring guest Sabrina Weiss.
End song: “Lock Them Away,” by Mark Lint (2003).
Sponsors: Save $35 off meal delivery at SunBasket.com/PEL, code PEL. Have your donations matched up to $250 at givewell.org/PEL (select podcast and Partially Examined Life). Learn about St. John’s college at sjc.edu/PEL.
Brian and Jeff are joined by Michael Grenke, St. John’s College – Santa Fe, to discuss Lise van Boxel’s posthumously published book “Warspeak” from PoliticalAnimalPress.com.
Markus began composing as a teen, “found his tribe” in getting connected to King Crimson’s Robert Fripp in the early 90s, and has put out 40+ solo and collaborative albums of experimental music since 2000, including work in Stick Men with Crimson’s Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto.
We discuss “Swoonage” from Truce (2020), “Boon” by Marcus Reuter and the Matangi Quartet from String Quartet No. 1 ‘Heartland’ (2019), and “11-11” by Tuner (Pat Mastelotto and Markus Reuter) from POLE (2007), and end by listening to “The Cult of Bibbiboo” by centrozoon from The Divine Beast (2001). Intro: “Condition IV” from Falling for Ascension (2017). More at .
Sponsors: Get three months free Internet privacy protection at ExpressVPN.com/NEM. Buy one MasterClass annual membership and get one free to gift at masterclass.com/EXAMINED. Get a month’s free trial of guided meditations at headspace.com/NEM.
Fred writes for Marvel and his own Evil Twin Comics, in both non-fiction (e.g. Comic Book History of Animation, Action Philosophers) and stories (e.g. Marvel Zombies, Cowboys vs. Aliens). He even wrote a play about Jack Kirby.
He joins Mark, Erica, and Brian to discuss playing in the Marvel sandbox, the role of humor, comic-to-movie transitions, and more. Learn more at fredvanlente.com.
Sponsor: Get 10% off a month’s counseling at BetterHelp.com/Pretty.
We try something new for a Nightcap: a new intro to an old episode, in this case ep. 37 on Locke’s political philosophy. Our hope was to connect this to the current series on epistemology, but we ended up more applying it to modern disputes in political theory, which was also fun. Check it out and then re-listen to the old episode!
Continuing on Book II (through ch. 20) of John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689).
How do we acquire our ideas of pain and pleasure, duration and motion? We talk primary (shape, size) and secondary (color, sound) qualities, the former of which are supposed to be actually in objects, and the latter just in our mind. Plus, is Locke really an atomist about experience?
Sponsors: Organize your Inbox: Save $25 sanebox.com/pel. See headspace.com/PEL for a free month of guided meditations. Have your donation matched up to $250 at givewell.org/PEL (choose podcast and partially examined life at checkout).
Hedda Gabler is not a fan of specialization: not in the professor she has married, and his esoteric scholarly interests; not in domesticity, and the specialized affections required by marriage and motherhood; not in any lover’s infatuated specialization in her; and perhaps not in the form of specialization arguably required by life itself, with its finite and confining possibilities. Is there any way, short of suicide, to transcend such limits? Wes & Erin discuss Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler.
Tyler (PEL and PMP’s audio editor) rejoins Mark, Erica, and Brian to explain one of his passions. How is it a battle and what are the rules? What’s the appeal? How does it relate to free-stylin’, rap albums, and insult comedy? Does it make sense as a “free speech zone”?
On the first half of Book II of John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689).
How do we get our ideas? Simple ideas must come in through perception, but this doesn’t just mean the senses; also reflection on our own minds, and this added layer of complexity allows us to bring in memory, concepts, time, and more.
Sponsors: Visit literati.com/life to find your perfect book club. Have your donation matched up to $250 at givewell.org/PEL (choose podcast and partially examined life at checkout). See headspace.com/PEL for a free month of guided meditations.
Brian’s been writing music and music journalism since the late ’60s, has produced artists like Taj Mahal, Lucinda Williams, and Ollabelle, and has released three solo albums and an EP since 2008.
We discuss “Killing The Dead” (and discuss “Wrong Birthday”) from Winter Clothes (2020, written with now-deceased Ollabelle guitarist Jimi Zhivago), discuss “And She Said” from The Opposite of Time (2016), and “The Promise” from All Fires The Fire (2008). Intro: “The Book of Sleep” by OK Savant, recorded live at CBGBs in 1990. For more, see briancullman.com.
