The History of Literature #155 – Plato

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“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition,” said Alfred North Whitehead, “is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” We’ve all heard the name of Plato and his famous mentor Socrates, and most of us have encountered the dialogues, a literary-philosophical form he essentially invented. We know the themes he advanced, his general views of metaphysics, and his interest in knowledge and its importance as a virtue. But what do we know about Plato the man? How did this person come to write works that would be read and wrestled with more than two thousand years later? And how do Plato’s literary skills help to deepen his arguments and enrich his narratives?  In this episode of The History of Literature, we look at the fascinating figure of Plato and his great mentor/creation, Socrates.

Like Greek thought and literature? Try Episode 4 – Sappho.

Stop the presses! Go back even further in time to Episode 3 – Homer.

Like philosophy and philosophers? Try Episode 117 – Machiavelli and The Prince.

Support the show at patreon.com/literature. Find out more at historyofliterature.com, jackewilson.com, or by following Jacke and Mike on Twitter at @thejackewilson and @literatureSC. Or send an email to jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com.

The History of Literature #135 – Aristotle Goes to the Movies (with Brian Price)

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Hollywood screenwriter and professional script doctor Brian Price, author of Classical Storytelling and Contemporary Screenwriting: Aristotle and the Modern Scriptwriter, found everything he needed to know about screenwriting in a 2,500-year-old text, Aristotle’s Poetics. Brian and Jacke talk about how Aristotle’s study of Greek tragedy has unlocked the buried secrets of storytelling – and how those examples can be used to understand the storytelling secrets in everything from Casablanca to Spider-Man and Black Panther.

Help support the show at patreon.com/literature or historyofliterature.com/shop. Learn more about the show at historyofliterature.com or facebook.com/historyofliterature. Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com or @thejackewilson.

History of Literature Episode 6 – Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides

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Author Jacke Wilson examines the works of three great Greek tragedians, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides – and attempts to solve the mystery of why Friedrich Nietzsche admired two of the three and despised the other.

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Sneak Preview: Nietzsche, Francis Ford Coppola, and the Greeks

Thanks to all of you who made last week the biggest one yet in the brief life of The History of Literature podcast. I’m not sure if Burt Reynolds or Aristotle deserves more credit. (Have you ever had the feeling that you’ve written a sentence that no one has ever, ever written? I just had that feeling.)

This week looks like a good one as well! Tomorrow, we’ll continue our journey through Greek tragedy by looking more closely at the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles (again), and Euripides. This time we’ll use the lens of the young Friedrich Nietzsche, writing his first book in his burgeoning philosopher/poet/madman way.

The trip through Nietzsche, Wagner, and the tragedians made me think of this unbelievably good sequence from Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now:

I don’t think Nietzsche would think much of most of our culture – but for what it’s worth, I do think he would have admired that sequence.

Onward and upward!

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The Restless Mind Show 4 – Signs and Symbols

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Jacke and Gar take a break from the history of literature to look at the meaning of signs and symbols. Can we forgive the swastika? Should we? Plus: Gar reveals his three ideal dinner guests.

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A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #19: My Roommate’s Books

My roommate arrived before I did; I met his stuff before I met him.

Meeting his stuff first was fine with me, because the truth was that I was a little afraid of him. Wilfred Carter Boiteaux III. From New Orleans. Or maybe of New Orleans? I had not known anyone with a name like that before.

A month earlier we had spoken on the phone. I had expected Thurston Howell but he didn’t sound quite like that. He sounded like a decent guy who would make a good roommate. If anything he sounded as anxious and nervous as me.

And now, as I gazed at his stuff, I saw nothing to concern me. Nothing violent or bizarre; no gaudy signs of wealth. A suitcase, unopened, stood in his closet. A small black-and-white television sat on the corner of the desk, next to the folder of orientation materials we’d received in the mail. On the top of the folder was the yellow sheet with the room assignments, just like the one I had, only in the blank for roommate, his sheet would have my name instead of his own.

Jacke Wilson from Cadbridge, Wisconsin. Just how disappointed had he been to see that?

Well, what could I do about it now? Maybe I’d grow on him.

Then I looked up and noticed something else: his bookshelf. It was completely full.
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The Writer’s Mind: Sharing the Creative Experience

I’ve been following the many discussions recently of why we like long novels. And while those are interesting and fun, I think they’ve missed something important about the length of the creative work and its impact on the reader. My moment of truth was handed to me by that fabulous liar, Edgar Allan Poe.

I’ll get to that in a minute. But first let me give you a flavor of the discussion. Here’s Laura Miller writing about the full-immersion experience of reading a long novel:

But I believe there’s also an inherent appeal in fat novels, something that only written fiction can offer and that short stories, for all their felicities, aren’t able to provide. You can be swallowed up by a long novel, immersed in the world its author has created in a fashion that no other medium can rival.

Richard Lea wonders if Aristotle would have favored longer or shorter works of fiction. While Lea seems to lean toward the former, he gives both sides their say:

It’s not hard to find writers who resist this kind of logic. For George Saunders “A novel is just a story that hasn’t yet discovered a way to be brief,” while Borges seems to suggest Aristotle’s argument actually favours the short story, arguing that short fiction has the advantage because it “can be taken in at a single glance”. For the novelist Ian McEwan – who made the 2007 Booker prize shortlist with his 166-page “full length novel”, On Chesil Beach – the novella is “the perfect form of prose fiction … the beautiful daughter of a rambling, bloated ill-shaven giant”.

Laura Miller again on why longer works are better for readers:

It takes a while to become so invested, and it often doesn’t happen at all. Getting there is work, like pulling a sled up a hill, but when (and if) you crest the top, it’s a splendid ride from there. The problem with a short story is that even if the author does manage to seduce you into believing in her fictional mirage, it’s over almost as soon as you take a seat on the sled. A long novel promises an extended tour, and the ratio of ramp-up to glide is much lower.

And Ian McEwan (again via Richard Lea), on the other side:

“The poem and the short story are theoretically perfectible, but I doubt there is such a thing as a perfect novel (even if we could begin to agree among ourselves on what comprises a good sentence). The novel is too capacious, inclusive, unruly, and personal for perfection.”

The novella, which according to McEwan has much in common with “watching a play or a longish movie”, can at least be envisaged approaching perfection, “like an asymptotic line in co-ordinate geometry.”

Whew. What are they missing? The key to me was provided by our old friend Edgar Allan Poe. In particular, by what I now realize is a misremembering one of his essays.

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