Phi Fic #39 Point Omega by Don DeLillo

PSYCO AND THE IRAQ WAR!

“The less there was to see, the harder he looked, the more he saw.”

-Point Omega

In this episode, we work through and analyze Point Omega by Don Delillo, a short oblique and arresting novel wrestling with the meaning and effect of human perception, consciousness, space and time.

The story follows documentary filmmaker, Joe Finley, when he visits the proposed subject of his next project—Richard Elster, a scholar who had been brought in to intellectualize plans for the Iraq War troop deployment. Elster’s argument laid the war into a haiku format—”I wanted a war in three lines…”—the same format of the novel. Elster is brought in by the government because of an essay he wrote on the etymological history of the word “Rendition” which begins with: “Every government is a criminal enterprise.” Finley visits Elster at his get-away home in the desert. They converse about Elster’s work as Finley makes his case for the film, which Elster is hesitant to do. Halfway through, Elster’s daughter, Jessie, visits. Her stay is nondescript until she suddenly disappears causing an unexpected mystery and awakening emotional life in cerebral messiah, Elster—grief, mourning, where the meaning of all he believes in is questioned

Surrounding this central story, are two chapters—the haiku structure of the book. The first and third chapters take place in a museum room where the film “Psycho” is being played in a slowed down time-frame over 24 hours. The first chapter is shown from the POV of a mystery man. In the third chapter, Jessie appears, meeting the mystery man.

“This is something we do with every eyeblink. Human perception is a saga of created reality. But we were devising entities beyond the agreed-upon limits of recognition or interpretation. Lying is necessary. The state has to lie. There is no lie in war or in preparation for war that can’t be defended.”

-Point Omega

Of note, 24 Hour Psycho was an actual art installation by Douglas Gordon created in 1993.

“What I wanted was a set of ideas linked to transient things. This is the soul of haiku. Bare everything to plain sight. See what’s there. Things in war are transient. See what’s there and then be prepared to watch it disappear.”

-Point Omega

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

Thanks to Christopher Nolen for our music.

Thanks to Allan Bowley for Audio and editing help.

PhiFic #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.comClick to hear more Phi Fic. Thanks to Christopher Nolen for our music.Thanks to Allan Bowley for Audio editing help.

Phi Fic #36 The Canterbury Tales — Part Two

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.
 
Thanks to Allan Bowley for help with the audio.
Thanks to Christopher Nolen for the music

Phi Fic #35 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 discussions at PhiFicPodcastcom.wordpress.com
Thanks to Allan Bowley for help with the audio.
Thanks to Christopher Nolen for the music

Phi Fic #32 Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Screen Shot 2020-02-29 at 3.12.36 PMThere 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:

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

Thanks to Allan Bowley for help with audio.
Thanks to Christopher Nolen for the music.