Kevin (The State, RISK!) joins Mark, Erica, and Brian to talk about his telling/curation/coaching of confessional stories. Do they have to be funny? True? How does this form relate to essays a la David Sedaris? How personal is too personal (or indicative of PTSD or something)? What’s the role of craft in this most populist endeavor? Listen at risk-show.com.
Continuing on Book I of John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689).
We consider Locke’s arguments that since there are no universally agreed upon principles, therefore there are no beliefs that we’re all born with, or that we all (without the need for experience) immediately recognize as true as soon as we gain the use of reason or are otherwise equipped to understand them.
Sponsors: See headspace.com/PEL for a free month of guided meditations. Have your donation matched up to $250 at givewell.org/PEL (choose podcast and partially examined life at checkout). Learn about St. John’s college at sjc.edu/PEL.
Some post-election hot takes, more on Locke’s project and responding to listeners about Kropotkin, philosophical journaling, and more.
Plenty of songs try to tell stories, but do the pop song format and narrative really mix? Songwriter and short story author Rod Picott joins Mark, Erica, and Brian to talk about classics by Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, formative nightmares like “Leader of the Pack” and “The Pina Colada Song, borderline cases like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and more. How does this form relate to theater, videos, and commercials?
Sponsor: Visit ExpressVPN.com/pretty to get three months free.
Bill Budd is a beautiful man. Not just good looking, but exquisitely good natured, something that costs him no effort and has required no instruction. And yet it is ultimately his beautiful soul and good nature that get Billy killed. Wes & Erin discuss Herman Melville’s final and unfinished work of fiction, and whether a good heart and good intentions are more important than obedience to authority and adherence to civilized norms.
On Book I of John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689).
How do we know things? Locke thought all knowledge comes from experience, and this might seem uncontroversial, but what are the alternatives? We consider the idea that there are some ideas we’re just born with and don’t need to learn. But what’s an “idea,” and how is it different from a principle? Clearly we have instincts (“knowhow”) but is that knowledge? We consider occurrent vs. dispositional nativism, the role of reason, and what Locke’s overall project is after.
Sponsors: Visit literati.com/life for $50 off your annual book club membership. Have your donation matched up to $250 at givewell.org/PEL (choose podcast and partially examined life at checkout). See headspace.com/PEL for a free month of guided meditations.
Mark got signed as a teen in 1966, left to play theatrical prog jazz in Indiana during college, had a spell in a “no wave” band in New York, and finally settled down in the ’80s as an in demand producer and collaborator in New Orleans, working with groups like R.E.M., Flat Duo Jets, and John Scofield. He’s only finished two solo albums but has a ton of archive recordings being released soon, and now plays guitar in a cajun band.
We discuss “Pissoffgod.com” from Psalms of Vengeance (2009), “Ash Wednesday and Lent” by Ed Sanders (music by Mark Bingham) from Poems for New Orleans (2007), “That’s Why” by Social Climbers from their self-titled album (1981), and then listen to “Blood Moon” by Michot’s Melody Makers from Cosmic Cajuns from Saturn (2020). Intro: “Flies R All Around Me” by Screaming Gypsy Bandits from Back to Doghead (1970).
Sponsors: Get three months free Internet privacy protection at ExpressVPN.com/NEM. Buy one MasterClass annual membership and get one free to gift to a friend at masterclass.com/EXAMINED. Get a month’s free trial of guided meditations at headspace.com/NEM.
Brian, Erica, and Mark reflect on this weird sci-fi HBO Max series by Aaron Guzikowski and Ridley Scott. How much are we supposed to understand? Can we identify with any of the android and/or wild child and/or murdering characters? Is the imagery too heavy handed? How does it compare with Westworld, The Walking Dead, etc.? Warning: Spoilers ahoy! So watch it yourself or let us reveal its craziness to you.
An extra long Nightcap: Should you go to school for philosophy? Have kids? Plus we launch Verbal Correctness Corner, and we talk about note-taking: what we do and the notes of famous philosophers in the margins of books they read.
What do we mean when we talk about the American Dream? Is it realistic? Wes & Erin discuss F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”
Mark, Erica, Brian, and musician/actor Aaron consider the comedy of Sacha Baron Cohen, especially Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, where his co-stars are unwitting dupes and embarrassment is served in large helpings.
