Episode 47: Justin E.H. Smith on Suttree

In this episode, I speak with the philosopher, podcaster, and substacker extraordinaire, Justin E.H. Smith about Cormac McCarthy’s fourth novel, Suttree.  We were both struck by how different this novel is from McCarthy’s later, more famous works—both in its style and in its literary ambitions. We resist the common temptation to read McCarthy as a nihilist; we puzzle over the beginning and the end of the novel, and how they relate to one another; and quite generally we just had a great time trying to figure out what McCarthy was up to in this beautiful and somewhat mystifying novel about one man’s journey into the depths of the seedy underbelly of Knoxville, Tennessee.

I hope you enjoy our conversation!

Justin E.H. Smith is professor of philosophy in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Paris. In 2019-20, I was the John and Constance Birkelund Fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers of the New York Public Library. He has written many books, including Irrationality: The Dark Side of Reason and Divine Machines: Leibniz and the Sciences of Life. He also authors a substack, which you can subscribe to here. You can follow Justin on Twitter @jehsmith

Jennifer Frey is an associate Professor of Philosophy and Peter and Bonnie McCausland Faculty Fellow at the University of South Carolina. She is also a fellow of the Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America and the Word on Fire Institute. 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 a Classics minor) at Indiana University, in Bloomington, Indiana. 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 PsychologyHer writing has also been featured in Breaking Ground, First ThingsFare ForwardImageLaw and LibertyThe Point, and USA Today. She lives in Columbia, SC, with her husband, six children, and chickens. You can follow her on Twitter @jennfrey.

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Sacred and Profane Love is a podcast in which philosophers, theologians, and literary critics discuss some of their favorite works of literature, and how these works have shaped their own ideas about love, happiness, and meaning in human life. Host Jennifer A. Frey is associate professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina. The podcast is generously supported by The Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America and produced by Catholics for Hire.

Audio Edited & Music Produced by Anthony Monson