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Johnny Blank

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  1. Johnny Blank

    Episode 64 - Forgive and Forget?

    A couple thoughts on this episode. First, I take issue with Michael saying that “fate,” through Hardy, keeps destroying Jude and Sue’s lives. I think this is an oversimplification, or, at least, an imprecise use of the word “fate.” I think Hardy, in all of his books, is much more interested In showing us the very complex web of influences that affect our lives, and the characters’ struggle to make sense of their world. While Jude’s aunt suggests the family is cursed in marriage, are we really supposed to agree? That would be a form of fatalism, of sorts. However, we cannot deny that the social mores of the time and Jude and Sue’s own actions also play a large part in what happens to them. I imagine the book as a sort of primal scream of frustration and confusion. That extreme state would help to explain why Sue is so desperate to find a stable source of meaning in the church. My second thought is about the guests Michael has on. I did not really understand the point of the guest here, and I wish Michael would talk to someone who could help him understand the context, etc. of the book. I get it, part of the point of the podcast is that Michal do a not know anything about the book or author, etc. And he is doing a beautiful job of reading the book in that state—really impressive. But why such an aversion to learning more? It would only help him appreciate the context of Hardy’s tragic vision. Maybe in the end he can talk to an honest-to-goodness Hardy scholar and clean up some of his misperceptions, etc. Still my favorite podcast!
  2. Johnny Blank

    Chapter 59 - Done Because We Are Too Menny

    A truly devastating chapter. Michael, I am so impressed with your sensitivity as a reader and your ability to tie the book’s themes to our lives today. One thing to consider, at the time the book was written, the concept of the “self-made man” was relatively new and in vogue. I think the book is clearly, in part, a response to that. We may want to believe we can simply, through force of will, reshape our lives, but the book demonstrates the many factors that prevent us from doing that: our own characters, social customs, religious customs, pure, dumb chance, and possibly even fate. I think we often use the myth of the self-made man to look down on those who haven’t made it, who are obscure (trumpet sound). We accuse them of simply not trying hard enough. We can see this play out in social policy as some believe we should not help the less fortunate with welfare, etc. I think Hardy’s position is, when good men like Jude can fail so spectacularly, we can all fail—let’s have some empathy and work on reforming the things we can control. Thank you again, Michael, for taKing this so seriously. This is my favorite podcast.
  3. Johnny Blank

    Episode 51 - Well! Quite a Piece of News!

    Another great episode! Here is an observation about this project overall, though. Michael points out that as a comedian you do not want to hear that "rightly looked at, there is no laughable thing under the sun." Michael then says that he supposes that the "corollary" to this would be, "Everything is laughable, under the sun, when put in the right light." Okay, I am not trying to be jerk, but I think Michael misused the term corollary; I think he meant "opposite," as he said "on the other hand." But here is my bigger point. Hardy is not a comedian, and I think we have to take him at his word as he looks to engender sympathy and understanding for his characters and their plights (and the social institutions and rules that affect them). My concern all along with Michael's reading is that he would fall into irony or humor as a way to shy away from the earnestness and tragedy in the book. I still see him fighting it off in this episode, but we see here Michael's desire to find humor in the text or in life. That is not a bad thing, but it points to a sort of nihilism or absurdity that I don't think Hardy would agree with (and that I don't think Michael would ultimately agree with). What I find fascinating, maybe because I sense it in myself, too, is the push and pull between caring for the characters and having genuine emotional and philosophical responses to them versus the desire to find distance from them through humor because of how painful those responses can be. And yes, there are some very melodramatic things going on, so some shocked laughter seems normal. Again, not trying to suggest Michael is doing anything wrong--just find it interesting to see how a 21st century sensibility talks about and relates to a 19th century sensibility.
  4. Johnny Blank

    Episode 50 - A Low-Passioned Woman

    I continue to be impressed by Michael's reading. This is the one podcast I look forward to every week. I have read Jude, so I have eagerly been awaiting Arabella's return. I worry for Michael's mental health as we near the end. I think he really cares for the characters, and it is devastating. Will he succum to irony as a coping mechanism? That has been my fear all along. So far, he has fought it off. Keep it up, Michael! Our world needs more people who are sincere and willing to go deep!
  5. Johnny Blank

    Episode 14 - Laying the Lard on Thick

    Michael, I'm a big Thomas Hardy fan, and I have been enjoying the podcast. I was leery when I heard about what you were going to do, fearing you would treat the whole thing ironically. I have been very impressed with the sensitivity with which you have treated the text, and I enjoy your humorous asides and guests! i have read Jude before, so I know what you have in store for you. It is fascinating hearing your reactions and predictions, and you have made this Hardy fan feel a little less obscure by bringing light to Hardy and the book. Keep up the good work!