Episode 21: Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim

Like everyone else, my life has been upended by the global pandemic.  I have five kids in public schools here in South Carolina (plus one very rambunctious and ornery toddler), so I am now a homeschooling Mom in addition to being a professor, podcaster, and writer.  I am sleep deprived and each day I fall further and further behind were I’d like to be.  My priority right now is my family.

However, I’m still trying to put up content on the podcast, because I believe that now, more than ever, we need time and space for reflection and contemplation.  We need art, friends, and I desperately need the sort of conversation I just had for this episode.  I am not as prepared for these podcasts as I’d normally be, but I hope that this pandemic content still inspires you to pick up a great book and think about what really matters.

I was genuinely thrilled to discover that Phil Klay, national book award winning author and Iraq war veteran, not only knew who I was but was endorsing my humble podcast on Twitter!  Let me return the favor: Phil has a podcast of his own, with Jacob Siegal, which, like mine, tries to model the art of great conversation about art and ideas.  If you don’t know about Manifesto pod, take a listen and consider subscribing!  I think you will not be disappointed!

Episode 21 is a discussion about Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim. Phil and I discuss narrative identity and self-knowledge, the perils we encounter in our search for truth, and the nature of the absurd.  As always, I hope you enjoy our conversation.

 

 

Lecture: Flannery O’Connor and the Vision of Grace

 

Remember the very first episode of Sacred and Profane Love?  It was on Flannery O’Connor and Redemptive Love with my favorite Hillbilly Thomist, Thomas Joseph White, O.P. Anyway, I recently gave a lecture at the University Club in downtown Chicago titled, “Flannery O’Connor and the Vision of Grace”, which I am posting for those who are interested in how the thought of Thomas Aquinas informs O’Connor’s artistic vision.

Episode 20: Scruton’s Wagner: Sex, Death, and the Sacred

With the recent passing of the philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, I decided to devote episode 20 to his provocative and comprehensive analysis of Wagner’s famous opera, which he lays out in his book, Death Devoted Heart: Sex and the Sacred in Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde (Oxford University Press, 2003).  In this episode, I speak with philosopher Fiona Ellis (University of Roehampton), about the self-transcendent and potentially redemptive and religious character of erotic love.   I hope you enjoy our conversation.

 

Fiona Ellis is Professor of Philosophy, and Director of the Centre for Philosophy of Religion (formerly of Heythrop College, University of London). She worked at Heythrop College for 12 years, and has been Director of the Centre for Philosophy of Religion since 2010. Before Heythrop she had lectureships at Wadham College, Oxford, and Queen’s College, Oxford, and did her graduate work (BPhil and DPhil) at Oxford University under the supervision of Professor David Wiggins and Professor Paul Snowdon. Her research interests are in philosophy of religion (broadly construed), the relation between philosophy and theology, philosophical idealism, naturalism, the philosophy of love and desire, and the meaning of life. She is currently PI of a major research project titled, Quest for God: Towards a Theology of Desire.

Jennifer A. Frey is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina. Prior to joining the philosophy faculty at USC, she was a Collegiate Assistant Professor of Humanities at the University of Chicago, where she was a member of the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts and an affiliated faculty in the philosophy department.  She earned her Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, and her B.A. in Philosophy and Medieval Studies (with Classics minor) at Indiana University-Bloomington. She has published widely on action, virtue, practical reason, and meta-ethics, and has recently co-edited an interdisciplinary volume, Self-Transcendence and Virtue: Perspectives from Philosophy, Theology, and Psychology

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Music credits, “Help me Somebody,” by Brian Eno and David Byrne, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.5.

 

 

 

 

Episode 19: Love and Lust in Lolita

After a long winter’s nap–i.e., the end of the semester madness followed by holidays with my family–I am back to releasing new episodes of Sacred and Profane Love.  I am starting the Spring semester with a discussion of Nabokov’s celebrated but controversial novel, Lolita.  In episode 19, titled “Love and Lust in Lolita,” I speak with Becca Rothfeld, award winning essayist, literary critic, and PhD candidate in philosophy at Harvard University, about the tensions we readers are forced to navigate between the awesome beauty of Nabokov’s prose and the ugly perversion that is the central focus of our attention in the novel.  As readers, it is natural to wonder how we can appreciate the beauty of the novel’s prose and the cleverness of its structure, given its dark subject matter.

Lolita is hardly alone in forcing us to explore these tensions, but as a mother of a twelve year old daughter, I felt the force of them more powerfully upon my latest reading of it.  Ultimately, Becca and I agree that one important aspect of literature, and art more generally, is to criticize without engaging in overt didacticism. In order for art to play this role we have to allow the artist to portray material that is offensive and objectionable in a manner that is still artistic–realistic and beautiful.  If we refuse art this role we are really only closing ourselves off from a complete vision of the way things are.  Not all art is meant to uplift or entertain; sometimes art functions to make us uncomfortable, to shock us out of the varieties of complacency towards which we inevitably drift.

Iris Murdoch puts the point this way: “Serious art must play with fire.”

 

In case you want to do your homework, here are the works referenced in our conversation

St. Augustine, City of God, Bk XIV

St. Augustine, Confessions, Bk X

Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary

Iris Murdoch, “Literature and Philosophy” in Existentialists and Mystics

Becca Rothfeld, “The Real Lolita

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Plato, Symposium

Edgar Allen Poe, “Annabel Lee”

Becca Rothfeld writes essays, book reviews, and the occasional art review for publications like The TLSThe NationThe New York Times Book ReviewBookforum, Art in AmericaThe Baffler, and more. She is a two-time finalist for The National Book Critics Circle’s book reviewing prize (2016 and 2018), and in 2017, she was a finalist for a National Magazine Award in the essays/criticism category. In 2018, her essay “Rhapsody in Blue” was included on the Notable Essays and Literary Non-Fiction list published in the 2019 Best American Essays anthology.  She is also a PhD candidate in philosophy at Harvard University.

Jennifer A. Frey is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina. Prior to joining the philosophy faculty at USC, she was a Collegiate Assistant Professor of Humanities at the University of Chicago, where she was a member of the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts and an affiliated faculty in the philosophy department.  She earned her Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, and her B.A. in Philosophy and Medieval Studies (with Classics minor) at Indiana University-Bloomington. She has published widely on action, virtue, practical reason, and meta-ethics, and has recently co-edited an interdisciplinary volume, Self-Transcendence and Virtue: Perspectives from Philosophy, Theology, and Psychology

 Subscribe

Preview on iTunes

Music credits, “Help me Somebody,” by Brian Eno and David Byrne, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.5.