Phi Fic #34 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.
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.

Phi Fic #30 (Part 2 of 2) One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez


Only then did he discover that Amaranta Úrsula was not his sister but his aunt, and that Sir Francis Drake had attacked Riohacha only so that they could seek each other through the most intricate labyrinths of blood until they would engender the mythological animal that was to bring the line to an end. Macondo was already a fearful whirlwind of dust and rubble being spun about by the wrath of the biblical hurricane when Aureliano skipped eleven pages so as not to lose time with facts he knew only too well, and he began to decipher the instant that he was living, deciphering it as he lived it, prophesying himself in the act of deciphering the last page of the parchments, as if he were looking into a speaking mirror.

-One Hundred Years of Solitude

Join us as we continue our study of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ epic, One Hundred Years of Solitude. In this Part 2 episode, we look at moments which we didn’t have a chance to discuss in Part 1, namely, the “insomnia plague,” the “four year rain,” the “Civil War” the fate of the character Rebecca and the matriarch Ursula’s, overwhelming fear that a child would be born into the family with a pig’s tail—did that happen? We’ll see.

Then he skipped again to anticipate the predictions and ascertain the date and circumstances of his death. Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.

-One Hundred Years of Solitude

We also discuss the themes which Nathan, Laura, Jennifer and Daniel each found to be what resonated most: the circularity of time, memory, loss, humanity, and the caution the novel leaves us with about living life.

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 audio assistance.
Thanks to Christopher Nolen for the music.

Phi Fic #29 (Part 1 of 2) One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

…time was not passing…it was turning in a circle…

-One Hundred Years of Solitude

In this episode we discuss the classic Latin American novel by Gabriel Garcia Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude. which has been described by the scholar Robery Keily in the New York Times, as a “book [of] history, not of governments or of formal institutions of the sort which keeps public records, but of a people who, like the earliest descendants of Abraham, are best understood in terms of their relationship to a single family. . .”

This remarkable story follows seven generations of the Buendia family living and growing in the fictional town of Macondo founded by the family’s patriarch, José Arcadio Buendía, when he had a dream about a city of mirrors. After discovering that the earth is actually round, José Arcadio, a brilliant, relentless seeker of knowledge, ends up going insane and is tied to a chestnut tree in the back of the house for years, until his death. His wife, Ursula, the family matriarch, lives to over 100 and oversees the herculean proliferation of the Buendia generations and their relentlessly shocking and daunting lives. Among the Buendia legacies is her eldest son, Colonel Aureliano Buendía, who becomes a hero in the country’s civil war, her great granddaughter Remedios the Beauty whose looks are fatal to the men who follow her, her great grandson José Arcadio Segundo, who plays a major role in the strike against the local banana company and the only survivor after the company massacres all the strikers–and so many others, who we learn intimately about during this 100 year epoch.

This life-altering legend is about the failure of history, the uncertainty of memory, the circularity of time, loss, fortune, hope, the repetition of eras, ghosts, the fallibility of glass, mirrors, mirages and in the end, it is about—fatalism—when we learn that these one hundred years were fated, predetermined, and actually, occurred within one moment in time.

There is no single or even secondary plot—it is 100 years of lifetimes.

Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.

-One Hundred Years of Solitude

Join Nathan, Laura, Cezary, Jennifer and Daniel in this Part One discussion as we swim through the towering waves of Márquez’ opus, following the insistence of William Kennedy from The NY Review of Books, “One Hundred Years of Solitude is the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race. Mr. García Márquez has done nothing less than to create in the reader a sense of all that is profound, meaningful, and meaningless in life.”

When the novel was released in 1967, the response in Latin America was akin to Beatlemania in this country and when Marquez died in 2014, the country was in official mourning for three days.

Of note: Rodrigo García Barcha, Márquez’ son, has announced that Netflix is adapting a series based on One Hundred Years of Solitude, to be released in 2020.

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 audio assistance.
Thanks to Christopher Nolen for the music.

Phi Fic #28 A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

I see what is right and approve, but I do what is wrong.

-A Clockwork Orange

In this episode we are discussing “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess. As many of us know from the infamous 1962 book and the 1971 Stanley Kubrick film based on it, the story takes place in a dystopian futuristic Britain. It tracks the dark, torturous, amoral acts performed by our hero–or anti-hero—Alex, and his gang of teenage thugs a.k.a. “droogs”. The novel, written partially in a distorted Russian-speak called “Nasdat”, follows Alex, as he is eventually sent to prison for the murder of an elderly woman, then is subjected to a Government-enforced rehabilitation technique called “The Ludovico Technique.” This process forces Alex to watch grotesquely brutal films while being injected with nausea-inducing drugs intended to make him extremely ill at the thought of violence. The State is programming Alex to be incapable of crime or evil.

What is happening to you now is what should happen to any healthy human organism contemplating the actions of the forces of evil, the workings of the principle of destruction. You are being made sane, you are being made healthy.

-A Clockwork Orange

Join us as we debate the central conflict wrapped around the issues of Good and Evil in this book: Jennifer questions whether humanity exists as merely Hobbes’ “Nasty, Brutish and Short,” or as Rousseau’s “Noble Savage”, while Nathan astutely points out the key difference of “having the drive to perform vs. having the potential of executing a fate.” Cezary wonders “What do we think about the defenders of liberty here”, and Daniel concludes, “Let’s all agree we’re going to have evil in us, and the potential for good” while Laura asks “Isn’t it more vital that we have the ability to choose than that we eliminate evil?

Check out this discussion on the difference between the book and the movie.

Join Cezary Baranieckli, Laura Davis, Nathaniel Hanks, Daniel Johnson, and Jennifer Tejada, as we all struggle with what is defined as truly “evil”.

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 audio assistance.
Thanks to Christopher Nolen for the music.