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 . For more, visit . Hear bonus content for this episode at .
On Book I of John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689). How do we know things? Locke though 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. Don't wait for Part Two; get the full, ad-free now. Sponsors: Visit for $50 off your annual book club membership. Have your donation matched up to $250 at (choose podcast and partially examined life at checkout). See 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 "" from (2009), "Ash Wednesday and Lent" by Ed Sanders (music by Mark Bingham) from (2007), "That's Why" by Social Climbers from their (1981), and then listen to "Blood Moon" by Michot's Melody Makers from (2020). Intro: "Flies R All Around Me" by Screaming Gypsy Bandits from (1970). . . . Sponsors: Get three months free Internet privacy protection at . Buy one MasterClass annual membership and get one free to gift to a friend at . Get a month's free trial of guided meditations at .
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. Subscribe: won’t always be in the PEL feed, so please subscribe to us directly: | | | Bonus content: The conversation continues on our after-show . Get this and other bonus content at by subscribing at . Follow (sub)Text: | | Thanks to for the audio editing on this episode.
We all know this story, in part because it captures a period that will always have a special place in the American imagination. Prosperous and boozy, the Jazz Age seemed like one great party, held to celebrate the end of a terrible world war; the liberating promise of newly ubiquitous technologies, including electricity, the telephone, and the automobile; and a certain image of success as carefree, inexhaustibly gratifying, and available to all who try. And yet perhaps this fantasy is rooted in disillusionment, and a denial of inescapable social realities, including the impossibility of genuine social mobility. What do we mean when we talk about the American Dream? Is it realistic? Wes & Erin discuss F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” Subscribe: won’t always be in the PEL feed, so please subscribe to us directly: | | | Bonus content: The conversation continues on our after-show . Get this and other bonus content at by subscribing at . Follow (sub)Text: | | Thanks to Tyler Hislop for the audio editing on this episode.
Plenty of songs try to tell stories, but do the pop song format and narrative really mix? Songwriter and short story author 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? For more, visit . Hear bonus content for this episode at . Sponsor: Visit to get three months free.
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 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 (2020), then "Sunset Hotel" from Fete Foraine (1996), and finally listen to "Looking for Another Town" from (2015). Intro: "Help" from the (1979). More at . . . .
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. For more, visit . Hear bonus content for this episode at .
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. Part two of this episode is only going to be available to you if you sign up at . or . Sponsors: Visit for a free trial of The Great Courses Plus Video Learning Service. Organize your Inbox: Save $25 . Learn about St. John's College at .
Mark, Erica, Brian, and consider the comedy of Sacha Baron Cohen, especially , 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. For more, visit . Hear bonus content for this episode at .
John Cassavetes is known today as the father of American independent film, a pioneering writer, director, editor, actor who managed to make movies on his own terms, and has since inspired two generations of filmmakers. In his own day, however, he couldn’t catch a break--unappreciated and unseen by most of the public, lambasted by critics. But what contemporaries didn’t understand about Cassavetes’s movies may actually be his message. What can he teach us about authenticity and the ways in which we confront and avoid our own emotions? Wes & Erin discuss Cassavetes’s best-known film, 1974’s “A Woman Under the Influence.” Subscribe: won’t always be in the PEL feed, so please subscribe to us directly: | | | Bonus content: The conversation continues on our after-show . Get this and other bonus content at by subscribing at . Follow (sub)Text: | | Thanks to for the audio editing on this episode.
If you'd like to hear more of the discussion on Sun Tzu that we started in , you'll need to go sign up at . Here are some exchanges from , where we continue with Brian Wilson working through the text, considering Sunzi's strategies and assumptions, and how these might (or might not) apply to competing in the business world.
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? Mark, Erica, Brian are joined by actor/special effects-guy (who runs the ) to present our picks for what scared us as kids, and we consider Halloween, Blair Witch, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Stephen King, and the new wave of art horror. Plus body horror, what scares women, tropophobia, and horror movie music. For more, visit . Hear bonus content for this episode at .
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 . Part two of this episode is only going to be available to you if you sign up at . or . Sponsor: Visit 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 (1980). Laraaji has since had around 40 releases of largely improvised music. We discuss "Hold on to the Vision" (and hear "Shenandoah") from (2020), the single edit of "Introspection" from (2017), and "All of a Sudden," a 1986 vocal tune released on (2017). More at . . . . Visit for 15% off a MasterClass All-Access Pass.
has written many comic movies and has converted religious texts into funnier books, most recently with . Mark, Erica, and Brian talk with him about what unifies these projects: Why the big ideas of religion and sci-fi are begging to be made fun of. How does humor relate to fear? Would a society based on Bill and Ted (or Keanu Reeves) actually be desirable? How bad is the evident literal absurdity of many religious texts? Plus, the B & T joke that has not aged well, and much more! For more, visit . Hear bonus content for this episode at .
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. For more, visit . Hear bonus content for this episode at .
Mark, Wes, Dylan and Seth continue the discussion on The Tyranny of Merit to talk further about how social values can and do change, and whether these changes can be engineered in the way that Sandel seems to want. We interviewed Michael Sandel in . To hear this , you'll need to go sign up at . This preview includes a couple of exchanges from near the beginning to give you a flavor of what to expect.
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. Part two of this episode is only going to be available to you if you sign up at . or . Sponsor: Visit for a free trial of The Great Courses Plus Video Learning Service.