We talk through the ethical and political issues, why Cohen’s targets act how they do, and what this is as humor.
On Peter Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread (1892).
If we want an egalitarian society, do we need the state to accomplish this? Kropotkin says no, that in fact the state inevitably serves the interests of the few, and that if we got rid of it, our natural tendencies to cooperate would allow us through voluntary organizations to keep everyone not only fed and clothed, but able to vigorously pursue callings like science and art.
Sponsors: Visit TheGreatCoursesPlus.com/PEL for a free trial of The Great Courses Plus Video Learning Service. Organize your Inbox: Save $25 sanebox.com/pel. Learn about St. John’s College at SJC.edu.
Peter started The Apartments in Australia in the late ’70s and has been its only consistent member. After releasing his first full album in 1985 and being featured on a John Hughes soundtrack, he released four lush, moody albums in the ’90s but then retired when family tragedy struck until the late ’00s; he’s had four releases since 2011.
We discuss “What’s Beauty to Do?” and “Where You Used to Be” from In And Out Of The Light (2020), then “Sunset Hotel” from Fete Foraine (1996), and finally listen to “Looking for Another Town” from No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal (2015). Intro: “Help” from the Return of the Hypnotist EP (1979). More at theapartments-music.com.
What scares us? Why do people enjoy being scared by films? Are there good horror movies that aren’t scary and scary films that are still bad?
We talk about interactions with author-guests: How much should we talk, how much should we let them talk? Should we keep them on for part two? Who should our next one be? Who might we get for an ep on trans issues?
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”.
On the Chinese military treatise from around the 5th century BCE.
How does a philosopher wage war? The best kind of war can be won without fighting. The general qua Taoist sage never moves until circumstances are optimal. We talk virtue ethics and practical strategy; how well can Sunzi’s advice be applied to non-martial pursuits? With guest Brian Wilson.
Sponsor: Visit TheGreatCoursesPlus.com/PEL for a free trial of The Great Courses Plus Video Learning Service.
Jazz multi-instrumentalist Edward Larry Gordon Jr. became Laraaji around the same time he started releasing meditative zither music in the late 70s and was then discovered by Brian Eno, who produced our intro, “The Dance No. 1” from Ambient 3: Day of Radiance (1980). Laraaji has since had around 40 releases of largely improvised music.
We discuss “Hold on to the Vision” (and hear “Shenandoah”) from Sun Piano (2020), the single edit of “Introspection” from Bring On the Sun (2017), and “All of a Sudden,” a 1986 vocal tune released on Vision Songs, Vol. 1 (2017). More at laraaji.blogspot.com.
Visit masterclass.com/EXAMINED for 15% off a MasterClass All-Access Pass.
Is the Last of Us franchise actually a good video gaming, or just long cinematics that are only good by comparison to past video game cut scenes? It’s great, but not exactly “fun.”
Mark, Erica, Brian, and Drew Jackson talk about balancing narrative and gameplay, the message (“revenge is bad”), the shifting points of view (including playable flashbacks!), critical and fan reaction, representation, and more.
We talk about why we left academia and what our current stances are toward it now. Dylan relates his true life Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance adventure. We talk a bit about PEL decision-making, pandemic coping, and back in the day in grad school at U. Texas.
On The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? (2020).
Do people get the wealth and status they deserve? And if they did, would that be good? Michael critiques the meritocracy: It’s not actually fair, leaves most people feeling humiliated, and makes those on the top arrogant and disconnected. The commitment to meritocracy is shared by both political parties and helps explain our current dysfunction.
Sponsor: Visit TheGreatCoursesPlus.com/PEL for a free trial of The Great Courses Plus Video Learning Service.
Jon started playing trumpet with composers like Terry Riley and La Monte Young in the late 60s, has since guested with Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, Ani DiFranco, Ry Cooder, et al, and has released 18 solo albums since 1977.
We discuss “Unknown Wish” from Seeing Through Sound: Pentimento Volume 2 (2020), “Manga Scene” from Listening to Pictures: Pentimento Volume 1 (2018), “Toucan Ocean” from Vernal Equinox (1977), and listen to the title track from Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street (2009). Intro: “Chemistry” by Jon Hassell/Brian Eno from Fourth World Music I: Possible Musics (1980). For more see jonhassell.com.