Arts and Culture

The Partially Examined Life podcast keeps its Madison roots

PEL is one of the top philosophy podcasts

A mini podcasting empire was born in Madison a decade ago when Mark Linsenmayer launched “The Partially Examined Life” in May 2009 with two fellow former philosophy graduate students. 

“PEL,” according to the introduction of every audio episode, is “a philosophy podcast by some guys who were at one point set on doing philosophy for a living, but then thought better of it.” Now four co-hosts in Madison, Austin and Boston call in weekly to discuss philosophy texts — including works by Plato, Friedrich Nietzsche and Immanuel Kant — and release those talks as 50-minute episodes.

While the podcast has a niche appeal, Linsenmayer says “PEL” episodes (and episodes of other esoteric podcasts in its network) have been downloaded 28 million times. “PEL” is consistently ranked in iTunes’ top 10 philosophy podcasts.

“When I approach a guest, I say we can pretty much guarantee 50,000 downloads per episode,” Linsenmayer says. And because the podcast appears on some college course syllabi, undergrads are among regular listeners.

The occasional guest — “celebrity philosophers,” Dr. Drew Pinsky, actress Lucy Lawless and actor/standup comedian Paul Provenza — joins Linsenmayer and his cohosts Seth Paskin and Wes Alwan (who was a graduate student with Linsenmayer at the University of Texas in Austin in the 1990s) and Dylan Casey.

Linsenmayer, a musician (performing as Mark Lint), also hosts the music podcast “Nakedly Examined Music.” For each hour-long episode, he and a songwriter dive deep into the writing and recording of three songs by that artist.

Linsenmayer has interviewed members of the alt-rock bands Cracker, XTC and Camper Van Beethoven among others. Madison-area interviewees have included Beth Kille, Bob Manor of The Getaway Drivers and Mike Huberty of Sunspot.

Every episode of “PEL” and “NEM” can be found at partiallyexaminedlife.com.


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