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The question of art has been of central concern for JF and Phil since Weird Studies began in 2018. What is art? What can it do that other things can't do? How is it connected to religion, psyche, and our current historical moment? Is the endless torrent of advertisements, entertainment, memes, and porn in which seem hopelessly immersed a manifestat…
 
Jean Cocteau's visionary rendition of Madame de Beaumont's fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast," itself the retelling of a story that may be several millennia old, is the topic of this Weird Studies episode, which proposes a journey down lunar paths to the crossroads where love and death intersect. Drawing on Surrealism, myth, and the occult, Cocteau'…
 
Doris Lessing's uncategorizable oeuvre reached strange new heights in 1988 with the publication of her short novel The Fifth Child. The story couldn't be simpler. In the England of the 1970s, a couple determined to live out a dream that many of their generation have rejected -- the big family in the old house with the pretty garden -- conceive a ch…
 
"Here is a weird, deceptive life." Thus does Aleister Crowley describe the meaning of one of the most sinister and spectral cards in the tarot. In this episode, Phil and JF continue their ongoing series on the twenty-two major trumps with a deep dive into the hopelessly enigmatic world of Arcanum XVIII: The Moon. After a brief chat about Voltron an…
 
In A Secular Age, the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor tries to come to grips with the seismic development that transformed the world after the Renaissance, namely the secularization of the society and soul of Western humanity. What does it mean to live in an age where religion, once the very matrix of social existence, is relegated to the realm…
 
With his latest film, a meditation on what it means to believe we live in a computer simulation, Rodney Ascher has once again placed himself among the most innovative and visionary filmmakers working in the documentary form today. While the "Simulation Hypothesis" has been a hot topic ever since The Matrix came out in 1997, it is Ascher's ability t…
 
In this episode, Phil and JF explore the vast palatial halls of Susanna Clarke's novel Piranesi. Set in an otherworld consisting of endless galleries filled with enigmatic statues, Piranesi is the story of a man who lives alone -- or nearly alone -- in a dream labyrinth. As usual, our discussion leads to unexpected places every bit as strange as Cl…
 
Weird Studies has so far devoted just one show to Philip K. Dick, and that was way back in April 2018, with episode 10, "Adrift in the Multiverse." Last fall, as another foray into Dickland began to feel urgent, Phil and JF talked about which of his books they should tackle. The answer that seemed obvious was VALIS, the semi/pseudo-autobiographical…
 
Ishmael Reed's 1972 novel Mumbo Jumbo is a conspiracy thriller, a postmodern experiment, a revolutionary tract, a celebration, and a magical working. It is a novel that, over and above prophetically describing the world we live in, creates a whole new world and invites us to move in. For Phil and JF, Mumbo Jumbo exemplifies art's creative power to …
 
Weird Studies will launch its fourth season on January 6th, 2021. But to celebtrate the end of very strange year, we thought we'd release a conversation which until now was available only to our top-tier Patreon backers. Therein we discuss the philosophical underpinnings of "Puhoy," memorable episode of the brilliant animated series Adventure Time.…
 
Before Coraline, before American Gods, in the early days of the Sandman series, Neil Gaiman collaborated with Dave McKean on some truly groundbreaking graphic novels: Violent Cases (1987), Signal to Noise (1989), and the work discussed in this Weird Studies episode. The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch (1994) is the story of a boy who…
 
It would be wrong to describe Arthur Machen's Hieroglyphics: A Note Upon Ecstasy in Literature (1902) as a work of nonfiction, since the book features a narrative frame that is as moody and irreal as the best tales penned by this luminary of weird fiction. But if the eccentric recluse at the centre Hieroglyphics is a fictional philosopher, he is on…
 
The German polymath E. T. A. Hoffmann is one of the founding figures of what we now call weird literature. In this episode, JF and Phil discuss one of his most memorable tales, "Der Sandmann." Originally published in 1816, it is the story of a young German student whose fate is sealed by a terrifying encounter with the eponymous figure during his y…
 
Since its release in 1973, Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man has exerted a profound influence on the development of horror cinema, a rich vein of folk music, and the modern pagan revival more generally. Anthony Shaffer's ingenious screenplay gives us a thrilling yarn that is also a meditation on the nature of religious belief and practice. Just in time …
 
This second instalment in our series on the major trumps of the traditional tarot deck features the Empress. As Aleister Crowley writes in The Book of Thoth, this card is probably the most difficult to decipher, since it is inherently "omniform," changing shapes continuously. In a sense, the Empress is variation itself. Her card becomes the occasio…
 
David Lynch's Lost Highway was released in 1997, five years after Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me elicited a fusillade of boos and hisses at Cannes. The Twin Peaks prequel's poor reception allegedly sent its American auteur spiralling into something of an existential crisis, and Lost Highway has often been interpreted as a response to -- or result of…
 
The Book of Changes, or I Ching, is more than an ancient text. It's a metaphysical guide, a fun game, and -- to your hosts at least -- a lifelong, steadfast friend. The I Ching has come up more than once on the show, and now is the time for JF and Phil to face it head on, discussing the role it has played in their lives while delving into some of i…
 
The British writer M. John Harrison is responsible for some of the most significant incursions of the Weird into the literary imagination of the last several decades. His 1992 novel The Course of the Heart is a masterful exercise in erasing whatever boundary you care to mention, from the one between reality and mind to the one between love and horr…
 
Your hosts' exploration of mysticism and vision in pop music continues with two powerful pieces of popular music: Radiohead's "Pyramid Song" from the 2001 album Amnesiac, and Fran Landesman and Tommy Wolf's "Ballad of the Sad Young Men," from the 1959 Broadway musical The Nervous Set. Synchronicity rears its head as the dialogue reveals how these t…
 
In this episode of Weird Studies, an improvised analysis of two pop songs -- Nina Simone's version of James Shelton's "Lilac Wine" and Ghostface Killah's visionary "Underwater" -- becomes the occasion for a deep dive to the weird wellspring of artistic creation. In trying to understand these songs and why they love them so much, your hosts touch on…
 
At the time The Mothman Prophecies' was released in 1975, and again when he penned an afterword for the 2001 edition, John Keel appeared to have made up his mind about the "ultraterrestrials" that he had tracked and hunted for most of his adult life. They were unconcerned about the welfare of the people whose lives they threw into disarray, he said…
 
"What a fool believes he sees, no wise man can reason away." This line from a Doobie Brothers song is probably one of the most profound in the history of rock-'n'-roll. It is profound for all the reasons (or unreasons) explored in this discussion, which lasers in on just one of the major trumps of the traditional tarot deck, that of the Fool. The F…
 
According to the French philosopher Henri Bergson, there are two ways of knowing the world: through analysis or through intuition. Analysis is our normal mode of apprehension. It involves knowing what's out there through the accumulation and comparison of concepts. Intuition is a direct engagement with the absolute, with the world as it exists befo…
 
When the quarantine began, professors around the world raced to put their classes online, and for the Jacobs School's big undergraduate music history course (M402 represent!) Phil created a series of solo podcasts, many of which have been appearing on the Weird Studies Patreon site. Our patrons seem to be enjoying them, so we thought we'd publish t…
 
"You don't find reality only in your own backyard, you know," Stanley Kubrick once told an interviewer. "In fact, sometimes that's the last place you'll find it." Oddly, this episode of Weird Studies begins with Phil Ford hatching the idea of putting a replica of the monolith from 2001 in his backyard. As the ensuing discussion suggests, this would…
 
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