Adam Ehrlich Sachs' "The Philosophers" was originally published in the February 1, 2016 issue of The New Yorker. Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage.

February 1, 2016Adam Ehrlich Sachs is a completely new voice to me. I’m unsure what he’s published before landing in The New Yorker (though I see pieces in n+1 and McSweeney’s, and I’d be happy for some more insights into his work in the comments below), but his debut book, a collection of “stories and syndromes” entitled Inherited Disorders, is to be published this May. “The Philosophers” is a piece of that collection. From the Page Turner interview (here) it sounds like this piece, and the book as a whole, is concerned with the relationship between fathers and sons. Perhaps the “inherited disorders” gives a sense of the tone; we’ll see!

I look forward to your comments below!

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By |2016-01-25T12:53:02-04:00January 25th, 2016|Categories: Adam Ehrlich Sachs, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |6 Comments


  1. johnnyhenry January 30, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    I got the impression that this was what came to the writer right off the bat. That is, the way in which he chose to write it. That this was how it flowed organically out from his brain. Meaning, he had the idea for the story about a father and son, a father and son who had an intellectually tweaked relationship that went on down the generational line, but a relationship that was deviant in some way, and this is how the writer, came to engage with the idea in written form based on his first spark of inspiration. That is, this would be the initial organic form or stucture that came to him. Not to imply there is necessarily anything wrong with that. Just my feeling. I also felt, this sounds kind of Borge like. With its concatenation of philosophical and psychological reasoning. The transpiration of events as they unfolded. This “ad infinitum” thing.

    I’ll say now that I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it more or less from the start. I thought maybe that I got that first impression, because when I write my own fiction I always feel that the initial route to executing my story usually seems to me to turn out to be not the one that is typically most effective. But then as I read on I felt, especially in light of the “section” breaks, that perhaps the story was more elaborate and simply something better than I initially thought or that maybe I was missing something that made it better than I was able to perceive.

    At moments I thought, yes this is intriguing stuff, but as I read on further, the method the writer used to show how the disabled father communicated with the disabled son and so on down the line just infuriated me. And I suppose this linguistic technique (?) intends to allude to greater meaning within the whole by way of drawing out the ridiculous, but for me it seemed to be too much the first thing that might come to one’s head and thus too superfluous. As if he decided to just mine the comic surface of the thing by repetition. Like a vaudevilleian comic might do. No offense to comedians of vaudeville.

    The next day after I read it, I read the brief interview with the writer in The New Yorker about the story. Turns out this was definitely not his first rendition. Not his first approach at all. He did mention Borges however. And Kafka.

    I feel like I’m not be appreciating it for something there that’s more than perhaps what I’m seeing (or not seeing?). In any case, even if the better substance of the thing eludes my appreciation the structure and language of it didn’t work for me at all.

    And the ending….this notion that this concatenation of complexity in their communication was a fool’s game, via the realization of the madman’s delight in the simple “cardboard box”…..well it rung hollow to me.

    Or maybe I just don’t get it.

  2. johnnyhenry January 30, 2016 at 3:07 pm

    * just a typo correction of my comment above in the third to last paragraph of the first sentence it should read, “I feel like I MIGHT not be appreciating it for…”

  3. Greg February 1, 2016 at 8:33 pm

    Good analysis Johnny! Even though there were some good parts here (i.e. the Proust effect), overall the piece suffered from growing pains of a writer finding his bearings.

  4. Ken February 9, 2016 at 5:32 am

    I enjoyed these inter-connected tales as Millhauserian puzzle narratives—cerebral and fun.

  5. Sean H February 13, 2016 at 3:32 am

    I liked the piece’s humor and the voice seemed fresh, chaotic, a non-mimetic, non-immersive, non-naturalist for the internet age. It’s definitely more intellectual than emotional and it reads like a game as well as a story. It’s hard not to be led to Nietzsche via the madman, or to any number of writers in the literary canon by the hats (just off the top of my head — har har — the Boston Red Sox hat cap could be Tim O’Brien’s, the bandanna could belong to David Foster Wallace and the straw hat could be that of Mark Danielewski) or to various instantiations of the time travel genre from Philip K. Dick to La Jetee/Twelve Monkeys to that Titus Andronicus song featuring Jenn Wasner from Wye Oak (“To Old Friends and New”). The last writer to tickle this sciency part of my brain was David Eagleman (best known for his short story collection Sum and a few non-fiction books about neuroscience, including some bestsellers). I’ll be curious as to the rest of Sachs’s collection. He seems like a legit intellectual with little interest in the ephemeral identity politics of the moment.

  6. johnnyhenry February 13, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    Sean H. ….interesting “hat” references. Made me think of “The Wire”, however unrelated, but the scene where Bubbles places a hat on the “guilty party”? Anyhow, I got all the other one’s, but missed the Tim O’Brien/Boston Red Sox connection. ?

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