Tag Archives: fiction podcast

Phi Fic #16 Stories by Clarice Lispector

This time we discuss two works by the remarkable Clarice Lispector—born to a Jewish family in Ukraine shortly before they emigrated to Brazil, where she became one of its most important writers. We read two of her works, the novella The Hour of the Star (1977), and the short story “The Departure of the Train” (1974).

I know there are girls who sell their bodies, their only real possession, in exchange for a good dinner instead of a bologna sandwich. But the person I’m going to talk about scarcely has a body to sell, nobody wants her, she’s a virgin and harmless, nobody would miss her. –The Hour of the Star

In The Hour of the Star, the narrator continually breaks the fourth wall as he obsessively addresses the reader about Macabea, the story’s primary character, whom Lispector describes as “… a girl who was so poor that all she ate was hot dogs… The story is about a crushed innocence, about an anonymous misery.”

In the short story “The Departure of the Train,” Lispector writes about two women who meet on a train—the first, a young woman escaping her boyfriend’s overbearing intellect and lack of sensual passion; and the other, an elderly woman escaping her daughter’s negligence to return to her more loving son:

Donna Maria Rita was so ancient that in her daughter’s house they were accustomed to her as if to an old piece of furniture…. Since [she] had always been an ordinary person, she thought that to die was not a normal thing. To die was surprising. –”The Departure of the Train”

Join us as Daniel explains that while The Hour of the Star is “very intellectual, very heady” he’s never read anyone who writes with this sensuous quality; Nathan observes that the narrator is the only one in the novella who really sees this girl, that the world doesn’t see her—“she’s the grass.” Laura comments on Lispector’s “passion for the void” in her writing, while Mary notes that both women in “The Departure of the Train” were traveling from emotionally cold relationships to warmer ones—to people who were more loving and affectionate. And Cezary speaks for all of us when he describes Lispector’s writing as “maddeningly brilliant.”

In his 1989 L.A. Times review of Soul Storm, Richard Eder wrote of Lispector’s characters: “Lispector has not lodged her own poetic and subtle qualities in them; she has found their ‘ordinariness’ in herself. She hasn’t given them spunk, or fight or hidden wit. She hasn’t brought them, one by one, to her writer’s table and made them unforgettable by processing them with art. She has stripped herself of art and gone to them. She has made herself as foolish and uncertain at her typewriter as they are in the street, cabaret, or bedroom.”

Benjamin Moser, author of Lispector’s biography, Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector, calls her the “most important Jewish writer since Kafka.”

Here’s a link to the only televised interview with Lispector, in 1977. She died later that year. And here’s some info on the jabuticaba tree.

Thanks to Christopher Nolen for our music.

Please note: We had some technical problems that cut off Laura a short way into our talk.

If you have thoughts, recommendations, or questions that you want to send our way, please do via phificpodcast@gmail.com.
Image of Clarice Lispector pulled from the cover of The Complete Stories (2015).

Phi Fic #15 “The State of the Art” by Iain M. Banks

This time, we talk about a novella in the late, great Iain M. Banks’s famed Culture sci-fi series, which is centered around a utopian, post-scarcity society that spans various planets (and other habitats) within the Milky Way galaxy.

They have hope. The Culture has statistics.

So says Linter, one of the chief protagonists in The State of the Art. In the story, a group of Culture members—mostly humanoids—venture to Earth to study its inhabitants and decide whether to induct them into the fold. A crisis occurs when one of the group—Linter, who has spent a considerable amount of time on-planet—wants to “go native” rather than return to the ship and his life in the Culture.

We’re the ones who’re different, we’re the self-mutilated, the self-mutated. This is the mainstream; we’re just like very smart kids; infants with a brilliant construction kit. They’re real because they live the way they have to. We aren’t because we live the way we want to.

Linter’s shipmate and friend, Diziet Sma, gives her best arguments to try to urge Linter to return, highlighting Banks’s fascinating examination of Earth’s human inhabitants as seen through the eyes of a far more advanced civilization. What they observe is a relatively barbaric species consumed by materialism, violence, and spiritual uncertainty, along with feats of astonishing creativity, depth, and beauty.

Within our discussion, Nathan contrasts Linter’s statement that “the stakes are higher on Earth” to the Culture’s belief that our civilization is brutal and wild. Cezary notes the similarity between the Culture’s attitude and that of hunter-gatherer tribes in the Amazon that avoid contact with the West, as once you do there’s no going back. Daniel wonders about the frictionless lives of Culture citizens, and what they sacrifice in never experiencing true pain and suffering. Laura questions the lack of hope in the Culture, and Mary says that it might be hard to imagine a post-scarcity existence, but it’s sure fun to dream of it.

Disclaimer: Banks created a rich, dense fictional world in the Culture series, which might make this discussion a little tough to follow for folks who aren’t familiar with it. Plus, this is one of our older discussions, so there are a few glitches in the recording. That said, we had a good talk and Iain Banks was a great writer, well worth talking about, so please join us.

Listen to a dramatization by Paul Cornell from BBC Radio 4 on youtube.

Thanks to Christopher Nolen for our music.

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

Phi Fic #7 “The Call of Cthulhu” by H. P. Lovecraft

Get ready for the frightening, the horrifying, the sublime—the (in)famous Cthulhu! It’s time for H.P. Lovecraft! Join us as we read the tome of this scandalous mythos, this perturbing unrealism—The Call of Cthulhu. Lovecraft opens his work about the green, gelatinous, multi-dimensional creature with fear for all us human sycophants:

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.

Listen as Mary predicts humanity’s post-scientific-disaster scene of us going back to just hanging with Cthulhu, and Cezary’s analogy between Cthulhu and Moses. (What?!) See why Lovecraft ended his most famous work—the first great sci-fi horror—with this:

Let me pray that, if I do not survive this manuscript, my executors may put caution before audacity and see that it meets no other eye.

Thanks to Christopher Nolen for our music.

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

Phi Fic #4 “Grendel” by John Gardner

What’s with these self-aware monsters anyway? Both Frankenstein and Grendel bemoan their fates as the necessary evils in this world—so that goodness may exist, perhaps? Listen as we join their struggle, and Mary calms Laura’s frantic worry about Gardner’s use of the “other” to make his philosophical point while the guys argue about who is the real monster here: Grendel or man?

“All order, I’ve come to understand, is theoretical, unreal—a harmless, sensible, smiling mask men slide between the two great, dark realities, the self and the world—two snake-pits.”

Grendel by John Gardner. Join Nathan Hanks with Cezary Baraniecki, Daniel St. Pierre, Laura Davis, and Mary Claire.

Thanks to Christopher Nolen for our music.

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